Expats and Local Holidays: Dia de Amigo

 

HAPPY FRIENDS DAY!!!!

HAPPY FRIENDS DAY!!!!

Today is Friends Day in Argentina, a holiday about which I am intensely ambivalent. First, let me say that the idea is great: a moment to honor the friendships that have endured and the new ones you’ve discovered. Just lovely. However, I have a few reasons to be a little skeptical. Firstly, I don’t have a lot of friends. Secondly, locals take it pretty seriously and last year I didn’t know that it was significant. Some folks called me up to hang out cause it was friends day and were a bit insulted when I said that I’d hang out with them later and that night I felt a little tired. Lastly, I think that it’s just an opportunity to insult folks WAITING to happen. I mean, seeing as there are different friend groups it could be fairly easy to unintentionally blow folks off. I’m really scared that there’s someone I forgot to call…

So let me just say publicly to all my blog friends out there, where ever you may be. Happy Friends Day!!!! And here’s a joke for you about keeping up relationships while overseas:

So this Irishman goes into a bar and orders three beers. The bartender thinks that this is a little weird but serves them up and the Irishman drinks them over the evening and heads home. The Irishman becomes a regular of the bar and each time he comes in he orders the three beers. The bartender thinks this is strange and one day suggests his ordering one beer after another so they’ll be fresher when he’s drinking them. “Oh, you don’t understand” says the Irishman. “The other two beers aren’t for me, they’re for my brothers back in Ireland. When I left we all made a pact that when we drank we would drink for the other two and in this way we’d remember each other.”

This goes on for some time until one day the Irishman comes in with a terribly sad look on his face. He walks slowly up to the bar and orders only two beers. The bartender immediately says “Oh, I’m so sorry about your brother.” “No no… ” Says the Irishman sadly “My brothers are fine. I quit drinking.”

The Buenos Aires Housing Hunt ABCs

VILLA CRESPO OR BUST

VILLA CRESPO OR BUST

I wrote this list while waiting in line to see what turned out to be a small dank apartment.

A is for Arte. “Estoy arte de esperando aca en el frio.”

B is for Blanco. They like you to be earning in “blanco” in order to get a place.

C is for Clarin. Clarin is really the only place people seem to advertise. If anyone knows a better way let me know.

D is for Dormitorio. 2 ambientes does not equal 2 dormitorios.

E is for Entendido. Es entendido que 2 meses de comission es demasiado y esperado.

F is for”Friend”. Anyone who calls you “friend” in English is on my list of people who will cheat you.

G is for Garantia. It needs to be from Capital and a family member.

H is for habitable. As opposed to desirable.

I is for Inmobilaria. Spanish for “bottomfeeder”

J is for Ja Ja Ja. What you think when you see the poor SOB at the end of a line to see a lame apartment that the guy showing you says was reserved yesterday.

K is for Kapitalistas. nuff sed

L is for Living/Comedor/Cocina. A room where apparently everything happens.

LL is for Llamar. As in “El depto esta reservado pero es posible que la garantia seria mal y si venis lunes, demasiado temprano puedes dejar cien mangos con nosotros te tal vez te llamamos.”

M is for Modern. Modern apartments are smaller, stuffier, have less light, and portenos prefer them.

N is for Nathan. The apartment looker.

O is for Opinion. You will generally want a second one…

P is for PH. Portenos love them cause they have no gastos.

Q is for Quito. As in “Things are cheaper in Quito, Ecuador.”

R is for Renovar. “No vamos a renovar este departmento. Lo pintas vos.”

There is no RR in the expat housing hunt. We can’t pronounce it.

S is for Sabado. Most of the house showings happen on Saturday afternoon. Yay!

T is for trampa. Like advertising an apartment saying you don’t need a garantia and then trying to sell you the garantia you don’t need…

U is for ups! As in “Ups! No tenemos las llaves para abrir el depto. Lo siento, parece que estuviste esperando aca chupando el frio… Llamanos mas tarde en la semana.”

V is for vender. Much more popular than alquiler.

W is for Why do I even want to move? My apartment is just fine as it is.

X is for eXnat – A blog that feels your pain.

Y is for Y are you reading to the end?

Z is for Ze end of zis list.

My Nature

TIGRE TREE

TIGRE TREE

One of the big changes for me in moving to Buenos Aires is from small city to big city. I have no idea how many people live in Buenos Aires but I’m told 12 million. That’s a lot. A LOT. But the consequences aren’t so much in having a barrage of folks around you at all times (which is new for me) but more than anything not being able to escape so easily. Everywhere I’ve ever lived before there has been nature of one form or another around but in Buenos Aires all you have are parks. Admittedly fairly close there are tree filled places but it’s not that accessible to get there without a car and no one I know just goes there for the nature.

When they think of nature most folks think of Tigre which is a lovely little vacation place just up the road. It’s at a river delta and there is a maze of islands you can get to by quaint wooden ferry boats. This weekend was freezing but I needed my nature fix and headed with some friends to what I can only call their vacation house in Tigre. It’s more of a cabin on stilts than anything as there is no running water or bathroom. However, that just makes it all the more attractive.

WHY THE HOUSE IS ON STILTS

WHY THE HOUSE IS ON STILTS

It was cold. Unusually cold. So cold, in fact, that it snowed for the first time in over 50 years. I am not making this up. It was really really cold. That didn’t stop us from participating in the awesome outdoorsy tradition of campfire cooking. We stepped out from Argentine asado tradition by having only roasted veggies. No meat. Yum! And there was something about the cold that made the intensity of the experience, the sheer feeling of being alive and out of the city just incredible.

COLDER THAN IT LOOKS

COLDER THAN IT LOOKS

Being away from the natural world has been a huge change for me. It felt wonderful to get back to my hippy tree hugging roots. Even as snow comes down outside, Spring is coming soon and I’m looking for good places to go camping on long weekends. If anyone has an idea, let me know 🙂

Expat Housing Hunt: Not getting the memo

NO ENTIENDO

NO ENTIENDO

Today might have been one of the most frustrating days of my time in Buenos Aires. It started off great. It started off with a haircut.

Hair cuts are awesome and they just completely change your perspective. Any time you want to get new perspective, cut your hair. Even if no one else notices, you know you’re different and you get to look at that stranger in the mirror. Maybe it’s symbolic of cutting away the old. Think about it: they cut away the oldest parts of your hair, leaving the newest growth. I haven’t cut my hair for 9 months but today I woke up early and took Diva and Kiki’s advice and got a hair cut.

I didn’t know how to describe a regular haircut so I asked for a “classic” haircut. “Oh, classic like short in the front and long in the back?” asked the barber. Only in Buenos Aires could a mullet be a classic haircut.

While I was waiting for the haircut I read the Clarin and wrote out all the apartments I would visit later in the day. Apartment hunting is tricky in Buenos Aires because no one is renting right now and everyone wants to rent. It’s much easier to sell the property instead of renting and the prices are great for selling and there’s lots of demand. If you’re anything but first in line to get an apartment you are nothing at all. You’ll simply be viewing an apartment that someone else wanted so you have to go super early to get the good deals.

Also the rents right now are terrible (and probably only getting worse). However today tons of great deals came out. I couldn’t believe it and I made a whole list of all the houses I would visit, planning out the order and everything.

Well, I got to my first place early. A half hour early. Usually someone shows up soon afterwards and there are at least 5 people at the time when the apartment starts being shown. This time there was no one, which was really strange. Even stranger was that no one came to show the apartment either. Well, I went on to the next one on my list. And waited. And waited. And nothing. No one there either. So I went to the next one. No one. I went to all six or seven on my list. Nothing.

At first I was irritated, then confused, then by about the fourth something clicked. I realized that there was something seriously wrong that I was missing here. And this is a huge part of being an expat, not knowing the rules or even if there are rules. I was filled with this idea that because it was a long weekend no one showed up or the Clarin cancelled all their ads for the day, etc. etc. It’s not like I haven’t done this same thing before too many times. I know that the Clarin keeps web ads up for awhile but I had double checked!

Super super frustrating day.

How to pick up porteñas….. NOT!

PARTIES CAN LOOK LIKE THIS

PARTIES CAN LOOK LIKE THIS

I recently had this conversation with a girl at a party.

nathan: it’d be nice to hang out sometime
her: totally
nathan: your friend has my info
her: what?
nathan: uhmm… like… if you want to…
her: you look tired
nathan: but i…
her: go to bed

I decided it was high time to figure out how to pick up girls and where else to go but the internet. Porteños (people from Buenos Aires) are always telling me that Porteñas (their fairer counterparts) are the most beautiful women in the world, so I would need some very special help to get me through this.

[ENTER BLOGOSPHERE: STAGE LEFT]

Here I recommend three diverse articles that might help.

Nightlife in Buenos Aires: Hooking up with a Porteña by A.J. Hayes

Favorite Quote: Even if you honestly can’t speak one word… suck it up and learn a few key phrases like “my Spanish is very bad” (“mi castellano es muy malo”) and “if you want, you can practice your English with me” (“si quieres, tu puedes practicar tu ingles conmigo”).

Caveat: While these techniques can be used by anyone, those are not the one night stand photos I’d post on my blog…

Picking Up Girls in B.A. Know How by Diva

Favorite Quote: Here are some examples possible situations and the correct way (I mean the porteño I-can-F…-them-all way) to behave.

Caveat: Diva has no experience in picking up girls. This may only work for picking up Diva.

Sex in Buenos Aires by David Stone

Favorite Quote: Next thing I knew, she emerged from my bathroom wearing nothing but a Sheraton bathrobe, albeit not for long.

Caveat: This approach may only work with prostitutes.

Now with all my questions answered I feel prepared to go out into the big wide world to win over the girl of my dreams! Though actually now that I think about it it sounds like a lot of trouble… It’s the long weekend and I’ll probably stay home and paint or draw or make games or something…

MEDIO CHETO

Art Por Tres: Lunch Specials in Palermo Viejo

MEDIO CHETO

MEDIO CHETO

Everyone has stupid stereotypes that have nothing to do with reality. I’m no different and one of mine favors the old and dirty over the bright and shiny. Appearance often goes a long way in Buenos Aires and I feel if an ugly restaurant can fill up a crowd of locals then it’s worth checking out. It was for this reason that I always preferred the classic Palermo classic El Preferido over it’s brighter, shinier neighbor ArtX3. The first thing ArtX3 had going against it was attractive and colorful exterior and it’s hip name, smacking of coolness, didn’t help at all. But the kicker for me was that it portended to be a Mexican restaurant which has got to be a lie.

It’s an accepted lie. While the concept of Mexican food sells, I don’t think most Porteños would want to eat it. As a culture, Argentines have a love of new cuisine that is unmatched except possibly by Nebraskans and folks from the Midwest of the USA. Restaurants here probably weigh serving hot sauce with the real possibility of a lawsuit. No worries cause most people don’t know (and aren’t interested) in what it is. Instead Mexican restaurants seem to copy the pictures they’ve seen in travel brochures. White creamy stuff? Must be Mendicrim! I can’t complain – it’s not like real Mexicans eat cheddar like we eat in our Texmex.

But I digress about these silly stereotypes of mine. The point is that for all these completely superficial reasons I avoided ArtX3 until one day the prices went up at El Preferido. Desperate to find cheaper lunch options, I noticed ArtX3’s lunch specials along and discovered a very interesting part of Porteño culture.

Now I’ve said that this is a Mexican food restaurant. However, knowing that no one actually WANTS Mexican food for lunch, the place drops the facade and serves up cheap and delicious Argentine fare to a crowd of mostly school children. The restaurant’s philosophy must be that Mexican food is nice and all but real human beings have to eat real food. And Argentine sensibility dictates that real food is Milanesa (chicken fried steak) with cheese and french fries, spaghetti, empanadas, or anything else that every other restaurant serves. Luckily I love these “stick to your ribs” dishes; they remind me of my mom’s cooking before she became vegetarian.

I have never tried the Mexican food at ArtX3 but the real food is excellent, especially for the price. A solid estofada con pure (meat and potatoes) will set you back 7.50 pesos. Another really wonderful part about this restaurant is that the waiter/owner has zero problem bringing me tap water with every meal without the typical judgmental sideways glance. Now that I’ve been coming in for awhile I get it without asking.

It may be bright and shiny but I recommend this place it to anyone who likes regular Argentine food and eats lunch in Palermo Viejo. Just remember to order the lunch specials – everyone else does.

What little girls are made of

PART THE FIRST: WHEREIN BROWNIES ARE OBTAINED

Today I went to an expat blogging meetup that was in a cookie factory called Sugar and Spice. Frank, who owns this gingerbread house of a store, was very generous and hospitable to invite us. And the spread was delectable.

This is a man full of cookies
TOO MANY COOKIES
For me the most interesting thing was that he chose to have his Buenos Aires blogging meet up at 10:30am till 12:30pm on a Thursday. This is highly convenient if I, like most expats, roll out of bed at 11am in time to arrive fashionably late for some milk and cookies for breakfast. As it so happens I have a job and it was fairly inconvenient. Unless I wanted to take a day off work and eat desserts. So personally I was ambivalent but I think that the sheer audacity of the planning speaks to the fluidity of the expat schedule (or lack thereof). It also could have been that the store was small and Frank didn’t want 50 people all crowding in to get free samples. As it was: GOOD JOB FRANK FOR A PERFECT EVENT! He also promised to be hosting a wine and savory cookie event very soon. Please email him with questions as to the particulars. We hope it will be soon. Frank was so kind and gracious that he gave us all little gift bags with delicious brownies, which leads me to the second part of my post.

PART, THE SECOND: WHEREIN THE BROWNIES ARE EATEN

The six brownies were immaculately wrapped in a beautiful orange cardboard case with a ribbon running all through it. Much of the food experience is presentation and let me tell you, had the King of Argentina himself walked in through the door at that moment I would have felt proud to give him part of one of my brownies. But he didn’t and after work I gave the woman at the art store one of the brownies and, in turn, she gave me lots of little 10% off coupons and a kiss on the cheek. I hopped on my bike and headed to painting class.

Image of Nathan and Diva
I SLYLY PUT THE MOVES ON DIVA

My painting teacher has been talking about folks bringing in food since we began the class. Last week someone bit and brought in 3 bottles of “expensive” wine ($4US = expensive). It was lovely and to return the favor I decided to cut up The other 5 into fourths and for my classmates.

Everyone was very appreciative until one girl, not knowing who brought them, said “This is all fine and good but these brownies aren’t really something Argentine.” As if the nationality of the food somehow had some relevance. I said “Hey man, this is cultural exchange.” And the teacher said, “What do you want him to do, make a locro?”

The box it came in was orange and beautiful and the girl liked it. At the end of the class, after she’d taken the last bite of the American cookie, I gave it to her.

cooking with porteños

Porteños will sometimes deceive you, by seeming to go crazy, mixing anything they find in the fridge into a stew. This is an illusion because they will only do this if the fridge only contains 6 ingredients.

Kitschy Kitschy Coup!

I read on the internet that there was an exhibit of Kitsch (not be confused with kitch, which is kitchen witchery) and decided to check it out. Kitsch is a word I never felt comfortable using for two reasons: 1) It always struck me as overly pretentious perhaps because 2) I never quite knew what it meant. Luckily Wikipedia was invented and now it’s definition is accessible to all:

Kitsch is a term of German origin that has been used to categorize art that is considered an inferior copy of an existing style. The term is also used more loosely in referring to any art that is pretentious to the point of being in bad taste, and also commercially produced items that are considered trite or crass.

A WOMAN AND HER CONCH

A WOMAN AND HER CONCH

The most interesting thing about the definition is how it’s reflexive: placing the viewer in comparison to the viewed. Calling something kitsch is essentially a judgement: “You think you are all that but you are wrong and you are making a fool of yourself because you are just like everybody else.”

As “bad taste” is generally in the eye of the beholder, the exhibition spoke much more about the curators and much less about the folks with bad taste. Fads were easy pickings and I recognized a lot of Yanqui style stuff but a lot of the things they picked on just seemed random. This next example is not so much kitsch as it might be Edward Gorey’s children:

LOOKS LIKE AN EDWARD GOREY POSE

LOOKS LIKE AN EDWARD GOREY POSE

Coming from Kitschlandia (thank you, jen) my biggest surprise was that many of these things labeled in the museum I saw as simply dumb cultural iconography that were a little over the top: wooden birds. The museum tried to explain their choice with notes explaining why the various items were in bad taste but I was not convinced of the museum’s own kitschproof credentials. As I walked through I was forced to wonder if the choice to back the paper with fleorescent pink and green was intentional or mistaken.

They seemed to be particularly ruthless on images of children dressed in finery.

BAD TASTE IN CHILDREN?

BAD TASTE IN CHILDREN?

They did have some good finds among which were a jesus painting that changed as you moved throughout the room and an old photo of a girl who had just got her hair cut with the hair attached to the photo. But anyone who is actually interested in seeing some real kitsch doesn’t need to shell out the 3 pesos for the museum when any feria americana, San Telmo market, or most porteno’s house will furnish a much more complete collection. For example, I took this photo one block from the museum. It is as fine a specimin as any you will find in the exhibit. I assume the gentleman is a brazilian golliwog?

THE DARK MAN HAS MUCH COFFEE

THE DARK MAN HAS MUCH COFFEE

Was this just an example of a museum being [gasp]
elitist? Or was this an example of a few dedicated individuals trying to educate the public? In a land where the mullet is high fashion I didn’t know and I didn’t care. For me, the far more interesting exhibit was the games collection next door. The museum had a collection of some games and toys historically played by Portenos.

But what we found when we entered was two men arguing loudly about the state of affairs in Argentina 30 years ago. To be fair, it was actually it was one man, the curator, haranguing a man who was trying to leave. I think that shouting about politics in a museum is something that could only be acceptible in Buenos Aires. The man left and the curator looked pleased with himself. He came up to us and told us to take as many pictures as we wanted. This had the curious effect of making me not want to take any more pictures. I asked the curator what exactly they were discussing and he said “No no… we weren’t discussing!!! We were… talking. Nothing but talking…” This was the last thing I understood for the next few minutes because he started explaining to me how Argentina had been on the verge of nuclear weapons in the 1940s but had stopped its programs because it was too peaceloving, how a neighbor of his who lives in Cordoba found a nugget of gold the size of a football while digging for potatoes and about many of the finer points of macroeconomics.

HOW ARGENTINES LEARN ECONOMICS

HOW ARGENTINES LEARN ECONOMICS

As we escaped from the museum he implored us to take more photos and spread the word about wonderful, peaceloving Argentina.

THE ANTI-ANTI-ANTI TOUR OF BUENOS AIRES

FIRST THERE WERE TOURS…

THEN THERE WERE ANTI-TOURS

THEN THERE WERE ANTI-ANTI-TOURS

NOW THERE’S THE ANTIDOTE!!!

In a highly postmodern, deconstructionist tour, you now have the exciting oppurtunity to pay me money NOT to take you on a tour. You hire me to anonymously and authentically interact with you as you wander lost in Buenos Aires. I will ask you for directions in Spanish, invite you to sit at my table, even invite you to my estancia for the weekend. Or maybe I won’t! That’s the beauty of it! As you will not actually know if it is me (or one of my employees) you will be GUARANTEED to have an AUTHENTIC EXPERIENCE in a safe*, paid-for environment. Or maybe not. That’s why it will be so unique.
Signup for your tour now!

*We cannot guarantee your safety.

Menem spelled backwards is Menem

Menem spelled backwards is Menem

So Carlos Menem is back and he’s launching his political bid from La Rioja. If, like me, you don’t know who he is, I will give you a few hints. The first is to consult the obvious fountain of knowledge: his entry on Wikipedia. The second place to check out is his bio at carlosmenem.com, which seems to think he still is President of Argentina. I’m not sure about the factual accuracy of the bio but I could not help but be impressed by its description of his daughter:

In his activities tending to the maintenance of exterior relations, one can mention the role carried out by his daughter, Zulema Maria Eva Menem, in an outstanding position as his father’s and President’s company in the frequent official visits around the world. His daughter impeccably represents the role of First Lady, giving some freshness to the rigidity of the protocol. She has always seemed to be prepared to comply with the rules of the ceremonials subject to the different customs and cultures of the countries she knows. Her elegance in manners and dress, added to her spontaneity and sympathy does not pass unwatched among the highest personalities of foreign governments.

This would be her:

Zulema Mar�a Eva Menem

Looking for a woman

I’m looking for a woman,
That will work to set me down,
I’m looking for a woman,
That will work to set me down,
I’ve bin looking all night long,
She can’t be found.

When I was travelling in Peru I saw this sign and thought it was funny:

Looking for a girl or a woman

The sign says: WE NEED A WOMAN OR A YOUNG WOMAN. I thought it was so sexist it was funny so I snapped my photo and forgot all about sexist Peru.
Buenos Aires is a cool place: big, cosmopolitan, and advanced. But sexist as all get out. So this business is offering a few different jobs on Monster.com. Here are two of them.

The one for the men to apply to:

Monster.com notice for men

And then the one for women:

Monster.com notice for women

Any coincidence that the project leader should be a man while the person who gives tours should be woman? This is so common here that they will actually say “No. We’re looking for a man” or “Sorry. Only women.”

Machismo society is what it is. I have to be really honest and say that I don’t know why I’m shocked. But for some reason I am.

My companionship / Massages for a Car

Looks like folks in Buenos Aires are learning a bit about the wonders of craigslist.



My companionship / Massages for a Car

Reply to: sale-294885816@craigslist.org

Date: 2007-03-16, 5:45AM ART



Hello,



I’m a single lady 29 y/old. From here,very sexy. I would really love to have a car -suv . I can trade my “time” for it. I’m very outgoing, sweet intelligent.



Serious replys Only,

Sofia



I reside in Buenos Aires.



* Location: Buenos Aires

* it’s NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests



PostingID: 294885816



Supermarkets: Buenos Aires

I had two great supermarket experiences yesterday:

LUNCH
I brought some nice lentil soup to work and then thought to run to the supermarket to buy some bread rolls. So it’s lunchtime and there’s tons of people at the bread counter. You grab a number. Unfortunately I was holding mine (98) upside down and I thought it was 86. So the helper lady calls out the next number (me) 98 and it takes me a second to recover. Only a second but in that time someone has already said “I’m number 99!” and been helped. She commiserates with me “Oh. You shouldn’t hold your ticket upside down” she says. Yeah. I know. So in theory I should be the next person. The lady behind the counter knows this but she still calls out “Ok. 100” WHILE LOOKING AT ME. So I say “Oh, I’m 98.” All I want is two pieces of bread. But then this guy (Number 100) says “Hey, all I want is…” and then he lists off a few things but he does it like he’s ordering it. He’s way sly, like he just completely cut in front of me, KNOWING that he’s screwing me over for the second time. I say “Ok. Well I’m first and all I want are two pieces of bread.” So he and I have both said what we want and as far as I’m concerned it’s up to her to decide who to serve first. The lady behind the counter looks at me, waits, almost as if to say “Do you really want to go first?” I get the distinct idea that I’m breaking some cultural rule by taking my rightful place in line. The guy chimes in in this pleading voice: “I have these raviolis and they’re getting cold. Please let me get out of here without my raviolis getting cold.” The counter lady slowly goes towards the bread and, still with this look on her face as if I am forcing her, takes out the bread, puts it in a bag, weighs it, and gives it to me. The guy says “Oh. you only wanted to get bread. I thought you wanted to get facturas and sandwiches and… Oh, you’re just like me. You just wanted to get something small.” He is still talking as I walk away.

It’s so crazy because when I first got here I would have just bowed out and let the guy go first. After all, I’m a guest in his country. I think becoming a legal resident has given me this kind of backbone I didn’t have before. It’s hard to respond quickly when you don’t speak the language (which is what started the whole episode) and when I return to the States I vow to respect people who don’t speak English as their first language a bit more.

DINNER
I was returning from work and I went to this large supermarket near my house. It’s an upscale neighborhood and I always see things in the supermarket that seem interesting and new. So this time near the cheese section I see this dried fish for really cheap. So I buy 5 pesos of it and am going to take it home to see what it is and what it tastes like. I feel adventurous, putting it in my basket.

What I really came to the store for was some onions and while I’m getting them the guy who weighs the vegetables asks me how to prepare my dried fish. “I know you can’t just take it home and eat it” he says. “Right” I say, faking like I know what I’m talking about. “So how do you prepare it?” he asks. “I don’t know exactly” I say. In reality I don’t even know what it is and if it didn’t say it was fish on the label, I wouldn’t have been able to tell him. “Right. But you have no idea at all?” “No. I really have no idea at all.” He looks at me like I’m crazy. I don’t know what to do so I just say “I’m buying it for a friend.” That seems to satisfy him. He finishes weighing my vegetables and, as I walk away adds, “I would buy some if I knew how to prepare it but I don’t have any idea. All I know is that you can’t eat it like it is now. You really have NO IDEA?” I smile bravely as I walk away, but as soon as he’s turned to help another customer I sneak the dried fish back to it’s place on the shelf, where it belongs.

Visiting Friends

One of the things all expats love and dread is the visiting friend. “Oh, you’re in Buenos Aires? How lovely! I’ll stop by. I only have a few days but we can go see all the sights together!” There is that delicate balance because living abroad means that you haven’t seen these guys for awhile and you aren’t going to see them again for awhile.

It’s great to see them but I get the same feeling as when I’m at a tourist site. It’s like I feel obligated to “do” things. Like there’s something I ought to be doing. This is, of course, all in my head. The friends actually don’t really care at all. Much like families at Christmas, expats tend to imagine the “ideal” visit to Buenos Aires and prepare it all for their friends.

For me there’s historically been a crazy: my world here is different than back home. I feel a bit schitzophrenic because they think I’ve changed but I haven’t. It’s more like I just have a different life because stuff here is different from home.

You realize all these crazy things about yourself, about your friends, about your life and about the city. It’s a crazy litmus test. It’s essentially travelling without travelling.

It’s pretty amazing to be able to invite another world to sleep on your couch.

barely legal: getting a work permit for argentina

When I was first hired as a project manager I asked about a work permit. My boss told me that we should wait a year and then see how useful I was to him. A year later I asked again and he said we should start the process. That was last September.

For a US citizen, the process begins with getting an original birth certificate and a background check from the USA. These then need to be certified, translated by an official translator into Spanish and then apostiled, a word with which I have become intimately familiar. This is probably easier if you are in the United States but I wasn’t and basically my mom did all this. It took her a few weeks and it only worked because we have a family friend who is a notary public.

These items were then sent to me and the long slog of bureaucratic bungling began. The forms were sent off to my company’s lawyer and a few months later we heard back from them. After weeks of wrangling over trying to get clarity of what I did or did not need, the office secretary assured me that everything was ok and that I should just relax. Every week I asked her if things were going well with my application and every week she reassured me that she had called the lawyers and that all was fine. After about two months of this it was discovered that about the only thing that our secretary was doing was embezzling lots of money. She was fired and it became clear that no progress had been made on my application.

After the new secretary was hired, things began to bumble along. There was an English guy at the office applying at the same time and it was good to go through the ordeal with someone else. It was hard to imagine the level of disorganization. One of the things we had to do was to get fingerprinted. We called the lawyer to get a date to do this. He said Monday. However, when we arrived at his office, he was not in and his secretary had not heard of us. His assistant glared at us drunkenly because we had displaced him from his seat. After waiting for 45 minutes the lawyer was located and the assistant was instructed to take us a few blocks to the fingerprinting place where we would meet the lawyer. He turned out to be a tall, thin fellow who looks like he is consolieri to the Argentine mafia. He explained to us that it was his understanding that we were to call him to confirm that we were coming and, as a result, he had not done what he had said he would do. This was an absurd lie but since the secretary had made the appointment, there was little we could say.

The next and final step was to go to the consulate in Uruguay. He told us that there was no need to book this because they were always available. Later he told our secretary that we would need to wait another month or so.

But the point is that this is something that CAN be done, despite the ridiculous bureaucracy, and yesterday my coworker and I went to Uruguay and received our Permisos de Ingreso to enter the country as legal workers.

THE NICE CONSULATE WOMAN

THE NICE CONSULATE WOMAN

checkmessenger.net

In Buenos Aires, the big craze is MSN messenger. The first thing we do when people start at my office is get them a .net account and download the latest version of messenger. It’s crazy. We all sit in rooms surrounded by people with headphones on and we “chat” by typing into our computer. It’s like a library. I feel bad to talk.

People live a lot on this thing. They use it to keep in contact with distant friends, to share pictures and songs. A little message displays their mood, a quote or even what song their listening to. Being someone’s internet buddy can be quite intimate.

But then the time comes to stop being internet buddies. Perhaps you broke up in real life, perhaps you just don’t want the bother of having to make idle chitchat with old friends. Whatever the reason, messenger includes the option of making yourself disappear completely from someone’s life. They can never tell if you’re online, any messages they send get lost in the mail, and the best part is that they don’t even know you blocked them. At least… until now.

For awhile now there’s been this thing called CheckMessenger which allows you to check to see who has blocked you. This revolutionizes the idea that you can anonymously disappear. Undesirables still can’t send you messages but now at least they know you don’t like them. Furthermore there’s a badge of shame associated with checkmessenger because if you use the service it temporarily replaces your name with an advertisement for their site. As you log in, there are a few seconds that all your friends can see that you don’t trust them and are checking to see if you don’t like them.

Villa Crespo or Bust

My philosophy up till this point has been to take whatever housing that destiny or chance offered me. I moved from living with friends in Caballito (2 months) to living in a stark one room cell with kitchenette and toilet in Congreso (5 months) to a nice 2 bedroom in snooty Palermo. Now I’ve been given the oppurtunity (spelled g-a-r-a-n-t-i-a) to live wherever I want and so I’m lifting up my skirts and hightailing it to Villa Crespo.

Everyone likes Villa Crespo except for some foreigners who count every block further from Palermo as blocks away from the fashionista bars they attend nightly. No worries expats, Villa Crespo is still comfortably near your nightclubs and, as a result, prices are soaring.

Buenos Aires Housing: The Garantía

So a friend of mine very kindly decided to give me a guarantia and so
now I’m moving from ultra rich Palermo Chico to nice, normal, good vibey Villa Crespo. The first thing to understand is that are weird archaic housing laws and customs here. At least on paper, in the USA it doesn’t matter where you come from or who your family is, more what your actions are. Anyone can get a credit card, make payments, build a credit history. When you go to apply for renting an apartment they use your public credit history as a way of seeing your financial character.

Here in Buenos Aires it is much different. There is much less banking infrastructure than in the States and many people don’t have accounts. I, for instance, can’t open an account here without having a DNI (it’s like a social security number). I get paid in cash every month. Apartment owners here can’t check anything about me or most other people. Furthermore there are these medieval, complicated renting laws and it’s virtually impossible to evict anyone.

In my second apartment here, in Congreso, I heard a horror story about a bad previous tenant. The renter stopped paying rent and but the owner couldn’t evict them without a court order. What the owner can do, however, is make a double-or-nothing bet and pay all the remaining rent owed in the contract to the court as a kind of escrow while the renter was evicted. If the owner won the case, she would get her money back and be able to evict the tenant (and presumably get back rent) but if the owner lost she would lose all that money. After a huge battle, which dragged on for months and months, she eventually won and got her money back from evicting the woman.

So, in order to protect themselves, most landlords require a garantía. A garantía is essentially a note written from someone who owns property in the city who will guarantee that you will pay the rent or they will take responsability for it (and face losing their property). It’s a big thing to give one to someone and needless to say, most foreigners don’t know someone who will. There are some seedy places that sell them for about 10+% of the rent you need to pay but this is expensive.

Consequently there are two markets: One for locals who are from the city and run in circles of local property owners and those who don’t. A typical apartment for locals comes unfurnished (no fridge, nothing) and a typical two year contract. One for foreigners comes fully furnished (frequently with television and appliances), no contract, and costs three times the price. Most expats start with the fully furnished places and, after some time, work their way towards a nice nepotistic deal. This could be finding an owner who trusts them enough not to require a garantía or it could be a room in a house where someone else has one.

Luckily, one of my friends has offered me the holy grail of garantía and now I am starting my adventures in househunting local style.

Ña Serapia and El Preferido

Ña Serapia and El Preferido are awesome argentine restaurants in very different ways. both are small and both are super established in the community. both contain mostly locals but both are known to tourists. both have great “normal” homecooked food, though different types and with completely different vibes.



the main difference is that they both capture a different and well preserved part of the buenos aires culture. Ña Serapia is from the north and serves awesome comida criolla: empanadas, guisos, soups, tamales, etc. I get the tamale every time. They have an excellant couple of hot sauces that aren’t chimichuri and that’s really great. But this isn’t the reason why it’s great. It’s great because every time I go there the owner comes up to me and looks into my eyes and shakes my hand in a very serious way. Also, even when he’s not smiling, which is rare, he has this lighthearted look about him like he’s doing what he wants to be, like this is his first day of owning a restaurant and he wants to make a good impression on the customers.



El Preferido is completely different. The food is also homespun. My favorite dish is the tortilla de papas (potato omelete) During lunch it has many waiters wandering around and they never speak to you. This is another classic porteño thing. They ignore you perfectly, always finding a distraction elsewhere in the restaurant when you need the check. On the plus side this means you can chill out for hours with your orange juice as they flutter about you obliviously.



Both are intimate in their different ways.

Chinese Food: Buenos Aires

Wherever you go in the world you’ll find Chinese food. I have not been anywhere but I know this is true because there are literally a billion chinese people and most of them eat chinese food. Also it is very tasty. Also it is easy to make. Also it is cheap to make. And finally, it can taste really good.

You can go to the Peruvian Andes, Lesotho, wherever and there is chinese food. It is so ubiquitous that I’m surprised they can still keep their nation identified with it. You would think it would have splintered into “Rice with Meat” but no… it’s just called “Chinese Food.”

The other weird thing about Chinese food is that it can be really good or really bad but it’s generally impossible to tell anything by looking at it. It all looks the same and costs about the same. Even the taste can be deceptive because they might add tons of MSG, a “flavor enhancer” and very popular ingredient. The Chinese food where I live (Palermo Chico) is three times the price of anywhere else in the Buenos Aires but that has, as you shall find out, nothing to do with the quality.

The first time ate Chinese food in Buenos Aires was at Lysa’s house. Unlike the states, everyone delivers and Porteños prefer ordering out to actually going to restaurants. Though tipping isn’t so common here (5-10%), drinks are expensive and there is frequently a significant cover charge for the table (a la Europe) so it’s usually cheaper and more comfortable to have them bring the food to you for free. Lysa and I ordered Chinese food from this place all the time. It was delicious. Then one rainy night when my parents were visiting we decided to order Chinese food from Lysa’s house. We feel bad about making the folks walk to the house in the rain so we decide to walk the 5 minutes to pick it up ourselves.

When we got there I was surprised; I had been envisioning the place as a nice sit-down restaurant. Instead it there was a single table where you presumably waited for your food to be finished to take away. During the few minutes that we waited for our food to be ready a woman hurredly took orders on the phone while a half-dressed boy of about seven years ran screaming around the room, waving his penis and throwing things. Every so often the woman would ask the customer to hold, look at us, look at the boy, and say “Hey, calm down” and go back to taking orders. We thought it was funny until the boy gave an especially loud yell, looked directly at us, grabbed his penis and began to urinate on a toy of his. The woman on the phone looked at both us and the boy with complete disdain. Somehow even after this incident I continued to order Chinese food, at least up until last week.

Last week, shortly after eating half a plate of Spicy Pork I felt incredibly tired. As I lurched off to bed, I made a quick detour to the bathroom. Which became a longer detour… I felt sick… very sick… and it reminded me of the time when a year ago I had eaten some bad food at a restaurant and had been bedridden for a week with a terrible stomache virus. And for good reason: it was happening again.

Fortunately, I was supposed to be organizing a treasure hunt at work the following day and though I loathed to blow it off, I had no choice. I woke up with a fever of 102F (38.9C) and the hunt was postponed for several days… A doctor came to my house, which was awesome and only cost 12 pesos. Incredible. He was really nice and told me to take some things to bring down the fever. I don’t remember too much about being sick except that Anna took care of me by cooking me mushy things that wouldn’t make me sick for the next few days. Definately the worst thing about being sick is that you’re not well to enjoy it…

Bitch Tours

Ok. So i think i saw this person advertise her tours in craigslist months and months ago (back when I still read craigslist) but, man, she hits it dead on:

http://bitchtours.blogspot.com/

As tours are mostly sold word of mouth the “are you good enough to take my tour” attitude has MAJOR appeal. Having read her blog for only 30 seconds, never communicated with her or heard anything about her, let me highly recommend the service she provides (if only to see what service she provides). It’s the only Buenos Aires tour I’d take, which I won’t.

the joys of technology

After a month here in Buenos Aires, yesterday was my first difficult day. I couldn’t figure out what exactly how to do what I wanted: buy some headphones and some shoes. The clothing stores seemed all be closed and the headphones were all prohibitively expensive. I just couldn’t seem to find the cheap stores. I felt lost in a city that didn’t understand me. That night I had a dream about traveling.

In the dream I had just finished traveling for awhile in South America but for some reason I had to take a break. I was in my parents’ house so I probably returned to the USA for an event. Now the field had changed and it might be easier for me to travel in Europe than in South America. But I was torn on where to travel and I asked my dad for advice. He responded in tersely like “get with the program, buckaroo, why aren’t you just doing it?” The dream ended with my mom asking how many people would be eating tomorrow and my father saying something like “there’s Nathan cause he will never finally get out of here” and I said “I won’t be here for dinner. Tomorrow I’ll be traveling.” And everyone got upset because they wanted me to stay and they wanted time to say goodbye.

Why this dream… and why now?

I’ve decided to do something similar: stay in Buenos Aires for at least a year or so. I will be just living here and working, no plans, just sopping up the city.

Luck comes and goes. When I lived in Seattle I felt hard pressed to find a lucky break but here in Buenos Aires luck seems to grow on trees and the streets are lined with it. Joe’s parents say that lots of serendipity points to being in the “correct place.” After a month and a half I have a good paying job and a great place to live. I seem to be making some friends and already have a location for my first murder mystery party, to be written entirely in Spanish. I am aiming to have it in February in El Tigre. All are welcome.

Another stroke of luck was a couple weeks ago when, by chance my, mom’s dental hygienist was visiting Argentina and brought me a new camera along with my laptop. Both items are twice to three times that of the price in the States. I’ve noticed that writing has been very difficult without photos to illustrate it. This is conspicuous because in the month between the time I lost my camera and the time I received my new one I blogged perhaps only once or twice.

The other windfall was my laptop, which I am writing on now in my room. When I bought my laptop a month before I left on my trip I had thought it a “mistake.” When you measure a laptop against two and a half months of good travel, the choice is clear, especially when you can’t reasonably take a laptop backpacking. There’s no internet connection so it’s perfect for me now. I have a place I can sit, reflect, write and read email without having to be connected all the time. Also Lisa is lending me some amazing speakers and combined with downloading songs on the internet at work I have an amazing stereo. After 3 months without my own music in my life, it’s wonderful to have it here.

On it I had done my preliminary planning for the trip. I had Excel spreadsheets that inaccurately laid out my budget for my time abroad, lists of things to do before I left and final farewell emails. And there was music. I remember before my trip my mom telling me that all my music was sad. And she was right! Take for example the syrupy sad Jackie Green album “Gone Wandering” that I listened to nonstop before I left:

I woke up Wednesday morning with bad weather in my brain
I laid awake awhile just ignoring all the rain
Cause everybody’s talking about who they want to be
Everybody’s talking everybody except me

And I got a little money and I got a little time
And I got myself a pickup truck that I can call mine
I got myself a guitar and I got myself some friends
Some folks say I’m lucky but I think it all depends

On the lens that you are looking through and the music that you hear
‘Cause sometimes you don’t recognize your own face in the mirror
And I can’t help but think about what I done wrong
To deserve this roaming, this traveling song…

The notes I wrote reflect this same confusion.

BEFORE.TXT (5/16/05)
bring stuff to sharon’s house

-bring stuff to devon’s house
-WAMU deposit
-goodwill run
-teruki DINNER

-steal pie and meet with sharon’s friend?????
-practice guitar

TOMORROW
pack up car
move big stuff
clean house
mathew bookcase
christina
meet with felix and cindy, say bye and thanks

TRAVELPLAN.TXT (5/30/05)
travelplan

peru
– mostly nature stuff
– hiking
– meeting people
– learn some peruvian music?
– english language schools

bolivia
chile
uruguay
paraguay
brazil
panama?
argentina?

then

guatamala
costa rica
mexico
etc

good map of south america

FEELINGS.TXT (6/15/05)

relax before the trip
enjoy being somewhere at home
it’s ok to relax

-contact SERVAS people
-bike into choices
-read books
-play games with jolene
-READ

I left on 6/28/05 and I have not looked back. I am not even sure if there is a back anymore, it seems that returning the United States is just another step on the journey.

accepting work

I was invited back for a second interview which contained a kind of short test to see how well I operated in Word. Mark offered me the job and I accepted. I had decided to accept the job before we talked about the particulars. I was happy and I wanted to work.

MY NEW WORKSPACE (WITH MATE GOURD)

MY NEW WORKSPACE (WITH MATE GOURD)

It felt wonderful to go in and be treated as part of a team, working on a common job with a common goal, to be rewarded with money and praise, with people who believed in their project. It felt good, a friendly relaxation from feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders. Perhaps Atlas was tricked or perhaps without the world resting on his shoulders he felt too light, too weightless and without inertia.

But in the same moment it was strange. Here after so long out of the fold of standard work it felt strange that their priorities were all product based. At the school I worked at, my main work experience thus far, we were process oriented. We did not measure our success by grades, tests, overall graduation rate, or anything else. We actually had no objective means of measuring our success at all.

What we did have was goodwill, love, resources and a means to distribute them to kids. Perhaps we did have some standard by which we judged ourselves but I was never aware of it at the time. Our philosophy was very Christian in it’s basis: “go out and do good” and “We come not to destroy the Learning Objectives and the Average Daily Attendance but to uphold it.”

Our standards were more like did our students smile more, did Sarah like math now, or did we have more or fewer things to stamp, sign or photocopy. But these were never objectively measured and we never would have wanted them to be. We shied away all form of measurement, perhaps because our job was more art than science. We were the caretakers of the cracks pushing back those near the edge who were losing their balance.

Perhaps, standing back and looking at the numbers (and by “the numbers” I mean people’s lives and the work and value that they place on those lives) there are patterns that form and perhaps by working harder in one area while focusing less on another we could, perhaps, have done a better job. Perhaps then we could have reduced our art to science, perhaps made it capable of being performed by a computer program while we hurried around doing something else, but there was something that always struck me as intense when I see the resistance that many teachers have towards measuring progress. Perhaps it is in the measuring of lives we place values on those lives.

I have a friend back in Utah working for a large multinational corporation named Honeywell. She needs the job for her baby, who is about 4 months old at the moment. She has a family to support. But Honeywell is a company that does bad things like make parts of bombs. Recently there was a bomb that was marked as food and exploded a lot of people in some far away country. That bomb was partly made by Honeywell. She feels like she does bad things in order to feed her family.

Like many large projects we see only one small piece of the puzzle and will never understand the impact that our work has on the world. Our job is to fill the textbooks, to make them more efficient, so that students can learn the data inside. The company’s goal of providing quality educational resources seems to be pure but I doubt there’s a single employee who thinks much about the students, except as he might feel a twinge at not finishing the last morsels of his plate because of the “starving children in India.”

The Online Job Hunt

Job postings on the internet were scarce and it is strange to see http://buenosaires.craigslist.com postings, usually an informal way for people to connect cheaply, adapted to fit the US tourist/expat market abroad.

For example, under the FOR SALE catagory:

Are you a female that wants to become an american citizen. If you are this is your chance. Is it worth 5000 to become an american citizen. If it is Email me

The housing market is little different, the standard advertisements for apartments are at a weekly rate and about five times what is paid by Argentineans.

The jobs were almost all for e-commuting webdesign jobs. Argentineans are well educated, have access to technology and will work for cheap. Freelance outsourcing is the rule here. One job stuck out a bit more than the others. It was for a project manager with web design experience. I responded and it turned out to be a freelance curriculum development company based in Buenos Aires. Why are they in Argentina? I quote their website: “And the significant cost savings made possible by our Buenos Aires production facilities makes our solutions affordable.”

I got an interview and I waver over how much to ask for. I have calculated my expenses at $800 a month. This gives me leeway. If I were living as a porteño I would only be spending about $400 but it would be difficult to find housing that cheaply without a guarantia and also I want to get out and do more things than the average person who grew up here would want to do.

The interview goes great. The owner, Mark, was very helpful and offered to assist in the apartment hunt whether or not I got the job. Getting an apartment in the city is a little difficult since Buenos Aires has a fairly archaic system of rental laws. For this, the landlords demand a “guarantia”, which is essentially a guarantee from a friend of the renters who owns land, guaranteeing that rent will be paid or their property will be forfeit. This is partly due to archaic rent laws which state that once in an apartment it is near impossible to remove a bad tenant who refuses to pay. It is also partly due to a feudal class system of excluding those who lack land (or a friend who does) from living in the city. There are apparently ways for foreigners to get around this, all of which involve paying a bit more.

He said he was not getting many applicants. He had advertised on craigslist and got replies from people in the USA asking to be flown out. He thought not.

Half the interview questions were about why I was in Argentina. This I found difficult to answer. To be assured I wasn’t going to say I just wanted a job cause it suited me. So I said that I had traveled here specifically for that, which was more or less true. Why Buenos Aires? I like it here. Bad answer. I should have said: “cause I’ve always wanted to let my dog shit on the sidewalk.”
The best I could come up with was “when I return to the states and live in San Francisco I don’t know what I’ll say at the interview there.” Then I countered by asking why it was an important question and he told me he didn’t want travelers. And I assured him by telling him that I was not a traveler and I was here to work. It was a lie but it was nice to get all that out in the open. I doubt he was totally convinced but I didn’t care. I fit the job profile better than anyone else he’s looking for: I’m young, eager, cheap, smart, and have experience in everything the job asks for. If I didn’t get it, he’d have made a hiring mistake.

The next day I checked my email even though they told me they’d be calling back only next week. I somehow hoped the next interviewee would not show and they’d just give me the job by default. That seems to be how I get most of my jobs. But I’m good on an interview and I enjoy talking to people.

Over the next few days I became worried about staying too long in Buenos Aires and things not working out. People would ask me what I was doing and what my plans were. Every time that I answered that I was going to live here I would build up my failure if things did not work out. I almost decided to leave the city so I wouldn’t have to worry about hearing back from the job.

In the meantime the freelance jobs I had applied for were not responding. The only one I heard from was a person wanting a web design project done in Flash. I have no experience in Flash but I want to learn. I realized that I didn’t even have my laptop. There was no way at all that I could learn how to use this complicated software using internet kiosks.

The Buenos Aires Job Hunt

Anna, who is also toying with the idea of living here, got great job listings from the French Embassy and everyone I talked to suggested the American Embassy would be an excellent resource. Armed with an up to date resume I marched off to find out for myself. When I went I was surprised American Embassy in Buenos Aires is attended almost entirely by people who do not speak English and not US citizens. After being told various things ranging from the Embassy was not open that day to being misdirected in various lines I finally found myself in a room containing people lounging around in chairs and waiting for something to happen. I took a number and waited with them. After half an hour of no one being called I asked them if there was anyone attending the window. “Oh yes,” they said, “You just go up and ring the bell.” I went up and rang the bell which was marked in Spanish “Ring for Immediate Attention” and I was served at once. It turns out that the only service they offer is providing the address of the American Chamber of Commerce website. This being done the lady promptly bid me a good day and disappeared, presumably until someone else rang the bill.

The American Chamber of Commerce is in on the 10th floor of a large building next to the courthouse. There were a large number of people and press gathered outside. I asked the doorman what was up and it turned out to be a protest against the sentencing of a boy accused of a serious crime. The crowd was friends and family who insisted on his innocence. My Spanish is poor and as a result I perceive the world through the eyes of a child. Because I get confused between words like “judge”, “court case”, “courthouse” and “sentencing proceedings” I must be content with overly simplified explanations: “There is a bad boy but we are not sure if he is bad. So now we are seeing and these people like him.”

My Spanish has improved by leaps and bounds. It is not consistently good or bad but rather fluctuates depending on my energy level, my level of comfort, the context of the conversation and who I am talking to. The most important factor seems to be comfortability with the conversation. If I am not comfortable then I simply cannot speak in Spanish.

The nice girl at the American Chamber of Commerce referred me to the website but agreed to take my resume and hand it on to interested parties. “The website is good though,” she confidently assured me, “companies log in and do a search of your qualifications and if you have skills that match what they’re looking for then they call you. You will be probably be looking for a job in…” She scanned my resume for a minute or two and then said, less confidently, “Oh I’m sure you’ll find something…”

Acclimatizing

The next day I decided to treat my hosts, Juan and Malena, to a dish from California. Because California cuisine is really a mixture of food from all the cultures that live there it’s hard to find things to single out as uniquely Californian. I decided on California rolls (vegetarian sushi that replaces fish with avocado) because tortillas for burritos are not available and, as I found out in Lima, I do not have a good tortilla recipe.

I did, however, need seaweed to wrap the sushi and for that I had to go to Chinatown. The materials were easily found if not expensive, actually about twice the price in the USA. But the notable part of the journey was when I saw an English teaching school with a girl outside handing out flyers for it. I asked her if she knew if they were hiring new teachers and she said I would have to inquire within but if I wanted to teach her friend, who was working next door, I was welcome to.

I went inside and asked how much I would be making were I to work for them: 8 pesos ($2.40) an hour and they couldn’t guarantee any amount of hours per week. Not a good job though I told them I’d call them when I had a resume for them. As I left the flyer-girl’s friend came out to convince me to take her on as a student and I said I’d call her as well. She would pay 8 pesos an hour for two hours a week. I returned home that day with sushi materials (which cost about 40 pesos all told) and one potential client.

As in Japan and the USA sushi is a delicacy and Juan had never tasted it before. He loved it and everyone was pleased. Afterwards, to compliment the dish I got my first sample of real matte etiquette.

Besides cheap, plentiful and organic wine, the official drink here is yerba matte. It is drunk in a traditional wooden cup with a metal straw. More ritual than thirstquencher, you cannot buy it in restaurants because it is a personal thing to be enjoyed at home. Despite this it is completely ubiquitous. You see people in the park, at the news stand, walking to work with their thermos and cup of matte. Police officers drink it on the street, sipping at their cups over the half hour period it takes to finish their thermos of hot water. Matte has lots of caffeine and helps with digestion. I have always dreamed of a city where slightly bitter herbal tea is considered the drink of choice.

MATE IS DRUNK IN OFFICE SITUATIONS

MATE IS DRUNK IN OFFICE SITUATIONS

Juan taught me how to make a wall with the leaves so that you could keep the same flavor for 20 cups in a row and how to pass the cup with the straw facing the recipient to signify friendship.

Arrival

The city of Buenos Aires is large. It has 12 million people. A lot of people say it is very like a European city. Perhaps this is because almost no Argentines have Argentine grandparents. The vast majority have grandparents from Europe who came over during the early 20th Century because of the wars. Also they were encouraged to come by Argentine immigration policy. Once the Indians had “gone away” the Argentines had an immense country to fill and no people with which to do it. In the same way as the USA settled “The West” they gave free land to anybody who wanted it and wasn’t Indian.

Most of the new immigrants came from Spain and Italy and, as a result of this their food is fairly European: their pastas, pizzas, and ice-cream rival those of their mother countries. The city certainly has a kind of cosmopolitan European feeling. It has lovely old buildings, a bustling yet tidy city center, and a fascist past. People also might say Buenos Aires is like Paris because the sidewalks are littered with dog poop. If you step in dog poop in Paris, they will tell you it is good luck. If you step in dog poop in Argentina they will growl under their breath something nasty about “living in a third world country.” The Argentines carry a heavy load, having previously tasted the first world only to have it snatched away by international loan sharks (read: IMF, the World Bank, USA, etc.).

I arrived in Buenos Aires and immediately went to stay with fellow traveler Anna, with whom I had traveled from Salta to Cafayate. She had some French friends in the city who were working on an architectural project together. Apparrently they don’t get on. Partly because one of the girls is cheating on her boyfriend back in France who is also the best friend of the other girl. Anna tells me there are more issues like this. It’s remarkable how people stay in relationships in which they get no joy: always arguing and never at peace. They become enmeshed in each others lives like ivy and slowly strangle each other. They are unhappy but sedentary, too scared to leave the safe stagnation of each other’s company. Happily the day I arrived they left for France to report on their architectural findings and left the apartment to the travelers while. Anna and I got to use it as a base to explore the city.

Buenos Aires is filled with parks, which are sometimes neat and tidy, and McDonalds. McDonalds are everywhere where there is a demand for 40 cent dulce de leche ice cream. Here McDonalds are different. They are much much nicer. People here have apparently figured out that you don’t get a lot of real food for your money at McDonalds and so McDonalds is now pretty nice looking. Every location has a second story with a balcony to overlook the city streets. Also they are made with shiny wood and brass, not yellow and red plastic from the 1960s. They are the kind of McDonalds where they waiter takes your tray as soon as you finish your last freedom fry.

EVERY PARK SEEMS TO HAVE ITS OWN MERRY-GO-ROUND

EVERY PARK SEEMS TO HAVE ITS OWN MERRY-GO-ROUND

We wandered the streets and hung out in the parks San Telmo, a historical neighborhood famous for it’s tango bordellos. I bought a small travel guitar at the Antigua Casa Nunez, which is well known store in the city for good, reasonably priced guitars that are all made in house. Some days it was sunny and others it was warm and nice.

Anna soon returned to Paris and I began calling SERVAS hosts for places to stay. You’re supposed to call days or weeks before to let them know you’re coming. Technically I had done this but no one had answered their phones. I think that this is a gray area in SERVAS culture. Anyways, I called about 20 people. Calling 20 people you do not know in a language you hardly speak and politely asking them if you can sleep on their couch can be frightening. Eventually, I got hold of an incredibly friendly girl who had traveled with SERVAS in the USA and Canada. She said I could stay with her but she was going out to a music show and we would have to meet there.

The show was a band of a standup bass, 2 guitars, a ukulele, a flute, two drummers and a lady on the bandoneon. It was at that show that I discovered Buenos Aires has ton of cultural events. Free cultural events. All large cities have “The Arts”. But Buenos Aires is passionate about them: they have hundreds of theatres, art galleries, dance venues and music shows, including an incredibly beautiful opera house. The city also has the rare egalitarian idea that fine art should be accessible to all levels of society. For instance two days ago I saw an opera in one of the finest opera houses in the world for a dollar. Every weekend there are free concerts in the city’s many parks.

After the show and a late dinner it was about 12:30am. They returned to the apartment to drop off me, my backpack and my newly bought guitar and, the night being young (about 1:30am), they left to go dancing.

Due to a recent economic collapse the dollar goes a long way here. Quality of life is much higher in Buenos Aires than in any of the countries I had visited so far and, if my faulty memory can be trusted at all, the USA as well.

Over dinner I had mentioned to my new SERVAS hosts that I was considering staying awhile in Buenos Aires. By the morning sleep had solidified these words into an immediate plan to set up roots and get a job and an apartment.

2nd day

Came in early by mistake. Maybe my clock is wrong at home.
Got my rhapsody subscription but boss doesn-t like headphones. No headphones

Tired at end

Actual yom kippur

Designed the 6 degrees thing.

I suspect that this is an unhealthy environment. Took a break to read. I talked to aviva on chat. She liked the conversation and saved it. I was saying I thought I was being unhealthy, sought out unhealthy relationships especially with women who need help. She wants to help me. Says I help her.