Sunday, December 30, 2007


Stu and I headed west to wine country for four days, but the trip is over now. I'm leaving Mendoza for Buenos Aires in a few hours. I'll be back home tomorrow morning.

Yesterday brought a full day of horseback riding in the foothills of the Andes. I am so sore. I have aches in places I didn't even know I had places.

I was without my trusty MacBook, so I had to forgo blogging this past week. But I'll be back in the saddle again shortly.

I've been blogging for a year now. When I started, I told myself I would give it a few months and see how it went. Then I told myself I would give it a year. I'm not sure how much longer I'll keep at it, but this blog has at least three more months left at any rate.

Happy new year and thank you for reading.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Dreams and delusions

When we walked into the art exhibit on Friday, they were already dismantling it.

But Guy No. 1 couldn't have been nicer. "Take your time looking around," he said. Then he spent some quality time with a cigarette and Guy No. 2.

The exhibit was mostly comic-style panels. The guys were patient with us, but they didn't waste any time either. We'd read one panel and they would take it off the wall while we moved on to the next one.

It could have been a performance piece about the impermanence of art, but I'm pretty sure they were just closing down the exhibit . . . several hours early. If we'd gotten there even half an hour later than we did, there wouldn't have been anything left to see.

The biggest piece in the room was this. We overheard the guys talking about it. It wasn't an original; it was a reproduction done by a local poster shop. So when they took it off the wall, Stu said: "You should ask them what's going to happen to it."

And I knew he was right. I mean, this could be my big chance. Could I make off with that great poster?

When we finished looking at the last panel in the exhibit, Guy No. 1 asked us what we thought. We gave it enthusiastically positive reviews. Then Stu coyly asked a question we already knew the answer to: Was this poster an original?

"Come on, Guy No. 1!" I thought. "Shrug your shoulders, smile, and let us walk away with the poster." But, no. A small part of me was disappointed.

Then, unprompted, he pointed toward the front of the room. "Do you guys want to take home part of the exhibit up front?"

We were ecstatic. "Yes!"

We could not stop laughing. We grinned like idiots while he grabbed one of each item on display.

An inventory:

  • 1 box, Sueños & Delirios. Consérvense en lugar fresco.
    (Dreams & Delusions. Keep in a cool place.)
  • 1 box, Pelusas. No se conforme con menos.
    (Lint. Don't settle for less.)
  • 1 box, Mini agujeros negros. Fuerza cósmica a su servicio.
    (Mini black holes. Cosmic force at your service.)
  • 1 can, Plasta informe. ¡Sin sabor!
    (Formless lump. Flavorless!)

I walked away happy with my free art and very pleased that Stu was able to see one of the best things about living here: Anything is possible. Granted, that's also one of the worst things about living here.

* * *

We walked around a lot on Saturday. We saw some very cool old buildings, some in great shape and others not. Even the ones in good repair were often marred by graffiti.

The name I most covet for my blog is "Buenos Aires, City of Faded Elegance." Because it's spot on.

We saw the stately Congress building, had coffee and a bite to eat in two of the city's classy cafés notables, and stopped in (twice!) at an artisinal cheese store.

But we also walked through some slightly sketchy sections of town, climbed over trash strewn across the sidewalk, sidestepped unsavory puddles, dodged mysterious dangling wires and watched an endless parade of hawkers scraping together a living on the subte — a lot of them children.

At one point we paused on Avendia Rivadavia to take in a beautiful building that would not have been out of place on any boulevard in Europe.

That's when Stu said that parts of the city look like they've been hit with an atomic bomb. It's true. Elegant buildings stand amidst chaos, grime and squalor.

We talked about the toll it must take to know that your city, once grand, is now in so many places held together by string.

What would be worse: To be able to remember the golden age? Or, as is the case with most people alive today, just to see suggestions of it while its legacy crumbles around you?

Friday, December 21, 2007


We got a late start yesterday. When we got to Chacarita cemetery, it was noon.

We spent a few hours there, taking photographs under the blazing sun. Stu noted the mausoleums seemed to be in better shape than a lot of the homes we had seen. It's true.

Stu said he had never seen anything like it.

Chacarita is on one end of Avenida Corrientes. We worked our way back down toward the other end, stopping for gnocchi, ice cream and coffee.

We ended up in the Plaza de Mayo, amidst the piqueteros (semi-professional protesters) and riot police.

Then it was time to go home.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Palermo Viejo

Stu and I walked around the Palermo Viejo neighborhood yesterday after lunch on a picture-perfect day. We talked about the juxtaposition of well preserved turn-of-the-century buildings, their crumbling counterparts, and then the modern monsters that pop up — all on the same block.

We also came across quite the collection of stencil graffiti.

Then I found out what it's like to hang out with someone who reads my blog too much:

We saw this narrow board inexplicably propped up against a building.

We both looked at each other.

"Do you think it's holding the building up?"

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Fruit stand

Now that summer is only days away, the fruit stand displays are getting good.

I snapped this photo while I was running around town today. I'm not posting the photo because it's extraordinary; I'm posting it because it's not. There are stands and displays like this on practically every block.

There's an annotated version of the photo on flickr.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A break from the routine

An old friend is coming into town this week and I am really excited.

Stu is coming from Japan, where he's lived for years. A decade ago, he and I were celebrating Christmas in Barcelona and New Year's Eve in Prague. Now we'll do the same in Argentina. Who could have seen that coming?

He's here for three weeks. I may post more, I may post less.

Either way, blame Stu.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Get off my lawn

Andrés Calamaro is part of the history of rock and roll in Argentina.

He's been called an Argentine Bob Dylan. I wouldn't make that comparison, but he did open for Dylan in Spain, which is some sort of endorsement for the idea.

His latest album — La lengua popular — is not his best, but it's good. It has some of the best album art I've seen in a long time.

The first time I saw him in concert was eight years ago in Madrid. Last night I went to see him at Club Ciudad de Buenos Aires, an outdoor venue. The sound was not so hot — and loud on a scale that I did not even know was possible. I had to take cover in a remote corner where the volume was not ear-splitting.

This dovetails neatly into my observation that for the first time, the (vast) majority of the concert-goers were younger than me. Ugh. And, you know, I shouted at them to get off my lawn, but the show was so loud they couldn't hear me.

The good news is that I really liked the opening band — Fito & Fitipaldis. (Warning: link plays music.) I was aware of them before and had heard a few songs, but it never really clicked until last night.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Squash blossoms

Squash blossoms are fragile. You should eat them the same day you buy them.

But I found some at the market this morning and I won't be home for dinner tonight, so they're going to have to wait for tomorrow. I expect to stuff them with ricotta, batter them and deep fry them. And I expect them to be freaking delicious.

Sometimes a very simple food crosses a line and becomes gourmet, and the price goes up accordingly. This happens a lot with fish. Monkfish and lobster used to be trash fish, either discarded outright or sold off for cheap. Now you'll pay top dollar for them.

Squash blossoms are a very pricey item in the States. When I would buy them at the farmers market in Chicago (back in the days when I had to pay for things there), they were 75¢ or $1 apiece.

Here, I bought them for 5¢ apiece. Yes, some things are cheaper here than in the States, but this is disproportionately and marvelously inexpensive.

And who can resist eating flowers?

* * *

I'm loath to make generalizations — even positive ones — about porteños. But I really do think that people here talk to strangers a little more than in the States.

I was coming back from the market this morning and about to cross a busy street. To my right stood a woman in her 70s.

The light changed and I strode out into the crosswalk.

Behind me, I heard a voice shout: "Wait for me!"

I took a few more steps and heard it again.

I turned around to see the little old lady galloping my way. She had been speaking to me.

"¡A los dos juntos no nos van a atropellar!" ("They won't run us both over together!")

We got to the other side of the street and she thanked me. "Please!" I said. "It was nothing."

It made me think of how I always feel just a little bit better about crossing the street with a nun. Because if you run over a nun, don't you basically go straight to hell?

Then again, maybe they'll swerve to avoid the nun and take me out.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Pesos from heaven

Six months ago, a police explosives team conducted their daily security sweep in the office of the economy minister here. They found a bag containing $60,000.

What the hell was a bag of cash doing in the bathroom of the economy minister? Well, you could try asking her. A lot of people certainly did.

But Felisa Miceli kept changing her story. First the money belonged to her and was, of course, 100% declared before the tax authorities.

Then most of it was a loan from her brother for a real estate deal. She had meant to take it to the bank, but didn't have time.

One of the problems — I mean, besides the fact that $60,000 was found in a paper bag in her bathroom — was that some of the money was still wrapped in an eminently traceable bank band. And when the band was traced, neither her nor her brother's name came up.

Some of her assistants cast doubt on her already dubious story, testifying that she had never mentioned a real estate deal to them. Others tried — and failed — to explain it away: Miceli was often very forgetful, they said. Like, she would totally leave her cell phone in a meeting room. Or, you know, bags of cash in the bathroom. Whoopsy!

(Frankly, I think it's better to assume she knew damn well that bag was there. Otherwise you have to ask how many other bags of cash she has lying around where she was able to forget the $60,000 in the bathroom.)

Miceli stuck around for a month or so, but not surprisingly she ended up getting the boot. I've been wanting to mention this for a while, since I was otherwise engaged when this all went down. The news hook for this post is that she told her story to a judge yesterday — one of her stories, anyway.

Along the way, Miceli said her handling of the incident was marked by her naivete. She has also tried to paint herself as the victim.

If anyone wants to victimize me by leaving $60,000 in my bathroom, you know how to reach me.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


When you consider how low I've set the bar for a post on this blog, it stretches credulity to say that there hasn't been anything worth posting for the last four days.

We did change presidents on Monday. But I was completing a wildly lucrative subtitling project, so I couldn't leave my apartment to watch the inaugural hoo-ha.

Fortunately by last night I was freed from the exigencies of my freelancing empire.

So I met up with fellow expat blogger Matt, who's in from Chile on a secret mission. He didn't say this, of course. But then, he wouldn't, would he?

He's not the first blogger I've met here.

I had a chance to meet Robert some weeks back. I think it's fair to say that he is twice the blogger I am — especially because he has two blogs.

In his first blog, line of sight , he writes a great deal about the architecture and history of Buenos Aires. His new blog AfterLife is dedicated to Recoleta Cemetery. If you've never read it, it's the best blog about a cemetery you've never read. It's particularly interesting because so much of what lies inside those cemetery walls is really about the history of the city and country outside the walls. (Robert, you can thank me later for the three hits these links will likely generate.)

Anyway, Matt and I had a good time last night. Mostly he sat quietly while I read aloud to him from my blog.

Somewhere amidst the fourth post on inflation — or was it ice cream? — he stopped me and talked a little about how he started his blog because there were really no English-language resources on his city, Valparaiso.

I told him I started mine for the typing practice.

Friday, December 7, 2007


Wednesday was the beginning of tomato season for me — the first day they showed up at the farmers market. The tomato crisis has faded. You can get a kilo of conventional tomatoes for around 2 pesos (66¢). The farmers market tomatoes set me back 2.50 a kilo (80¢).

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Welcome to Argentina. . .

Outgoing president (that makes him sound gregarious, doesn't it?) Néstor Kirchner gave an interview in which he summed up the state of affairs he's leaving his wife, who takes office on Monday:

"I'm leaving Cristina an almost normal country."

Maybe they should turn that into a banner and string it up at the airport.

"Bienvenidos a la Argentina, un país casi normal."

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

No es una vaca cualquiera

When you think about all the chocolate milk in the world, it was almost discrimination that there wasn't dulce de leche milk, don't you think?

Meh . . . I don't really think so either. But now we have dulce de leche milk. Maybe we did before, for all I know. Anyway, it's sort of milk-flavored milk, isn't it? Well, milk- and sugar-flavored milk, dulce de leche being nothing more than boiled and reduced milk with abominable amounts of sugar added.

Anyway, these posters for dulce de leche milk are up all over town. And I keep seeing them. So I thought: "Huh, that might make for a mildly amusing blog entry. Maybe I'll say something about how chocolate milk is all over the place but you never really think about dulce de leche milk."

And then I started to think about how odd it was that the flavoring they're adding to the milk is itself milk-based, as covered two paragraphs above.


That is just not natural.

I had actually planned to blog about something else today. I had planned to do a lot of things. But now I've seen those udders.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Il Bombón

I was restless yesterday on a hot and sticky day, so I took the bus to Villa Urquiza to get some ice cream at one of my favorite heladerías, Il Bombón. I hadn't been to that location in nearly a year. (The brothers that own it have one other location, to which I've been back a few times.)

I'm happy to report it has maintained its high standards and unsophisticated decor. I sat on a bench just outside the door and had two flavors: rice pudding and banana with dulce de leche.

The woman on the bench across from me was scooping out ice cream from her cone and letting her dog have a lick of the spoon before scooping up some more and plopping it in her own mouth with gusto. And dog saliva. Gusto and dog saliva.

I took the bus there but walked back to kill some time and get some exercise. I found myself just outside Chacarita cemetery and decided to cut through. There's not much reason to think a cemetery would be noisy, of course, but it's amazing just how quiet it is in there even with buses and trains rumbling by just outside the walls.

They left out Evita

I have mentioned my zero-tolerance policy for gratuitous references to the tango in foreign press coverage of Argentina.

This New York Times article on gay tourism in Buenos Aires manages to squeeze in references to both the tango AND beef in the lede, and then wraps up with a quote about Cher and Madonna. No, I don't have a policy against mentioning them in press coverage of Argentina, but it's pretty unoriginal to finish an article about gays with a quote about Cher and Madonna.

It's also a little baffling that an article about tourists doesn't quote any tourists.

I should say that I worked in a newsroom for five years, so I know how easy it is to criticize from the outside.

What? That's why I'm doing it.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Diego Felix

The "closed-door" restaurant I blogged about way back in March is in the New York Times Style magazine this weekend, effectively throwing open the doors.

It had only been open a few weeks when I went with Joel, my erstwhile rakish dining companion and man about many towns.

I'm happy to see the restaurant succeed. Diego was a pretty cool guy. I have no way of knowing if success has spoiled it, but I suspect success has changed it. And I'm glad I went when I did.

In more personal terms, it makes me slightly queasy to think about what the writer probably made selling this piece to the Times, a piece that mentions half a dozen spots within a 30-minute walk from my apartment.

Can I just make something absolutely clear? I can be bought. I will sell out, I will sell out big-time, I will sell out cheap, and I will sell out before you can even finish your sentence asking me to sell out.

The site for the restaurant: Diego Felix.

The New York Times article. (Warning: annoying Flash presentation. Diego Felix is No. 2 on the map.)