Ah, I am so sorry for my complete lack of contact this past week; things have been quite frantic, and I am supposed to be on holiday...
So, since my last entry (yes, also my first entry...) I have successfully come through my Spanish oral test and have been placed, provisionally, in Nivel Dos. Nivel Dos is a scary, scary place, full of semi-proficient (in the present tense at least) Spanish speakers and an ultra-intimidating crazy Latino teacher called Luciana. I knew that I had made a friend in Luciana as early as our first hour of class together. She, speaking rapid, hostile Spanish, said something that was presumably supposed to be funny. Obviously, I laughed a little too slowly and a little too half-heartedly. The eyes narrowed and the spotlight fell on my utterly bemused self. Que? More a threat than a question, and Manuel made it sound so plaintively harmless... So, I became the dour Englishman with a dire lack of Spanish who really should be in Nivel Uno and who remains in Dos for the singular purpose to try poor Luciana´s rather short-fused patience. Fun and games. No longer a casual quip as a soon-to-be-adopted tag-phrase for my Buenos Aires experience thus-far.
My fellow students are at least much nicer and very interesting as well. I am very happy to say that they constitute a friendly, if a little motley, crew, I mean bunch. Sorry. There is Niall, the chain-smoking, characteristically horizontal Irishman from Dublin, in BA with his partner Juan and looking to remain here long-term. The Anglo-Irish interaction so far has been, well, memorable. It is great fun, just do not mention imperialism. Then there is Austin, the Red from California. I love Socialists, it is such fun asking them about Capitalism in the West... Special mention also has to go to Dan, my housemate from Tennassee, who has only now, after a full week, realised just how alarmingly risky it is to be wandering around in a dark red, wide-brimmed cowboy hat. Alas, there is nothing to be done about his Southern drawl... Heehee. They are all lovely of course. On Friday evening, we hit Palermo, a well-to-do northern district of BA for a drinks party with GIC, our host organisation here in the city. I had a simply wonderful time chatting to a brilliant array of individuals and enjoyed a nice mooch through the cobbled streets with Carolyn. We just so happened to come across a play area, complete with swings and could not resist! There happened to be a couple of local children playing and we struck up a conversation with them - well, Carolyn did most of the talking, I smiled, nodded and indulged the children in my sole usefulness, namely pushing them on the swings. I decided to take a couple of photos of the scene for posterity and it was at this point that one of the two mothers sat chatting nearby approached. Ah, thought I, you have over-stepped the line here David old boy. I need not have worried; as she walked, the woman whipped out a camera of her own and so we happily snapped away side-by-side before striking up a conversation of our own. Here I fared better, as the mother had a little more understanding of my predictament and the patience to speak slower. What a lovely experience and quite apart from my expected outcome of pushing a complete stranger´s child on a swing. I could add a comparison to back home but, having never attempted to push a stranger´s child on a swing in England, such would be churlish perhaps.
Needless to say, I have fallen quite in love with the leafy, quiet backstreets of Palermo. So in love in fact that I returned yesterday and wandered around a little more extensively than I had opportunity to do the previous evening. Palermo also boasts the best green spaces in the city, so I wandered at ease through a superb rose garden, along a teasing, twisting Grecian colonnade and into a bewitching, enchanted Andalusian pergola, complete with tinkling founatin. In the afternoon I met up with Kerry and Emily in Plaza Italia and we strolled among the oriental flavours of the resident Japonese garden - I have never seen such large koi carp! As we left the garden in the late afternoon, the heavens opened, and - to borrow a warmingly comic phrase from a good friend - there were literally RIVERS running down the road! Well, I had by this point pulled my favourite trick of managing to catch some sunburn after a grand total of about five minutes in direct sunlight and now I was to be completely drowned, all in the space of a single afternoon. We think we have it bad in England... The downpour was soon exhausted and as Kerry and I trampsed back to the Subte station, having waved goodbye to Emily, who was headed in the opposite direction, we chanced upon the city botanic garden, complete with free entry. Well, in the immediate aftermath of such rain, the scents in this garden were heavenly! I was convinced that I was made absolutely without sensory neurons in my nasal passageway but, upon this evidence, perhaps I should re-think this bold assumption: we had a great time sniffing our way along the bark-covered pathways. Admittedly, the garden fell short of the delights offered by Cambridge back home but, it was a good collection all the same, and I have never seen such huge cacti! I must apologise for not uploading any photos yet - all in good time, I promise!
Last night I had intended a quiet night in with my Spanish books, after a home-coming of 4am previously, the GIC party having descended into the chaotic aftermath so often associated with drunken revelry - I was put firmly in mind of Alcibiades and co. in Plato´s Symposium. Of course, Dan had other ideas and I must say I am glad. Stood at the sink washing up our plates after dinner (at about 10.30pm of course), I was reminded of a definitive conversation with my very close friend Rob before I set off on my travels; namely, to live as much as is reasonable in the present and to be open to everything, errr, again reasonable... So, rather than hit the books, I hit the streets and took Dan to a music gig that a friend from the Spanish school had tipped me off to on Friday. We arrived bang on time to find... a tattoo convention, complete with downstairs open-space parlours and a competition upstairs. Quite extraordinary. I must admit, as averse as I am personally to such a practice, I was very impressed with the skill on display at the competition and at the parlour benches downstairs. Any thought of an exultant, hair-streaming Maradona girthing my right bicep - a fitting memento of my time in Argentina -was promptly dispelled however by the end of the tattoo show and the, heavily delayed (well this is Argentina), arrival of the musicians, as promised by the security staff an hour previously. From 1.15(ish)am until about 2.20am we were treated to some brilliant sounds. The first of the two bands was a rather conventional pop-punk outfit and they were competent at least - I liked them in fact and their keyboard player, so often missing from such a line-up, was quite the impressario! However, unfortunately for them, the pop-punks were followed by a simply breath-taking array of jazz-come-blues-come-something-very-special musicians playing brass, percussion and strings. There were even some Latin-styled hand drums (not djembes, more cylindrical and for their entire length) and a rhythm guitar. The scene-stealer, however, was the frontman, announcing his arrival by taking his 50s-styled mic from its holder and kicking over the stand itself - cue mild panic among we front-row fans as the metal bar of the stand flew alarmingly close-by! I think he apologised - his Spanish was of the cool, or drunken, slurred variety. It was a super gig and the penultimate song was, I believe, a classic jazz number that I last hear at an English bar just outside St Tropaz in the south of France, complete with an equally impressive drum solo from a chap who appeared to be imitating Lord Lucan in cognito, and complete with shades. Fabulous.
Anyway, that just about brings me up-to-date I think... I am sure that I have missed out some other fairly mirthful events but, time is pressing and my memory is not what it once was... I blame mojitos and Friday night in general. I shall try to keep more regular contact now that things are settling down into some tangible sense of routine: in fact, my only present concern is my complete lack of funds in pesos, owing to a renegade, delinquent cash-card and a chronic shortage of coins in Argentina - I swear, they are more valuable by far than their higher denomination paper-form brothers. More of that later perhaps but, for now, I shall love you and leave you all. Do please send me your news, especially what you perceive to be the dull and monotonous kind, if you have the time and drive.
Lots of love, hugs and kisses.