Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tigre Time

I woke around 10:00 in the morning, not having had enough sleep due to the very late dance party Lisa and I had attended the night before. The bed in Kristin's apartment was a big, soft cloud that I didn't want to leave. Lisa and I walked to the Buena Onda Yoga studio in Las Cañitas, a sub-neighborhood within Palermo, where Lisa, incredibly, had the energy to do yoga. I sat in the cafe, Natural Deli, below the yoga studio and ordered coffee and breakfast: a crispy ham and cheese sandwich on ciabatta, which came with a chocolate vanilla swirl budín (pudding). Tired and not thinking clearly, I thought that I would be getting the creamy kind of pudding you find in children's lunch boxes. In reality, it was a English-style pudding, a dense, semi-sweet pastry... with a dusting of mold. I brought the mold to the waitress' attention and she apologetically exchanged it for a chocolate brownie. If you're going to eat poorly for breakfast, you might as well do it right. As I ate, I suddenly noticed that I had acquired several mosquito bites on my face.

Natural Deli

During breakfast I took some time to reflect on what my experience of Buenos Aires had been so far. I was enjoying the fact that we were now staying in the Palermo apartment because I felt better connected to the rest of the city, especially where transportation was concerned. This was, in part, due to the neighborhood's physical proximity to the city center. It is affluent and its residents' needs are better fulfilled in every way compared to the average porteño (resident of Buenos Aires). There are more bus stops within shorter distances, a greater choice of quality restaurants, and numerous markets and boutiques.

After the yoga class, Lisa and I walked to a nearby train stop - I wouldn't even call it a station - to catch a ride to Tigre. I would have missed the stop entirely if I had had to find it on my own. It was really just a grassy, litter-covered track with paved platform on either side. There was no obvious signage or even a ticket booth. We didn't have to wait long for our train and it only took about an hour to get there. Tigre is a small town north of Buenos Aires proper on the Paraná Delta. It is a local getaway for porteños where families can picnic, shop, or enjoy one of the many boat tours on the Delta.

Train "station"

Tigre was pretty, but not as breathtaking as my tour book and everyone else had made it out to be. I appreciated how cool it was on the waterfront because it had been a particularly muggy day. The water was choppy and brownish and lined with a mix of deep green deciduous trees that I could not identify, along with countless palms. All manner of boat traffic sputtered up and down the river. 


Neat old houses lined the streets, many of which had been converted to B&Bs or rowing clubs. I couldn't believe how many rowing clubs there were!



Many people brought picnics or bought food at one of the many restaurants there were to choose from and then established themselves in the grass along the waterfront. Although there was no shortage of eating establishments, the majority of them only sold pizza or empanadas. We stopped into one, ordered some decent empanadas and continued down the waterfront until we found a bench facing the water.





After we had finished eating, we backtracked and crossed the bridge to check out some interesting looking buildings we had seen from across the river during our walk. Then we discussed trying to find the local flea market. Just then there was a loud clap of thunder accompanied by low, close lightning. The rain began to fall more quickly. We decided it was probably a better idea to return to the train station and we were right. We got caught in the downpour and our clothes were soaked through by the time we got there. We bought our train tickets and stood on covered platform, watching the rain fall harder and harder, with very nearby lightning and deafening thunder often chiming in. We waited what felt like a long time on the platform with a large crowd. When the train finally arrived, everyone pushed violently into the train cars trying to get a seat. Our politeness did us no favors in that regard.

Halfway through the ride, I began to feel a terrible intestinal urgency. I told Lisa we needed to get off the train at the next stop. We got out in the middle of nowhere and I shuffled into what now constitutes a three-way tie for the dirtiest public restroom I have ever seen. The other contenders include the ladies' room at the Jaén bus station and the one at White Horse Temple in Luoyang. As soon as I crossed the threshold, I shuddered at the sight and smell of my surroundings. The concrete floor was covered in dirt-blackened fluids, toilet paper and miscellaneous trash (newspaper in particular - probably a substitute for toilet paper). No one had bothered to flush the toilets in quite some time I wasn't even sure it was possible to do so. By now I was in a cold sweat and had to quickly select the stall that constituted the lesser of the evils so that I could relieve my body of its woes. I touched as few surfaces as possible and washed my hands as thoroughly as is possible in the absence of soap. I was feeling better, but not good. I emerged from the foul restroom with what must have been a horrified look on my face because Lisa asked what was wrong. I began to describe the facilities to her but she waved her hand to cut me off, shaking her head and closing her eyes as if to block out the mental image. "I don't want to know," she said.

We waited for the next train and completed our journey back to Palermo. Rain sprinkled us the entire walk home and, just as we reached the door, thunder, lightning and a deluge of rain began and stayed all night. I went to bed with a tummy ache.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Tango Till They're Sore

We started the day with a slow bus ride to Recoleta followed by a speed-walk to Buenos Aires Life Centre (formerly, Happy Sun Yoga), a studio where Lisa used to work. There I would be receiving a nice, long massage from the talented hands of her friend, Jennifer. After the massage, the three of us went around the corner to a tiny, unassuming café. Jennifer suggested I try the locro, a slightly spicy and very flavorful cassoulet-type stew with different types of meat, sausage, corn and white beans. It was served with a large, soft cracker-like piece of bread. It was a wonderful way to top of a relaxing massage.

Comfort

Then Lisa and I visited the Recoleta cemetery where Evita Perón is buried. We wandered around at a leisurely pace and had a look at some of the more interesting graves. 




We found Evita's fairly plain tomb being swarmed by excited tourists, some of whom posed for pictures next to it.


I was more interested in cooing at the resident cats:




After our short visit, I grabbed a cab back to Chacarita and Lisa went to one of her work gigs. My cab driver was very nice and we chatted the whole way.

I relaxed at home for a while until Lisa returned and then we set out together for La Catedral to check out some tango. The building itself is cavernous, dark and covered in modern art and graffiti, barely lit with sparse multi-colored bulbs. We sat in the building's restaurant/bar area facing the large, central dance floor. A beginning tango lesson was taking place so we ordered a couple of drinks and small pizzas and watched them practice basic steps and then move around the floor apprehensively.

Then the milonga started, an open dance event where tango aficionados of all levels are free to join and partner up. Most of the dancers were quite good and many of them were insanely attractive. The dance itself was very sensual and slow and I was amazed at the intuition with which the dancers seemed to move in relation to one another. Women nestled their noses in the soft skin just under the men's jawbones. The men grasped their torsos closely and then the pair would float on their slow-moving legs around the dance floor. Their upper bodies remained upright and still, as if suspended in time. Meanwhile, all of their faces had taken on a glazed-over trance-like expression. Had I been in any of their places, many toes would have been trod upon.

Practice steps during the lesson

Folks danced to recorded music for a while and then the show that was planned for that evening began. First on deck was a folk group that sang in what we thought was Italian, but we never did manage to find out. After that, a couple of dudes who reminded me of a dark-haired, Argentine version of the band Nelson came out and performed some impressive drumming and flamenco-like dancing. One unusual dance involved swinging around what looked like small weights on a chain and smacking them on the floor in a rhythmic fashion while also doing some fancy footwork. It was a feat of multitasking if I ever saw one.

The the main show was a group that played traditional tango music. When they took the stage, the people who knew how to moved accordingly. We were then joined by Lisa's lovely friend Nikki, a boisterous, friendly woman with a passion for life. She also happened to be a damn fine tango dancer.

Nikki in the moment


After the tango group finished, loud cumbia and salsa started blasting through the sound system. I love to dance, so I decided to hop up and give it a try. My footwork is abominable and I can barely even stomp out a decent cumbia, so I just ended up standing around and swaying my hips to the rhythm as best I could. It was fun anyway and we spent the entire evening there, not arriving back home until 3:30 am. It was like being in college all over again.

The following day we slept until almost noon, relaxed and watched a movie. Then we packed up some things and "moved" to the apartment of Lisa's friend, Kristin, in Palermo. Kristin was going to be traveling out of the country for a few days so she lent us her cozy space for the remainder of my stay. The place was gleaming with sunlight when we arrived. We were starving so we made ourselves sandwiches and then took an afternoon nap.

That evening we went to the impressive home of Lisa's friend, Jessica, for a dance party with her weekly women's group. She lived along Avenida de Mayo in a large, multistory apartment with high ceilings and big windows and doors. I had already met several of the women in attendance that night so it was good to see some familiar faces. I don't know how I had the energy for another all-nighter, but somehow I managed. I spent the first part of the evening trying to win the heart of the black and white house cat who was supposedly unpredictable and mean. At most, he was indifferent to me, but later I saw him try to attack his owner (with some provocation, to be fair). The other women and I danced, chatted, and snacked on appetizers. As the night progressed, the movements became more yogic due to the large number of yoga teachers present. I became worried about the noggins of the wine-smitten women who were now attempting handstands against the wall. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Everyone stayed so late that soon folks were drifting off to sleep. It was then that Lisa and I made our way back to Palermo for a good night's sleep in Kristin's fluffy bed.

* * *

For the especially curious, here's the song that inspired the title of this entry.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Interior Design, Fashion and Food

I didn't get up until 11:30 this day because I had waited up late for Lisa to come home so that I could let her in. Ultimately, she ended up staying out so late that she could no longer get a bus home, so she called her roommate's cell phone to have him relay the message to me so that I could turn in for the night.

When I got up, I took my time showering and getting ready for the day, organizing my suitcase, making the bed and farting around on the internet. Lisa went directly from her friend's house in the morning to her English class and I didn't see her until she came back from that in the afternoon. I took some time to photograph my surroundings, paying special attention to the little mundane household things that usually go unnoticed, but that were different from what I had back home in the U.S.

Lisa's room

Covered patio outside Lisa's window

Stairway leading up to another bedroom and roof terrace. Note the small bathroom underneath. The door just beyond leads into the kitchen.

Large kitchen with gas water heater and miniature stove

Large living room

The two-chamber bathroom with its medley of tile designs. There is a bidet looming in the shadows next to the toilet.

I don't know how the designer of this sink imagined anyone could clean their hands properly with the tiny spigot so close to the edge of the sink.

Push to flush the toilet

Push to switch on the light

Bars on windows are common here

Just as Lisa arrived, my internet surfing turned up a place for Charlie and I to hold our wedding reception, so I booked it without delay. Once that was achieved, we hung out for a bit, chatting about my wedding plans while Lisa prepared for her yoga class in San Telmo. For some reason, I misunderstood and thought that Lisa was going to teach a private class that evening, not realizing that it was a public class that I could have taken. As such, I didn't dress for the occasion and neither of us realized our thought discrepancy until it was actually time for the class.

We had set out early enough to be able to visit the Fashion History Museum on the border of the Monserrat and San Telmo neighborhoods, a small, free attraction displaying garments from the late 19th century to the 1980s. There were a couple of fashion design and sewing classes going on in different rooms while we toured. The contents of the museum was not terribly interesting and we were not allowed to photograph anything, but at least it was free. I didn't pay very close attention to what I was looking at anyway because all I could think about was the fact that I would be married within the next six months.

The most entertaining thing about the museum was the ridiculous cardboard cutout costumes at the end, into which I enthusiastically inserted my face.

Fabulous, darling!

Poppycock!

Dancing a medieval jig

We visited the prohibitively expensive gift shop rather briefly and then exited. It was then that we realized our very different assumptions about whether the yoga class was private or public and whether I would be attending it. Since I was wearing jeans, I opted instead for wandering around San Telmo while there was still a little daylight. I walked a wide zigzag around the area and then went back to Café La Poesía.

I sat down facing the opposite direction from the day before so that I could appreciate the other side of the restaurant. As I took my seat, a waiter who was frustrated with another customer breezed by grumbling the words, "¡Que chingue a su madre!" (literally, "He can go fuck his mother!") and not so under his breath. An elderly woman and a child who had been dining there left and then came back shortly afterward complaining about a lost wallet. Nearly the whole time I was there, a strange older man sitting diagonally from me stared at me unflinchingly and with a completely neutral face. It was unsettling, to say the least.

I had barely eaten anything that day so I ordered a supposedly small tortilla Española and a tea with milk. Suddenly a woman walked through the front door, sat at the pretty black piano, opened a book of music, and began to play. She was about my age and about as classically trained as I was. She played a set of fairly well-known classical pieces and, like I would, did so with a little too much rubato at times. Her style was more about feeling than technical accuracy. I teared up when she played Moonlight Sonata, as I often do when beautiful music hits my ears.

Everyone in the restaurant carried on with their conversations as if nothing had changed when I felt that they should have fallen silent and focused their senses on the transcendental experience this woman was offering to us.


My tortilla, the one the waitress called "chiquitita" (the little one) was too big and filled with yummy, salty sausage. At some point during the pianist's performance I just sort of forgot about the food. The staring man finally got up and left, continuing to stare at me as he walked across the restaurant and went out the door. I felt relieved. I don't know why, but I assumed he was a foreigner. I also assumed he was a complete weirdo. Even more incredibly, a couple minutes later he returned and resumed staring.

The pianist finished after what seemed like nearly an hour of playing and made her rounds with a bolo hat in hand to collect donations. I gave her five pesos, thanked her for playing and told her that it was beautiful and that she was very talented. She smiled big and very humbly thanked me. The radio clicked back on. The Beatles were playing and my waitress started shimmying at the bar.

I left Café la Poesía and met Lisa at the door of the hidden kitchen event we would be attending that evening. The name of it is Jueves a la Mesa (Thursday at the Table) and it was created and hosted by Lisa's boss at Buena Onda (and also its co-founder), Meghan Lewis. This particular meal was attended by about ten people from a variety of countries and backgrounds who had heard about the affair one way or another. The food at Jueves a la Mesa is always vegetarian and sometimes vegan and has a different theme every week. This time it was South African cuisine, which I knew nothing about, but found to be interesting.

Intimate table setting. We were allowed to draw on the table.

Meghan gives an introduction to the food we'll be served.

Dinner guests from all over the world.

Appetizer and the cow I drew

Second course, a vegetable pancake


After dinner Meghan served her homemade chocolates and asked us to guess the secret ingredient. After a couple of bites I was able to determine that it was peppercorn and, as a result, I won an extra piece of chocolate. 

Once the party began to wind down, Lisa and I went out to a nearby bus stop where we waited an eternity for our bus to arrive and then took the long, drowsy ride back to Chacarita. We were both quite ready for sleep by the time we got home.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bliss

Before I delve into Day 7, I want to tell you about something cool that happened as a result of the last blog post. Before I posted or translated the poem that I included in it, I decided it was probably a good idea to hunt down the author, Inés Barrio, and get her permission to do so. Ms. Barrio responded almost immediately and very graciously granted her permission. She complemented me on my translation, which was a great honor for me, and then mailed me a copy of each of her three works of poetry. Neat! ¡Gracias, Inés!

Now for Day 7: 

I think this turned out to be my favorite day during the entire trip once I actually got to my destination. Something about it was just right. On the way there, I observed a homeless child sleeping on the metro. He was about 10 years-old and lay sprawled across three seats in the car. He was dirty and had a red sweatshirt covering his face. He slept soundly and sloppily the way only a child can and no one bothered him despite the amount of space he was taking up during the busy morning commute.

I spent most of the day alone, wandering around the Puerto Madero waterfront and visiting less-than-popular points of historical interest, which included two old ships. The weather was great. Although it was very bright and sunny and the sky was that same piercing blue that it had been the majority of my trip, the waterfront was a natural wind tunnel and I was able to keep cool in the breeze.

The entrance to a restaurant. This taxidermy cow did not exactly make me want to eat there.


I had read about the vessel I wanted to visit in my Lonely Planet guide, a frigate called ARA Presidente Sarmiento, so I walked along the river until I found what appeared to be an old ship parked there with a plank extended to the bank. It was not the boat I was looking for, but a smaller corvette called the ARA Uruguay


I walked onto the empty deck and tried to pay the $2 entry fee, but only had bills so large that the man behind the admission table could not break them. I told him I would be back. I walked a little way down the waterfront and stopped into a convenience store for water, change and to take a pee.

I had walked far enough that the ship I had originally intended to visit was now in view just past the Puente de la Mujer pedestrian bridge. I decided to start there.

Apparently, this bridge rotates.

ARA Presidente Sarmiento, launched in 1897

The ship had four levels and numerous rooms and compartments, nearly all of which were visitable. The only thing I know about the names of ship areas or equipment comes from Star Trek: The Next Generation, so bear with me here.

The deck?

Steering wheel thingy

Shooter thingy

"HOOKS (For hanging hammocks)"

The Argentine flag's central sun and its Mona Lisa smile

Got any hotdogs?

"NO RUNNING

NO YELLING

PARENTS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR CHILDREN"

Eatery

This was in the engine room and I believe these are the thingies into which one would feed fuel to make the ship go. It was nice to finally put a face to the scene of all the action in B.Traven's book The Death Ship.

A gifted piece of the Great Wall of China

Barber shop

El Capitán's quarters

A piece of the Tree of Guernica, a symbol of Basque freedom.

Comfy

I really started to miss Charlie while on this ship, knowing that this is exactly the kind of tourism he would like. I took pictures of all of the things he would love. For example:

Nautical knots

Pulleys

A dog that came to live aboard the ship as a puppy in 1935. His name was Lampazo, the Spanish word for the mop used to swab the deck.

Explody thingy

One of Charlie's most coveted objects: a sextant

Having wound through the entirety of the large, maze-like ship, I emerged back on deck and headed for shore leave. On my way out, I saw a couple attempting to reenact that magical moment between Rose and Jack on the Titanic. It was funny to watch because apparently it is very difficult to balance on that part of the ship.

Unstable Romance

By now I was hungry for a snack so I sat, facing the water, at the crappy, expensive café nearest the frigate and ordered my first Argentine empanada. It contained something like Dinty Moore beef stew. It was just okay and served its purpose of stopping my stomach from growling.


As I ate, a large group of teenagers, presumably a school group, proceeded down the waterfront before me. They swarmed a nearby statue of a man sitting on a bench and took numerous photos. A friendly stray dog nearby became excited when he saw the kids and adopted them. He carried in his mouth a hoagie roll that was almost too large to keep hold of and trotted alongside the kids contentedly, as if they were his people. After a couple noisy minutes they all cleared out and so did I.

I crossed the nearby Puente de la Mujer heading westward toward the Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve

Pointy

A dude rowing. I wanted to sit in the extra chair in his canoe but didn't know how to achieve this.

On my way to the Reserve, I passed by several important looking skyscrapers, one of which had its courtyard decorated with shards of blue glass. I stopped and marveled at a woman employed there who meticulously picked leaves and garbage out of the glass.

Ridiculous

I arrived at a long paved walkway on the eastern edge of the reserve. The reserve itself was flat, grassy and beautiful. It was dotted with palm trees and the afternoon breeze carried new birdsong out of it and into my ears. 


Gentle street dogs lazed about on the concrete, people leisurely ate along a line of street food stands, and pigeons waddled about picking up crumbs. I walked slowly, inhaling the humid wind, feeling blissful. I watched a small, brown bird steal a large piece of bread from a gang of pigeons. The bread was so heavy it could hardly fly away with it. As I walked, I contemplated entering into the Reserve itself but the entrance was pretty far away and I didn't really have a lot of time left before I had to meet Lisa.


I eyed each of the food stalls as I walked, trying to discern which ones might be good (and contrarily, which ones might kill me). Ultimately, I decided to take the advice of ¡Ask a Mexican! columnist, Gustavo Arellano, and chose the place with the long line. It was called "Parrilla Mi Sueño" or "Grill of My Dreams".

I chose a beef tenderloin sandwich, which was just a large hunk of unsalted meat on a demi-baguette. I paid and, while waiting for my meat to come off the grill, scoped out a table. I noticed an empty one being guarded by a slinky cat with a stately face. I went to the condiments table and dressed my sandwich in chimichurri, a salad of lettuce, tomato and pepper, and salsa golf. I took a seat next to the stone wall on top of which the aforementioned cat stalked a pigeon.

Lunch with kitty

After a while the kitty wandered away and a pigeon took the liberty of jumping up onto my table. I swatted it away. The sandwich was okay. It was kind of bland, but the meat had a good texture.

After lunch, I headed back to the west side of the river and walked onto the small ARA Uruguay. A couple of hours had passed by now and the man behind the admission table looked surprised to see me. "You came back!" he exclaimed. I paid the admission fee and toured the two-level vessel in about twenty minutes. It contained a few interesting artifacts and all the wood on it was coated in a lovely dark stain.

Petrified pineapple

Double-cover windows

Sun-shielded deck

I left the boat with the intention of walking to the metro to meet Lisa. I hadn't even left the waterfront walkway when I heard my name hollered through the wind. Lisa had finished her class early and had somehow found me. We stopped into a Freddo ice cream shop and bought ourselves a treat. I had a scoop each of pineapple-mint and strawberry, and Lisa had passion fruit and dulce de leche. The heat made for a melty affair, but it was refreshing nonetheless. 

We returned home on the metro and I rested while Lisa went for a run. Then Lisa went to her weekly women's group and I stayed in to wait for the laundry lady to drop off our bag of clean clothes.