Mendoza y Cordoba con los padres (Mendoza & Cordoba with Mom and Dad)

April got off to a great start– with a visit from Mom and Dad! Not long after I got back from the U.S., we started planning a trip to see some parts of Argentina that none of us had visited. We decided on Mendoza because it is a beautiful desert region with something for all of us: it’s near the Andes (bonus for my dad, the photographer) and is well known for its many wineries (cue Mom and Lauren licking their lips). Since we figured we could do Mendoza in just a few days, we decided to go to Cordoba to finish the rest of the week. Cordoba is a province in eastern Argentina that features smaller but stunning hills and has a large national reserve with condors.

Bonus: we (unknowingly) booked the trip for the week of Easter, so I only had to take 2 days off of work because there were a billion national holidays. Viva la Argentina!

We started in Mendoza and met up at the super-tiny international airport. The Andes were beautiful and the weather was warm. After a short drive we found ourselves in the capital, where we had rented an apartment through Airbnb. Everything about the apartment was great: my parents had a separate bedroom and I had a single bed in the living room, there was a kitchen, and plenty of space for us to spread out. It was also in a great neighborhood just several blocks away from a large plaza with lots of restaurants nearby.

During our first day we walked around and found a wonderful chocolateria (chocolate store) that a friend had recommended to me. We were the only people in there, and before we knew it, the owner was dragging my mom and I behind the counter, dipping tasting spoons directly into the vat of liquid chocolate made fresh that day. I’m not kidding you. You wouldn’t believe the joy on his face when he took us over to his “special jar” full of rum-soaked golden raisins and then dipped them in the chocolate for us to taste. HE HAND FED US CHOCOLATE-COVERED RAISINS. It was amazing.

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Lookit that face.

Later that evening we grabbed dinner at a great parilla and took in the plaza.

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For our second day in Mendoza, we decided to split up: my dad drove into the mountains to take photos while my mom and I went on a half-day tour of some wineries. Our tour group was lovely: mostly Argentines, with a young, charming tour guide named Marli and two older married guys who cracked jokes the entire time.

The first winery was a surprise: really large and almost industrial looking. It was clearly set up to receive large numbers of tour groups; we were just one small group in a sea of white vans and buses. Fortunately most of the tourists were Spanish speakers, so our English-speaking group was rather small. Sadly the rest of our group was comprised of five wine-guzzling college girls who I hated instantly, but they were no match for my mom and I’s endless ability to enjoy ourselves wherever we go, mwah ha ha!!

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Cheers. Beat you to the bottom.

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What? Why no, this isn’t my second glass…

We downed our wine glasses, snapped a couple photos, and then waited to go to the next winery.

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The next winery was smaller and more intimate, but we didn’t like the wine as much. After we got back in the van, the tour guide told us she had a surprise for us– we were headed to an olive oil farm!! I was pretty excited by this news as, although wine is lovely and interesting to learn about, olive oil was new territory for me. After they explained how virgin olive oil is procured (pressing olives so they release their juices naturally instead of using heat to speed up the process; industrial cheating), we headed to the gift shop and my head exploded when I tasted flavored olive oil for the first time: rosemary, basil, and garlic. I bought a three pack and never looked back.

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This is an olive tree, in case you, like myself, never knew what one of these suckers looked like. ALSO, DID YOU KNOW: green, purple, and black olives all come from the same tree? They’re just harvested at different points, with green being the youngest and black being the ripest. The juice from all three kinds is mixed together to make a superior olive oil.

That evening I fell TERRIBLY ill (who knows how; my mom and I had eaten the exact same things all day and she felt fine) and spent the entire evening waking up every hour and vomiting. However, the next day I actually felt pretty great, so we decided to drive up into the Andes to see how close we could get to the Chilean border.

It was beautiful.

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Part of the drive reminded me of northern Argentina and the quebradas in Salta and Jujuy. The quebradas of the north have distinct rock formations and gorgeous reddish colors. Mendoza has similar rock formations but the colors are a bit different; grayer but still visually stunning. As we drove, the rain began to clear and the sun shone on all the landscape:

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When we were just kilometers from the border, we had to turn around to catch our flight back to Cordoba. But we were happy with our experiences in Mendoza and ready for the next city.

The flight to Cordoba was super short (an hour) but of course I was still terrified the entire time. There was, however, one redeeming aspect:

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knowers will know

Our time in Cordoba was a lot different than Mendoza: we decided to rent an entire house (!), again using Airbnb, but this time we stayed in a suburb in the mountains just outside of Cordoba. Whereas everything about Mendoza had been relatively easy, from getting our rental car to checking in to finding places to eat, Cordoba was difficult from the start. Our rental car person did not show up at the airport as promised, we constantly got lost in the capital AND in the town where we were staying (Rio Ceballos), plus we got a bit tired of restaurants not opening until 9pm–at the earliest– when sometimes we wanted to collapse into bed after a long day.

But ultimately Cordoba was great and I really enjoyed it. It was interesting to be in the capital; it’s similar to Buenos Aires in terms of busy-ness and the general quantity of people roaming around. But los Cordobeses (folks from Cordoba) are a bit more laid back than Porteños (Bs As residents). We barely got any glances as English-speaking tourists and no one singled us out for tours or changing money or any of the irritating encounters that happen in Buenos Aires when an arbolito (money changer) or tour guide employee notices or guesses you’re a tourist. I was always aware of my possessions and the cameras around my parents’ necks, but I never got the “potential prey” sensation I often exerience in Bs As. I imagine this is largely due to the types of tourists who typically visit Cordoba (mostly Argentine, though there are also plenty of foreigners) and the fact that Buenos Aires, for all its sprawl and opportunities and realities, understands who comes to visit there (far more foreigners, many of whom also live there) and has mastered the market to take advantage whenever possible.

We drove a LOT in Cordoba– exploring small towns outside of the capital, the surrounding hills, and a large national preserve. One of my favorite days was when we took off to find a national park where baby condors nest and then learn to fly! The drive up into the hills was lovely:

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And then, on the way up, we saw THIS beast in the road!!

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Impressive little sucker. It’s chilly up in the hills, so we weren’t quite sure what it was doing there– tarantulas normally favor warm climates. We guessed maybe he was attracted to the sun-warmed asphalt. But it was really cool to see this guy crawl along at a surprisingly fast pace, his hairy mandibles sticking out and tasting the wind. According to my dad, these guys can jump two meters in the air– something he and his army buddies figured out in Louisiana during basic training when they came across a tarantula on the ground and started playing with it until it jumped– to the level of their heads. This was the first wild one I’d ever seen; I took photos out the window until this guy was parallel with the car, then quickly rolled the window up and said silent thanks for not jumping in the window. (‘Cause tarantulas usually go for humans.)

MOVING ON FROM SPIDERS. We climbed and climbed and climbed, all the way up to Parque Nacional de los Condoritos (National Park of the Little Condors.) We actually drove past the entrance because the sign was posted far away from the road, but right next to the (eventual) entrance we found two little surprises waiting for us:

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Two baby condors!! At the time I thought maybe they were condors because they were so large; they had big flat heads, wide chests, and bright orange beaks. They sort of looked like bald eagles on steriods. Adult condors are more like enormous vultures; they have bald heads and all black bodies, so very different looking than the babies. We hung out snapping photos of these two for a bit and then confirmed they were condors when we saw some pictures at a restaurant where we stopped for locro, a traditional Argentine stew.

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After lunch, we had a hell of a time finding the condor national park– we drove back and forth a few times before finding it. When we arrived, we discovered that the hike out to the condors’ nests was a bit longer than we anticipated, some 5 miles each way, much of it over hilly terrain and rocks. We decided to try it out anyway, and it was pretty gorgeous.

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A ha, that’s where I get it from

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We got pretty far, huffing and puffing the whole way, but we started getting tired and we noticed a thunderstorm creeping in, so we decided to head back. We didn’t make it to the condors’ nests at the end of the trail, but maybe we’ll be back someday. At least we got to see the babies, which was pretty cool!!

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After the hike we hopped back into our trusty rental car, which my dad nicknamed Burrito (thinking burro, a donkey, perhaps??). The name stuck instantly. Burrito saved our asses in a number of situations; sudden 3-point turns with oncoming traffic in the capital; chugging up rocky terrain in the hills; thumping over the billions of unannounced speed bumps that are placed randomly all over Cordoba province. We grew rather fond of our silver bullet; here my mom shows appreciation for the little stud:

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On our drive back to Cordoba down through the hills, we saw a field with some sheep and llamas so we decided to pull over and take some pictures. Surprisingly, llamas do not respond to calls of “hey, llamaaaaas”–but they DID give us their attention when my dad and I started making gorilla noises as loudly as possible. The poor sheep were terrified.

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The next day we decided to explore Cordoba capital itself and then go for a drive in the province. As soon as we got into the city we came across a Jesuit crypt that was discovered only in the 1980s:

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We also visited a Jesuit property that had been converted into a pretty museum (side note: Cordoba is known for its Jesuit estancias, or ranches, and other properties that the Jesuits built in the 1600s).

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Then we went off for a drive and, as Stephensons, OF COURSE we had to go off the beaten path– way off:

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And then, before I knew it, I was on my way back home.

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It was way too short of a week, but we’ve promised each other to meet up in another nifty place… to be determined. :)

Back in Argentina!

Hey everybody,

Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted. The good news is that I am happy and healthy and glad to be back in Argentina. Here’s what’s happened in the past few months:

1. Return to Gringolandia

At the end of December I went back to the United States for a month-long visit. It was WONDERFUL. It was exactly what my tired soul needed; a direct injection of friends and family. I spent three weeks in Florida with my parents, brother, and grandparents just hanging out and going out to eat whenever possible. Some of the highlights: spending a lot of downtime with my parents and going on walks; it was all refreshingly relaxed and normal and familiar. My grandparents moved into a retirement community in Ft. Myers just a few days before Christmas, so it was great to hop over and visit them whenever I wanted. They seem very happy in their new home and I am happy for them. I also got to spend some quality brother-sister bonding time with my brother when we spent a weekend in the Florida Keys fishing and making fun of each other whenever possible. (Surprise: he spoiled the absolute shit out of me.) Finally, I got to see my longtime friend Jessie, who is happily living with her boyfriend Chad and their friend Nick. It was nice to go back and see everybody so happy. :) 

I also spent a week in Boston and New York. (AAAH my love for New York continues undiminished.) In Boston I saw so many of my lovebirds: Coral, Raquel & Jeremy, Jordan, Adam, and all of my old friends from work (you know who you are, you awesome beasts). In New York I stayed with my partner in crime Laura and her husband Byron, and I got to see my good friends Jen, Chick, and John. (It was really strange to be in the city without seeing Derek, but more on that later.) I was hosted and wined and dined and generously spoiled by all of my friends. Some of my favorite moments include dashing straight out of Penn Station to eat my first bowl of pho in nearly two years, hanging out with Coral (anywhere and everywhere), attending a bizarre house party in Somerville, watching Adam’s band Poor Everybody in a dark bar and jumping in the freezing cold outside with Jordan, an amazing night and morning with the Tridals (CHEESE PLATE and MUFFINS!), Indian lunch and Central Park with Laura (oh my damselfish), breakfast with my work peeps, experiencing the HBO cafeteria and gabbing with John and Chick, and a night in Chinatown with Jen (fancy drinks & cupcakes). Thank you all for taking the time to meet up with me and reminding me how lucky I am to have you!!

I’ll be honest: in the later months of 2012, I found myself missing my family and friends quite a lot. It had been a year and a half since I had left the U.S. and said goodbye to of my friends; on top of that, seeing my parents and brother only once in that time was just not enough. The experience made me realize that I need to come home at least once a year to get my fix and reestablish those connections with the people I love. You all are so goddamn important to me, and if I missed you during this last trip home, I promise to see you next time.

2. Work

This is something I do sometimes! Fortunately the beginning of the year brought me some more freelance work, and I am continuing additional projects at the moment. I also got a great teaching schedule this year from my institute and I am really enjoying being in the classroom. All my first-year teaching nerves are gone and it takes me far less time to prepare for classes, which makes my life a lot more enjoyable.

3. Spanish

I’m now taking classes twice a week and I am kicking ass and taking names with this idioma.

4. Apartment

On Saturday I moved into a new apartment! I know you’ve seen me through many moves; I asked Pablo how many places I had lived in since he met me and the answer was five. (I think the grand total is six.) This time I was determined to find a more permanent location that would allow me to live alone. I had lived alone quite happily for a few months last summer, and it was a good experience because it coincided with a work project from hell and made me realize what my good and bad habits are when I am under stress. 

So enough of that, take a look at the video tour of my new apartment!!

The apartment is about the size of a studio, but it’s got a great divider in the middle of the main room that gives the apartment the feel of a one bedroom. Psychologically I certainly appreciate the feeling of having two separate spaces to move around in. 

Everything is well maintained and I pay a flat rate that includes all the bills and expenses. It’s in a very secure building in a nice residential neighborhood. I’m slowly exploring more and more of the neighborhood, and it’s great to be able to do whatever I want at nearly any volume and cooooooooooooooooook (plenty of counter space).

Below are some of the photos from my time in the U.S. Next week my parents are coming to visit and we’re going to explore the cities of Mendoza and Cordoba! I am really looking forward to it.

Take care and much love,

Lauren

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Day of chaos

So, yesterday was an interesting day in Buenos Aires. By 4pm, it seemed the so-called Mayan apocalpyse predicted for December 21, 2012 had hit us a couple weeks early, featuring:

  • a toxic cloud of pesticides covering the city
  • ensuing evacuation of downtown schools and offices
  • torrential rain that flooded several neighborhoods with one meter of water
  • suspended train and subway services
  • a mass robbery of a local mall
  • a bus drivers’ union strike
  • injunction of major pending law to deregulate the national media
  • a freakishly beautiful, fiery sunset (hello, pesticides)

Thursday morning I woke up late to a strange smell: something resembling green bean casserole. I remember lifting my head from the pillow thinking, Wha? Is my roommate cooking this morning? I dismissed the smell for a few more minutes of snoozing. Then when I finally decided to start my day, I checked the front page of Argentina’s largest national newspaper, Clarin, and saw that my roommate was not, in fact, cooking anything at all– a container full of pesticides in Puerto Madero was mistakenly assumed to be on fire and released a toxic pesticide cloud over the entire downtown area after firefighters tried to put out the “fire” but instead converted the powdered pesticides into a hazardous, fast-moving gas after drenching it in large amounts of water.

Shit.

Apparently downtown offices and schools were evacuated and everybody got a free afternoon off (burning lungs included free of charge!). It was the typical story: the government assured the public that the cloud was not toxic while agronomic experts warned that the particular pesticide in question was actually incredibly toxic in gas form. (Yippee!) The smell ended up clearing up by mid- afternoon– just as strangely intense rains overtook the city and started to make it flood. So in less than 5 hours we went from toxic gas to overwhelming rain!

Several neighborhoods got the shit kicked out of them with water overload, and poor people had to be rescued as they tried to navigate the waist-high water. The enormous Pan American highway was entirely shut down. Fortunately I got to spend most of the day inside as Thursday is my day off from teaching, but to additionally attest to the strength of the rain, when I opened my bedroom window for two minutes, rain came in and soaked the floor, no interfering wind necessary.

And apparently shit went down in other parts of BsAs too– a local mall got stormed by 50 people who seemed to be there to rob stores, but it turns out they were protesting unfair water drainage from the mall that had flooded their settlement nearby. Plus there was a temporary strike of bus drivers AND local trains and subways were shut down, so you couldn’t get the hell out of this city even if you wanted to.

To end the day of freakish chaos, we were all rewarded with a beautiful sunset that seemed unusually sweet given the horrors of the day– and then we all remembered that it was probably due to the pesticide cloud we had been gifted earlier.

This was all hilariously and beautifully summed up by a local reporter whose weekly news summary I read every week. Adrian Bono, you make me laugh out loud every Friday, thanks.

Aah, Buenos Aires. I still love you in all your fucked-up glory.

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photo courtesty of Adrian Bono

Charlie and one year of friendship!

Today my friend Charlie wrote the loveliest blog post about the day we met, which was one year ago today. Charlie and I met through a mutual Internet friend who knew I was living in Buenos Aires and that Charlie wanted to travel there. We traded emails for a few months until Charlie finally came to Buenos Aires to work on his spectacular novel. During his five months here, we lived together in the same house in San Telmo and had some absolutely fantastic days– lots of coffees, empanadas, twisted funny dark talks over alcohol, an unforgettable trip to Chile. Charlie and I hung out pretty much every day!

I felt so sad when Charlie returned to the U.S. because we spent so much time together and he had quickly became a close friend. But fortunately we still keep in touch through the magic of the Internets, and now he’s living his dream in a cornfield in Illinois, building a ridiculously tiny house on his parents’ farmland and continuing work on his novel. He is one of the sweetest, kindest people I know and I am honored that he considers me a friend.

Read the lovely words he wrote!!

It was one year ago today that I met the famous Lauren! I wrote about it here if you’d like to, like me, relive the experience. Sigh.

It’s strange. While it does feel ages ago and continents away, it feels as though it’s still happening. That somewhere in a universe I’m hailing a taxi, asking for _ _ _ Carlos Calvo, and gazing through the taxi windows as we race up packed streets and down narrower ones.

It’s a sunny day and the old buildings of San Telmo bounce the sun back to me off their worn stones. Nervous, I approach the wrought-iron door, re-checking the address, eyes darting up and down the street. I ring the bell and suddenly a voice shouts down from above. It’s a youthful looking woman–hair pulled back in a girlish ponytail–talking to me while she leans out from the terrace. I think she even says my name. She disappears in an energetic flash and soon she’s ushering me inside, receiving me with a huge hug and a kiss. This is Fer, the owner of the house.

The house seems busy, shower running in the bathroom, people talking and laughing through a closed door, more voices from the kitchen where the cleaning lady chats as she cleans.

Again, another shout from above and I just barely catch Lauren leaning out from the upstairs hallway. She races down the stairs and we quickly hug. We’d been emailing for a couple of months and now we are meeting for the first time. Lauren greets me warmly, and my nervousness falls away as I realize that somehow this is my long lost big sister. Soon Fer is giving me a tour in rapid fire español. I immediately look to Lauren for help (something that, I’m sure, became a daily occurrence for the next four months). I briefly meet Juli as she emerges from the steam of the bathroom (it won’t be until Lauren’s Thanksgiving that I properly meet everyone).

And in that still happening universe Lauren and I have an entirely too caffeinated lunch, laughing, talking, and cracking crass jokes. Later, standing on a busy corner in the now overcast light, we continue with our espresso-ed chat until a guy across the street sticks his tongue out at Lauren. She returns with her own tongue and I wonder what strange custom this is. It’s Johannes, the past and future housemate (but it won’t be until later when the Germans come back).

It’s a wonderful, welcoming day. Clearly, any anxieties about meeting an “internet friend” are gone as quickly as a dulce de leche smothered dessert.

Back in this universe, Lauren has already celebrated one year in that magical, crazy city (on September 6th). She’s working, teaching, living, and writing! And most likely speaking fluently by now. She’s my hero, my big sister (wait, I’m the older one?), and my inspiration.

While none of us–Lauren, Juli, Leentje, Lucky, Johannes, Jordan, Joanna, Max, Peter, Old Dan and Little Ann, and a few others I can no longer remember, sorry Spanish girl–reside on Carlos Calvo anymore, all of us still live in that crazy house with too much Malbec (thanks, Lucky!) in some other–and much more fantastical–universe.

All the best, mi amiga (mis amigos).

El mercado en Avenida Balcarce

I’m back in San Telmo again, living in one of my favorite neighborhoods (also the first neighborhood I lived in when I came to Buenos Aires). My roommate Ande told me about a neat market nearby that’s only open on Saturdays, so after rolling my ass out of bed at 1 p.m., I went to check it out:

This is Larguirucho, a famous cartoon character in Argentina.

The market is small but has everything: fruits and vegetables; fresh fish, meat, and eggs; cereal and beans.

cereales: Argentina makes a lot of cereal, but oddly enough, Argentines really don’t eat that much of it.

having fun at work

zukini: a Spanglization

This market is one of several traveling markets that service different neighborhoods in the city with afforadable produce and goods:

C = C       concrete = canvas

I wanted to take photos of so many moments today: the old man grilling chicken thighs on a tiny parilla in the street; kids hanging out at the kiosco; a bright red muscle car slowly turning the corner on a cobblestone street. Each snapshot in my mind is like a love letter to this city, as if one day we will turn the pages of a photo album in bed together, remembering the days the came before.

Snippet: An evening with the biddies

I come downstairs to see both tables set, the special occasion pink-orange and blue tablecloths, and now I understand the shopping list I saw on the table earlier.

“Who’s coming?” I ask Marisol, who is pulling empanadas out of the oven. She offers me a cheese one and I quickly accept. I am no fool– everything Felisa makes is delicious, especially for special occasions.

“Twenty friends from high school,” she says. Normally Marisol wears a tank top and a ponytail when she comes to clean the house, but today she wears a pretty blouse and dangling black earrings. She fusses with her hair between empanada batches. “They’ll be here from 6-8. I’m waiting to greet them.” I have never seen Marisol here on a Friday evening.

“How long will you stay?” I ask.

“Until she tells me I can go,” she replies.

Since the occasion clearly calls for beer, I go to the chino and buy a bottle of Stella and mini pizza crusts at the bakery along the way. I pour Marisol a glass; she and I have talked many times about our love for beer.

“You served me?” she asks, surprised. She shakes her head. “I can’t drink this early.”

I tilt my head toward the glass on the counter. “Bueno, I guess I’ll drink it, then…”

She grins and picks up the glass. “Well.” We hold the glasses up to toast.

“To the old ladies,” I say.

“To you, that everything goes well,” she responds. We clink glasses. This is probably the last time I will see Marisol– I am leaving the house for good.

We spend the next twenty minutes talking about the cats and the ridiculous amount of money that her boss and my landlord, Felisa, charges to the foreign students who live in the house next door. (20,000 pesos a month, or 4,000 a pop.) “She understands how to make money,” Marisol says. Marisol makes about 100 pesos a day cleaning three houses for Felisa’s family. I ask her how long she’s been working for Felisa and she tells me eight years; the pay’s not good but she would never be able to find such a flexible schedule with anyone else. We keep chatting as Marisol puts more empanadas in the oven and tells me about the other girls who have lived here, like the divine girl from Mexico she once went to Uruguay with, and how Felisa and she used to cook together in the mornings when Felisa was 20 kilos heavier.

I eventually go upstairs with a new glass of beer and hear the first visitor ring the bell a little while later. The earliest guests are perfectly within schedule per Argentine standards: it’s 6:40. Felisa has not arrived yet.

Over the next couple of hours I work on my laptop with the door open, listening to the women come in. Part of me pretends to be annoyed that such a large amount of people are over, but I’m secretly happy to hear the biddy voices coming from below. In the beginning, when there are fewer women, I can hear each woman’s personality– who is dominant in the group, who is genuinely friends with who. Their voices are assured, confident in a room without men.

I listen to the women fill the room with their voices, punctuating the conversation with calls to Marisol:

“Tiiiiiiimbre!”

“Cerra la puerta!”

I go downstairs and see the wonderful long tables full of women, each chair occupied. I smile and greet them, call them lindas, and feel a little shy at all the attention. One woman asks me if I’m the roommate and for some reason I say no. I search for Felisa at the table and find her slouched in the corner, a smile on her face. Her eyes quickly pass over me and return to the table as if I am a moth that has entered the room.

I approach her and ask if she wants me to take a photo of the event. She looks at me as if I have asked for permission to shave my head with the lawnmower, a typical Felisa response. “No, no, no,” she says, shaking her head. I can feel the women watching her, so I ask her if she’s sure, thinking one of the women will pipe up and say yes. But Felisa says no and so I put the camera back into my pocket and pour another beer, my excuse for coming downstairs.

I text Pablo and he suggests going out to dinner– he is kind enough to rescue me from the evening. When he comes to the door, I walk down the stairs, smile at the women, and slip out the door, a moth escaping back into the night.