Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Badass Biker Girl

Some of you know about me and biking… and some of you don’t. I am a crazy biker, highly committed to the bike as a mode of transportation. I love my bike.

I am crazy about the rhythm you move on a bike, somewhere between walking and running. You can gaze, enjoy, see and wonder but a little but faster and a touch away from the crowd. Pic to the side from a recent day on my bike, a beautiful mural.

I love my bike.

In America, I have the most amazing, ridiculously beautiful bike. Prettier and skinnier than Kate Moss. It weighs 17 lbs and glistens with the most handsome royal blue and beautiful details of tiny scalloped flowers.

I really love that bike.

I debated briefly about bringing it here to Buenos Aires, but this is a tough town for everything (including biking) and I can’t imagine my slim racing tires would last long in a town with potholes wider than my behind. But through some good fortune, I managed to pick up a bike for less than $100 from the friend of my old roommate. Score.

It’s kind of a junky beach cruiser and if you look at my profile pic, you can see it in the background. The handlebars broke within two days, which I thought was a sign of my vast strength. No, the dude in the bike store told me, they’re just old. Just like the rest of the clunker, I thought. Nonetheless, it gets me around. The old bag - gearless, with foot brakes – gets me to and from the gym every day, to matés in the park, to friends’ houses. And more importantly, the ability to just explore the city at a pace I love.

My favorite part has been learning how to ride in the city. Riding a bike in a city requires understanding another language – the language of driving. The crazy thing is there is no professor, it is only about understanding how people move, think, act and react.

What's even more interesting is the language of driving in the US and here are probably more similar than the spoken language. Both have extremely aggressive drivers who believe they own the road and see little reason to stop, give an inch to or not permanently maim those who share the road with them. Good times on a bike.

The difference here is that I am mostly ignored on my bike. In DC, assholes love to honk at you on the road as they drive up your ass. Here they just zoom around you, indifferent to your existence. The only time I am acknowledged is when I ride on the sidewalk and occasionally feel the disapproving glare of an old woman, which may be for riding on the sidewalk or may be for being sweaty and dirty in my gym clothes in public. Who knows? Chances are if she yelled at me, it would be in crazy lunfardo and I wouldn’t understand her thick porteña accent.

Anyway, don’t worry about me on my bike. I take it easy, not afraid to stop if the rhythm seems off or if I don’t understand what's going on. Besides, how fast do you think a bike with no gears can go? It’s safer this way, trust me.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Whatever World Do We Live In

I have privately gotten some comments about my use of the terms third world and first world. Seems they are old school, a total throwback to the Cold War.

Today, I am told that the correct term is Global South. But I’m not sure it makes a difference if I am politically correct here; my lack of political correctness has gotten me in trouble tons of times.

To me, this debate seems like a bunch of academic masturbation. I get that the original idea was that the first world was America, Europe and Oz; the second was the Soviet empire; and the third was pretty much the rest. And no matter what happened in that whole Cold War thing, those divides still exist. The things that divided life in the US, Europe and Oz and everywhere else are still alive and well. The only difference is that the first and second worlds have stopped directly manipulating them – now it’s just through foreign aid and trade agreements.

Besides, the URL for non-global south girl in the global south was already taken.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Welcome to Unstable

Last week before I went to a dinner party, I got a note from the host…

“Be forewarned there like to be a transit strike tomorrow. No subway, gas stations likely to be closed, so limited taxis. Plan accordingly.”

So life in the third world can sometimes be a little unstable. Take your pick, depending on your locale: dictators, money that loses it’s value from one day to the next, riots, protests, coups, wars. In addition to the Subte last week, there is also a crazy government that is cooking the books and just took everyone’s Social Security. People here are used to it, especially after the whole economy collapsed in 2001.

It depends on where in the third world you live as to the extent of it, but part of life is accepting that tomorrow things may not be the way they were when you went to bed yesterday.

Sometimes shit doesn’t work that was working just fine yesterday. The price of something can climb for no reason. Every bus charges a different price, even for the same route. Three places on the same block can charge three different prices for the same thing. Sometimes there is no logic to what is happening around you.

This is such a huge contrast to life in the US, where it mostly is how it is stated. For so long, life was stable. Or we thought it was stable. We didn’t have to worry about the wars somewhere else or the unstable of economies of wherever. These things were not important, they had no impact on our lives as we continued to live high on the hog.

But now it’s all coming to roost.

Life in the US right now is anything but stable. Everyday you read about people losing their jobs, their homes – the things that make up life in capitalist driven societies. But maybe it’s time to look past those things and recall what remains when you can no longer depend on those other things – people, experiences, the journey and not just the destination. When you can’t rely on the tangible things like money and work, you start to realize that maybe they were never that stable anyway. You just convinced yourself that they were.

In the third world, many people have seen how unstable things can be. Enough to know that to wake up in the morning and not have people in the streets is stability.

I realize this may not make my friends up north feel any better, but just giving you some perspective. Most of the world lives with instability, so welcome.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Digitally Divided

Right now my home is 5000 miles from where it has been for the last dozen years, but technology keeps me up with everyone and everything. I have a Skype number that has a 202 prefix and rings on my computer wherever in the world I decide to go. I even do a little freelance work here from Buenos Aires for folks in DC. It’s kind of like shipping jobs off to India – my hourly rates are a little lower and I am a highly skilled worker who speaks English.

Wandering here, but the point is that technology allows us to be connected like never before – the world has become a small place.

I had a crazy incident last week that reminded me just how small the world actually is. On Facebook, a friend in DC (who is Argentine, but I met him in DC) tagged me in a photo. That’s odd, I thought, I have been living here and have not seen him in ages. When I clicked through to the photo, yep, there I am hanging on the edge of a photo of a group in line to see Madonna.

I was in line next to his Argentine friends at the Madonna show!

Now that’s globalization, baby.

Cool, yes. But I, along with my friend and his friend are the lucky ones. We have access to technology, we can afford computers and are on a different side of the digital divide. In Latin America, just a quarter of the population is online. In North America? Nearly 75 percent. In Africa, just 5 percent. Whoa, yo. (Note: This is from 2000, but I expect the divide is still pretty huge.)

Just imagine a life without that little box in front of you, that’s reality for most people. I know I’d miss ya.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Buenos Aires is a huge city and getting around sometimes can be a bigger pain in the ass than getting from Brooklyn to Manhattan. There are tons of buses (collectivos) for the lazy, often delivering you within meters of where you want to be. There’s a price for the convenience – often you will sit forever (if you are lucky enough to get a seat!) in sweltering temperatures while your bus crawls along like an 8 month old.

For the less patient, there are taxis. Tons of them. Also NY style – yellow and black, zipping through town, commandeered by aging Argentine men who vary from straight out of central casting with fedoras and tango music blasting to those who look they missed their calling in the next carnation of Guns n Roses (Ed note: there is a LOT of this look in Argentina generally).

A taxi is pretty cheap if you think in dollars and if you are really late (not just Argentine late), it is simply the only way from A to B. I also use the taxi ride as an opportunity to work on my fledgling Spanish. Inevitably because of my lovely gringa accent, the taxista and I will get into some type of conversation, usually focused on Barack Obama or my lack of a husband.

Late last week, I was in a taxi and the taxista decided to talk to me about #2, my lack of a husband. The dialogue went like this (translated into English):

T: “So, you are not married?”
J: “No.”
T: “Well why not? How old are you?”

I told him my age.

T: “And no husband?”
J; “No.”
T: "But you must have a boyfriend, no?”

I decide to play with him a little.

J: “Yes, a few.”
T: “Seriously?”
J: “Yes.”
T: “How do you do that?”
J: “Well, there are 7 nights in a week.”
T: “So these men, how soon do you go to bed with them?"

Whhhatt? I paused. Surely I am misunderstanding him? I say excuse me. He repeats the question and it is exactly as I heard it.

I am pissed. Who asks that kind of question? But then again, recalled the whole women in Latin America thing, the sexism. Also, there are many who think American woman are easy.

He has already made up his mind about this, so I respond, ”Depends on how I feel.”

My next taxi ride, when I am asked if I am married, I respond yes and talk about Barack Obama.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Money, Money, Money

So I, along with my friends who live here often have visitors. When we do, we will inevitably bitch that we are poor. Of course, I realize that poverty is a relative term, being a first world white girl in the third world. Some of the people I know here work for pesos while others are living off savings in dollars. Either way, the thing that many of us share with our Argentine friends and neighbors is that this country is expensive relative to what people earn.

Want to buy a computer in Argentina? Expect to pay over $1000USD for the equivalent of roller blades for the information superhighway. How about a bottle of fancy perfume? Tack on a 20 percent tax if it ain’t made here or in a MERCOSUR. Stinky.

This discussion always comes up with the visitors because they marvel at how affordable things are. Last night, we went out for a super luxe dinner, which came out to roughly $25 a person. Not too much if you are earning the average American $40,000+ a year, which is way less than the average NY, LA, DC person.

But here, the landscape is vastly different. I tried to find what the average wage in Buenos Aires is, but the problem is that you can’t trust any of the old numbers (due to the instability of the economy), there is such a massive range between skilled and unskilled workers and there is a big underground economy. I found this, which estimates the median to be $22,000 a year. That’s half of what people in America are earning, more or less. So for an Argentine, that was a $50 dinner.

If you are paying twice the price for stuff that we consider essentials in America and earning half as much, I suspect the steaks we wolfed down last night looked a little excessive.

Oh well. It makes you realize that it’s less about the steak and more about the company. Which was lovely, of course.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Being A Woman in Latin America

I always get questions from people about being a woman in Latin America. They usually ask me if it’s safe, which is pretty silly. Of course it's safe. It’s as safe as being a woman in NYC or LA or whatever large city in the world you may find yourself in. I mean, don’t be a dumbass… watch yourself and your purse and your drink. Don’t be the fool you typically become after three vodka and Red Bulls, know what I’m sayin’? And if you do, make sure you’ve got your girls with you to get you into the radio taxi and get your sorry drunk ass home. Alone.

The treatment of women here, however, can sometimes leave you asking WTF. Sure, there’s cat calling down the street and yes, there is most definitely staring. In Chile, they will sometimes get right in your face and mutter dirty things under the breaths. But there is also carrying your bags, holding doors, and lovely graciousness. Nice. Hermosa.

Then you’ve got the dance floor. When you go out dancing (in Buenos Aires at least, this did not happen to me in other places) the men become more like vampires out for your blood. Dancing in a club on a Wednesday night in Buenos Aires can feel more like duking it out with Dracula than letting loose for a night of fun.

Last night we were grabbed, kissed, cuddled, felt up, made to feel ourselves up, and just generally harassed as we boogied down for a couple of hours. At first, it was really funny… I laughed along with everyone else, bopping my head and wiggling my hips while half the bar ogled us. But eventually it just got annoying.

I looked around at one point, trying to see if other groups of women found themselves defending their blood from the circling bats. It didn’t seem like it. Was there a reason we were the prey of the night? I’m not sure.

Being a woman in Latin America is no easier than being a woman in any other place in the world. Harassment comes in all forms here it just requires biceps.

In the end, we danced our asses off and had a grand time. And the cab ride home with a group of drunk giggly girls recounting the insanity made for a good time.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Immaculate Conception Weekend

I saw Madonna last night in a massive soccer stadium on the edge of Buenos Aires. First of all, let me say that the Argentine energy was infectious. I love Madonna, but last night I was IN LOVE with Madonna. I danced, I sang, I worshiped at her alter for two hours along with 70,000 other people. Yes, 70,000 people!

When we were meeting up and heading into the show, we had to get in a line that stretched across 10 city blocks, maybe 20. We walked and walked and walked and I examined the people in line. Young, old, gay, straight, male, female, tragically fashionable, scruffy and dirty. You name it – these people had all paid good money to see the icon that is Madonna. And they gave up half their Sunday to wait in line and get a good spot inside the hulking stadium.

The show was absolutely amazing – incredible dancers, brilliant choreography, vivid costumes, and even good songs (especially the oldies). But the crowd was something magical, the spirit infectious. A wave began before the show even started and we in the mosh pit were applauding their spirit. It was a sticky afternoon (the sun goes down after 9 pm here), but we all stuck together, dancing while Paul Oakenfold serenaded us with dance tunes.

The moment the lights came down, the energy went into turbocharge. Screaming. Yelling. Chanting. I could feel the young girls behind me grabbing onto me, hoping to get a real live glimpse of her. They were clawing at me – girls of no more than 12 or 13. I felt their emotions, their need to witness and be a part of this history unfolding in front of us.

For me it was not even so much about Madonna. It was about the image of Madonna, the product she has so carefully cultivated after nearly 30 years. The dancers wore perfect costumes, their moves creative and expressive. Even the old songs were reinterpreted, just as Madonna has done her entire life. Madonna is constantly reinventing herself and her new invention was on full display for us.

The one ever-present theme of Madonna is sex. Lots of bumping and grinding with guitars, with dancers, with herself. But even though the days of Like A Virgin are long behind all of us (are they ever…), Madonna still wants us to think of sex when we think of her. All that reinvention made me forget about the sex part from like 20 years ago. That and no matter what she does or how many botox injections she gets, or how many lotions and potions she smears herself with, she is still 50 and she can’t turn back the clock. None of us can.

Another part of the show that that stuck with me is when she sang “She’s Not Me”. Madonna eerily pranced around the stage singing to women all dressed up as her with words about someone else. This came shortly before she asked the crowd to keep chanting her name. It was the epitome of what Madonna and everyone is about at the end of the day– ourselves.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Feel the Ritmo

Cities have rhythms. I have lived in cities for a large chuck of my life and after a time, you begin to understand how they move, what makes them wiggle and jiggle.

It’s a whole different experience when you are living in a foreign city. There are noises that are new, there are things that will make you stare. This gives you a different rhythm. Even the language has a different tune and you speaking with people or listening to people talking is part of what creates the groove.

Sound is the background for rhythm, but there’s also mood that fills in corners of a vibe. Here one of the factors is time. It is 10:30am and the sun is out, but it has the feeling of the middle of the night. The streets are empty. The noisy cars that normally zoom by my window are intermittent. The noisiest city in the world is quiet. Buenos Aires is truly a nocturnal city, more alive at midnight than at noon.

All of this is a far cry from DC, where I have friends who go to the gym at 4 am. Here that’s about the time when the disco is really fun.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


I am with you
we are in a clear
milky white winter day.

We walk along the reservoir
Our minds numbed from the smoke of the morning.
Nothing more than the silence of the cold.

My fingertips
bitten by the air.
My eyes
soothed by tears from the assault of the wind.
I close them.

The horns are blaring
As the noise drips from my temples
Into my ears.

I feel the sweat pouring
down my legs, my back
leaving my pores, coating my skin.

I inhale the thickness of the day.
I exhale the cold of winter
And I am no longer alone.

You sit next to me,
I can smell the summer
on your skin.
As I have a thousands summers before.

It’s our Thanksgiving, together.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Welcome to First World White Girl, my blog about my adventures living outside of the first world.  Right now I am in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which is definitely third world lite but a nice balance.

I traveled through South America all winter (summer for you northern world folk), exploring Peru, Chile, Argentina and Bolivia. Now, am back in BA to work on my spanish and the rest of my life. For the last dozen years, I worked in Washington DC in the political arena. An incredible experience that allowed me to meet amazing people, see cool things, learn about interesting stuff and opened me up to possibilities that exist in the world.

This blog will be a place for my writing and any other stuff that tickles my fancy as I explore this wonderful city and all it has to offer.