Tonight we did what I’ve said this trip is all about—meeting real people…in their life.
Many months ago, my good friend Claudia had introduced me to her Argentinean friend, Damian, who was living in Chicago, but was from Buenos Aires. He knew I would be visiting here and was so happy to share his passion for his hometown. He urged me to contact his parents and visit them while here. He insisted that we go to their home for dinner.
After getting over my fear of a complete phone conversation in Spanish, I finally called his mom to arrange our evening. Since Damian spoke such good English, I made a wrong assumption that his parents would speak some as well. This was not the case. And for some reason, Damian told them I spoke Spanish, but how much or how little he left out. I painfully mangled my way through the phone call and hung up hopefully understanding that they would pick us up for dinner at 8pm the next day. Or maybe we were meeting them for breakfast at 8am at our hotel? I really wasn’t exactly sure.
At eight o’clock the next night, Mark and I waited on busy Avenida de Mayo just outside our hotel. Will they come? Will they come on time? How do we know which car is theirs? Would we get in the wrong car and be kidnapped? Finally, a car slowed down in front of our hotel. I approached with a big smile on my face while someone got out, looked at me funny and walked right past me while the car drove away. Oops—wrong people, wrong car. Just a few moments later a small Ford approached and a young, good looking guy got out. He smiled broadly at me and I knew it must be Ezequiel, Damian’s younger brother. Damian’s father, Daniel, and brother greeted us warmly and soon we were zipping down the highway to their house about 20 minutes away. Ezequiel spoke very good English and had his work cut out for him for the evening as our translator. I sat on the edge of the backseat straining to decipher dad’s Spanish words. Even though Ezequiel was there, I still continued to try and speak Spanish in hopes he wouldn’t need to translate.
Their house was very nice and super clean with a simple modern, almost Scandinavian feel to it. And Daniel had designed and built the whole thing himself. He was a civil engineer for the city and had a lot to do with the design of the city’s infrastructure for things like gas and water lines. Damian’s mother, Elvira, hugged and kissed us hello and couldn’t have been more gracious and sweet. We met the family dog and sat down to a dinner of, what else, steak. She served it with some tasty grilled peppers and tuna stuffed tomatoes. We talked about the economic crisis, real estate, the military rule, steak, and all things Argentinean.
In fact, we spoke about movies and I remembered afterwards an Argentinean movie I saw a couple years ago at the Chicago Latino Film Fest–it was called “Valentin” and was really good. The sad part was I completely forgot the movie took place in Buenos Aires and was filmed in Argentina. Sadly, Argentina was hardly ‘on my radar’ until I started planning my trip. And now, I’ve given serious though to investing in a property here and of course returning in the future.
Before dessert, Daniel and Ezequiel gave us the grand tour of the rest of su casa. Upstairs there was a big and airy finished attic that they used as an office and all around playroom.We engaged in some serious games of ping pong and foosball both of which dad seemed to master.
During dessert (we’d brought a chocolate cake), we discussed politics and were able to learn a lot about the economic crisis that occurred here in 2001. It happened in December, just 3 months after September 11th which we assumed is why we didn’t hear much about it because the news in the United States at the time had such a narrow focus. Here, the peso became worth only a third of its former self and citizens made runs to the bank only to be told their money was gone. It was awful and people lost their savings and became poor overnight.
I so enjoyed this evening with my new friends. They seemed like a fun, happy family, and joked around a lot. When jokes and laughter transcend all language barriers, you know it is special. It was so cool to talk to some real Porteños (people from Buenos Aires). Ironically, Damian will be visiting from Chicago just 10 days from now for Christmas, but unfortunately I will already be gone—halfway around the world to New Zealand. But I have a strong feeling I will be back in Argentina some day soon. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered why in the US we hear so little about Argentina and Buenos Aires in general. Maybe it’s just too far for Americans to travel? I don’t know, but I for one, think more people should know about it and how wonderful, and chic, and friendly, and cultured it is. After dessert and some helpful advice on where to look for real estate, Daniel and Elvira drove us back downtown, but this time our translator wasn’t coming. Oh no! What will we do? Well, with my new second language, we did just fine. It was a great night with great new friends in a great new city. This is what it’s all about.