Apparently my Spanish is far better than I give myself credit. After studying a bit the prior evening, I had no problem with the vocabulary we had learned yesterday. We played a game of Pictionary in conversation class, using the vocabulary words as our guide, and I found no need to have the professor explain any of the words I drew. 90 short minutes later, we were already done with the class for the day, and everything seemed to be barreling along with ease.
As the conversation instructor ceded the floor to the grammar professor, we were taken on a stroll toward the river with the intention of viewing the old train station. Walking down Oroño Boulevard, we were trailed by one of the many perros de calle that roam the city. The black mutt, emaciated, would break off every so often to chase after one of the motorcycles driving toward or away from the Paraná River before coming back to stroll with our group.
We reached the riverfront near the giant silos that have been converted into the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Rosario. Looking out on to the river, our professor allowed us to gaze for a moment before leading us toward the railway station that once defined this city’s industry.
On the building were a slew of infinitive verbs — transmitir, sostener, construir, contener, comprometerse, proteger, comprender, brindar, aceptar, ayudar, perdonar, dar, incluir, contemplar, imaginar, decidir, recuperar, elegir, and tolerar — that we each scrawled down in our notebooks for the next day’s vocabulary lesson. Then she led us through the gate to view the tracks, still in use but much neglected. Having been fascinated by rail travel for much of my life, the visit was a fascinating glimpse at a place that had transcended a time when it was one of the most important nodes of the city.
It was the railroads that had led to the creation of one of Rosario’s two main soccer clubs, Central, founded in 1889 by the workers of the line from Buenos Aires into the interior. Funded by British investment, soccer had provided a much-needed diversion from the daily grind. Today, though the railroad holds a diminished place in the life of the city, the team persists as one of the top teams outside of Buenos Aires and prepares to celebrate its quasquicentennial this year after the conclusion of the World Cup.
We eventually started to make our way back to the classroom, stopping in a park along the way. Some of the students ran toward the swings, childlike glee prevailing as they pumped their legs and soared through the air. I lit a cigarette and hoisted myself up a promising climbing tree, relaxing on a branch for a moment as I gazed down on the others.
Finally coming down, we returned to Oroño to trace our steps back to the program building. Our canine companion continued to follow faithfully, risking his life to bark at vehicles on the street each time one passed. As we strolled along, the instructor drifted toward the back of the group and addressed me.
She had been talking with the conversation professor, she said, and said that they had agreed that I had too good a grasp of Spanish to linger at the second level. She suggested that I move up to level three Spanish for the remainder of my five weeks in Rosario. I was taken aback, flattered and nervous. It would ultimately be my choice whether or not to move up in the ranks, she said, but according to her there was little reason not to accept a greater challenge.
So my day suddenly got longer. I smiled nervously, said I would talk to the program director, and felt the butterflies in my stomach return as we arrived at our building.
My mind struggled to focus on our first official soccer class. I had to force myself to take notes as my thoughts drifted, material that ostensibly should capture my entire attention subsumed by simultaneous waves of apprehension and excitement about my impending move to a higher level of Spanish than I had ever expected to take.
After soccer class I walked the four blocks back to the apartment to tell my host mom that I would be home later than expected. She was out, though, and I hastily scrawled a note before returning to the school. An hour remained before my new conversation class commenced, and I chain-smoked cigarettes nervously in the courtyard and prepared to introduce myself to yet another new professor.
Once again there was little to worry about, yet worry I did anyway. After thinking I’d settled into my classes, apprehension renewed itself as I wondered whether I would be up to this new challenge. The instructor arrived, and I told her about the new arrangement. She smiled and warmly welcomed me in, and the class period went by in a rapid blur as I kept up without too much struggle.
We ended the day with a word game, and I made it to the final three students before falling by the wayside. Rejuvenated with a surge of confidence and excited about the way the next four weeks were set to play out, I returned home to a beaming host mom. She gave me a big hug and congratulated me as I walked through the door, praised my newfound success, and brought out a heaping platter of the omnipresent Argentine beef to go with salad and potatoes and crusty bread.
Sated both mentally and physically, I sank into the couch and sipped malbec as we settled in to watch her favorite shows. Everything was starting to make more sense as I listened and watched, and we kept up small talk during the breaks. I had officially been in the country for a week, and a comfortable contentment carried me through the evening…