Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Home Sick Home

Last summer I spent three weeks wandering around Europe and it was the coldest, rainiest summer there that anyone could remember.  When I flew home, I already had a sore throat and within two days of returning it turned it to full blown laryngitis.  I was supposed to be presenting four days of workshops and had to scramble to find a replacement for the first few days, and then reschedule the rest. 

This summer, I left Cordoba for the long trek home feeling perfectly healthy.  I arrived home early Saturday afternoon and tidied the house.  Sunday I worked away at trying to get the garden back under control, and then went to visit my mom and dad.  By Sunday night I had a sore throat and cough, and by Monday night, I had a raging fever. A visit to the doctor on Tuesday confirmed an upper respiratory infection which has knocked me on my bottom for a few days, missing two of the three days of conferences where I was supposed to be presenting and facilitating. Once again, others are stepping in to cover my responsibilities.

Some family and friends hypothesize that it is the 'germy' air on the long flights that causes my after-travel illnesses.  But if that was true, then I should be sick when I arrive to my destination as well, and that hasn't happened. 

My theory is that I arrive home with a long 'to-do' list in my head and have a hard time not trying to get everything done all at once. I want to unpack, tidy up the house, and the yard, go for groceries, visit friends and family, and in both cases, I also had to return to work on the Monday after a Saturday return.  As difficult as it is for me, I am going to have to learn to take some time to relax when I return from a trip and gradually return to my home schedule, rather than throwing myself back into the usual busy stressful routine. My body is sending me a clear message that it just can't take that kind of sudden shift.  I don't know how John does it - when he flies back to Buenos Aires, his flight arrives in the early morning; he drops his suitcases off at the hotel and heads straight to work for the rest of the day.

My next return flight home is for Christmas, which means I'll be flying home to another very busy, stressful time. It seems obvious to me now that I need to return with plenty of time to put up the tree, do some Christmas shopping, decorate the house, as well as prepare for my return to work in January.  Otherwise I'll come home and try to rush through all the things that need to be done and end up sick on Christmas.  That would be awful! 

I'm posting this entry on my  blog for two reasons:
1. I'm wondering if anyone else has the same experience. Do you find that you are more susceptible to illnesses or other maladies when you return home from a long trip?  What strategies do you use to prevent this from happening or to lessen the effect? 

2.  I'm also posting this as a personal reminder to myself to make sure I return home early for Christmas and give myself time to adjust.  Friends and family, feel free to remind me if I start to talk about staying down in South America for 'just a little bit longer......'

(Just in case you're wondering, yes that is a Sponge Bob Square Pants plastic tablecloth under our Christmas tree.  We had an elderly cat who was having some issues with peeing in inappropriate places, so I had to cover the presents under the tree with plastic.  It's not part of our usual holiday decor, but we do what we have to do to make sure all the members of our family have a good holiday, even our pets.  We miss you Joz.)

Thursday, 16 August 2012

No place like home

I'm heading back to Canada for six weeks for work and to visit friends and family.  Then back to Argentina in late September til Christmas. John was going to come home with me, but now he has to stay here for another week and a half to finish up inventory here and in Buenos Aires.  Unfortunately, we only had this apartment booked until August 17, and someone else has it rented after us, so we have to clear out tomorrow.  John will be staying back at the hotel til Tuesday then going to Buenos Aires. 

When I get back in late September, we may still be in Cordoba, but most likely will be moving back to Buenos Aires.  I'll just have to wait and see, but being patient is not one of my strengths.  One of the things I'll be bringing back with me is an oven thermometer.  The ovens over here are tricky to light - you need a match, and then once you light them, the only temperature is 290C (550F) degrees.  Which is fine for making a pizza, but I need some way of monitoring the temperature if I want to do any baking.  And I do!

In the meantime, I went downtown to buy a notebook since I've started working on a number of projects for the 2012 - 2013 school year and need somewhere to keep all my notes together.  Plus, a notebook will be a souvenir I can use every day.  As I walked towards to the Puento Olmos bridge, I noticed a helicopter hovering overhead, and two buses stopped on the bridge.  Turns out there was a big protest parade with hundreds of people marching, carrying flags and banging drums. 

Another Day, Another Protest

John and I wanted to go for a special dinner, just in case we don't end up back in Cordoba together, to celebrate the time we've had together here.  So we went to San Honorato.  If you are ever in Cordoba, be sure to check it out.  A beautiful old historic building with huge ceilings and old brick walls. Once we arrived and ordered our meals, the waitress told us that we could help ourselves to appetizers in the wine cellar.  We went downstairs to the wine cellar where the owner offered us a glass of wine and we could help ourselves to pate, grilled vegetables and other yummy things!  We were chatting with a father and son from Texas who were there also, and before we knew it, it was time to head upstairs for dinner.  Delicious!

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Lost Art of Conversation

... or should I just say the lost ability to have a conversation? 

I'm having a great time in Argentina, but I miss some things from back home. Of course, I miss my family and my friends - that goes without saying. 

But the other thing I'm missing is the day to day conversations that I usually have with a variety of people.  Don't get me wrong - John and I are still speaking to each other!!!   But he leaves for work around 7:30 am and doesn't get home til around 6:30 pm or later.  And I don't think it's healthy to have one person as your sole social partner.

My plans for this trip came together rather quickly, and we were uncertain as to whether we would be based in Buenos Aires or Cordoba, so there wasn't a lot of time to do much research beforehand. I knew almost no Spanish, but last year I was able to travel throughout Europe and was able to find people who spoke English almost everywhere I went.

In Argentina, it's been more of a challenge. Very very few people speak English, so the chances of running into someone in a store who speaks English and having a quick conversation are almost nil.  I'm working away at learning Spanish, but I"m still far from having any sort of conversational fluency.  It's mostly nouns and a lot of pointing.  Sort of Tarzan's version of English.  In BA, I was in the grocery store one afternoon and heard a number of people speaking English.  They were a group of young Canadians who were part of the cast of Disney on Ice, who had just arrived in BA for a few weeks.  They were stocking up on groceries for their residence, and I spoke to a few girls in the checkout ahead of me who were from Charlottetown, Saskatoon and Toronto.  It was such a treat to just be able to talk to someone for a few minutes, and not struggle to understand and be understood.

I'm used to being very social and heading out with friends for a movie, a round of golf , dinner or a game of scrabble.  It's been difficult not to be able to do that here, except when John is available.  I didn't think it would be easy to meet people in Argentina, but I had no idea it would be this tough.

My strategy this morning was to search out expat websites and blogs from other people in Argentina to see if I could meet some people that way. So far, no luck.  Most of the blogs are from people who are in BA, or were here but have already left.  Frustrating!

I need to have a better strategy when I come back in October.  Right now it is winter time, which is pretty quiet in terms of tourists.  When I come back, it will be summer here so there may be more people sitting at outdoor cafes and out in the parks.  But I don't want to look like a stalker, lurking about and waiting to hear someone speaking English.  I've thought about signing up for Spanish lessons so I can meet other people who are learning the language.  When I went to the school to see about lessons for this week, only one other person was taking lessons.  There seems to be a very strong expat community in BA but not so much here in Cordoba.  Besides moving to BA, any other ideas???  I'd love to hear strategies that other people have used.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Feliz Dia del Nina!

When my girls were much younger, each year on Mother's Day and Father's Day they would ask, "When is it Children's Day?"  And we would always answer that every day is Children's Day.  But here in Argentina, Dia del Nina - the Day of the Child or Children's Day, is the second Sunday in August, which is today.  All week all of the stores have had displays of toys and games in the windows.  Even the hardware store down the street, that usually has mops and buckets in the front window, has had board games on display. 

In Plaza San Martin, the big square downtown, there have been different children's shows on all week.  Yesterday, there was a fair about recycling paper with traditional music and dancers.  The day before that it was a dancing troupe and jugglers.

Recycling Festival

Recycling - Argentina style!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Police and Politics

As I mentioned in a previous post, Argentina does not have a long history of democracy, and the police presence here is very different than at home.

For example, when I was in Buenos Aires, I went for a walk to the Casa Rosada, The Pink House, which is the head of their country's government like our Parliament Hill.  Except when I was in Ottawa, any visitor could walk right up to Parliament Hill and go inside, and there are usually a variety of protesters out front on any given day. Same thing when I lived in Toronto and would go to Queens Park; always people on the front lawn with pickets or passing out flyers, people picnicking on the grounds.  They are both very public spaces.

La Casa Rosada is a big beautiful building but there is a metal fence that must be at least ten feet tall around the entire building and the grounds.  No one can get near the building without passing through several layers of security.

La Casa Rosada
(from Google Images)

It seems that whenever I"m out for a walk, I'll come across a very large group of police officers guarding a building for some reason or another.  On this particular day, there was a large group of police officers lined up all along the outside of this building (on the left in the photo) on a quiet pedestrian shopping street.  Not sure why and didn't stop to ask.

One day, when I was out for a walk, there was a big gathering in Plaza San Martin. This is like the city centre and it seems that there is always someone protesting something there.  But this time there were buses, and fences, and it all looked very official.  There was a military band inside the fenced area, and a group of students with red headbands, and various other dignitaries.   I climbed up on the stairs to get a better view, as had many other spectators.  And like all tourists, I took out my camera to take some photos.

Right away, there was a security guy in a black suit asking me a question.  "Sorry, I don't speak Spanish."
No problem, he instantly switched to flawless English:  "Where was I from?  Why was I in Cordoba? When did I arrive? How long would I be here?  Why was I taking photos?"   I explained that since I didn't speak Spanish, I would take photos of the signs and then go back and translate them later so that I could understand what was happening.  He told me, "No more photos," and I put my camera away.

It turns out it was an 18th anniversary commemoration of the bombing of the Jewish Community Centre in Buenos Aires in 1984, in which 85 people were killed.  This came only two years after the bombing of the Israeli Embassy building in Buenos Aires. 

Last weekend, we saw a group of fans boarding buses to go to a soccer/football match.  As the boarded the buses, a huge group of police officers was frisking each person.  This was way more intense than the usual quick glance in your bag that you get at a Red Wings game but seems to be common practice here. 

I feel very safe in our neighbourhood and when I'm downtonw, but there are times when the heavy police presence is a bit disconcerting. Our neighbourhood is in the midst of a building boom with new apartment buildings going up everywhere.  Yet the economy here is so fragile, and the protectionism so strong, one wonders how tenuous this growth might be.  In a town not far from Cordoba the economy is so bad that town officials had a raffle to determine which public servants would be paid and which ones had to wait a bit longer.  In the first raffle only 23 of the town's 92 employees were paid.  Can you imagine working and not knowing whether or not you would be paid?  Me either.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The Disappeared: An Update

The Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo announced today that they found the true identity of the 106th person since their campaign to find all of the children of the disappeared who were adopted by government officials and others during Argentina's Dirty War.  His parents were student activists who disappeared after attending an independence party for Paraguay in May 1978.

Another day, Another museum

John's scheduled inventory has been postponed a few weeks, so he actually had some time off this weekend.  We each spent Sunday morning working, and then decided to go and visit a couple of museums.
We went to Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes Emilio Caraffa, which is one of the city's best contemporary art museums.  It was OK, but underwhelming.  A few pieces that were interesting, but nothing that really wowed either of us.

 Outside of the Museum

Then we wandered across the street to Museo Superior de Bellas Artes Palacio Ferreyra
The building was so beautiful that we thought that even if the art was just OK, we would enjoy the architecture.  Like most art galleries, we were only allowed to take photos in the lobby area, but it was gorgeous.

John at the entrance to Palacio Ferreyra

Just inside the front door

The beautiful lobby

Friday, 3 August 2012

Horseback Riding

OMG!  What an amazing day!!!!!

I haven't been horseback riding since I was a little girl, and even then I always had my dad or an uncle or some other adult helping out.  This was so different, especially riding through rough rocky mountainous terrain instead of flat old Essex County.

I had asked Maria from Condor Expeditions to let me know when they had a spot open for one of the horseback riding trips.  John is working so he can't come, and I certainly didn't want a trip for one.  I received an email on Wednesday afternoon saying that there was a spot available on Thursday; was I still interested?  Hmmmm - stay in and mark assignments from my course or spend the day horseback riding?  It didn't take long to send back a definite "YES!"

Marcelo, our guide, and his dad picked me up at 9 am and then we went to a hotel to pick up the other two riders, a young couple in their early 20s from Chile who only spoke Spanish.  Then it was about a 45 minute drive out of Cordoba on the highway, followed by another 20 minutes of bone jarring driving down dirt 'roads' that were more like ploughed fields than roads.  Marcelo spoke very good English; he told me that he had lived just north of London England for four years, working as a personal trainer for the polo horses.

The very bumpy road to the campground

We arrived at a campground, closed for the season, that is the homebase for Huellas De Cabalgatas (Horse Tracks).  In no time at all, Marcelo had our horses saddled up and we were ready to head out onto the trail.  In usual Argentinian fashion, we were leaving at 11:30, while Marcelo's father stayed behind to cook our lunch, which we would return for in about 3 hours. I don't know if I'll ever get used to the late meals. :(

My horse, Peru, is second from the left.
I don't have too many photos of our ride. The ride is a wee bit bumpy, so some of them are a bit blurry.  I have asked Marcelo to email some of the photos of our group as I didn't think to have someone take my photo with my camera while we were riding.

It was an awesome ride.  We started out on a wide dirt road, accompanied by the campground owner's dog, and then headed onto a narrow path which wound its way up and down the foothills.  Several times we crossed a rocky stream, stopping once to let the horses have a good long drink.  Other times we had to lean forward in the saddle, holding our hands forward as well, as the horses climbed up steep rocky embankments or lean back as they clambered down the hillside. 

Starting out on a nice wide road....

Then heading down a narrow path....

Not the Western saddles we are used to back home.  Horses stopped for a break, and so did we.

 Marcelo and his horse, stopping for a drink from the stream

Once we arrived safely back at the campground, ahead of schedule, we had a typical Argentinian lunch of barbequed red meat, red wine, and bread.  There was also a nice tossed salad with dressing, then fruit and cookies for dessert.

The horses had a quick roll the dust once we removed the saddles
Guess they were glad to be rid of us.

After lunch I wandered around the campground, taking a few photos, before it was time to head back to Cordoba. When the girls come to visit me this October, we definitely need to do this again!

Ready for summer!

Thought dad would get a kick out of these 'fence posts.'

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Museum Day Today

Today (August 1) was the first day of my new schedule.  I didn't exactly get an early start, but after doing some research on Lonely Planet I decided to head downtown to check out two museums.  There are so many museums here in Cordoba you could visit a different one each day for weeks.

First stop was Museo Historico Provincial Marques de Sobremonte, which according to the guidebook:
It’s worth dropping into this museum, one of the most important historical museums in the country, if only to see the colonial house it occupies: an 18th-century home that once belonged to Rafael Núñez, the colonial governor of Córdoba and later viceroy of the Río de la Plata. It has 26 rooms, seven interior patios, meter-thick walls and an impressive wrought-iron balcony supported by carved wooden brackets.
The guidebook said that the cost of admission was $3 (three pesos - about 75 cents), but the woman working at the front desk said it was free. Visitors are not allowed to take photos of the interior of the home, but it reminded very much of John R Park Homestead and similar museums. 

Rather unassuming exterior of the museum

First interior courtyard

Courtyard number two
and courtyard number three

Next stop was Museo Municipal de Bellas Artes Dr Genaro Perez,
This museum is prized for its collection of paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries. Works, including those by Emilio Caraffa, Lucio Fontana, Lino Spilimbergo, Antonio Berni and Antonio Seguí, chronologically display the history of the cordobés school of painting, at the front of which stands Genaro Pérez himself. The museum is housed in Palacio Garzón, an unusual late-19th-century building named for its original owner; it also has outstanding changing contemporary art exhibits.
There wasn't a lot of art on display inside but it was nice to see the inside of such a beautiful building.  Cost of admission - nothing!
Exterior of Museum - can you believe that this was a private home?

Beautiful entry door and amazing tile floors throughout the house

 Inside the entryway

Statues in the Conservatory

A cool old elevator in the back of the building

That was enough culture for one day, so I went downtown for a quick lunch at Cafe Caesero, with a waiter who spoke flawless English.  It was such a nice break, being able to communicate without having to search through a guidebook for vocabulary.