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back and better than ever… September 23, 2007

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      Well, after over a month of shameful radio silence I’m returning to the blog-o-sphere.  I hope you can all forgive me for giving you the impression I’ve fallen off the face of the earth.  That said, here’s a brief sketch of the last month or so of this (south) american life beginning from the day after my last post. 

August 12th, high noon: I got robbed.  3 crafty hoodlums managed to avert my attention from my bag resting in my lap for long enough to snatch it and run.  Losses: camera, ipod, really sweet italian leather bag Alyssa gave me for X-mas, 2 great books.  OUCH!  (especially given that electronics here cost about 250% more than what they do in the states. 

The following week:  My classes started.  My schedule at that point included 2 classes in the Universidad de Buenos Aires.  One seminar called: Autogestion, Mutalismo y Cooperativismo (just take off the o at the end and you’ll figure out what those last 2 words are) Essentially this class focuses on the history and theory behind a wide spectrum of entities that strive towards a horizontal distribution of power and resources (horizontalidad).  That can be contrasted with any number of capitalist enterprises which have a vertical (heirarchical) system of power, wherein everyone has a boss that they defer too.  Luckily, Argentine is rife with attempts at horizontalidad at the moment, most famously the recuperated factory movement, wherein after the mass closing of factories in the 90’s and early 2000s (primarily due to widespread privitization of industry), workers retook their workplaces and tried to run them in a democratic and egalitarian manner, without owners or bosses.  Obviously this raises an enormous number of problems, namely the lack of capital, government subsidies, and the fact that they are attempting to be an island of self-organization operating within a far larger capitalist network.  Regardless of their successes and failures, it is the myriad ways in which they are addressing these problems that is most fascinating. 

My other class in UBA has to do with genocide as a social practice and primarily deals with nazism and the argentine experience during the dirty war.  Simply put, this class is awesome and really makes me regret my lack of social science background, since, like every class in UBA, it is chock full o’ theoretical goodness.  Foucault, Heidigger, Jaspers, Marx, Kant, Rousseau, Hegel, Descartes, more Foucault, in addition to a glut of genocide scholars are just the tip of the iceburg for Prof Feierstein.  This class is great and I just finished my midterm, so we’ll soon see if the feeling is mutual.

I also have a mandatory spanish class with my program, which is more or less worthless.  This is because it’s only for a couple hours a week and it basically serves to help the students who still refuse to leave their COPA (my program) comfort zone and actually speak spanish with Argentines.  My prof is really nice though and the class is very enjoyable, just not exceedingly useful (besides for my GPA).   

The weekend following my robbery I had the incredible pleasure of playing host and tour guide to my girlfriend, Alyssa as she came to visit me from across the pond in South Africa.  We had an incredible time, went to Colonia do Sacramento, Uruguay, a charming 16th century portugese colonial town, among many, many other things.  The only downside was that the weather was horrible for nearly all of the week-really cold and rainy, which prevented us from enjoying many of BA’s outdoor diversions (however we did rent bikes for a very cold day of urban biking).  My host mom Rosa, was kind enough to let her stay with us, saving money on a hostel and allowing her to feel less like a tourist and a bit more like a portena during her stay.      

A few days after Alyssa took off for a more agreeable climate, I hopped a really crappy bus for 18 hours, sick as a dog, for the northwest of Argentina, a little known province known as La Rioja.  Essentially this province is only known for producing mediocre wine as well as the most reviled man in modern day argentina… Carlos Saul Menem: former president of Argentina and possibly the devil incarnate.  According to many, this man’s overzealous adoption of Washington DC sanctioned neoliberalism during the 90s led to remarkable economic growth for the richest of Argentines at the cost of putting millions of people out of work, and nearly all of the country’s industry and resources in the hands of foreign capitalists.  Many Argentines refuse to even say this man’s name, instead calling him the harry potter-esque “innombrable”, or un-nameable.  Therefore, when I decided to depart for this backwater province, I confused a lot of people.  But the group I went with and I had our hearts set on seeing a far less touristy and european influenced part of the country, as well as an astoundingly beautiful national park known as Talampaya.  We had a great time, spent next to nothing (since the northwest of the country is dirt cheap), and got to see a whole different side of Argentina.  For one thing, there is a very large indigenous presence in the province, mainly mapuche (which made our bus company’s choice of airing Mel Gibson’s infamous ‘Apocolypto’ on our ride home even more ridiculous).   Below are some pictures of Talampaya as well as some from our 4X4 ride on the Cuesta de Miranda, the mountain pass that connects Villa Union to Chilicito.   


Epic doesn’t begin to describe it!

 For scale, the andean condor (of which there were many) above has a wingspan of roughly 12 feet.   

This unfortunate picture was take after I finished enjoying the local Riojana specialty, chivito (grilled baby goat).  Yet, incredibly, before we realized that the asado had no limit.  You can only imagine how I looked about 45 minutes later.  It was 15 pesos, or about 4.50 for unlimited chivito and tire de asado (an incredibly tasty cut of steak).  In fact, it was the best I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy here in Argentina…although I certainly haven’t given up in my quest for the best steak in Argentina. 

When I returned from La Rioja, I began my internship, which is with the Central de Trabajadores Argentinos, and another class which is related to the internship, basically a social science research methods class.   Essentially the CTA is the 2nd organizational force in argentine labor.  It started officially about 15 years ago when the CGT (the labor union that brought Peron to power) began to make concessions to Menem in the 90’s that didn’t exactly benefit the majority of Argentine workers.  The CTA broke off and formed a syndicate with the goal of maintaining independence from the government and also including the unemployed (a radical step for a labor union) in their coalition.  Although it doesn’t enjoy equal legal status to the CGT, it is growing and playing a larger and larger role in argentine society, in a large part due to it’s involvement in the Piquetero movement, which I’ll go into in detail in a later post.  Basically they are large groups of un or underemployed workers who cut block bridges or key roads in order to gain leverage in their negotiations with the government and/or employers.  They play a key role in argentine politics and enjoy a large amount of support among lower and middle class argentines.  I’m going to be working on a particular project that looks at social security and how it is being addressed in cooperatives and other businesses operating under the tenets of autogestion.  This is a particularly important issue because for businesses such as these to succeed outside of the framework of the state, they are going to have to find a way to provide similar social benefits such as retirement and disability benefits.  To this end, I’m going to travel to a number of these enterprises and conduct interviews with workers and organizers within the movement.  I’m really excited to be working with the CTA, my fellow companeros are all really nice, and extremely intelligent.   My first site visit is next week, so I’ll be sure to write about it.      

       A couple weeks ago I also went on a trip to Neuquen, which is a province in northern patagonia.  My friend Trigve and I went with the intention of taking advantage of the endless powder of the southern Andes, which didn’t really exist.  In fact, after a half day, we decided to take off for another town known as San Martin de los Andes, which is spectacularly gorgeous, if not a bit upper-crust (or cheto as the portenos say).  We had a great time mountain biking the sweet terrain surrounding the town, some of which you can see below in some pics. 

This was a serious ascent, considering we started in the town below. 

on top of the world.  We spent the afternoon riding the terrain on the other side of the lake.

Trying not to fall off a cliff.

I don’t know why this is so small, but basically this was the only good thing about caviahue, the place we tried to snowboard.  2 huge windlips with pretty steep landings.  However, the rest of the mountain was crap.  I would love to return when there’s lots of snow because you can take a snowcat to the top of the volcano (the mountain is on the side of Volcan Copahue) view inside the volcano and ride nearly 10 km of pristine powder down the volcano.  mmm…


ESMA August 11, 2007

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Well, since I’ve returned from the mountains I’ve developed a pretty nasty cold, making my first spanish class more of a chore than it should have been.  That was thursday.  Yesterday I had the incredible opportunity of recieving a guided tour of ESMA, La Escuela de Suboficiales de Mecánica de la Armada.  It was the most notorious torture and detention center of the dirty war.  For those who don’t know, the dirty war began after Juan Peron (the most influential Argentine politician of the 20th century and husband of Evita) died and gave power to his wife.  Since the country was already embroiled in economic problems and her rule was not seen as legitimate, it was easy for the military to overthrow her in a coup d’etat in 1976.  This coup was more or less embraced by the population at first, who saw it as a harbinger of political and economic stability.  However, their method of stabilizing the country was called the Proceso de Reorganización Nacional (i’m sure you can figure out the translation).  This in effect, blamed the country’s woes on the leftists, and sought to eliminate them though some of the most barbaric means possible.  In ESMA, which is located right on a busy street relatively close to where I live, the navy and air force “processed” many of the estimated 30,000 desaparecidos, or disappeared persons.  These desaparecidos included people from all walks of life including elderly persons, babies, pregnant women and especially students (the majority of which went to the UBA- where I’m studying).  These were people who committed no crime besides being affiliated with the left in some way, be it by joining a trade union, being a scholar on a “leftist” topic, attending a political demonstration or being in the address book of a person who had already been disappeared.  For example my madre, Rosa’s, niece was disappeared because she was married to a psychiatrist who was known in leftist circles.  Her husband sought asylum in Spain, but she refused to go and was disappeared weeks later. 

       In these disappearances, persons affiliated with the government would conduct surveillance on suspected leftists and determine the desired way to kidnap them.  Many times it would occur outside their houses at night when they came home from work, other times they would simply knock on the door and say they needed to talk with the desired person, .  Many times they would arrive in a Ford Falcon, now inextricably tied to the dirty war in the minds of Argentines.  After kidnapping their victims, they would take them to one of many detention and torture centers around Argentina, the largest of which was ESMA.  I saw yesterday, the manner in which they would unload their victims, and many times things that they had stolen from their houses, cars, person…etc.  They would take them into the basement of the officer’s casino.  There, they would affix huge cannonballs to their legs to immobilize them and begin all types of horrendous torture.  The most typical being the use of picanas electricas to electricute their victims in various ways, although all types of torture were used.  http://opticalrealities.org/Argentina/ESMA.html  I just found this website which has some good pictures and descriptions of ESMA and the types of torture that occured.  You should definitely check it out.  What the site fails to adequately address is that the victims were not killed there.  They were drugged, loaded into airplanes and thrown out into the Rio de la Plata, the part of the Atlantic ocean between Argentina and Uruguay, on what were called “vuelos del muerto” or death flights.  Afterwards, part of ESMA was dedicated to the falsification of documents that attempted to conceal the deaths as to make them appear accidental, or as if the persons never existed in the first place. 

    One particularly interesting thing was the fact that the layout of the building was very strange, with floors at different heights and many doors and staircases in seemingly unnatural places.  This was because in 1981 a number of European diplomats came to investigate the alleged human rights abuses that were occuring in ESMA and in the weeks prior to their arrival, they needed to change the layout of the building to disconfirm victims’ testimony. 

    Needless to say it was pretty intense hearing about all this, especially because it was the coldest day yet, in the 30’s and few of us were prepared for a 3.5+ hour tour that was entirely lacking heat.  But perhaps it was better to be a bit physically uncomfortable in the site of such horrendous acts. 


snowboarding…finally August 8, 2007

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So, due to the fact that there is absolutely nothing to do in Uspallata (beyond eating 2+ inch thick steaks and drinking red wine on the cheap), I left you all dangling with that last post, ending with a necessary tangent about mate.  Well, after a night in some less than palatial digs, we set off in the morning for the mountain.  However, the piquete was still going in the morning and thus, the mountain shuttles were not running.  However, we knew that there was only one road through the mountains (ruta nacional 7), that Los Penitentes was on that route and that lots of smaller vehicles were heading down the blocked road towards Chile.  Therefore we (along with the swiss guys: :Luis and Laurant) set out to hacer dedo (hitchhike) the rest of the way.  As luck may have it, we were able to all fit into a passing microbus with 4 extra seats which was giving a guided geological tour of the mountains.  Thus, after an absolutely beautiful (and quite precarious) drive through the Mendoza river valley, we were on the slopes.

There’s not really much to say about the mountain except it was full of Andean powder and hardly anyone was there!  The scenery was by far the most epic I’ve ever seen, let alone snowboarded.  At a height of well over 11,000 feet, the air was about as fresh as it gets (though a bit dry).  We enjoyed bluebird skies throughout the trip, leaving me with a pretty impressive goggle tan that I will be sure to show off as much as possible here in BA.  It was absolutely great and I’m really glad to have had the opportunity to make it to the mountains after only a couple weeks here.  Now, I’m really tempted to check out some of the other resorts, even further into the mountains, such as the famed Las Lenas or Cerro Cathedral.  We’ll see what my budget and my schedule look like in a few weeks.

At present, I’m back in my apt in BA, where a new student from Switzerland has moved in.  Rosa says he’s on the shy side,  but I’ll get to see for myself at dinner.  She says I also get to give him his official nickname.  She calls him ‘mini’ and I can either choose to confirm or rename him.  Quite an honor eh?  chillin-on-the-slopes.jpg

About to drop a small cliff.  Smiling nervously.


The rocks to my right are known as “Los Penitentes”, the penitents, and give the ski area its name.   The “village” is directly below them.


Not a whole lot of green, eh?  That’s because the whole resort is well above the treeline.


The other side of the valley, which doesn’t get as much snow.

a slight change of plans… August 4, 2007

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       Well, Trygve and I took an exceedingly luxurious bus from Buenos Aires to Mendoza last night, complete with wine, champagne, a hot dinner and a dubbed mandy moore movie!  We also made a few friends, some late 20-something businessmen from Mendoza who want to hang out and show off their newborn children.  We´ll see about that. 

     Though we planned to be on the slopes today, we are stuck in a really really tiny mountain village (read 1 parrila) because the bus drivers decided to have a piquete and block the only road that runs between Argentina and Chile.  Thus we´re spending the night in a cabaña with 2 swiss dudes on a month long south american ski vacation.  They work in a factory that makes watch parts… very swiss.  Although what are called piqueteros (picketers) are very common around the major cities, this is the first time they have managed to block an international border crossing for a length of time (a full day and counting).  We don´t know what exactly they´re protesting, but they seem to have jacknifed 2 semis across the road in order to render it impassable.  The federal police are currently ¨discussing the situation¨ with them (which customarily involves large quantities of police brutality, but i´m sure we´ll get to read all about it in the paper tomorrow… hopefully during our apres ski.  Since I have validation that at least 2 people are currently reading my blog (thanks chelsea and jj), I will fulfill my promise and give you the mate FAQ that you were cruelly denied in my last post.

     Essentially mate is an old gaucho custom that has been preserved by refreshment seeking argentines of all stripes.  Four vocab words are essential for understanding the ways of the mate.  The first is, quite obviously, mate (mah-tey).  A mate is customarily a hollowed out gourd of some type with a wide open top.  They are also less commonly made of metal.  They have all sorts of designs including some that are made of animal hooves, beads, leather…etc.  A typical mate is pictured below with another crucial mate component… the bombilla (pronounced bom-beesh-ah), which is a glorified straw with a strainer at the end to keep particles out of your mouth.     


The actual plant is known as yerba mate, or just yerba (zsherba) and is a shrub grown primarily in missiones and corrientes provinces, located in the northeast, near brazil and paraguay.   You fill up your mate between 2/3 and 3/4 of the way with yerba and then use your fourth key element, your termos to pour nearly boiling water onto the yerba until the mate is full as seen below.mate_tomar.jpg

     Some of the less initiated throw some sugar in there too, but do you really thing the gauchos carried a little sugar pouch along with their boleadoras…? I think not. 

    Now that you´ve prepared your first mate, you can´t just suck it down on your way to work… in fact if you drink mate in this fashion on the street, you´re likely to be the recipient of numerous less than flattering comments (especially if you happen to be female).  What you need to do first is find some friends to tomar mate

     Once you´ve found some friends you need to preparar el mate, which is always done by the cebador, the person with the mate.  Since you´re the cebador you need to fill the mate with yerba and steep it in water for a bit, as I mentioned earlier.  Allegedly there´s a lot of nuance involve in this, but since I´m a gringo, i won´t dare to pretend understand.  Now from what I gather, there are two rules which govern who takes the first sip of mate, if everyone is starting off with a fresh mate at the same time, the cebador takes the first sip, as to subject himself to the inevitable bits of mate that slip through the bombilla, sparing his guests, who are seated in a circle with him.  However, I think that it is also customary, that if a new person joins the group after a round is completed, they are to receive the 1st mate on the next round.  The circle is not broken for the new person if they arrive halfway through, though they can take a position within the circle and wait for their turn…(I am a bit unclear on this nuance at present).  What I do know is that, mate is always taken with the right hand and that if some extenuating circumstance necesitates you using your left hand (amputation ideally) it is customary to apologize for this break in custom.  One needs to finish the entire mate, taking as much time as they wish…seriously no need to suck it down immediately… before passing it to the cebador to be refilled, who then passes it to the next person (in a clockwise rotation-always clockwise).  It is customary for everyone in the group to have at least 2 mates and it is considered impolite to refuse a mate until this 2 mate minimum has been reached.  A couple more mate rules are very important, the first is: NEVER RESET THE BOMBILLA, even though it is very easily moved and it is tempting to move it into what you think is a more ideal position.  I have committed this error multiple times and have learned that the cebador always knows the best bombilla position and will reorient it as he wishes.  Moving the bombilla is seen as an insult to his methods of preparation and is to be avoided.  Also to be avoided are any less than positive comments about the mate, yerba, water temperature, bombilla…etc.  You are the honored guest of the cebador and should be a grateful one. 

    At this point I´m sure it seems like taking mate properly is about as difficult as acing O-chem , but one just needs to make mistakes graciously and they will be quickly schooled in the mysterious ways of the mate.  I am lucky enough to have been invited into many mate circles thus far in my time in BA and to have been tutored by my most excellent madre, Rosa.  Though I´m sure I have much more to learn. 



By the way, I forgot to add that mate is really really good and give you a very nice buzz of relaxed attentiveness.  Perfect for riding the pampas… or the subte!

Los Penitentes… August 2, 2007

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So, tomorrow I’m leaving for a pretty epic trip.  At 7:14pm I take off for the mountains, a 13 hour bus ride.  When I wake, I will be in Mendoza, one of the largest cities in Argentina.  It’s the seat of Argentine wine country as well as one of the primary gateways to the Andes.  From there, I’m going to take another bus deep into the Andes, right up to the Chilean border to a mountain known as Los Penitentes http://www.penitentes.com/ where I’ll spend the next 4 days waist deep in powder.  At least that’s the plan.  However, after visiting the casa de mendoza (a building in Buenos Aires dedicated to sharing information about what the province of Mendoza has to offer) I learned that all the roads from Mendoza into the Andes are currently impassable due to 2-3 days of blizzards.  They seemed to think the worst was over and that the road I need to take (Rt 7) will be open in the next 36 hours.  Let’s hope they’re right.  If not, I’m going to be stuck in a beautiful mountain town with Malbecs and Cabernets that flow like water…(and are actually cheaper in many cases).  So, take no pity on me regardless.  I’m going with a Norwegian dude named Trygve who bears a strong resemblance to Thor and has 18 years of freestyle skiing experience under his belt.  So perhaps I’m not going to be following him everywhere on the mountain.  But he’s a really nice guy and his stature will be handy if we need to rumble with some Chileans in the lodge.  

    More comprehensive updates when I return.  I promise.


Oiga July 30, 2007

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So the last few days have been a bit of a blur.  I haven’t had many commitments to attend to as far as my program is concerned, so I’ve had lots and lots of time to explore and read more about Argentina and the rest of Latin America.  One thing I’ve enjoyed is checking out a few art museums including the Museo de Arte Latinamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA) and the Palais de Glace.  MALBA offered a great survey of art, with a few great works by my favorite Latin American artist, Roberto Sebastian Antonio Matta Echaurren (aka Matta) as well as a good introduction to 2oth century Brazillian and Argentine art.  The Palais de Glace offered extensive collections of recent work by Calendaria Silvestro, a 26 yr old Mendocino, and Marcos Acosta, a Porteno.  I was blown away by Silverstros work, which to me echoed work by one of my favorite German Neo-Expressionists, Anselm Kiefer, but while addressing themes of feminity and maternity in a Latin American context.  I plan on returning.  I wasn’t so keen on Acosta’s work. 


       A few nights ago I went to a parilla (argentine steakhouse) with the coordinators of the human rights program I’m enrolled in and got to know them better.  We had a great time and I left feeling very confident that this semester will be tremendously rewarding, both with my classwork and my internship, which I will tell you more about soon.  I also left unbelievably satisfied with the food in this country.  It’s true that you’ve never really tasted steak until you’ve had it here.  I had a couple different varieties of beef including an appitizer of morcilla, or Argentine blood sausage, which despite its consistency (I mean, it is coagulated blood!), was delicious.  The main course included entraña-a cut akin to skirt steak, as well as vacio.  They were unbelievably tender and flavorful…although not even close to the meaty perfection that was my lomo last night.

      Last night some friends from the program and I went out for dinner…Porteno style.  What does this entail you ask?  Well, for starters, it means that you don’t leave the house until 9:00pm.  Since my friend Margarita is from Warsaw, she of course wanted to try the only polish restaurant in town, La Casa Polaca.  It turns out that the polish house is a very popular and swanky joint that necesitates reservations weeks in advance, so we made our way to a tapas joint for some wine and light fare.  We nibbled until approximately 10:30pm, when we made our way to another place for a bit more wine and conversation.  Around 11:30pm the restaurants were starting to fill up so we wandered over to a very aromatic parilla and put our name in.  20 min later we were seated.  After some delicious appetizers, savory meats began to appear on our table. My cut of choice was the lomo, the most tender and delectable cut of meat found in Argentina.  This particular lomo was stuffed with onion, mushrooms, a variety of cheeses and topped with a sweet potato concoction…all for 29 pesos or a bit over 9 dollars.  It was the most expensive thing on the menu, which I felt justified in ordering so as to make my first (but definitely not last) lomo experience a notable one.  Words cannot describe how delicious this meaty delight was.  Its flavor was so powerful it rendered my friend Avegail unable resist the compulsion to liberate the last few bites of my unattended lomo while I was “cambiando el agua de los peces” as the expression goes. 

      In 8 hours I’m off to visit the Parana delta, the mouth of the parana river, which has been an exotic porteno getaway for the last 200 years.  I’ll report back soon on the results of this excursion as well as unveil some details about my mountain getaway this upcoming weekend 🙂   


Also of note, this saturday I went to something known as La Rural, which is essentially a corporate gaucho convention.  It is immensely popular and involves filling up a huge convention center comprising 5 or 6 halls, a bunch of outdoor pavillions, an immense outdoor area and a rodeo with all types of animals, provincial goods, food and propaganda kiosks for each of the provinces.  Essentially it was like a supercharged version of the Boone County Fair… with lots of mate.  One of my favorite parts was waiting in line for a long time to enter the back of a semi truck with a movie theatre showing a Missiones province propaganda film which, between beautiful montages of river, waterfall and selva footage, proved to the ignorant city-dwellers that…yes we too have paved roads, bridges, and housing developments up to 4 stories high!  It was all worth it because upon leaving, they hooked us up with 2 huge bags of primo mate.  Next post: mate FAQ and ettiquite. 

To end this post, here’s a pretty picture I took when I went to Croatia a few years back.  For no particular reason.  Although maybe by putting this, perhaps my ultimate vacation pic, I’ll start to realize that my time in Buenos Aires isn’t a vacation… I live and am going to go to school here!  It sure feels like a vacation though.


Chau… and remember to see the pictures in full, you need to click on them.  Why? Because I’m lazy and don’t want to format everything. 

p.s. If you want to Skype a brother… Soy “gauch0marx”.   The 0 is a zero, cause I’m down like that. 

¡Que se vayan todos! July 24, 2007

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Well, fortunately for my voice (which I lost completely for 24 hours after the boliche) the rest of my weekend wasn’t quite as exciting as my dia del amigo.  On Saturday, I wandered around my neighborhood for a few hours in the rain, which was nice.  I found out that I have 3 distinct mini-neighborhoods within a 10 minute walk of my apt that are nighttime destinations for the under 30 set in BA… dangerous information.  The 3 neighborhoods are Las Canitas, Palermo SoHo and Palermo Hollywood and each appears to have its own flavor: SoHo for the more alternative crowds looking for music and beer, Hollywood for more dancing and “sophisticated” entertainment, Las canitas for a little mix of everything.  These are just first impressions though. 

        Speaking of first impressions, Quilmes cristal, the national beer of Argentina is pretty much total swill.  The bock is a bit better, but I think it’s pretty hard to mess up a bock as I’ve never had one I didn’t enjoy.  The redeeming thing is that you can get a porron, a regular sized bottle, for slightly over a buck at pretty much any bar, a welcome change from $3-??? PBRs in Chicago.  While on the topic of booze, I’ve been lucky enough to have tried a pretty wide variety of Argentine wines already since I’ve arrived, mostly thanks to Rosa’s much welcome one bottle of Vino Tinto per dinner policy.  While on the town I’ve had some absolutely delicious Malbecs, Cabs and Syrahs.   I also really enjoyed a white wine from Salta province called Torrontes, which surprisingly was absolutely perfect with some picadas (tapas) of smoked meat.  It’s great because a very good bottle of wine at a restaraunt or cafe can be had for around 18-24 pesos, 6-7 bucks.  Of course you can pay much less and get something totally drinkable, which Rosa and I did last night, paying the equivalent of 80 cents for a bottle last night!  What I like best about the Argentine approach to drinking is that it’s not commonly done to excess.  For example, I’ve been told that shots are looked upon quite disdainfully by the majority and that binge drinking is not a very big problem at all here.  This definitely seems to be a culture of nursing a bottle of wine over a long conversation rather than pounding pints and acting like an idiot, but then again, I’ve only been here a week.  I’m sure there are lots of drunk idiotic Argentines to be found… I’ll report back after I attend my first futbol match for the final decision.   

     Saturday night I met Rosa’s niece, an incoming freshman, who was nice enough, but spent most of dinner sending text messages (a very common porteno pastime).  Her son is a psychologist and also a jazz, tango and reggae? saxophonist who plays en vivo quite a bit around town.  A pretty cool guy, and very bearded, like an Argentine Freud.  Anyway, he gave me some recomendations about jazz clubs and the like that I will check out very soon.  I stayed up pretty late reading a book I bought about a new social movement in Argentina known locally as horizontalidad.  It’s an anarchist movement based on principles of autogeneracion, cooperation and remaining outside of the preexisting power structures.  It has resulted in the reappropriation of dozens of local factories by the workers when they closed following the economic collapse of 2001.  They are strongly influenced by the cacerolazo, perhaps the most important event in recent Argentine social history, and the sense of comraderie it fostered as everyone shouted in the Plaza de Mayo: Que se vayan todos!  Or loosly translated, they all must go!  Directed of course at the corrupt Argentine politicians who had, led by recently resigned Economics Minister Cavallo, decided to freeze all Argentine bank accounts and use their money to restructure the foreign debt.  Fed up with incompetant politicians and no longer fearing the spectres of the repressive military government, which disappeared 30,000 Argentines in the 70’s and 80’s, the middle and lower classes joined together in the streets, beating pots and pans and expressing their dissatisfaction with their situation.  Out of this collective realization that the state was not looking out for their best interests, nor going to in the future, a new collective vision began to be created.  A vision that seeks to change without taking power.  Through neighborhood cooperatives and the reappropriation of abandoned and closed workplaces by the workers, this vision is taking shape in contemporary Argentina despite widespread and sensless government repression.  I am really excited to learn more about this movement as I interact more with Argentine activists at my pasantia, or internship.  More info about that is pending.  For now, I need to catch a collectivo (bus) to meet up with some friends.

 Hasta lluego!

p.s. But first, some pictures from my walk around the city including a visit to the famed Recoleta cemetary, a cemetary different than any I have ever seen.    






¡Que bonbon y yo con diabetes! (says the 60 year old man to the 20-something wearing a miniskirt in the middle of winter) July 21, 2007

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::La Avenida Nueve de Julio, la mas ancha del mundo.   The widest street in the world and an odd source of pride for los porteños.   

So, I’ve been here nearly a week and I already feel a bit like a porteño.  I’ve been taking the subte into the microcentro every morning at 8:30 so that I can run in just a minute or two late to my first clase de castellano.  From my brief experience, I haven’t seen any evidence of the infamous latino disregard for punctuality.  Maybe that’s a perk of actually being Argentine and not just a gringo trying to pass as one.  Anyway, I love the subte!  It’s fast, trains come every couple minutes, you see a great cross-section of the population cause everyone seems to ride it, and it costs less than 30 american cents.  My only beef is that when I get on at estacion palermo, the trains seem to be packed beyond belief, and then at each station, somehow a dozen or so additional people find their way onto the train.  As far as I can tell, the only possible explanation for this phenomena is that a collective sucking in occurs that I’m somehow not privy to.  Perhaps this is the unlikely root of Argentina’s problem with eating disorders. 

     Well, the reason why I’m writing this post so late in the afternoon is because I visited my first boliche last night.  After visiting a few bars, one with naked mud wrestling (which turned out to be a private party… who knew?) I went with a group of friends to a Brasilian club called Maluco Beleza.  We got there a bit before 3 and were suprised to find it moderately empty, which was especially surprising because yesterday was Dia del Amigo.  A day to celebrate old friendships commorating the first moon landing.  This official holiday is such a popular day for socializing that the cellphone networks of argentina’s biggest cities (BA, Cordoba y Rosario) all have completely crashed in the last few years.  It turns out that the club doesn’t really get going until 3:30, but when it does… oh man.  I’ve never danced so much in my life.  We ended up leaving pretty early (around 6:45am) only to find an enormous line outside!  I guess after 7:30/8 people start chilling out a bit and head to the “afters” which go strong until early afternoon.  I cannot begin to comprehend how one would have the stamina to party that hard and be an effective human being.  Es la vida, verdad? 

      Over the past few days I’ve really gotten to know my host mother, Rosa, well.  I feel really lucky to be staying with such a kind, funny and interesting women.  It also helps that she cooks like a fiend!  For example, last night before going out, we hung out and listened to a Stevie Wonder greatest hits cd talking about the nuances of Borat!  I need to find this woman a translated version of Da Ali G Show…ASAP!  Her entire family consists of Psychologists (one of the most common professions in Buenos Aires it turns out) primarily of the Lacanian school, of which I really want to learn more!  Perhaps I may even take a Lacan class at UBA (although since Lacan is notoriously impossible to comprehend in his native French, and even moreso via inadequate English translations, I feel like it may be a horrendous idea to try to learn Lacanian theory in Castellano).  Anyway, we’ll see. 

         Below is a picture (that i cannot get to stay oriented correctly) which has an accompanying history that I think represents Argentine politics quite well: 


      So in 1807, the British tried to invade Buenos Aires for a second time in order to expand their empire.  During this invasion, they successfully held a number of areas around the center city for a time, but were eventually repulsed by local militias.  During one skirmish, according to popular Argentine historical folklore, the Brits tried for days to take this Fransciscan monestary, which contained important militia leaders.  They laid siege to the church and barraged it with cannon fire, which can be seen still today on the left tower.  Eventually, the tenacity and bravery of the local militiamen repulsed the Brits who were forced to retreat, having lost an important battle, or so the story goes.  Actually, genuine historical scholarhip has determined that the Brits actually took the church quite easily, riding their horses into the sanctuary to desecrate it as the remaining militiamen fled out the back of the completely destroyed church.  However once the British forces were defeated and repulsed from the Rio de la Plata, the church was rebuilt and cannonballs put into the belltower walls to give the appearance of a church that could take a lickin’ and keep on tickin, much like the tenacious Argentines.  Look again at the picture, did you really think the Brits could aim that well?  

A long way from Chi-town… July 17, 2007

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So, after 2 uneventful flights I am now roughly 9004 KM from Chicago.  Mission accomplished.  In fact the inflight movie was only the 2nd movie in recent memory to bring tears to my eyes (the first was Mar Adentro: The Sea Inside).  It follows the life and times of America’s greatest patriot, Ralph Nader, and is called An Unreasonable Man.  To watch his idealism shattered by Jimmy Carter’s empty promises is simply devestating. 

       Anyway, so I’m in Buenos Aires now, hanging out with my madre, Rosa, lover of Che Guevara, red wine, italian cooking and psychology.  We are going to have a really, really good time for the next 5 months!  Between lunch and dinner, which was served at 10:30pm (yess!!!), I went for a 6 hour walk from the apartment, all around downtown and then back.  I must have passed 50 heladarias (ice cream stores) and about 150 parillas (gaucho style BBQ joints).  2 points, Argentina!  Seriously, this place is enormous.  What’s so cool about it is that at least from the 50 or so blocks from my apt to the Microcentro, all the buildings are at least  4-5 stories, so you get the midtown Manhattan feel where you really feel like you’re in a serious city, but alot of the architecture is turn of the century or older, really ornate stuff.  The best of both worlds if you will.  However, I can already tell that there’s a lot more to this city than sweet architecture on an epic scale.  For starters, everyone looks really good!  Guys, girls, little kids, the elderly… it’s obvious that the portenos put a premium on style.  The flip side of this is that you suffer some serious cognitive dissonance when you, like I did multiple times earlier today, witness very pretty and fashionable 20-something year old women digging through the trash in heels for recyclables to cash in.  

        Judging from my time walking around today, in general the streets of BA are a pretty fun place just to hang out.  For example, within a 5 block radius, I witnessed:

::medical students shooting off fireworks (not just little bottle rockets and roman candles… real fireworks!) in the middle of a busy street to celebrate the end of the year     

::a sopping wet couple getting 4 sacks of flour dumped on them by a surprisingly friendly looking crowd of kids as they run out of an office building

::a group of 40-something damas y caballeros dressed in fur and leather walking down the street smoking joints blatently in front of the police

::lots and lots of dogs wearing doggie sweaters and mittens (since the portenos are freaking out over how cold it is)

      So, if you can’t tell, I already really, really like Buenos Aires and can’t wait to get to know the city, which right now is actually pretty depressed as a whole, due to their embarrassing 3-0 loss to Brasil in the Copa America final (which I watched in the Miami airport)!   I’ll update soon with pics of the apt and Rosa’s gatito (whose name currently escapes me).   For now, here are a couple pics from Puerto Madero (the new, uberchic region of Buenos Aires that was a slum not so many years back and is now being converted into swanksville).  It does have a sweet Calatrava designed bridge though, la puente de la mujer (Women’s bridge).  croatia-mexico-1st-day-of-baires-083.jpg



p.s. I got lazy formatting the pictures, just click them to see in full. 

p.s.s. The last pic is of the plaza de Mayo, not puerto madero.  If you’ve seen Evita or photos from the 2001 economic collapse, you know that at various times in history, this has been the epicenter of Argentina populism and protest.  It looks somewhat different on a lazy winter Sunday. 

¡Che! July 15, 2007

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So, I’m off in 10 hours for Buenos Aires and I think i’m all packed.  A backpack, small suitcase, laptop bag and shoulder bag seem like total overkill considering I’m going to be living with a family, but a man needs his creature comforts.  Like a bike lock…so I can cruise the widest street in the world, the avenida 9 de Julio (pictured above), in 2 wheel style.  

      Tomorrow I get to fly to Miami, hang out for a few hours and then hop a 777 down to the land of the clockwise spinning toilets (or so I hear).  I’ll report back soon to either confirm or bust this Coriolis effect myth as well as to let y’all know what my family situation is in Baires.  All I know at this point is that the head of my new familia is named Rosa Girardi and she lives on Avenida Santa Fe in Palermo, near the Palermo stop on linea D.  A location verified by extensive Google Earthing as being quite nice, and rather hip as well.  Anyway, I will soon know for sure, but until then… my tiny bed here at my parent’s house beckons! 

As a send-off, here’s a picture of what I’m expecting Rosa’s backyard to look like:

   vegetarians beware!

Vegetarians beware!