Thursday, December 31, 2009

A (Quick) Year in Review

A year in review, albeit a quick one. I chugged along through Ecuador and made the most of my experience there, wrapping up my year with some great friends and memories. The good times and the bad, they are mostly listed in the archives, and will always be accessible, long after I forget the majority of the details.

There were three quick weeks at home in Sharon, MA, filled with reunions and goodbyes. This time, I wasn’t sure how long I would be gone for, or when I would see my friends again. And then the arrival, so long awaited, to Buenos Aires. There was initial disappointment and struggle, which only continued with difficulty into getting into the Argentine life. Studying for the GRE, applying to grad schools, and trying to meet people at the same time, while starting a new job added to the stresses of moving to a foreign country by myself.

But I have rallied, and now that I’m done with the GRE and mostly completed with applications, there is more time for other things. Considerable growth took place, and I feel confident in my role in Latin America. 2009 was an interesting year in my life, and it goes without saying that 2010 will continue much in the same way.

Happy New Year. See you in 2010.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Language Wall

I've hit a big wall with my Spanish in the last few days. Suddenly I sound like an idiot, unable to roll my r's, conjugating poorly, and lacking vocabulary which was once a staple in my brain. It's funny, but I'm also having trouble communicating properly in English. It's as if my head is breaking down. I think I'm just tired, and need a slight break, just long enough to refresh myself.

In classrooms back home, they teach you the basics of Spanish, and justly so. Most people will never wind up working in a Spanish speaking environment, let alone speaking the language on a daily basis. The things I learned in class and through my own investment in Spain and Latin America, both in conversations and friendships, has put my skill at a high level. Not to brag, but I know how to ask where the library is and I can manage asking for a menu. No problems there. But in a classroom, they don't really teach you much business Spanish.

I'm continuously learning this as I go, trial by fire. If I sit down with a co-worker and talk about what I like to do and explain my background, we can have a good conversation. But when I need to ask someone how to make an extra cell on a spreadsheet, or explain that Mozilla Firefox wouldn't let me download some application because I don't have the latest version of Office, well then it just takes a bit longer for me to explain. And that somehow affects my confidence, which definitely affects how I sound. I'm well aware that I sound like an idiot most of the time in my office, but it's mostly because I have to learn new terms every day. I have a notebook filled with new vocabulary I've learned on the job.

Lately I've been translating a lot, and though it can be very difficult and challenging, I really enjoy it. Sometimes I have to ache over a paragraph for 40 minutes, but once it's done it sounds like it was actually written by a native speaker to begin with. It also helps me learn more vocabulary this way, though the problems generally arise from fancy menus with terms in French that I'm not even familiar with in English. This constant flux of English and Spanish throughout my day has me cross eyed and trying to keep up. Today I accidentally said, "That's mejor!" (That's better!)

These mental walls are normal in any second language, and they just as overcome-able as they are unavoidable. I've been through them before, and you always think you're brain has let go and you've lost the language. You just need some time to rebound, and you come back much stronger than before. It's amazing to feel the difference when your mouth forms words you didn't know you'd learned. All you can do is push on until that happens, even if you do sound like the village idiot on the job. I am the office idiot, I guess.

Tomorrow is New Years' Eve, and the time has flown by so quickly I haven't even noticed or had a chance to do a "year in review" kind of thing. We work a half day at the office tomorrow, and after I'll be heading south about 6 hours to Mar del Plata with my co-worker and her friends. Mar del Plata is a city of about 1 million people, located in the Pampas province. Apparently the beach gets so crowded you are elbow to elbow with people, and winds can get strong. It doesn't sound like the most picturesque beach, but then again Argentina isn't known for beaches.

We'll be spending the weekend there as well with the extra day off, and come back on Sunday night. So until then, have a happy new year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Not So Fast, Foreigner!

Maybe the title gives it away. Things didn't go so well at the Registro today. I could kind of tell from the moment I got there (early) before my "appointment" time at 9:30 am that things would be rough. Unlike last time, there were crowds of people sitting and standing around, waiting as an electronic board popped out numbers and names. I got my number, D54, and sat down with the others.

Aside from a quick attempt to jump the line, I waited patiently as the ticker counter achingly bled forward. D33, E2, D38, D78. D78! Wait, how did they get ahead? Finally my number was called, and I rushed over as soon as I could to window 8 before they called the next number. The large whale of a woman behind the counter was not as jolly as you might expect, and before I'd even opened my mouth she had an attitude. I explained what I was doing and she interrupted me for the ticket saying D54. "This will be good," I thought.

As she started looking through the photocopy of my mom's birth certificate, I could see her face turning into one of those, "I don't have time for this" frowns. But no time? It was barely 10 am and this was her job. Unless she gets paid by the person it shouldn't matter how long it takes. And judging by the entire process, they get paid by how few people they see. She got angry quickly when she ordered me to figure out how to spell my mom's original maiden name (it was changed in the United States), throwing the copy back at me rather than looking herself. I read it to her and she typed something in.

Next, she told me that the number on the top was unreadable and she couldn't give me what I needed. I told her that I was aware of that and that's what I was here for in the first place. That I'd already been through this two weeks ago, and that's why I came back, to get a fresh copy. But she would neither listen nor explain clearly what she wanted. Instead, she had me leave the Registro to make a photocopy of the photocopy next door.

I knew this was going no where, but sometimes when a ship is sinking you just go with the current. I came back and my place in line was obviously gone, but I cut back in and gave her the copy, saw her type something in, and then she gave me a sheet saying to come back in two weeks to pick up a new copy of the birth certificate. The EXACT thing that I was there for in the first place, after waiting two weeks. I tried again to explain this to her, but my words fell on deaf ears. If there was ever a recruitment poster for bullheaded government bureaucrats, this woman would be the campaign model.

I wanted to talk to someone else, but the line quickly developed 30 deep, and I was already late for work as it was. So with nothing else to do, I left the Registro. I did call the woman who helped me last time, and she agreed to come with me in two weeks to help me out, but it's cutting it awfully close to the actual DNI appointment in February. Walking to work I thought about this entire process, and I almost can't wait until I go home someday and run into an aggravating situation. I can't wait until someone tells me, "Hey man, be patient." And then I'll say, "Oh, let me tell you about patience, my friend. You ever tried getting citizenship in Latin America?"

Monday, December 28, 2009

Registro Civil, Take 5!

Tomorrow morning I'm going back to the Registro Civil for the 5th time, and for the 2nd time in an attempt to pick up a copy of my mom's birth certificate. If everything has been filled out correctly and there are no more issues with the copy itself, then I will be one step closer to having my DNI. Assuming everything goes to plan, I'll return on February 1st to apply for the DNI.

If however, something should go awry, I'll probably have to go through this process again in two weeks. That is if the Registro Civil is over. The problem is that in January most government offices go on vacation. All of them. I'll also be leaving town for a couple of weeks, which won't help the situation either. It's comical, but not even worth noting anymore. I have an "appointment" to pick up the documents at 9:30 am, but no matter what time I get there, I'm sure it will be a mess.

This is a perfect way to finish out the year. Today I confirmed with a real estate agent that I'll be renting an apartment in Palermo, right next to Plaza Italia. This is going to be a more expensive apartment, but will put me in a great location, just in walking distance from the parks. Finally I'll be able to go for some runs after work. Tomorrow I'll be going to the agent's office to work out the details, and if all goes well I'd like to move in when I get back from Patagonia at the beginning of February.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Dinner Party in Banfield

Last night my co-worker Vero invited me to join her and her friends for dinner in Banfield, a town in suburbia, Buenos Aires. This is a part of the province of Buenos Aires, and we took a commuter train to get there, arriving in about a half hour. Not surprisingly, the clutter and concrete of the city was left behind, and all around were green trees, cobblestone streets, and the sounds of birds. One way you always know you're in the suburbs is that occasional sound of a car slowly going by, rather than the hum of continuous traffic.

Banfield is also the home of the soccer club that just won the Argentinian league, winning for the first time in their history. It's an English name, and the architecture lives up to its name. We went for a quick ride to the store to pick up some supplies, along the way passing through for a little tour. It seemed like every house we saw was a colonial English Tudor, much like the kind I grew up in outside of Boston. Of course, Vero told me that like any town, there is a good part, so so part, and bad part. We were somewhere in the middle.

Recently, new department complexes and towers have been springing up, adding a new element to this sleepy town where the skyline is low. But it still had the feel of a great place to grow up, with peace and quiet, yet close and easy access to the city. About 15 people showed up for dinner, and though I mostly resigned myself to listening and drinking my Fernet and colas, it was a good experience to be deep in the middle of an Argentinian get together. We started with passing around the mate, obviously prepared much better than I'm capable of doing. Dinner was a help yourself sort of buffet, followed by discussions for New Years' Eve. I was invited to join some of the friends in Mar del Plata, so now arrangements will have to be made for a weekend there, as it's about 6 hours south of the capital. The only problem is that we'll be working a half day on the 31st, and so we'll be arriving in the beach town "later" on in the night.

Regardless, I'm sure the party will go all night long. A thunderstorm made the temperature drop and soon people headed home, calling it an early Friday night. So we caught the bus back into the city and by 2 am I was calling it a night, surprised at the hour I was in bed.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Congreso, Christmas Day

Finally, after months of delay, I have knocked one off of the bucket list, and gone to take pictures of Congreso, which is only a few blocks from where I live. It's Christmas day, and the streets are mostly empty. Here's what I see.

A colorfully painted bus that was painted by my roommates' friend a few years ago. It always sits here.

Unfortunately, Argentina's economy is still hurting. This is a common scene in the city now. Dirty mattresses, where families sleep and spend their days.

Congreso, on a rare day without protests or picketers.

A typical scene in Buenos Aires. Hardly any bench space.

Congreso. Christmas day. 2009.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Timeline: December 24th

2:30 am: Wake up call from Javier, who asks if I want to meet up with the guys for some drinks. It turns out he doesn't have work in the morning. I do.

4:30 am: Wake up with no feeling in my right arm. It hangs limply and looks like the bones have disappeared. For a moment I consider that I've dislocated my shoulder in my sleep, until the pins and needles, along with the pain come back. Continue sweating in the heat, fall back asleep.

5-7:30 am: Come in and out of consciousness as the heat makes it hard to sleep. Heavy rains start to fall.

8:30 am: Head to work in the dark morning, with heavy thunderstorms. The streets are empty, as most people appear to have the day off. I can actually see down past Avenida 9 de Julio but don't recognize it without all of the traffic going by. Pant bottoms get wet.

9:30 am: Receive gift of T-shirt from the office. Continue working while simultaneously finding out that plans I thought I had for a dinner with friends were actually for tomorrow. No plans for holiday (Christmas) dinner. Bummer kicks in.

2:30 pm: Wish co-workers a Merry Christmas and head home. On the way pick up a bootleg copy of "Extract" with Jason Bateman in the street for $10 pesos. Night activity is set. Streets are buzzing a bit more than the morning, but comparatively, the Microcentro is a ghost town.

3:30 pm: Decide to take a nap, wake up an hour or so(?) later, have Skype conversation with Ricardo Hernandez back in Chicago. Ricardo tells me it's cold in Chicago. It's hot and sticky in Buenos Aires.

4:30 pm: Finally agree to take advantage of the free afternoon and the emptiness of the streets. Go for a run down to Puerto Madero and back home. The streets are nearly empty, and it's creepy. The Microcentro has that feel to it like a town from some post-apocalyptic movie from the 80s with Mel Gibson. I half expect to see people huddled around a fire in an oil drum and some kid trying to sell me a fresh human liver. This is no place for a kid. Run was good, but I must have overheated, as sweat drips down like rain and my face is beet red.

6:50-8 pm: Talk to friends on Skype and on Gchat. Everyone seems to be home for the holidays.

8:15 pm: Begin preparing and cooking chicken Parmesan with spaghetti. Not a very difficult, but consuming process that requires delicate attention for the best results. Only the second time cooking this. Again, I have no one to share this with, or prove that I was able to cook something so good. Still, more food for me.

9:30 pm: Finish cooking, sit down to meal. It's incredible. Be jealous.

10 pm: Spend almost as much time cleaning up the kitchen as was spent preparing the food. Retire to my upstairs bedroom to watch "Extract" while hearing fireworks (or gun shots, or garbage trucks, or car accidents) outside in the streets. Distracted with this blog.

10:52 pm: Finishing this blog. Now. At the end of this period. Period.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holiday Plans

The holidays are coming up soon, and while I don’t celebrate Christmas, I do enjoy the time off and being with friends or family. At this time last year, I was heading to visit a couple of friends in Santiago, Chile for the holidays. It was a welcome break from Ecuador, and was almost a shock to still be on the same continent but see how things were totally different. Not to mention it was summer in December.

We went to a Christmas dinner that their friend from Canada put on, and it was a true feast. Later in the trip we spent New Years’ Eve in Valparaíso, which is said to have one of the top five parties in the world for New Years’ Eve, and the largest fireworks display in South America. Needless to say, it was a great trip.

But this year will be different, because obviously I am not going to be spending it traveling to Chile, and because I don’t think I’ll be traveling at all. There really isn’t much time off, and I’ll be working a half day on the 24th and 31st. This is the high season for tourism, after all. Now I’m on the side that has to work during the vacation time, rather than be the person relaxing and enjoying it.

So because my options are limited, I’ve had to think about what I’ll do with the time I have. On the one hand, I was considering traveling to Montevideo for a couple of nights this weekend, what with an extra day and all. My tourist visa is set to expire next month, but I’ll be traveling to Patagonia and won’t be able to border hop. I shouldn’t even have to, after all of the hassle I’m going through with the DNI. But just in case I have to go somewhere else for work before I get my DNI, I don’t want to turn it down because of the $300 peso fine I would have to pay when leaving the country.

That’s part of the problem. Going illegal here bears three options. You can jump over to Uruguay or Chile for a day, paying only for the cost of transportation and whatever you do there, go to a government office and pay to extend your visa, or simply stay illegally and then pay the fine when you leave. But either way, they all cost about the same thing, yet all come with their own hassle. The advantage of going to Uruguay is that you get a trip out of it and can leave the city, but if you’re pressed for time it is more of a bother.

So in the end, it depends on if I have a place to stay for free in Montevideo. If yes, I’ll go, but if not I’ll just stay on and either jump over to a town called Carmelo for a day in a couple of weeks, or go illegal altogether. But I use illegal loosely here, because I have dual citizenship. I just don’t have the papers yet.

With that being said, if I do stay here, I will most likely have dinner with a couple of friends from the states and some of their friends. My roommate had also invited me to her family’s house, but after I had already discussed ideas with my friends here. Again, the idea of a Christmas dinner isn’t important to me, but spending a day off with some friends is what I would enjoy.

As for New Years’ Eve, I have no idea what I will be doing. The problem is that I’ll be working a half day, until what time I’m not sure. So going anywhere is not possible, and figuring out what to do will be another situation similar to other weekends. The one thing that concerns me is that New Years’ Eve is always such a build up that doesn’t live up to the hype, and as the main thrill at midnight will occur at a time when most Porteños aren’t even dressed and ready to go yet, I’m not sure what the party will be like. Maybe this will be the one night of the year that they act like Americans and start drinking at 7 o’clock. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Note on the Style of Night Life in Buenos Aires

People think of Argentinians as very fashionable, and justly so. Walking through the Microcentro during the day, one finds high powered businessmen and women bustling about, wearing the latest fashions. There is a certain air carried by so many here, with the large sunglasses covering the face up and the head cocked at a slight angle upwards, as if to say that they are better than you and they know it. I may have even started to develop this walk, if for nothing else than to blend in better.

Sharp looking dress shoes that have recently been polished, high quality leather goods, and hair styles that reflect a desire to appear more European prove to be the overwhelming moda here. Yet going out at night is a totally different thing altogether. For all of the effort put into looking good during the day, it appears as though Argentinians are just trying to not look well-groomed at night. And they are trying.

This is a part of the style for young Argentinians going out for a night on the town. Forget about the sharp shoes, dress pants, or button down shirt. Expect to find guys in T-shirts, either blank or with a catchy phrase on it. Jeans that look dirty and torn match sneakers that have miles and miles underneath their soles. Occasionally you'll find a group with one or two guys wearing a nicer polo or button down shirt, but for the most part, this smells of trying too hard. And in a culture that is so fixed on appearances, the guys going out at night want it to appear as though they simply went out for a quick beer. A relaxed, easy going night out that lasts at a dance club until dawn.

Think of the differences, for example, of other countries where it's looked down upon to show up at a club in sneakers. You usually can't even get in unless you have shoes. I admit I haven't been to the most exclusive clubs in the city, but by no means have the places I've gone to been dives or holes in the wall. You simply show up wearing what you've got.

If you're a lady, it's slightly different. You can expect to dress up the way you might at home, be that in a dress or skirt, or whatever. Sorry for the double standard, but it is what it is. While I can get away with wearing a T-shirt, you have to look nice. Still, the Tees can't just be any old stinky Tee. It has to be wearable, and not the shirt you have worn to bed for 10 years.

This reminds me of how back in college, I would dress like a schlub college student the whole week, so when I went out on the weekend I'd want to fix up and look sharp. At least slightly sharp. But once I had to start working and dress appropriately every day, I would take advantage of the time off to dress down. Maybe it's a similar case here. Perhaps Argentinians feel the need to dress up so well during the day that at night they go with whatever. Yin to a yang. One thing's for sure: it's definitely deliberate and unspoken. Just like so many other things here.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Stuck in the Middle

Last night I went out with my friends Dan and Valerie, meeting up with a couple of Dan's students and their friends. Though the final destination was to be a house party in a residential neighborhood far away (I eventually hitch-hiked home at 5:30 am), we first went to the students apartment to drink Fernet and cola, helping the students practice their English among other things. This is one of the things I love most about living abroad. It was a mix of cultures, and we dropped some slang for them to soak up, laughing as we learned about their culture, explained in English.

Eventually more people showed up, and it was like a small party on its own. A girl from Minnesota who has an Argentinian boyfriend arrived, and we were told that she has learned Spanish entirely from being with her boyfriend and his friends. She insists on only speaking Spanish and has learned a lot, so they told me. I was sitting in the middle of the couch, in the middle of the room. To my right Dan was speaking in English with his students, talking about movies, music, and sports. To my left, the girl from Minnesota insisted on speaking Spanish, and the conversation surrounded other things a beginner will talk about, along with the friends that spoke to her.

I found myself stuck in the middle of both worlds, and it oddly seemed familiar to my life in general. There was second language English on one side and second language Spanish on the other. I sipped my Fernet and cola and heard a mix of broken languages, everyone trying to figure out how to say what everyone else was trying to understand. "And now everybody's at disadvantage, speaking with their second language."

This Minnesotan was almost obnoxiously insisting on Spanish, to the effect that maybe it took away from a goal of Dan's, which was to get his students to practice more. If I'm in the United States and want to keep fresh with my Spanish, I'll speak in Spanish with someone who can. But living in Argentina, working at an Argentinian firm, I find more than ample opportunity to practice. I love speaking Spanish with native speakers, but speaking to a beginner who is from my own country is a draw back. I speak down, and it makes me become a teacher of sorts. I would rather converse in English so we actually understand each other. Yet if we have a group of people together, I find no problem in sharing in the second language, because we're all participating.

I have come to appreciate the opportunities to speak in my mother tongue, and find joy in helping others who strive to learn it. It's not that it's selfish to insist on Spanish, but it can be dominating and not truly mix the experience for everyone.

You need to know when you're taking away from the cultural exchange. The keyword is "exchange." If someone wants to speak English, give them the chance. It's not always about you wanting to speak in Spanish. And if you really spend enough time with it, you too find it tiring to always speak in the second language.

Still, with the negative impression of it aside, it truly spoke to my life. I find myself in a halfway place, each day further from my America, though not quite in my Argentina. I use more hand gestures now, and my lunfardo, or Buenos Aires slang, is slowly overtaking my dialect. But this change is not a quick one, and like a tree I will continue to slowly grow down here, while the languages run rings around me. So maybe just for a moment I'll keep my mouth shut, sip my Fernet and cola, and let someone else do the talking.

Apartment Hunting for Foreigners

I have recently begun the search for a new apartment, with the goal of moving north to be in not only a better neighborhood, but to be closer to parks so that I can actually go for runs. I feel that this change will drastically improve my time in Argentina. Most foreigners that come to Buenos Aires looking to rent apartments find them through avenues such as Craigslist or Couchsurfing. These Web sites are generally good for finding a short term rental if you're willing to spend more money, and you definitely will.

For a long time I found it highly unfair that foreigners have to pay so much more than Argentinians do for their apartments. Especially if you plan to stay long term. Yet the recent search I've undertaken, using different methods, has changed my outlook on this. With the advice of some locals, I've stared searching on sites like Zona Prop and Solo Dueños. These are Web sites by Argentinians for Argentinians, and as such they are entirely in Spanish, and list their prices, which seem reasonable enough, in pesos.

Upon looking into these apartments you realize that for the amount of money that a foreigner spends on a crappy apartment, an Argentinian can rent a beautiful apartment for equal or slightly higher rent. There is a catch, though. After reading about how good the apartments are and seeing the pictures which entice you, you then see a note at the bottom. Again, this is general, but most of the apartments require that you sign a 2 year lease and acquire a garantía, or warranty. It's something like a co-signer, like what we have in the United States.

This is often difficult for even Argentinians to get, because someone like a parent, uncle, or company will need to put their name up in the event that you don't pay rent, causing them financial stress. There is also a fee for processing the warranty, or occasionally a "justification of income," which is like a W-2, proving that you make enough money to actually pay your rent. Obviously for a foreigner, these documents are nearly impossible to get, and even if you could, you have to go through the process of getting it all, which is very hard unless you have a local helping you out.

So it's a catch 22 in that Argentinians will pay less than foreigners, but because they go through the legal process that foreigners avoid. Yes, foreigners pay more, but they pay a flat rate, generally allowing them to leave with 2 weeks notice. There is also no need for extra maintenance fees, gas, water, and electricity. These are all extra expenses that locals take on. Many expats here find the real estate companies to be sketchy and think that they are outright ripping them off. Some probably are, but after going through this process, I believe that it's really just a part of renting, no different than we undertake back home. Think about it--how many people could just show up at a real estate agency in the U.S. and say they want to rent a place but have no collateral or proof of income? Especially if they were a foreigner. They would be laughed out of the door. Many expats here assume that the good name of the United States is enough of a reference.

So if you plan to be in Argentina for a long enough time and can arrange all of this, try to pursue these other options. But keep in mind that it will not help you for a 3 month stay. If anything, it hurts you. In my case, I have to find a way to get a warranty or co-signer, or possibly pay an up front advance of rent for anywhere between 3-6 months in place of it. An option that altogether seems as unlikely to help me out while I make a typical Argentinian salary. But we'll see what can be accomplished with more determination and persistence.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Finally Some Success at the Registro Civil

This morning I went back to the Registro Civil to pick up the copy of my mom's birth certificate that I'd ordered online a couple of weeks ago. I was told that this was essential to getting my DNI citizenship card, and because her copy that I already had was too old, I needed a new one issued within 6 months of the current date. Before 8:30 am there was already a line around the block, and the building wasn't even open yet, but once it did the line surprisingly moved fast.

Because I actually had a turn, I was able to move ahead of others who simply showed up looking for a chance to get in. Once in line a girl in front of me starting chatting up about the line and the hassle, and I started to explain to her my situation and why it was so confusing. As it turns out, she was a court magistrate and had a lot of experience in dealing with these kinds of documents. And fortunately for me, she was very friendly and took it upon herself to make sure everything went well.

Once she was seen, she stayed and did all of the talking for me, explaining what I had and needed, seeming to through to the employees in ways that I never could before. A problem did arise, however. On the copy of the birth certificate that I had, a number was cut off, and thus they wouldn't allow me to get a new copy. It's still a bit confusing, really, because all of the relevant information was there and ready to go, and they were going to give me something. But they told us that I would need to either find the number and come back before 1:30 pm or wait 2 weeks for a new turn.

The girl, named Virginia, took me to another desk and explained the situation, smooth talking the bureaucrats. They agreed to give me a turn for the actual DNI application on February 1st, and gave me another turn to get a different copy of the birth certificate on December 29th. I was previously told that I would also need a copy of my original birth certificate, which I don't have, but explained how I couldn't possibly have this. I did, however, have a Hague Apostille, which is a legal document for international papers.

The employees saw this and let it all slide, giving me an appointment, which if all goes well will hopefully wrap things up by March. I'll have to go back to the Registro at least 3 more times before I can even pick up the DNI, and without my new aid it might be difficult again, but she did give me her information in case I needed more help. The only thing that worries me is I noticed that on the appointment it says my last name is Gary, which is actually my middle name. So now, maybe due to some clerical error, my name in Argentina will be Jonathan Gary, thus creating two identities. I can't help but think of how this sort of thing occurred regularly for immigrants in the United States.

Still, it's reason to breath easy for at least a couple of weeks and for the time being, it seems like I might actually get this document while I still live here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Traveling on the Horizon

I’ve been kind of dormant lately in terms of traveling, but that will change soon. My status with the DNI is still unclear, and my tourist visa on my American passport is running close to its second month, giving me one more month to hop the border to Uruguay. While I could risk staying over the limit and paying a fine or trying to find the right government office and dealing with more red tape to simply get a visa extension, I think I might just suck it up and use it as an excuse to go to Montevideo for a weekend.

It will probably cost about the same amount as a visa extension or fine anyway, but will at least get me out of the city for a couple of days and traveling again. I haven’t been to Montevideo in almost two years, when I spent my senior year spring break volunteering by building houses in the slums outside the city. As I remember, it was similar to Buenos Aires, though much smaller. Another option would be a day trip to a small town in Uruguay called Carmelo, where you basically go to get away from the stress of Buenos Aires, much like with Tigre. Either way, I don’t feel like using another trip to Uruguay to go to Colonia.

Then in January I’ll really be hitting the road, though in a different way than I’m used to doing so. My parents will be visiting Argentina and I’m going to be traveling with them throughout Patagonia. Though we used to take family vacations, the majority of my travels have been with friends or alone, roughing it as a backpacker. With my parents, we’ll be staying in luxury estancias and renting a car to drive long distances. We’ll see if we don’t go crazy after 12 hours in the car with each other.

First there will be just a short night in Buenos Aires, and then we’ll fly to Trelew and Peninsula Valdes. We’ll start driving from there down the coast of Patagonia, hitting up penguin colonies along the way and passing through Bahía Bustamante, Monte Leon, and on down to Calafate with the glaciers. Continuing on to Chaltén, with Mount Fitz Roy as a backdrop, and then flying to Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego. Once we’ve reached the end of the world we’ll be flying back up to Buenos Aires.

This is a huge trip, encompassing so much of the country in a short amount of time. Even with that being said, we’ll be traveling about two weeks. So throughout that time I’ll be working on writing about what we’ve been doing, taking (hopefully) amazing photos of Patagonia, and producing videos as well which I’ll be uploading to YouTube and then this blog. So keep checking in to Travel Guy throughout January and into February for updates on where we are in Argentina.

Bad News for Travelers to Argentina...Reciprocity Fee

Here’s a bit of bad news for people planning or who have already planned trips to Argentina. In an email from the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires this morning, a warning was issued.

This warden message is being issued to alert U.S. citizens that on December 20th, 2009, the Government of Argentina will begin charging American Citizens visiting Argentina for business or tourism an entry fee of $131 U.S. dollars.  The fee will be collected only at Buenos Aires Ezeiza International Airport. Once paid, the fee permits multiple entries into Argentina for ten years in accordance with United States visa reciprocity.  Americans may pay in dollars, by credit card, or with travelers checks. 

This is could be a blow for tourism, though most likely with cheaper and younger travelers, rather than older travelers who have some more money to throw around. I can’t say I’m entirely surprised by this, and would be more so by the fact that it took Argentina so long to jump on the South American-Reciprocity Fee bandwagon. They will join other countries like Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Brazil, who charge American citizens to enter their country. Really, it’s only fair when you consider the fact that the U.S. government gives their citizens the same trouble to enter our country, and they often don’t even get the visa after the money they spend applying.

We at least get to enter the country as long as the money is there, and generally without a long wait. Just last week Argentina hosted Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela. The two countries came to some sort of deal worth millions of dollars, in part having to do with oil. They were kind of sketchy on the details of exactly what was agreed upon, but I’d use my Latin American experience and say that Mr. Chavez had something to do with this sudden announcement. Still, that’s just an idea from me, so don’t feel like you should report that as a fact. Keep this in mind if traveling to Argentina, and hopefully it won’t discourage anyone.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Done With the GRE, Finally

For months I’ve been studying for the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE. If you’ve followed along with the blogs, you know that it has taken up a large chunk of my time, and has only added to aggravation while living in a new country. Finally, on Saturday morning, I woke up early and headed in to take the test.

It felt kind of weird walking down the same streets I walk every day, except that they were totally empty. At 7:30 am on a Saturday, not a soul is found in the Microcentro. Tumbleweed city. Getting to the test center I saw two other girls waiting who would be in my computer lab. One was from Uruguay and was taking some banking exam, and the other was taking the GRE. Suddenly a group of about 8 high school age kids came in with their parents, all very excited. The kids were rushed into another room while the parents stood around looking happy and proud. My name was called and I entered the computer lab, filled out a form, and was placed at a computer to go to work.

It seems like a quarter of the test was just a tutorial on how to answer the questions, so by the time I finally got under way I was already tired and lost any unease I might have had. The advantage of doing nerve-wracking things in the morning is that you’re too tired to care, so aside from a little armpit sweat, you don’t get too worked up. In my case anyway. A short breath here and there, but all things considered I was as ready for this stupid test as I ever would be.

They say as time gets closer to the exam date you are supposed to wind down the studying. I started months ago—technically over a year ago—but as enthusiastic as I started out (I will do well on this exam!) by the last month or so I could handle it no more (Just end this crap already!). Using my lunch breaks and time after work for studying, it simply wore me out. You really can’t study for this exam for too long, or you just lose interest. It’s not as if you are studying an interesting topic, but you are merely studying to take a specific test.

Also consider that I’m terrible at math and had to dedicate time to reviewing topics I hadn’t thought of in years, and had lost any potential skill at long ago. Wasting my time reviewing this material when I could have been working on improving my Spanish or making some friends just ticked me off. But finally the day was there to face it and get it over with. The exam went about as I’d expected. I wrote the essays pretty well, in my opinion. I scored a bit above average on the verbal section, and the bottom fell out on the math and that’s where the score dropped.

It kind of bummed me out for a couple of hours, but then I realized that it’s finally over, and I don’t have to deal with it anymore. No more carrying around the big purple prep book to and from work. No more guilty feelings about using a Saturday to go somewhere rather than studying. And at long last, maybe I can finally start enjoying the time I have down here.

I got it kick started yesterday. I went with my friend Dan to a bar to watch the Pats game. It was the middle of the afternoon on a beautiful Sunday, but we were drinking in a bar, talking it up with a guy from Quincy, MA and his friend from New Hampshire. Their accents gave it away immediately and it reminded me of home. Drinking on a Sunday and football, chattin’ it up with some guys from New England. Not a bad way to celebrate no more GREing.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

This Bus Ticket Cost Me a Finger

Foto NoticiaI saw some interesting news this morning from the Buenos Aires Herald. If you care to read the short article here, you'll see that at 4 am a bus driver in the district of Escobar was attacked by his only 3 passengers, who demanded he hand over the money from the ticket machine. The driver either refused or couldn't open the box, so they chopped off one of his fingers with an axe. Sounds pretty gruesome, right? Especially when you consider that these guys were probably not even going to make more than chump change off a public bus at 4 am with no other passengers.

What I find interesting about this, though, is the fact that other bus drivers went on strike as a result today. They are demanding more security on the buses. I wish these guys would be educated on the situation with buses in places like Ecuador. How do they plan to get more security on buses? Should every bus have a gun wielding guard? As is typically the case in Argentina, there is a protest, but no one has a solution for the problem. They just want to complain about it.

Take yesterday, for example. There were 4 separate strikes and protests disrupting the city. 4. One of the protests was against the mayor, who has been in power for 2 years. It's not as if the guy took power in a bloody coup. He was democratically elected. If you don't like the guy you don't protest, you just find someone better to run against him next time. It's not surprising that in a country where 20-30% of the population votes, they are unhappy with their elected leaders. But instead of doing anything rational about it, they take to the streets like wild Parisian students or Russian peasants who want bread.

Anway, to digress, once public buses start getting jacked in Buenos Aires, even if it's the province, you know things aren't going well. Though city buses get hijacked in Ecuadorian cities like Machala, you wouldn't expect it to happen in Quito. It's just too big of a city. But in Buenos Aires, that just sends a negative image no matter what. In Ecuador every bus has 2 workers: 1 who is driving and 1 who is taking money and basically keeping an eye out. I've heard they used to have that system here, but eventually eased it out for a ticket box to be more efficient. Maybe they need the 2nd guy again.

This incident tells me one thing unequivocally. Safety in Argentina has definitely become a real concern in the last few years, and it isn't getting any better any time soon. Even today an entire police station was raided by other police departments under question of the investigation of a missing family, which turned up dead yesterday. Let's not forget where we are folks. This aint Paris.

Above: Photo courtesy of the Buenos Aires Herald

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bike Tour on the Day Off

Today was a holiday in Argentina, and though I'm not exactly sure what it was for, I think it had something to do with the Virgin or something or other. I'm not complaining, as it was the perfect way to break up the week and make up for not getting Thanksgiving off while everyone in the States was enjoying themselves. To make things better, the weather was perfect today.

If you recall any mention at all through Twitter, I was supposed to go on a Bike Tour on Saturday afternoon, but the event was washed out. I was instead placed on 9:30 am tour this morning. I wasn't crazy about the idea of waking up at the same time as usual for work on my day off, but at least I was doing something active and worthwhile, rather than sleeping in and doing nothing interesting.

To kick things off last night, I went with my friend Clint and his girlfriend to La Bomba de Tiempo, which is a pretty popular drum circle in Abasto every Monday night. I'd gone to this earlier in October when it was some kind of special event on a Saturday, going into the wee hours of the morning. I wasn't that impressed with it then, and my thoughts on it were only solidified last night.

Maybe it's because I'd rather hear other instruments instead of only drums and bongos, but it just seems like most of the people there are phonies. It seems like it should be something cool to do, which explains why I heard more English from tourists rather than Spanish from locals. But I get the feeling you have to be on some drugs or really drunk to enjoy it. Not drinking all all in preparation for the GRE on Saturday, I was hardly impressed, and once the crowd started a mosh pit, we decided it was time to step outside for some air.

We spent the rest of the time outside, and once the show was over went home. I woke up to clear blue skies, and though it was a bit chilly, finally got outside in just a t-shirt and shorts. The other tourists met up at the statue in Plaza San Martín, and once everything was figured out, our small group split off for the "Different Buenos Aires" tour. With two Brazilians, a German woman, and our guide Javier, we went through the other sights of Buenos Aires that I mostly knew well by now.

Our first stop was down through Puerto Madero, where the early hours of a holiday left us with nearly free reign through the port. I was familiar with the area, but it was still interesting to hear some of the stories behind it. We moved on to the Ecological Reserve, where I had yet to explore. It was pretty unimpressive if you've been to some beautiful places in the world. It's basically just a loop around a swamp that is good for biking or running. As the afternoon was pushing on, it was basically shirtless old man running slowly heaven. Though it wasn't the nicest place I've ever been, I can definitely see how it's a welcome relief after seeing nothing but concrete in the city center for a few months.

We continued on through La Boca, and I got to see other parts of the neighborhood where I spent my first month in this city. Again, though people talk about how dangerous La Boca is, compared to other places I've been in the world, it's not that scary, especially during daylight hours. We stopped at El Caminito for 20 minutes and I sat with the Brazilians as they had a drink. It was an odd conversation, in an itinerant mix of Portuguese, Spanish, and English. The boyfriend would say something in Portuguese and I'd either kind of understand or not, and his girlfriend would then translate in limited but well spoken English. Then I'd reply in Spanish and they'd both understand, or we'd go to English for a moment. It had no rhyme or rhythm.

Back on the bikes we quickly zoomed through San Telmo and up to the Microcentro, back to Plaza San Martín where we'd started. It was now 1:30 pm, and though it was hotter, it was still perfect temperature with low humidity, a rarity here. I went home to make a sandwich, and took a draining nap for about an hour. Once back on my feet, I headed up to Palermo to read and study in a park for a bit. The day was still going strong, and the area was filled with families on picnics.

Though the scene made me miss my time with friends and family, it was still a good day off and a pretty comprehensive day, covering many parts of the city. That beats a day at the office.

Above: Ecological Reserve, La Bombonera, Puente de la Mujer

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Musical Memories

I went for a run this morning in Puerto Madero. With a channel of water and wide avenues, it's a great place to do some physical activity without fear of being hit by a car straight up. It was only the second time I'd gone running in Argentina, the first time being in October for the Nike 10k. I really miss going for runs, which is why I'm going to be moving out of the Microcentro in February to be closer to some parks. In the meantime I took it easy this weekend, so figured I would take advantage of a clear mind and body to get a run in.

It went well, and once back in the apartment, I sat on the ground as The Black Keys played. I was listening to "Attack and Release," which in my opinion is one of their best albums. If you don't know The Black Keys, they are a group of two guys who play deep blues and rock. As the blues kicked in, so did some thoughts. Running was something I picked up in Cuenca (same thing with The Black Keys), and just the action of a prolonged run reminded me of Ecuador. I laid down and looked up at the bland, white ceiling. With nothing to see, my eyes went out of focus and I went back to Cuenca.

I thought of the little things that I never bothered to write down and had steadily forgotten. Those little things that brought momentary happiness to me in tough times. Coming back from class at 3 pm, the heat emanating in the streets, I would stop in at the panadería Tres Estrellas on Hermano Miguel y Juan Jaramillo and buy a sugar cookie for 25 cents. Not every day, but as the year went on, more and more. (If you're in Cuenca, stop in there for a cookie). It was like a little round dough of happiness that would make things OK for the 3 minutes or so I took to eat it as I walked home. Even if the classes were getting me down, a cookie made it better.

It wasn't all good memories that The Black Keys brought out, though. I wondered what I should do for the day, and then I thought about what I used to do in Cuenca in my spare time. Before I made some good friends there, I had a lot of time on my own. A typical Saturday would be wake up, dick around, go outside for a bit, maybe head to a movie store to see what they had, come back for lunch, dick around, and then try to find a way to kill time until Monday. You learn a lot about yourself when you're the only company you have.

Sometimes on a Sunday I would go for a coffee at Raymipampu, one of the only restaurants open on the deadest day of the week. I hated going their once because they ripped me off (a whole dollar!) but there weren't many other options. Of course, by the end of the year I had made great friends, and it was more of a matter of not having enough time, rather than too much. And more doors seemed to open as the year went on, regardless of whether or not they were cafes, restaurants, or a friendly house.

A bus ride through the mountains with no sun at such an altitude. The clouds moving in fast through the open bus windows, and looking up realizing that the driver had zero visibility, yet continued at high speeds around sharp turns. Just close the eyes and trust that he knew the way well. Look out the window and see some kind of impossible drop to the center of the earth, look back up and see Jackie Chan mumble something incoherent in Spanish as the smell of choclo and cheese wafted down the aisle. Such a typical scene, really. There are hundreds of little memories like this that no one will ever hear, and what scares me is that the more time that passes, the less I'll remember.

Back in the room in Buenos Aires, with the sweat stopping and the blues continuing, I had to face reality. The friends are still in Cuenca, but we are in two different worlds right now. I imagine that yesterday they continued the tradition of Saturday Cookfest in Lucho and Charlie's apartment. I wonder what they made this week. More chick parm? Ceviche? Or something totally different? Something so different about these two lives I've led in Ecuador and Argentina is simply expectations. I expected so much to be different in Ecuador, and it was. Every day was another shock and thrill. Argentina, while interesting, follows more or less the pattern of a life I'd imagine back home. Hopping in the back of a random pick up truck in Ecuador is natural and common. In Argentina, the chances of that happening are slim.

I live with these differences every day, and they'll always be there, long after I return or go to wherever it is I'll be next. Sometimes I'll forget, yet other times those memories will be strong and vivid. All I'll need is a song.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Best Tango of Buenos Aires Video

After going to three of the best tango shows in Buenos Aires, I've put together a little video to summarize the shows and present what they offer. Take a look at the video and decide for yourself which show you would want to go see.

Tigre River Delta Video

Here is a video I have produced on my day trip to Tigre last weekend. Enjoy.

Rojo Tango

On Thursday night I went to my third dinner and tango show in a week. This time I was down at the Faena Hotel + Universe for the show at Rojo Tango, considered one of the best shows in the city. This was the third show in week that I was going to see which was considered one of the best in the city, so while I was excited, it also had a lot to live up to. It was clear from the moment I walked into the hotel, though, that this was top notch quality and deserving of a title.

Of course I got there on time and had to wait a half hour for my friend to show up, so I walked around the hotel briefly, though with limited access because of private functions. The hotel was built in the El Porteño building in Puerto Madero, in a very trendy and stylish part of the city that reminds me of the Baltimore Seaport. The hotel was cast in a dim, red light, and I couldn't tell where the hotel actually began between the three restaurants, pool, and night club.

After my friend showed up we headed into the club for our dinner. The meal was great, albeit with small portions. Together we shared a couple of appetizers, steak and raviolis, plus champagne and white wine. As I've said, this was the third tango show I'd seen in a week, and the service at all of these clubs has been terrific. Only through my profession have I been able to score these tickets, because otherwise two tickets to dinner and a show would run about the total of my monthly salary.

As dinner and conversation went on, the lights suddenly dimmed, smoke filled the tiny room, and the show started. We were close to the back of the room and right in front of the band wearing all white, but still only about 25 feet from the stage. This was to be an intimate show. Rojo Tango takes you through the history of tango, with different period dresses and styles. Ultimately, this performance is a bit more modern, and different from the other two I'd seen at El Viejo Almacén and Esquina Carlos Gardel. Maybe it's because I was tired after a long day, or because my guest was getting restless, or because it was the third show in a week, but I was getting a bit bored halfway through the show.

It's not that it wasn't good, but with more drawn out songs than dancing, my attention started to wander. The band was excellent, as were the singers. But maybe you're only supposed to take in a fancy tango show like that once in a while. The show took a sudden turn when two dancers started undressing, and eventually the female dancer took off her top. The crowd seemed stunned, but I had already heard about this and therefore wasn't too surprised. Still, it's not the kind of thing you'd expect from a tango show.

So if you're curious to know what my final thoughts are on the three tango shows, here they are. El Viejo Almacén had the best show, yet the worst food. Well, I don't want to say worst, but it was simply not the best of the three. It was still an excellent meal. Esquina Carlos Gardel had the best food, though I was unimpressed with the performance mainly because I had just heard that my friend's brother passed away. So I'm calling that one a scrub for obvious reasons. In my heart, I know it was still an impressive show, though the venue was less intimate. Rojo Tango certainly had charm and class, but the show itself just left me a little bored. The food was great, and I'll suggest that it had the rotten luck of being third on my list of shows.

So if you come to Buenos Aires and can afford to spring for it, try going to one of these shows. You won't be disappointed either way. And of course, always try to find a milonga (tango club, real people) or watch street performers, who are undoubtedly less talented, but hey, it's free.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Place, Time, Friends

take me home por microabi.

Good stuff happens unexpectedly, and the surprise of it makes it that much more enjoyable. I got an email from a friend I knew in Cuenca, Clint, who is from Australia. After posting my friend Lucho’s story last week, Clint found my blog and contacted me. As it turns out, he’s now in Buenos Aires, and has been for a month, but I had no idea. Clint left Cuenca in June, and I never even made it to his going away party because I didn’t know he was leaving. I always felt bad about that, but we agreed to meet up Wednesday night and catch up over a brew. That would make it all better.

So Clint came over to my apartment and we reminisced, caught up, and discussed what each of us was doing here in Argentina. As it turns out, he’s been here several times and is sort of just hanging out and enjoying himself for a couple of months before returning to Ecuador. As you can imagine, our conversation turned back to Ecuador for the most part, and we thought aloud about what the experience was like for us, and how it had affected us.

We got to discussing a point that I’m all to familiar with by this point—is it worth it to continually move around and start all over again, especially if you had something good where you were? Clint is 32, and has been living abroad for the better part of 6 years. His first teaching abroad stint was in Russia, and then on to South America since then. He’s loved to move around and see new places, but he told me that recently leaving Cuenca was the hardest place to leave. Something about the place and time, the people that he was friends with, and the feeling that it’s getting a bit old to start all over again, makes him wonder if he should finally settle down.

He went home to be with family in Australia for 3 months and said that it felt right being home, and since leaving again, something just didn’t feel the same as it had in the past. And that makes me wonder, especially after the struggles I went through in my 2nd month here, aching to go back to the friends I had made in Cuenca. More recently, thinking about the friends and family you leave behind, and the experiences you miss out on back home as a result. I wrote about that this week with La Vida Idealist, questioning if it’s worth it to miss out on so much back home, for a chance to have a better long term appreciation. If you can make it that far.

These kinds of questions aren’t answered easily, and will no doubt continue to swirl around in my head as I start to make more friends in Buenos Aires. Because I’m sure that I will eventually have to move on and go home again, leaving behind another life. But what Clint said about the place and time resonated with a feeling I’ve held for a long time, and it reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Hunter S. Thompson. But no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time in the world. Whatever it meant.”

A traveler or expat must find their place in the world, but always keep a watch on which direction home is in. The farther you go, however, the less obvious the path becomes, and you find that you no longer remember the way back. If you do go back, it seems distant, unfamiliar, and is no longer your home. Home is simply an idea of a time or place that you once knew. Eventually, we all leave it, though it will always be with us in a place where no one can take it from us. Sometimes that’s all you have.

Above:  Photo by microabi

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Bureaucratic Black Hole of Buenos Aires

registro civil por lukam!.

Yesterday was another one of those big days. The kind that really only need to happen once, yet there I was, finding myself going through the same process for the 3rd time. In my continuing attempt to get citizenship papers in Argentina, I went down to the Registro Civil to attempt to get a turn (appointment) to apply for the national ID card. You can already see it’s complicated.

Why do I continue to bother with this? It has its benefits for sure, primarily allowing me to live here without hopping the border every three months. Additionally I can open a bank account, get a lease on an apartment rather than getting screwed with foreigner prices, half priced domestic airfare, and get a driver’s license if I ever choose to do so. And let’s not forget access to that sweet, sweet passport, which will help waive those awful visa fees that Americans have to pay in countries like Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia. One day, I would like to see all of those countries (I’ve already been Chile, but want to go back).

After first arriving in the country in August I went to the Registro. It was a total mess. They told me to come back in October, which I did, and again they told me to come back, this time on December 1st at noon. That worried me, because it meant half the country would be there are noon at the 1st. But I had no choice. So I left work at 10:30 am yesterday anticipating the long lines and went down to the mysterious, dirty government office that I had yet to step into.

Already people were outside and being turned away. A cop told me to come back on the 7th, and I was sure this had to be wrong. A sign said something about foreigners, and though by all logical means I am one, I still have Argentinian citizenship. That means through a technicality in the law, I’m not a foreigner. I explained this to the official outside the building, and he immediately warmed up and said this was the building for foreigners (hence why it was so impossible to get anything accomplished). So all along I had been trying to go to the wrong building, but no one ever bothered to tell me when they looked at my documents. He told me to go to anther government building down in San Telmo, about 15-20 blocks away.

It wasn’t even midday but already extremely hot and humid, and I didn’t feel like walking all those blocks in my work clothes, sweating along the way, so I jumped in a taxi. We hit traffic by the presidential palace as protesters were camped outside and the police were forcing them back. No surprise though, as there is literally a strike for every day of the year or more. This is the place I wanted citizenship in.

The story at the national building wasn’t any better, with lines forming around the corner. But I spoke to a guy outside and at first he didn’t want to believe I should be there. He insisted that I should go back to the building I just came from. Yet I persisted and told him I had the papers saying I was technically Argentinian since March, at which point he agreed to give me a slip of paper with a new number to call for an appointment. “This should give you an appointment for this week”, he said.

Upon getting back to the office I tried at least 10 times to call this new number. I only got through three times and every time that happened, I would somehow be disconnected a minute into the call. It’s as if they’ve never worked a phone in the government. Eventually I got through to someone, but she insisted I needed the foreigner DNI, rather than the national one, and gave me an appointment for April 5th at an address that Google Maps doesn’t even know about. 

This is the definition of a bureaucratic mess. It makes you really appreciate hell holes like the DMV, because comparably, they are smooth and easy. I mean imagine that, you can actually go to a government office any day of the week and be seen that day! But at the very least, you don’t have to go down there just to get a ticket that says you can go down there again just to make sure you have everything you need, which you probably don’t. But I am used to this kind of stuff in Latin America, and it’s not surprising. Yet it continues to be aggravating from time to time.

I took the issue to a co-worker for some help, but we found no success in getting through to the administration. So we’re at another point now where I have to wait around, hoping to someday get my DNI citizenship card. After getting disconnected a few times my co-worker asked me, “Are you sure you still want to be Argentinian?” Some days, not so much.

Above: Photo by lukam!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tigre and Tango

On Saturday morning I woke up early to meet up with my friends Valerie, Dan, and Alaina to go for a river boat tour of the Tigre Delta. Tigre is a city about 35 kilometers (16 miles) north of Buenos Aires. It once was a weekend retreat for the wealthy upper class of the city, and though it no longer carries that image, it's definitely a place where the wealthy can show off their sailboats, jet skis, and speedboats. This is a place for water sports, for sure. We took Sturla Viajes on a two hour tour up the Río de la Plata and into the Tigre Delta's muddy and dark waters.

As the city faded away, the landscape changed pretty quickly, and once we got near Tigre it was subtropical. The day started off overcast, but soon the sun broke through and it was a warm and clear day. Houses on stilts presented themselves as boats zoomed past with weekend retreaters. Once we got to Tigre we disembarked and walked through the quiet town to the Fruit Market, which is known for having all kinds of goods to buy. Tigre also has Argentina's largest theme park, which seemed almost out of place with large roller coasters in the distance.

Throw in the random waffle houses and Swiss architecture, and Tigre seemed like a pretty eclectic city. It was clear that it was peaceful and would make a night or two away from the city very relaxing. To truly make use of the fun in Tigre, though, you must have some kind of boat access. Tigre gets its name from the jaguars that once inhabited the region, yet now all you'll find are the friendly locals and tourists coming in. As the boats pass by, everyone waves. Dan said it reminded him of his image of the bayou in Louisiana or somewhere in the south, and I agreed that it reminded me of the Florida Keys.

We got on the 4 pm boat back through the delta and the Río de la Plata, all while dodging heavy boat traffic. There was literally a navy of sailboats to get through, along with kayakers, jet skiers, windsurfers, tubers, and on and on. I don't know how there wasn't an accident, but at one point a catamaran cut in front of our boat and we nearly hit them. Sitting on the back deck of the boat, the sun burn continued and by the time we reached Puerto Madero I was a lobster.

I had to rush home because I had tickets to for dinner and a tango show at Esquina Carlos Gardel, a famous tango show in the Abasto neighborhood. This tango show is a bit more traditional, and in a large theater which holds more guests, making it less intimate than the experience in El Viejo Almacén. Nonetheless, the dinner was delicious, and my steak went well with the read wine and flan with dulce de leche for dessert. I had a booth on the upper floor, which gave a good view of the stage and band which hovered above the dancers.

Unfortunately, just before leaving I heard some bad news. My good friend Lauren from my volunteer time in Cuenca, had rushed home to be at her brother's side because he was ill with swine flu and pneumonia. On Friday night, Chris Patterson lost his battle and passed away. Though I never knew him, it affected me just the same, and I was in no mood for a tango show. So while everyone was cheering and getting into the show, I was elsewhere. Even with my mind on other things, I could still attest that it was a good show and worth seeing if you are in the city.

After the show I met up with my friend Kristian, who will be returning home to Norway this week, and we went out to celebrate. Following up with a lack of solid sleep, I went to La Casa Rosada (the presidential palace) today for a free tour of the inside. I can honestly say that it's pretty unimpressive on the inside, and you can see paint chipping off the walls, drab colors, and over the top rooms designed to look like European castles. It's a lot nicer from the outside, for sure. So another weekend went by, but I was able to take full advantage of it and do some touristic things. Up for next week, another tango show and possibly a bike tour.

Dedicated to Chris Patterson

Above: Photos of the Tigre River Delta, Esquina Carlos Gardel, Casa Rosada

Friday, November 27, 2009

Minus the Turkey: Thanksgiving a la Porteña

I guess I would best describe it as May. Though it would be May in New York, not in Boston, because anyone who is from either city can tell you that a spring in Massachusetts is quite different from a spring in New York, and no two springs are alike. Every year it seems as though May is a wash out in New England, yet people are always surprised. It’s supposed to be nice, but of course it’s not. That’s exactly what I’m experiencing now in Buenos Aires. But the only difference is that it’s late November.

After going through your entire life with an expectation that the weather will be a certain way during a certain month, it’s hard to accept what your eyes see and your senses feel. I am sweating in this humidity, but the date on the calendar says November 27th. An error message is popping up in my brain, telling me to reboot. Yesterday was Thanksgiving, giving a totally different perspective on the holiday.

All I can think of in terms of this day is the crisp air outside a boiling hot apartment in Brooklyn, the golden-brown-red leaves dangling from trees like a child’s teeth as their body pushes them out to make way for the new guys. The deep blue sky of impending winter and the looming storm front that inevitably comes, just in time for some cocoa, a fireplace, and a football game that puts you to sleep after stuffing your face with, well stuffing. Turkey, cranberry sauce, pie, more turkey, coffee, more pie, and finally a late night shwarma and beer if you have nothing else to do and just need to get out of that stinking hot apartment with no cable. This is the Thanksgiving I grew up with, yet in the humid spring of Buenos Aires, it was another world and another age.

I was pretty sure I was going to spend the holiday alone, frying up a steak and looking through pictures while listening to music—a standard night. But in the morning my new friend Tami said she was going to take care of everything. She called up a few friends and invited me over to her house for a Thanksgiving dinner, a la porteña, at 9 pm. A little late by most accounts, but since it wasn’t a holiday here, we all had to work a full day anyway.

Traditionally Argentinian, I showed up a bit late and found that the table was filled for a feast, though there were only five of us; Tami, her sister, and two other friends joined me in an American holiday. This would be their first Thanksgiving, and I explained a bit of what we normally do, such as eat, talk, watch football, and pass out. This was more than I could have hoped for, and I am still in a bit of shock that someone could be so friendly and throw together a feast like that out of no where. I just met her last week, after all.

Everything you could want was there. Minus the turkey. That was all that was missing, and though it’s the main ingredient in a Thanksgiving feast, the most important thing is just having people to share it with. The girls had prepared potatoes, Spanish rice, eggs that no one even touched, and to make it truly Argentinian, milanesa de carne, which is like a breaded meat. Somehow they even found cranberries, and though it wasn’t in sauce form, it went perfectly with the milanesa. We wound up not even eating half of the food, there was so much.

In continuing with the Argentinianization of the holiday, the conversation went late into the night, passing beyond 12:30 am. I kept thinking at some point someone would say it’s time to go home, but eventually Tami saw me yawning continuously and told me this could go on for hours. So she called up a taxi and I said my goodbyes. I don’t know when, if ever, porteños sleep, but they’ve found a way to function without it. I, on the other hand, still love my minimum 7-8 hours a night.

So passed my Thanksgiving in Argentina, but I don’t think it was just for my benefit. It was their first Thanksgiving too, and if anything it helped to spread a little bit of understanding between two cultures. We aren’t so different, but there are always things that will be unknown until they are introduced into the marketplace of conversation and experience. That’s what I love the most about traveling—the sharing and mixing of cultures and traditions. It’s something you have to witness and take part in to really understand.

My high school 5 year reunion is tonight, and instead of catching up with old friends who I haven’t seen in years, I am on another continent on the other side of the world. But I’m thankful that I’ve been able to make some new friends here. I’ll take that and call it a day.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Be Thankful

I just read this incredible essay from the New York Times. The essay is written by Afghanistan War veteran Erik Malmstrom, who is currently studying at the Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Business School. The essay, which reflects on loss in the war, is written simply and eloquently. Read this article, and be thankful for what you have this Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

No Turkey Day for Jon

thanksgiving spread by Joits.

While I could list in detail all the ways in which this year is different than last year, I won’t. Previous writings have already shown the differences, and it would be redundant to go through it all again. But instead, let’s just focus on a single point. Thanksgiving is coming up tomorrow, and I think I’m going to feel pretty homesick on this occasion. It’s not that Thanksgiving was ever a particularly important holiday in my family, but just the idea of doing something very American and being with family, or friends, is something to be desired.

For years we would pile into a car and drive down to Brooklyn, beating the traffic if we were lucky and arriving hours too early. We didn’t even have a traditional big turkey, because for some reason my grandma always wanted to cut it up the night before, causing it to dry out hours before it was ready. And in the last couple of years that I was home, my dad would take my brother and sister and a couple of cousins out to a bar and for shwarma in the Village later at night.

Last year was my first Thanksgiving away from home, but it really wasn’t all that bad. On Thanksgiving day I was actually climbing Chimborazo volcano with a friend, heading up with the last iceman of Chimborazo. I didn’t even realize it was Thanksgiving until later that day after we had come back down the mountain. I went back to Cuenca the next day, and that following Saturday my friend Lauren hosted a feast at her host sisters’ apartment, along with several Ecuadorians and a few gringos in the mix. It was also the night I met my good friend Jamie, which I can use as a bookmark later events throughout the year.

I was away from home but it didn’t really matter much because I formed a group of volunteers who were also away from home. So we at least had each other in that regard. And obviously I am now alone in Buenos Aires. I know a handful of expats here, but they are either English or vegetarians, and no one has even mentioned Thanksgiving. Even if someone had, I don’t know what we could do. It’s hard enough to find just sliced turkey breast at the supermarket, let alone a giant turkey fit for a holiday meal.

I don’t generally get homesick, and I try not to think about being at home so that I can enjoy myself in the moment. But I will definitely be missing being at home tomorrow afternoon. While I’m at work, dodging the humidity, everyone back home will be rubbing their bellies and picking their teeth while plopping down on the couch to watch a terrible football game (most likely involving the Lions). I don’t even have a couch, nor can I watch football games at home anymore.

So after work is over I’ll most likely come home and fry up a steak, to enjoy Thanksgiving in the Argentinian fashion. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s the best I can do with what I’ve got.

Above: Photo by Joits