Saturday, September 15, 2007

Tell me why!

Last night I slept alone on the sofa while Luciano slumbered in the bed. Trouble in paradise? No, but I bet I got your attention and you're hoping for a juicy story. I've had a cold the past few days that started in my nose and has now moved down to my chest. When we went to bed last night, I started coughing almost as soon as I laid down. I couldn't sleep and I didn't want to keep Luciano awake all night so I got up and went into the living room. I realized that being upright made the cough a lot better so I decided to grab a pillow and prop myself into a semi-reclining position on the sofa and try to snooze. Next thing I knew it was morning and Luciano was standing over me asking me why I hadn't slept in the bed. I needn't have worried about disturbing him, he told me he fell asleep almost immediately and didn't remember hearing even a single cough.

It's actually kind of nice that we don't notice each other's routine activities. Usually we go to sleep and get up together and pretty much spend the whole night wrapped around each other. But a few times he's awakened early, showered, dressed, eaten, and gone off to work while I snoozed away. We're comfortable enough together that we don't react to every sound and movement of the other one and I like that feeling of easy familiarity.

Earlier yesterday evening we went to a birthday party in Recoleta at the home of one of Luciano's friends, who I'm told is someone fairly high up in the national government. There were 30+ guys there, all Argentinos and all gay. I don't know why it's so obvious that I'm a yanqui (American), there are tall Argentinos with fair hair. All I said was hola (hello) to the group but everyone knew instantly that I'm an American and talked to me in English. It was pretty much like a typical American birthday party with a cake, singing the same happy birthday song (but in Spanish), drinks and snacks, laughter and conversation. Other than the language and empanadas (meat-filled pastries), you wouldn't necessarily realize it wasn't somewhere in the US.

Last Sunday we were out and about, as usual on the one day of the week when Luciano's store is closed. We walked over to the Bosques de Palermo (Palermo Woods), a large park reminiscent of New York's Central Park, with a lake, rose garden, golf course, and other amenities. We stopped in at the clubhouse and ordered banana sundaes. They turned out not to be an ice cream dish but more like a parfait: sliced banana layered with wafers and whipped cream and topped with a maraschino cherry.

In the evening we walked down Avenida Cabildo as we tried to decide where to eat. Luciano had an inspiration and said he knew just where to go for an inexpensive but good meal. When he started to enter the Coto supermarket, I thought he was surely joking. We weren't going to buy a few things and stand outside on the sidewalk to eat them, were we? I was astounded when we rode the escalator to the upper floor and saw a buffet restaurant, children's arcade, and bar-café. Luciano had a milanesa and I enjoyed a beef brochette, both accompanied by potatoes au gratin, beverage, and fancy pastries for dessert. Who would have figured we could eat like that inside a supermarket?

Price for 2 entrees, side dishes, pastries, and beverages: 39.56 pesos (US $12.55)

We had watched a documentary on the History Channel the previous night about mass murderers. I told Luciano that the song I Don't Like Mondays by the Boomtown Rats was based on one such episode and we watched the video of it on YouTube. As you may recall, it's quite a catchy tune and ever since he periodically sings and claps to the chorus part, "Tell me why!", as in this photo at the Olleros subway station while we awaited a train after dinner. We headed back uptown in Belgrano and saw a late showing of the Bourne Ultimatum as an end to the weekend.

During the week, I've roamed about Belgrano, exploring the neighborhood. It has a bit of everything. There are quiet broad streets with large private homes near Cramer, commercial chaos pretty much everywhere along Avenida Cabildo, a thriving ethnic enclave in Barrio Chino (Chinatown), and some very elegant parks and plazas.

It looks like Belgrano will be our home for a while. I've sampled life in the four upscale barrios (not including Puerto Madero which is too isolated for my taste) and so far I prefer Recoleta or Belgrano. Since Luciano's business is in Belgrano, it seems like the obvious choice of where to live. Because we'll be moving again in just two months, we're already starting to look for a new apartment in this area. We had a long talk about future plans a couple of nights ago so now we're considering a more permanent arrangement, a longterm rental contract instead of the temporary furnished apartments I've been using. A real home and a husband, all I need next is a dog and I'll feel almost like Donna Reed.

Addendum: OK, perhaps my life isn't the Donna Reed show, unless there was an episode when Donna and Alex spent time in a funhouse/madhouse. Luciano came home, put on satin running shorts, a hoodie, and rollerblades, then skated into the kitchen to cook ravioli. Now it's after dinner and he's lying on the bed watching TV, still wearing the rollerblades. I never cease to be amused and amazed.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Oops! I forgot I was in Argentina

Estafador/a. If you're thinking about coming to Argentina, remember this word, you'll most likely use it at some point. It means swindler (the form ending in a is used for female grifters and con artists).

I've made the move to Belgrano and therein lies the story of my latest foray into the world of conniving tricksters. When you rent a temporary furnished apartment here, you seldom have a chance to see it before placing a deposit because it is likely occupied. You rely on the description of features and photos on the rental agency's website, perhaps take a walk past the outside of the building (or along the block if you don't have a specific address yet), and hope for the best.

The apartment we're in really is quite nice. The kitchen is twice the size of my apartment in Recoleta, the balcony is deep enough to hold a table and chairs, and the layout feels more roomy overall. However, it lacks air conditioning, something which will be essential in a couple of months as the climate turns hot and very humid.

I specifically searched for apartments with air conditioning. It was one of the three absolute requirements on my list. When I took possession of the apartment, I had a positive impression of it and didn't pay too much attention to details. That was a mistake. I should have printed the web page and brought it with me so I could check off every single feature listed. Of course, even if I had, it might have turned into a disaster. If I refused to take possession, I'd be standing on the sidewalk with boxes, bags, and suitcases up to my eyeballs and absolutely no alternative on the spur of the moment. Naturally, the system is rigged because the entire amount of the rental contract is due when you take possession. That makes rental fraud an alluring way of life.

I actually didn't even know what to look for. Some sites list air conditioning as "split frio/calor" and until this happened, I didn't know what a split really was. Once Luciano came to our new home after work, he quickly informed me what a split is and that we certainly don't have one here.

I drafted an email to the rental agency and asked them what they intended to do about it (along with several other more minor features that were absent). That was almost a week ago and I still haven't heard from them. Instead, they passed it on to the owner and told her to fix things. They've already got their commission, obviously the landlady won't use their agency again, and therefore they'll move on to other suckers. Remember what you learned earlier? Estafadores.

The owner and I have reached an agreement, the best we can do under the circumstances. She's not at fault because she opened the apartment to the agency for a full inventory and photo session. They knew exactly what was here and chose to falsify the information. The dueña (landlady) and I will reduce the contract by one month (out of the original three months) and she'll refund half of my last month's rent. Then the rental agency should refund the other half as a deduction from their commission. We'll see if they agree to it or not. I assume they won't and that I'll then have to play hardball with them.

Next time I will remember that I'm in Argentina and scrutinize everything thoroughly. Anyway, here's a photo of the view from the balcony. The green area in the lower right is the edge of Plaza Barrancas (Hillsides) de Belgrano, a lovely park I walk through almost every day. The weather now is cool so A/C isn't a concern and we've enjoyed some relaxing repasts al fresco.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Goodnight, Recoleta ... good morning, Belgrano

This is my last night in Recoleta, living on the corner of Pacheco de Melo and Pasaje Bolllini. I've lived here for three months plus I lived not far away during 2005 for a month so I know the neighborhood well. In Belgrano, I will be starting from scratch. Luciano's shop is there and my friends live there also but the new apartment is in a different part of the barrio so I'll need to explore it as terra incognita. I was there today to meet the owner and pick up the keys. It's very nice and the view is awesome from the 10th (or 9th in European/Argentinian style) floor.

I'll have one of the most coveted addresses, after the Casa Rosada (presidential palace), in the city: Avenida del Libertador. People here practically sigh when I say I'm moving to Libertador. Luciano says we'll be conchetos. I don't have a good way to translate that. An old-fashioned term would be dandies and a modern one might be pampered rich kids. It's used for young men with plenty of money, fancy cars, prestigious homes, and so on. I think I'm a bit long in the tooth to play the role of concheto convincingly.

Since we got back from La Pampa, we've mostly been domestically dull, I suppose. Cooking dinner at home, long conversations (my Spanish is improving dramatically from living with an Argentino), reading or browsing the web, etc. We went to dinner last week at Garbis in Belgrano, a middle-eastern restaurant serving a mix of Arabic and Armenian cuisine. We ordered Pilav Persa, a very rich rice dish with chicken, almonds, and raisins designed to be shared by two people. It was delicious and filling all by itself and we were glad we hadn't ordered anything else with it.

Price for Persa Pilav and 2 beverages: 47.50 pesos (US $15.07).

Sunday we roamed a great deal on foot. First we walked to Alto Palermo Shopping so Luciano could take some photos there for a friend in Boston. We did a little clothes shopping and Luciano found a shirt he loved at Kevingston, an Argentine clothier with branches in other Latin American countries. We found one for me also but they didn't have it in my size so we decided to look for it at one of the other branches in Avenida Santa Fe. Ultimately we ended up walking all the way to Microcentro (downtown) and up and down the lengths of both Florida and Lavalle before buying the shirt at Kevingston in Galerias Pacifico. Then we headed to Las Cuartetas for quick empanadas, grabbed a bus back to Recoleta to drop off our purchases, and zipped over to a nearby cinema just in time to make the 10:30 PM showing of Hairspray. I was a bit uncertain about it because I love the original version but the new one is equally good, if not better in certain ways, although it's impossible to ever equal the glamor of the late Divine. My young fay hero, Justin (Mark Indelicato), on Ugly Betty does a wonderful job of re-enacting "Good Morning, Baltimore", the opening number, for his parents on the subway. I just love that kid, he's such a terrific role model for young gay people. He's happy, well-adjusted, and his family totally loves him just as he is.

One night last week we went for a long walk after dinner through Recoleta, ending up at the other end of Avenida del Libertador before heading back home. The contrasts are striking. Near Libertador and Callao are jewelers like Cartier and European couturiers vending items at astronomical prices. Just blocks away is a world away, Villa 31, one of the villas miserias (shanty towns/slums), where a single bauble from Cartier would probably feed all of the inhabitants for a month.

Riches and poverty co-exist here in a strange symbiosis. There's no official recycling program like we have in California. All of your garbage is tossed in the same bag and the building's portero (doorman) hauls it out to the street each evening. Then an army of the impoverished, estimated at 25,000 people, descends on the city to sift through the trash and pick out anything that can be processed and sold (paper, plastic, etc.). You see whole families including children working through the night in a struggle to survive. The government supplies a train, known as the Ghost Train or White Train, to bring these cartoneros into the city at dusk and ship them back out to the slums in the morning, a train without seats, heating, or air-conditioning. Walking down a street in the richest part of the capital at night means encountering the faces of the desperately poor yet most porteños seldom seem to even notice them. Do click the link above, the photographs are incredible.