Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Midnight Marauders

As I mentioned in my last post, buses passing beneath our window tend to interrupt my golden slumbers. Last night, my ears caught something far louder and a much more dangerous. I don't know what time this all took place because I forbid Julia from looking at the clock because it would old make matters worse given she has an early wake up call weekday mornings, but let's say it was about 3:00 am. At first, I couldn't tell what was going on. Sure, I could hear lots of people (they sounded like teens) running, yelling, and breaking bottles, but that kind of behavior could signify any number of things: general tomfoolery on a Tuesday night in Buenos Aires, the continuation of any number of protests and demonstrations that take place on a daily basis (such as in the picture to the right), a reaction to early reports that Diego Maradona would become the new manager for Argentina's national squad (proof that the United States is not the only country where former alcoholics and drug addicts are selected to hold prestigious positions), the adverse psychological impact of the global economic crisis, or, and maybe I'm reading too far into this, a wake up call for all expats in the area to remind them to vote in just one week (actually, I was just looking for any reason to insert the hyperlink, check it out, shout out to Dan Kenner).
I quickly ascertained that the commotion outside was due to none of the previously stated reasons. Its duration was too long, its intensity too malicious. I ventured to poke my head outside to see the activity taking place below us, where I was confronted by an all-out battle! The bottles we heard breaking were not being thrown at the street, walls, or even store windows, but rather at each other! It was by no means a melee in the truest sense. In fact, it actually seemed carefully choreographed. One hoard would rush the other, hurling bottles at their opponents only to retreat back from whence it came as their former prey charged at them, all the while screaming profanities, mostly a word that rhymes with "foota".
From what I saw, it never seemed like anyone was in real danger of being struck by a bottle. The respective fronts were at least thirty yards apart and usually sprinting away from their pursuers, so a successful hit would have required a rocket arm. Still, there was an unmistakable raw aggression on display on the street below us, and although we didn't feel personally threatened at the time, it would have been a different story had we arrived home from a night out in the middle this fray. The confrontation didn't last for more than ten minutes, after which both groups scattered into the night.
I feel like I have to give a disclaimer: please, especially the mothers who read our blog, don't be frightened by this story. I don't wish to incite parental second guessing or excessive worry about us being down here. Overall, we've felt very safe here. By no means are we complacent in our behavior, or näive to the fact muggings to take place - we know two people who have been unfortunate enough to be victims. But by and large, we generally feel at ease. That's not to say we don't take taxis in cases when we would have walked in DC, or that we're not careful when we're out and about at night. Just like any other big city, you can't walk around Buenos Aires at night with your head in the clouds, especially in less crowded areas, nor should you do so alone. We know, we are careful, so no need to be any more worried than you already were.

Here is a little something to make sure you finish reading this post with a smile on your face:

Monday, October 27, 2008

Candid on the Calle: Part Deux

Back again with some more shots from my walk yesterday and more on the streets of BsAs.
Some non fashion related candid shots:
An unfortunately very common sight in this city. I see at least one crash a week here and sometimes two. This was my first of the week (it being Monday and all) but it looks like the taxi driver might not be driving for a while. This might explain why I am often hesitant to cross the street. There are NO pedestrian rights here. Someone I know actually saw a taxi driver hit a woman. My friend told me she saw the taxi driver just slap his hand to his forehead and shake his head. All I could think of was that he was definitely thinking, "OH no, not again!"

This is another common sight in BsAs. The dog walking profession is very taken very seriously here. They are trained professionals who not only can walk upwards of ten dogs at a time but who also give the dogs their medicines. It’s amazing to see a pack of eight dogs walking calmly down the street, but the moment the dog walker ties them to a tree to get another dog or to run into a shop they start barking like all hell is breaking loose.

Not sure about this one. I saw the cobwebs on the banister and thought this might be one person's attempt at Halloween decorations.
The Beast from "Beauty and The Beast" and...a blue penguin? I just don't know. I do know that the blue penguin was pretty scary.

These last two pictures are just amazing people with amazing fashion. Unfortunately you cannot see
the woman in the red suit thing's fishnet stockings because they are nude in color, and the fact that her hair pretty much matches her coat and dress didn't show up that well either. I just thought she was...ultimate and amazing.

And last but not least this girl was just too amazing. I'm not sure if you can tell but her pants are that kind with the über saggy crotch. I could never pull it off and I really don't get those pants, but the overall effect is very cool.
When originally asked about porteños and their fashion, my initial response was that I hadn't noticed any. But now that the winter coats are finally coming off I am seeing that there is a style here very different from anywhere I have ever been. It is very casual and therefore can be effortlessly cool looking. No one wears fancy dresses to any of the bars or clubs I have been to (a relief for me is that I can always wear flats out without feeling silly) and if you are not wearing boots and not in a suit you are wearing sneakers. There is a flair for practicality but still a desire to stand out. I am not sure who made purple the new black, but everyone looks great in it so it works for me.

Candid on the Calle Part Uno: The Color Purple

Today I got out of class early, so decided to walk home. Yes, this was a little crazy and took me an hour, but it was also the first time I remembered to bring my camera with me in a while. So, here for your viewing pleasure are candids on the calle (the street didn't sound as good).
Something I have noticed about BsAs is the absurd amount of purple on the street. To start with there is a purple subte line. There is this purple truck:

But people here like to take things to the next level. It is also all the purple pants:
Notice purple jeans, purple slacks, all kinds of purple pants. You are
also getting to see a shot of three BsAs youths in classic form.
Converse, bright color shirt, purple pants, long hair on boys and girls.
And of course coats or hoodies even though I'm sweating in long sleeves.

Of course one can not forget about the top half of the body. I've even seen a guy get on a bus here with the most beautiful purple sweater, unfortunately the only male specimen I have for you today is wearing a purple tee-shirt. We will have to make do. But people are wearing purple tops everywhere, in the street, in a park, and while dashing down the calle. Its truly all the rage.

Now some people here take purple to an even higher level. These are the folks who are all about matching. I myself have been inspired by the fashion here to attempt matching an outfit for the first time in my life. Why just this morning I realized I should wear my white sandals to match my white tank top. I know you are all thinking, "My goodness! Julia can't match for @#$%, has she changed so much since she left?" No, I have not changed so much, I am only trying to be porteño as possible. So here are a few of my inspirations:
Kids on their lunch break: these girls match each other. One has purple pants while the other might have purple pants but definitely a purple bag.

This girl went for the matching shirt and bag. A look I am not inspired to copy, but still admirable:

Now this woman is serious about matching. All others are amateurs compared to her. At first glance you notice her matching purple bag and nails. But take a closer look and you notice she also has matching purple earring and a purple scarf. That's nails, earrings, bag, and scarf all matching. I am not only jealous but amazed. She is someone for me to look up to.

Now for the woman who just goes there. She goes all the way. There is no need to describe it, it is amazing:
She is wearing an entirely purple outfit (if only her bag were purple and not white!! We were so close. Once I actually saw a woman wearing an entirely green outfit including accessories. All I could think of was if only my costume had been that cute when I was a munchkin in the Wizard of Oz. For some reason I wore valour leggings instead of a green skirt with matching...everything).

Also, I know you are wondering and yes, this was all from one walk that took an hour, and I didn't even include all of my pictures or all of the people wearing purple or the window I tried to take a picture of that had 4 out of 5 manikins wearing purple outfits. All I can say is, its a good thing I love purple.

More to come on candid on the calle...

Not From Concentrate, Just Like This Blog

That's right, it's fresh squeezed baby!! This weekend we broke out our apartment's juicer not only on Saturday but on Sunday as well!! At two oranges per cup and around three pesos per kilo of oranges it’s the best deal in town. I am all for joining street vendors on Sunday in selling a cup of fresh squeezed OJ for just five pesos. We could make a fortune. But as Josh pointed out this would involve a lot of manual labor, and really could result in carpal tunnel syndrome. Best keep the fresh juice making en la casa.

I also believe that two Sundays in a row a tradition does make, and we now officially have a Sunday breakfast tradition that takes up one step closer to living life porteño style. After waking up late on Sunday (even though we didn't do anything the night before) we get ready and travel less than one block to our local pastry shop. There we purchase all kinds of wicked pastries that no American would ever consider healthy in any way. And then we proceed to eat them. Unlike last week we brought these home, and I bought a few extra media lunas (literally half moons, or a croissant) (I bugged Josh all morning by accidentally calling them mezza lunas) for breakfast during the week. We also made coffee for the first time. To our surprise there was only ONE brand of coffee that did not come with sugar already added. This was also the case with the milk. By this point I should not be surprised because Argentines love everything sweet sweet sweet, but the fact that there is only one brand of sugar with calories still gets me every time. Here is a photo of Josh and our complete breakfast.
Of course breakfast was not the entire weekend. Friday night we went to a party hosted by two guys in my class. We played an Irish drinking game which disappointingly turned out to just be Kings with less rules, but it was still fun. We then went to a bar/club where they were selling liters of Stella. Not a good idea.
To say the least we spent Saturday hanging out and went to see "Burn After Reading" in theatres. Going to the movie theatre here can be a little awkward for me if the movie is a comedy seeing as not everything translates and I end up laughing much harder than everyone else. Oh well, sometimes it’s good to be a native speaker with an American sense of humor.
Today, after our delectable breakfast Josh walked me part of the way to a museum before turning around to make it home in time to sign up for fantasy football with friends from home. I met my friend Erin at the Museo National des Bellas (pronounced bejas here because of the accent) Artes. We saw some of the permanent collection which had an impressive amount of impression pieces, and then a fantastic exhibit by Italians of modern art. Seeing as it was free I am totally going back soon to have a second look.
Afterwards we were obviously tired (we both walked a ways to get there) so after watching two songs played by a rock band in the park across the street from the museum (they rocked very hard) we wondered down the street till we found the cutest cafe. We ordered tea (it was tea time) and the most amazing crepes filled with verduras filling (which means just spinach and cheese) that were served soaking in a cream sauce. Bet you can't guess how many lactaid pills I took. For all those who were wondering, they are working pretty well.
After a long walk home I made it back just in time for a nice chat with the much missed sister, and then we heated up some left over roasted chicken, spruced up last night's salad and had a nice little dinner of leftovers. The time of this post proves I am still affected by caffeine, but it’s time for bed. Another week of school begins and my course is half way over. Wish me luck!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Yerba maté

Here is a post for mom, and all others who were confused as to why we are drinking out of gourds:

To start with, a quote from Wikipedia:

The infusion called maté is prepared by steeping dry leaves (and twigs) of yerba maté in hot water, rather than in boiling water like black tea. It is a slightly less potent stimulant than coffee and much gentler on the stomach. Drinking maté with friends from a shared hollow gourd (also called a mate in Spanish, or cabaça or cuia in Portuguese) with a metal straw (a bombilla in Spanish, bomba or canudo in Portuguese) is an extremely common social practice in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, southern Chile, eastern Bolivia and Southern Region, Brazil, and also Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

Here is a picture. The maté in this picture is set into metal as many are. You can go very simple, but many are ornate and could be displayed as art.

At the end of the metal straw is a filter so the yerba stays in the maté and not your mouth (this works most of the time).
Unlike other teas you do not strain the water before consumption. One fills the mate three quarters full with mate with the straw in the gourd. Then you fill the gourd with hot water (never boiling) until the yerba is saturated, but not over saturated. Let it sit for a minute and drink down a very bitter infusion. Then you are free fill and refill your gourd and drink as many times as you would like. One of my favorite things about maté is that it is a very communal practice. On Sundays in the market in San Telmo, people walk around with a thermos, a gourd, their straw and a yerba supply refilling from the thermos as they pass around the maté. I have no thermos and am so far confined to my flat while drinking my mate, but it is now an integral part of my breakfast routine. The taste is often described as a mix between green tea and coffee hence my excessive use of sugar when I began drinking it. Today I am proud to say I drank mate with no sugar!! Big steps being taken over here!! My new dream is to share a mate with real porteños in the streets of BsAs, but there is time for this. Another interesting thing I enjoy after maté is the pleasant aftertaste it leaves in your mouth.
Other news:
My class is going really well and my practice lessons have been going well too. My practice lesson today was idioms with the advanced. It was a fun lesson to teach and I got to act out some of the idioms which I hope was as entertaining for them as it was for me. The lesson was my best so far. We are going out tonight to a friend’s party. Two of the guys in my class live together and are throwing a party for the whole class, so almost everyone I know in BsAs will be there! Around 1 am we will probably go to a bar, but I don't know if I can make it out till six am again!! Frisbee tomorrow, and then I might have some people over for brunch on Sunday for some good old American breakfast. We´ll see, and I will keep you posted!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

If forced to choose, I would probably elect buses as my favorite mode of public transportation. Sure, they transform 15 minute rides into near hour long journeys, but I cannot get over how much I prefer them. I didn’t really “hop on the bus” until I got back from my semester in Madrid, where I routinely took the bus right across the street from my flat downtown to the park or back home once the subways stopped running late at night. So not only did I return from Spain with a proper Castilian accent, I came back with a renewed love for riding buses. It’s definitely one of my favorite parts of living in a city, even though I did ride the B-Bus as a kid when I couldn’t get a ride to a friend’s house (that’s right, the Berkshires have public transportation).

Buenos Aires is no different. It’s actually quite comparable to the DC publican transportation system in a way: while the subways are frustratingly limited in their service, buses go EVERYWHERE! There are literally hundreds of bus lines that run throughout the city, all day every day (as evidenced by our late night last weekend), which can seem intimidating at first. But besides knowing where you are and where you’re going, a sense of adventure, and one peso (equal to 33 cents, which is harder to come by than it sounds given the shortage of coins in Buenos Aires), all you need is a Guía T to take advantage of buses in Buenos Aires.

Oddly enough, using this book is exactly like buying a cell phone, hair dryer, or any other electronic device at a store in Buenos Aires. With the latter, you find a store clerk who directs you to one register where you pay and are subsequently directed to another desk where you get a slip of paper, which allows you to pick up your item at another desk (usually off to the side, in the back, or downstairs) where you finally pick up your merchandise. The sequence of events may not always be in that order, but you get the idea – it’s not the most straightforward process. The same goes for the Guía T: you look up your current address and that of your destination, go to the appropriate map pages and grid coordinates as indicated, look for buses in your area or surrounding squares that go to your destination, and then finally look at the bus list to see what streets it runs along so you know where to get on and off. Luckily, using the Guía T takes but minutes, as opposed to the relative marathon of buying electronics and it has yet to fail us.

However, unlike in DC, the buses themselves do not possess the modernizations that make bus travel both user and more environmentally friendly: first, a recording/sign telling which stop is next, which makes you pay more attention to your surroundings lest you go beyond your desired stop; second, the buses do not run on natural gas. It’s not as much of a problem on the major avenues as it is on narrow side streets where pedestrians have nowhere to run from the black, noxious fumes coming out of their exhaust pipes. My only other problem with the buses is that some of them are exceedingly loud. I’m ok with putting a conversation on hold while a bus roars by, but it presents a difficulty when one jars me from light sleep. Some buses are especially obnoxious. You know the sound cushions on rented chairs make when you sit down? Multiple that by one hundred, and you approach the noise some of these buses make when they pass beneath our window. Its as if they are have an extreme asthma attack (shout out to all our asthmatic readers out there, I love each and everyone of you) every fifteen minutes throughout the night.

So why do I still pledge my allegiance to these smoke spouting loud mouths? On principle, public transportation is still a very ease way that we can lessen our carbon footprint – check out Thomas Friedman’s Op-Ed in yesterday’s NYT about how in the midst of economic crisis, the government and its citizens should not forget about “going green” and even use it as a vehicle for economic stimulation. In practicality, riding the bus it gives me a panoramic tour of the city and allows me to get to know it even better. It keeps me on my toes and forces me to figure out the geography of the city quicker than if I were to travel by subway or take a taxi. Lastly, and I didn’t discover this motive until I rode the bus a lot in Madrid, it makes me feel more like a local than a tourist - of course I’ve yet to reach that point. Someone who is just passing through a city has less reason to decipher an extensive and complicated system, whereas a local is more likely to be familiar with all forms of public transportation at their disposal. For the cities I’ve lived in, familiarity with the bus system is almost part and parcel of truly living there. I don’t present this last reason as fact, just something that makes me feel more intimate with a city, even if its just at a somewhat superficial level. Nor do I pretend that this tendency make me akin to a long time resident. More than anything, it makes me feel more like more than just someone visiting.

You may disagree, or think I'm overstating my point. That’s cool, I just don’t have time to argue right now – I’ve got a bus to catch.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Weekend Update

I know it’s been a few days, but you will have to forgive my absence because I've been so busy, or very tired from being busy. Let me fill you in on the details of our second weekend in BsAs. Friday we ate a quiet dinner at home and then left to meet up with Nick at a bar called Jackie O in Palermo that was suggested to us by a guy who works for EBC (where I take my TEFL course). We took the bus and of course we were late because we are us. We met up with my friend Erin in front of the bar and then spent half an hour looking for an ATM because Palermo is too fancy to have more than one ATM in one square mile. When we got correct directions (after many misleading ones) we were told in Spanish by two old men: "Oh, it is around the corner to the right, but very often there is a vigilante so be careful." Thus warned we proceeded to the ATM on guard but there were no vigilantes in sight, and we made it to the bar only one hour late. By this time it was 1 am and most of the Argentines in the neighborhood had finally wrapped up their dinners and we headed into the bar. Upstairs we met many of my classmates who I introduced to Josh. The rest of the night involved your average amount of shenanigans which were enhanced by the addition of Fernet into our lives. Nick was insistent that this was the only drink for real Argentinean men to drink but I dodged any attempts made to order me a Fernet. Josh was not so lucky to escape the night without consuming his fair share. All of a sudden the lights went on and my eyes checked my watch. To my surprise it was already around six o'clock in the morning!! Yes!!! I had succeeded! It only took two Fridays in BsAs to party till morning, dance till the sun rose, and to take the bus home in dawn’s bright light (which is much safer than at the dead of night). I decided this was the course to take in the future if not for the fun of it but the safety!
So the night was a success, many bonds were formed and none broken. We arrived home at 6:30 am and shared the street with a surprising amount of other young people on their way home and of course those heading in the opposite journey: out to start their day. After a quick hydration on the balcony we slept dreamless sleeps until 2 pm and then met Nick for schwarma and a day of Frisbee.
Now I thought I was going out for a day of harmless fun, but we were in for something serious. This was not the kind of Frisbee we played on boys’ campus at Ramah b'Poconos. Oh no, this was ULTIMATE Frisbee, and our team name is the Cadillacs as in the song "Just bought a Cadillac..." Our cheer consists of two words, cervesa and churipan. Churipan is apparently a gastronomic delight consisting of a sausage in a bun. Once eaten, a person has seen the light and will never revert back to his or her non churipan eating ways. As you will see we were kept in the dark because the cafeteria we visited after the game was only able to supply the cervesa. Alas, they were out of churipan...
So we met up in a park very far away from San Telmo where people just drive their cars out on the field and chill next to them. This makes perfect sense when you think about it, but was still unexpected and something I've never seen. There was even a cab parked next to a tree in the middle! But one never has to worry about parking and a sound system with your car by your side, so you have to admire it.
We warmed up and practiced for a while. We did jogging and drills and stretches, and I found out I am terrible at Frisbee. This team is full of amazing people though. Some Argentine, some Americans who are studying abroad (everyone tries to spend the whole time speaking Spanish though), and everybody wanted to help me improve. It was fun, and exhausting. I hadn't done so much sprinting since high school.
At this point I was, as they say, feeling the burn but it was time to walk to another field which felt like a mile away, but that might have just been me. We got some much needed water and the two BA Ultimate teams were reunited. The league only has two teams, but up until recently there was only one team so everyone knows everyone. After kissing what felt like everyone in BsAs I was truly exhausted and there was still a game to play!!
I only played for five minutes before I decided, or rather my body decided, that I had had more than enough. Oh and there was the fact that I could not really breath, but who's counting? Man am I out of shape. I was also fortunate enough to stay clear of the Frisbee! Unfortunately my team lost, but it was fun and I met many people. Argentineans are the friendliest people I have ever met, but the Colombians were great too, and the study abroad kids were very helpful. Especially one girl, Bennet, who took a liking to me and has decided to teach me Spanish. It was fun. We took a long bus ride back with intentions to go to the movies, but I was literally shaking with fatigue after a shower and fell fast asleep soon after.
We woke up on a wonderful BsAs Sunday morning (really afternoon) and lazily went to the bakery for some breakfast (yummy mezzalunas, a donut and this apple thing) which we ate on the street and then went to the market for food because out pantry was more than bare. Josh spent the rest of the day watching football with Nick, and I was treated to a wonderful day alone (something I had not done for a very long time except when in transit).

I made my third purchase (extra points if you can remember our first two...if we even mentioned it) which are a pair of beautiful handcrafted silver earrings for the sweet price of 40 pesos.

Later in the day my new friend Jen from my TEFL course finally made it down to San Telmo after I sent her all the way to the opposite end of the city on the subte by accident. We walked around what was left of the fair and I found my first BsAs drum circle!!!

Very small in comparison to Malcolm X Park, but...what isn't. There were also dozens of couples tangoing in the square which was very cute to watch. This picture is from the same spot earlier that day.

We got some wine for dinner and headed back to make our first homemade steak. A success!! It was delish and perfectly cooked thanks to Josh, and Jen and I spent the night talking as Josh passed out on the couch while the Red Sox lost (small very selfish sigh of relief for me as I no longer have to watch baseball). A very tired us went to bed after we put Jen in a taxi, and a very full and happy weekend came to a close. I am still not sure how people consistently keep up this kind of weekend, but I will keep you posted. I'm sure it has something to do with the Mate tea that I have been trying to fall in love with...I'll keep trying. Hope all is well with everyone!!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Definition: Tango

Remember when I openly ridiculed the phrase ”a certain unexpressed sensual sadness” when describing San Telmo in my second blog post? It shouldn’t be a very hard to recall, our archives are shallow. Well, I haven’t changed my mind on the melodramatic language and still would never use such words to describe my adopted neighborhood, but I better understand it now than I did when I first wrote the post. Even more, it becomes redundant when taken within the context of the entire description (“If you think of tango, romance, and…), for it is that ornate phrase that most completely embodies tango itself.

Tango is everywhere in Buenos Aires, and we always intended on checking out a show. We happened upon this show by accident, originally wanting to simply eat at the restaurant that overlooks Plaza Dorrego on my birthday, but when they asked us if we wanted to make a reservation for the tango show, we could not resist the chance to witness one of Argentina’s gifts to the world. Just as America claims jazz as one of its national treasures, Argentina, and Buenos Aires in particular, projects itself as the home of tango dance and music. And just as jazz finds its origins in blues music that was born out of the struggles of African-Americans, tango holds a similar history as an artistic expression of the lower class in Buenos Aires (and, it must be noted, in Montevideo, Uruguay). The dance and music that accompanies it come from the slums of Buenos Aires, where poor immigrants searched for an outlet to express the hardships after relocating from Europe (like many American cities, Buenos Aires was a popular destination for impoverished western Europeans looking to escape the squalor of their continental cities during the nineteenth century. It still remains a confluence of various European cultures, namely Spanish and Italian, but architecturally French, which is a big reason why some refer to BsAs as the Paris of South America) The downtrodden immigrants borrowed elements of European dances (primarily the Spanish habanera) to create something distinctly porteño, a sensual manifestation of their sad plight.

I do not claim to be a tango expert, especially since our first and only tango experience took place at a somewhat touristy restaurant, not at one of many milongas (tango dance halls) that litter the neighborhood and city as a whole. Not only do I have nothing to compare this show to, but I acknowledge that it wasn’t the most authentic locale, which could render my comments applicable to our show and others like it, but not to tango in general.

Still, what I did see was a dance saturated with sensuality and sadness. The two dancers, a male and a female (it takes two to tango), who alternated between very traditional and roaring twenties garb, would dance for one song at a time. Indeed, some of these songs were more upbeat and lighthearted, with both sporting subtle smiles; but the majority of their tango vignettes were set to slow paced songs and accompanied by long, sweeping movements with occasional flurries of staccato leg waving and foot tapping. These beautiful, controlled outbursts, reminded me of two birds ruffling their feathers and shuffling their feat in an attempt to court the other, which emitted a palpable sensuality to the affair. The sadness, for me, comes primarily from the music, which sounds like a voice crying out for someone to listen to its heartbreaking story. When there is vocal accompaniment, the voices often sound desperate in their struggle. In addition, the male dancer inspired sadness in me. For much of the dance (with the picture to the left not an example), the woman wore the previously mentioned subtle smile, whereas the male’s face looked focused with stoic, unfulfilled desire, unsure if whether or not the woman’s smile stemmed from dancing with him or just the dance itself. Their faces would nearly touch, even appearing to approach a kiss, only to separate once more and continue the steps. But the male never let on that he was frustrated by these close encounters that failed to come to fruition, at times looking as though he had come to accept this sad fate. I’m not sure if this was an intended effect or if I was reading too far into the performance, but coupled with the music (and maybe the wine), I couldn’t help but envision the man’s despair as the sadness of a possibly unrequited love. Or, more likely, it was merely a reflection of the general sadness in his life as a poor immigrant being oppressed by the powers that be. Either one works for me. I’m thinking another show is in order for further research into the matter.
The show and delicious lomo we dined on made for a great and unique birthday celebration. Thanks again to all emails, Facebook messages, and the like wishing me a happy birthday, I appreciate the love. And if you didn’t send along anything, I won’t hold it against you...for too long. Here are some additional pictures from the evening.

The reflections of a mostly practical girl who had to indulge in a little diva action

Today was a great day. Not only was it an amazing hair day (loving this dry weather of late) but my lesson this afternoon went pretty well. My only student was a 33 year old man named Juan who comes from a very poor neighborhood. He comes to get free lessons and then goes back home and teaches all that he learns to his friends. I taught a vocabulary lesson on how to cook a pasta sauce. The most difficult words for Juan were ingredients and stove. By the end he could tell me the ingredients of his favorite meal to cook (mash potatoes) but I'm not so sure he understood what a stove is.
After class I went to a salon where I had made an appointment to have a manicure. Let's just say that a manicure and a pedicure are very different here than in America. The manicurist brings over her little station that includes a seat for her, a small desk for my hands, and drawers below her seat filled with everything from the nail file to the nail polish. Also, the whole thing is done on the cushions that double as a waiting area. There is no scrubbing, just filing, trimming, moisturizing, and polish. I chose a bonito morrado (pretty purple). The woman after me liked it so much that she had the same color painted on her toes and nails. I spoke to them in the best Spanish I had, which was not much, and the other customer knew a little English. In that way I had a very pleasant time there and even learned a new word: pegar. This word is very versatile. It means to stick (as in are your nails still sticky?), to punch, to kick, and to spank. It is a very useful word to know. I was very surprised however when the woman who spoke a little English had her pedicure done. She just put her foot on the woman's thigh and it involved NOTHING more than a polish. Not even a file or a scrub. I'm not sure if this is because it costs more, or because it is just not done, but the things that could have done to that woman's toes with a cuticle clipper...crazy. There are no massage chairs with soaking tubs here, or maybe there are in very nice places but it is completely normal for a woman to put her foot directly onto her pedicurist's thigh for her polish job.
On my way home I noticed other things that are very different here in Buenos Aires. For example, there were people taking the recycling out of big bins. I'm not sure if they were employed by the government or if they are self employed, but it was quite a system they had going. A man and a woman removed the bottles by hand from the bin and relocated them to a cart while a man in the cart jumped up and down to crush the bottles. Now I know this is all sounding like I am an ethnocentric American who thinks everything in her country is done better, but on the contrary I like the way things are done here. The manicurist and her customer were great friends, and everybody kisses everybody when they see each other. They spoke the whole time and not just about superficial things (from what I can tell). Of course there are many problems with this country and things are very different here but while I note the funny differences in our cultures, I do not judge one as better than the other.
Of course some things never change. On the way home I passed by a very old couple with the woman leading the man by a few shuffling steps. As I passed she yelled back to him "Que!?!" in her old lady voice and he repeated his sentence just as quietly as he shuffled along behind her. Old married couples are the same everywhere you go.
With my inner diva fulfilled and my manicure safely at home I believe I have time to study a little Spanish and to play a few games of backgammon. However, I have also realized that this time of day is the perfect time to work out. There is this amazing gym one block from us with classes in the bottom floor. It’s so small and right on the street. It could also be a great way to learn Spanish. But it’s great because you don't go out till midnight here anyway, and so you don't eat dinner until 10 and so you have this wonderful time after work and before dinner to do whatever you please. So I will go to it!!

Red Sox Nation in Buenos Aires

For all you non-sports fans out there, this one isn’t for you.

Shortly after moving into our place, I discovered that channels 16-19 on our television were the sports channels, with two of those of them being some sort of ESPN subsidiaries. Soon after, on one of said ESPN channels, I saw an ad for “Beisbol Esta Noche”, followed by further notice that American League Championship Series games would be broadcast live! THANK YOU GLOBALIZATION! I was overjoyed, while Julia was anything but. Still, being the good sport (no pun intended) she is, Julia acquiesced to my pleas to watch the game, as long as it was on mute (fine by me) and we could play cards or backgammon, as well. I found these to be more than agreeable terms, but little did I know the impending disappointment.

The first game we watched was Game 4, two games after the Red Sox lost in extra innings and one game after getting throttled. I was looking for a bounce back performance that would even up the series and commence my day of birth on a good note. Right away, I knew this outcome was not in the cards (again, no pun intended). The Rays jumped on Boston’s feeble pitching efforts, teeing off on Tim Wakefield’s wiffle-ball knuckler for back-to-back homeruns over the green monster. On the flip side, Boston barely showed up for the game, only remembering how to hit in the late innings well after the game was out of hand. All in all it was a pretty pitiful game, leaving little hope for recovery this season. My earlier joy at getting watch the games live turned sour, and I lamented the fact that I could watch such destruction occur right before my eyes. Damn you, globalization.

Which brings us to last night, when Julia and I decided to change it up a little bit. In an effort to put ourselves out there more, we ventured up to The Alamo, an American owned bar that serves American food, shows American football, and that would have on the American League Championship Series. (Quick side note on “American”Bars: by and large, I try to stay away from them in foreign cities as much as possible, except if I want to watch an American sporting event or if I have a hankering for some American food [read: I want football and buffalo wings]. This bar did not really inspire me to change that opinion. It was incredibly crowded with both Americans and porteños, all of who it seemed were smoking. For Americans, the novelty of smoking in a bar never gets old, so that even if you don’t smoke, or if you only smoke when you drink, you’ll light up just because you can. Now I’m not as sensitive to cigarette smoke as Julia is, but I can’t imagine how people can frequent a bar where everyone smokes inside, there is no ventilation, and the place is so small that there is no avoiding coming home smelling like you sprayed yourself with Ralph Lauren Stale Cigarette Fragrance Por Hommes. On the plus side, I paid twenty pesos ($6) to get in, which seemed outrageous, but my entry came with three pints so I didn’t have to spend any money inside besides a tip. And just like a real American bar, girls paid half and got to drink for free until 11:00pm. God, it feels great to be American.)

By the time we arrived, the Rays were already up 2-0 on a BJ Upton homerun. Seriously, it seemed like he, Carlos Peña, and Evan Longoria, hit homeruns every other time they came to the plate. And to prove it, Longoria came up a few innings later and hit a homerun, that is, right after Peña had hit one. Next thing we knew, it was 5-0 in the 5th inning, and Dice-K was coming out and Red Sox fans were leaving Fenway. It looked to be much of the same from the previous two games, so instead of remaining in the smoky din, we retreated back to our apartment where I anticipated I would watch the Red Sox silently led out to pasture. We got home, Julia went to bed, and I suffered through another two innings of Rays scoring. Entering the bottom of the 7th, the Sox were down 7-0. For New Englanders, it was just about as depressing as seeing Matt Cassell trot on the field instead of Tom Brady. Luckily, I hate the Patriots, so this analogy doesn’t apply to me (sorry, couldn’t resist knocking the Pats).

Mind you, by this point, I was hardly even watching the game. I was switching in between the Sox and The Patriot (so many unintended puns it’s killing me). I don’t even like The Patriot, but I couldn’t stand to watch the Red Sox go out in such a pathetic fashion. Plus, as many others, the accidental suicide/Joker tour de force has given me a new appreciation for Heath Ledger (although his performance in The Patriot does not merit much praise), so I was interested. In my ambivalence I saw the Sox had actually put a run on the board (Dustin Pedroia single), and that with two outs, David Ortiz was coming to the plate. I even thought to myself, wow, if he hits a homerun here it could totally swing the momentum in favor of Boston and they could actually put up a fight. Realistically, I saw another lazy groundball hit right into the shift that would kill the inning and leave them six outs from elimination. Well, David Ortiz made the choice between watching the game and watching a crappy Mel Gibson movie very easy when put one out over the right field wall. I didn’t expect the Red Sox to win, but at last they had recaptured my attention and registered a pulse for the first time in three games. After the homerun, I contemplated running up to the nearby bar called Molly O’Mally’s (Irish bars double as American bars abroad) to check out the last two innings. But I guess since I didn’t anticipate any more late game heroics I thought it smarter and safer to just finish watching the game here (a decision I don’t regret, even given the conclusion of this story).

What unfolded next was beyond my wildest dreams. First, JD Drew’s first of two clutch hits, his 2 run homerun in the 8th inning, blew my mind. For how maligned this guy was until last year’s ALCS , the injuries he’s suffered, and the recent death of his grandmother, its incredible that he has stuck through and become such an integral part of the team. Then, with two outs, after Mark Kotsay lined a shot that just escaped BJ Upton’s grasp for a double (a natural centerfielder, which Upton is not, should make that play, and given the chance again, Upton may make that catch), COCO FRICKIN CRISP knocks in the tying run, a nice bit of payback for the inexcusable group beat down he received from the Rays earlier this season (good guys these Rays are). Justin Masterson held in the top of the 9th, and after two quick outs Kevin Youkilis reached on an error (I’m not sure who it was attributed to, but it involved Longoria and Peña – funny how the three most devastating offensive forces on the Rays helped lead to their defeat with defensive misques), followed by an intentional walk to Jason Bay, and more clutch hitting from Drew. I simply put my hands up and laughed, amazed that I had just witnessed another historic Boston comeback in just six months. I rescind my curses, precious globalization, although they may resurface if Josh Beckett lays an egg in Game 6. But at least I’ll get to watch.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled program.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Week One Ends With A Tango!!!

Today is Wednesday, so we have been here for only a week. I know people always say this, but it feels like I've been here for so much longer. I think that's a good sign that I feel comfortable here. Today I even had the confidence to go into a pastry shop and attempt to buy Josh una torta for his birthday (I didn't see any real cake, mostly pies), and as I was about to start my conversation, who should sneak up on me but Senior Josh himself who happened to be on an outing with the aim of commandeering some cheese. He rescued me and got to pick his own torta, but the point is that I tried. I'll get there, and the people here are so nice and I do not feel too intimidated by them, only by the speed of their speech.
Life here is going well so far. We don't go out every night, only on weekends, and a typical night for us can look something like this:

Other nights can also include an excursion to the roof to explore views and maybe take a climb:

As for a daily routine I'm pretty lucky. My school is in a nice neighborhood, and the other students are all really cool. Some are older and a little quirky, but they make things interesting. I'm actually becoming friendly with some of the girls that are my age and today we talk about girl things like hair, nails, and the like. It was amazingly a relief after a week of talking to almost no one but Josh and our friend Tucker to talk about girl things and to have no mention of sports. Hopefully I can become better friends with them and we can hang out outside of school too. Tomorrow I teach my first practice lesson!!! I'm excited and nervous. I am most nervous that I won't be prepared, but I have a long break tomorrow and I have a feeling Josh is going to suffer through some practice rounds.
Here is the door of my school; it’s the one next to the really fancy one:

Also, here is a picture of the Subte D which I take to school everyday:

I got out of school early today, so Josh and I went for a wonderful walk to Puerto Maderno; once meant to be the main port of Buenos Aires. It is beautiful to walk along the water at sunset and we also found out that it is where all of the swanky and nouveau riche restaurants are. Lucky for us, swanky is somewhat affordable by US standards, but what I was wondering about were the prices of the apartments above them. They were converted lofts and they looked just like the converted condos on the river in Chicago (for the Behar's: the brick ones that we went by when we could smell the chocolate on the boat tour). It seems like the perfect place to live with a view of the river and on the other side of a busy street so you are close to the action but not the noise. Josh took some great photos so I leave it to him to post them, but as for tonight we are headed to our first tango show in celebration of Josh's birthday!! Ole!!! It was at a restaurant right on Plaza Dorrego where the market is on Sunday, and we had a snack there to test out the food. The food was great and it’s only a happy coincidence that there happens to be a tango show every Wednesday. No, we will not be testing out our own moves tonight, but we will get our first taste of the passion of Buenos Aires in the form of the dance known as TANGO!! And I am super excited. I'm also excited for the beef, speaking of which, it is time to go change into something with a loose waste line so I can eat as much lomo (steak) as possible. I hope everyone is doing well, and we love your comments!! Talk to you all soon!!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

First Day of Class

First some photos to go with Josh's post seeing as they are all on my computer:

Our first taste of ice cream from a small chain called Fredo. Not a very flattering picture, but mine was strawberry with dairy!! Best day every!!

This one is for Mia. A man playing what might be called classical guitar WITH a pedal!

The famous hand painter of famous music artists.

Some men who were actually playing Klezmer music and started in on Fiddler on the Roof as we walked away.

Now that you've seen some pictures from Sunday, I can talk about my first day of class! My class was only a subway ride away, but because it was a holiday today I think it took a little longer than normal. We started at 9:30 today and went till 1pm, but normally it will be from 10-5 on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. On Thursday and Friday class is from 10 till 1 and then we come back to teach a lesson for one hour either at 5, 6, 7, or 8. My teacher is young and very nice and the students are cool too. Two are older men and one an older woman, but most are young people like me who are trying to make some monetary gains while abroad and who graduated and had nothing to do. I already have to give a lesson this Friday and Saturday which is kind of scary!!! But I guess it’s best to just dive in.

Tonight we had dinner at what is so far my favorite restaurant and the Titanic is on now!! But it’s off to bed soon because I have to wake up early tomorrow!
Hope everyone is doing well at home!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

San Telmo

The triumph of newly installed WiFi in our apartment lasted less than as a day, as we woke up this morning to a dysfunctional router that has evidently given up on serving us wireless Internet. Luckily, we’ve been able to pick up a nearby signal, which is not as fast as ours (can I even call it ours? We had it for so little time, almost as if we were borrowing it), but a signal nonetheless. Even though there is a locutorio (internet café) just across the street from our apartment, it is always nice to write from the comfort of your own home.

And as pictures have shown (I spent nearly 2 hours trying to get a video of the apartment to load, without any success), we do in fact have a home here in Buenos Aires. It’s been fun and exciting getting accustomed to actually having our own place. We have a ton of space here (*wink wink nudge nudge* to all potential visitors). We are in piso 3A, but those of you familiar with European floor ordering know that that puts us on the 4th floor, as the ground floor is 0. The only neighbors that we’ve seen so far are the small colony of abandoned cats that inhabit the roof of the building across the street. I can’t decide whether to call their loose establishment Catmandu or Buenos Gatos, but they look quite grizzled and hardened by the street lives they live. In addition, our building has a terrace on the top floor. We ventured up there for the first time this afternoon, and it gave us a decent view our neighborhood, San Telmo.

Without a doubt, one of the best aspects of our apartment is its location in San Telmo. My guidebook put it this way: “If you think of tango, romance, and a certain unexpressed sensual sadness when you think of Buenos Aires, then you’re thinking of San Telmo”. While I would not use those exact words (a certain unexpressed sensual sadness? What does that even mean?), I do agree with my guidebook in one respect: it is my favorite neighborhood in Buenos Aires.
In fairness, I haven’t been to every neighborhood in BsAs, where as I’ve been in San Telmo every single day, since not only is our flat in San Telmo, our hostel was, as well. It may not be as chic or have the night life of Recoleta, Barrio Norte, or Palermo, which are all a good distance away, but nearby busses can bring you there in 35 minutes for just as many American cents and taxis there are also very cheap. We took a taxi to Palermo Friday night for $6.50, when it would have cost 3 times that in the states.

Still, San Telmo has an undeniable and immediate charm. The neighborhood is a maze of cobblestone streets lined with cafés, restaurants, galleries, clothing boutiques, leather stores, and antique shops. The nineteenth century architecture helps San Telmo establish and retain its identity as a traditional barrio porteño (Buenos Aires neighborhood). Besides the larger supermarkets where we get lots of our basic supplies, the neighborhood possesses numerous panderias (bakeries), the previously mentioned fresh pasta shop, and the San Telmo market which provides us with the bulk of our produce, meat, cheese, and other foods best bought fresh.
To top it all off, every Sunday the San Telmo Antique Fair (Feria de Antigüedades) descends upon Plaza Dorrego and the surrounding area, primarily Calle Defensa, which is shut down for antique stands and street performers. While the weekly event does draw its fair share of tourists – a category that I’m tentative to extricate us from, even though we are living here – it is a huge draw for porteños, too. Just as many natives as tourists crowd around the street performers, purchase items from the vendors, and recline at the outdoor cafés in and around the plaza, which is the epicenter of the fair, and according to many, all of San Telmo. My personal favorite was a guy who painted portraits of famous musicians (most notably Amy Winehouse and Axel Rose – a strange fixation with self-destructive artists) with his hands while their music blared in the background. He’s not nearly as good as Dan Dunn, who he may or may not have been copying, but very admirable indeed.
Unfortunately, I forgot my camera at the apartment so I couldn’t digitally catch any of these sites and sounds, so pictures will be forthcoming from Julia or from a future visit. And goodness knows we will be frequenting the Feria de Antigüedades many times during our stay. After all, it is in the neighborhood.