Day 9: First Sight of the Monument

My new schedule liberated my mornings on Thursdays and Fridays. After having a long day on Thursday, I didn’t have to worry about attending class until soccer class started at 12:30. But I still needed to talk to the program director about the switch to officially clear my move to level-three Spanish, and thus I was up and ready to head to campus at 9.

There was nothing to worry about, as she excitedly told me she had already heard the news. Smiling as wide as my host mom had the previous evening, she said there was nothing else I had to do except attend my classes and study as hard as she knew I would. Now I just needed to kill a couple of hours before soccer class actually started.

I ended up sitting in a café on Santa Fe between Dorrego and Italia, sipping café con leche and reading ahead for soccer class. The small establishment was warm, tastefully adorned with wooden accouterments throughout. Two or three of the other tables were occupied by similarly-minded people taking in coffee and medialunas before beginning the day in earnest.

Eventually I paid my tab and strolled slowly through the Plaza San Martín in the direction of the law building where soccer class was held every day. Nearing the end of my post-coffee cigarette, I stopped near the statue of the Argentine general after whom the park took its name and sat down on a bench. I pulled out my pack and grabbed another to find I had but three left. Lighting the smoke, I lifted myself back to my feet and headed in the direction of the kiosk across from the campus building to replenish my stores.

The downside of smoking in Argentina is that I can not find my preferred brand anywhere. The upside is that, regardless of what you do end up buying from the omnipresent kiosks, a pack of cigarettes is going to cost less than two dollars at even the least generous exchange rate possible. At that price I’m perfectly willing to forego the lack of Winstons and dabble in other options.

Handing over a 50-peso note, I grabbed my three packs and my change and headed back to the street. Crossing Córdoba, I entered the law building and headed slowly toward my classroom at the far end of the edifice. There the instructor was setting up a projector for the day’s lecture, and I pulled out my notebook and started chatting before the official start of the session.

The subject matter was contemporary, a discussion on favelas and the impact of the ongoing World Cup on Brazilian communities. We discussed the selected chapters we had been assigned from Dave Zirin’s book, Brazil’s Dance with the Devil, and watched a couple of documentaries about the impact of the World Cup (as well as the 2016 Rio Olympics) on working-class populations in the country.

After the class I was hardly in the head space to commence my first Grammar 3 class. Mercifully, the class was canceled that afternoon, preempted by a walking tour to visit the Monumento Nacional de la Bandera. The various classes congregated at the home base for the AHA Programa Internacional, and our English-language tour guide fought the ineptitude of youth to wrangle us into a cohesive group. Eventually organized, we made our way back outside and headed toward Córdoba Street.

Our guide cracked jokes as our group slowly made its way toward the pedestrian corridor of Córdoba, explaining the various buildings and their past functions along the way. Sadly, our group was prone to wandering, and by the time we crossed Paraguay and entered the auto-free section of the strip our numbers had thinned in half. It ended up being their loss — I couldn’t help but be fascinated by all the information we were being graced with on this stroll, the history major in me drinking in the stories.

Passing the oldest cathedral in the city, built in the 19th century on the foundations of an earlier 1731 structure, we came upon the Monumento de la Bandera that was to be our ultimate destination on the tour. We passed along a pathway between two reflecting pools, with reclaimed and restored statues by Argentine artist Lola Mora popping out of the water on either side.

The approach led us toward the monument from its rear, the propylaeum with its eternal flame burning inside to represent the organization of the nation after the adoption of the 1853 Constitution. Passing between the pillars, constructed entirely of marble quarried within Argentina, we emerged onto the sloping courtyard and approached the tower at the front of the monument.

Piercing 70 meters into the Rosario sky, the tower is representative of a ship’s mast pointing out toward the Río Paraná. There, on one of the islands, Manuel Belgrano first hoisted the Argentine flag in 1812. From provincial roots the flag would become an indelible symbol of the independent nation, through all of its iterations over the past two centuries.

Finally we made our way to the shore of the river and bid goodbye to the guide. I strolled for a short while with a couple classmates before having to turn around. I had been instructed by my host mom to meet another classmate; her host mom was going to be out for the evening, and I was supposed to bring her over to my house for dinner.

That certainly failed. I eventually made my way the 20 blocks and reached her apartment building. Ringing the bell to her apartment, there was no answer. I pulled out my tablet, wandering along the sidewalk until I found wi-fi signal. I sent one email, then another, pacing between the apartment entrance and the hotspot in vain. 90 fruitless minutes later, I finally gave up and retreated homeward.

As I walked through the door, the phone rang. Only now was my classmate getting in touch with my host mom to inform her that she had alternate plans for dinner. After wasting an hour and a half in the encroaching darkness, it meant far more empanadas for me.

I set down my bag in my room and took off my jacket before plopping onto the couch in the living room. Absentmindedly watching the news program on the television, my stomach grumbled in anticipation of the food to come. A platter of stuffed pastries eventually made its way in front of me, and we toasted with glasses of vino tinto before diving into the food. The richness of the beef and saltiness of the olives and perfectly-brown dough enveloping it all was exactly what I needed to satiate my hunger.

Around 10, one of my host mom’s friends came over. They stepped out and returned with two liters of Brahma Chopp, and we sat around the table in the living room and joked around while sipping beer. Then the two ladies retreated into my host mom’s bedroom, emerging after dressing for a night on the town. They invited me along, and just after midnight we made our way down the elevator and caught a cab toward a boliche. Little did I know what I was getting myself into…

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