Christmas in Argentina


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South America » Argentina » Buenos Aires » Buenos Aires
December 12th 2008
Published: December 26th 2008EDIT THIS ENTRY

Evita!Evita!Evita!

Recoleta Cemetery
Week One
Buenos Aires

(Porteño/a - resident of Buenos Aires)
In Argentina, they use the abbreviation BsAs, but for the sake of simplicity, I'll use BA.

December 14th, 2008

Can't believe I'm here, in Argentina.

My apartment is cute and the 'hood (I'm located on Santa Fe on the edge of the Recoleta district) looks good so far but I only went in search of food a few blocks in either direction; I've been here for just three hours. The time change is five hours ahead. There was a huge snowstorm in Calgary Friday night and some flights were stopped. Although my flight left a bit late, it arrived here on time. I sat with an interesting gay guy and we talked a lot. He said I can call him anytime if I need anything. The driver was at the airport to meet me so my arrival was as smooth as clockwork.

The owner is friendly and their massage therapist came with him to fix the air conditioner. He's from Uruguay and Colonia is only an hour away, so I plan to take a daytrip there. Ralf’s company, ba4U Apartments, caters to gays and the system he’s set up is excellent.

Gotta nap. I'm exhausted - up for twenty-eight hours so far with some head-bobbing naps on the plane.

December 15th

Toto … I'm not in Kansas anymore.

Got robbed today! The first time in my life in the whole wide world. (Well, okay, I had the mini purse snatch incident in San Miguel with almost nothing in the purse and the twelve-year-old perps were apprehended in minutes). Luckily I got a warning - he didn’t get my wallet, he got a book I was studying and my favorite prescription glasses. And you'd think I'd have figured it out. The guy stepped on my flip-flop to throw me off - must have taken the book first - then did it again and took the glasses. It finally dawned on me what had happened, so I checked my bag and it was open, stuff gone. Busy, busy street and nobody said anything? The owner here told me not to carry this little backpack bag on my back, but no, I did it anyway because I’ve had no problem anywhere else in the world. Duh!

The book he stole was The HeartMath Solution, about listening to one’s heart and about love, so if the bandido reads English, maybe I’ve given him an epiphany. Now I'm walking around like a paranoid idiota. I bought a money belt, a belt to strap the bag on (to wear in front now), and little locks for the zippers.

December 16th

Chivalry - Not Dead Yet

I emailed my friend Giovanni to ask him to contact his friend Luciano for me - wanted a few lessons on life in the big city. Within an hour, he instant-messaged Luciano and asked him to call me. Luciano then called me and immediately came to pick me up, take me around BA and took me to dinner. Now how's that for gentlemen?

December 17th

Luciano took me to a parrilla, which is the thing here. BBQ meat everywhere you go, and it is fantastic, much better than our touted Alberta beef. We had two types of beef and amazing barbequed cheese called provoleta (some type of provolone), salad and bread at 10:30pm so I couldn't sleep 'til 2:00.

This is a city that never sleeps. We went downtown and it looked like New York meets Tokyo. Not even Rome was like this. It's what I expected except bigger, more sophisticated. Although my client, Paul, thought I'd be intimidated by the beautiful people here, that would only be if I hung out at the Hilton everyday. I'd like to see the areas Luciano pointed out to me, and eventually will, but I'm a bit intimidated by the subway. I don't even know how the C-train works. The city is definitely polluted; my lungs are not pleased and I was glad to walk Luciano’s dog, Sherlock, at the pier with some wind coming off the water.

I went to the district of Palermo yesterday via taxi and then walked back. Luciano couldn't believe I walked it, but this is how best to see the city in detail. I really like the area but everyone thinks my apartment location on Santa Fe is better for its central location. I found a great little friendly Italian joint there, but that's one of a million good restaurants. This is a food and shopping Mecca. Thank God they've banned smoking in restaurants. I am surprised, since on the streets, it seems most porteños smoke incessantly.

I stopped at an optical shop near my apartment to see about some new glasses and asked the optician for a recommendation for a good café. It is called Café Martinez and I may just have found a great spot to write. The café con leche is excellent.

I bought a beautiful new camera, but I am now afraid to use it. There are many warnings about flashing one’s camera around. How do you take good photos, I ask myself? With a bodyguard? Hopefully I’ll get my sea legs.

Dec 18th

I'd love to know what energy I emit that tells everyone I am a foreigner at a glance. It's a real melting pot here, and from my perspective, my clothes are not that different. I don’t have a camera around my neck or a Hawaiian shirt on. Maybe I have my Rambo-meets-Squint-Eastwood-Go-Ahead-and-Make-My-Day look on. Another guy stepped on my flip-flop the other day; I spun around and slammed into a window so fast it shocked the heck out of him, thief or innocent. (I'm laughing just thinking about it.) I haven't entered my zone yet; I guess a combo of jetlag, the bandido and the partying neighbors who keep me awake until 3:30 am.

The Argentine breakfasts are, basically, no eggs but heaps of freshly baked mini croissants (medialunas) and pastries (facturas). Other food info: You know how the restaurants scrimp on cheese at home? Well order anything with cheese and you get mounds of melted, real, delicious cheese. Also, most places serve pasta and most have freshly made. So even at the corny little restaurant down the street I got freshly made pasta, a humongous serving smothered in cheese. Even I, the pasta hound, could eat only half. Luciano informed me that doggie bags are not a common request (he lived in Canada for a year).

The clothing seems about the same but I haven't even scratched the surface of shops here. Many have buzzers to let you in, so that tells you something. There are some really cool areas Luciano pointed out to me that probably have amazing clothing, shoes and purses. Linda (of Tapestry) would go crazy for the kitschy things available in the street markets.

There is a bizarre coin shortage here. Everyone is desperate for change and the waiters will even forgo a tip to get change. Apparently they believe there is a coin mafia because nobody knows where all the change went! Tipping is optional and is between 5-10% - how novel. Of course, this makes the servicio quite poor. Good luck getting the bill. Falling to the floor feigning an epileptic fit may work.

The Spanish is different here, yet again. Lots of fast talkers, new idiomatic phrases, and a sort of Catalan accent, so they have more silent or hidden vowels and llamar is not pronounced yamar, rather jjamar or shamar, yo is jjo, etc. The translating “in-head” goes from English, to Mexican Spanish, to Argentine Spanish. It’s a little like a slow internet connection (with a dazed look).

The energy is upbeat but people are a bit indifferent due to the size of the city (12+ million, I do like to challenge myself, don't I?) It’s a very cultural city with much art, music, theatre.

Apparently Florida Street, in the downtown financial district, is literally wall-to-wall, shoulder-to-shoulder business people and tourists mingled. That must be paradise for the pickpockets! I will not be going there alone.

I got lost yesterday trying to find el Cementerio de Recoleta (and acted like a spy ducking in doorways trying to read the map inconspicuously).

Dec 19th

I recently lost my appetite in Calgary from the miniscule restaurant food for outrageous prices. I was a bit concerned; me without an appetite is me dead. I have a renewed zest for food. The variety is limitless. I really must find a food dictionary specific to Argentina. I tried to find one yesterday with no luck. Today, I thought I was getting calabaza (zucchini) but got what tasted like mashed potatoes. The pie that came with the Menu del Dia was piled six inches high with whipped cream.

Going to the cemetery sounds morbid, but it's a huge attraction here. Famous people are buried in beautiful mausoleums and I wanted to see Evita's, which I did. A young, sweaty grave keeper hit on me and gave me a "tour." I think he was trying to lure me into the catacombs. Do I have "mark" on me somewhere?

Dec 20th

It’s my birthday and here I sit in the coffee shop, writing at 9:30 pm. Luciano was going to meet me for a drink and then changed his mind, forgot about other plans.

I walked for about six hours yesterday to Palermo Viejo, Soho and Hollywood. It’s an interesting district, with lots of trendy shops, bars and restaurants. At the end of the tour, I stopped at a little bar for beer and snacks. A young waiter in dreadlocks, named Javier, said he’d like to go for coffee and practice his English since he is studying to be a tour guide. He asked me to go dancing at midnight, but I was about to pass out from walking and heat exhaustion. I don’t know if he really meant it - we’ll see if he emails back. I wrote today to see if he’d like to go to the big San Telmo market tomorrow. I keep walking around, lost in circles and going in the opposite direction of where I mean to be going. I’m afraid of what will happen on the subway. I may end up in Patagonia with the pinguinos.

Today, I went to a gym that has salsa, Latin and ritmo-Caribbean aerobics. The class was good. My ass should be sore tomorrow. We did 200 sit-ups and 400,000 leg lifts.

I finally read up on the Dirty War. In 1976 there was a military coup and approximately 30,000 people disappeared. Anyone who was a suspected “traitor” or sympathizer vanished along with many innocent bystanders. This lasted until 1982 when the militia tried to grab the Falkland Islands with no real army and an underestimation of the backlash. The rein of terror ended and things started to improve. The president pulled the economy together and the '90’s were fairly affluent years. Then the peso was devalued by 75% in 2002 and Argentines could withdraw only $1000 per month. I watched a video clip of the president’s speech and it gave me chills to hear him say that the country, on December 20th 2001 (my birthday!), was in a State of Siege. In January of 2002 there were five presidents in one month. Each province began printing their own currency so there were ten different currencies running at one time during this period, creating a financial nightmare. I also saw clips of the demonstrations of all classes with riots and the theme of the pickets was, “Stick the State of Siege up your Ass!” Imagine the effect on the morale of a country. Each time they get on their feet, they are knocked down again. It surely is a contributing factor to the indifference and the live-for-today lifestyle.

I walked by the restaurant I plan on eating at tonight and it was empty - at 9:15 pm. It’s full every night but not until a “civilized” hour. Most porteños eat well after 10:00 pm. It appears the only way I’m going to get to a tango or milonga club or any other attraction is with a tour. I’ve emailed three and only one has replied.

Dec 21st

It’s raining so the San Telmo idea is out the door. I was up until 3:00 am because that’s when my neighbors go to bed on Saturday nights, I guess. Even a two year old was up on the patio.

My tenderloin dinner was excellent with my totally disinterested waiter. I remembered the year I was in Vallarta, out for the first time alone for my birthday. The group of handsome waiters at Cuiza’s fawned over me so much that I was embarrassed and then the waiter from Casa de la Salsa took me out dancing until the wee hours. A little different scenario last night.

I am trying to book a trip to Mendoza online - no easy feat. I thought it would be easy to find packages but not so. I’ve been online for hours searching.

A couple of people restored my faith in the big city today. I didn’t have enough money for my bill at the café today (embarrassing!) because I bought an expensive guide magazine along the way. The waitress was fine with me leaving to go get my pesos. Then I realized the magazine was en español, and the kiosk guy let me return it. I thought he’d tell me to stuff it.

Week Two

Dec 22nd

A friend’s son found me on the 20th via “Linked In.” He let me know that his father fainted a month ago and they found a tumor. He’s had two unsuccessful surgeries. Today, I received word that Vayle has died. Chad wrote and said he was able to relay a message I sent yesterday. I wanted Vayle to know the impact he has had on my life and how very much I cared for him. He passed away this morning peacefully with his wife and daughter in the room. I have always hoped not to hear news like this alone in another country. It has now happened in the most remote location I’ve been. I had a sleepless night, which seemed inexplicable but is now explicable. He died at sometime around 2:30 am and I awoke at 7:10 am here, 2:10 am Calgary time. He was a gorgeous, vibrant man who seemed he would live to 100, so it is quite a shock. Bless you Vayle.

I stayed in last night and cooked a simple pasta, did laundry and surfed the net for tours.

Never assume that the most common items will be easy to find. I forgot my travel scissors and searched Recoleta near and far. Also, tealights are almost impossible to find. ✄

I went on a walking tour today with a small group, so was finally able to take some photos. When I got to the meeting point, a guy wearing official looking gear, but acting fairly stupid, pretended to be the tour guide and asked me where I wanted to go. I thought, what's up with this ass; there is a set tour plan. Then he asked me to go dancing and started leering and talking about the virility of Argentine men. Another one of his cohorts came over looking for a donation (AIDS) and told me that a girl would be showing up to do the tour, that this goof was not the guide. The tour was good and I felt relieved to be with people and not "on guard."

I stopped at a spiritual store along the way and the two guys who ran it were a breath of fresh air. I found candles for my patron Saint Joseph de Cupertino.

Dec 23rd

Hey, if you’re looking for love in all the wrong places, eat! At least I'm walking my butt off and taking salsa classes. Tonight, the gay instructor added show tunes to “Latin” aerobics - a little campy for me but a sweaty workout.

I'm having a picnic in bed and watching "Holiday," the movie my dad said reminded him so much of me. Except girl never meets guy and falls in love in this story. Just discovered the deli down the street ... yummmmm. I'm having spectacular gourmet chicken, a fresh salad with buns and red Mendoza wine. It's as though I've been living in the food desert and have found the oasis. My little apartment really is an upgrade to Mexico, comfy and chic.

I don't think I'll do a tango show for Christmas Eve; the prices skyrocket for the two “Eves” so it's $260 (Canadian). I’d rather spend the money on the day spa I found, which sounds luxurious.

I feel like I'm in China trying to understand this accent, although, I’m trying my hand at the jjjjjjjj sound. Almost no waiters or clerks speak English (or pretend not to). Thank God a guy helped me out at the deli picking the food ‘cause I was having a no comprendo moment.

My optometrist emailed my prescription to me and I got some cool glasses to replace the stolen ones. I have my eye on two more pair.

There’s shopping mania in the ‘hood for Christmas. I don’t see evidence of economic problems here.

Christmas Eve

Robbery Numero Two….

I ran into Ralf, the apartment owner, outside Café Martinez and he has invited me to a Christmas party. Yippee! I am to bring champagne and a gift for an exchange. How wonderful.

My paranoia is not unfounded about taking photos around here. On the tour today, I asked one of the guides about the safety with cameras. The girls from Singapore had expensive, large cameras and were not being overly cautious. The guide said it should be fine with the group. Later, on the subway, one of the guys from N.Y. had his Palm Pilot out on his knee and I was going to tell him to be careful but stopped myself in case he thought I was the bossy bitch of the tour. Should have said so. He just told the guys he'd bought his spiffy new camera. He had some great shots of a big soccer game and pics of him learning to tango with an 85-year-old woman. A guy on a bicycle whizzed by at the speed of light and grabbed his camera in mid-shot. Our guides and the New Yorker took off like a flash trying to chase him but good luck. The guides felt terrible, but I wasn't surprised. I'm starting to have fantasies of being a karate expert.

Offset by that, the grocery guy gave me a free banana because I forgot about the weigh/tag system and the guy at the papeleria gave me back a five that I gave too much. I thanked him for his honesty and he laughed.

Three fellows who major in economics, history and politics run the tour company. Very bright guys (www.cultour.com.ar). They were super informative and answered lots of questions. We met at a hostel and they started the tour with a video, which is an excellent idea because it showed the main plaza in different eras and what was happening politically in each phase. What a horrid history.

If history bores you, skip this section.

I didn’t watch ¡Evita! in its entirety (all that bursting out into tune), so I asked the guides why it seems that there was a love-hate relationship between Eva Perón and the people of Argentina. She is clearly a hugely important cultural figure here. Perónismo is not dead as I, perhaps, thought it would be. Juan and Eva Perón were fighters for the lower to lower-middle class of the nation. They brought fair labor rights and benefits to the working class. Eva created and ran the charitable Eva Perón Foundation, which handled these affairs. Due to the Peróns, women were given the right to vote in 1947 and divorce became legal. They were adored by the lower classes and Evita was considered a spiritual leader of the nation. The aristocracy and upper class hated the Peróns due to their higher taxes and the benefits they had to subsidize for the working class. They also perceived Juan Perón’s politics as authoritarian, squelching their previous freedoms. There are currently four factions of Perónism. The current president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who succeeded her husband, falls under one of these factions. For such a machismo culture, I was surprised to learn that Argentina was the first country in the world to have a female president, Perón’s third wife, Isabel Martinez de Peron.

Evita died of uterine cancer on July 26th, 1952 and her funeral lasted for an unprecedented thirteen days with millions upon millions of mourners paying their respects. Her famous speech from the balcony was in 1951. We were outside the building where her body was kept for two months where it was kidnapped. The man responsible for kidnapping the body was so paranoid of being caught that he ended up shooting his pregnant wife, who he thought was an intruder! The body was recovered and moved to Milano, Italy and then to Spain, then was finally laid to rest in the Recoleta cemetery.

In 1955, without warning, the air force, in bed with the navy, bombed their own government in downtown Buenos Aires. Perón escaped in a helicopter to Uruguay. He later fled to Spain. The bullets and shrapnel scars still remain today on one of the buildings I visited with the tour. They succeeded in a coup d’etat, destroying the Perón’s residence and forbidding the Perón’s names to be spoken anywhere and any connections or activities related to the Peron’s were cause for persecution. For seventeen years, nobody was allowed to say “Perón.”

In 1976, the Dirty War began as previously mentioned. The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo still march around the plaza each Thursday at 3:30 for their lost sons.

If you don’t know who Maradona is here, you are considered an idiot. In case you don’t know: he is the national soccer hero. We are not talking about a little bit of a hero, we are talking about unbridled, wild idolatry. I believe his birthday is a national holiday (just kidding) and there is a church in Buenos Aires named after him.

Dec 25th

Felices Fiestas!
❅❅❆✽❃❂❁❅❅❅❅

The fiesta was fabulosa! Ralf had a fig tree decorated and he has a large patio with couches, making it a comfy indoor-outdoor party. It was a multi-cultural affair. If memory serves me, there were two Aussies, two Kiwis, three Brits, a Dane (huge Viking type), a Syrian (I think), a German, an Uruguayan, a South African, and, if you can believe it, four Calgarians (one originally from Russia).

Take me to a straight party and no luck. Take me to a gay party, and I'll always find love. A handsome guy (from Sydney - one of three Roys) and I hit it off and when we were doing the gift exchange, he was the first in the draw. He picked me up, bride-style, and said, "This is the gift I want!" Ironically, he chose my gift (well, it did have the prettiest wrapping). He was very complimentary, which I greatly appreciate since I'm having little luck with my team. I need to find myself some gay boyfriends in Calgary.

I chose a neat gift with a "Walks of Buenos Aires" book and chocolates but someone "stole" it. Can you believe I am all the way in Argentina and I next picked a t-shirt - of Calgary, Canada? It was really nice, but please. Mo, the Syrian, traded me for a mate (the huge tea drink here) thermos.

Ralf had a huge spread of food with a cheese plate, cold roast chicken and beef, a delicious potato salad (to the Dane's pleasure), a green salad, couscous full of yummy stuff, a huge platter of fruit and ice cream cake. Everyone brought champagne so it flowed all night. His partner is the gorgeous Uruguayan massage therapist.

The guys were all incredibly fun and friendly. Kevin, the South African, asked if I had forgotten him in the farewells, that he is a sensitive Piscean. It's a kiss on the cheek down here and hugs from all these warm chaps.

The Calgarians walked me home and I hadn't spoken to the one man at the party but discovered on the walk that he is a travel writer. He's moving to Buenos Aires and is waiting for his condo to finish construction (as were many of the guys at the party). We agreed to stay in touch. His flight had been delayed for a day so far due to the conditions in Canada. The first white Christmas in all of Canada in ninety-one years? Wow. Opted a good time to come to the summer in South America, si?

The Calgary couple (boy/girl) was friendly as well. They are traveling around S.A. for six months. They're both in oil and gas and have taken a leave of absence and are looking around to see if they find a new place to live, both not happy with the lifestyle in Calgary.

So, I shall venture out in the streets to see what's up on Christmas day in Buenos Aires. The streets were teeming with people and firecrackers last night at 2:30 am.

Evening

I am happy to have experienced BA on Christmas day, albeit with a bit of a champagne hangover. Although I was going to rest my sore feet and weary thighs, life in the neighborhood was tranquil and relaxing, so I took advantage of the possibility that the thieves were enjoying the fruits of their labors at home with their families over Christmas. I found a park full of families on Charcas. Little boys will be little boys all over the world; tormenting pigeons is universal.

My fear of being unable to find food on Christmas day was unfounded (gawd forbid Miss Piggy). I went to a pasteleria for a café con leche and the girl gave me a huge portion of Christmas cake as a gift. I had to hide it in my bag because I hate those dried fruit ridden things but it was very kind. Then I had delicious creamy mustard chicken with baby potatoes for lunch at a restaurant in the ‘hood with a waiter who actually smiles and converses with me at El Olmo.

Dec 26th

The Streets of Buenos Aires

Warning signs should be mandatory on each street corner for the cracked and broken cement, ledges and potholes one could disappear into if not careful. Also, one must be on serious turd alert. Many porteños have dogs, although, I wouldn't put a dog through living in this busy city and the indignity of pooping on cement in the middle of heavy traffic.

The smart-asses who are constantly walking out into traffic without so much as a glance at home would be road kill here in a momentito. Pedestrians do not have the right of way and green walk lights are, more or less, ignored by drivers.

Porteñas are masters of the once over. They skillfully scan you from head to toe to assess for their approval or their distain. It’s difficult to tell which category you fall into.

The rate of cosmetic surgery and treatments is extremely high here and I saw a man today with a very fresh, complete facelift today. Yikes. Frankenstein frightening. I felt a little weak in the knees.

There are scads of bookstores, which I love, but only miniscule selections of English books, if any, and they are mostly of the “Forbidden Lust” genre.

Taking photos has become a clandestine operation, which makes for some low quality pictures. I wasn’t even this paranoid in Italy when the gypsies were casing me. Mind you, I had numerous bodyguards on my evening dinners and strolls there.

The reason the city is considered the Paris of South America is because of all of the French architecture and the many buildings that were built completely from materials imported from France. The aristocracy here used to spend a few
Antique ToysAntique ToysAntique Toys

These come to life at night
months a year in France every year and thought all things French were the crème de la crème. (I think the waiters here are trying to emulate the French as well.)

Every night the garbage bags are heaped onto the street for pick up and although there is no recycle program, there are self-appointed recyclers who pick through the rubbish to reuse and sell goods. Apparently, they are linked with less than savory mob types.

I received three “habla español muy bien” (you speak Spanish very well) today, so I must be getting my groove thang a little.

While December 21st is the shortest day of the year back home, it is the longest day of the year here, so I have lots of daylight hours to enjoy.

December 27th

I started Saturday morning with Caribbean aerobics (good tunes) then spent the day at a spa for a massage, scrub (come on man, you can do better than that!), facial, hydrotherapy and herbal steam. If you’re too faint of heart for a facelift or botox, you’ve still got to indulge in some kind of cosmetic treatment down here.

Florencia, the travel agent from the ba4U connections, came by with itinerary info for the trip to Mendoza. I discovered that flights are priced higher for foreigners. If you pay resident rates at a travel agency, you will be expected to top up the difference at the airport, which can be significant. That’s a first.

My evening activity was in La Boca at a tango dinner show. It’s held in a collection of old buildings with the original furniture of the immigrants who settled in La Boca. It included a very boisterous street scene play, of which I understood little. The dancing was beautiful.

Who needs Brainteaser? Just go to a dinner show and sit with a couple from Chile and another from Basque and try to follow the rapid conversation! Alicia, from San Sebastian in Basque country, has a beautiful, deep accent with endlessly rolling R’s but tried to help me with translations. Her new husband has a less pronounced accent, but both had the Spain “th” sound, so for example, cerveza, sounds like thervetha. Try translating that.

Today I ventured over to the Feira de San Telmo, the huge Sunday market. It’s jammed with tourists and locals and the old streets
BandoneonistoBandoneonistoBandoneonisto

Getting Down
are filled with street vendors and colorful buskers and dancers. There are a multitude of antique shops and markets. San Telmo was where the aristocracy lived until a yellow fever outbreak in the area when they moved to Recoleta. They rented their mansions by the room to the many immigrants from Europe. The tango was done in the streets here but was considered low-class and women who danced tango were considered putas (whores). Eventually, the dance made its way into the middle and upper classes. My taxi driver on the way home insisted I sit in the front so he could sing to me.

Week Three

Dec 29th

A large, beautifully colored butterfly had lost its way (or maybe not) and was fluttering about in a luggage store today, capturing the attention of everyone in the shop. I wish I’d have had a camera.

I had a massage with Ralf’s partner Alvaro today. I know, it's a tough life but somebody's gotta support the global economy. Not only is he gorgeous, but he's the best masseuse this side of the Rio Grande.

Went to salsa class again and the instructor danced with me tonight. He
QuilmesQuilmesQuilmes

Local Beer
also asked the class to follow me at one point. The girl who stands in front and thinks herself the class expert was pissed!

Major food tip if you’re coming here: If you think the prices will be better in a bar/café (confiteria) than a better restaurant with good décor and tidy waiters, you’ll be mistaken. The food is of a lesser quality with, basically, the same prices. Also, a better restaurant will give you a half a pound of freshly grated parmesano for pasta without batting an eye. You’ll get a little package of the Kraft type in the cafés. And, if you like butter on your bread, the cafés will charge you for one tiny, rancid pat of butter and roll their eyes for you even asking. There is no pepper at the table or pepper grinder servicio - the porteños abhor spicy food.

I went back to my neighborhood parrilla for the amazing tenderloin and had a younger, amiable waiter. Dining with someone would be better here because half orders are not done and the meals are large - two tenderloins, a massive bowl of potatoes smothered in a cheesy cream sauce and a salad
DemonstrationDemonstrationDemonstration

No messing with these boys!
that was enough for two. I’ve not once been asked if I enjoyed my meal. Observing the different habits, mores and lifestyles of other cultures shows me that we are a still a long way from “globalization.” (Thank God for that.)

Dec 30th

I’ve made “regular” status with the people at Café Martinez this week. The waitress now asks, “Como siempre?” (like always?) and the owner “reserved” my table by sitting at it today. It looks like I am a creature of habit.

Remember your grade seven science? The water spins down the drain backwards here near the South Pole.

I could not buy Argentine pesos anywhere before I left because the brokers refused to buy any due to a rumor of another devaluation. The peso has been dropping since I’ve been here; it started at about 2.60 per (Canadian) dollar and is now at around 2.80. I would not want to be here for another massive devaluation.

I went looking for music this morning. The best way to find good tunes (if you aren’t hitting the clubs) is to watch the Top Twenty on the local "MTV" to find out what's hot. I’ve got a list of artists and found three CD’s I wanted.

What I know about Argentine men so far…










Dec 31st

I took another tour with Cultour all over BA. We visited the Caminito in La Boca, San Telmo and Puerto Madero and I rode the bus for the first time. It was a small group; a nice girl from Holland, an American who owns a farm in Wyoming and a farm here (cool), a tall Brit and a Swede who wanted to go to Hooters and the floating casino.

I planned to visit Café Tortoni after the tour, but because it’s in every guidebook as a “must see,” there was a line. Instead, I stopped at a restaurant on Avenida de Mayo in a touristy zone and ordered gnocchi. It was a serving size Nancy would feed to her family. It was delicious and homemade so I didn't care if it was uncool to ask for doggie bag, I'm not leaving good food like that. Funny how that's the norm here with huge portions, and in poor Cuba, you get little and nobody leaves a crumb behind.
RoyRoyRoy

Party Creature goes to BsAs
My Inspector Clousseau look-alike waiter made a liar out of me; he asked me how I enjoyed the meal and he brought (white) pepper to the table.

I caught a large demonstration with police in riot gear that started at Plaza de Mayo and made its way down the avenida, something about injustice, with pictures of different people who may be incarcerated or may be dead, some flags depicting Che Guevara and socialismo.

Florencia will be coming by to deliver my trip documents for Mendoza today. I’ll be staying right on the main plaza at Hotel Argentino for four nights and taking a half day wine tour and one day in the Andes - exciting! In spite of the fact that the airlines charge foreigners more for flights, I’ve booked this trip rather last minute and it's reasonable, all things considered.

I seem to have contracted an allergy to New Year’s Eve. Once again, I have a virulent, painful head cold to ring in the New Year with. Ralf has kindly invited me to a celebration, so I will rest, “vitaminize” and medicate.

New Year’s Day

It is now 2009 everywhere. On December 30th, the
NachoNachoNacho

Cultour Guia Extraordinaire
pages of many journals fluttered from windows, littering the streets of Buenos Aires. It is a unique way to say good-bye to the old year and bring in the new.

No matter where in the world I am, I usually write out an ambitious list of intentions and resolutions, most of which I never really attain. So balls to that. This year, I've made only two esoteric resolutions. Let’s see where that takes me.

Last night’s celebration was held in two different apartments in my building, starting on Caroline’s large terrace (she’s from Canada) and then up to the top floor at a crazy redheaded Dane’s place to watch the fireworks of BA from his balcony. It was a fantastic display lasting almost half an hour over the entire city.

Ralf and I discussed two business ideas. After hearing the latest rash of picket-pocket stories (Caroline’s Blackberry was ripped off with her entire life in it), we fantasized about different gadgets we could invent to electrocute or burn pick-pocketing thieves. The second idea was Ralf’s suggestion that I buy an apartment here as an investment under his management company. Most of the fellows at the party have bought a place at the new building in Palermo (great area) for around $100,000. Now that’s something to think about. I have never seen such a well-run operation in all of my travels - hmmmmmmm….

Once again, I've proof that it's a small world after all. I discovered that Ralf dated a fellow in Australia who is currently seeing my friend Rob in Calgary!

We had a giddy, champagne filled evening and most of the guys went off to a wild club that opened at 2:00 am, called America, to carry on with the evening’s festivities.

We’ve made plans to attend High Tea next Friday. How civilized. Also, Mo has made it his mission to get me in trouble before I leave.

Yesterday, I returned to El Ateneo, the largest bookstore I have ever seen in my life, to peruse the place. It is located in an old, beautiful theatre with three stories of balconies filled with books. I had daydreams of seeing a display of The Cuban Chronicles (by Wanda St.Hilaire), in Spanish, on one of the tables. The entire downstairs level is full of music. I listened to my new CD’s and they are AB FAB. There’s nothing for the soul like finding music that moves you.

The guys at Cultour insisted I try bondiola, a pork dish, on one of my food ventures. I stopped at the trendy lunch spot, the Buenos Aires Grill on Santa Fe, and found it on the menu. I got four large, tasty pork chops with my salad. A little much, si?

I am high on a double dose of Argentinean “Contact C” and must leave le café to pack for Mendoza tomorrow. Surely this must be the most tranquil day of the year in Buenos Aires. The streets are blissfully quiet.

Jan 2nd

Mendoza,
Argentina

I arrived to a sleepy city, not realizing I’d hit siesta. After 4:30, the streets and numerous outdoor cafés were teeming with life. I feel like I am on a getaway from my big getaway. How decadent.

Believe it or not, there are still places in the world that Bush hasn’t brainwashed. My airport experience was a pleasure; no stripping and removal of shoes, no liquid issues and zip-lock bags, no digging out laptop and camera and a normal passport check instead of 17 viewings as is North America now.

My hotel is a lovely little three star boutique and the staff are wonderful. The standard rooms are Euro-tiny so I opted for an upgrade to exec with normal sized rooms but was lucky enough to score a view of the park with a huge, old world patio off of my room. I am located directly on the Plaza Independencia, which is beautifully tranquil and full of fountains. At night it is hosts an artisan market during the summer season.

I am finally able to enjoy an outdoor patio here without feeling the need to strap and lock my bags to my body bandolera style (a la Antonio Banderas in El Mariachi) as in BA and minus the clouds of diesel fumes.

That said, I had my guard down while purchasing more music in a large store here. Nacho, of Cultour recommended a few artists and they let me listen to a large selection of music. I was thrilled with it all at the checkout and I set my Visa on the counter to pay. I am not 100% sure (one can never be 100% sure of anything), but it certainly appeared that the guy next to me took a picture of my card with his cell phone. I was pissed. So I turned to him and asked, “Is that a camera?” I caught him off guard and he said, “Ahhh no, it’s a cell phone but, umm, yes it has a camera, but umm, it’s just a very cheap little phone.” Yah. Whatever. I then called Visa to place a hold on the card at great expense because you can forget about “collect calls” at a hotel. The limit is too high to risk a bandido spending spree.

There are limitless restaurants and confiterias in Mendoza too, all filled with big eaters.

Kevin, my new South African friend, emailed me as promised with his friend’s name. Lucy lives here and is working doing wine tours and writing. How cool is that? She has already emailed to say she will be free to meet so hopefully we can have dinner together tonight and I can get an insider’s scoop on wine country.

I’ve forgotten my laptop plug in BA so I am on a writing fast, which is torture. Also, it means I cannot listen to music on my Mac either. I am dying to listen to all of my new CD’s.

The most common phrase here, which is considered Lunfardo slang, is ¡Che Boludo! I’ve learned it translates something like, Hey, Asshole! You address your friends with it but if said to a stranger, it’s, naturally, a big insult. I don’t think I can pull it off yet.

Jan 3rd
Mendoza

Sit me in a park in a foreign country, and within minutes, an old man; inevitably a writer, will find me. Afterward, a fatherly businessman sitting on the bench said that although the old man was a good person, I must be careful of all the wolves in the woods: watch my camera, don’t talk to just anyone and, hmmm he did not like the idea of my plan to visit Parque Martin on my own. Just what I needed - another warning.

He needn’t have worried; I got lost trying to find the park and ended up making a full circle back to Plaza Independencia. I enjoyed checking out the streets of Mendoza anyway.

I cannot seem to lose the Mexico-only “mande?” for “pardon me?,” no matter how I try. After 25 trips roaming Mexico, it’s a little ingrained. Also, Argentines use “vos” instead of “tu” for you. This, I can’t begin to remember.

I later visited the Vines of Mendoza, a wine bar down the street from the hotel. I’d read of their wine flights and chose the five Merlot tasting in the beautiful courtyard with a book. A couple of guys from Mendoza shared some sips of their whites with me. All five of the vinos where delicious and clean (no headaches).

Lucy left a message to meet her and her friend Harry at an outdoor café/bar while I was taking my wine flight. They are both from England and both working as guides in the vineyards. Lucy works at one of the exclusive tour companies visiting various vineyards and also writes occasionally about the wine country. She used to write for Cosmo in London! Her specialty was articles on orgasms. I’m sure the research part must have been tough. Harry works right on one of the best vineyards doing five to six tours a day. Both sound like they are having a good time here in Mendoza. I would have liked to stay out later but I had a 6:30 am wake up call for the Andes.

Jan 4th

Issues. I don’t know how you say it in Spanish, but the adorable front desk guy must be, after today, thinking this chica’s got issues. When I arrived, I couldn’t find my wallet upon check-in (and you know what I was thinking). Then I’d forgotten my laptop plug, so he staked out all of Mendoza to find a Mac store. This morning, I had a scary awakening with an asthma-type no breathing attack with my lovely little head cold. And I’m venturing to the highest altitudes in all of the Americas? I went to ask him to change my tour and he told me he too had a cold like this once a year and had the same breathing problem.

“Do you need an inhaler?”
“Yes!”

This angel took off upstairs and Voila! - handed me an inhaler. Within a couple of puffs, I was breathing almost normally again. He discreetly told the tour guide about the problem and she mothered me onto the bus to sit at the front with her. It was dicey for the first hour but then the inhaler worked its wonders. I was the only English speaking person on the bus, so I had a private tour guide all the way through. Elisa was a lot of fun and speaks English well, having lived in Miami for six years. The Spanish guide was personable as well so I caught parts of his info and she filled me in on the rest.

The Andes are spectacular. Even though I come from Rocky Mountain country, it was a sight to see. We stopped at Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Americas and the second highest peak in the world, next to the Himalayas. There are many hikers in the area right now. And lots of mules ready for hire for the big climb up Aconcagua. Nearby is a cemetery of the climbers who didn’t make it.

The Puente de las Incas (Bridge of the Incas) was also a beautiful place to see. I got to see three condors and a striped duck fighting his way up a gurgling stream. We went right to the border of Chile and got lots of history of the area. It’s a busy trail because it’s the only pass the trucks are allowed to travel bringing product back and forth into Argentina and onto Uruguay. Sunday was a perfect travel day for the trip.

After a little rest, I enjoyed the Sunday festivities and artisans in the park across the street and then had dinner at the hotel. Again, the front desk clerk did not disappoint; the restaurant in the hotel is excellent. I love this little place! It’s like a mini-Hyatt minus the attitude.

Week Four (el final)
Jan 5th

Napa Meets Spain

For all you wine lovers, especially red drinkers, the Maipu region of Mendoza is marvelous. I am sure that at harvest time in the fall (April-May), it is beautiful here with the tree-canopied roads. Many people rent bicycles to tour from vineyard to vineyard.

I took in an afternoon wine tour today and as the only English speaker again, felt like una princesa with both Elisa and her daughter Ramina taking care of me. We visited a large vineyard and a boutique vineyard, as well as an olive farm. For most of the vintners, their mission is quality over quantity. The grapes are all still handpicked in this region and many of the processes are done by hand in the smaller vineyards. We sampled a Tempranillo, which I’d never heard of before.

I was pleased to learn about the process for olive oil and the difference between extra virgin, virgin and regular olive oil - acidity being the key. Learning how cold-pressed is done makes one understand the price. It was torture not to be able to buy everything in their little shop: sun dried tomatoes in oil, artichokes, almonds, marinated olives, tapenade, eggplant, balsamic and, of course, olive oil, but the weight would be ridiculous. I was surprised to learn that (extra virgin) olive oil is a tough sell in Argentina because of the price. This farm exports a lot of their product.

I returned to the Vines of Mendoza wine bar for some more tasting after the tour (hey - we had a limited tasting) and tried a white variety that the Director of Sales recommended, something called Torrontes. He is from Boston and came by my table to chat. He told me of the ambitious plans of the company, one being the purchase of a vineyard and resort.

I wanted to make sure I made the most of my
TortugaTortugaTortuga

Mutant (Ninja) Turtle
last Mendocino day, so I chose one of the better restaurants, Azafran, suggested in the Lonely Planet. Delish! I had a designer salad with grilled goat cheese encrusted in nuts on a bed of roasted beets and greens. Next, I had squid ink pasta with prawns, roasted grape tomatoes and bocconcini in a light wine sauce tossed with cilantro. Aside of the service, it was a great choice for my last night’s meal. The walk home in the warm night air was full of “Buenos Noches” and smiles.

Jan 6th

Where in Canada can one get a “si, mi amor” (yes my love) and be called “corazón” (heart)? I went to a beautiful little wine and gift shop before leaving with service extraordinaire by the handsome shop owner. Purchases are packaged so nicely both here and BA.

I left Mendoza today and am back in my little apartment on Santa Fe. Musica! I have music again. And my laptop.

I went to class tonight to find the instructor breaking out into a full choreographed routine with a montage of Broadway show tunes. I’m not sure what happened to the “Latin” and “aerobics” part of the class.
Palermo's Best PizzaPalermo's Best PizzaPalermo's Best Pizza

And Sweetest Waiter!


The little kiosk florerias are open twenty-four hours on Santa Fe so I purchased one last bunch for my apartment. I choose to believe they do a booming business in the middle of the night for love and not to get out of the dog house.

Jan 7th

Just when I finally get the rhythm of the city, it is almost time to leave. I went to Palermo for the day and back to Jo Te Amasso for pizza. Now this is pizza. A Polish couple from the USA came in for a beer and he had just had his wallet pick-pocketed off the subway. He took it all in stride as part of the adventure.

Palermo is an irresistible shopping area full of unique little boutiques. This is where you’ll find the pretty boy shoppers and cool people. One beautiful porteña shopkeeper of about forty gave me her take on Argentine men. She complained that no matter how fat, ugly or old they are, if they have cash, they have a twenty-year old.

I investigated more back streets of Buenos Aires today and found many beautiful cheese shops, delis, wine shops and interesting architecture. The large trees shade the side streets and are pretty.

I downloaded some pictures and had forgotten about the poor little tortuga (turtle) making his way down the river in La Boca. The Riachuelo is the most heavily polluted river in South America and it reeks. I spotted a turtle through the muck and guck, much to the surprise of Nacho, our guide. He said he’d never seen a living thing in the river.

Jan 8th

I am not a big ice cream eater, but if you are, you’d love the many ice cream (helado) shops here. I ventured back to the cemetery with my good camera (love all of those stone angels) and stopped on Quintana to have lunch. I was going to eat at the famous La Biela but the shaded area of the patio was full and the sun was on high heat. I chose an Italian place with a Menu del Dia of ensalada with raddiccio, arugula, mushrooms and fresh slices of parmesan, and a simple but delicious spaghetti (it’s all in the fresh basil and garlic) and postre was included, so I tried the chocolate ice cream. Remember real ice cream? Wow.
HyattHyattHyatt

The Boys Breaking Tea


There was a guitarist playing music outside of the theatres across from the Cementario de Recoleta in the shade and I lollygagged around listening to his tango meets Spanish guitar playing.

I have been getting many reports of the snow and cold back at home and it’s hard to imagine because I’ve had one month of nothing but beautiful weather. Not like a Canadian summer with intermittent sun, but a real, glorious summer experience. In the month, there has been only one day of warm rain. Fortunately, I arrived a week after an extreme heat wave with temperatures in the 40’s and many power outages due to the air conditioners. I am praying for a Chinook to blow in pre-landing.

I am reading a wonderfully written book that takes place in Argentina right now; a travelogue Rita gave me to take on the trip. It is written by a young American who came to live in Buenos Aires and found himself living in the midst of the economic crash here. He landed a job writing about the not-so-pretty situation. He also, against all odds, became enamored with the tango (and the romance of it all). It answers
High TeaHigh TeaHigh Tea

Alvaro and Me
many of the questions I have that the average person wouldn’t discuss or know the answers to. One that he was unable to answer is, where are all the Africans? It is extremely rare to see a black person on the streets. And I’d read that at one point, they accounted for one third of the population here. Nobody seems to know where they went. There is a significant community of Chinese and it sounds odd to hear Asians speaking perfect Spanish. Buenos Aires has the largest Jewish community in South America. I was going to go on a Jewish tour but haven’t made it there this time. It is apparently quite interesting and educational. A Hasidic Jew is a fairly common sight.

As beautiful and romantic as the tango is, I can’t get excited about trying it. The whole scene sounds too complicated and formal. The book explains the tango culture and its stringent rules and subtleties. For now, I’ll just watch.

I returned to El Ateneo to listen to more music. I was besieged by children asking how to operate the listening kiosk. They couldn’t grasp an adult not comprehending Spanish in its entirety but I
HyattHyattHyatt

Cute Boy Sandwich!
had fun helping them. I’d have loved to video a pre-teen girl dancing and singing unabashedly.

Just prior to leaving Canada, a friend and client revealed to me that she is rather deaf and actually reads lips to have a conversation. I didn’t want to know what that felt like, but now I do. My ears have not unplugged since the plane ride to Mendoza and I am not hearing well.

I’ve become practiced in the art of covert photography, so have a good slideshow in the making for anyone who cares to view it back at home.

Jan 10th

This is it kids - my last day. I leave at midnight tonight. If you ever book a trip down here, it’s a great time to leave so you have the day to enjoy and the night to sleep the long flight away. It’s 10 ½ hours to Houston then 4 hours to Calgary.

My brother bought me a pedicure for my birthday and I was able to get two French pedicuras down here. The first one was a pleasure with a delicate portena, but today’s was with a Columbian girl who was, I think, trying to kill me.

I had to visit the Evita Museum before I left (if not for me, for Sharon). It was well worth the walk. There was a lot of information and articles of her life to view, along with videos of her famous speech and her funeral. The segment about the desecration of her body was rather gruesome. I have a further understanding of the impact this woman had on the nation and how quickly she implemented change, causing a tremendous dichotomy of love and hate.

On a lighter note, this woman beat Jacqueline Kennedy all to hell on style. Parts of her wardrobe were on display and the designs of her shoes, bags, gowns and dresses were exquisite. I could not resist a commemoration bottle of Zuccardi merlot (a very good vineyard where Harry works in Mendoza) with Evita’s picture on the label.

I was back to la casa just in time to get changed for High Tea at the Hyatt with the boys. That was opulent. Lifestyles of the rich and famous. We had an assortment of small pastries and tiny sandwiches with sparkling wine and, of course, tea. I am ever so glad I stayed at ba4U apartments and met all of these wonderful guys. I have been invited to Sidney by Roy and Greg and Ralf and Alvaro are hosts with the mosts.

Ralf explained a little of the culture and the difficulties a foreigner can experience trying to develop relationships with Argentines. He said they are loath to plan ahead and cancel plans frequently when something “better” comes up. Planning a week in advance is ridiculous to the average Argentine. Also, if a man shows romantic interest, he can appear wildly enamored with you, but won’t call for weeks at a time. The next time he sees you, he will appear to be just as excited, but again will disappear. He confirmed what I’ve read that the psychoanalysts and psychiatrists do a booming business with the neuroses and “hysterics” here. I can understand how the instability here has wreaked havoc with the Argentine psyche.

I came home and Luciano had confirmed plans to have dinner together (very last minute, true to the above mentioned planning issues). I took a taxi to his neighborhood bordering Belgrano. Luciano treated me out to a rustic parrilla for mountains of meat. Good grief! And by the way, you gotta say it right here. It’s parrrrrriszjjjjjjja. I said it a la Mexicana in the cheese shop and their comment (although they didn’t think I understood) was, “They don’t even have good parrilla in Mexico! How can they say it properly!”

It was with great mental will that I bit into the sticky blood sausage. Yucko. We had an assortment of grilled meats and the delicious barbequed provoleta cheese with salad, sweet and regular potatoes and grilled peppers. Luciano is a very tired fellow who works twelve hours a day and sometimes six days a week, while cramming in socializing in the traditional porteno style all hours of the night. My taxi driver rounded the fare down and refused to accept a tip! Are you kidding?

I’ve had my Caribbean aerobics this morning, my two café con leches with a tiny medialuna and ensalada de fruta at Café Martinez for the last time. One more walk to Palermo and I am off to check out those damn shoes that keep calling my name….

P.S. They were on sale - it was a sign.

P.S.S. I spoke too soon; US based Continental made security a living hell in BA and then security just to catch a connecting flight is absolute INSANITY.






















Information:
About Mendoza, feel free to contact Anabella or Florencia at Info@vsftour.com.ar or call their office (Viajes Sin Fin): 4328-9703.
Tour Group in Mendoza: Grupo Sur






































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30th December 2008

thanks
Hi Wanda, want to thank you for a great 1/2 hour of reading about your newest adventure. The Fira de San Thelmo would be a place I can find myselfe spending hours. Good thing one can dance the Tango there now without getting a bad name. I will "tune in" again for more "sightseeing". Con mucho cariño Petra

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