Monday, April 30, 2007

Theater from the streets

Backtracking a day, I went to a play on Saturday night. I'd been sick since Thursday night, presumably from something I ate. Fever, nausea, vomiting, the whole works. By Saturday morning I felt mostly recovered so I invited Current Something #2 to accompany me. My friend Ulises was directing the play and I'd promised I would attend.

His theater group is something hard for me to explain because I still don't understand it fully. Apparently the government here permits neighborhood groups to form and utilize certain assets for the benefit of the community. In this case, it was an abandoned bank building. The theater group appropriated one floor, brought in some chairs, created a rudimentary set, and it became a space for their production, "Cuando las almas se hacen presentes" (when the souls become present).

My Spanish isn't good enough to follow all of the dialog but I found the production quite interesting nonetheless. My condensed version of the story is a young woman is living with her mother, who is not quite in her right mind. Her husband died 17 years earlier but every night she still sets a plate of food at his place at the table and denies that he is dead. The daughter seems desperate, trapped with a half-crazed mother, unable to go out to work or to meet new friends, hopeless about future possibilities in her life. Eventually the husband appears to his wife as a phantom and talks with her, but I wasn't sure if it was supposed to be a genuine apparition or only a representation for us of what was happening in her mind. At the end, the mother has also died and the daughter is left alone, setting the table for three every night.

Current Something #2 told me that the play was full of cultural and historical references related to current politics, but all of that went right over my head due to language difficulties as well as ignorance of all of the above. I hope in time to remedy that and understand much more about who these people of Argentina are, what they think about their past, and where they want to go in the future.

How do you say awkward in Spanish?

Delicado, embarazoso. Neither one quite fits the bill. The first could be a situation that might result in various reactions, such as grief, shock, or regret. The second implies that the situation is already embarrassing. Our good old English word is the most precise, implying a situation that has the potential, but not inevitability, of being embarrassing.

Before I begin, let me define a few relationship terms that will come into play with today's scenario. Let's set up three categories:

  • Past Fling: we had some romps in the past but now we're just friends
  • Current Something: we're currently romping but I don't know yet where it will go
  • Future Something: we're probably going to romp in the near future and see where it goes

Earlier today (Sunday), Past Fling #1 phones and asks if perhaps we could get together in the evening to hang out, have a coffee, or something similar. I say sure, give me a call later today. Past Fling #1 (from 2005) would still like to be a Current Something, but I've been pretty clear that I don't I want to go there again.

In midafternoon, Current Something #1 comes to my apartment, as previously planned, and we go out to do a few errands, then come back and prepare an early dinner or late lunch, depending on how you look at it. We're enjoying a nice repast al fresco, on my patio in full view of the front window, when the bell rings and I see Past Fling #1 standing outside, sans phone call. Little choice but to invite him in, no?

Well, it's a tad uncomfortable. I'm sure both the lads have their mental hamster-wheels spinning rapidly with questions about each other and neither seems very relaxed in our spontaneous little fiesta. Past Fling #1 is using far too much English, which Current Something #1 barely speaks, as a territorial maneuver to show how much we have in common. Current Something #1 is tossing me furtive looks to let me know he feels shy and out of place. I'm gambling on riding it out and letting the chips fall where they may when my cell phone rings. It's Future Something #1. So now with a rapt audience of two, I'm trying to navigate the perilous shoals of a conversation with yet another beau. Future Something #1 inquires as to my current activity and says he really wants to see me this evening. I try to be tactful and say I'm dining with a couple of friends and he asks if he can join us. What can I say? It's all just too much to try to get a grip on and figure out a tactical plan on the spur of the moment, so I say, sure!

Interestingly enough, it all goes more or less well. Everyone leaves in order of arrival over the course of the next few hours, eventually leaving only Future Something #1 here. I'd already yielded to fate and assumed catastrophe was imminent so I rode out the evening surprisingly calmly. I told no lies but volunteered no information and everyone seemed too polite to inquire deeply, so fate was kind to me tonight.

Fortunately, Current Something #2, who had spent the night and left this morning, didn't show up to look for a mislaid watch or some such thing. It could have a been a lot worse.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

First night out on the town

By Tuesday, I had cash again and could go out and have a good time. I met another American, Aaron, online in a chat room before leaving the US. He was planning to come here for a short vacation and his stay would overlap my arrival, so we said we'd arrange to meet. He phoned on Tuesday and I invited him to join me and my Argentine friend, Ulises, for dinner.

Before dinner, I went to visit my Colombian friend, John. While I was on the plane to Buenos Aires, John had an emergency appendectomy here. I almost thought he was pulling my leg when he told me, he'd been fine when we'd spoken a couple of days earlier. He's doing well now, recuperating at home.

Aaron, Ulises, and I met at Toronto on Avenida Santa Fe, a very bustling popular major street. Toronto is a tenedor libre, a kind of all-you-can-eat buffet but much better quality food than most similar places in the US. Dinner here begins late. Restaurants are typically deserted prior to 9 PM and reach their peak between 10 and 11 PM. We started at 9:30 PM and stayed until midnight.

Aaron, who had seemed pleasant in chat, turned out to be a terrific guy. I had a great time during dinner. Since Ulises speaks English quite well, we mixed up the languages and talked non-stop for 2.5 hours, switching back and forth between English and Spanish. Aaron wanted to continue the evening (his last night in BA) so Ulises suggested going to a nearby gay club, Search.

Search is a small place, literally an underground club, as many of them are here. You walk in the door and then go down below street level to the club. It was packed but we managed to get a tiny table. The night's entertainment was a drag show. I have no idea who the drag queen was, and my Spanish isn't good enough to understand more than half of her rapid-fire delivery, but it was very entertaining nonetheless. I stayed until 3 AM and left the boys to continue without me...they said later they'd stayed until 4 AM.

I saw Aaron again the next day before he left for the US. Just as I had warned him in our online chats, he fell in love with Buenos Aires and is already talking about coming back. I hope he does, he's a great guy, a lot of fun, easy to talk with, and I'll look forward to his next visit.

Flat broke

Monday turned into hell. I used my ATM card on Sunday to withdraw some cash and then went on a shopping spree for some essentials: groceries, toiletries, cell phone, household items, etc. By Monday I had only 18 pesos left (about $5 US). I went to the bank again to withdraw more cash and the ATM said it couldn't complete the transaction and to try again later. I went to another bank and this time it said my card was invalid.

I had phoned my bank's headquarters twice before I left to tell them I would be in Argentina and therefore ATM transactions should not be considered suspicious. I also visited my local branch to inform them. I was assured all three times that it was noted on my account and there would be no problems. Of course, it was a huge problem when they automatically cancelled my card after the first use.

I emailed the bank and got back canned replies from underpaid, underwhelmed employees who kept telling me to call their toll-free number or visit the nearest branch (5000 miles away!). They never acknowledged my protests that "toll-free" means nothing here, it would still cost more than my 18 pesos to make that call if it lasted more than a few minutes.

I have a VOIP (internet) phone with me from VoicePulse. It gives me a 323 (Los Angeles) phone number and I can make or receive calls exactly as if I were still in California. However, my short-term apartment here is wired for the net through a router and I haven't been able to get my router (needed for the VOIP phone) to talk to their router. Fortunately, a friend suggested connecting my phone directly and it worked through their router. After several phone calls and a few tirades, which is not my customary style, the bank promised to restore my card. I tried it Tuesday and so far, so good. I'm still mad about it though...what part of "I will be using my ATM card in Argentina" didn't they understand?

Sadly, this isn't a fluke. My new American friend here, Aaron, had the exact same thing happen on Tuesday. He'd pre-advised his bank and they promptly cancelled his card after he used it once here. I've talked to other people who had the same experience. So if traveling abroad, be prepared for this and have a backup plan, apparently it's a common problem.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Bienvenido a mi blog

I just arrived in Buenos Aires less than a week ago. To be exact, it was last Saturday night. And for those who don't know, I'm here to stay. Buenos Aires will be my home for years to come. It's been a long wait to get here, approximately 2 years. Now that I'm finally here, it's hard to fully get my head around the fact that this city is my home. It's not just a cool place where I am on vacation. Or even a temporary home, like going away for a college term. It's going to be my permanent home. Somehow during the next weeks and months, I will become a porteño (resident of Buenos Aires).

I haven't taken a single photo yet but I love this one from my visit here in 2005. It was in San Telmo, an old and lively barrio (neighborhood) of the city with many antique shops, street vendors, and outdoor performers. This little girl was playing her violin in the street with her mother and father. She played very well and very seriously, surprisingly so for one so young.

I'm a long way from California, Toto. Hopefully nobody will drop a house on me.