One notable difference from U.S. culture is Argentinos frequent use of hugs and kisses (abrazos y besos). There are many pros and cons of this type of more “hands on” culture, but it seems to me that the custom of hugging children is one that should be imitated.
Our children have really enjoyed getting hugged by their teachers, coaches and frankly everyone they meet. It is a gesture that immediately provides kids with a feeling of warmth and acceptance. Today, Jake had basketball at the local sports club and I could see how impactful a big hug from his coach was in getting him comfortable playing in a new environment.
I can imagine the howls of the fear brigade trying to protect our kids from illicit touching, but our no hugging culture seems to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Clearly reasonable boundaries are appropriate, but to me it seems like more hugging of children would be a good thing.
This week was a game changer, although it certainly didn’t start out that way. On Monday Jake acted sick enough that we actually let him stay home from school. while he was certainly under the weather, we suspect that had there been a baseball game to attend, he would have summoned the strength to power through. His acting prowess turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we forced him to stay in his room all day with no TV or video games. Unsurprisingly, Jake discovered that sitting home alone wasn’t much fun and as a result he seemed almost eager to go to school.
Tuesday Jake and Ted went to the ministry of education so that Jake could take the test that would allow him to be formally promoted to the second grade. It seemed quite strange to be giving a test of any consequence to a 6 year old. It took three people to administer the test and afterwards, they took 15 minutes to meet and confer in order to arrive at the weighty conclusion that Jake did indeed belong in the second grade. A very unusual system. Regardless, we were quire proud of him and the school gave him a little certificate to mark his accomplishment so another notch on Jake’s belt to boost his confidence.
On Wednesday Jake had his first visit with a friend from school. Camilla lived in Miami and is fluent in English so she and Jake have become fast friends.
Looks like fun
Perhaps it was the combination of spending a full day locked in his room and a fun time with his friends, but by the end of the day Thursday, Jake even admitted that school was “pretty fun.” Great progress!
Since Jake was promoted to second grade, naturally we needed to celebrate as well, so we had dinner at Osaka. We showed up at 8:45 with no reservation, so our slow movement toward becoming Argentinos continues .
Michele also attended parents night this week for both Kate and Jake’s class. One observation is that the parents seem to be the same here as in Palo Alto. Some are super involved with the kids, some just want to gossip. Some are dressed to the nines, while others show up in sweatpants. Additionally, the parents from the school have been so incredibly welcoming and inviting. Parents from both classes are scheduled to have welcome dinners for our family.
Parents night Yay 4th grade!
Meanwhile on Thursday we were invited to our first Argentine dinner party. Our host was the sister of a friend of our friend Scott Darling so it wasn’t exactly a close connection. It was even more random, because we were invited to the home of the mother of the sister of the friend of Scott’s. In any event, these nice people welcomed us into their home and told us many things about Argentina and it’s people and culture. The generosity and openness we have encountered has just been amazing. We are both resolved to imitate it more in our daily lives.
This weekend we had our first “vacation” of our adventure. We travelled to El Calafate a town in the southern Patagonia region of the country and it was, SPECTACULAR.
Official Trip Photo!
We knew the place was special when we landed.
The view from the airport
We then went off to Estancia Nibepo Aike, which is in the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, a working sheep and cattle farm. The lodgings were rustic (Michele’s version of camping). but the views were amazing. The kids spent their time chasing sheep
Michele and the kids try to wrangle up some sheep
This is how the experts do it
and skipping stones in the lake.
The views were simply spectacular.
The next day we took a tour of the Perito Moreno Glacier which was the highlight of the trip thus far. The Glacier is roughly 100 square miles of ice. At the face of the glacier it is 270 feet from top to bottom. We first toured in a boat.
Even Flat Stanley got into the act
After the boat tour, we took a break for lunch, the best picnic spot ever on the opposite side of the glacier (south face).
After lunch walk
After lunch we took a hike to see the Glacier from yet a third side which was equally spectacular. Particular amazing was when a piece of the glacier would calve (break off). First there is a sound of the ice breaking off followed by a pause while the chunk of ice plummets to the water followed by a loud BOOM when it splashes into the water. We saw a number of these events and it was truly magical.
This was a remarkable experience, not to be missed. We then headed off to the town of El Calafate, which is a quaint tourist town that serves as a jumping off point for many local expeditions. We stayed at Los Sauces, which we understand is owned by the President of Argentina. It was a perfectly lovely place and the staff was very helpful and courteous. We had icecream at the famed Las Ovejitas (delicious, try the Calafate flavor) and then dinner at La Lechuna Pizza, both of which were great and, importantly we are continuing our healthy eating habits while abroad.
The next day we went on a fishing expedition with Calafate Fishing. It was a true test of our spanish language skills! Our guides Maxi and Frederico were great. The setting was simply spectacular.
The fish weren’t the giants that Ted was hoping for, but someone was pretty happy with the results.
That night we had a proper dinner at La Tablita, a well run little parilla just outside of the main part of town. The kids were exhausted from a couple of long days, but were magically rejuvenated when ice cream came into the picture at the meal’s end. After a good night’s rest, we went to visit the Glacarium, a little museum about glaciers (duh) on the outskirts of town.
Even the museums have a great views!
We followed that up with another healthy lunch of pizza and empanadas at Casablanca and then flew back home. A wonderful trip and great energizer for the whole family.
Despite Ted’s best efforts to write the blog on behalf of both of us, Ted’s somewhat “distinctive” voice has been evident in the prior posts. I have had a few friends ask me to write a blog about my daily life. So here it goes……
The first month was really just about getting everything set up and supporting the kids emotionally. I had to figure out how to buy food, get the kids enrolled in school, find a taxi service to get the kids to/from school, pay bills, find a hairdresser, find tennis lessons, etc. and do all of those things in Spanish. Muy complicado.
Now I feel as if, the fun stuff has started. My favorite thing to do is wander the streets in search of the best cup of coffee. I know, I know, I am still going to Starbucks in the morning, but I am finding that I like a “cortado chico” in the afternoon (espresso with a little bit of foamed milk). It is always served with just a little sweet too. I’m not turning that away.
I also love to look at the fashion. Women are really into big platform sneakers and sandals. It’s actually a good trend for us that are, hmmmm, how shall I say, height challenged. (Brooke Davi you know what I am talking about).
I also love all the little specialty shops. I am finding that if you want the best meats, produce, seafood, cheese, sweets or bread…you need to go to the individual shops. There are great shops right out our door. Most people send their maids to most of their food shopping or get delivery (every store delivers), but I actually like to go and buy everything myself. Also let’s face it, if I could order over the phone I would, but my Spanish is not up to speed yet.
Speaking of maids, this is one big difference between Argentina and the US. Because of the state of the economy, labor is very affordable in Argentina. As a result, it is common among upper middle class Argentines to have full time maids who are paid monthly and work 40-hours a week. These maids typically have a whole range of household duties including not just cleaning and cooking but also shopping and watching the kids. After a few false starts, I finally found a great maid named Magaly.
Magaly now comes every weekday from 12 – 8 pm. She comes from Peru and she has delighted us with some of her local cooking, but it’s not exactly the healthiest food in the world, so I now am teaching her how to make some of our favorite dishes. She doesn’t watch Kate and Jake, but she cleans, does the laundry and cooks. Having her help has allowed me to spend more time with the kids and more time wondering the streets and trying some new hobbies (tennis, Spanish lessons, meeting new friends, etc.). Kate is enjoying trying to teach her English too.
Overall, I would say that I am enjoying this journey. I do have moments of sadness. I REALLY miss my friends and family and the ease of being at home. It’s also hard for me to hear the kids complain and feel sad. However, I just keep reminding myself that we are giving them a gift and this experience will help them grow.
My favorite night of our journey thus far took place this past Friday night. It wasn’t some spectacular sight or particularly fabulous cultural event. It was just the four of us eating at La Stampa, our neighborhood trattoria. The children were happy and well behaved. Kate was chatting in Spanish (castellano) with our favorite waiter. Michele was sipping her go to local Chardonnay. Jake was eating an impossibly large mound of pasta. It was placid and wonderful. We are starting to settle in.
Saturday night, after a failed visit to an art gallery, we strolled Avenida Posada in Recoleta and stopped at a beautiful little shop that had traditional Argentine crafts. The vendor told us he was optimistic about the economy but only because it couldn’t get any worse. We then had dinner at Piegari. Our very professional and old school waiter, Hector, took great care of us. Ted, who prides himself on being able to pick out the “best” dish on the menu got his nose out of joint when he spotted something better than the dish he had ordered. After some coaxing, Hector admitted it was better and then the older couple who were eating the dish confirmed it, telling us that they have eaten at this restaurant once a week for 20 years and this is the best dish.
On Sunday we attended an intercultural class where we learned about both common issues when moving to a new country and specifically more about the Argentine culture and customs. Two major themes appeared. First, our trials and tribulations are totally normal. It seems obvious, but hearing that others had encountered similar ups and downs made us feel better. Second, family and friendships are more important to Argentines than in the US where we can rely on better functioning institutions. The great irony of this lesson was that the person who taught the class turned out to be the SISTER of our relocation guide who recommended the class. The class was excellent so we didn’t feel the least bit taken advantage of, but it was an interesting discovery.
We also had our first houseguests on Sunday, who came for a bit of swimming and to watch the Boca futbol game. The kids amused themselves by creating videos
and all had a good time. We continue to be amazed by how friendly and welcoming the Argentines have been and we feel very fortunate to have made such nice friends.
On Tuesday there was a general strike. We kept the kids home from school because we couldn’t judge the impact, but it turned out to not have hit our area, though the downtown was very heavily impacted.
Tuesday night we were invited to the Ambassador’s residence to see the Latin American premier of the new season of Game of Thrones. We were slightly apprehensive about the prospect of a formal gathering at a diplomat’s home to watch the grisly violence and raunchy sex scenes that the show is known for, but they had the model of the iron throne
that seemed to put everyone in good spirits. We met some fellow ex-pats along with some locals and even had a nice chat with the ambassador’s mom. After the show, we were sipping wine and speaking Spanglish with this mixed crowd and it occurred to me, that we were in fact, starting to settle in.
There is a terrific Spanish saying ¡Ay que lindo! which means “Oh, how lovely.” We’ve heard this used innumerable times, but whenever we told anyone that we were going to visit Salta, in the northern area of Buenos Aires, this was invariably said and now we know why
We first flew into Salta, the largest city in the northern area near the border of Bolivia. There we rented a 4×4 and headed south to the town of Cafayate, the area’s leading wine city (what a coincidence). The ride to Cafayate was perhaps the best part of the whole trip. After lunch at a questionable restaurant in small town en route, we entered the Quebrada de Conchas a national park with stunning scenery.
Much to our children’s delight, many of the stops along the way involved rock formations that could be climbed up or in, the most impressive of which was El Garganta del Diablo or The Devil’s Throat
There were a variety of different other rock features to stop at along the way making for an incredible drive.
We then arrived in Cafayate (not to be confused with El Calafate) where we stayed at the lovely Grace Cafayate hotel.
The views from the hotel were similarly amazing. Like Napa but with even more dramatic and severe mountains.We had a great dinner in the town square at Terruño (it’s amazing what a difference good service makes) followed by a nice ice cream treat. A big day.
The following day began with a horseback ride through the vineyards followed by a lunch at the spectacular Piatelli vineyards. The wines were great and the views are simply incredible.
Of course, the most fun thing from the kids’ perspective was that we let them ride in the back of the truck, and just because we were in Cafayate didn’t mean we couldn’t play a little whiffle ball (with a stick).
Lunch the next day was as the truly fantastic Casa De Empanadas in Cafayate where we feasted on a variety of empanadas and humida, a corn based treat. The trip back to Salta included a stop along the side of the road where we got a second look at Kate’s lunch and an interesting detour where we realized we had made a wrong turn only after seeing the man with a machete, but we made it back in one piece.
We learned that a tiny boutique hotel is probably not the best place for two kids, but we turned the liability into an asset with a quick bubble bath. We then took a quick tour of the main square and proceeded down Balacarte street. Michele bought some beautiful handcrafted dolls and Jake bought a hat that will either be awesome or extraordinarily shameful once we get back home. We had a nice meal at the local parilla where Ted continued to disgust everyone by eating the grossest thing on the menu (Llama). The next day, after yet another unintentional tour of the slums, we made it safely to the airport and back home to Buenos Aires. We now have three entire weeks without a vacation and we are looking forward to getting into a routine. Ay que lindo!
Today Jake turned 7 and the day began as a total disaster. Michele had woken up early to make pancakes for Jake’s birthday. Kate then woke up screaming and yelling that she hated school, hated Argentina and wanted to go home. Jake accompanied his sister by refusing to leave his room, telling us that he was scared of school and didn’t understand why he needed to learn how to read and write. Kate corrected course after 20 or so minutes of wailing like a banshee, but Jake was not to be deterred. He complained the entire way to school and then gave Michele a sobbing, tearful goodbye at the school’s entranceway as if he was being marched off to the gulag.
Living abroad has been a wonderful experience for our family and something that, on the whole, we are glad to be doing. It is not, however, for the faint of heart. The good days are good, but the tough days can be very tough. Hoping this evening will be better.
A parilla is the Argentine equivalent of a steak house. Last night we feasted at Don Julio our favorite parilla in town. There is something just magical about the steak here. Also, like a great steak joint, Don Julio has amazing servers who really understand the food and wine. Our mozo (waiter) moved me off a better known brand and pointed me to this delicious bottle of Malbec from a house called Malbec De Angeles which sounds cheesy, but tasted amazing. Also, we had the unusual bolt of common sense to skip the dessert and after dinner drink and call it a night after dinner, which we certainly appreciated the next day. Round it off with a lively conversation with the cabbie on the way home and we had a perfect evening.
There are many differences between Argentina and the U.S. but nowwhere was that more apparent than at the Zoo at Lujan, where you can pet the lions:
Feed the bears:
play with tiger cubs:
put a parrot on your head
or feed an elephant
Now, this place is not without controversy and there were certain aspects of the zoo that we found difficult to stomach. The zoo’s operator claims that he is domesticated the animals by letting them grow up with dogs, which is certainly true. Seeing puppies playing with tiger cubs is probably the cutest thing of all time.
It was a unique experience and a great way to celebrate Jake’s birthday. On the drive we composed a song the lyrics of which will sound familiar to any parents who have taken their kids on a drive of any length:
Quantos minutos faltan (faltan faltan) quantos minutos faltan
necessito mi ipad Quantos minutos faltan (faltan faltan)
quantos minutos faltan hace calor
necessito usar el baño Quantos minutos faltan (faltan faltan) quantos minutos faltan
necessito vomitar: en el coche
necessito vomitar: en su cara
necessito vomitar: en la cancha de River
How much longer? How much longer?
I am hungry
I am thristy
I need to use my ipad How much longer? How much longer? It is hot
It is cold
I have to go to the bathroom How much longer? How much longer? I need to throw up: in the car
I need to throw up: in your face
I need to throw up: in the stadium of River (our local futbol team’s main rival)
We are preparing our acceptance speech for the grammy awards.
We also were invited to another friend’s house this weekend for an asado. The live on a little lake where the kids could kayak and generally run amok. We continue to be amazed by the generosity of the people we have met and hope to become more open and welcoming to new people when we return to the states.
‘Paso a paso” in spanish is a phrase used to describe incremental progress. The phrase was made particularly famous in Argentina by Reinaldo “Mustard” Merlo, who in 2001 as coach of the Racing futbol club, lead the team to its first league title in 35 years using an approach he called “step by step” improvement. On our adventure, the phrase has been our motto as well as we try to incrementally improve on our situation.
Last week was a great example of how this approach pays off. Michele and I found ourselves more skilled with our Spanish and able to navigate slightly more complex situations. Jake went every day to school without a fuss as he continued to become more familiar with his surroundings and the language. Kate has begun building genuine friendships and is now being invited over to friends houses after school. She has also continued to improve in her horseback riding and has begun jumping in a canter.
The improvement is not always linear. There are days where it feels like we can’t understand a word in Spanish, but we do our best to remain focused on the trend line and not any single data point.
In a way, this aspect of our little adventure is a wonderful metaphor for life. Woody Allen said “80% of success is just showing up” and certainly it’s impossible to have success at something without putting the time into it. It’s also a good reminder that things that are worth doing are difficult, and, as a result, typically can’t be done quickly. Kate is continually asking when she will become fluent in Spanish. The best and most truthful answer is that we can’t tell her for sure, but we know that if she keeps working at it day after day, she will get there. Paso a paso.