Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Ride Home from Hell

On my last day in Buenos Aires, I rose early to shower, pack my things, and mentally prepare for the long journey ahead. I love traveling, but it is stressful. Lisa called to arrange for a private car, or remís, to come take me to the airport in the afternoon. 

I stepped out for lunch and made the mistake of going to Kentucky Pizza one last time. The man at the window who took my order was a fat, sweaty, boorish jerk who barely paid attention to anything I said while he leaned half of his body out of the takeout window to leer at women passing on the street. The two empanadas I received were not the ones I ordered and, naturally, a flavor I didn't even like, but I didn't realize that until I got home.

I spent the afternoon trying to relax and reading science articles on the internet. A mini tractor beam had been invented! Of course I couldn't help but fantasize about life becoming like Star Trek.

The car arrived to take me to the airport. It was a nice, new red car and was cleaner than the average taxi. The sun was intense that day and, despite the air conditioner being on full blast, sweat poured from my skin the entire ride. My chauffeur drove in a rather swervy manner, like everyone in Buenos Aires seemed to do. He explained that we were taking a circuitous route due to traffic, but I didn't really think that mattered since we had agreed upon a flat rate on the phone and had set out quite early.

There was heavy traffic on the circuitous route too, and what should have been a 40-minute ride took an hour and a half. It was all fine and dandy until the driver started talking and then refused to shut up until we arrived. He slurred his words as if he were drunk and drove as slowly as possible, often trying to make eye contact and flashing me his sparse-toothed grin in the rearview mirror rather than watching the road. He would begin a sentence with a complaint about Argentina and then finish it with a statement about how beautiful and matchless it was. He uttered other brilliant things too, such as when he called me bien gringa (so white) in response to me telling him I was half Mexican, and then followed up by telling me how machista Mexicans are. When I mentioned to him that I was to be married that spring, he encouraged infidelity before it was too late, not-so-subtly hinting that he was volunteering for the job.

When we finally got to the airport, he tried to swindle me out of 50 more pesos than what we had negotiated on the phone. I refused to give him more than ten extra pesos, as a tip, even though he didn't deserve even one. Once inside the airport I had to go through three different checkpoints to get to my gate. At the second one, an incredulous little girl exclaimed to her mother (who had clearly already had enough), "¡¿Dos controles?!" (Two checkpoints?!). People around her exchanged knowing glances and nodded in agreement with the little girl's expression of exasperation.

I reached my gate, relaxed, and ate the only food I could find: ice cream and Cheetos. I prayed that my seat mate for the ride home would be a quiet person. That wish was granted, but unfortunately I got the most uncomfortable seat in the history of airplane seats and didn't sleep a wink during the 10-hour flight to Atlanta.

When the plane landed, I had my worst re-entry experience ever. It was 5:00 a.m. and still dark in Atlanta when I shuffled bleary-eyed into the passport control line with throngs of other weary travelers. When I got to the checkpoint, the tall man behind the counter asked me the standard questions: Where are you coming from? What was the purpose of your trip? Etc. Then he asked me what I did for a living. I told him that I was a Spanish translator. He paused to look at my face for a moment and then smirked. "Really?" he said, "It doesn't look like it." He continued to smirk, amused with himself as if he had just told a funny joke, and waited for me to react. I furrowed my brow at him, bewildered by all the things wrong with his statement and shocked and his level of cultural insensitivity. I mean, his job is to interact with people from all over the world, for Christ's sake, and he's having a laugh about the fact that I don't fit his preconceived notions of what a Spanish-speaker should look like?

After an awkward moment, I shrugged, not really knowing what to say to that. He drew a cryptic symbol on my customs declaration, stamped my passport and dismissed me. As I walked away I muttered under my breath, "My last name is Garcia, you fucking idiot."

I approached the next line where two men were inspecting peoples' customs declarations and either allowing them through the checkpoint or waving them into a nearby room for further inspection. It was here that I learned the meaning of the cryptic symbol that the passport control officer had drawn on my form, as I was instructed to step into the adjacent room for a secondary check.

The first part of this check was to surrender my passport and my luggage to one officer and then sit in a nearby waiting area from which I would be called. There were only two officers inspecting peoples' luggage and probably six people in line in front of me, including a large family. The longer I waited, the more annoyed and anxious I became, knowing that I needed to get to my next flight soon. 

Finally, the young man who would be inspecting my bag called me up and, before opening it, asked me a few standard questions. Mainly he wanted to know where I was coming from and what I had been doing there, so I informed him that I had just got off a 10-hour flight from Argentina. He rifled through everything, opened every bag and box, and inspected and questioned me about everything I had with me. He pulled out a bottle of prescription medication, read the label and then asked what it was for. I told him it was anxiety medication because sometimes I get nervous when I fly. His response was, "Oh that's why you're all 'lalalala'," as he rolled his eyes back in his head and lolled his tongue out of the side of his mouth. Now I was pissed. "No, I haven't taken any," I replied curtly, and then repeated, "I just got off a 10-hour redeye flight from Argentina."

Just like the guy I dealt with before him, he smirked at having got a rise out of me. Then he picked up an article of clothing wrapped around a souvenir I had bought Charlie. "That's fragile," I told him, glaring. After he inspected it, he handed it to me and said sarcastically, "I'll let you repack this." Once he finally finished his smart-ass laden task, I angrily shoved my belongings back into the suitcase and hurried to my next gate.

Luckily, the next leg of my flight was easy and I was so exhausted that I slept all the way through it. It was a good thing too. I was ready to strangle the next person who crossed me.

A few final reflections on Buenos Aires:

One of the biggest challenges I faced in Buenos Aires was figuring out what to take pictures of. Not only that, I was somewhat afraid to take pictures because I had been repeatedly told stories of thieves snatching cameras or other valuables out of people's hands while they used them in public. That fear aside, I kept looking for the picturesque in this city and just wasn't finding it. A conversation with one of Lisa's friends leapt to mind, when she translated her first impression of the city with the phrase, "Surely it gets nice at some point, right?" I can only conclude that the charm of the city must lie in the activities and interactions occurring therein.

Buenos Aires is certainly sexy. The national pastime, tango, just oozes sensuality. The women are stacked and many have long, dark hair (however, I fear for the evolution of their appearance now that the Argentine government subsidizes plastic surgery). The men are tall, dark and handsome, and have a reputation for incredible charm and lifelong immaturity; it's a nation of man-children. It's ideal if you're young, single, and like to drink, dance and don't need to sleep. The word on the street is that this is a great city for getting laid. If you're a prematurely old teetotaler in a monogamous relationship who only likes to dance to music that doesn't require complex footwork, best choose another location. 

As for the individual districts, my opinions of them were formed by short visits, observations from bus/taxi windows, or by what others told me about them, so take these with a grain of salt. Palermo and Recoleta both seemed pretty posh, but clean and quite safe. Microcentro was great for shopping but incredibly noisy. I never visited Once, but saw it from the bus and could see that it was filthy and impoverished. It also had a reputation for being very dangerous. The Chacarita neighborhood where Lisa lived had the same reputation and was seen as somewhat undesirable, but it seemed like a pretty average neighborhood to me. Cañitas was cute and middle class. San Telmo was extremely cute, probably the closest thing to picturesque I found, and it also seemed like there was a lot to do there even though everything was closed when I visited.

No area I visited seemed particularly dangerous, but I didn't like walking around or waiting for buses late at night, especially in deserted areas (common sense). After hearing story after story of robberies, I was more concerned with someone snatching my new camera out of my hands while I took pictures than I was about my personal safety.

The buses in Buenos Aires run all night, which seems logical in a city where no one sleeps. Taxis are cheap if you are a person who earns your income in US dollars. For example, a taxi trip from one side of town to the other, which can take 40 minutes or so in traffic, costs about 50 Argentine pesos or $7 USD. The Subte, or subway, is a great option for transportation, but outside of the Microcentro the stops are few and far between. There was always a decent walk involved to get to any form of transportation.

The food is good if you're willing to pay for good food, and by American standards, even the best stuff is still pretty cheap. Parillas are the way to go if you want a protein-heavy, filling meal. The beef cannot be beat and there is plenty of high-quality fresh produce to be found.

And that concludes the saga of Argentina. Up next, a honeymoon in Belize!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

On Smoking, Eating, and Falling

Two days before my departure, Lisa and I made plans to smoke cigars in the Jardín Botánico Carlos Thays in Palermo. Instead of just the two of us, I ended up with a fun entourage consisting of Carlos and Indi, with whom we had dined the night before, and Indi's co-worker, Nick.

The park was beautiful and the weather was nice. It was already making up for the failures of the previous day. The shoot went well, despite being my first solo endeavor at Smoking in the Park without the aid of Charlie's expertise in tobacco. I had even donned eye makeup for this rare, special occasion... and then wore sunglasses the whole time I was being filmed.

An odd little scooter outside the park

Indi and Nick chat in the shade.

A statue that looks like someone walked in on it while it was dressing

Spindly trees

And then we contributed the aroma of cigar smoke to the park's fragrant air.

After our time at the park, Lisa, Indi, and Nick withdrew to their respective work obligations while Carlos and I went to find something to eat. I was feeling a bit woozy from the morning's nicotine onslaught and Carlos was craving clean, healthy food, so I suggested a place called Meraviglia, which listed in the Lonely Planet guide as an organic vegetarian restaurant.

As its name suggests, it was marvelous! The place was bright and spotless, and our waitress was friendly.

While we waited for our orders, she brought us some delicious, fresh focaccia and freshly pressed orange/carrot/ginger juice.

I ordered an impressive and refreshing salad of mixed greens, candied almonds, assorted seeds, avocado, and a honey vinaigrette. Carlos had a spinach-based salad and topped it with an avocado he had bought from a neighborhood produce stand on our way to the restaurant. The waitress had a good laugh when she saw the avocado peel on his empty plate after the meal.

Carlos carves up his B.Y.O. avocado.

The price was excellent for an organic restaurant. The salad and juice together totaled $7.50 USD.

I returned to the apartment and finished out the day in a low-key manner. After Lisa was done working, we made another stir-fry from the previous night's leftovers. It wasn't as good as the one Carlos had made, but it was good enough.

The next morning, Lisa and I met some of her friends for breakfast and a French place called Oui Oui. I'm always incredibly skeptical about French food outside of France and this place was no different. I was especially skeptical about their eggs benedict, which everyone raved about. Eggs benedict is one of those things that is so good when done right, but can be awful when done wrong.

I ate my words, along with every bite of this delicious eggs benedict.

Meghan and Indi chat on the patio.

After breakfast, Lisa and I walked to the King Fahd Islamic Cultural Center so that she could go for a run in the area and I could check out the mosque. I had just missed the tour when I got there, but I had neglected to bring a headscarf and wasn't wearing the most modest of shirts anyway. I took a nice long walk around the perimeter of the mosque grounds and gained an appreciation for its external architectural features. I was also impressed by its size, which rivaled that of the mosque in Paris.
 Geometrically designed doors and minarets

Tree-lined Avenida Intendente Bullrich

Mosque entrance

Lisa was still running when I had finished walking the perimeter, so I headed into the large shopping mall on adjacent Av. Cerviño to use the baño. I took a moment to reflect on the drastic differences between the activities taking place in the neighboring structures.

I walked back to the mosque entrance just in time to see Lisa approaching at the end of her run.
Ridiculously photogenic runner

On our walk back to the apartment, we stopped at a small kiosk for water and popsicles, a real necessity on that inordinately warm and humid day. We had a rest and then Lisa departed for a teaching gig. We agreed we'd meet up for our final dinner together at the grill down the street when she was done.

I decided to take a few pictures of the apartment so that my readers could appreciate its beauty. 

 Living room



 Baño with bidet. Why don't we have these in the US?!?!

 Upstairs sunroom

Open air terrace (with a busy Indi)

Night fell and I left the apartment to go secure our table at bustling Las Cabras, just a couple blocks away. I stood on the corner across from the restaurant, waiting for traffic to clear, half balancing on the uneven curb, when both ankles suddenly buckled under me. I fell into the street on my hands and knees exclaiming, "Ah, shit!" in English as I went down.

"Are you okay?" a man asked in Spanish as I rose. He seemed reluctant to get involved, but I didn't mind since I was thoroughly embarrassed and felt like disappearing into thin air anyway.
"Yes, but my ankle hurts," I replied.
"Well, yeah."

Luckily, my tumble didn't result in any real injury, except to my pride. I brushed the gravel off of my palms and my knees and limped across the street and onto the restaurant patio.  It didn't take long for me to get a table, and Lisa soon joined me. We dined on a spicy chile Caesar salad, beef loin, and delicious quesadillas. When we got home I iced my ankle, just for good measure.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sorry, we're CLOSED.

The bathroom fiasco on the way back from Tigre did not turn out to be an isolated incident. I went to bed with a stomachache that night and woke up the next day with a worse one. Was it the food? Maybe. But I had mainly eaten well cooked meat, cheese and bread. Was it the water? That was more likely, but I had been drinking the stuff for over a week without consequence. I decided to lay low and remained in bed most of the day while Lisa worked.

When Lisa came home, we weighed our dinner options and then chose one out of the Lonely Planet guidebook, a place called Parilla el 22. When we got there, the place looked drab and empty, but it was early, so this was not necessarily a bad thing. We almost left because of its appearance, but remembered that the guidebook had described it as "unpretentious". 

The service didn't turn out to be all that great, but the meat certainly was. You know you're going to eat well in a country where no one bats an eye when two women order nothing but a couple pounds of steak (a combination of rump steak, sirloin strip, and tenderloin), plus french fries, and then eat it all. Having more than met our protein quota for the day, we got sleepy, so we asked for the bill. The total was $136 ARS (about $16 USD) including drinks. We walked home in a moderate rainfall that suddenly converted to a violent downpour the moment we stepped inside the house. We kept getting lucky.

The following day I ventured out on my own to try and see what I could see in the few days I had left in Buenos Aires. I tried hard not to see that day as a failure, but it certainly felt like one. I got off to a late start, still not feeling great, and decided to go to the bank first so that I could do some shopping. I wandered the wrong way down one street until it dead-ended. When I turned back, I found a bank that I had apparently passed without noticing several minutes before. By the time I had cash in hand, I was running a bit late, so I grabbed a taxi to head across town. It felt expensive, but I was thinking in pesos. It was only $53 ARS, or $6.30 USD, for a 30-minute ride so I really can't complain. The worst part about it was that the driver wouldn't shut the hell up the entire way. He was a giant braggart and I was pretty done with it by the time I got out of his cab.

My destination was Plaza Dorrego in the San Telmo neighborhood, which is known for its picturesqueness and its plethora of antiques shops. I thought it might be a good place to pick up some interesting souvenirs. When the taxi dropped me there, I found it deserted. Nearly every store was closed, along with the two nearby attractions I had planned on seeing. I really should have paid attention to the business hours listed in the guidebook.

The Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Belén and its church museum were closed for the day, along with its neighboring attraction, the Museo Penitenciario Argentino, a museum dedicated to the Argentine prison system. I'm sure both would have been interesting.

Oh well. I wandered around the square for a bit, taking in the pretty San Telmo architecture and eyeing the tempting antiques that I couldn't afford.

I headed a couple of blocks north on calle Defensa and walked through the large indoor Mercado San Telmo, but more than half of its vendors were nowhere to be seen. 

I walked another five minutes north, arriving at El Zanjón, the site of one of the oldest settlements in the city. It houses the remains of one of Buenos Aires's first major constructions, and you can take a guided underground tour through the ruins of old walls, tunnels, and cisterns. I was met with a large, severe looking locked gate at El Zanjón's entrance on Defensa, but there was also a sign instructing visitors to ring a bell for entry. Hopeful, I rang the bell and was greeted over the intercom system by a woman's voice. I told her in Spanish that I was there to take a tour. She asked if I wanted it in English or Spanish so I told her I would attend whichever started first. She told me that neither would start for another two hours. I thanked her and walked away with a big sigh.

I wasn't quite ready to give up yet. I was determined to accomplish something that day. Anything! I remembered that Lisa's friend, Megan, had recommended a restaurant nearby and said that it was next to the "film school". Somehow I found it, despite knowing neither the name of the restaurant nor the school. The little café appeared to be well-organized and clean, so I headed in. The walls were covered with pictures of movie stills and my favorite one was from Beetlejuice. Unfortunately, they were playing modern swing music, which I hate, and it was way too loud. I could feel myself succumbing to grumpiness. Maybe I just needed food and a nap. 

So they served me this: some kind of dry-ass chicken with gravy bullshit. It was terrible.

I caught a cab to go home and the driver, thankfully, remained silent and smoked a cigarette most of the way until I asked him where he, as an Argentine, would buy a maté gourd. He gave me a few tips and then resumed his smoke-veiled silence. The highlight of the ride was when we passed by this beautiful billboard on Avenida de Mayo. I had seen it several times before and it was one of my favorite things to look at in the city.

Photo by Francesco Marchetti, used with permission.

I found Lisa at home and we chatted about translation for a while. I was feeling really tired and slightly ill, so I took a nap and dreamed about zombies. I got up and let Lisa out of the apartment complex's locked corridor so that she could go teach her class, and then walked down to the Kentucky Pizza on the corner for some empanadas. They were not good, and not at all what my body or my soul needed.

I returned home and killed time on the internet for a while, and then one of my other temporary roommates, Indi, came home. She and I went shopping for food and a friend of hers, Carlos, came over to cook it for us. Then Lisa came home and the three of us sat around chatting while Carlos slaved away in the kitchen. Dinner was a spicy pork stir fry, served at an Argentine hour, but well worth the wait. We all went to bed with happy, full stomachs.

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.


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!


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.