Monday, July 11, 2011

It's been a long, hard road, but I've finally overcome my writer's cramp. A trip to Iguazu Falls didn't hurt, but I'm saving that for the next post. First, I want to reminisce about the past few weeks:
  • Argentines really know how to celebrate Midsummer. I didn't lose a tooth this time while singing Helan går, but it was close.
  • Montevideo, Uruguay must be beautiful in the summer, but the wind can certainly whip your cheeks into a frenzy in the wintertime. But a copious amount of meat keeps your body warm while your heart whimpers. I sometimes feel like I can hear my arteries clogging.
  • My co-workers are lovely, and teach me many things, including that flacos are boys, minas are girls, and strawberries shall under no circumstances be referred to as anything but frutillas. That is to say, fru-ti-shas.
  • Dancing on the streets is by no means confined to the tango shows on Florida Street for the tourists. No, with the street panels how they are and oily substances dripping from most balconies, dancing is a sidewalk necessity, a swivel of the hips and a jump with the feet of boots tumbling their way to work. It's a good thing Argentine men whistle so much.
  • Speaking of streets, I have thrown all feminine languor to the wind and now sprint across 12-lane road 9 de Julio to work. It helps unclog the arteries (see meat above).
  • The Swedish Association is turning me into a lush.
And now, some photographic proof. First, Midsummer:

On the bus to Montevideo, I learned the meaning of the "safety" part of "safety glass" when a punk kid threw a stone at the window next to my head:

I wasn't kidding about the wind in Montevideo:

Nor the meat.

These cows never stood a chance.

But not everything is charred flesh and intestines. My lovely co-workers (Sol, my partner in crime, is second from the right):

Stay tuned for Iguazu!

Monday, June 20, 2011

With flowers in their hair

Es obvio que no sos argentina porque vos no tenés el pelo largo.

My face, I've been told, could easily pass for Argentine. Most people here are a mix of Italian and Spanish with some Northern European here and there; my cheekbones and dark hair are anything but exotic in this crowd. There's one thing about my hair that gives me away, though: Argentine women wear theirs long. Really long. With nary a layer to interrupt the flow, it cascades down their backs until its final resting point at the small of the back or even lower. Sol doesn't know when this "hippie-chic" style became popular, but judging from the length of the manes wandering the streets, it must have been for some time.

Long, straight, brown hair—I could have passed as Argentine up until a month ago. Just before leaving for Argentina, I let a nice lady in Clairemont cut off about a foot of hair and donate it to make wigs. My hair hasn't been this short since I did the same thing the last time I ran off to South America just after graduating college. If I keep this up, I'll end up looking like Eric, who recently embraced sweet, shiny baldness after the power went off in a Tanzanian barber shop.

My short hair and Scotti:

Soon thereafter, my short hair freezing:

Last but definitely not least!

Happy 21st birthday Danny Andy! Now the whole family can share a (couple of) bottle(s) of wine at the restaurant!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

OOOOOH, huevos!

Sidling up to the cash register at a market nearby, I asked the cashier if they had any eggs. Tienes huevos?

Guy: No entiendo.
Me: Tienes huevos? Huevos?

For God's sake, I grew up in San Diego, I know how to pronounce huevos. Must be the last vestiges of my cold-induced man voice screwing things up. Gotta be it.

Guy: Qué?
Me: Sabes, the things that chickens shit* out...
Guy: Qué???

Desperate now. Making hand movements.

Guy: Oh, HUEVOS! Sí, abajo . . . De dónde sos?


*The all-purpose cagarse, yesterday's word-of-the-day. I am getting quite creative with my descriptions lately. When I don't know a word for something and the charades aren't working, I've been heard to describe a vegetable peeler as "that thing that takes the clothes off a carrot" or a crochet hook as "a sewing needle for grandmas."

But Argentine slang—i.e. Argentine swear words—are another language altogether. And everyone swears, all the time, from the petite little old lady ordering croissants to the partners at the law firm. Foul language is not taboo here.

So I bought the only dictionary fit for this country, a little 70-page gem:
Che Boludo.

Now I'll actually understand when my boss tells me not to hinchar las bolas (swell his balls, i.e. be a pain in the ass).

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Thunder and lightning and broken hearts

The rain is streaming down and the Canucks just lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. Having become a Canucks fan since meeting Tyrone and Lydia, I am dejected (and soaked). But I am really more disappointed because this means that not only are they leaving Buenos Aires, they are doing so crestfallen. Yet, as they said, this is even more reason to try to meet up with them in British Columbia in August, if only to regain a happy image of them. Farewell, my dear Canadians—here's looking to next season.

Chamuyeros and Installment #1 of Odd Storefronts on My Way Home

I've waited my "seven days or a week" and my cold is mercifully slipping away so I can finally walk down the street without my mouth hanging wide open gulping at the air like a fish. This is very good news, because my renewed condition will hopefully leave me with more coordination to negotiate the city's varied state of sidewalk panels. I rolled my ankle on a loose cobblestone today for the umpteenth time on the way to work. I felt a little sorry for myself until I saw a blind man tapping his way forward across the street—if my ankles are spaghetti, his must be silly putty.

I still haven't achieved my grand goal of crossing Avenida 9 de Julio and its two tributaries in one single go (i.e. sprint). The Argentines like to say that it's the widest street in the world, but there are whispers of a wider one in Brazil. But as Sol says, Argentines are all just a bunch of chamuyeros (know-it-all bullshitters) anyway.

But without further ado, I give you...


Sandwiched between the Hertz Rent-a-Car and a hotel:

And in case cars aren't your thing, there's a horse and carriage for rent:

Continuing right along, we come to a baby store that celebrates the well-known fact that infants are indeed aliens:

. . . But I lie. That last one wasn't really on way home, but on the way to El Ateneo, one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. If I could grab a blanket and sleep in one of the theater boxes for the rest of my life I would, but the security guard kindly asked me to leave the last time I tried.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Backtrack to the 1970s for a little lemon risotto

It's a lazy Sunday afternoon in the city, the sun retreating into a three-quarters moon. It was a gorgeous weekend here: temperatures in the high 60s, sundresses on the streets. The sun is supposed to stick around for most of this week, too. I can't say I mind the Argentine winter just yet.

I had a lovely time this afternoon drinking coffee with a University of Illinois law student at a cafe nearby who's also working at a firm this summer. I got his contact information through my subletter, another law student who coincidentally spent last summer at a firm in Argentina. We've never met, but she's been giving me helpful tips about the city via email, and I almost feel like I know her. Anyway, it turns out that Oscar also got the "just be relaxed" talk at the start of his internship, but he's actually been given a lot of work, and is even working on the weekends. Maybe I should be more appreciative of my very much relaxed time at my firm.

It does free up some time to keep translating for IFN, which is in fact what I am avoiding doing right now. Instead, I'd like to welcome you to my apartment. It's a lovely place with two balconies—one for lounging, one for hanging wash—and a well-stocked kitchen straight from the 1970s.

It's dotted with ballet posters from across the world. It took a few days to figure out that the owner of the apartment, Mauricio Wainrot, is listed as the choreographer on all of them. (I haven't met him, only his secretary.)

The new apartment was christened with a little dinner party last week. It was exactly the impetus I needed to finally step away from toast-for-dinner and make a decent meal. I had three guests: Toti, the Argentine lawyer from my firm, and Tyrone and Lydia, the cutest Canadian couple you'll ever meet who got engaged on top of Machu Picchu. I met them in Mendoza, and it's been so lovely to see them again in Buenos Aires. They've made a regular Canucks fan out of me. Anyway, I made lemon risotto with rosemary chicken and chorizo, which actually didn't turn out half bad. And the self-timed pic was only slightly off-center—a successful night by all accounts!

One last thing: The apartment is right near a school, though I haven't been able to find it. But I can definitely hear it—recess sounds just about the same anywhere in the world. The other day I even heard a perfect rendition of "Baby," handiwork of Justin Bieber, another illustrious Canadian born in a town called Stratford (of all places). Not quite as good as Taio Cruz, but close.

All the way to Africa and New York City

Not one but two birthdays to celebrate today. Happy 26th birthday to my twin brothers, Thomas and Eric!

Saturday, June 11, 2011


I just got back from a night at the movies. At a church. I was the youngest person there by decades—I guess not all 20-somethings spend their Saturday nights watching 1940s movies in holy atriums—but I really enjoyed myself.

The feature for the evening was Torment (Hets in Swedish), an Ingmar Bergman screenplay directed by Alf Sjöberg (although apparently Bergman did have a hand in directing it too). The movie was being shown at the Iglesia Sueca de Buenos Aires, or Swedish Church, located in the San Telmo district of the city. Since I miss Stockholm a lot—and haven't spoken Swedish hardly at all in the past year, except for a headache-inducing Skype conversation with the tax authorities—I thought I'd get out of the Recoleta bubble and make my way over there. For 20 pesos ($4), it wasn't a bad price for a movie and drinks.

The film itself was a picture of sadism, and had all the hallmarks of Bergman features to come. It dark and tumultuous, but ended sunnily; apparently Bergman had wanted the ending to be darker, but Sjöberg vetoed it. The moving showing was billed as a "film debate" on the Swedish Embassy website, but I was surprised to find that I was one of just two people that spoke Swedish there. Everyone else was Argentine, and had some sort of connection with Sweden, be it the church or family members or interest in Swedish cinema or anything really. After the movie, I started talked to a woman named Monica who has been married to Sven, the other Swedish speaker there, for 38 years. Sensing my Spanish deficiencies, she spoke slowly and clearly so I could understand, and helped me along in the conversation. When I asked her the best taxi service to call, she insisted on giving me a ride home, so I ended up sharing the backseat of their car with her 96-year-old mother.

They let me in on another Swedish event: Midsommarfest, put on by El Club Sueco, the Swedish Club headquartered in the same building as the Embassy. I think it'd be fun to go—I was lucky enough to spend the last two Midsummers in Sweden, and I have a mind to see how the Argentines celebrate the illustrious pagan holiday. I suppose it's kind of odd to be seeking out Swedish activities in Buenos Aires, but the truth is that I just spoke more Spanish at this movie night than I did all last week.

But some things I don't even have to seek out. The very first thing I saw in the grocery store was jam made from fläderbär (elderberry) and nypon (rose hip).

And even the milk comes in the same familiar TetraPak package with the perforated tab on the upper corner. Well, some of the milk anyway—the first time I went to the grocery store, I could only find milk in bags. A wobbly plastic bag filled with milk. I admit, I was perplexed—how does one store milk in a plastic bag? When I expressed my dismay to Toti, an Argentine lawyer from the firm who is leaving soon to do a Master of Laws at Northwestern, she just laughed, saying that nobody actually buys the milk in bags. They buy the milk en cartón, the leche larga vida, highly-pasteurized milk that you don't even have to refrigerate until you open it. Truth be told, it's pretty much the same as the "haltbare Milch" you get in Germany. I doubt I'll ever be as enthusiastic about it as Thomas though:

Friday, June 10, 2011

I wonder how you say Eyjafjallajökull in Spanish

It seems that Argentina is experiencing its own Eyjafjallajökull in the guise of the Puyehue volcano in Chile. The newest volcano is easier to pronounce, and probably won't lead to as prolonged an air disruption as its Icelandic counterpart did last year, but the ash cloud has downed flights for a few days now and covered the city with a light dusting of gray soot. Add that to the gusts of exhaust bursting from the thousands of buses crawling the street, and it's not the best air out there right now. But the trash is mostly gone at least. Walking home the other day, a woman shook her head and summed up the situation well: "Puta basura, puta coches."

It's been three weeks since I arrived in Argentina. But I was lucky enough to get through the airport delayed by a mere immigration strike, rather than a natural disaster. Backtrack to the Ezeiza International Airport on May 18: Scotti plunks down to wait for me after her own 4 AM arrival on a different flight, as I wasn't scheduled to land until 9:40 AM or so. Around 10 AM, she wakes up with a start at the McDonald's, panicked that we'd missed each other. (We hadn't made any reservations, of course, relying instead on the conviction that surely we'd just find each other.) But when she sees the airport crawling with people waiting to pick up their charges, and hears a lady scream "¡Puta inmigración, dos horas!, she knows she's probably safe. And she was—I was stuck on the other side of the wall in a line just inching along waiting to get my passport checked. The Argentine passport-holders were on the left, and the rest of us were on the right, and every ten minutes the left side erupted in snarls and jeers hurled at the striking workers in a volley of colorful slang that I had no hope of understanding. After about two hours, I finally made it through, seeing Scotti's head peep out from behind all the uniformed taxi drivers holding paper signs.

The ash has nothing to do with it, but I'm home from work today with a nasty cold. It's annoying, though, because I never once had to miss a day of work because of sickness, and now it happens in my first week here. But I guess that's what I get for leaving summer to come to winter—although I'd trade the Chicago winter for the Argentine any day. The temperature hovers around the low sixties during the day, dropping to the 50s at night. And I've only had one day of rain in three weeks, as long as you don't count the blizzard in Bariloche:
Wednesday marked my first full week at the firm. When I first arrived, the partner who brought me over here gave me "the talk," the same one he had given to the other three interns who had been there in the years before. I was there for an experience, he said: I should make contacts, improve my Spanish, get to know Argentina, and above all relax. The first few days I took his advice to heart, using the down-time to read about Argentine history and culture, but I have to admit that I'm already getting antsy. I've only been given a few tasks, and they've been pretty minor. Next week, when I'm well, I'm going to walk around to the other partners and proposition them for work.

For now, though, I'm learning a lot about project finance, something I had no idea even existed about a week earlier. The partner I work for has been commissioned to write an article about the topic, even though he doesn't know much about it either—he's in real estate, not government infrastructure and development contracts. So, Sol—a very sweet freshly-minted lawyer who just started at the firm (and is younger than me even)—and I have been given the task of "teaching him," i.e. writing the article for him. It's going to be in English, so a lot of it is my job. As a result, I've learned a lot about the Argentine economy of the past twenty years, and all I can say is that I'm glad I don't know it first-hand. This country has certainly been put through the grinder. It's the only country that's gone from first-world—in fact, one of the richest countries in the world—to third-world status. I saw one blog describe Buenos Aires as "the city of faded elegance," and I think that fits perfectly.

But certain parts of the city are brand-new, including the building where I work:

It's in the Puerto Madero district, a former rough-and-tumble area of docks and dikes that has been revitalized in the past twenty years. My building is the second from the right:

It's a really nice area to walk around during the long, luxurious lunch breaks (about 1.5 hours) and grab something to eat. And, Sol assures me, it's the safest part of all of Buenos Aires, because it's patrolled by the Prefectura (the Navy) rather than the policia because it's a port.

But I have yet to feel unsafe in this city. I live in a nice area, well-lit and bustling with people, and I haven't had any problems. On a night out with Scotti, though, I did get ripped off by a taxi driver, who switched my straight-from-the-bank 100 peso bill for a fake one when I wasn't looking. As my mom so aptly says, "they're all assholes."

Monday, June 6, 2011

An attempt

I'm really very bad at these things. I always forget to write, or just decline to do so, usually ending with four posts over a series of four years. This time, I tell myself, it will be different: with only two months here in Buenos Aires, I'm not committing myself to an indeterminable amount of correspondence. In fact, it's less than two months now; my flight takes off July 29.

I walk 19 blocks back and forth to work each day, averaging about 30 minutes each way. My favorite part of the morning's walk is Plaza Libertad, a park bordered by Libertad, Alvear, and Paraguay. In Buenos Aires, the dog-walker is an institution deserving of awe—I've counted 20 dogs tied up altogether, all of different sizes and different breeds, all emanating from one thick, muscly dog-walking wrist clutching their leashes. But even dog-walkers need breaks, and every morning the dozens of dogs are tied up on a strip of grass alongside one corner of the park, and happily yap away.

Then comes the biggest challenge: Crossing Avenida de 9 Julio in less than three stages. The street is probably the largest boulevard I've ever seen cut through a city—six lanes in each direction, coupled with three lanes on mini-streets on each side. Add to that large medians with grassy areas in between all four, and you've got yourself quite the avenue. In a city where pedestrians are about as important as the dog cakes that litter the streets, I'm happy to report that this boulevard is one of the few spots in the city with a proper crosswalk. My major goal this summer is not to become bus mush (I've done OK so far).

Another 15 blocks, and I'm standing in front of the gleaming glass building that houses the law firm where I spend my working hours. Today, I was happier than usual to step inside—with trash collectors on strike, the city streets are overflowing with heaps of trash bags. Many of them have been ripped open, and trash is merrily floating down the avenues. This yummy pile was lounging in front of the Argentine post office (El Correo Argentino) on Alem, a block from my office:

And tomorrow, it seems, we'll get a dusting of ash as the fall-out from the Chilean Puyehue volcano drifts north. Bariloche, a town in northern Patagonia that Scotti and I visited two weeks ago, has been in a state of emergency for days because of the falling ash. Apparently, the city has been covered by up to a foot of the dusty stuff, and people are raking it off the streets.

We seemed to have visited at the right time: