Unlike many of my fellow NYU travel bloggers; this will not be my first semester studying abroad. Because I am part of a rather abstruse program, which falls under the umbrella of Liberal Studies, known as Global Liberal Studies, I am required to study abroad for a year during my junior year. This will be my second semester in Buenos Aires and after having spent a month and a half in Brazil backpacking (or should I say slumming it) I am happy to be back with my fellow porteños.
Similar to what Bolton writes in “On Anticipation”, about how the protagonist of Huysman’s novel, Duc des Esseintes, was so seduced and enamored by Dickens description of London that he fortified the romantic idea that he had to travel to London immediately, I was in a way bewitched not by a Dickens novel, but by a film titled The Motorcycle Diaries, where Ernesto Che Guavera travels throughout the global south and faces immense poverty and inequality, which leads him to become a socialist revolutionary. This film, like the unnamed Dickens novel read by Esseintes, created an unrealistic and platonic idea of Argentina, a country ripe in history and culture. While my case is not as severe as our protagonist, who ends up of not boarding the train to London as he logically reasons to himself that, “what’s the good of moving when a person could travel so wonderfully sitting in a chair?”, I like Esseintes deluded myself into thinking that my year in Argentina would be as magical and sublime as Ernesto described it to be in his diary (11).
There is certainly some truth in Esseintes refusal to board the train to London, as he was afraid and rightly so, that his imagination would not live up to the way that Dickens’ had so vividly described the cobblestone streets of North London or the “dark and smoky” quintessential English taverns, where the aroma of fish and chips was never too far away. Indeed, is it very hard, if not impossible, not to create misleading narratives or half-truths about future travel destinations but unlike Esseintes sentiments of that he would be disappointed upon travelling to London as the city would surely not meet the reality that he had envisioned in his mind, I feel quite differently. Sure, it has to be said that no romanticized Che Guavera movie could have prepared me for the mammoth’s amount of garbage littered throughout downtown Buenos Aires or the fact that mate, a traditional hot drink made from dried leaves, would taste like bitter horse piss, but that’s ok. For Esseintes, this would surely be a disappointment, something that he did not expect, and it was for me too, at first. Yet, there are so many other things, which could have never been encapsulated in a movie or novel that have continually surprised me about Argentina. For instance, I have participated in several protests such as NiUnaMenos and have marched in two protests calling for higher minimum wages. I have danced the night away in underground, clandestine female rap parties and have spent hours in Chinese owned grocery stores, deciding which strange spices or fruits I want to buy.
Over the last few months in Buenos Aires, I have discovered that one of the most rewarding things about traveling to a new place is finding out that your expectations of how things will pan out are in fact radically divergent.
As I begin my second semester here in Buenos Aires, I aim to contextualize and understand not where my next travel destination is, but why it is that I travel and what do I gain from it. As Pico Iyer put it in his article, “Why we Travel”, I need to start contemplating what my destination is and why I am going there. It is through this understanding that I think, I will be able to have a better perspective on the value of my study abroad experience, something that I frankly failed to do much of last semester; understand and analyze.
Finally, while Esseintes returns to his quaint villa in the French countryside, immersed in his books, I must and will continue onwards.
- Plaza de Mayo March: Vanessa