Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Jabba the Hut & corrupting the minds of the innocent

I saw Mercedes Sosa this past weekend at the Rosedal in the Bosques de Palermo. It was quite a different scene than Vicentico two weeks prior. Regardless the conciertos del aire libre are a great way for the gobBsAs to restore their image. Mercedes Sosa is one helluva of a woman, in many respects, the least of which being her striking resemblance to one Star Wars character of infamy. However her voice was powerful, and at least one could enjoy the atmosphere of the crowd. Argentina gets so tearfully devoted to things and people, it's hard not to get a little caught up in the swell.

Afterwards went for crepes, or should I say, panqueques. Mmmmm, panqueques at midnight are a delight. We all laid fat for a rato, and then decided to hit up a nearby boliche, Roxy. One great thing about being an extrañjero is pulling the, "I'm not from around here" card. So the Roxy requires some sort of photo id to enter, who carries on of those? Well, I don't. My cousin showed his, then I said, "Soy extrañjero" and walked in behind him. Our friends had to haggle a little bit, but they equally had luck with the foreigner card.

A word on Argentine music selection and dj's. One should always try to have more than 10 songs in the rotation. And the 80's were twenty years ago. Additionally, Metallica is very difficult to dance to. Don't get me wrong, I am a heavy metal fanatic, but, well. I was told by an Argentine girl that I am relindo ( very beautiful ), I said thank you. Then in response to my being American, she said "I am sorry" and walked away. Odd to me, but apparently fine in the world of Porteños. We made our way out of the club bleary eyed and busy tailed at dawn and slept most of the day.

Breakfast at 4, mmm, panqueques. And then putzed around a few of the numerous artesanial ferias in town. Spoiled myself a little bit and went to see Las Cronicas de Narnia for a night cap. Happily the little kid in me was able to overcome the blatant Christian undertones that CS Lewis so haphazardly wove into those stories. I liked the polar bears.

I teach english here in Buenos Aires. This is not the dream job one would have thought it to be. One, I barely teach, my students don't want a teacher, and I am not one. I like to converse, and propagate my odd sense of sentence structure and vocabulary on the rest of the world. What I do not like is running all over town all day, getting paid relative peanuts, and working for an institute. Yes, I could go freelance, and that is in the works. However, the institute allows me to feel less responsible for my actions, and not concern myself with the nitty gritty. However of late, they have become more demanding. I am now supposed to evaluate my students every class. This is difficult, in that people make the same mistakes over and over again, learning a language is a process, and I like to help rather than critique. I also don't like extra work. Suddenly I have a job rather than a lazy way to pass the time. Perhaps my next paycheck will change my tune, lord knows my last two made me whistle even more off key. Work too little, and life is miserable, work too much, and life is miserable. Miserable is a strong word I admit, but if one doesn't have exaggeration, what is there to live for.

On a positive note, I have moved from Palermo to San Telmo. What a relief. No commute, far fewer snobs, more prostitutes and street crime, more young poor expats (like me!) rather than wealthy young to middleaged expats. A better vibe, buen onda.

Friday, February 17, 2006

My First Argentine Rant

I have taken up the Tango, or rather, I have taken a class in Tango. Let me say that if you were to invest in my ability to seduce through this medium, you would not have two centavos to scratch between your fingers. And I would still be shuffling my stiffhipped way across the floor. Language barriers of course add a small degree of challenge to my learning the dance, as they say two steps to the left and one forward, and I respond with a triple lutz and a backflip, there is a slight murmur from the wizened old folks surrounding the floor. To the instructor's command to loosen up my hips, I did appropriately respond in Spanish that I am from America, and we don't do that sort of thing. Nonetheless, after two hours, I learned eight steps. That is what I call exponential growth.

Tomorrow I shall valiantly careen my way across the stage again, and while vainly attempting to not accost my partner, perhaps I will learn eight more. Watching the pro's one can easily see how this is the dance of seduction, watching me might be more akin to revulsion, can't be any worse than my teaching ability. Perhaps the most entertaining aspect to the evening was checking out the attendees for the evening's professional performance, or milonga. More Mary Kay, fur gold & diamonds, Doc Hollywood facial revitalization than even the Oscars could content with. The only thing lacking were the omnipresent small dogs, but I assume they were being walked en masse by the ubiquitous dog walkers, a form of employ probably more lucrative than my teaching.

What do you get when you pile intestines, gizzards and gullets, ribs and shanks, and every other piece of meat you can name, or not, high to the sky? One happy me at an Asado, a bbq to end all bbq's, and a regular occurence in this country. Oh my god was about all I could say when the fourth king sized platter of meat arrived to be picked at by the epicureans surrounding the table yesterday. Apparently the average asado host plans on a minimum of a pound or so of beef per person, plus another pound or two of various other meats. Then there are the garnishes such as salad, bread, and deserts.

These people don't even wink at having a plate piled so high with meat that you could plant a flag in it and lay claim in the name of the Queen. The old lady across from me was happily shaming me without intent, as she voraciously filled her 60+ year old stomach with a fifth helping, I wanted to cry, but the meat had absorbed my tears. Afterwards, I retired to the garden out back and chatted amiably with an old man about the only two subjects one needs to know in Argentina, Maradona the futbol god, and how Argentina was once one of the top five countries in the world. Then that sheisty Peron got in control and messed everything up, despite what we all were shown in Evita.

Friday evening we ventured out to the singular British community of Hurlingham. The place of displaced Brits come over a century ago to build the now largely defunct railroads. Much like the British everywhere in the world, they have steadfastly held on to what they view as true British culture. This of course is slightly odd as it has created a crystalized microcosmos of rather out of date vernacular and customs, along with the resented seepage of Spanish/Latin rythym into their world.

Regardless, the last vestiges remain, brick cottages overrun with english ivy and surrounded by high walls, and the coup detat, the Hurlingham Club. A place where the high society goes for polo, cricket, squash, the only tough steaks in Argentina, and more. This amidst a rather poor area which understandably resents their Brigentinish neighbors. The birthday boy's video was an odd mix of english and spanish, and the babies were rather freaky and inbred looking, but darling because they're babies. Lots of desert and wine, no food, Dave had a little bit too good of a time.

The Greatest Store in the World, El Coton, in Moron. Or just Coto.
You walk in and there is no end to the number of checkout aisles, well, 58 I think was the end. But you can hardly see the other side. They had a bowling alley, a trampoline setup, cars for sale, drycleaners, a bar and a cafe, a bulk foods section as big as any supermarket, home supplies, clothes, fresh produce, I would have a hard time saying what they didn't have. All this was a little intimidating, but luckily as I needed to buy nothing, I just walked around with my mouth open for twenty minutes while my cousins fretted over one of the 100+ televisions up for sale. Safely the largest store I have ever been in.

Let's fastforward a bit as most of this took place weeks ago and I've been a bit lazy and preoccupied. The family came to Argentina! I think I am a great excuse for them to travel abroad, which is fine by me. Christmas Eve in Buenos Aires is a bit reminiscent of Beirut in the early 80's ( not that I was there, but you hear things ). Kids having bottlerocket wars in the streets at midnight, cops screeching to a halt, jumping out of their cars, only to help their friend fire off a few roman candles and send a Chinese Lantern or two into the air. They seem to disregard Newton and the what goes up law. Happily sending scores of highly flammable paper baloons driven by fire into the air, not my neighborhood, not my problem. Then the cops left and the kids shot bottlerockets at them, it was great.

Tried to go to a party that started at 1 am. There is a saying here that if you show up to the disco before midnight, you are there to sweep the floors. Why this is hilarious, I didn't know until I tried to go, and they didn't start until 3. And people were still coming at 6. I like that, wake up, open some presents with the fam, have a cup of coffee, and then go get your trance on. Us pathetic americans were a bit wiped by 6, so we headed on home only to wake up mere hours later to the overenthusiastic elder generation who had be awake for hours waiting for us. Christmas when it's 90 out is fantastic, snow is a highly overrated weather aberration.

The next day we went out and indulged in the other beef of argentina, perhaps the greater passion, shopping. Now, I don't really like shopping, unless it's for a goat head in a 1000 year old soot covered market where you know you're being ripped off but not quite by how much. So I admittedly got a little tired, after the 50th shoe store, but the passion endured, and so did I. Luckily, one can always recuperate with copious quantities of beef and red wine out of little white penguins, which I did.

The fam and I flew out to the Lakes District of Argentina, Villa de la Angostura. Every argentine I met would go on and on about the beauty of the place, one cabbie said it was a place you would want to die in, a little morose, but I got the gist. The infamous Che Guevara thought he might like to retire there one day after writing his diaries and spreading the cause of communism around the world, sadly he was prohibited from doing so by the Bolivian military's execution squad, or so they say....

Place was beautiful, but a little like Bavaria, one can see why the Nazi's fled there, and one can also see the remnants of the nazi's in the disturbingly similar appearance to me of many locals. We biked, we horseback rode, we asadoed and wined and dined, we slept, we went for sunlit walks at 10 pm, pleasant overall, still, kind of like a Colorado ski town. Not exactly what you fly 5000 miles to go see. What can you do? New Year's was a bit closer to Hiroshima. Full on fireworks shot at buildings, explosions from every barrio, it was incredible. We had a dinner at my cousin's, of.... beef!!! And it was good. The 'rents trekked off to tuck in a few more drinks at a restaurant for the ball dropping while the kids tucked in more than a few more back at the house.

Headed out to an odd expatfilled party that reminded Jennie and I a bit of Mysore India's yoga scene. The hottest gossip of the night was the host, a rather flamboyant interior designer, was gay until his 5'10'' blonde argentine model/psychologist girlfriend turned him. We all very stereotypically wondered if this meant he would lose his interior design sense, but did not say as such. Came home with the sunrise thorougly sated and anxiously looking forward to waking up in a few short hours and playing host some more. Surprisingly, there is absolutely nothing open on New Year's Day, so we went did a lot of taxi riding to closed locations.

New Year's was a bit closer to Hiroshima. Full on fireworks shot at buildings, explosions from every barrio, it was incredible. We had a dinner at my cousin's, of.... beef!!! And it was good. The 'rents trekked off to tuck in a few more drinks at a restaurant for the ball dropping while the kids tucked in more than a few more back at the house. Headed out to an odd expatfilled party that reminded Jennie and I a bit of Mysore India's yoga scene. The hottest gossip of the night was the host, a rather flamboyant interior designer, was gay until his 5'10'' blonde argentine model/psychologist girlfriend turned him. We all very stereotypically wondered if this meant he would lose his interior design sense, but did not say as such. Came home with the sunrise thorougly sated and anxiously looking forward to waking up in a few short hours and playing host some more. Surprisingly, there is absolutely nothing open on New Year's Day, so we went did a lot of taxi riding to closed locations.

The fam headed back north, well before the appropriate migratory season, but I smartly stayed behind in the blessed warmth of the southern hemisphere. Since then life has been shockingly middleclass normal, as much as it can be for being in Buenos Aires. I've worked, I've been sick, difficult to teach the english when one has no voice. I have been definitely getting my fill of high living. And I must say that perhaps for those coming directly from the states to travel here, the obvious nature of the second/third world economy is apparent, for me and what I have accustomed myself to, this is downright penthouse central park living. There are differences, but they are often subtle ones, eddies on the surface that hint at turbulence below. But unless you seek it out, it is easy to forget where you are and get wrapped up in the comfort of easyliving.

Teaching has exposed me a whole strata that I am normally excluded from in other countries. The middle class working world, those that ride the subway to and from work everyday, wear the occasional tie, live in the suburbs, play squash, etc. If nothing else, it makes for interesting sociological observation, and insightful conversations. I have the opportunity on a daily basis to speak with educated thoughtful Argentines on the conditions of their society and country, and am not restricted to the world of the tourist industry or backpackers.