Friday, June 29, 2007

Someday my prince will shop for his own shoes

Last weekend I had my first fiesta (party) in my new apartment in Recoleta/Barrio Norte. Actually, it was more of a fiestita, a little party, because there were only four of us. I met D. maybe 7 or 8 years ago, when he was in LA to study English for the summer. We stayed in touch, off-and-on, over the years and he's been full of helpful info and advice about living here. I've gotten together with him and his boyfriend, C., at times for lunch, dinner, and just hanging out. A couple of weeks ago I went out to Belgrano to join them in celebrating C.'s birthday.

This time, they came to see me and the new place and we hung out with pizza and empanadas (meat-filled pastry) from a local restaurant. Almost every restaurant here delivers and, oddly enough, they usually call it delivery instead of envio a domicilio, the correct Spanish term. There are lots of these Spanglish terms in use. You use a mouse, not a raton, with your computer. You buy or rent a DVD pronounced the English way, not day-bay-day like it should be pronounced in Spanish. I don't know why these things are but I suspect they're the result of the pervasive influence of American television and movies.

We also tried out my new espresso machine. Yes, I bought the Ariete model I talked about in a recent entry. I love the look of it, somewhat retro but also modern. It has a stainless steel boiler, brass portafilter, burr grinder, and temperature gauge for you coffee techno-geeks like me. I was planning to buy a Saeco Aroma, aka Saeco Classico, a longtime workhorse of home espresso machines, which I had found on a website. Naturally, when I arrived all ready to plunk down my credit card, they told me they no longer carry it. So, I went with the one I really wanted, the Ariete, even though it was almost twice the cost...but it does have a built-in grinder so it really wasn't a bad deal! I'm happy now, drinking myself into a hyper-caffeinated bliss daily.

The fourth person at our gathering was M., one of the best friends of C. and D. He took part in a home video recently, a kind of fun birthday project for another of his friends. It's a twisted version of Cinderella, who is known as Cenicienta in Spanish. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Back in Recoleta....maybe

I moved this past week, from Palermo Viejo to an apartment about 8 blocks from where I lived for one month in 2005. I call it Recoleta but if many porteños are reading this block, I expect that to set off a firestorm of controversy. Recoleta is a barrio (neighborhood) officially designated by the government. Part of it, plus bits of other nearby barrios, is called Barrio Norte but exactly where the boundaries of Barrio Norte are is perhaps the most hotly contested issue of all time in Buenos Aires. Ask any two Argentinos and you'll probably get three opinions after an hour of furious debate. So am I in Recoleta or Barrio Norte? I've seen both appellations for this area and one listing even described it as being in Palermo!

From my balcony I have a lovely view up one of the most charming streets in the city, Pasaje Bollini. It's a mix of modern style edifices but with a lot of the old architecture beautifully preserved, on a narrow street of bricks. It has a very European look and feel, quiet and picturesque yet not far from several major streets and the subte (subway). If I walk three blocks in any of three directions, I'll arrive at one of the city's many parks. Village Recoleta (cinema, shopping, and restaurants) and the famous Recoleta cemetery are a five minute walk, as are several important museums and the national library. Right next door to my building is La Dama de Bollini, a very cool restaurant/tanguería/literary café. Also along the two short blocks of Pasaje Bollini are quite a few art galleries and the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art.

I'm much happier here. The apartment is nicer than the one in Palermo and I just feel more at home in this area. Perhaps it's because it's familiar from my stay in 2005 or maybe I'm just more of a Recoleta person. The feel of different barrios is distinctive. To me, Palermo is less urban, the buildings tend to be 2 to 4 stories whereas in Recoleta they're more likely to be 6 to 12 stories, so there is a greater population density. It's also convenient in that I can walk to many parts of the city that I'm likely to visit often (Recoleta sits between Palermo and Microcentro, the downtown area). If I feel like a long stroll or if the subway is on strike, it would only take me 15-20 minutes to get downtown.

I've been busy buying things for the new apartment. Since I will be here for months, it makes sense to purchase some items to make it feel more like my home rather than a furnished temporary apartment, such as an extra lamp for reading, extra kitchenware, etc.

I've been looking for a quality espresso machine but they're hard to find here. Except for Saeco, the best international brands such as Gaggia, La Pavoni, and Rancilio, are impossible to find and the Saeco machines are double their U.S. prices due to the high tariffs on imports. Even if I buy a good Saeco machine, I'm not sure how I would grind my coffee. Espresso requires a fine consistent grind only obtainable with a burr grinder, not the little whirly-bird grinders seen in almost every kitchen supply shop. So far, I've only found one place that sells one burr grinder but it's a brand I never heard of so I'm a bit skeptical. I may end up buying a combination unit from Ariete, the Café Roma Deluxe, that includes a burr grinder in the espresso machine. Ariete is a brand largely unknown in the U.S. but appears to have a very good reputation internationally. I can't survive too much longer without my four daily cappucinos at home!

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Not just tango and Evita

Ask anyone about Argentine music and they'll probably say something about tango and the soundtrack of Evita. Carlos Gardel's music is still alive and well in Buenos Aires and you can still visit the Casa Rosada and imagine Madonna singing on the balcony. But there's much more here as well. Argentina has a thriving music culture, enjoying visiting artists from around the world as well as growing their own.

This video is a song called Prisionero (Prisoner) by Miranda!, an Argentine electropop group that is hugely popular throughout Latin America. They're known for acting out the lyrics of their songs, sort of an interpretive theater-of-music approach.

Argentina developed its own style of rock music, called rock nacionál, which has migrated into other Latin American countries as well. There's a rich history of social protest in the indigenous style known as nueva canción, a fusion of traditional folk music with progessive political lyrics. There are symphony concerts, the Colón Theater is one of the great opera houses of the world, and you can find performers of almost every musical genre in the bars and clubs of the city. Don't cry for Argentina, just sing along.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Thar's gold in them thar gringos!

There are some who just want to get whatever they can out of you while they have the chance...they don’t want money. They want your money! (American resident speaking of Argentinos in willbonner's blog)

After my thieving paramour vanished with the camcorder, I spent days mostly holed up in my apartment examining my experiences and beliefs. I thought I was usually a pretty good judge of character but I obviously failed dramatically with Denis, so what went wrong? My best guess is the cultural differences mean I'm playing by a new set of rules in an unfamiliar game.

Americans tend to be fairly open and trusting people who accept others pretty much at face value in social situations. When was the last time you met someone at a party and asked for his ID? Or insisted on going to your date's home so you could verify he actually lives at the address he gave you? We know people may embroider their reality a bit but we don't usually expect them to weave an entire web of lies for us.

I talked to the few Argentinos I can trust and they practically said they'd suspect their own grandmothers of being ready to commit larceny and fraud if the opportunity arose. There's a widespread attitude here of feeling that everyone is fair game. And gringos are the best game of all, because we have no clue how the game is played here.

Almost every person whom I've met more than once has hit me up for money, sooner or later, usually in the form of a request for a short-term loan. It's so common that I think Argentinos meet me and see a potential ATM machine rather than a person. On a few occasions, I did indeed acquiesce to small amounts (US $10-25), more as a learning experiment than from a genuine belief that I would ever be repaid. One is paying me back in services (he cuts hair); the rest have all vanished. It seems to be a pattern here, get what you can and then get out.

Having experienced this chicanery as well as my romance-turned-robbery, I'm working on developing new social skills. I can't judge people here by the standards I'm accustomed to, the cultural gap is too great. I need to learn how Argentinos do it, how they ascertain the trustworthiness of new acquaintances. I think it will be a long process and I will probably have more misadventures along the way.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Bewitched, bothered and bewildered

Life took a turn for the worse and I spent the past week moping and coping. You may remember Denis, Current Something #1, from previous posts. Quite a bewitching lad, no? Sadly, beauty truly is only skin deep.

We had a quiet evening at home in my apartment on Friday night, talking about our lives over a meal of delivered chicken lasagna. Denis talked about growing up poor in Chaco in northern Argentina, moving to the capital at the beginning of this year, and struggling to find his way around the city and make a decent living here. In hindsight, that's when I should have realized something was amiss. We originally met online in June of 2006, and at that time he told me he was living in BA. The discrepancy passed right over my head at that moment.

When we got up in the morning, we decided to go sightseeing in Recoleta. I made us coffee and then jumped in the shower. When I got out, Denis was nowhere to be seen. I thought of several possibilities. Perhaps he'd received a cell call and the reception was bad so he went out to the street. Maybe he'd gone to the maxikiosko (ubiquitous hole-in-the-wall shops that sell cigarettes, candy, sodas, etc.). I got dressed and still no Denis. I sent him a text message and asked where he was. His reply to me said he was very sorry and he hoped I would forgive him. By now, I was bewildered.

That's when I noticed that Denis' mochila (knapsack) was gone. So was my nearly new videocamera, which had been set out to take along on our sightseeing. Denis wasn't coming back and neither was my camcorder. Bothered is an understatement, I was way beyond that.

This is someone I'd talked to online for a year. We'd met in person the day after I arrived in Argentina. I thought I'd been careful, meeting at cafés and other public places, waiting until I felt I knew his character well enough to invite him into my home. He was always polite, goodnatured, sincere, and affectionate. Eventually, he came to my apartment, even spent the night quite a few times, and there was never a hint of trouble. Was this a spontaneous crime of opportunity or was it a long-planned scheme to build up my trust until the moment was right? I will probably never know.

Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered. But ultimately, betrayed.