Dinner, a Movie, and a Day of Happy Happenstances

20 Jan

My last week in Mendoza arrived out of nowhere and there were still too many things that I needed to do and see!

The lake and gardens at Parque San Martín

Concentrating less on studying and more on experiencing Mendoza, my progress in speaking Spanish may have faltered a bit this week. I didn’t care though, because there were a few things I wanted to do before leaving this city, and I only had five more days in which to do them.

Despite living and schooling very close to the main park in Mendoza, Parque San Martín, I hadn’t spent any time revisiting the beautiful greenery since my first trip to Mendoza last month. Monday afternoon seemed like a good time to wander around the park, despite the threatening rain clouds that burst just as I was strolling by the lake and surrounding gardens.

View of downtown Mendoza from the top of Cerro de la Gloria

I managed to get some pictures without soaking my camera, then continued on through the park to the Cerro de la Gloria. A hill towering to the west of the city, it boasts a fantastic view of the entire Mendocino metropolis and the foothills of the Andes encircling the cityscape. I had spent three weeks in Mendoza thinking it was a tribute to a woman named Gloria. Nope. The top of the hill in fact exhibits a memorial to General San Martín commemorating his actions that influenced the gaining of Argentinian independence. It is a “Hill of Glory.”

The monument to General San Martín on the top of Cerro de la Gloria

The next day after school I wanted to check out the Ruins of San Francisco, some of the only surviving remnants of colonial Mendoza from before the 1861 earthquake that basically destroyed the city. Unfortunately for me, the crumbing church ruins were closed for repairs. They looked like they would have been cool to explore, although it was hard to see much behind the huge government sign announcing the reparation.

The ruins of San Francisco, closed for repairs

That night was a true test of my Spanish speaking ability. A friend of one of Nora’s friends took me to dinner at a terrace restaurant on the top floor (the tenth floor, hence its name, Decimo) of one of Mendoza’s taller buildings. (Mendoza doesn’t have many skyscrapers.)

He spoke minimal English so it would be a really awkward dinner if I couldn’t bust out some Spanish skill! He brought a Spanish-English dictionary, but surprisingly, we didn’t really need it.

How fun it was to have a dinner date and be able to carry on a conversation (mostly) in Spanish the whole time! It was probably annoyingly simple talk for him, but it was wildly fun for me.

Palm tree courtyards at Palmares Open Mall

Mid-week arrived and I decided to pay a visit to the Palmares Open Mall. I can’t resist a trip to the mall when it is nearby. Except I didn’t actually know if it was really nearby – I only knew that it was somewhere in Godoy Cruz, a close suburb of Mendoza.

I started walking in the direction of Godoy Cruz, staring in the windows of the closed clothing, furniture, and artisan shops (nothing is open at 2pm, siesta time!) and enjoying a detour through the parking lot of a Home Depot-esque superstore.

Finally, I realized I had no idea where I was or how to get to the mall. It was time to ask for directions. After ordering a dripping cone of dulce de leche ice cream at the neighborhood heladería, I asked the guy at the counter how to get to the mall. To my surprise, he actually understood me! Except he didn’t know where it was. Luckily, a woman in the shop overheard us (and understood my questioning!) and proceeded to give me directions via bus. I couldn’t believe that I had just successfully asked for and obtained directions in Spanish. It felt like a major triumph.

Heading into the theater to see Gato Con Botas

I followed her directions and miraculously made it to the mall. Palm trees, outdoor cafes, the sun beating down on courtyards winding around all the typical mall stores. It was a perfect place to spend my afternoon.

As I meandered through the mall maze, I encountered a cinema. I couldn’t think of a more fun way to evaluate the quality of my four-week Spanish education than engaging in one of my favorite pastimes – seeing a movie – dubbed in Spanish.

Armed with a Coca Cola chico (that’s a small in Argentinian speak) and movie theater candy, I headed into the theater showing Gato Con Botas. It was really fun to be able to understand some of what was being said – only four weeks ago, the entire movie would have been complete gibberish to me – but I realized that I won’t be done learning Spanish until I can understand the majority of a movie like this. (It is a kids’ movie, after all!)

I spent my last afternoon in Mendoza on a mission to find the perfect thank you present for Nora. We had talked about our favorite books, and I had promised to read hers, Mujeres Que Corren Con Los Lobos. She wanted to read my favorite book also, but we didn’t know what it was called in Spanish. A potential gift idea, I thought.

After hopping from librería to librería in Mendoza, I eventually found out that the Spanish version of my favorite book, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, is called El Manantial and is no longer in print. Despite being disappointed that what I thought was a great gift idea was a no-go, I was feeling pretty good that I had been able to get this information purely with my still basic Spanish skills.

El Manantial, the Spanish version of The Fountainead

But it was my last day in Mendoza, and I really needed to find a gift for Nora. I was also sad that I hadn’t gotten to say goodbye to a few friends from school. To top it off, I had spent two great days with Beti (the homestay host of my Alaskan friends, Marilyn and Pato), but I didn’t have her email address to keep in touch.

Sometimes there are moments in life in which, for some reason, everything works out.

As I was randomly moseying down a street, I made a spontaneous decision to stop at a cafe for a while to energize my mind with some caffeine and brainstorm gift ideas for Nora. While the señorita was taking my order of café solo (black coffee), Beti appeared at my table. She was at the very same cafe with some friends!

Reeling from the happy coincidence, I struggled to keep up with the rapid Spanish she spouted at me. I did manage to get her email address, and I am excited that I can now keep in touch with her via the internets.

Leaving the cafe, I still didn’t know what to get Nora. I decided to peruse the shops on the main shopping street in hopes that something would jump out at me. Unfortunately, it was mid-afternoon, so most of the shops were closed for siesta.

On a block of closed shop after closed shop, there was one place that was open. It happened to be a librería. What the heck, I thought. It’s very unlikely they’ll have El Manantial, but maybe they’ll have another book I can give to Nora.

I browsed the shelves of books with Spanish titles, casually looking at the authors whose last names start with “R.” My eyes fell on a book, then moved to another, then excitedly moved back to the first. I couldn’t believe it. It was a gorgeous hardback version of El Manantial!

Last dinner with my Argentinian family

Cheerfully swinging the bag containing my book purchase, I lazily sauntered up Sarmiento, a pedestrian street of outdoor cafes. All of a sudden, the sound of my name interrupted my merry daydreaming. Knowing that the likelihood of there being another Carly in Mendoza was about the same as me winning the Argentinian lottery, I figured it had to be for me.

Lo and behold, it was the two friends from school to whom I had wanted to say goodbye but didn’t have the opportunity. This afternoon really was one of serendipitous happenings! I joined them for a bit at an outdoor cafe and we promised to keep in touch.

One last huge and delicious carne dinner with my Argentinian family – Nora, the girls, their dad, and even my favorite Argentinian perro Aquiles – then it was time to pack up my things. It is unbelievable how quickly one month goes.

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