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A weekend in the big city

Sunday, April 3, 2011

This weekend, I ate pizza, rode in a taxi, went out dancing, bought brown rice and soy sauce, and saw children I don’t know.  Was I in Palena?  I don’t think so!  Friday afternoon, I piled into a truck with five other teachers and crossed the border into Argentina, driving about 2 hours to the regional capital, Esquel.  On the one hand, my expectations for the weekend were so high that they were impossible to live up to, especially traveling in a group; yet ultimately, I ate good food, I got to dance, and I enjoyed a satisfying break from my job here.

When we arrived Friday night, we drove around looking for a cabaña (small private house to rent by night, often translated as “bungalow”) to share.  The first place we checked out had a sign saying there were vacancies, but I pointed out that that may or may not accurate information; when it turned out I was right, I joked at the irony of the gringa being the one to point out that things are not always as they seem!  We eventually found a cabaña for 300 Argentinian pesos/ night, or US $74, aka $12/person!

Being in Argentina with Chileans in a way made me feel like I belonged more than ever.  It was fascinating to hear what my Chilean friends thought was new or strange.  Certainly the Argentine accent was different, and I am proud to say I can hear it, and even imitate it– does that mean my “default” is becoming a Chilean accent?  In our endless conversations about exchange rates (this jacket costs 100 Argentinian pesos, how much is that?), I found that once a price was converted to Chilean pesos, it had meaning for me– I didn’t need to further convert to US dollars.  At the disco, one of my friends suddenly suggested we move to a different table, and he later told me it was because some guys at the other table were talking trash about Chilean soccer, certainly because they identified us as Chilean.  I should note that most of our interactions with Argentines were extremely friendly– for example, when we stopped to ask about a car repair shop, the man fixed the problem himself with a little red string!

One of our biggest goals for the weekend was to BUY.  Oh capitalism, how I missed you.  I was thrilled to just walk up and down the aisles in the supermarket.  A part of me wanted to buy everything just because, but I settled for a few items I knew I’d appreciate here, and that I didn’t think would get confiscated at the border: shampoo and conditioner (only one brand sold in Palena), eye make up remover, brown rice, soy sauce, flax seed, and dried shitake mushrooms.  I almost lost it when I learned there was no peanut butter, but I consoled myself with a little tub of Nutella.  But seriously, people: an entire aisle of maté, another of marmalades and caramel spreads, but no peanut butter?!  Turns out, my American tastes stay with me.  There were also lots of fresh pasta and cheese like cheddar and parmesan that I drooled over, but alas, no lactose products can cross the border.  Maybe I’ll stick some under my jacket next time.

Let’s also talk about time: from what I’ve gathered in Chile, people start getting together to drink at 1o or 11, and head out to a bar or club at 1.  Turns out, compared to Argentina, that is kid stuff, with the added twist that you can’t buy alcohol in stores after 10:30.  So Friday, after dinner, we got beers at the Casino, and when we headed to the disco at the respectable hour of 12:30, we were told it didn’t open until one, so the three of us that were really committed to going out went and found another bar, while the other three went back to the cabaña.  After another round at this bar (which was heating up as we left at 2:00), we arrived at the disco, which was empty.  It looked like the first five minutes of a house party at Smith College– at 10 PM.  By 3 more people arrived, and when we left at 4:30, it was really heating up.

Do people sleep in this country?  I know Argentina is even later than Chile (father and two toddlers were eating pizza next to us Saturday at 10:30), but even in Chile, it’s insane.  If I don’t have to do anything tomorrow, and I’m having a good time, what’s the harm?  Then again, for me at least, the next day is like slugging through molasses, more for not sleeping than from drinking.  And I like drinking sometimes, but I do start to wonder, is this it?  It is so predictable, so absurd, in a way, that everyone becomes buddy-buddy friends when they have intentionally made themselves incoherent.   Sometimes it’s fun, and I surprise myself by how laid back I can be; and this weekend, it was just what I needed.  I love that everyone knows everyone in Palena, but it was delicious to not feel like a teacher, like everyone was watching my every move, for a few days.  And I have a list of foods I want to eat in Esquel next time!

Home, sweet home!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. jane woodman permalink
    Monday, April 4, 2011 1:16 pm

    Love all the pictures! There must have been some kind of mercy at work when I was born an American Gringa. I’m pushing it (as you well know) if I stay up after 10pm. I’m going to have to smuggle in amphetamines or something when we visit. But it all sounds like so much fun, and so good to get(even more)away. xoxo

  2. sally johnson permalink
    Tuesday, April 5, 2011 10:54 am

    Margaret,
    Just one of the gang as you traveled…how very nice! Your mother is right, she’ll never be able to keep up with those hours! Maybe she can sneak you some peanut butter. Looks like the table is full of gentlemen, which might feel kind of nice when you spend so much time with other women, yes? Steve is now 22, Dan’s wedding right around the corner, Spring is finally in the air. sending big hugs!
    Sally

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