Sunday, May 20, 2007

Every time I see you, I love you more.

I can't imagine a better note to end on for the time being.

This poster is part of the mayor's civic-pride-cum-reëlection campaign. I'm going soft in my waning days here. Maybe it's mawkish, but whenever I see one of these posters around town, I smile.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Fruit slinger

In a week, I'm leaving Buenos Aires and going to Chicago for several months.

The bad news: The World's First Expat Blog will be on hiatus while I'm gone.

The good news: Blogging on the Internet has replaced blogging in my head as my favorite way to blog. So I'm going to keep at it.

You'll be able to find me at Fruit Slinger. I'll be blogging as I work for one amazing farm, selling strawberries, cherries, blueberries, plums, peaches, nectarines, a dozen kinds of melons, two dozen kinds of apples, half a dozen types of pears and probably something else I'm forgetting.

I know, I know. . . You're looking at that list and thinking: What about apricots? They were pretty much wiped out this year by a late cold snap. It's very sad.

Anyone interested in farmers markets, sustainable agriculture, cooking, food, hilarity, or killing time at work might find Fruit Slinger worth a visit. Tell your friends!

Because I'll be without a computer for a bit, there'll be a break of a week or two before the first stirrings on Fruit Slinger.

Meanwhile, I'd enjoy hearing from you in the comments section. No registration is required and you would be saving me a lot of trouble by posting. Otherwise I'm going to have to go in and add comments myself using different identities to avoid looking like a tool with a blog almost no one reads. . . . even though, yes, I am a tool with a blog that almost no one reads -- well, now two blogs.

* * *

Before I get to Chicago, I'll be in New York for the wedding of a friend of mine from journalism school. We met on the first day of college 12 years ago. Now she's a big-time magazine editor in New York City. A few months ago, I was reflecting on this aloud to Joel:

"You know, it's funny. I'm not really sure what happened. When we were in school, we were both very career-focused. We were both ambitious. She took that ambition and turned it into a successful magazine career. And me? I took that ambition and turned it into . . . "

". . . a blog," Joel cracked.

Well, now two blogs.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Going bananas

Photo from

The string that holds this place together has frayed in some spectacular ways in the last week.

We're on the third day of yet another airline strike. (Whether you'd want to fly anyway is another story, considering lightning fried the radar months ago and it hasn't been replaced.)

No matter what the government says, there's a milk shortage and it's getting ridiculous.

Trouble with garbage collection unions have threatened to leave half of the city's trash on the sidewalks.

And, oh yeah: Commuters went batshit insane last night at a train station and destroyed the ticket office, public telephones and several kiosks, as well as setting various fires in the station. It took at least 100 paramilitary police to restore order.

The train delays that set off the riot were no doubt frustrating. But -- and this is just me talking here -- I'm not sure my first instinct would have been to rob a motorcycle from just outside the station and set fire to it inside the station. The cops who tried to stop this were outnumbered and had to retreat to their headquarters there, which was also set ablaze.

Of course there's a political angle to all this. I won't get into it much except to say this: Clarín notes that joining the rioting passengers were some homeless kids who live in the station and "activists." You can read that last word as professional agitators who take advantage of the government's reluctance to be seen as quashing popular uprisings, even when shit is getting set on fire.

Two years ago, about five years of restoration work wrapped up on this train station, Estación Constitución. It looked great.

[UPDATE 17 May: Just for good measure, there's a subway strike and a sizable blackout today.]

Other blogs

I have added a side bar containing links to some choice BsAs blogs. There's also one from Chile, because it's good to know what the neighbors are up to.

Frankly, I have in the past been reluctant to mention these other blogs because they make this blog look like it's written by monkeys -- talented monkeys with remarkable keyboarding skills and a sweet, monkey-friendly digital camera. But monkeys nonetheless.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

For sale

Being a non-native resident here means I don't pick up on some things. There's the language, of course. But it goes beyond that.

How many cars with water jugs or bleach bottles or oil cans sitting on top of them did I have to pass before I realized they were trying to tell me something?

It means the car is for sale.

Monday, May 14, 2007

My list

This is the kind of city you would quit your job and move 6,000 miles to live in.

But it's not perfect.

Here are some things I will and won't miss when I'm not in Buenos Aires. (All in one list to keep it interesting, and because some things fall under both headings.)

- No screens on the windows. Open your window for some fresh air in the summer and be prepared to share your home with every bug imaginable.

- Fruit displays: the carefully stacked piles of citrus and crates of melons on almost every block.

- The glass of seltzer water and cookie(s) that automatically come with your coffee.

- The national coin shortage.

- An oven with no temperature control.

- On so many blocks, one out of ten buildings is an elegant minor masterpiece of architecture.

- The other nine buildings.

- A bank that will let me use the ATM to make deposits -- but not outside banking hours (10am-3pm, Monday through Friday).

- A tax system and culture that make you feel punished for playing by the rules.

- Intersections without stop signs.

- Discussing politics with Susana, one of the women who does my laundry.

- Nearly free public transportation.

- The utter sameness of the food.*

- My friends.

- My doorman.

- Fresh pasta shops.

- Fluorescent flood lighting in restaurants.

- High-quality ice cream in a multiplicity of flavors.

- The opportunity to learn something in even the most basic transactions.

- The casualness with which so many people -- mothers, businessmen, ladies in elegant coats -- litter.

- People reminding me that I'm not in the First World.

- The knowledge that doing even the simplest thing could well take five times as long as it should and involve 10 times the number of steps. Or, you know, it could be solved instantly since it's no big deal to bend the rules.

- Dog shit.

- Malbec.

- Being the foreigner.

- Mullets.

* There is a national menu of beef, pasta and pizza. Deviations are usually expensive and not readily available. I asked someone a few months ago if he thought there had been any food trends in Buenos Aires in the last 10 years. He said the parrilla -- a typical Argentine barbecue restaurant -- was making a big comeback. So, basically, the trend he identified was more beef restaurants. Super!

Friday, May 11, 2007

What will happen without the hookers?

The city passed a law a few years ago saying prostitution was fine, but prostitutes had to work at least 200 meters from homes, schools and places of worship. So a lot of the hookers who once worked a certain street in the Palermo neighborhood moved to a spot in a nearby park.

This is one of my favorite Clarín articles of all time.

The reporter talked to some hookers who moved to the park, noting that there weren't as many as there might have been, because it was January and the height of the summer vacation season. What? You thought hookers didn't get vacation?

In any case, the hookers' forced exodus did not sit well with some Palermo residents. Their gripe: This street isn't going to be safe without the prostitutes! Without the prostitutes and their customers, the logic went, the streets would be nearly empty and therefore more dangerous.

Meanwhile, three exercisers in the park were interviewed. They were glad the prostitutes were there. Finally! They could go for a jog secure in the knowledge that the prostitutes had made the park safer.

The article talks mostly about the transvestites that used to work a particular strip ... which made me think of the taxi driver who took me to the airport when my first trip down here was coming to an end.

Taxi driver: So, where are you from?
Dan: The United States.
TD: Really? I wouldn't have guessed it!
Dan: Yep. True fact. The United States.
TD: Huh. So you're going back, huh?
Dan: Yeah.

[A minute or two of silence.]

TD: We really have a lot of transvestites here.
D: Excuse me?
TD: Transvestites. You know. . . Transvestites. We really have a lot of them here.
D: Oh.
TD: Do you have a lot of transvestites in your country?
D: Um. I can't really say.

[Many, many minutes of silence. It is a long ride to the airport.]

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Do I buy this?

Part of me is a little skeptical.

Clarín has a story on a protest that was taking place near a school. The parents were demanding a stoplight because too many drivers speed through there, some of them going the wrong way on the street.

So far so good. This part I definitely believe.

But there was a camera crew there to cover the protest. And what did they capture on film? A little girl almost getting run over DURING the protest!

Part of it looks real, but there's also a little bit of a surreal quality to it. Of course, you could say the same about a lot of things here. It doesn't make them less real.

There's some coarse language in the video clip as the parents chew out the driver, whose only answer seems to be, "I made a mistake."

You don't need to understand Spanish to appreciate the footage of the close call, which is about 30 seconds in.

The kid's OK.

P.S. If you want to get language geeky, you can pause to appreciate the broadcaster's Buenos Aires accent in the first 20 seconds or so, with the lingering "a" in "contramano" and "semáforos."

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Book of complaints

Stores are required to post a sign telling you that there is a complaint log available for you to write in or peruse at your request.

I went to return something at the local megamart today and while I was waiting at the customer service desk, I started flipping through the complaint book.

I have this vision in my head of the complaint book being the ultimate escalation. You have a problem. Maybe you talk to the manager for a few minutes and you're still not satisfied. Tempers flare. Voices rise. Suddenly, everyone falls silent and takes one step back as you request [cue ominous music] the Book of Complaints.

And then you write your complaint in there and then . . .

Yeah. Exactly. I'm not sure what's supposed to happen next. I remember being told a long time ago in Spain that periodically someone from the government would come around and look at the complaint book. And then what? Copy the best ones over into his/her own notebook and then . . .

Yeah. Exactly.

Today I only looked at a few pages. One complaint noted that there were NEVER, EVER any large plastic bags, no matter how many times you ask for them. All they have are the small plastic bags. Totally unacceptable. This is something I have observed myself, although I have never been moved to write about it in the complaint book.

The other complaint observed that the lack of dairy product selection in the store was very frustrating. While the complaint acknowledged that this problem was probably not due to the store itself, it was still unacceptable. It was, the complaint concluded, "¡una vergüenza!" (Shameful!)

Man . . . that is a tongue-lashing from which the complaint book won't soon recover!

Monday, May 7, 2007

5 steps to understanding this poster

1. There is a massive citywide, government-sponsored poster campaign (as mentioned in a previous post) ostensibly promoting peace, unity and clean sidewalks but lately being used mostly as a tool by the mayor -- Jorge Telerman -- for self-aggrandizement in the run-up to mayoral elections.

2. The posters are done in a sharp and consistent style.

3. The mayor has been accused -- by a political opponent -- of corruption in a case known as the Skanska case.

4. The mayor's opponents have appropriated the distinctive look of the city's posters and turned them against the mayor with their own propaganda.

5. The results are amusing. Look at that bribe changing hands in the corner! The little government official is so happy to be getting his bribe/kickback money. Awww! Don't you just wish they could stay like that forever?

Friday, May 4, 2007

Side of beef

A few times a week I see the refrigerated trucks delivering beef to the markets and butcher shops. When I was taking this photo, I'm sure the people waiting at the bus stop off my left shoulder were wondering what the hell I was doing. It's hard. . . . You want to say something to them, but at the same time it's pointless. I look like an ordinary citizen. Who would believe I have my own blog?

I personally have no problem with the photo, but I decided it didn't quite pass what we called the "cornflakes test" back when I was silly enough to work at a newspaper. That is, it's not necessarily the kind of thing you would want to see while you were eating breakfast, at least not without knowing what you were getting into.

The full-size version is on Flickr.

About 15 years ago, 95% of beef here was distributed like this, with only 5% being delivered in pre-cut pieces. The ratio has since shifted to something like 75%/25%.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Attitude Buenos Aires

Not honking your horn is listening to one another,
attitude Buenos Aires / Telerman administration

There's an odd profusion of propaganda campaigns here that feels a little old-fashioned (aren't direct appeals a little passé?) but at the same time can be quite slick.

The posters are all over town. The TV spots are common, too. That's been the case for as long as I've been here. But with city elections right around the corner, the propaganda machine is really in high gear -- no sense in the incumbent spending campaign money on reelection ads when he can spend public money reminding people how great he is.

The complete assortment of TV spots is here. Among the coolest ones are those done with animation, such as "New Trees" and "Public Areas".

Then there are the poster campaigns, some of which overlap with the TV spots and some of which don't. You've got your flu vaccine, you've got your expanded hours in public hospitals (shame on you for seeing that as a cynical political ploy), you've got your dengue fever prevention, and of course, national tango day.

As for whether these things have any effect, I don't know. Even before the campaigns, I wasn't smoking, throwing trash on the street or running people over.

I'm the kind of immigrant countries would fight over.