Monday, August 13, 2012

Sightseeing in Carlos Paz and Alta Gracia, Argentina

This weekend, my folks, my spouse, and I went on a short road trip to Carlos Paz. I've traveled all along the U.S. east coast many times, but I always missed the opportunity to stop by and look at the mountains. As a Floridian, sandy beaches, and palm tree were more of my thing. I did however see some mountains in 2010 while vacationing with a few coworkers in upstate New York, but the sights in Carlos Paz were breathtaking. 
Carlos Paz is a lot quieter than Cordoba, and you definitely get a touristy vibe. For me, it was more about taking photos, and trying not to break the camera. But I also took some snaps of the beautiful scenery as well. 
Afterwards, we headed towards Alta Gracia. Along the way, I noticed that there was a great deal of beautiful farmland between Carlos Paz and Alta Gracia. 
Alta Gracia is considered a "Pueblo" or a small country town. Like Kansas (or Smallville if you're into Superman). 
There's a church in Alta Gracia that was founded in the early 1500's. It is a historical site. If you visit there, you'll notice that the architecture, including the wooden doors to the church has remained untouched, even after several centuries. I am not a church going person, but I was impressed by how ancient the building was. One of my cousins was actually baptized in this church. 
There are a couple of street vendors near the church grounds as well as stores, restaurants, and ice cream parlors, but most of them had shut down for the afternoon for the "siesta," the period where most places close and nothing happens until around 5 p.m. But there was a park right by the church too, where families go to relax and enjoy a picnic. And that's exactly what we did. 
There's a tourist center across the street from the church, which by itself makes for a nice photo. It also comes in handy if your cell phone dies out and you need to know the time. 
Throughout Alta Gracia you can expect to find a variety of statues that represent historical figures, like the head statue of the legendary Eva Peron (not pictured). 
So, whether you're planning on moving to the province of Cordoba or are simply visiting and want to add a few spots to your itinerary, Carlos Paz and Alta Gracia are two places you definitely want to check out. 

Death In The Family - Dealing With Loss When You’re An Expat

When I was five, I left two important people behind in Argentina, and I spent most of my childhood imagining the day that I would see them again. I got my wish, but it wasn't what I expected. 
My uncle and I

My grandmother
Today I visited the cemetery where my grandmother and uncle were buried. My grandmother died in 2000 of natural causes, and my uncle died in 2004 in a tragic bus accident at the age of 43. But before I tell you what happened next, let me give you a little history first. 

When I was five, my mom and I went to live with my grandmother and uncle for what would have been my final year in Argentina, before moving to the United States. During that year I bonded with my grandmother and my uncle (who had been like a dad to me during that year). I had to say goodbye to my grandmother at her home in Cordoba before my mom and I traveled from Cordoba to the airport in Buenos Aires. Fortunately, my uncle accompanied us. But the last memory I have of him was a silhouette waving at me from inside the airport as I looked out of the airplane window. I promised myself that I’d find a way to see him, and my grandmother again, but that promise never came. 

I’ve encountered people in my life whom I’ve considered family back in the States, but one silly argument was all it took for them to throw it in my face how much I wasn’t a part of their family. This was different.  

These two people… these corpses lying six feet underground in a cemetery in the middle of nowhere, are my true family, but they’re gone. Somehow this made my return to Argentina a little more difficult to handle, but what’s worse, none of the living family I have seem to care. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not ignorant of the fact that everyone had their time to grieve when my uncle and grandmother passed away, but these graves were poorly attended to. It’s obvious that no one has visited them in years. As my folks had put It, “Once they’re dead there’s nothing left. The dead don’t grieve, or feel sadness, or happiness, nor do they suffer. Funerals and gravestones are for the living, who out of guilt, tend to the graves to make up for the lack of attention they gave to them in life.” But I guess my American upbringing has given me a different perspective. 

I’m just a grieving grandson, and a nephew, who kept his promise to return to them, but I couldn’t beat two predators: time and death. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Are Gays Safe in Argentina?

There isn’t a single place on Earth that’s a hundred percent free of homophobia, but for the most part, Argentina is a relatively safe haven for gay, lesbian, and transgender people. As of this post, neither my spouse nor I have encountered any type of homophobic discrimination. (Update 2017: There are some people who will make whistling noises that are similar to bird calls. My spouse and I have had employees at certain privately owned supermarkets, and owners of newspaper kiosks on the streets, whistle in this manner. We're told that this is the way some homophobes react when someone that's gay approaches them.)   

Cultural Perspective Physical appearance (style of clothing, hairstyle), financial, and social standing are what defines most people in the United States. Argentine society isn’t guided by these types of categories. People here tend to respect your differences and leave you alone, unless of course, you have metal pins sticking out of your skull.  

How Businesses Treat Gays Unfortunately, you won't find stores with the rainbow flag on the doors or windows, which is a sign that the store is gay owned or gay friendly, like in the States. But it doesn't mean that you'll find yourself being mistreated either. My spouse and I haven't encountered a lot of homophobia while visiting shopping centers, supermarkets, video stores, or government establishments. They acknowledge our homosexuality and remain quite friendly for the most part.  

Immigration My spouse and I have had to visit the immigration building in Cordoba a few times in order to get his residency paperwork going. Never once did we hesitate to point out that we had gotten married back in New York, and we never got any indication that the immigration staff was condescending. 

Misunderstanding If you run across a nasty store owner or supermarket attendee, it’s most likely the result of them being rude or disgruntled and not because you’re gay. 

Gay Rights in Argentina President Kirchner legalized gay marriages, and passed a handful of laws that protect gay, lesbian and transgender people from violence and discrimination in Argentina. 

Conservative Views You’re bound to run into people who are homophobic. Older Argentinians (those born in the 1940s) tend to cling to their old ways. The same goes with overly religious fanatics. Unfortunately, these types of people are everywhere in the world. 

Conclusion For the most part, Argentinians are quite accepting. So I encourage anyone, gay or straight, to move down here to live a less stressful life, mostly free of judgment. You won’t regret it.