Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sweet Sounds

Have we talked about noise? This city is a sonata, beginning with the gentle whirring of a saw around 8:30 am. It usually builds to include a chorus of dog barks, a baseline of gruffly cars without mufflers, the evening’s delivery boys with their puny motorcycles chirping and finally to the crescendo of high school boys high on cheap beer clapping and singing at 3 am virtually every night of the week.

Sounds like it must be hard to sleep, huh?

Anyway, this gives you a sense of the daily life of sound in BsAs. So you can imagine what happens when’s there’s really something to yell about. Dude, you don’t want to be there. It’s something along the lines of a Kiss concert without earplugs. Ok, maybe a little dramatic…

So it was not really surprising the other weekend at Masa Critica when one of our masa ended up in a little fender bender with a taxi, that all hell broke loose. We were riding along, the masa growing into a group of well over 100 cyclists. Cruising through the fancypants neighborhood of Recoleta, the group was like a web covering Calle Callo. When we got to the bottom of the hill, there was already something going down, a rolly polly taxi driver screaming at a hippie dippie kid.

Traffic was starting to pile up, as the fracas was in the middle lane. The group of bikers had pulled into a gas station, people were chatting, smoking, sharing food and drink. Bellowing cars begged their impatience to get the hell out of the way. The cops showed up. The crowd warmed up. And the clapping commenced.

Of course, there were words to go with the clapping. “Bici, si. Taxista, no.” keeping with the rhythm of the rhyme as the argument with the taxista, the police and the kid kept going. The voices thundered together, the clapping adding force to the message of the masa. At one point someone held up the bike to egg the crowd on, the back tire deformed by the force of the taxi. We roared.

Another policeman came and the crowd got louder – “Bici, si. Taxista, no.” The honking continued, the chant too, until our hands were red and our voices hoarse from screaming.

After an hour or so, it got resolved. I have no idea what the resolution was exactly. Satisfied, we stopped screaming, got back on our bicis and headed south.

P.S. Thanks to my wonderful friend and writer Sharon Haywood for the inspiration for this post!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bathroom Cultural Alert

The other night, I went to see one of my most favorite singers in the world, Concha Buika. Think Erykah Badu and Nina Simone rolled into one tiny woman from Mallorca, with a family from Equatorial Guinea – the only African country where the predominant language is Spanish

The girl is fly. She dresses and looks like Badu, emits that amazing air of power a la Badu too. But the voice. That voice – a creamy dream with a range that will knock your socks off. She’s kinda jazzy, but girl ain’t afraid to bring in beautiful Cuban rhythms, hip rocking drumbeats or dramatic flamenco.

Divine. Here’s a little clip.

Before we went into the show, a friend and I ran to the bathroom. Of course, in true woman form, there was a line. We waited patiently, as the line moved at a decent clip. The bathroom was your typical post-modern public outhouse, with stale green walls and an antiseptic vibe. I noticed out of the corner of my eye there was a woman selling your usual bathroom fodder, including little squares of TP.

My friend leans in and whispers, do you think its drip dry? I look around and see that no one else is buying paper. Well, I respond, when I am in a place where the custom isn’t clear, I usually look at what other people are doing to get a sense of the system.

We opt for the gamble. My friend, who enters the bathroom ahead of me, yells out to me in disgust, “So much for when in Rome…”

Monday, December 7, 2009

My Sparrows

Sorry for the slack gang. I have been in work mode, holiday planning mode and party mode as spring and a trip back north for the holidays is creeping upon me. This has given me little time to reflect on my life here, sadly.

But since it’s the end of the year, which is a time for broad reflection and thanks for everything, I keep coming back to a story about a lovely little necklace that represents my journey of the last 18 months.

My favorite shop in Washington is called Nana and is owned by a dear friend Jackie Flanagan. (Everyone in DC, go and go immediately!) She has the cutest stuff known to humankind in her beautiful U Street boutique, including lovely jewelry by a designer called Pieces of a Girl.

Years ago, I bought myself a lovely little necklace of a sparrow. I always got compliments on it, as it is delicate and beautiful and looks nice with almost anything. I wore it all the time and even bought a few for some dear friends.

I have had my sparrow with me constantly, a reminder of the people that are far from me physically but not emotionally. They are all my dear friends in DC and throughout the world that have helped me get to right now. And for them, I am grateful. Especially my friend Jackie, as she is an example in my life of how one can achieve something with hard work and a desire to succeed.

Sparrows are tiny little birds that are found in almost every part of the world. The great thing about a sparrow is that they are free to come and go wherever they want, only constrained by the extremes of temperature. Because their tribe is everywhere, they are able to find their own group of fellow sparrows wherever they end up.

My own little sparrow flew with me from Washington to Buenos Aires, from La Paz to Cape Town and all the way back to the US. Sometime earlier this year, it broke.  I held onto the chain and my little bird as they continued around with me through the US and Colombia. I finally brought my sparrow in to Jackie in the late summer when I was back in DC for a while and she vowed to get it fixed for me.

On my last full day in town, I went over to Nana to say goodbye to Jackie. Things had been crazy at the store and while everything looked beautiful and ready for fall, she hadn’t had the time to get my sparrow fixed. She wanted to just give me a new one, but she didn’t want me to continue traveling without my first sparrow, the one that had been all of those places and had experienced all those things with me.

So now, I have a necklace with two sparrows. The sparrow from the first part of this great adventure and now, a shiny new one for the next part.

Friday, November 27, 2009


Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday in the world because it is a holiday that is about food, not gifts. Thanksgiving is a memory of people and shared experience, not about spending money because of a societal obligation. Because of this, I had no idea what kind of experience I was going to have living in a place where my roots are just starting to take hold.

We went Thanksgiving shopping on Tuesday, my friend Mary and I scoured the giant megastore for cranberries, turkey, green beans, and the ever necessary, bricks of butter. Success on the butter and the beans. Well, the turkey too – we scored these little girl turkeys from Brazil, pavitas, and we grabbed two of them from the nearly empty giant freezer. The cranberries were sadly never found and tangy plum marmalade was subbed in its’ place.

When I arrived at Mary’s on Thursday, I had already been living in cognitive dissonance. Always in two worlds, it was more severe on this day – life hummed as it always does in my physical space, while half a world away existed some other reality that is also my own. But it was different. Thanksgiving is about the people you love and there were many people who were in that world far, far away. Normally I spend Thanksgiving with my dear friend Marc. I even wrote a poem about it last year, closing my eyes to imagine his day of thanks at the same moment as mine. I remember feeling the distance of half a world on that day.

But this year, something was different. I walked into Mary’s house to a hurricane of cooking. Mary, an incredible cook, had prepared beautiful green beans worthy of a Gourmet photo spread and pale yellow potatoes au gratin laced with cream and cheese. I ran out to get some wine and when I came back, the smell of the pavitas filled the kitchen. Darkness had come and with that, a drop in the temperature that made it feel closer to a slightly bleak northern world November than a crisp Argentine spring evening.

Before too long the guests began to arrive. Argentines, a Cuban, a Brazilian. Only one-third of us had celebrated Thanksgiving before, so it was a treat for many of the newbies. As we were piling our plates with food, we had to show the newbies where the most delicious stuffing was (inside the bird of course), explain the plum marmalade on the table.

It was a joyous occasion – in English, Spanish and even a little Portuguese. When asked about what she was thankful for, our host put it perfectly – “I am thankful for yesterday for becoming today and today for becoming tomorrow.”

Me too.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sweet Calesitas

Two weeks ago, my friend Nestor dragged me to the outer reaches of Buenos Aires to attend a birthday party in a barrio called Liniers. We took a bus along Avenieda Rivadavia, which he told me was the longest road on earth and after this bus ride I think I believe him. Finally, we hopped off at a quiet corner with a lush park tucked between two sleepy streets. Quiet? Sleepy? Were we in Buenos Aires? What kind of party was this?

Truth be told, it was 5 pm, which is really when the town just begins to wake up.

As we circled the corner, I heard what I came for. The high-pitched screams of children. The retort of parents who begged their offspring for voices an octave lower as they all yelled over the high-pitched kids music. And then, I saw it. The street was stuffed full of children, parents, grandparents, even great grandparents all celebrating the 90th birthday party of Don Luis, the man who operates the oldest calesita (merry-go-round) in Buenos Aires. His particular merry-go-round, was built in 1920 and has been bringing squeals of delight to the kids in the ‘hood for close to a century.

Don Luis’ merry-go-round is one of 55 scattered through the neighborhoods of BA, with nearly one in every ‘hood. With wooden carved horses, carriages and trains painted in faded pink, purple and gold, they quickly leave you with the impression of another epoch.  The city has embarked on effort to save these little jems of history that conjure up happy images for young and old alike, going into far flung neighborhoods to reconstruct and rescue piece of the city’s strong European history.

“Three generations of my family came here, including me,” a wrinkled woman of the barrio told me. She was in her early 90s, her husband 97. That was what made this party so remarkable – the mixture of generations who all were united to celebrate what was, is or will be part of their collective memory. It was a symbol of community that is too often forgotten in an age of video games, Facebook and television.

There was an award for Don Luis from the city, for his dedication to the community. He spoke briefly, with pride about the challenges throughout time to keep the calesita running. “Today all the children of Argentina can enjoy the most fun and healthy diversion we have,” he declared, beaming with joy as the throngs of children and adults alike clamored to kiss and hug him on his special day.

There was a torta (cake) of course, a 90-kilo purple behemoth, in honor of Don Luis’s age. It was extra sweet, with dulce du leche and nuts sandwiched in between a moist yellow cake and the crowd pushed with ferocity to get near the table underneath a jacaranda tree to grab a slice.

Soon the crowd was energized, maybe from the sugar, maybe from the celebratory vibe. Kids climbed onto the merry-go-round, making life-long friends, making temporary enemies, loving their sisters, hating their brothers, with parents snapping pictures furiously in the golden spring afternoon. Either way, it was simply a beautiful sight.

To see more pics, go to my flickr site.  Also, be sure to check out the special cultural programs the city has going until the end of the year at calesitas throughout the city.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Finding My Masa

A little over a week ago, I had the good fortune of going to Masa Critica here in BsAs. For those of you who don’t speak bicycle, Masa Critica or Critical Mass is the only day a month when cyclists ride in a massive pack. For one day, we are stronger than the mighty car, able to control the roads simply by virtue of the fact that there’s so damn many of us.

It was a cloudy spring day, the sunshine fighting as hard as a cyclist in Buenos Aires traffic to come out. We took the train down to the Retiro train station and on the ride I made a new friend, Julian who was also holding onto his bike as we bumped along. Julian asked me if we were going to Masa Critica. Yes, we were, I responded and Julian joined me and my friend and a journalist from a local paper while we rode along the widest road in the world, Avenieda de 9 de Julio to arrive at Obelisco.

When we arrived, there was a small crew of bikers. My favorite part of Critical Mass everywhere (I have been in DC, San Fran and now BsAs) is the diversity of the attendees. Here there were young and old, the heavily spandexed, the heavily hipstered and everything in between. There was a bike gang with shirts emblazoned with a bike and lightening lettering proclaiming so. A family with their nine-year old who was enjoying his second Masa Critica. I even saw a fixie!

In true Argentine fashion, we started tardy. But before we began, there was a moment where we gathered to hold our bikes up in the air and chant “Masa Critica”.  I loved it, because it made me feel bonded to these fellow misfits in our love of the bike.

We hit the streets, cruising down Avenida de Julio.  The cars were pissed and just got more pissed as we took over the roads. Along the route, there was the sound of horns as loud as thunder, yells as forceful as a slap and raw anger that we were in the way. I never really felt scared because I knew that the masa would protect the masa.

We continued, weaving through the barrios of the city, getting more comments than a teenage girl in a short skirt. “Que raro” or “How strange” was a common one I heard murmured among the crowds who were walking down the sleepy Sunday streets.

Raro. Hmm… To me, I felt at home, home with the guy that had the bike that towered 10 feet high. At home with the punky girl who had a death to cars sign that hung on the ass end of her bike. No matter where in the world you are, you can find your own masa.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Comments Revised

I recently did an interview with a fellow blogger in Argentina and among her questions was one about the cultural differences between how men treat women here versus how women are treated in the U.S. I made some smartass reply about how the male flattery is sort of charming here and that I don’t let it bother me too much.

Well, I spoke too soon.

The other night I was coming home from dinner around midnight. The bus was stuffed with people just starting their night, the smell of too much cologne and freshly washed hair temporarily overpowering the odor of the bus fumes. There was a guy who was drunk, crazy, unstable, who knows what exactly and itching for someone to talk to. With a mullet straight from 1977, disheveled clothes, and a bag that looked like he has fished it out of a garbage can somewhere uptown, I considered he might be homeless.

Two stops after me, a young woman dressed in painted on jeans, a powder white jacket and a tiara (and no, she was not a drag queen) got onboard. Homeless mullet began to try talking to her, but not in a nice way. He began saying nasty things to her and just generally being a pain in the ass. And no one did anything.

Tiara left, he got worse. Two young girls got on, no more than 16 years old, with heavily lined eyes and shorts that were perhaps half an inch more than your standard issue Daisy Dukes. The minute these girls boarded the bus, mullet man was like a wolf going for two little cublets. The bus settled into an uncomfortable silence as mullet man made disparaging comments about girls with the budding bodies of women, but the maturity of munchkin sized maidens.

They stuck together and scampered off for a seat right in front, next to the bus driver. I wanted to yell out, to curse, to scream at this fucker. But I also did not know how mullet man would react. I was a coward, unable to pull the words in Spanish from my gut.

There were two boys who were nervously gigging at mullet man’s demeaning diatribe and to them, I shot daggers. They couldn’t even look me in the eye and stopped with their girlish giggles before too long.

Finally, mullet man got off on the edge of Palermo and we were all free from his sexist terrorism. But this incident changed my mind about the “charming flattery”. Fuck that – it’s the sweet nothings that paved the way for the mullet man to act with impunity and yes, it does bother me.

To this end, my own Spanish homework is now my fuck you, leave her alone speech. Will share soon.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Flora of the 'Hood

I am finally almost settled into my lovely newish neighborhood, just a hop, skip and a jump from where I used to live. It’s a little more glam, with lots of yuppie type dudes driving shiny new Volkswagens with preppy sweaters lazily tossed over their shoulders. The woman are a bit more catlike than my other ‘hood, slinking around in skintight denim and hooker-height boots, decorated with vampy nighttime makeup even during daylight.

Despite the different varieties of flora and fauna, it’s a relatively nice neighborhood and I am enjoying it. There are nice little shops to browse, a wide choice of verdulerías to buy my veggies, my fave gym close-by. As in my other barrio, there’s also a telo or sex hotel within a couple a blocks should I need one.

Yes, gringos, a sex hotel. Here in Argentina (and other parts of Latin America), there are hotels where you can go to have sex. This is mostly because many people live at home until they are married or into their 20’s, unlike us who are thrown out on our asses days after turning 18.  I have yet to try one, but I have heard they can run the gamut, from mirrored walls to lovely romantic spots. Some of them even have “menus” where you can order toys and other appetizers to help get in the mood.

Not sure what fare is offered at La Fusta, my neighborhood sex stop. But in the parking garage, they have a large white statue of a woman with her legs invitingly open and a flower at her most fertile spot with a light that is always on.

The place is ironically located on a street called José Ortega y Gasset, a Spanish philosopher from the early 20th century that lived in exile in Buenos Aires during the Spanish Civil War. Part of the school of liberalism and a strong humanist, he was influenced by such big names as Husserl and Hegel.  His philosophy is neatly summed up by, “Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia" (I am myself and my circumstance).

He also believed that we have the choice to be free inside our own fate and within our fate we choose our destiny. Can’t think of a better reason to hit the telo.


Friday, October 23, 2009

I'm Toxico

As I am getting settled back again in Buenos Aires, I am faced with the grim reminder of how business is done here. Or rather not done here. I have decided that there’s no word in porteño (the Spanish dialect that is spoken here in BsAs) for customer service.

Here it goes… My beautiful, gorgeous Nokia has been declared “toxico” by the cell phone company because I had used a chip a friend had given me when I lived here earlier in the year. The account is in arrears because my friend has been trying to close the account for four months, but there is no one at the company who will help her. Nice, right?

I tried to resolve it the nice way, but ultimately end up screaming like a banshee at an unhelpful and rude drone who works for this horrible company, Claro. The guards circle me, maybe afraid I am going to do something crazy beyond yelling? No, he tells me, this is not our problem. Your phone is the problem, the other cell phone companies are the problem, but we, we are not your problem.

I stormed out in a whirlwind of rage with a littering of expletives echoing behind me. But I realized that I just wanted to prove this asshole wrong. So like an American invasion into an Afghan village, I storm back in with guns ablazing. I get a number and I sit. After a couple of minutes, they announce that the computer system is down and the masses spill from the sliding glass doors into the street. But not me. I’m not going anywhere.

I make small talk with a young woman, Sabrina, who is clad in purple ankle boots and slightly overmade for a daytime appointment. She tells me that Claro sold her a bad phone and she has been unable to use her phone for 6 months. Is that insanity? Yes.

They come ‘round again, telling us it will be at least another hour or longer. But the insane part is that there are people covertly droning on, printing out documents, quietly talking to customers. I notice the asshole manager looking my way now and again. I’m not one to be filled with too much ego, but could this work stoppage be because they don’t want to deal with me? Yes, Sabrina tells me, probably.

Finally, a woman Moria tries to help. We’re halfway there, but my phone remains “toxico” to companies that are not the horrid Claro. Supposedly, it will take a few days to clear this nasty list. Still waitin’.
As much as I hate to blog about my own trials and tribulations in this mundane sort of way, there's a point here. The system in Argentina is pretty broken, the people are pretty broken by it and violating people’s rights is not a big deal to these greedy companies and people just expect it in their everyday lives. The government steals, why shouldn’t the big boys steal when they can? That’s life in a kleptocracy, I guess.
Note: Photo from

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


I have had more than my fair share of extra holidays or feriados as I have been wandering. When I was in Colombia, I got Colombian Independence Day (which is also my birthday), the Battle of Boyacá and the Assumption of Mary (yes, I am a Jew but I'll take the freebie).  In Argentina, I got some extra Catholic holidays too and one or two nice remembrances of Argentine victories and defeats.  The gift of an extra lazy day even if I had to do some work, since my stuff is all based in the states.

Yesterday, both in the US and Argentina (and in Colombia too), it was Columbus Day.  In Latin America, it is called “Race Day” because the natives hate Columbus for taking them out, which I totally get. At least here in Latin America, the native people weren’t decimated like they were in the US.

While some people in the states were working yesterday, people here take the term “holiday” much more seriously than those in the US. There’s no run on the malls, there is no going into the office. Instead of throngs of shoppers hitting the mall, there are throngs of families strolling the streets. Gone is the constant roar of the buses zooming by, dog walkers are sans their normal herds. It’s a day of freedom and relaxation as the parks are stuffed with people -- sunbathers in itsy bitsy bikins (yes, I did see one today and it’s only 65 degrees), mothers and daughters clustered together on benches facing the afternoon sun, a couple drinking a lazy coffee at a café, sisters arm in arm sharing ice cream.

I walked in the afternoon sun to run a quick errand, but even I couldn’t move too quickly. Instead, I meandered the streets and for just a few minutes, I joined a city of nearly 16 million people taking the day off. Too bad I wasn’t one of them.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

She's Baacck!

Happily back in the good airs and starting to get settled in. One of the biggest challenges in my respites from Latin America has been keeping up my blog. Honestly, inspiration has been hard to come by as I wandered in the first world. And technically, I wasn’t even really wandering so much. Occasional respites to NYC hardly qualify. So, let me apologize to you my dear readers.

In your own culture, it’s easy to have some blinders. One of the great/difficult/sometimes horrible things about being outside the US is that everything is unfamiliar. This gives me not only insights into my own culture and the one I am living in, but also some interesting experiences to share with you.

When you are a foreigner, lots of people want to show you things and are constantly asking for your impressions about their own culture. I often write about the people I meet as I wander, since they often give me a perspective different than the first world white girl’s.

So today when I went to deal with the cell phone company over a bad SIM card, they told me that to fix it I would have to go way down to the Microcentro. I tried to talk them into helping me in my lame ass Spanish, but they couldn’t help. At first I thought it was because of my Spanish and then I just became frustrated and a string of several expletives fell out of my mouth to describe my frustration.

“Entiendo,” the guy said, “Fuck is fuck in any language.”

Monday, September 21, 2009


I am back in the US for work, mostly hanging in DC and enjoying watching the days slowly shorten as fall begins to fall upon us. While this was my home for many years, the past year of wandering has definitely changed my view of what I need to have a home. Nonetheless, I am enjoying seeing the wonderful people that are my friends who call this home.

One thing I am missing is speaking Spanish. My Spanish has been progressing nicely over the last year and during my time in Colombia it reached another level. Progress capped off with my trip to the coast, which included traveling with a couple of Rolos (people from Bogota) and speaking Spanish day and night. By the second morning of rolling over and having to sputter to life in Spanish before brushing my teeth or drinking coffee, I knew I had gotten there.

Since arriving in the Beltway Bubble, the Spanish has been mostly in fits and starts. The highlight was helping a pruned Salvadorian woman navigate the confusing cereal sale in the Safeway in my neighborhood. After setting her straight that all Raisin Bran looking boxes were not equal (the Safeway brand was not on sale), she commented that my Spanish was good… for a gringa.

All this led me to try an intercambio, something I had done in BA and just loved. You meet someone, chat for an hour in Spanish and an hour in English. I naturally went to craigslist, the modern version of the corner store, to search for a partner. I ended up with a Chilean dude with an accent thicker than tar who wanted to talk politics.

Fortunately I am up on my Latin American politics, including Chile, since I was just there in the last year. We talked about Michele Bachlet and he remarked how she wasn’t really a socialist, since she had been influenced by the whole Chicago/Milton Friedman/free market crowd. What’s so fascinating about this is that she lived in the former East Germany, yet she still preaches and surrounds herself with über capitalists. She also lived in the US as a child, her father serving at the embassy here in DC.

She ain’t alone. Many of the leaders in LatAm these days either lived for a spell in the US or surround themselves with people who were educated here. Uribe, the president of Colombia, did a stint at Harvard. Correa, the president of Ecuador, went to the University of Illinois.

This isn’t always an indicator of policies towards the US, however. Correa kicked the US out of Ecuador. And while Fidel spent some time in the US and almost studied at Colombia, he ended up going back to Cuba and well… you know the rest.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing, Really?

My last week in Colombia included a trip to the glorious coast. La costa is another side of Colombia, filled with the tantric rhythms of cumbia music, the musty smells of seafood and the Atlantic, and the sticky, dewy glaze of 90 percent humidity like icing on your skin. The piece of me that lived in Florida relished the Caribbean-Latin concoction.

I traveled by myself for a while, sitting on buses and planes taking in the landscapes and reading. But inevitably, friendly (there really are no other kind) Colombians (usually of the male variety) would chat me up, my obvious gringa-ness driving them to show

me something fabulous about their town. I took it all in stride, and enjoyed learning every nook and cranny factoid of every pueblito I passed.

Inevitably, the question came. What question? The “are you married” question. At first, I answered honestly, which means no. This invited a series of questions, lectures, sermons, you name it, all in the name of my being a single gal.

William, who I met on a beach crowded with fisherman selling off their daily haul, told me I didn’t want to be married. He waxed on and on, as he waited for the best fish of the day, telling me there was nothing physically wrong with me but that my time was running out. This continued until a boat coasted onto the beach by only the moonlight, with fish as long as my forearm. Finally, William could go home with what he came for. Phew.

No man in North America would ask me this question after knowing me for 20 minutes on some beach while waiting for the fisherman to come in. In fact, I don't even think an Argentine would ask (not as friendly as the Colombians, for starters). I think it has to do with the currents of traditionalism that have a strong hold in Colombia. Women get married, women are married. And if not, there has to be a reason why not. In North America, maybe people are too polite but if you were even asked the question, I can't imagine the discussion going down the road of mine with William.

After that, I decided to create an imaginary boyfriend. Somedays, he would be a dashing Argentine, others just an ordinary North American. Lawyer, doctor, or mechanic. Either way, he was lovely and fabulous and better than any real boyfriend a girl could have. In fact, it might have been better than having a real boyfriend. At least some days.

photo from:

Monday, August 17, 2009

Securely Insecure

As in all of the Latin America that I know, Bogotá joins the ranks of security obsessed. In front of every shopping mall, there are always a gaggle of security dudes sewn into pseudo-Army styled uniforms, with dogs ready to turn a snarl on a moment’s notice. It’s not just window dressing either, they don’t mess around here - every car that goes into a public parking garage is searched and sniffed, presumably for explosives.

Now granted, here in Colombia (unlike some other places that are security obsessed) stability and a non-violent existence are relatively recent developments. A friend here in Bogotá shared numerous stories with me as we walked through downtown a week or two ago, pointing out buildings that have been rebuilt after being torn to bits by explosives, even a tale about a classmate from school that was left maimed by a paramilitary’s mistaken bomb. Just tragic, especially considering that this all happened less than 15 years ago.

This security obsession doesn’t just extend to public places. Every apartment building has a doorman. Doormen range from scruffy looking guys that spend more time sleeping then guarding to the starched, pressed and proper variety. Regardless of appearance or work habits, they are all stunningly polite (a la Colombians in general). It’s a nice touch overall, except for one thing… you don’t have a key to the front door of the building. Yes, people. You don’t have a key to the place where you live!

It may be a matter of security (making sure there are no duplicates made, allowing the unauthorized to enter) but I find it a little much. This over-secured mentality seems to make me a little more paranoid and a little more edgy, which trust me… I don’t really need.

I also think this affects the psyche of people. While people in Latin America generally lean on the side of the over-security obsessed, I have heard endless cautions from nearly ever person I have met about taxis (always, but not from the street) and walking at night (don’t do it, ever). Now I know Bogotá ain’t Kansas, but c’mon people. The US is plenty sketchy. Ever been to Washington DC? I think it had the highest murder rate before Bogotá snatched the honor away years ago. But no more. These days it’s Caracas, Venezuela that’s taking the honors.

Whatever. Ultimately, it’s just annoying when you have a slacker door guy, it’s super late, you’ve had a few and you need to pee.

photo from:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Third World Women and Bikes

So… you probably didn’t know this, but Bogotá is a city that rivals any Western European city for bike friendliness. There are tons of bike paths and a weekly event where the bikes take over the vast majority of the city streets. It’s not Amsterdam, but it beats the hell out of my favorite bike lane in Washington, DC (on 9th St NW) where you are supposed to do halvesies with the bus.

Anyway, I have been talking to people about the fab bikeness of Bogotá and something really interesting came up that I have never considered… the gender divide of cycling. Not surprisingly, women of Latin America bike less than their male counterparts. This mostly has to do with the fact that women never even learn to ride a bike because this is seen as something unfeminine. Whhhatt?

Latin America is not the only place where this divide exists. According to research done by the UN, this divide exists in Africa too. In addition to the perception that riding is unfeminine, if a bike is the fastest mode of transportation available, you know who gets it. And it ain’t the chicks, I hate to tell ya.

This divide even exists in the US. Recently blogger Anna Letitia Mumford wrote about the bike divide in US, citing a study in San Francisco showing that women make up 49 percent of San Franciscans, but make up only 23 percent of frequent cyclists (meaning cycling two or more days per week) in the city.

Well, what can we do? First off, teach chicks how to ride bikes. I heard that the weekly cycling event in Quito, Ecuador has a bike riding clinic for women - a good step in the developing world. What else? Hmm… maybe make cuter cycling clothes? Just a thought.

P.S. The photo is the Porsche. Love her!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Girls without Guns

Last week, I took a few days of R and R and headed to the Zona Cafetera, which is the coffee country for you gringos. My journey included nearly every type of motorized vehicle you could think of - my lovely roommate drove me to the airport at 7 am, a tiny crop duster sized plane carried me over the towering Andes (bumpy all the way), a surly taxi driver got me from the tiny airport in Armenia to the ramshackle bus station in the center of town. And all before 10 am.

For the last leg, I got on a small bus headed towards a colonial town called Salento, where I would have four days of coffee plantations, hiking and some R and R. The ride was a curvey one as we scaled the emerald hills with 60-foot high Wax Palm Trees that stood waifishly against the indigo sky and fincas fertile with bananas, pineapples, coffee, blackberries and bamboo.

The bus weaved through a small town or two, someone even gave the driver a package to deliver to the next pueblo, extracting promises that the package not break during the journey. There are kids with their parents, excitement in their eyes as they embark on visiting a family friend or relative and young men who are fragranced just a tad over the top, every hair in place.

The bus moves along for a while but suddenly, we stop. I look out the window to see what the commotion is, but before I can focus a young man in fatigues gets on the bus. A gun lays along his back, spanning from his narrow shoulders to equally narrow thigh. He barks a greeting in Spanish (the Colombians are the most polite people, always) and then asks the men to exit the bus with their papers. The men? Why only the men? I think.

It’s a government checkpoint and they are searching for rebels on our way into this tiny town of less than 10,000 people. Seriously. Although the military is not an uncommon presence in Colombia (or most of Latin America, really) nor are extremely large machine guns. At first, I was a bit freaked out. I mean, here I am in the middle of nowhere in Colombia and the military has boarded my bus. With big guns. But then, I became kind of incensed – I mean, why only the men? Hadn’t they ever heard of Gioconda Belli, who was a Sandinista? Women can be rebels (like Belli) or drug mules too, ya know.

I guess the most disappointing thing is that this is the depth of Colombia’s sexism I have seen so far. There’s no stares or yells or talking to my legs. Only an assumption that I’m not a lefty rebel. Boo and hoo.

Friday, July 24, 2009


First off, apologies. I had some amalgamation of swine flu and was flat on my ass for days. Hence no writing or meeting fascinating people.

Anyway, am back on the stick. Earlier this week was Colombian Independence Day and I spent the afternoon with my roommate and her cousin. We lounged away the last day of a long weekend in the most delicious way – eating, slurping creamy cappuccinos, and chatting. After we scarfed down a traditional Colombian meal of hearty soup and succulent meat with aji that packed a spicy punch, we headed to a coffee shop and sprawled ourselves out in front of a huge window, snuggled into scrumptious red leather seats and lapped up the afternoon Andean sun that filled up the room.

We of course talked about traveling and the amazing range of cultures that exist in Latin America. In Argentina, where the influence of Italy and the old country reigns supreme to here in Colombia, where the imperialist North Americans have left a King Kong sized footprint in the culture. In the middle, in Bolivia, there is a starker line – in one glance native culture fills your vista with the women dressed in their ballooning polleras and bowl hats, while in the other it's first worldified women in tight jeans and pointy stiletto heels wobbling down ancient city streets. These orientations not only affect how things look, they also effect the social dynamics of each place.

The classism and racism are different when the cultural contrasts are so stark. They even cloud the political landscape, creating divisions of animosity and instability for everyone, regardless of their tailor. In North America, while we have our distinct subcultures (even our own albeit meager sized Native America culture), none of them dominate the landscape with nearly as much force as they do in a place like Bolivia. Constant strife exists between the indigenous people of the Alto Plano and the more European influenced residents of the eastern side of the country.

Why is this? The modern Americas -all of us- are the teenagers of the world (compared to other places), but not all of us seem to have to gone beyond young adulthood. Part of it may be the size of each country- it’s pretty easy to exist as a subculture when there are a myriad of subcultures a la the US or even Argentina or Colombia to a lesser extent. These places all share a relatively large mix of ancestries – from the wide reaches of Eurasia and Asia to almost everywhere in Europe and into Africa. Whereas in Bolivia, there isn’t much of a range of subcultures, there’s just two very dominant ones – indigenous and European.

I guess the more flavors you’ve got, the less extreme the contrasts. Plus, isn’t it more delicious? Sorry, it’s lunch time.

Friday, July 10, 2009


It’s my first days in Bogotá and I am trying to find my way against a maze of zig zag roads that climb through the city like vines and addresses littered with a mouthful of numbers (which are my nemesis in Spanish). Add to that a radical microclimate where it goes from spring to fall in less than 15 minutes and you have my first days here.

Yesterday I did a little site seeing and went to the house of Simón Bolívar. Of course, it was a grand affair- a lush garden brimming with gorgeous plants, rooms where Bolívar entertained the intellectuals of his time, and a proud display of weaponry used by him and his compatriots. I went with a young Austrian woman who had studied Bolivar and his battles, which proved to be useful as we traded my translations services with her vast knowledge of all thing Bolivarian.

When we were chatting, she mentioned to me that Bolívar was not an indigenous South America. While born in Venezuela, he came from an aristocratic Spanish family. Simon was a pretty impressive dude, leading efforts to liberate what was known as Gran Colombia, which included parts of today’s Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Venezuela, Peru, and Bolivia. Basically this dude was George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton all rolled into one. Or else he had a better PR person than anyone else.

Anyway, Bolívar was an extremely liberal thinker and wrote about creating government with checks and balances and individual rights a la the US. But it all kinda went south on him, he went the dictator route, which of course got ugly. He was planning his exile to France when he died.

In this tragic story, my favorite irony is that a dude totally worshipped by the likes of Chavez and Morales was thinking along the same lines as their present day nemesis. I get how it’s all been distorted, blah and blah. But still, a paradox, no?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

First World Fear

So this is my last week in the states before I head off for the next great adventure – Colombia! I have been bouncing around yet again and this week I’m house sitting in a lush DC suburb, staying in a quiet rambling house hugged by green trees, early summertime flowers and a Hollywood movie-like vibe of peace and tranquility. For this, it makes me think that some of my friends in Latin America would probably conjure up images of this kind of place when thinking about the states.

The other morning I woke up to a glorious summer morning. I felt for a moment like I was at summer camp, that youthful freedom that comes with being a city kid out in the country. I slurped my coffee slowly on the spacious back porch, looking up to see a cerulean, cloudless sky and heard only the clicky chirps of the birds lounging in the trees. I decided that I needed to fully enjoy this deliciousness and take a morning run. I started off slowly, the mini mansions that tastefully looked modest from the road churned by. I picked up the pace, deeply inhaling the thickening summertime air filled with the smells of the impeccably cared for greenery that lined the roads. Zoned….

After a while, I looked around. It all still looked the same. The tasteful homes, the front yards perfectly manicured by a third world person, the politically correct hybrid car parked in the neatly placed driveway. My heart was struck with fear as I realized that I was lost… totally, utterly lost and there was not a soul around to direct me back home.

In the moment when this hit me, I was terrified of this suburban existence more than I had ever been walking home wasted at 4 am on the streets of Buenos Aires or New York or even sketchy ass Washington DC. It was the lack of people, the lack of noise, the lack of someone to help when you are lost. When I did see people, they were cryogenically sealed into their nice cars likely only interacting with other humans through the cloistered veils of cell phones or emails, Facebook or Twitter.

I eventually found my way back home, but found myself pondering this isolated first world life. You make more money to buy a big house, away from people in the city. You make even more money and you hire a nanny to care for your child, instead of caring for them yourself. Your parents get old and you pay for someone to take care of them. Money puts more distance between you and other people.

I guess it is no different for those third world elites I saw in BA. They have fallen prey to the same Hobson’s choice that the first world has already committed itself to lock, stock and barrel. I know we all think this is progress, but is it?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Nomadic Ways of Being

I am in DC this week and feeling a little bit nomad-like. My apartment that I own here is rented through the summer and I am relying on the kindness of friends and family along the eastern seaboard for shelter. A friend of mine and I decided that to call myself homeless was too flippant, so now I am using the moniker “domicially challenged” as to not offend the real homeless that wander around without the option of a home.

While meetings, social engagements and baseball have all been eating up my time, I haven’t had a ton of time to unwind. But when I push myself to the brink of exhaustion and need to unplug for a bit, I have been watching the amazing series by Ewan MacGregor called Long Way Round, which chronicles the story of Ewan and his buddy driving 20,000 miles across Europe, Asia and the US on motorcycles. It came out about 3 or 4 years ago and the moto crowd just dug it. I am not a motorcycle person, but can appreciate the idea of traveling exposed to the elements and the people (a la a bicycle) in a way that a car cannot even pretend to give you.

The other night in my mobile living room (aka my computer), Ewan and Charlie were schlepping through Mongolia. And I mean schlepping. Shitty roads no more than a jagged path of boulders with puddles bigger than a circus fat lady, accidents, and other scary stuff filled their days. When they were getting near the end of Mongolia, Ewan commented about how being nomadic was part of the culture in Mongolia and how there was something really nice about that freedom.

As a nomad, I can say it has its ups and downs. I enjoy the simplicity and variety of locations, something that I think Ewan was appreciating too. But sometimes you just wish for your own kitchen, your own routine and your own bed. I think this come from conditioning, however, since in the first world we are not raised to put our clothes and our houses on our back every few weeks to find the next bit of food or avoid a tribal skirmish.

The Mongolians are not alone as nomads. Throughout the third world, in the Middle East and parts of Africa people live in a constant state of movement often for reasons of food or environment. In most first world cultures, a nomadic lifestyle is not embraced or impossible. How could you possibly live as a nomad if you go shop at Macy’s every week? Economist Juliet Schor estimates that in 2004, Americans purchased an average of fifty-seven garments per year. Where are you possibly going to carry all that stuff you keep buying if you needed to pack it up and move on out?

And of course, since I am not buying this stuff, someone is buying my share too. Ouch.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Good Air

Well, I woke up today missing Buenos Aires just terribly. Missing my friends, missing the onda of the city, missing wading into the chaos of a place that is mine and not mine all in an instant. Funny how a place looks from thousands of miles away...

Buenos Aires

Yellow taxis,
yellow walls,
yellow skin.

Damp crisp winter bites my bones.
Chunky crosswalks of thick white lines line the path home.

The glow of green lights goes up the boulevard as we barrel north.
The clatter on the radio calling cars to Chacarita, Cordoba, Corrientes.

Streets the span of a redwood tree
Cars shooting through the intersection like a rocket into space
Motorcycles flying like a shooting star through the cloudy nighttime sky.

Trees line the avenues,
Silent sentinels in bursts of dusty green and gold.
Collectivos screaming down the street
Every corner is a suicide mission to the other side.
The chaos of the city has its own rhythm and rhyme.
Heavy air tinged with the toxic waste exhaust of the cars
that clunk and fume into my open window.

The roaring of the motorcycles
The barking of the dogs
The crying of the children.

La gente, la gente, la gente there.
Living in the good air.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Back to the Roots

I am in Florida this week, South Florida to be exact. Part of me feels like I am in Latin America here in Florida, which is sort of nice. There’s tons of Spanish everywhere and not just the service personnel, which is all too common up north.

Yesterday I went to the clubhouse where my mom lives to run on the treadmill. I briefly considered running outside but the hot, sticky air was clinging to me like a size 4 dress – even at 9am. I knew breathing outside and trying to run was going to be virtually impossible so I retreated indoors to the clubhouse of a development reminiscent of Jerry Seinfeld’s fictional Del Boca Vista, replete with old Jewish ladies from whatever northeast city you’d like to name.

They were lovely, these girls with grey hair all pumping iron just as hard as Ar-nald. Delray Beach became Venice Beach right before my eyes. These girls of steel were not alone in their quest for physical perfection – they had a fearless leader, a tiny woman who ruled with an iron fist in a velvet glove, pushing the Jewesses to keep it moving to keep their heart rates up. She was one of those beautiful women who had aged gracefully, retaining the body of her youth in tight spandex with a faced lined with just a few tributaries of her true age.

I chatted with the gals and was quickly invited into the inner circle of exercise culture in Del Boca Vista. They asked about what I was doing and when I told them I was wandering around South America, they looked at me with a bit of shock. One asked, “You did that all by yourself? Is that safe?” I responded, “Yes and yes.”

I continued to talk about how I loved South America, how wonderful the people were and that I had about the same amount of fear wandering around Boca Raton on a dark night as I did wandering around most cities in Latin America. Velvet glove, who it turned out was from Venezuela, grinned at me. As we were walking out, she said to me, “You know, I am 55 years old and I have traveled all around the world, Europe, Asia and the US doing the same kind of thing you are doing.” She also explained how her family had come from everywhere to end up in Venezuela, so she grew up understanding just how big the world was and always wanted to know it all.

Most of our families ended up wherever they are today as immigrants, but before too long we all seem to forget where we came from. In the US, within just a few generations we are assimilated as full-blooded North Americans, leaving our curiosity about where we came from back with our great grandmas. In Latin America, all of my friends knew where their families came from and were still connected to it through culture and custom. Is this because they lack a singular national identity? I don’t think it is that simple, but I just recall how every Argentine I met would tell me about where their families came from while I have some friends here in the US who I have known for years that I have no idea where their families come from. What is it about North American culture that makes us forget our roots?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

New York, New York

The tour of the north continues. This week I am staying in Brooklyn and dodging into the city here and there, but mostly camping out in the borough because it is generally so much more livable. The amazing thing about New York (and something it shares with Buenos Aires) is the range of possibilities that are available in one city.

A friend of a friend has loaned me her bike and I rode all over Brooklyn yesterday. It was an inadvertent adventure that unfolded while going from friend to friend to home last night. I rode through Prospect Park after 9 pm, the chill of spring still clinging to the trees and hovering around the lakes and ponds and assorted bodies of water that dot the park. I took joy in the ride home, downhill to the end, even crying out a “yeaaah” as I flew down the other end of the slope that would spit me towards Coney Island on the other side of the park. Ah, my idea of zen.

I even took a bike tour of Brooklyn on Sunday with some friends. We weaved in a line from the Hasidic Jews of Kensington to the Asian in Sunset Park and through the little ghettos of Latins and African Americans sprinkled throughout Brooklyn. Then we hit Red Hook, a hipster enclave laced with projects to stop for a view of the State of Liberty and a snack. A friend remarked how we had been on a world tour in an hour or two and all without an airplane.

There are other New Yorks too… for example I went out on Friday night and was introduced to some new friends, a couple from Uruguay. I immediately loved their accents (reminded me of Buenos Aires) and their warm, fun and highly social manner. These lovely, colorful butterflies and I flitted all about the Lower East Side until the wee hours of the morning, drinking cocktails, chatting in Spanish, and just reveling in the glow of the NYC nightlife. We snaked our way into bars that were in buildings two layers back from the street, speakeasy style that served drinks in teacups and beers in paper bags. We ran into an Argentine friend of mine on the street outside another, all chatting in Spanish as we made introductions and shared some drinks at the next bar.

It is only the greatest cities in the world that can allow you such extremes- to go from being a hippie girl on her bike, hair fluttering in the breeze as she rolls through the park to glam bar hopping in Spanish. While New York doesn’t make me miss BsAs, it reminds me how much I love the city life pretty much everywhere in the world.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Temporary State of First Worldness

So, I am in the states for a few weeks for a little business, a little pleasure and a little summertime. After a long ass flight, I am in Washington DC for the week, a place I lived on and off for over a dozen years. First off, in case you were worried, modern Rome is doing just fine. A little more gentrified then six months ago, which means a little more anger in the street, but otherwise all good. The flowers are in bloom, everything is fertile and green, and the sun is getting hotter as summer kicks off this weekend. Lucky me.

DC feels like a old pair of comfortable jeans in one moment and then in another, it feels like shoes that don't quite fit. I am loving the familiarity of the neatly tree lined streets, the stores that I shopped in for a large chunk of my adult life, the sweet smell of summer hitting the city. The girls are wearing their newest sundresses, their shoulders finally fully peaking out after their long hibernation. The boys are in shirtsleeves, their arms just starting the process of the inevitable summertime farmer tans. But after six months in the third world, it is very odd to be where there is so much order, so many straight lines. The rules are much more rigid in the first world, or maybe the compliance levels and expectations are just much higher. I am not sure exactly what it is, but there is a sense of order than just evades the south somehow.

In some way, I feel like a stranger peeping into a life that I only want to dip my toes into as to not be fully enveloped by it. When I was sitting in the back of a taxi yesterday morning, the early summer glow bathing the cars patiently waiting in the enormous traffic jam on the highway (sans crazy horn hocking a la Buenos Aires), all I could think was, “Is this the only way that people can live here? “ Jammed in their cars, following the path that someone before them grooved out for them and was drilled into them as they did the things that their families and society preached to them were the things to do: College, the big city, good job, insurance, security, spouse, car, children, mortgage, dog, college funds, 401ks, retirement, bigger job, bigger office, bigger salary, bigger mortgage, bigger car. Does it have to keep on getting bigger to be considered progress? There was a lot of the same thing in those shiny new Hondas, Toyotas, and Volkswagons.

This isn’t only a first world affliction anymore… the bigger, more syndrome. I saw it creeping into life in Buenos Aires, especially in my first world light neighborhood. For example, blackberries, Iphones – the accoutrement of most people with money and not enough time scrambling for excess– were more and more noticeable in my hood in BA and are ubiquitous here. In fact, I don’t know if I know anyone in DC who doesn’t have a blackberry/Iphone/PDA. Even me.

I am missing Buenos Aires this afternoon, mostly the crazy chaos and energy of the city. BA is eternally alive with its heart beating wildly, loudly, and sometimes even erratically each and every day. In Washington, I am trying but just cannot feel the city’s heart. Maybe I have to try a little harder to listen since maybe it's just not as loud as BA. After all, with it's buses and crazy cars and random third world trucks, BA's heart has some serious competition to be heard.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Wash ‘Em If You’ve Got ‘Em

My life here in Buenos Aires is a little bit in a bubble, I will admit it. I live in a posh neighborhood, as a friend and former BA resident mentioned on Facebook to me in regards to my last post. Living here was a deliberate move. Before this, I lived in San Telmo – the gritty, über urban enclave of hipsters ensconced in stunning, old buildings that once housed the working class settlers of Buenos Aires.

Anyway, a Paco problem (kind of like crystal meth) drove me north to my tree-filled, breeder-ish hood of first world light. This neighborhood, with its' lovely little specialty shops for cheese, wine, underwear, and delicious imported treats tucked in the corners. No paco. Non-native English is occasionally heard on the streets with the thick Argentine accent that can’t quite grab the right vowel.

Many of these people who don’t care how much anything costs- they have the housekeeper, the trainer, the cook, the nanny- you name it, Third world elites. They don’t just exist here in BA, they exist all over the third world. Want someone to wait in the maddeningly long lines everywhere for everything? Hire a personal assistant. Why do anything yourself when you can afford for someone else to do it?

I chatted with a South American friend about it. What is the reason for this? He thought maybe it had something to do with power – money equals power and if you have it, you can hire people and tell them what to do. He also thought it was also part of the traditional classist and racial hierarchy in Latin America, which is strong here in Buenos Aires.

I also thought it was about the system. For example, I once read a story in the New Yorker about the way of life in Lagos, Nigeria – a giant third world city where people will do anything for money - even wash your feet! In a place where there are not a lot of jobs, people make their own jobs and force you to pay. This is one of those places.

For example if you want to park on the street, often there is a guy helping to navigate the traffic for you. He doesn’t ask, he just does it. As I walk down the street to the gym, I often see the same group of guys outside a hulking church and sprawling private Catholic school complex. There are three or four of them who sit on plastic containers turned upside down, chain smoking and talking amongst them selves and waiting. Waiting. Waiting is the classic posture of the service class.

When a car comes creeping slowly off the hyper-trafficked Luis Maria Campos onto the calmer Maure, they often spring into action. They furiously wave their yellow rags to direct the drivers, standing in the street with an air of authority more like a crossing guard than a cop. Sometimes they wash the cars too, earning a few extra bucks.

Work is work, I suppose. Especially in this economy, right? Guess washing cars in Buenos Aires is better than washing feet in Lagos.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Wandering the World

I have a standing date most Wednesdays with a friend to have an intercambio, which is when you meet up and spend half the time speaking English and the other half speaking Spanish. It has been a huge help for me as I am working on my Spanish and has given me the chance to learn a bit more about Buenos Aires through the best source of information – the locals.

The other night I was waiting for my friend in Palermo, outside of the University of Buenos Aires. It was a mild fall night, the shadows of the bare trees reflecting onto the sidewalks and into the windows of the chic boutiques that line the cobblestone streets. As I waited for her to come out of her English class, I struck up a conversation with a woman who worked on the campus as a security guard type. Short, stocky, with a pockmarked face and ill-fitting clothes, we chatted about the erratic onset of the fall. She asked my about my bike, which I had leaning up against the light post a couple of feet away. Did I want to put it inside? “No,” I said, “I’m just waiting for a friend who should be out shortly.” We chatted a bit more and then she asked me if I rode very far. No, I responded, just from Las Cañitas. “Las Cañitas?” she asked, “Where is that exactly? I have heard people talk about it, but I don’t know it.”

Las Cañitas is maybe 20 blocks away, but to this woman, it could have been Mars. Another world.

I will give you that Buenos Aires is a huge, sprawling city, with a metro area as big as Yellowstone National Park. And this is not a phenomenon unique to BA. There are other people like this woman I have encountered in New York, Berlin, and Washington, DC. It’s more about curiosity about the world and this woman (and those who don’t leave their little universes everywhere in the world) just did not have it.

In my travels I have also met the other extreme, people who want to travel and cannot because of their government or their own situation with money or family. These are the people I love to chat with and will usually find me across a crowded room at a party. I am inspired by their love of adventure, especially when I grow weary of my own. They remind me why I go out into the world and how amazing it is to discover all that the world has to offer.

As for the non-nomadic woman, she reminds me about how wonderful it is sometimes to just be home.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Los Chicos de Mi Barrio

I haven’t talked too much about my neighborhood, but I am in love with where I live. Aside from having a cool apartment owned by an amazing artist, I live in a neighborhood mixed with posh apartments, young families, singles, you name it. I love the diversity when I walk down the street… there are teenagers in their rumpled school uniforms shouting at the end of a busy day, backpack lazily slug over one shoulder. The tiny girls with their hair cascading down their backs, giggling groups of gawky, long-limbed budding teenagers, rambunctious boys yelling as they run down the broken sidewalks on a fall afternoon. Old ladies with canes, hunched over their packages and moving glacially across the street as the impatient cars wait for the light to change. Young mommies pushing strollers while lugging their groceries and talking on the phone in rapid fire Spanish, probably to their housekeepers And hunky boys in gym shorts flashing their over-muscled soccer legs, my favorite.

Another part of my neighborhood is the little shops that just become part of your life when you live somewhere. There’s a lovely verduria on the next block that I frequent. When you walk in most afternoons, beautiful melodies reminiscent of Frank Sinatra but in Italian or Spanish greet you. The owner, a shriveled and charming man with sparkling blue eyes is always there, handing out compliments as fresh as his beautiful spinach. Last week he told he how much he loved my accent in Spanish, this week he complimented my hat.

There’s also Raul, who greets everyone by name as he sells them sodas and cigarettes at the corner shop. He must work 17-hour days, but he always has a smile and a greeting for you. Last night, when I went to pay, I offered him monedas and said, when I have them, I give them. He smiled and when he gave me my change, he included a little chocolate treat with his customary smile.

It's just a reminder how attitudes about work here are different. In a country where unemployment has climbed over 20 percent, people are often grateful for work regardless of what the work actually is. While things are changing in the US because of the ever shrinking economy, when's the last time the guy at 7-11 smiled at you?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Meaty Culture

I was a vegetarian many moons ago, sometime in college when it was de riguer to do it. I eventually returned to my carnivorous ways, as my body never loved this state of being, always feeling deprived of something.

Thankfully I got over this before I came to Argentina. This is a place of meat, meat, and more meat. Ummm… Delicious meat. I have met some Argentine “vegetarians” who eat every type of flesh but actual red meat – this includes ham and chicken.

When you go to the carniceria (butcher), there must be more than two dozen cuts of beef to choose from, each with their own very Argentine names. Or when you go to a parilla for a diner with friends, there’s no less than 10 different types of meat to gobble down with your Malbec. I still don’t know what some of them are and I suspect if I knew, I still probably wouldn’t eat them.

For example, the other night I was at a small dinner party where the chef was a vegetarian and she cooked us a delicious Middle Eastern inspired dinner, with homemade hummus and falafel. While eating, we got into a discussion about meat and one of the guests (a dear friend), asked me about what cuts of meat I liked. Before too long, we had to pull out the Spanish-English dictionary to look up what we were talking about. Brains, livers, ever organ you could imagine was mentioned.

Nonetheless, the stuff I do eat is scrumptious! Some say it’s the grass feeding, others say it is the lack of hormones and medicines the cows are given here in Argentina. But it’s not important. It’s damn good, with a nice texture and gentler flavor than North American meat. But what do I know about meat anyway? I had seitan for lunch.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Funny From My Day

Yesterday I had a crazy day, running from place to place… up early, to the gym, a little work, and then had to run off to a long meaty and winey goodbye lunch for a friend. I was running a little behind, so I hopped onto my bike to ride down to the restaurant. You may recall that my bike is kind of crappy and is now steadily declining into unsafe territory. The seat now is half broken, so when I ride it I have to focus on putting most of the weight on the right side so the whole thing does not snap off the stem. Arrgh! Not as much fun to ride, but still does the job.

Anyway, it was a beautiful fall day. A bit nippy as the sun cascaded through the trees as I plodded through Palermo for a bife with the gals. My scarf was fluttering in the wind and I had Yo La Tango on my Ipod as I felt the sun warm the top of my head. I turned onto José Cabrera and rode by a group of guys in pressed khakis on their way to lunch. One stuck out his thumb, grinning at me as he begged for a ride. I looked him right in the eye and said, “ I could, ya know” and kept pedaling, cackling all the way.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

South American Seder

I have had a friend in town, thus playing tour guide and venturing around my adopted country has taken priority for the last two weeks. I inadvertently ended up missing the first days of Passover and over the last couple of days have been thinking non-stop about my mother’s rock hard matzo balls (which we loving refer to as hockey pucks), my grandmother’s salty chicken soup, and the tender pot roast of Aprils past. Not that I am such a devout Jew, but who doesn’t love cultural Judaism?

Last night I decided to bring a dash of it to friends from Honduras by preparing matzo brei. I bought matzo (over 10 bucks for a kilo, ouch!) and headed to my South American style pseudo-seder.

After announcing that Elijah was at the door when I arrived (which no one but me understood), I told the goyim the story of Passover as I scrambled the eggs and soaked the matzo. I am a pancake style matzo brei girl, served with a little sugar. I explained to them the variety of ways to prepare and serve matzo brei (scrambled, with lox, with onions, with salt, with jam) and successfully flipped the giant matzo pancake without disaster. Phew.

They loved my concoction. When sampling the final product, they decided that we must have chicken with it. Chicken? For a moment, I was incredulous, thinking how in the world could I have chicken with matzo brei? They went even further, talking about bacon and pork rinds. Treyf! Treyf in matzo brei? It’s not chametz, but equally sacrilegious.

Thankfully there were no pork products in the house so I was spared such extreme levels of lawbreaking. But I did end up enjoying my first ever matzo brei with a side of tangy Central American chicken. Zissen Pesach!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mis Piernas

I know you’ve had a lot of my men stories here in BA, but I had such an odd male encounter the other day that I just have to share it with you.

This past weekend, I ended up having a fun filled night with a new friend who was a hoot. So much of a hoot that the next day when I was going to meet her for a late lunch, I was a certified disaster. My muscles ached from laughing, my throat was sore from yelling and my head still throbbed from the wine, beer and lord knows what other concoctions I had ingested well into the morning.

A mess.

And of course, a kind of late to meet her mess. And of course not knowing where the hell I was going and of course not able to find two brain cells to rub together to actually look at a map kind of mess. So I grabbed a taxi and told the driver my destination in Spanish. He soon asked me where I am from, the usual banter I am forced to engage in with the taxistas of Buenos Aires.

But this one is different.

He starts pouring on the flirt with a heavy hand. I have been living here long enough that I am used to a charming Argentine man who hands out compliments like a man handing out dollar bills in Vegas. So I just play along as best I can, operating on whatever intellectual fumes I have left from the night before. It wasn’t easy, my Spanish sputtering like the Ladas I had seen in Cuba the week before.

He loved it.

Then he started talking to me about my legs. "Tus piernas!" he exclaimed. At every stoplight, he turned around and directed his comments about my body, my face, my everything to my legs. Now don’t get me wrong, I run, I bike and all that crap. I have nice legs. But talking to my legs? Over the top.

We arrive at my destination and as I am rummaging through my bag looking for my 20-peso note, he turns and asks me if I would have coffee with him. There is a pleading in his eyes that I am not sure I have ever seen in a man before.

Do you just shoot a wounded man or leave him dying?

If you’re Jill, you just let him die a slow death. I took his number.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Primer Mundo Blanca Chica

At the core of being a first world white girl is having freedom. The life I am living right now is the embodiment of this idea. I am free to live in another country, go wherever I want, talk to whoever I want, and say just about anything I want. I have all of these liberties because of where I was born as well as some other socio-economic things that stem from where I come from. I am not the only one lucky enough to have this… chances are if you are reading this you probably are too.

Part of my adventures has been traveling in Latin America, so I recently went on a trip to one of the only places in the world the US government forbids me to go (well not directly, but they cut off my ability to legally spend money there so that basically makes it very difficult), Cuba.

First off, Cuba is beautiful. The weather is fantastic, the beaches are stunning and the people are incredibly friendly. I met tons of Cubans who opened their hearts and homes to me, fed me and plied me with beer while they told me about their lives and their dreams. For many of them, they feel trapped. Trapped on a beautiful island in the middle of the sea, left to only dream about the places they see in movies.

Juan, a taxi driver I met, asked me, “Is New York City like the movies or better?” “Oh Juan,” I responded, “Even better.” I explained to him about the rhythm of the people, the giant buildings everywhere, the smells of the food in the streets, the sounds of the cars and the voices and the never-ending streets of stores with anything and everything you could dream of. It made me miss New York, to miss America, and to feel bad that this 35 year-old man did not have the choice to go and see with his own eyes the myths and realities of a piece of my home.

Juan wasn’t the only one. I met a group of Cuban guys who wanted to take me out to lunch and when we tried, we were turned away at a restaurant in La Habana Vieja. The owner of the place yelled at my newfound friend, “No, I won’t have a foreigner in here… I don’t want trouble from the police.”

So we ended up in the countryside, taking an old dusty enclosed pickup truck with the rest of the locals to a relaxed place away from the prying eyes of the police. Giovanni, Jose and Yohan all told me about their lives, about how they dreamed and hoped for a better life. I tried to explain to them, just as I had tried to explain to Victoria in Peru about the price you pay for the other life. “Yes,” Giovanni responded, “But at least you have the choice.”

He was right on that one.

As sad as I am about their lack of freedom, there is something to appreciate about their lives. The people stop and chat, they have the time to hear your story, to ask questions about where you have been, to stop and talk to a neighbor. Life is about the most basic of elements, since there is not really anything else. I can’t really make a judgment though, since I am free to choose my life and most Cubans are not.

Not everyone in Cuba was critical of life under the regime. Many supported the Revolution and the Castros. I spent one afternoon talking to a beautifully talented musician, Julian, who say it best, “En tu mente eres libre” … in your mind you are free.