Class is over

joylani 130pxI was relieved to have my language classes wrap up today.  Things began to drag this week as I learned about the “subjuntivo,” a tense we don’t exactly use in English, and though I know there is a use, I find just about as unnecessary as those darn imaginary numbers are for the common [wo]man.  Matt met me after class and we had a nice picnic and walk down by Puerto Madero.  We “discovered” this area a few days ago, and it is actually just a few blocks away from where we take classes, but the change in atmosphere feels a bit further.  I think Puerto Madero is the most modern place in Buenos Aires.  The sidewalks are smooth, the buildings are new and fresh, no loose tiles that splash up water when you step on then at the wrong angle, no dog poo, less trash—there are actually a couple nice grassy places as well as many benches for sitting.  The buildings block the noise from the street and it’s a pretty mellow place form being in the downtown part of the city.  We picked up some empanadas on the way over and enjoyed our lunch in a little grassy area while birds scouted around us for spilled crumbs.

San Telmo Street Art

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joylani 130pxOne of the things that I love about San Telmo is the murals and other informal street paintings.  Since its a long way to fly just to see the murals, I thought I´d make it easy and give you a little tour from your desk.  Here are some of my favorites:


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some of the  informal stuff is the most fun

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this style of stenciled portrait can be seen throughout the city, but this is one of my favorites for the addition of the bird.  a common one to see is GW Bush with Mickey Mouse ears.

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And my favorite building, for the guys on the side doing different things and the penguin gargoyles.

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Tango Show

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joylani 130pxTonight we went to the Complejo Tango Copa Show for which I won a free pair of tickets earlier in the week.  It was disappointing and just barely entertaining, but it didn’t matter as we had had no other plans and the show was free.  The show sounded interesting—the storyline followed the development of tango over the years.  But the execution was lacking.  The stage was pretty small making the dancers appear to be confined.  The costumes looked really cheap, like a Halloween costume from k-mart.  And although it was a “copa show” and we had been told our tickets included a free drink by the school (where we won the tickets), the waitress at the show informed us that drinks were not free.  This meant that drinks were really expensive because everything on the menu was extremely overpriced.  The friends we were with had to pay 30 pesos for two small bottles of water.  (That’s about $10.)  Maybe if we were in a nice restaurant or in the middle of a desert this charge could be justified.  But the Complejo Tango dinner theater was neither, and the only conceivable reason for them to charge so much, besides greed, was that the staff/performer to guest ratio was about one staff to two guests and I suppose their salaries have to come from somewhere.  My critique for the show is that the sound volume was a bit overwhelming and unnecessary (I really don’t think they needed a sound system for such a small venue) and the dances weren’t too interesting.  But then again, tango isn’t really my thing.  Highlights of the show were watching the accordionist make music from such a curious looking instrument and listening to Matt’s comments (On all the interlocking footwork and kicks: “I wonder how often they kick each other?” and “I’m glad we’re not in the front row.”  And when they started picking out audience members for dance partners: “They better not pick me.  I’m not going.  You better sit on my lap and claim me.”)  Also fun, though not part of the show, was window shopping in the windows of the dozens of furniture stores that lined the street on the walk over.  On our walk back home, around midnight, we found the city very much still awake with many people out walking and packed cafes and restaurants. 

Good Airs

joylani 130pxThere was a dark and blustery storm this morning.  I woke up around 7am and it was still pretty dark, but I just figured it was due to the recent day light savings time change.  But then there was a gust of wind and I heard a rattle of leaves swirling on the roof top below our window: a storm.  By the time Matt and I left for class this morning it had hit hard, dropping heavy splashes of rain across the city.  We decided to take the Subte to avoid getting soaked, which was surprisingly less crowded than yesterday.  Our language school is located on the fourth floor of a multi-level building.  There is a courtyard in the middle of the classrooms.  Windowed glass doors of my classroom face this space and I watched as the patio became darker and darker during the morning session.  Loud thunder and heavy rain made the morning more interesting (grammar lessons are useful, but sadly not very exhilarating), and when we got out at 1pm it was still raining steadily.  But now the sky has poured all the tears it has and there are wide swaths of blue sky.  But I don’t know how long it will stay like that.  Some days the weather is steady here, but some days it just keeps blowing.  This can be a blustery city.  That’s just the “good airs” I guess.

My Turn

joylani 130pxI started my Spanish class today.  It was a little bit overwhelming and I’m not sure if it’s just a first day thing or if it will be like this the whole time.  I found that as I am put on the spot to create sentences in Spanish I lose other words, like titles of films and such.  I guess my brain only has room for so much thinking.  Hopefully my verbal and listening skills will improve as the week goes on.  At least my reading and writing are ok.  It’s back to the books for me.  Sigh.  It has been a while!


joylani 130pxAs we were out for a walk this evening I had a craving for a Coca Cola.  This is one of my weaknesses.  I tried to resist, but by the end of the walk I caved and Matt agreed to split one with me.  When we got to the store I could buy a small bottle for 3 pesos.  Or I could get a big one (1.5L) for 4.4 pesos.  OR I could buy the biggest bottle of coke (2.25L) for 4.5 pesos (which ended up costing 4.7 pesos because I got a cold one).  Of course I went for the big one since it was a better value…but I have no idea how Matt and I will actually drink it all before it eventually goes flat.  This led me to research recipes using cola on-line.  Besides the obvious coke float, apparently it can be used to make a flavorful marinade, syrup for your French toast, in cakes, and to glaze a kielbasa.  Who knew?  Some of the recipes, like the Indian chicken curry, call for minimal amounts of cola, so I don’t think it is necessarily an essential ingredient, merely a ploy by the coke company to try to get people to use the product more.  However, some of the recipes, such as the ones involving ham glazing and such do sound interesting and I might actually give it a try when I get home.  When I used to work at the golf course (I’ve actually worked at three), one of my coworkers would make the most amazing banana bread.  It was always very moist.  She told me that she added sprite to the mixture.  So perhaps there are some legit uses for soft drinks other than drinking after all.  (I happen to know you can also use sprite to make your copper putter heads nice and shiny too.)

El Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

joylani 130pxThis morning we walked out in the light drizzle of rain and headed towards the Recoleta District of the city.  In 1867 and 1871 there were cholera and yellow fever epidemics in the city and the wealthy classes moved their residences from San Telmo over to this area.  As a result, many of the old money and influential families of Buenos Aires are buried in the cemetery in Recoleta.  But that is not where we were headed.  Our destination was the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, which houses the country’s largest collection of 19th and 20th century art.  On display were the usual old European portraits and depictions of babies that look like Elmer Fudd; this style of painting always freaks me out.  But then the collection moved on to some of my favorites—Degas, Picasso, even some Ming ceramics were there in the mix.  There was a collection of decorative tortoiseshell combs—the kind that you see in old Spanish pictures that look like a crown and hold up a veil.  It was fun to see them up close, but hard to imagine how something so large could stay anchored in someone’s hair.  Upstairs was a stunning collection of Latin American art.  I didn’t write down any names or take pictures, but there were some paintings that were just beautiful, and I’m sorry I can’t be more descriptive here.  I would definitely recommend stopping by the Museo de Bellas Artes if you’re in town, the collection is interesting, the location makes for a nice walk, as admission is free, a visit here is easy on the wallet.  Overall the morning was wonderful because it is Sunday and Buenos Aires is so quiet on Sundays.  The sidewalks are clear and the streets void of load, fume belching buses and we had an enjoyable walk and a nice visit to the museum.  By the time we finished at the museum the sun had come out in full force and we had a nice stroll back to our little apartment.

Puppy Love Turns to Puppy Poo

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joylani 130pxOur first impressions of Buenos Aires were that this is a really cool city.  And not that it’s not—there are many interesting museums, parks, architecture, restaurants, etc. but we’ve noticed other things.  Like dog poo everywhere.  Maybe not everywhere, but certainly often.  This comes from an apparent plethora of dogs who reside in apartment buildings.  In the absence of a yard, they use the sidewalk.  I’m not sure if it is laziness or inability (some dog walkers have 5-10 dogs so it must be hard to stop and clean up), but there is a lot of dookie left on the sidewalks along with cigarette butts and general litter.  All this makes the grassy park areas much less appealing.  That, and the fact that sometimes there seems to be just as much grass as cigarette butts on the ground.  Strangely, unlike Japan it is easy to find a public trash bin.  But this shows there isn’t necessarily a direct correlation between trash bins and trash on the streets.  This relationship must have more to do with people’s attitudes and sense of public responsibility and respect.  Another sign that public responsibility and respect are low here is the abundance of graffiti on the walls from 2 meters and below. 

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            It is quite possible that some of our negative reactions are the result of culture shock (though I won’t attribute that for everything—cigarettes, litter, and poo are gross all the time).  We have, after all, just finished a year of traveling in Asia, and most recently, thoroughly developed Asia.  Each day I see a couple Asian faces.  And most of the time that is in a grocery store.  I haven’t been around this many white people since…since high school.  It’s not bad, just takes some readjustment in that I’m not in Asia any more.  It has also been strange getting used to the public smoking again.  I had grown really accustomed to in starting in chain-smoking Indonesia.  But a quick bout of bronchitis, followed by six weeks at home and a month in Japan and Korea has apparently rendered me more sensitive than before.  In particular, in many places in Japan you are not allowed to smoke and walk.  I didn’t fully appreciate this until coming to Argentina and getting stuck on a crowded sidewalk behind a mobile chimney.

            Buenos Aires is not without positive sides though.  One very positive aspect of this city for us is the abundance of bakeries and cheese.  Both products are delicious, varied, and relatively cheap in comparison with where we have been.  The hot chocolate mix I found at the grocery is wonderful.  And the water is safe to drink.  There are a lot of arts and culture type things going on in the city, in fact there is a whole calendar of Spring/Summer outdoor events throughout the city including cinema, a jazz festival, and I think also some theater.  Artisans can be found throughout the city, usually on the main plazas and walkways.  Generally there is a lot of handmade jewelry for sale, but there are also lots of knitted goods, leather products, and other crafts.  Shopping in general is supposed to be good in Buenos Aires, though we haven’t “tried” it, but based on the window displays this seems accurate.  Apparently there is a buzzing night-life, though we are (perhaps lamely) not the type who go out much.  Public transportation is relatively easy to use and also very affordable.  Although, we prefer to walk to avoid the crowds and to enjoy a good stroll. 

            I’ve noticed a couple things about the people in Buenos Aires.  Number one is that people here love to window shop, and its fun to watch people glancing in at the goods.  Almost every single shop has stuffed their window display full of merchandise, and often including prices.  Minimalist displays are a rarity; each shop has a cornucopia of goods spilling from the confines of the window box.  If there is a mannequin it will be wearing a shirt, jacket, pants, belt, shoes, and have an additional pair of pants or shirt draped over the shoulder.   Lingerie shops (and there are many) have everything from socks, bras, underwear (men and women’s), stockings, etc. hanging from the walls behind the glass.  Spandex shops, as I like to call them, are easy to find too.  These sell just about any conceivable form of spandex-shirts, skirts, dresses, gaucho pants, other weird looking genie pants (that re actually kinda popular though i don´t know why…they look like ooompaloopa legs), leggings, etc. all available in a raindbow of colors.  Another common type  of shop seems to sell a combination of watches, picture frames, and perhaps a random appliance or two.  Anyways, if you can imagine, this is a window shopper’s dream (which is probably why there is such a window shopping habit).  You can spend as long as you want gazing at the merchandise, without having to wonder about prices and without having to make that unspoken commitment of interest that happens when you physically walk inside a store.  We often find ourselves stopping to take a look at the array of goods in store windows. 

            The other thing I have noticed, rather a personal opinion, is that in general people here wear extremely boring looking shoes.  Loafers.  Plain sneakers.  There is, of course, the usual abundance of Chuck Taylor style sneakers, but there is nothing that is visually appealing.  Especially not like in Japan where even if a person’s shoe looks weird, at least it looks cool at the same time.  Shoes here just seem very plain and utilitarian.  Also, there is an odd penchant for a certain style of Nike camel-toe mary-janes, worn by both men and women.  To be fair, these shoes are a little bit too odd to be put into the “boring” shoe category.  But they are certainly not good looking, particularly on men with big feet.  To make matters worse, the cut and style of the fabric is pretty sporty looking, and they look strangely clunky (not like the more stylish and understated ones I have seen back home). 

            Actually, they remind me a bit of those sketcher sneakers that were so popular in the nineties (ha!  The nineties!); I hated those.  Not that I had much sense of style then (or now for that matter), but my personal opinion was that those shoes were ugly.  And when I say ugly, I mean hella.  But back to these Nike oddities (and I apologize if you own a pair): there is a Velcro strap and a split toe looking like a hoof in front, and I can’t figure out what purpose this would serve, nor does it seem very comfortable.  However, one of my coworkers back in San Francisco did have a pair and she found them rather comfortable, so perhaps there is more than meets the eye, or maybe they just feel better for walking to work than a pair of heels.  Anyways, I find the abundance of these camel shoes in the Buenos Aires population puzzling indeed.

Some sights:

McNifica: we are McLoving it…especially the part about the gourmet chef.


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Down the street from where we live…


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a university


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and a church (we always hear the bells)

Casa Rosada

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joylani 130pxWe went to check out a little art exposition at the Casa Rosado today. The Casa Rosada is more or less an Argentine equivalent of the White house, and it’s balcony is where Evita addressed the masses in the scenes made more well-known by Madonna in the film Evita. Anyways, the art show was a little too small to be too interesting to see (it took no more than ten minutes tops to see everything), but it was cool to see the inside of the building because I don’t think it is always as easy to go inside. We sat outside for a while and watched people posing for pictures, as well as a couple kids playing kick-ball against one of the statue podiums…definitely not something that you would see happening at Lincoln Memorial, but I thought it was nice to see the space being used in a normal way. But maybe if I had more knowledge of the statue/memorial I would have found it to be disrespectful instead.

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