Saturday, September 08, 2018

31 Days in Buenos Aires: The Story of a TDY

The following recounts a month spent in Buenos Aires on TDY (Temporary Duty) as a visa adjudicator.  Posts worldwide often put out the call for assistance to Consular Affairs - usually during the summer transfer and vacation season - and consular employees are dispatched to help fill the gaps.  While my colleagues were assigned to India in the wretchedly hot summer months, I was assigned to Buenos Aires, Argentina in July, i.e. their January.  I still think I got the better deal, climatically speaking. This is what it looked like:

Day 1
Recoleta  Cemetery Recollections 

Nearly four years ago, my husband and I visited Buenos Aires for the first time.  Part of our explorations brought us to the famous Recoleta Cemetery (eternal home of Eva "Evita" Perrone) where we saw more than just tombs and memorials.  We also met cats.  One cat in particular was exceptionally friendly.

Today I returned to Recoleta with a friend now assigned to the embassy here.  I remembered the spot where the kitty was, sat down, and over he came.  He didn't even seem upset at having to wait so long to see me again.

Day 4
Making a Tea Connection

A few blocks from my hotel is The Tea Connection, a restaurant/tea emporium with recycled wood floors and wall paneling, an encyclopedic menu of teas and corresponding selection of Asian tea pots and mugs for sale, a cozy loft and a wonderful menu of healthy, nothing-artificial foods. With the Beatles' "Rubber Soul" playing in the background, I ordered a broccoli and brie "tarta" which is like a quiche, side salad and glass of Malbec.  As the waiter pours and pours the Malbec into the large tulip glass, I suddenly realize he's waiting for me to say "when!" and so I do just before he reaches the lip of the glass.  I look around the three cozy dining areas, including the loft above me, and see teens chatting over their individual pots of tea, and a solo woman reading, pen in hand, marking the pages as she goes. Maybe a teacher or maybe she's preparing for a meeting tomorrow? In the next room are two middle-aged men deep in discussion about something intelligent-seeming, and behind me are two couples in their (at least!) 70's enjoying a few beers and conversation. Seeing all this reminds me to not hurry, even though it's already nearly 8:30, and to take a breath between bites and sips and enjoy the life unfolding around me.  The restaurant motto posted on the back of the register is #MejorConSonrisa - "Better with a Smile" and I couldn't agree more. 

Day 5 Rear Window

My hotel is in the heart of the neighborhood Palermo, surrounded by multi-story apartment buildings. Please, don't think me creepy when I say, "Who needs telenovelas when you have neighbor-vision?"  After less than a week, I already feel I know the woman who lets her big yellow lap sleep on the couch, the family who fries up burgers at 10:00 pm, the couple with the big tabby who has its own round ottoman, and the woman in pink sweatpants who still can't get her pilot light to ignite.  
I might just miss them when I leave.

Day 6 Subte Surprise

The Subte is Buenos Aires' metro, short for "subterráneo" and I hopped on today to get across town.  It was a nice surprise to see each of the stations beautifully tiled in patterns, murals or mosaics.  

Day 8 - Family Dinner

My new favorite pasta place across the street from the hotel apparently doesn't even open for dinner until 8:00 pm on weekends, so when my hunger hit at 7:40 - I ended up at a new spot a block away.  I took a cozy back-room table and shortly thereafter was joined by two families at one long table: four parents and (count 'em) seven children between the ages of two and nine. 
I gotta' say... they behaved themselves quite well, chatting and playing with each other, even without any mobile devices to distract. When their plates of spaghetti and chicken milanese arrived, the sound of forks and knives rapidly slicing and dicing their dinners erupted as the mothers got to work prepping the food for the little ones.  And then... to my astonishment, ALL the kids fed themselves as the parents resumed their adult conversations at the other end of the table.  My favorite chica was the dark, curly-haried Lourdes, who at probably 3 years old, already has developed a penchant for spaghetti with parm.  Lots of parm, which she first spooned generously onto her pasta, and later just ate straight from the bowl.  Go Lourdes!

Day 8 - How You Can Tell You're Not in North America Anymore

When these are the birds in the park...

...and this is a tree...

...and this is a bush.

Day 14: San Telmo

There's nowhere as vibrantly full of activity and life as the neighborhood of San Telmo, with its weekend market taking over the streets and daily indoor market with stalls selling everything from toilet brushes to antique brooches and a nice lunch to boot (and some nice boots!). 

Street performer demonstrating a very windy day :-)

Day 15 La Rural!

Every July, Argentina's agricultural industry leaves their fertile plains (pampas) to gather in downtown Buenos Aires in the county fair to end all county fairs.  It's two weeks of gauchopalooza packed with animal judging, harvester selling, 4x4 testing, choripan eating, mate sipping and deal making between farmers, ranchers, equipment producers and artisans from not only Argentina, but all other continents as well.  It showcases the unique flavor of Argentina and it can't be understated: La Rural is a really big deal.  And fortunately for me - it's held directly alongside the Embassy. Here's what I saw:

Day 16 Bird Watching in Buenos Aires

While looking for fun things to do in close by that would get me outside instead of only shopping and eating - I stumbled onto the website BirdingBuenosAires offering bird watching tours within urban Buenos Aires and the surrounds.  I chose a full-day tour on a crisp Saturday with the completely bilingual and incredibly knowledgeable Marcelo, the business owner and sole guide (and really interesting and fun guy), including a picnic lunch and door-to-door pick-up. He brought a spotting scope and extra binoculars and we set out to Costanera Sur and Vicente Lopez ecologic reserves along the Rio Plata that forms Buenos Aires' northeastern coastline. Marcelo showed me at least two dozen new species of birds and taught me how to take pictures through his spotting scope.  
Here is a bit of what we saw:

We saw more than just birds. This mustachioed gentleman is a nutria.

Day-20-22 Iguazu Falls

In the far northern tri-border region between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil is the world's largest waterfall system, with multiple falls ranging in height from 197 - 269 feet.  To celebrate a significant wedding anniversary, my husband made the long flight south to join me in Buenos Aires for a week including a weekend visiting Iguazu Falls.  While they can (and should) be viewed from both the Argentine and Brazilian sides, we chose to stay in Puerto Iguazu in Argentina. This small town is devoted to supporting tourists from all over the world with an airport, lodging from hostels to 5-star resorts and the Iguazu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

The walkways in the National Park take you RIGHT OVER the lips of the falls.

The mischievous and naughty coati.

Capuchin monkeys galore!

Day 26 Walking Home from Work When a Parade Breaks Out Around You

We've all seen horses in parades, and military in parades, and bands in parades, but walking home from work one day, suddenly all three combined and passed by.  Just 'cause.

Beats me how they play AND control their horses!
A singing-along kind of horse.

Day 31: Time to Go Home

After a month of adjudicating over 2200 visas, getting to know a section full of new friends, learning something about the country, the politics, the food, the natural beauty and their quirky version of Spanish (Castellano) - it's time to go home. Back to a hot and steamy Virginia summer. Back to my regular life and job already in progress. This month has been a pleasant detour - both culturally and climatically - and I had to regularly remind myself that this wasn't my new tour; I still had a job to take care of elsewhere. However, Buenos Aires will be included on my bid list in the coming weeks, so who knows - maybe this expedition will prove to be the ultimate try-out (them of me and vice-versa) for our next assignment?  Until then, I just have to follow the signs and head north:

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