Thursday, March 29, 2007

Secret food, cont.

On the subject of the secret restaurant once again:

The idea of the food was that it should gather influences from Latin American cuisines, highlighting indigenous ingredients. It also meshed nicely with my half-assed vegetarian ways.

Shot of melon, rosemary honey and cachaça

Cachaça is a Brazilian sugarcane liquor, often seen in the mixed drink the caipirinha.

Nigiri causa topped with a halibut tartar, on marinated mushrooms and a huacatay ailoli

The causa is a Peruvian potato preparation, sort of stuffed mashed potatoes. In this case, it was presented like nigiri sushi would be, with a lump of potatoes where you would expect rice and the halibut tartar on top. Huacatay, new to me, was perhaps the single most interesting flavor of the night.

Spinach, figs, Paraguayan peanuts, goat cheese and arrope de chañar vinaigrette

Arrope means syrup/jelly and the chañar is a native thorny shrub with small berries.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Fighting dirty

We're in the middle of a solid week of rain.

The infrastructure here is pretty creaky, meaning the city can't handle the downpours.

At the beginning of the week, there was a blackout that missed me by a few blocks and lasted 24 hours. People were in the streets banging pots and pans and burning tires. Until it started to pour again. Then they all went back inside.

Hey, they're pissed, but they're not crazy.

Even when the power stays on, the flooding is ridiculous. The drainage system is just not up to the amount of rain.

A few years ago, the city had to chain the grates to the storm drains because scrap metal haulers were helping themselves to the valuable iron grates. Without the grates, the drains got clogged easily. That problem is more or less solved.

But there is another problem: Trash left in the street is being swept up by the currents of rainwater and deposited onto the grates in massive quantities. The drains are blocked, water builds up, and very quickly streets are impassable.

With the amount of trash in the streets here, it's certainly easy to see how this could happen on its own.

But now the city government has come out and accused its political opponents of trying to make the mayor look bad by sending groups of thugs to break open trash bags and pile the garbage on the storm drains.

Totally laughable, right? Yes. And entirely possible.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Secret food

I could tell you where we had dinner last night, but I'd have to kill you. The restaurant was so secret, we didn't tell ourselves where the hell it was.

My modish dinner companion and rakish man about town Joel thought I would bring the address and I thought he would. Oops.

There are not many food trends here in Buenos Aires, as Joel pointed out the other night. Everything seems to be chugging along on the same meat-potatoes-pizza-pasta formula that has served them well for so many years.

But if there is a nascent trend of any sort, it might be the closed-door, "secret" restaurant.

One of my favorite places to eat here, Providencia, was a closed-door restaurant. But after it was mentioned a few months back in a NYT travel article, I feared an influx of TimeOut-clutching hordes jabbering in English, so I haven't been back.

Finding a restorán de puertas cerradas is tough. You can't ask anyone, especially when it's only been open for three weeks. We did have it narrowed down to one block. So we examined all the houses on the block and tried to peer through windows, reasoning out the likelihood of each one being the restaurant. We also briefly reasoned out the likelihood of our getting arrested for appearing to case people's homes. But whatever.

We got nowhere, so we spent 45 minutes walking around the Palermo neighborhood trying to find someplace with Internet so we could get the address off of an email account.

At one point I asked a cop if he knew where there was Internet in the neighborhood. Before he said no, he made sure to express his displeasure that I had not first wished him buenas noches before I started in.

Fortunately, being churlish is not an arrestable offense.

Joel finally hit upon the idea of going to a so-hip-it-hurts-no-REALLY-hurts hotel several blocks over and asking if they knew where the restaurant was. They did.

We got to the place at least 45 minutes after our reservation and I was afraid the party would have started without us. Yeah. . . . not exactly. We pretty much were the party, being the only ones there, except for two friends of the chef.

At 10.30, we sat down to a seven-course meal and a night of general asshattery.

Welcome drink: Shot of melon, rosemary honey and cachaça
Amuse: Nigiri causa topped with a halibut tartar, on marinated mushrooms and a huacatay ailoli
Salad: Spinach, figs, Paraguayan peanuts, goat cheese and arrope de chañar vinaigrette
Appetizer: Fried Neuquén oyster mushrooms and yellow plum chutney
Intermezzo: Lemon verbana granita*
Main course: Wild mushroom and goat cheese gallete in a corn and yucca humita with a pipian salsa
Dessert: Pear, coconut and red wine mousse tart with milk chocolate bits

A future blog entry will return to the subject of this menu.

For a good while after dinner, we sat and talked with the chef about peyote, his lost years in Mexico City, his MacBook, and Lord knows what else.

About 2.30am, we stumbled out into the street and headed home.

* The chef brought this out and told us what it was. My response: "Oh, wow! I just got some lemon verbana in my produce delivery earlier this week." Joel's response: "I think it's in one of my shampoos."

Friday, March 23, 2007


I'm trying to decide what my deal is. This could be a lifelong process, I'll grant you, but at the moment I'm focusing on relatively narrow questions: Do I come back here after I go to the States in a few months? Do I try to hang on to my apartment here while I'm in the States? (My landlord has offered to let me sublet the place if I can find someone trustworthy.*)

If you thought I already knew the answers to any of the above questions, you were right. I did. But now it's all up in the air again. That said, it's getting to be decision time. One of the things I want to do is make sure I have as many doors open to me as possible.

That's where my visa comes in. It expires in June. Or July. It depends on which piece of paper you look at. One says 7/6/2007 and the other says 6/7/2007. Naturally.

The process for renewing the visa is remarkably simple. Get a police report verifying that you have no criminal record in Argentina, sign a sworn statement you are not using illicit means to support yourself,** pay your 300 pesos and that's it.

But. . . .

All of this can ONLY be done the day before your visa expires. Setting aside for a moment the fact that my visa's expiration date is a matter of opinion, I am planning to be out of the country for both of those dates.

This is a two-year visa. . . it's good for 730 days. And they have chosen to make it renewable only on one day.

So I called immigration.

I have some sympathy for the people who answer the phones there because it's probably pretty stressful dealing with foreigners all day. The guy I spoke to seemed to be wound remarkably tight. When he asked me when I planned to leave the country and I hesitated before I answered, he all but shouted into the phone:

"¿Cuándo? ¿Cuándo? ¿Cuándo?"

Eesh. I heard you the first time.

Anyway. He said to come in as close as I could to the date(s) of my visa's expiration and bring a plane ticket to prove that I wasn't going to be here. Sounds reasonable. Who knows if it will work, but it sounds reasonable.

Then I asked him if the renewal paperwork was going to be issued immediately or it would take, ahem, a few days to process, in which case how would I re-enter the country if my old papers were expired and the new ones were waiting for me in Argentina in the immigration office?

His response: "That's a good question."

Thank you. I thought so, too.

*E-mail me if you know someone who wants to live here for several months. Really.
**I bet they catch a lot of crooks that way.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


First, this.

Then, this.

Now, this:

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


This afternoon, I gave an English class at a Jewish high school. When I was finished, I hopped on the bus, standing next to a man reading Corriere della Sera and really rocking the whole open-shirt/chest-hair thing as we passed through Chinatown. I got off the bus and walked to Persicco, where I had a small cup of two flavors: dulce de leche con brownie and crema de arándano (blueberry cream).

I worked on my article for an hour or so. Then I headed over to the fresh pasta shop, where I bought some sorrentinos caprese (round mozzarella, tomato and basil ravioli). My dinner was a salad of arugula from the vegetable delivery today, the sorrentinos, and a glass of Saurus* 2004 Malbec.

I don't know if it's a typical day for me by any means. But it's certainly representative of why I choose to live here.

*This is a really great Malbec from Patagonia. That's dinosaur country and the label explains that they called it Saurus because they found fossils when they broke ground for the winery.

Rewrite hell

In between giving English classes (don't get me started), subtitling (no, really) and the usual freelance hoo-haa of my life (you'll regret it), this:

There's an article I wrote that I have been dealing with for more than two months now. I interested an editor in it, but then didn't hear from her for a while. The other day, I talked to her and she said she was still interested in it. Very much so. But she didn't like the opening. Or the closing. And everything in between had to be rewritten.

This is the point where I could have used my stature in the blogosphere to wow her, but I'd like to think I'm a little more diplomatic than that. She needs to believe that she has some power here and I'm not quite ready to go to that place where I tell her: "Oh, really? Well, if it's not good enough for your newspaper, maybe I'll just post it on my blog and see what my reader thinks!"

So I have been tasked with rewriting my article from top to bottom. Normally my reaction would be just to giggle at the word "bottom," but I can assure you I am not not giggling about this. And the stress is starting to show on my face. Earlier today I sat (sideways) for a portrait:


I think she really nailed the hair.

But I digress. This rewrite is really hard. And I am stuck. Stucker than ... an electrified stucking machine. I know that seems hard to believe.

Today I awoke with a new strategy: Write the article as though I were writing an email to a friend, and then of course go back later and strip out all the LOLs and references to Elton John.

Wait. OMG. There's an Elton John song called "Writing." LOL.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Blanco y negro

If you work in Argentina, you are just as likely as not to be an on-the-books employee.

Under-the-table employment is dropping, but it still stands at 43% of the workforce. That's down from 45.5% from the last quarter of 2006.

These (government-generated) numbers have been much closer to 50% in the past. So they're falling.

But can we agree that trabajo en negro (under-the-table employment) is difficult to track and easily underreported? Employers sure as hell aren't going to be volunteering their numbers to the government. Employees may feel they have little to gain by reporting their employer, trabajo en negro being better than no trabajo at all.

Oh, and I know, I know . . . Another snore of a government/politics/tax entry. Listen, not every day can be a walk in the park. But it was short, right? Plus, I am convinced this will make great cocktail party chatter, for you swells in the audience.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sunday in the park with TWFEB

While everybody else was watching the big game(s) this afternoon, I took a break from work to go for a walk.

It's March, so everyone is back from vacation and the city has filled back up again. But Sundays are always different from the rest of the week. It's possible to walk around without getting too jostled, and to breathe deeply without getting a lungful of bus exhaust.

I walked about an hour to Recoleta, the city's wealthiest neighborhood. It was great to see that even as leaves start to fall, some things are blooming.

Trees full of these flowers were in the park right across the street from the park that holds the stainless steel Floralis Generica sculpture. The petals of this sculpture are open during the day and then close as night falls.

As always, you can click on the photo for the full-size version.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

15 years on

Today Buenos Aires observed the 15th anniversary of the deadliest attack on an Israeli diplomatic mission. A Catholic church and a school building were also blown up.

Two years later, there was another attack, this time on the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association.

Maybe you don't think of Latin America as being home to many Jews. I know I didn't before I came here. But there are more than 200,000 Jews in Buenos Aires, Latin America's largest Jewish community.

The embassy bombing remains unsolved. It's common to see synagogues, Jewish schools and other Jewish institutions here behind security barriers.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Monday, March 12, 2007


Venezuela's charismatic and kooky leftist leader Hugo Chavez was in Buenos Aires over the weekend. His visit coincided with Bush's visit to Uruguay, just an hour across the river by ferry.

Chavez's two-hour speech at a stadium with 20,000 people, along with the attendant protests and rock-throwing, got an insane amount of media coverage. I mean, seriously. You would think Bono was visiting.

An unscientific poll published in Clarín asked people who they would rather have visit the country, Bush or Chavez. Between the two, I'm sure you can guess who won. But the winner by far was "neither." Heh.

Let us now turn our attention to Uruguay:

Uruguay is very much Canada to Argentina's United States. The two countries are generally friendly and at times virtually indistinguishable neighbors, with Uruguay destined to be forever overshadowed by the Goliath that is Buenos Aires and the rest of Argentina.

Tabaré Vazquez, Uruguay's president, is an oncologist who still practices part time. Under his leadership, the country banned smoking in all enclosed public spaces.

For the last year or two, relations between Uruguay and Argentina have been inflamed by Uruguay's building of paper mills on the border between the two countries.

Now back to Argentina:

Argentine outrage at the environmental impact of these paper mills reeks of hypocrisy given the pollution here, including a fetid river on the south side of this city and drinking water in the Province of Buenos Aires that was found to be contaminated by a nearby nuclear power plant. Mmm. . . . nucleary.

In his visit here, Chavez spoke in a solidly middle-class neighborhood about half an hour's walk from my apartment. The Latin American political geek in me would have loved to attend. Alas, there was a decided anti-American bent (the event was dubbed an "anti-imperialist" gathering) and one rock to the head can ruin your whole weekend.

Back when Fidel Castro was alive, I also missed the chance to hear him speak when he visited here. It was initially billed as an engagement for a limited audience. But of course the crowds were such that the floodgates were opened and anyone who wanted to hear him speak was able to. Not that I found out about this until the next day in the newspaper, of course.

To review:

  1. Hugo Chavez visited here and got a lot of media attention.
  2. A thoroughly mediocre throw-away joke was made about Bono.
  3. A newspaper published a poll.
  4. Uruguay is a country.
  5. The president of Uruguay is an oncologist.
  6. Argentina is very upset about potential pollution from paper mills being built in Uruguay, but hasn't done a damn thing to clean up some really frightening pollution at home.
  7. I almost heard an interesting and arguably historic Latin American leader speak, but in the end I didn't. This has happened before.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

It's hard out there for a blogger

Six years ago, when I started this blog, I made a solemn resolution: "I am going to get serious about eating less cheese!"

Another resolution I made, possibly of more interest to readers of this blog, was that I would never write one of those lame, "Sorry! I'm super-busy! I'll post more soon, I promise!" posts. In part because I would never be able to take myself seriously if I used that many exclamation points, but also because, really, if you have time to post that, then you have time to post something at least halfway interesting, if brief.

Basically, I think people expect more from the World's First Expat Blog. And as one of the world's preeminent bloggers, I owe them more.

[As an aside, I keep up with about a dozen blogs. I check them every day or two. And when I check those blogs to see if they've updated, I also check this one. . . . to see if it's updated. Because I am apparently under the impression that magical blogging fairies will update this blog when I don't? I bet if I understood this aspect of my behavior, I would understand why I eat so much cheese.]

You may look at this impressive work of blogsmanship and assume that this is what I do full time. In fact, it is not. In addition to this blog, I run a freelance empire. It isn't much, but, hey, it keeps me teetering above the brink of insolvency.

In any case, Dan Inc. has kept me busier this past week than at any other point in the last two years. Beyond editing for an expat magazine here and catalog copywriting for a company in the United States of America, I have been teaching English classes, doing subtitling and dealing with accounts receivable.* I also interested a U.S. newspaper in an article and so I am rushing to finish that.

None of the above are get-rich-quick schemes. But they all pay more than blogging.

So for now I will just say this, not wanting to overpromise: Things come to those who wait.

* Maybe this is a well-known maxim, but the smaller the amount in question, the more work it seems to be to collect it. In addition, part of the joy of the system here is that clients require physical invoices from a government-approved invoice tablet which are produced using carbon paper (remember carbon paper?). So every one of those I produce takes several hours, including the time needed to run it over to them. . . and then pick up the check on a separate occasion . . . and then cash the check at the bank on which its drawn, since I don't have a bank account here.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Look, we made the paper!

Whenever Argentina appears in the New York Times, it becomes a news item in at least the online edition of Argentina's largest daily, Clarín.

Can you imagine if the situation were reversed? If any major U.S. newspaper had as a headline "U.S. makes front page of foreign nation's paper"?

As usual, Larry Rohter's conclusions ring true. There's a good chance the next president will be the current president's wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Cristina Kirchner is often compared to Hillary Clinton. In fact, the comparison is almost a slight to Cristina since she already had a slice of the limelight when her husband was elected president in 2003. She was a national senator. He was the little known governor of the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz.

The election that brought Néstor Kirchner to power in 2003 was singular. He won just 22% of the vote and was headed for a run-off. But when his run-off opponent, former president Carlos Menem, dropped out of the race, Kirchner won by default.

Rohter's article touches on something I've already harped on:

In 2003, Néstor Kirchner was handed an economy that could hardly have gone anywhere but up. Four years on, all the easy work has been done.

What do the next four years hold for this country, and for whoever is elected president? A deep and pervasive lack of trust and confidence combined with fresh memories of the 2001-02 crisis mean there is precious little margin for error in guiding the economy. A few false moves and before you know it, things have spiraled out of control. Again.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Dead ringer

These two photographs I took at a convenience store yesterday may say more about this place than anything I have written or ever could write.

Note: You can always click on the photos for a full-sized version.

On the first phone is a sign that reads: "Doesn't work. The other one does."

So I looked at the other one:

Its sign reads: "Doesn't work either."

Monday, March 5, 2007

Another scoop

Saturday's supper at Pura Tierra, with temporary fellow Buenos Aires resident, dinner companion and jolly good fellow Joel, wrapped up about midnight. Because that is how we roll here. We decided an ice cream was in order. That is another example of the manner in which we roll.

We walked over to Persicco, a top contender for best ice cream chain. We told the man at the register what size cone we wanted, got our ticket to present at the ice cream counter, and discussed flavor possibilities while we waited for our number to be called.

Dan: "Just let me know if you have ice cream vocabulary questions."
Joel: "OK. What's bacciola?"
D: "I don't know."
J: "What's chocolate suizo?"
D: "I don't know."
J: "What's sandía?"
D: "OMG! I know this one. Watermelon."

Our number came up and I handed our ticket to the guy behind the counter, who stamped it as "served" and asked me what I wanted. I told him: One with banana and chocolate Persicco and the other with menta granizada and café.

He snapped at me a little bit: "One at a time. What's the first one?"

"I'd like banana and chocolate Persicco, please," I said.

No sooner had I told him than he ran away and disappeared down a flight of stairs.

After a minute or two, he came back.

He reached for a cone bigger than the one I had ordered and said, "Because you had to wait . . ."

He piled the cone high and then zipped over to one edge of the counter to the toppings bar. I saw him pick up a few things and plop them on the cone. Then he took a bottle of syrup and made two quick squirts. I definitely hadn't asked for any toppings and I couldn't see exactly what he was doing.

When he came back, he handed me the cone and Joel and I just about peed our pants laughing. The kid standing next to Joel had a big smile on his face as Joel whipped out his cell phone to take a priceless photo.

Best. Ice cream cone. Ever.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Did you know Buenos Aires is the greatest?

I can't even tell you how spot-on this post is. (Gentle reader: I suspect you have already heard or read the "F word" before, but I feel I should warn you that the writer of the linked post drops the F-bomb in the second paragraph -- to hi-larious comic effect, I might add.)

I agree with so much of what he says that I had to stop and ask myself if I was blogging elsewhere in my sleep. But the answer is no. I am only blogging here in my sleep.

[Shout out to temporary fellow Buenos Aires resident, dinner companion and jolly good fellow Joel for the link.]

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Party's over

For the first weekend in a month, I won't hear drums banging outside my window at midnight, or children screaming as a school bus roars by at the same hour.

I take that back. Who knows what I'll hear out my window tonight. But whatever it is, it won't be because of Carnaval.

Carnaval is over.

I know our Portuguese-speaking neighbors to the north get all the Carnaval attention. But Buenos Aires celebrates, too -- and in a really charming, neighborhood-based way that sees a lot of kids participating in something of a last hurrah before classes start up again.

The murgas -- or troupes of performers -- have great names. To name a few: La resaca de Palermo (The Hangover of Palermo), Los mocosos* de Almagro (The Brats of Almagro), Desgastando el asfalto (Wearing Down The Asphalt), Los mamarrachos de Almagro (The Frightful Messes of Almagro).

This photo is better than any I took.

There is a lot of music, marching and dancing. A few blocks are cordoned off in each neighborhood. Some people set up small stands selling silly string or spray foam. Others fire up a barbecue and feed the masses. The party starts at 7pm and officially winds down at 2am.

But now that party is over.

Fortunately, the Tango Festival takes over where Carnaval leaves off.

*Moco is snot, so this works out rather nicely to English's "snot-nosed kid."