Now that I am officially a (temporary) Mendoza resident, I am having a fun time getting accustomed to a routine. My day begins with a breakfast of toast and coffee and a 45 minute walk to school through the Universidad de Cuyo. Every day is brilliantly sunny, so it is impossible to not be in a good mood. The university grounds are like an unkempt park and deserted since it’s the middle of summer vacation. The buildings bear a strong resemblance to “Balmer High,” the ugly 1960s-era School of Business Administration building at the University of Washington where I spent most of my college classroom days.
Needless to say, the Universidad de Cuyo is not the most beautiful college campus, but it still has the charm of being a college campus, which means I greatly enjoy my walk through it.
Like a true nerd, during the entire walk I talk to myself in broken Spanish phrases and test my vocabulary knowledge with homemade flashcards. I find that my conversations with myself come out much easier than my conversations with native Spanish speakers, but this is probably because I only speak to myself with sentences that I understand.
At school, I struggle to follow what’s being said in my conversation class by the more advanced students, then enjoy a gloriously easy English conversation with those students at lunch. My new friends are two girls from Switzerland and an older couple from Alaska.
Each of my new friends is incredibly impressive in their own way. One of the girls, Manuela, is exactly my age and works in customer service at the train station in Zurich. She already speaks French, German, and Italian and is now learning Spanish so she can communicate with her Spanish-speaking customers.
The other girl, Stef, is only 22 years old and owns her own bar and restaurant in a summer holiday town on a lake in a rural area of Switzerland. She does everything – cooks, cleans, hires employees, handles unruly customers, chases mice from her Coca Cola cases, and calms her guests down when they spot the neighborhood snake whom she has befriended.
The couple from a small town in Alaska, Marilyn and Doug (who is better known as “Pato,” the Spanish word for duck, which is what some Guatemalans thought he was saying when he introduced himself to them as “Doug”) are some of the warmest and most genuine people I have ever met. They spend the cold winters of Alaska traveling the world, campground hopping through New Zealand, trekking through the Amazon, or learning Spanish in Argentina.
It is fascinating and wonderful to me that such a diverse group of us can get along so well.
After lunch I have a grammar class to myself since I am the only beginner student at the school this week. What a deal! A private class for the price of a group class.
With my head full of new words and grammar rules, I walk back home though the university. Nora greets me with licuado and I do my homework while she sits and talks to me with what I’m sure must be frustratingly simple phrases.
Snack digested, I go for a run through the quiet yet cheerful neighborhood of my temporary home. Set on a hill overlooking the city, the private and exclusive neighborhood has wide sidewalks, professional landscaping, custom-designed houses with pools and/or backyard gardens, tons of new construction, and a backdrop of the Andes foothills. Kids play outside, people ride bikes, and families walk their dogs. The atmosphere reminds me of the happy, carefree, and playful days of my childhood summers.
After my run, I shower up and prepare to devour a huge, delicious, homemade dinner, followed by a dessert that usually involves some sort of dulce de leche (a carmel-like spread that is the Argentinian version of peanut butter, and oh man is it good). Many nights we are joined by the girls’ dad and his German Shepherd, Aquiles (pronounced like the Greek hero), who reminds me of my own childhood “Pastor Alemán,” Alex, except that Aquiles is much calmer and less likely to knock me over with excitement upon seeing me.
Dinner is usually accompanied by the news on C5N (the Argentinian CNN affiliate), a fútbol game, a truck race, or the Chilean TV channel. I was really excited one night because an NBA game was on, but the rest of the family was pretty bored with it and the channel was quickly turned.
When the plates are cleared, it is usually after 11pm or later, so I head for bed to prepare for another full day of my new routine.
Life in Mendoza is good.