Figuring out how much a cup of coffee costs in Buenos Aires is like reading the Third Policeman, the ground keeps shifting beneath you. Buenos Aires can be expensive; just how expensive, is difficult to say. On our first day, we lunched lavishly on rib-eyes and wine. Straightforward, till we went to pay for it. The restaurant refused both our credit and debit cards; cash is king.
Coffee in the café on Calle Jorge Luis Borges, Palermo costs $35 (Arg pesos). How much is that? Pick a number, it’s hard to know. Today, withdrawing pesos by ATM yields $10.64 for the euro. One can exchange euro notes in a bank at this official rate or more profitably swap on a street for $18.20-today’s blue rate. Yes, there is both an official and a thriving, parallel ‘blue rate’ for foreign notes which is legal, quoted daily in newspapers and easily obtained.
Lost? Not yet? Well here’s more; both rates fluctuate. On arrival, three weeks ago, the blue rate was $16.20 to the euro but now it’s $18.20. Possibly, making everything now 12% cheaper for us, provided you’re happy to galumph around underground exchange houses with fistfuls of pesos. The largest note is $100 (do the math!!) But, whatever rate or calculations you use, BA can be very costly. Clothes, shoes and sportswear are dear using the blue rates, never mind officially. Confused? Me too, daily. A friend, hearing that I was visiting Argentina for 6 months, told me to bring cash, which I did. He then told me to watch for pick pockets, which I do.
To answer Karl`s question-Darragh is in 6th grade in Newman Primary; Billy is collaborating with the primary principal and English coordinator and teaching in both primary and secondary.
Have a look at Newman`s primary school by clicking the following video link!
Our school in Buenos Aires is Cardenal Newman College, founded by the Irish Christian Brothers in 1948. Since the 1840s, many Irish immigrants had arrived in Argentina and the Irish Community had pleaded with the Brothers for many years to set up a school. They set up a wonderful college, moving to a beautiful site in San Isidro in 1970. Newman operates in the Edmund Rice tradition and values academic achievement, faith formation, sport, community and parental involvement. Parents and past pupils are involved in the school`s extensive outreach pastoral programs. In my first few days I saw how the school community gathered clothes, food and drinking water for the unfortunate homes flooded in Lujan.
One of the Brothers, Br. Thomas, travelled by bus and train to Buenos Aires on our first few nights to visit and make sure we were alright. Rain and thunder didn’t deter him and it was lovely to see a friendly face and hear a familiar accent. He arrived with a smile and was wonderful company recounting anecdotes about Galway, hurling and his time in Montevideo and Buenos Aires. He cares and it shows, drawing the best out of people as he stands every morning, at the college entrance, welcoming pupils, parents and staff by name. He travels around Buenos Aires on public buses and trains chatting to locals and visiting hospitals. He has a kind word or a joke for everyone and is highly-regarded and loved by the Newman Community.
I know Br. Burke in Ireland, he was principal of Newman for eighteen years. Each principal brought something different to Newman and Br. Burke had a profound influence on the school community, expanding arts education, nurturing music, art and creativity. Whenever his name comes up in conversation, it’s clear that past pupils and staff revere him. They say that he left a huella (a footprint) on the school encouraging and inspiring those around him. This impressive college in Buenos Aires is a lasting legacy of the Irish Christian Brothers’ commitment to education.
Darragh bought a new football so we went to Parque Las Heras to play. It was General San Martin’s Feast Day so a day off from school. We woke up late to birdsong and sirens. On schooldays we`re up before the birds, but there are always sirens. It was sunny so I took out the sun cream and generously lathered it on. Anyone who knows my excessive sun-creaming will laugh at this point. We descended seven floors and left our building with the bright, new, orange ball proudly under Darragh’s arm. We marched the block to the park.
The park was hopping. Literally. Teenagers with springs attached to their shoes bounced like bunnies. Steel drums beat out a pulse. Legions of toddlers in motorized little cars drove round and round. Parts of the park were covered in white fluff as if flocks of sheep had been savaged earlier. Darragh picked up a massive nut that had fallen from a tree, discovering that it contained the same white fluffy interior. A yard of grass was at a premium so we scouted for a suitable yet secluded location to hide my poor first- touch.
Passing bare trees, groomed dogs on leads and friends sharing mate, we found a grassy spot and shyly began passing the pristine ball. Eventually, losing inhibition with no-one watching I began the usual messing; botched attempts at extravagant skills. Ribolas, bicycle kicks, Cruyff-turns. Trying to break my embarrassing keepy-uppy record. Soon one of the local children joined us. Then more and a match began. One child looked at me and in Spanish asked, `Are you a foreigner? You look like a foreigner. Are you Brazilian?’ I don’t know if it was my silky football skills or the excessive sun-cream that gave me away.
Newman College has invited us for a term and we start today. It`s wet this dark morning, waiting for the combi at the corner of Esmerelda and Juncal. Luz, the school bus driver, has a big smile as she slows to pick us up. `Buen Dia Billy! Como andas Darragh!’ she warmly greets us as we board. The combi fills with sleepy students as we weave around the city picking up precious cargo.
The half-hour journey to school is a dreamy, half-way house between sleep and waking as Luz carefully negotiates six lanes of traffic on our way to San Isidro. The weather is awful and has been since we arrived. Constant rain and floods. My phone lets me know, in case I hadn`t noticed, ‘Buenos Aires 11°C ,Thunder Storm.’
The welcome at school is heart-warming. Smiling staff, male and female, embrace and kiss my son and I. The school is a community, a family. Argentinian with an Irish flavour. Many surnames are Irish – Murray, Kelly, Kavanagh. Some speak English with an Irish brogue, passed down over three generations. They are thrilled to welcome us and quip genially about the downpour on the lush rugby pitches outside; they laugh, ‘You brought this Irish weather with you, didn`t you?’ We feel at home.
Art Work by Darragh, Buenos Aires 2015
Some details! We will be based in a school in Buenos Aires from August to December, then back-pack to the southern tip of Argentina and back up the Chilean side. We’ll continue into Bolivia and Colombia before heading across to Central America. There, we will take in Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Our base will be Granada, Nicaragua for a couple of months before we head to Atlanta and a short stay in the southern States. Along the way, we will work on different projects.
Our return flight will be from Managua, Nicaragua so that’s why we decided to fly to Buenos Aires the long way via the USA. Considering we began by leaving Connemara at 4 a.m to catch a bus, travel time would be long. Thirty-three hours. We had flight connections to make in Paris and Atlanta and not a lot of time to make them.
In Paris, we had an hour and a half to get boarding passes and transfer. We followed signs, traipsed escalators, pleaded for help. The automatic dispensers wouldn’t work and time was ticking by. We found our way to a very long queue of kindred spirits and eventually to a well-motivated but utterly incapable steward. “Yes, yes. I am a trainee,” was his stock response to our pleas that we would miss the plane. We eventually got the passes and ran to the gates with untied boots and belts, relieved but sweating. Our two hours in Atlanta were worse. Movement through the airport was efficiently marshalled but Customs and Border Control meant that we just about made the BA flight. Again boot-less and belt-less and bound for Buenos Aires.
Art Work by Darragh, Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires
Our house is beautifully exposed. Pitched high on the glen, it looks east across the bay and south to the islands. It was from the south that the storm bellowed. Beating against windows. Testing tiles. It had been a long, testing day for us too. A day for doubts, goodbyes and lasts. Last walk to the beach, last wade in the water, last supper.
We went to Mamó’s for stew where family gathered to say goodbye. Goodbyes cost. There was a spring tide, at its highest at 8.15. Daideo knew, he’d studied the almanac. Mamó and Daideo’s house is by the pier and the high tide had entered under the front door before. This night’s tide was thankfully uneventful. The nine o’ clock news reported disrupted traffic in north Dublin. A giant inflatable Minion flew onto the Swords road. We decided to catch an earlier bus.
We were upset when we finally left Mamó’s. It hit us. It had to at some stage. The following morning we were happy again, looking forward to the flight. We were not leaving forever, just ten months. An adventure. A new story to unfold over coming months. The four a.m start was not our preferred rising time but we’d a long journey ahead of us. Thirty-three hours. We moved quickly, grabbed the back packs and closed the door behind us.
ART WORK BY DARRAGH & CLIODHNA
There are three causeways to cross on the journey from An Cheathrú Rua to Leitir Móir. A beautiful road along the coast, past the Hooker Bar and Tigh Ruairí. Then left at Tír an Fhia church, along a narrow bog road to Paddy’s house. We’ve come back to say goodbye.
There are three clocks in Uncle Paddy’s sitting room. All show different times. The clocks don’t matter, you can never tell the time here. The turf fire is always smouldering and the room is silent except for the ticking of a clock. I’m never sure which clock ticks, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish one I think. Conversation and laughter soon abound. Talk is through Irish here and it’s a privilege to listen to the richness and poetry of the language. We talk about the weather and the neighbours. Who’s still living and who’s passed on. Their names are magical. Neighbours’ parents’ and grandparents’ Christian names are used as surnames. Linking them through generations.
There are three generations here. Granduncle, niece and grandnephew Darragh who, with his cousins, is emptying Paddy’s generous supplies of pink fluffy biscuits and red lemonade. His parents decline in vain Paddy’s offers of near-full glasses of whiskey – a little space is politely left in the glass for the splash of red lemonade. Visiting today too is Paddy’s sister, Cáit- my son’s grandaunt. There have been many goodbyes in this house over generations. Cáit has been in the States for fifty-five years. Eight of Paddy’s brothers and sisters emigrated from this house. Paddy left too but came back home and so did his brother, Cóilín- my father-in-law. I’m glad he did. We’ll be back too.
ART WORK BY DARRAGH