Sunday, December 24, 2006

Feliz Navidad!

These special Christmas greetings are coming to you from sunny, beautiful Buenos Aires where each year, Christmas is celebrated at about the same time as the summer solstice. I am writing to you as I savor a nice glass of Malbec wine from the west-coast Argentine province of Mendoza and the scent of freshly-made holiday fudge wafts through my small, but cozy, Buenos Aires apartment.

Now saying that Christmas in 30 degree weather and 50% humidity is quite different than in Canada is an understatement! I still find it hard to believe that it is "that time of year". And if not for the store beckoning eager shoppers, tinsel and garland in cafes and restaurants, and the occasional Christmas tree (like the one in the Galeria Pacifico on the right), I could not imagine that December 25 is approaching.

I am spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day this year with a dear friend, Cecilia, and her family. Cecilia has three children and she has traditionally opened her home to other travelers like me who find themselves half way around the world at Christmastime. So as in previous years in St. John’s, Edmonton, and Cape Breton, Christmas this year will be very much a family and friends affair.

I will also take time this Christmas to visit the wonderful Argentine friends that I have gotten to know in the past three months. There will be asados (BBQs) in the country, great food and wine, and of course lots of fun, laughter and smiles. I feel very blessed to be surrounded by such warm and caring people who have “taken me in” and treated me like one of their own.

And on the success front, you may be interested to know that I finished my first Spanish course in December (ole!). It was an intensive six-week course at the Universitad de Buenos Aires. And in fact, I did so well that the instructor suggested I skip the next level to go into a more advanced course. So I will continue my studies in January.

Actually, it is incredible how much one can learn after six short weeks. Most of my conversations with friends and new acquaintances are now in Spanish, and I have not gotten myself into too much trouble so far! Just as a point of reference, interactions with taxi drivers have advanced from simply handing them a slip of paper with my address to asking them to take me to a specific destination, taking about the importance of learning a second language, and even discussing the socio-political situation in Argentina. Followed, of course, by lots of smiling and nodding, just to make sure that we understand each other…

At the beginning of January I will be traveling to Uruguay, a neighboring country to the east of Argentina. I will be visiting a friend that I met at the Argentine Embassy in Ottawa before coming to Argentina. Her family lives in Uruguay and she invited me to stay with them for a few days. The beaches are supposed to be some of the most beautiful in the world, so please stay tuned for more pictures!

In March I plan to head to the west coast of Argentina to a province called Mendoza, the wine mecca of South America. The first week of March is their wine harvest season, so it is not to be missed. My Ottawa friend Chrissie - who has fulfilled a lifelong dream and is now working with a local wine-exporting company - has offered to play hostess. Mendoza is supposed to be one of Argentina’s prettiest provinces.

Finally, if anyone is interested, friends and I are planning a Buenos Aires Chin Chin! 2006 party this week to welcome in the new summer season, to bid a fond farewell to 2006 and to prepare for a spectacular 2007. If I don’t see you there, I wish each and every one of you a happy Christmas season and a wonderful, bright and fun 2007.

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