The Expat Revisited: Elizabeth Gleeson

CV: Elizabeth Gleeson
From: Pennsylvania, US
Age: 28
Profession: Artist and designer
Education: Art degree at Alfred University
Currently reading: The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott
Last film seen: Herencia
Gadget: My Holga camera

Why did you come to Argentina?
I first came to Buenos Aires just really out of curiosity and to check it out. l had just finished university in New York and I studied art and didn’t really have a direct career path planned, so to say! There wasn’t anything really obvious that I was just going to jump right into, so I thought I’d check out a different place.
So I came here and although I wasn’t planning on staying indefinitely, I thought I would see how things were and then move on to somewhere else. But I really liked it — not that everything just clicked into place immediately but I guess I never really had a moment where I was ready to move on from here.

What has kept you here?
Several things, and one of them is that I really love the city. I guess being in different relationships also keeps people here! And also because my sister also moved here. Although she isn’t here all the time, she is based in Buenos Aires so that is another big thing that has kept both she and me here. Because we’re both here!
And now things are different because I’m in another relationship. We bought an apartment and had a baby, so now I have an Argentine baby, which makes things more permanent! That said, it doesn’t mean we will stay here permanently, but for the moment this is where we are.

Tell me about your professional successes in the past three years.
I’ve really shifted gears in the time I’ve been here. Like I say, my education is art, visual arts, but when I came here, I did what a lot of people do and just scrounged around, trying to do anything! I taught English for a bit, I was working remotely for companies in the US, and in an art gallery, which was more in keeping with my interests. I basically did all kinds of things, whatever!
Then I started writing and doing freelance journalism, which I was really into. I worked pretty steadily for Time Out for a while, which was really fun, but I realized that I wasn’t really happy doing that as it wasn’t my passion. I loved it and it was a really good experience but I’ve made a pointed effort to shift gears in the past two years and get back to the things that really make me happy and which I’m passionate about, which is art and design.
I’ve gone through a big cycle, but I do feel really focused on what I’m doing right now, although I am still floundering around too, as I do tons of different little things!

What are you up to at the moment?
I’m doing a lot of designing and am making clothes. I’ve formed a company — I guess that’s what you’d call it! — a clothing company, with my boyfriend Javi as his family is in textiles and they have a huge factory which is a dying giant and they have tons of remnants of fabric. He and I really wanted to do something with all those remnants that are sitting around before they rot away.
I’ve taken some classes in pattern-making and started making outer wear, jackets and coats as their factory focuses on wool. So I’m trying to breathe some life back into the poor fabric that is just sitting around in their factory, of which they have thousands of metres. I’m going for it, one metre at a time!
We launched Outcast last year with one style of jacket and this year I’m making more which are military-inspired.
I’m currently working on a collection of textiles for interiors and reupholster, or for bed linen and table linen.
I also give art tours for BA Local tour company, and with a friend of mine we started giving vintage tours around Buenos Aires — we’ve been doing that for a year and a half. I just keep plugging away at a couple of things.

Although you have the benefit of remnants, would it be this easy to start a clothing company in the US?
I don’t think so, but it’s such a combination of different factors. I have access to stuff here, I work with a studio which finishes pieces for me, and they do a fantastic job, the guys who work there are really talented and give me good prices and I don’t have the slightest idea how I’d gone about finding that in the States. I guess you get into the scene and figure it out, which is what I did here, but it just seems so available, easy and straightforward here. It’s a service which seems readily available.
Having the fabric is a huge advantage, which is why I’m doing it in the first place. I was always interested in fashion design, but I’d never thought about doing it on a bigger scale.

How has the move from Monserrat to Congreso worked out?
Good. It’s different although they are very close. We’re now smack in the middle of downtown Buenos Aires and we’re right in front of Plaza Congreso so we have all the demonstrations taking place — every day! But I really like it. A lot of people who have come over are surprised we chose it but we’re really happy here. It’s really relaxed at weekends, and we have the square to ourselves, although it’s not the nicest square in the world!
But I really like it. There are tons of bars and cafés. Everything is close and available, the subway is half a block away and I love Avenida de Mayo. It’s classic Buenos Aires, and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I like it a lot. It’s really different to anywhere else I’ve lived before.

Was buying a property simple?
It wasn’t that bad. I was expecting it to be more complicated. We could have gone on forever, looking, but Javi pulled the trigger on that one! He got a good price and I don’t know what powers of persuasion he used, but it was affordable, and didn’t need much work done on it, unlike any other place we saw.
The actual transaction was fine. I’ve never seen so much cash in my entire life! That was slightly alarming but it was interesting and the whole process was educational!

What have been your personal successes?
I had a baby! That’s a personal success! Luisa is almost 15 months old, and this month she started at nursery, which she loves. She’s such a joy and an incredible baby. It’s been a total roller-coaster but all in all, she’s awesome. We couldn’t be happier. She’s really good fun to be around, and although it can be stressful, and although it’s a cliché, I wouldn’t change this for anything, so I guess that’s true.

Is there anything you don’t do anymore because of inflation?
Well, I don’t buy anything! I have a running list of little things I want, stuff for my kitchen, clothes, to pick up from the States. We go out to eat less often, or if we do, we don’t go wherever we want for dinner, we have go to a place we know we can afford. We eat at Chan Chan four times a week! The prices haven’t changed in forever, and you can eat for 70 pesos. Total. Two people. Drinks included… And I guess we can complain a lot more!

Has your Spanish improved?
Oh yes, a lot. Thank God! For a long time, I would still get anxious in a lot of situations, for tramites, for example, but I never feel that way any more.
When I was pregnant my Obygn talked in baby terms, and made everything diminutive. ¡Quedate sentadita! But as so many things were being presented to me for the first time, I realized later on the words weren’t actually what she said, such as grupito sanguino. I would repeat that to a friend who would say “actually, it’s just called a grupo.”
I had to ask people to write stuff down — “do I know my what?” But it’s been like that from the time I’ve been here — sink or swim — but that was a crash course in medical terminology.

What’s your most Argentine characteristic?
Wow, I never thought about that before.

Last week’s Expat said he puts more salt on his salad and inadvertently has a mullet…
I put a lot of salt on my salad. Before I moved to Argentina I didn’t even know you could put salt on your salad. And I have a mullet too. Maybe I’m so ingrained now I don’t even realize the difference between Argentine and non-Argentine things.

‘Our baby might speak his English and my Spanish!’
Mother-of-one Elizabeth Gleeson says that having a baby has been a wonderful experience for her: “A cliché come true.”
Although Luisa is too young to be conversing just yet, Elizabeth and her boyfriend Javi are aiming to raise a bilingual child.
However, she says: “We’re concerned that she is going to speak my Spanish and Javi’s English! We’re concerned as we do a lot of mixing, and have a hard time sticking to our own language in this house so we’ll see what comes out of her mouth once she starts talking!
“It will probably be easier once she does start talking but for the time being, it’s hard to remember! But she’ll be a bilingual baby.”
So many expat parents who have had children in Argentina often wax lyrical about what a wonderful and caring country it is in which to raise a child. But have there been any surprises for Gleeson with regard to raising a child here?
“Oh yes. I just dropped her off at nursery school. She’s one! That’s unheard of until children are four and full potty-trained. When I tell my friends or family members that Luisa goes to nursery school, they can’t believe it. That she goes to a place really close to home that isn’t filled with kids and the teachers are really wonderful, and that she goes for four-and-a-half hours a day, and it’s cheap… I think people are blown away that that is even an option.
“It’s really great, and it gives me a break. It’s good for her and she loves playing with the other kids. It gives her exposure to other adults, all those things that you start to think about when you have a baby.
“It’s a really baby-friendly place. But I find people bend over backwards for a woman walking around with a baby. When Luisa was really small and we’d go out in winter, everyone would stop and think it is their right and obligation to tell you about a baby. It gets really old, really fast! I just had to try and remember that they were trying to help.
“But I’m really spoiled too! I’m used to not having to wait in line for anything, and half the time I don’t have to pay on the subway — I’m so spoiled in so many ways! That stuff is great. We take her everywhere and I know that if we were doing that in the States, that people would glare at us, or tell us it was inappropriate, because that’s how it is there.
“But here, people are overjoyed that we are going somewhere with a baby.”

Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on March 11, 2012
Photo by Mariano Fuchila

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