Friday, December 19, 2008
Sleepy San Pedro
It seems that in this blog, I am always coming back to the kindness of the Argentine la gente. I don't mean to overstate it at all, it is just that when you are a foreigner, you are dependent upon the kindness of strangers. And while they owe us nothing, these people here have given us everything...And it makes our experience.
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to work as an exam administrator for a language school in a small town called San Pedro, about 170 kilometers north of Buenos Aires. The owner and director of the school contacted me to see if I would be willing to come to San Pedro for the weekend, work for a total of ten hours administering exams, with my meals, transportation, and accomodation completely taken care of. I accepted on the spot, and Nick and I decided to stay an extra night and make a mini-vacation out of it. And what a vacation it was!
San Pedro is a town of 50,000 that feels more like 10,000. Right on the river, it is characterized by giant river bluffs, from which you can look out upon the rio and its islands. The architecture is very Latin, with red, shingled roofs and stark white houses among bright pink houses. The main plaza is gorgeous and strikingly symmetrical: two palm trees, two lamposts, two benches, the center fountain, then two more palm trees, two more lamposts, and two more benches. It seemed so old-fashioned, so still; it was so calming to sit there. Walking on from the plaza, the town center is a paved mall flanked by a handful of traditional, cafeteria-style Argentine cafes boasting classic cafe con leches and liters of cheap Quilmes. The "boulevard," a quiet road winding across the bluffs, is the popular go-to with the teens of San Pedro, and they sit on the curb, drinking their mate as the sun sets on Friday evenings. And every night when the sun goes down, people bring their fold out chairs to the stoop and sip their mate with their families. The town and its movements are traditional, neighborly, slow-moving, and soothing.
Working at the institute was so much fun because I was working with children. These kids were so cute, hopeful, and hard-working in their attempts to succeed on their exams. Moreover, I was totally spoiled while in San Pedro. My boss there took me out for pizza upon my arrival, took me out to barbeque after work on Friday evening (and fed me snacks of cake and mini-sandwhiches in-between tests), gave me pastries and coffee for breakfast on Saturday, and brought Nick and me a quiche for lunch. She arranged for us to stay in an apartment that a neighboring family rents out. It was the best--the family was so accomodating, always checking to make sure Nick and I had everything we needed.
When I was finished with exams on Saturday, Nick and I traipsed up and down the town, walking along the bluffs, and stopping into cafes periodically to share a liter of Quilmes stout or to sip on a cafe con leche. In the evening, we asked the family with whom we were staying for a restaurant recommendation. In speedy Spanish, they told us to wait for 15 minutes. We were confused, but of course complied. 15 minutes later, the entire family--mom, dad, daughter, and son--came out of the house, freshly showered and wearing nice clothes. The dad opened up his van, and the four of them piled into the two front seats. The back of the van was like a bed of a truck, without seats. To our amazement, the father took out two fold out chairs and propped them up in the van for me and Nick. We couldn't believe it. So there we sat in these fold out chairs as the van bounced across the road. We weren't sure where we were going and we were trying desperately with the Spanish the family was speaking. Finally, we arrived at the top of a bluff. The dad got out and pointed down the bluff, telling us of their favorite parilla restaurant that waited at the bottom of the hill. "Okay," we laughed, and proceeded to thank the family and head down the hill.
Finally we arrived to a wooden lodge of a restaurant, well lit and cozy on the inside. We sat down, and promptly ordered a complete parilla. It was 45 pesos, a price unheard of in the city. We went crazy and ordered two bottles of wine and flan topped with dulce de leche. I can still taste the flan...After we were nearly done with our second bottle of wine, a musician arrived and began to sing South American pop songs. One by one, the restaurant patrons began to rise and join the dance floor, and finally, we hopped on the bandwagon. It was the very first time we danced in Argentina, and it was such a great memory. People were dancing all around us--grandparents, young parents, young about-to-be-parents, friends that were in their 20s, friends that were in the 60s. One couple danced with their toddler daughter bouncing in their arms. It was nearing two am, and the girls' eyes were drooping. Finally, she fell asleep as her parents salsa-ed around her, her pigtails flopping around with every dance move. It was such a cute image.
On Sunday, we went to a cafe near our apartment, drank coffee and munched on facturas, or sweet pastries, and read the newspaper. We walked to the river and waded in. Finally, it was time to go. We caught the bus back, and both of us were so sad to leave the calm of San Pedro, back to our busy lives in the city. We watched the landscape roll by--farm after farm after farm, reminding us of the other Argentina outside of the capital, and we daydreamed all about future journies to that other Argentina.