Mosaic / January 20, 2010

La vida porteña: back to Galesburg after the big city

This past Saturday night, my friends and I emerged from our apartment into the zombie fog of the Tompkins apartment parking lot to clusters of drunks hanging around in the snow, and it hit me—nearly everyone I know and everywhere I go on a daily basis is within a five-block radius of everything else. Freaky.

Freaky now, anyway. Last spring term, it would have been totally normal. I still love it, our small-knit community where we are endlessly coddled and made to think we are special. But it’s different now. It has become foreign in its own way. For three months, I lived in a city of a total population of 13 million people. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, I learned the massive city bus system (my favorite part of city life), experienced the café culture I’d always longed for, grappled with days of difficult communication, and met the best host family that anyone will ever have, complete with dos gatos perfectos.

But why this strange phase of readjusting? I was only gone for three months, and in the grand scheme of a lifetime, that’s not much. But I wasn’t just a tourist. I was a resident, student, a part of the city. I had never lived in a city before. I wasn’t special there, the way everyone is special at Knox. I was, however, different. I looked different and I sounded different and I probably seemed like a jackass when I tried to pull off the local accent, but I didn’t care. I tried. I fell in love with the Buenos Aires accent and vowed to never let my tongue forget it. Now, back in Spanish class at Knox, I sound like an asshole who is trying to sound worldly with a different accent than many of the other students, but I again try not to care. It is something that is a part of me now.

It’s mostly a part of me because of my host family, that of Marisa and Camila Corgatelli. Those women were the ones I spent the most of my time with, and I remember, more than anything, my host-mother Marisa making fun of me in that wonderful accent (and she didn’t speak English) when I would wake up at 4 p.m. on a Saturday, asking jokingly if I wanted breakfast at tea time. I remember her artwork decorating the house, everything from woodcarvings of women to sketches of the animals of the Chinese horoscope. My host-sister Camila was just what I had always wanted; a sassy, gorgeous 22-year-old with whom I could complain about boys and who could teach me about the religion of futbol.

I remember the best times were the days when I would come home, totally dizzied by the sheer population of city life, and want nothing more than to relax with Marisa and Camila. I miss lounging in the garden or on the couch with those magnificent women, speaking with ease, laughing at my mistakes, sipping mate (pronounced mah-tay), petting the cats, and letting the accent soak in forever.

Annie Zak

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