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.