Thursday, June 11, 2009

Eloisa/ Beautiful Things-- [Republished in Baedeker Travel Mag]

This year’s 35th International Book Fair held annually in Buenos Aires, the largest of its kind in Latin America, drew over million visitors. The fair’s size is astounding— rows upon rows of vendor stands punctuated by mini cafés full of frenzied, coffee-sipping readers. Editors and distributors mull about the seven main pavilions, plugging their best sellers and competing for customers. Lines of eager visitors wrap around the auditoriums, waiting to hear their favorite authors speak. The most prominent, well-established publishing houses set up their stands, as well as the relevant embassies, media groups, and public and private institutions. It’s Disneyland for the literary inclined. However, an emerging house, one who could not afford the steep vendor fee was missing: Eloísa Cartonera.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

'Cold Polenta'

Una manzana entera pero en mitá del campo/ 
expuesta a las auroras y lluvias y suestadas./
La manzana pareja que persiste en mi barrio:
Guatemala, Serrano, Paraguay y Gurruchaga.
--Jorge Luis Borges

Alberto Diaz pauses to inhale his fifth Marlboro of the hour, and the smoke filters up through the Friday afternoon light, hovering around his salt and pepper hair that experience has rendered more salt than pepper. His office walls are a clean eggshell, bare, save for a towering bookshelf filled with Emecé’s latest titles and five framed black and white portraits. His hawk-like eyes, red around the rims from fatigue, become animated as he identifies the photographs, standing up to point to each as he goes—Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo next to a few of the Argentine greats: Ricardo Piglia, Manuel Puig, Jorge Luis Borges, and his dearest friend, writer Juan Saer (or Juanito, as he affectionately calls him).

Diaz returns to his chair and puts out the cigarette. “Juanito was asthmatic. And he wrote like an asthmatic… still, he could write like a god.” He smiles to himself and continues. “Juani used to call me from Paris and complain that he missed Buenos Aires. And I would say to him, Juani, its not like you’re in Asunción. You’re in Paris! I would even mail him mate. He loved his mate… He was quite a character, constantly arguing with Beatriz. She thought he was coarse.” I realize that the Beatriz to which he refers is Beatriz Sarlo— Argentine essayist and literary critic— and it becomes clear that the man in front of me won 2009’s Editor of the Year for a reason.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Last Night in South America

Yesterday morning, the sun rose behind schedule.

Concealed by the mini skyscrapers of capital federal, it proposed daylight, emitted just enough to hint that it would someday arrive, framing the sides of my world in half-light. The street-sweepers and taxi drivers moved down Avenida Santa Fe, their bodies only shadows that graced the storefronts and cafes not yet open, the air waiting for the sun’s warmth that didn’t come; the wind moving autumn’s starched leaves across the pavement as they crunched under foot.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Where the Purebreds Roam Free

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina— In the thumping, screeching, Capital Federal, a city where drivers race down the avenues as if blindfolded, ignoring traffic lights and weaving through the lanes, it’s a miracle pedestrians brave the pavement.


Even more remarkable, however, are the canines that accompany these pedestrians on their afternoon stroll. To an outsider, the well-groomed golden retriever who wanders, seemingly alone in this city, is surely a stray. To a Porteño, he is like every other argentine dog that travels sans leash: well trained and aware of his surroundings. In Buenos Aires, amidst the chaotic vehicular traffic, the sidewalk permits a calmer ritual as dog owners allow their pets to explore the rich aromas and curious objects that populate the block, without cumbersome attachments.

One could assume that this method of dog walking was related to the small size of the city’s canines. Not so. Hardly put-him-in-your-handbag Chihuahuas, these pets are of the German Shepard, brown and yellow Labrador persuasion. As Palermo native Olga Valls explains, the dogs here are like “caballitos,” or small horses.



In this laissez faire metropolis where ‘late’ is ‘on time,’ where endless dinners begin at ten, where getting mugged is a mere annoyance, the purebreds who roam free are not the exception, but the rule.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Asunción, Paraguay, Rants

A few weeks ago, I mentioned to my host family that the school was taking us to Paraguay. I might as well have told them I was being hauled off to bathe in a landfill: (gasp) "I wouldn't go there if you paid for my trip, and paid me to go...It's hideous...no hay nada."

I should preface this by first saying that Argentines do not consider themselves racist. They appreciate racial diversity, as long as the "diversity" describes the various European contingents who migrated south years ago and settled in this port city--Italian, German, Spanish. In the mind of the average Porteño, (a resident of Buenos Aires) (allow me to generalize), it's not racist if the discrimination is targeted towards: black people (though there are very few here), chinos (a group that encompasses all Asians, who own laundromats and supermarkets), and Bolivianos, a term that once simply described residents of the bordering country, but is now tossed around among the worst of insults.

If your skin is dark, you must be boliviano.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I Live in an Alternate Universe

Napkins take flight

It's friday night and La Cholita is loud and packed and quivering with activity. Enormous cuts of steak and french fries and bottles of cheap malbec fly from the waiters hands as they move throughout the top floor of the restaurant, taking orders they don’t write down and don’t appear to listen to, pouring the wine into water glasses and shouting over the already shouting masses.
Our table is covered with white paper and there is a basket of crayons in the center. My companions and I chat as we wait for our beef, sketching, leaving evidence that ‘we were here,’ that we too were thrilled by the ambiance.

Mid-meal a paper airplane, expertly folded and made from a napkin makes its descent on to our table. A series of numbers scrawled in blue crayon peak out beneath the wings. We ignore it and promptly hear hooting from the table of Argentines across from us.

Napkin #2 is hand delivered via the waiter, to me personally, asking that I please read the first napkin. I unfold it and see that it says “call me.” I go back to my steak.

Napkin #3, this time rolled up and scrunched into a ball, goes skydiving and falls to our table. I laugh and open it. It reads: “if you want I can sing a song for you”…

Monday, April 13, 2009

Mendoza, movement

Modes of transportation

I awake to flat, flat, flat lands as we drive west, presumably, eventually towards the Andes. I have dreamt of these mountains, young peaks that hint at the majesty of their parents. The Pre-Cordillera. The beginnings of the range that sew together the Americas.

Mendoza- Potrerillos- Adventure Tourism

They strapped me to a rope and I zip-lined across this river.......



















They strapped me to a rope and I shimmied down this cliff.......

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Cultural Relativism?

1. Parenting 101

It's seven at night and just dark enough so that the lit storefronts pop out along the street like someone took a neon yellow highlighter and marked his favorite markets, shoe stores, and cafes. Everything else slips back into shadow.

In front of the lit bakery is a small white dog, whose leash is tucked carelessly around the door handle. He stares up longingly at the treats in the display window, knowing they'll never be his, patiently waiting for his owner to make his purchases inside the shop.

The street is quiet and empty save for a stroller to the pooch's left. Surprisingly, the stroller does not have a leash that one could tuck carelessly around a door handle.

Neither does the baby inside of it.

2. Because you really don't have two coins to rub together

There a places you can go to get them, bags and bags of them, they say. Others buy them on the black market-- well maybe not the black market, but certainly a shade of gray.

Some claim they're shipped to Venezuela, melted down and sold for 10 times what they're worth here, that to get your hands on the really good, grade A stuff, you've got to want it. Desperately. You've got to know where to look.

The Kirchners clearly can't handle the situation. Or maybe they are the situation. A conspiracy to rid Argentina of that abhorrent thing called 'convenience.' Maybe they're working with the bus companies to suck the people dry.

The most naive say you can get them at your local bank.

But surely, that's an urban legend.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

San Telmo


It took me nearly 2 months to make it to San Telmo. It's a tourist trap and I've tried to avoid those, but a sudden yen for vintage leather bags found me riding the subway to the end of the line, lingering at Plaza de Mayo (see video in post below), and migrating south through the splintering afternoon light.

Treading alone, I allow myself to be led by the street art. Not angry graffiti, but the sort that sees the city as a canvas and the neighborhood as an art gallery.

I turn a corner. An empty church, parked motorcycle, sleeping german shepherd. I tuck my camera back into my purse and feign purpose as I move my bare legs a bit quicker. I'm still skittish and prefer the more populated areas.

Lost in San Telmo and too proud to pull out my map, though there's no one but the dog to judge me. Onward my sandals push until i spot a policeman smoking a cigarette. Put on my most sing-song argentine accent and ask where the outdoor market is, la feria. He looks annoyed that I’ve interrupted his tobacco sucking and points right as he exhales in my face. One block.

Oh.

Sunday afternoon

video
Plaza de Mayo and the Argentine equivalent of the White House,
La Casa Rosada

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Boca vs. Argentinos

Hola, Si, my name is Ines Rodriguez. Si, this is my season pass. Si Si, I am a big fan. Cintia turns around and gives me a look as if to say “breathe a word of English and you will get stabbed. Really.” (I close my mouth). My hand shakes as I press the season pass onto the card-reader and pray the light turns green. The guard looks as me like he knows I’m foreign, like he knows I have never seen Boca play in my life. Our seats are member seats, and as Ines Rodriguez, for one evening I am privy to the glory that comes with being a Boca fan. Boca and River (pronounced Ree-verrr) are rivals and are the only teams that matter. The Boca stadium is, as one might guess, in the Boca neighborhood, one of the shadiest of the city. Stray dogs and stray children wander. Sidewalks are elevated due to the proximity to the river and constant flooding. Crushed soda cans litter the streets. Boca is dark and bleak and poverty-stricken.

In the taxi ride over we learn from the radio that a woman has been shot in the MacDonalds around the block for wearing the wrong team’s colors.
I cross the threshold and am told to throw out my water bottle and open my purse as my male companions are patted down. I half expect them to tell me to remove my shoes. It’s iffy but the operation is successful. We are in. We are Argentine. We are Boca fans. Our life has purpose.

The infinite hike up to our seats suggests we’re verging on nosebleed, yet the view is still decent from our grey cement benches. Despite the open-air, I get high off of the mixture of cigarette smoke and the aroma of grilled meat as the whole stadium vibrates with exhilaration. For Boca fans, futbol is religion, and today is Christmas. The players are announced and the fists begin to throw and the shouts and cheers gain momentum and when the crowd-favorite Riquelme (rival of Maradona) walks out, falling strips of white paper turn metallic under the stadium lights as they flutter down towards the field. Huge drums begin their low-pitch roar, like ogres preparing to eat the other team.

I order a coke, and the guy can’t make change (there is no change in this country). He promises to bring me back a peso in two minutes, then disappears into the crowd without waiting for my response. After more than a month here, it should not surprise me that he doesn’t return.

Palacio
scores the first GOLLLLLLL and the fight songs, grunts and throwing fists become deafening. Argentine Spanish was made for futbol tunes. These are not of the go-team-go variety-- these songs, heavy on the subjunctive, speak of desires, hopes, hypothetical situations (losses) that will remain, at least for tonight, hypothetical. We pretend we know the words and hum along, hugging each other, thrilled to be part of something with such pasión, wondering if any New England Patriots fan would shoot a woman in a MacDonalds for wearing a Giants jersey...

After the half-time consumption of thick Chorizo wrapped in hunks of french bread, lethargic, full-bellied fans recline back into their seats. Lethargic, seemingly full-bellied players pass the ball back and forth as if in practice as the shouts and drumming and fight songs slow, trickle out, become barely audible…..

until Figuera heads the ball with absolute brute force and…..

GOLLLLLL!!!!

We fly to our feet shouting, "¡¡¡¡Que Lindo!!!!"
It really was a pretty goal.

3-0

We are winners. We are Boca fans. As we are told before the game,

Boca always wins.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Iguazu/paradise/argentina/brazil/8th (9th? 10th?) wonder of the world


While I acknowledge that this detail has absolutely nothing to do with the thunderous waterfalls I smelled, heard, tasted (yes!) and obviously photographed over the weekend at Iguazu, I feel obligated to mention the modern wonder that is the Argentine "micro-bus." (pronounced, meecro buuuus).

We traveled sixteen hours north from BA to the Brazil border for 100 USD (roundtrip)-- feet up, back reclined, blanketed, and pillow'd. The strapping young bus attendent offered us styrofoam cups of warm cafe at one hour intervals and wondered whether we preferred whiskey or champagne after the meal. (i'm fairly sure that the attendent was also the busdriver. Occationally he would disapear into the cabin, presumably to take the bus off of cruise control for a few moments)

The attendent asked mid-evening whether the plastic bag in the overhead compartment was mine. When i shook my head no, he pulled it out and opened it to reveal a large frozen chicken. A large frozen chicken who also happened to be an orphan (all passengers denied ownership). A large frozen chicken that was not likely to remain frozen for the entirety of the sixteen hour trip.

I originally planned to study during the remaining hours of daylight on the meecro, but when oppertunity knocks...
I had the immense privilege of watching MAMA MIA, the movie musical, three inches from my face on the bus' flat screen tv. Who knew that ABBA could translate to spanish with such finesse? Who knew that bus attendants ignore your requests to turn the volume down? MAMA MIA, HERE WE GO AGAIN....but i digress.

Around one a.m, as the sleep drugs began to play through my limbs, swirling me to slumber, I decided that I would one day bring the good word of the meeecro to my homeland and put
the king of mediocrity, Sir Greyhound, out of business.
First class road travel must prevail!

In any case...

Las Cataratas de Iguazu

I certainly could go on forever with descriptions, but I've posted videos, and pictures, which are far more accurate in their representations. Surely whatever I could write would be riddled with cliches anyway. (read: "thunderous")

Instead, a list-like post of observations from the trip:

Brazilian lizards cross the border without proper identification, are quickly deported,
Jungle, or rainforest, or maybe just forest,
my first star-sighting in Argentina, celestial or otherwise,
Sandwiches don't have crusts anywhere in this country, not even in Iguazu,
oh this civilazation of over-indulged sandwich-eaters,
North, north, still north and mist and liquid and humidity collide, each orgasmic and trembling,
The constant argument over who has the better view,
a decision my VISA will never allow me to come to,
I long to meet you, Brazil,
Water is falling, but these aren't waterfalls, these are forces of nature that spawn other planets, this is hydro-elation
Until this moment, waterfall has been abused and wrongfully applied to every anemic trickle
Falling negates purpose
These are rogue, aquatic monsters who shake the earth (there i go describing..)
Raft ride (see video), Rio de la Plata? i never asked the name, that unnassuming river
the one that coddled us until opening up and allowing us to be drenched
we paid extra to get wet
River water, as opposed to salt water, is Dulce in Spanish,
is it 'sweet' in English?
like Dulce de leche, which i find strange,
we lay in the sun after the hike
by the pool, my skin threatened to match the hue of the guava slices
served at breakfast
Oh the steam, or was it mist? It floated up, or maybe boiled

can cold water boil?

maybe it can, in Brazil.

cataratas

video

we're on a raft......sorry about the shoddy camera work
beauteous though, no?

Iguazu Falls-- jungle butterflies

video video

Iguazu is known for its waterfalls, but on our second day of the trip we hiked up through the jungle-like terrain near the Brazil border. We found butterflies...

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Earth is Heating

I am still, but still, my breath fights the asphyxiating heat, and I wheeze as though I have a white plastic bag tied around my head and the air inside is preparing to flee. I am melting, suffocating, but I am calm, calm and still on my stoop in Palermo, watching the tired feet in their strappy leather encasements as they beat the concrete.

A man and a woman pass. I am invisible to them as I blend into the almond hue of the tiles beneath my bent knees and bare silent witness as the man slips his left arm around the woman’s back, sliding his greedy hand inside her tank top. He cups her pointed, triangular breast because I am not there, because Porteño is synonymous with Public Displays of Affection, because the telo was full.

The earth is heating, my host mother explains, spreading her fingers wide and motioning upwards, bending from the wrists— a gesture that relinquishes any human blame and slaps it on something from above.

The earth is heating, and we are heating with it.

The rents may be high but the sidewalk in front of my stoop is cracked, and I imagine that a boulder once fell from the sky onto my square of cement. Or perhaps a little boy took a hammer and whacked, whacked, whacked in hopes of reaching China. And maybe this little boy is still inside the crack, asking if there is a colectivo that will take him to Beijing.

A VW bus, rust red and ancient, is parked on the curb across the street. He is human, with headlight eyes and a cool bumper of a smirk and I imagine he addresses me, testing out his English, overemphasizing the 'h' in hhhhhello good morning. He pulls out a white, hand rolled cigarette and implores me for a light. Sorry, no fumo, I reply. The VW frowns, sputters, and clunks away, our conversation unfinished, revealing a kiosko in his wake.

No cafés on my block, yet I’m certain I smell empanadas. In fact I always smell empanadas in Buenos Aires-- something to do with an overabundance of cow, ready to be slaughtered, sliced, rolled and baked, and an under-abundance of calorie-consuming women. The empanadas walk the streets, thrusting their doey hips out to the side provocatively like the hookers on Ave Libertador I saw last Saturday night. Eat me, they beseech.

Periodically the sun slinks behind a cloud and I find some respite in a lingering shadow. The air cools and without warning I’m in a postcard, squinting my eyes against the returning sun. Palermo shimmers.
It hurts to look.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Libreria

I think i've found my bookstore here in BA (photo below). The "Libreria Ateneo Gran Splendid" was once the first movie theater in the city. In place of the screen there is now a petite cafe where you can have your espresso and tiny cookies while leafing through the most erudite of argentine literature. Or, as in my case, Time Out: Buenos Aires edition. It's dreamy.
At dinner tonight I asked my host dad if he has ever been there, to which he casually replied that well you see his grandfather owned it, along with all the other movie theaters in the city. Host-great-grandfather was also the pioneer of TVs in Argentina.

So I guess he's been to the bookstore.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Nearly a week in Buenos Aires: Unas Cositas

Deposited at the bottom of the world six days ago, I've begun to subsist on a constant stream of rich, aromatic coffee and pure adrenaline. My fingers tremble slightly as I type this-- a signal that perhaps I should slow down. I've consumed more meat (which one can slice easily with a butter knife) since arriving than I have in the past two years combined. The food in Buenos Aires is as succulent and fresh as I anticipated. And, as evident above, its possible to sum up the culinary experience in four sentences or less.

As for the rest of Buenos Aires, I have tried and failed repeatedly to assemble my thoughts into a coherent blog post that could capture this peculiar city. And still, after nearly week, I'm stumped. I am incapable of succinctly describing my new home.

Consequently, I'm forced to borrow the apt words of the tour guide who showed us around on our second day in Buenos Aires. As she explained, the defining characteristic of this Argentine metroplis is its eclecticism. Its people, its language, its architecture, all extractions of an older tradition from somewhere north, for any further south and one falls off the map.
And surely this guide, a german-looking, castellano-speaking, elegantly dressed young woman with a beehive of blonde dreadlocks was the definition of 'eclectic.' As she moved around us, gesturing wildly, thrilled to offer up her home to us blockhead americans, I realized that four months will not be nearly enough to time to wrap my thumping, buzzing, over caffeinated mind around the anomalous Buenos Aires. So if you will, bare with me as I attempt understand how this cosmopolitan creature was born of the third world.

Some little things:

Tuesday it poured. Not a summer shower, but an end-of-the-world monsoon. The blue ceiling that on monday teased us norteamericanos with promises of bronzed skin and infinite afternoons of cortados and medialunas, fused into a solid mass, greenish and gurgling. By mid-afternoon the heavens (Argentina is a catholic country, at least officially) proceeded to dump buckets upon buckets over its congregation.

We took the school sponsored guided tour around the city despite the rain. From the comfort of our air-conditioned, cushy minibus, I feared for the lives of the tanned, blonde, small children who waded up to their knees to cross the flooded streets and for those unfortunate few who slipped into water-filled potholes, never to be seen again. Parked sedans—with paintjobs in colors that reveal that they, like myself, were born in the eighties— did nosedives, half submerged in liquid. The girl behind me asked if the rain was toxic.

Later, I split a taxi with a student who lives a few blocks from my home-stay. At 5 pesos, or $1.50, I think it’s okay that I get a mildly crippling sensation of terror when faced with the task of boarding the dilapidated buses with their peeling paint the color of brick and imperturbable drivers who demand to know why you don't have proper change. who insist you get off until you acquire proper change. who couln't care less that there is a national shortage of coins and small bills. no monedas, no ride. (More on that later). The subways meanwhile, (or subte as they are called) are pristine and put nyc's system to shame.

I arrive home to my host-family's apartment as the summer torrents ease and the pools drain and all is as before. Back to flawless skies and asphyxiating heat.

Wednesday, I learn a useful new word. It’s "berenjena." Or rather, I deduce its meeting only after my tongue begins to itch and swell and panic greedily bites into my brain like its a a luscious, argentine peach. Berenjena, or "eggplant," is in the quiche I have just consumed. It's the mystery ingredient I hadn’t thought to look up. I freak, quietly, internally, of course. No one wants to inform her new classmates that gee, i may or may not keel over in the next 20 minutes. Thankfully, the portions here are small and that purple fiend was no match for a benedryl. My allergy it seems, has grown mild.

The rest of the week was stuffed with activity, of dinners at 10:30 pm and BA's notoriously superb nightlife. Friday found us outside the city, lolling on the "beach" on a class trip to the mud stained rivers of the delta, Tigre, as its known. We spent the day lying in the sun, lying in the shade, dipping our feet in the pool, and chatting with the bartenders at the resort-like destination. Not a drop of academics, meant more for bonding I assume. I realize this post mostly contradicts my claim of not wanting this to be a 'dear diary' type blog. Ah well.

And finally, today was the culmination of a week adjustment, of bracing oneself for the culture shock that shall inevitably come, of struggling to remain lucid and coherent in spanish and english, of attempting to not be the lost gringa only to realize how eager the argentines are to help her. I awoke midday, chatted with my host family (an impossibly kind older couple with four grown children and several grandchildren who always seem to be milling about). I sat at a sidewalk cafe drinking cafe con leche and engaged in some highly fascinating people watching. Staring is encouraged, as is close-talking, hand gestures, and kisses on the right cheek. The 90 degree weather didn't even feel that stifling. I spent the afternoon with new friends in the air conditioned Museo de Bellas Artes. We crossed the Avenida Libertador to admire the astoundingly high quality leather goods at a street fair and later listened to an argentine rock band in the park. It was only upon spotting a singular cluster of pink, heart-shaped balloons, sponsored by KY Jelly that we noticed that today is February 14th, Dia de San Valentin. Perhaps I'm not that far south of the motherland.

I don't pretend i've discovered the wheel. I don't feel emboldened to write my own guidebook nor do I think i've uncovered a side to this city that no tourist or foreign student has ever laid eyes upon. Yet there is something thrilling about wandering through a new place without agenda or obligation and sampling whatever it is that one encounters.

I am wholly content to be lost in Buenos Aires.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Pre-departure

Sitting at home at my kitchen table in Connecticut, bordered to the east by a precariously frozen lake and to the west by an assembly line of wind-stripped trees, it's difficult to envision precisely what my life (two weeks from now) in Buenos Aires will entail. Swapping hemispheres ensures a reversal of these sub-zero temperatures. And culturally speaking, I've heard tango, tasted dulce de leche, and tackled Borges and Cortazar (with debatable success). But otherwise, having never been to Argentina myself, I am admittedly, wholeheartedly, a lost gringa. And so this blog.

At this point, I'm certain of what I don't want this venture to be-- Not a "dear diary," nor a "dear mom and dad." Not a vehicle for shoddy camera phone pictures of nights (and mornings) of debauchery, of red wine splattered summer dresses and suspect club lighting.

What I envision is a text, photo and video extension of life in B.A. Not my life per se, but the various walks of life I encounter throughout my semester abroad. Essentially, points of interest for those back home-- 'citizen journalism' i believe they're calling it? With a hint of 'travel writing,' perhaps?
Prior to the eleven hour flight, before meeting Olga and Jorge (my host family), without ever having inhaled the purportedly 'good air,' my vision is still incomplete, my motives without true definition or form.

To my northern readers (even if, in the end, you are only mom and dad) thank you for trusting my ability to separate the minutiae from the mind-blowing as I gladly stumble through my semester, frozen lake and lonely trees (temporarily) forgotten.