My first few days in Buenos Aires have been absolutely AMAZING – so much so that it has taken me over a week to finish this blog entry and finally publish it. From the moment I stepped off the plane, this city has made me think so much of Milan.  From the way the Spanish is spoken here (in a similar rhythm to Italian), the food (lots of pizza, pasta, bread), the plazos, the way many of the buildings from a distance and, grouped together,  seem like nothing special and in some cases a bit dreary, but up close you realize there are some amazing works of architecture here.  One of the things I like best about this city by far is its cafe culture.  At any time of the day you can walk into one of the millions of cafes and see people socializing leisurely, whether over a cup of espresso or Mate (the very popular tea, drank in a metal cup  with a strange metal strange and drank communally).  It is a habit that I love to observe and take part in.

Cementario Recoleta

I am staying in a hostel in the upscale neighborhood of Recoleta, and though it was by chance that I ended up here, it has been one of the best parts of this trip thusfar.  I picked the one and only hostel listed in the Lonely Planet in Recoleta, and when I arrived I learned that I was the only American staying there – everyone else is from Latin America.  Though the accomodations aren´t anything to write home about, it has been a great way to practice my Spanish.  There are Colombians, Cubans, Mexicans, Argentines, and Brazilians, each equally with their own distinctive accents and cultural preferences.  I spent most of the first day deliriously getting settled after almost 20 hours of traveling, but then met Mariane, a super friendly Brazilian girl from Brasilia who speaks very good English.  Mariane and I immediately connected after a dinner on my first night and talking to her about my adventures in Brazil, and she has been one of my only reprieves from hav ing to speak entirely in Spanish, which in certain moments is really nice (when you want to gossip, for example).  She told me about how everyone parties at the hostel, and I wasn´t sure what to expect, but it didn´t take long and the very next night we had a big improptu dance party with everyone in the kitchen.  Friday and Saturday nights of course involved more dancing at clubs and until the wee hours of the morning.

El obelisco, downtown Buenos Aires

The hostel is like one big family, and everyone parties together, cooks, and shares in their mutual connection to Latin culture.  The first day I arrived the heating wasn´t working and I immediately thought to move to another hostel, but for me the lure became the opportunity to practice Spanish with native speakers, experience a new city with locals and other Latinos alike, and be totally outside my comfort zone – from day one I was known as ¨La Gringa.¨ The hostel almost has a culture of its own, a big part of it being the fiesta-centric nature of all Latino cultures that it brings together, and us being in Buenos Aires in particular, the insanely late fiesta culture.  In other words, there have been few nights that I have made it to bed before 4am,  the surprising part being that I´m not the only one who has to get up for a 9am class.  Many of my friends at the hostel hold jobs and seem to be functionable on just three hours of sleep – and every night of the week.  If I wasn´t much of a coffee drinker before, I have certainly become one here.

Trying to eat here with a wheat allergy is a joke and I have come to accept that it´s a good day if I only eat it at one meal a day.  Common is a day that begins with three mediaslunas (croissants) with coffee for breakfast, pasta, empanadas, or pizza for lunch (accompanied by bread), followed by meat and pototoes (accompanied by bread) for dinner.  I can´t remember the last time I ate a vegetable (do french fries count??) or for that matter, drank water!  But overall, the food is quite good especially for a meat lover, despite being a bit monotonous.

I have been able to practice Spanish with everyone and have learned so much about the different cultures of this vast continent between all the different people staying in the hostel.  There is always music, whether it be reggaetone, salsa, samba, Colombia folk mixed with electronica (that i love!) constantly blaring from the stereo in our kitchen.

The next day I went to the Recoleta Cemetary and found myself totally infatuated despite the total eeriness there.  The tombstones are like nothing I have seen in the U.S. – these amazing works of architecture, so elaborate and each one so unique and a different height, and placed together in these neat rows makes for a very interesting photograph.   I bought a map from the vendors at the front gates and found Evita´s tombstone, one of the more simpler but also beautiful tombs of black granite.   I wasn´t familiar with many other of the famous people burried there so I went totally off the guided map tour and somehow ended up spending about three hours wandering around.   The strangest thing is that many of the caskets are right there in view, enclosed in these building structures (sometimes of granite, stone or other materials), some almost like mini churches with stained glass, life-sized crosses, and other ornaments.

Aldo Sessa's books in the window of a libreria on Carlos Pellegrini

One of the coolest things I have had an opportunity to do here is to meet a very famous Argentine photographer, Aldo Sessa.  Despite being extremely busy preparing for his exhibit at a museum on 50 years of his work in Argentina, he agreed to meet me and from the onset was so endearing and sweet – sharing his work with a total stranger he had no reason to entertain.    I was invited to visit his studio in Recoleta and he showed me his work and the books he has published on gauchos, an entire book on the Teatro Colon, and others.  He told me all about the making of the Teatro Colon book, the four years he spent going to the theater every night to photograph backstage and how inspired he was.  He couldn´t use flash at all so there were lots of lighting challenges.  He had some other books devoted to Buenos Aires specifically  – it was insane because he had pictures of Diego Maradona, Carlos Gardel and other tango masters, amazing photos of some of the typical sites in Buenos Aires, the obelisco, very famous cafes here (Cafe Tortoni), and other historical places of importance.  He has truly mastered how to convey the ¨sense of place¨that is Buenos Aires, one that after touring the city for the past week I have learned is quite difficult to convey through photography.