Tag Archives: palermo

A Golden Age Missed, Perhaps…

8 Sep

I’m kind of being bad right now. I probably shouldn’t be taking time out to write a little blog post, but I figured it’s worth it to clear my head for a few minutes. I’ve just got so much work to do, and it never ends, that it almost seems pointless to try and get it all done in a one day period. Graduate school is no walk in the park when you’re also working. I’m not pulling a full time job, but the 20 hours a week I’m shouldering is enough so that I notice the difference. I head over to work in the morning, leave in the afternoon to come back and study before heading off to the university. Then I come back and study some more, but I never really seem to come close to finishing all of the assignments until they are due. There’s just too much to read.

That’s the way it is though, and I knew I was going to have challenges like this. After all, this isn’t meant for everyone, and if no one can force you to go to college, there is definitely no one who can force you to go for a Masters. Everything has been incredibly interesting so far, and from learning about the Cuban Missile Crisis to strategy on how to combat Al Qaeda, I can honestly say that I’m smarter after just a couple of weeks in the program. That is to say, I never would have just known about this material on my own. On a day like today though, I can feel weighed down by responsibility. Work, meetings, reading, class, and having to scrap together a meal with almost nothing in the fridge at the same time. I haven’t gone food shopping since moving in, but I really have limited time to get down to the store, as working with the buses is a venture in itself.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the last six months or so that I spent in Buenos Aires. Once I moved back into Palermo with my new roommate Tomás, life started to get a lot sweeter. I was on the downward slide, so knowing that I would soon go home made my job less of a chore, and nostalgia started to reign in. I made some great new friends but also solidified my long standing relationships with other Argentinians and a handful of expats. There was one week in February when I was busy every night of the week, running with the Nike team, going to a pub quiz, and other after work outings to keep me busy. I was flying by but enjoying it all, though eating poorly (pasta and pizza for four days) eventually caused me to fall ill.

The weather was beautiful as the summer edged on and eventually slid away, and from the 13th floor apartment I could see the sunsets come around faster and faster, until I was running in the dark after work and complaining about the chill. I would sit in the old green felt chair with character at night, prop my legs up on the wooden table and watch a show on my lap top. I would enjoy leisurely activities like writing and even read a few books, including a book on philosophers and their teachings from the Greeks to the 1800s. That book actually helped me in dealing with stress in some situations, and I’m still grateful to my friend for letting me pick any book I wanted from his pile.

Becoming more familiar with my neighborhood, I could drop down for a $5 ARS ice cream cone, or drop in to the bakery for some fresh bread to match my meal that night. Buenos Aires certainly has some European characteristics, and one thing that I’m missing here in Washington is being able to stop in at a corner market for fresh fruit and bread. But I’m not forgetful, and I have the archives here to show me that it wasn’t always peaches in BA. Did the last six months make up for frustration during the first year and a half? I think the answer is self-evident. Those last six months in Buenos Aires were a precious time in my life, and I think I’ll always be able to look back on them with a tragic romanticism, happily allowing a bit of water to the eyes even while I picture the scene of the old living room with a view of the Botanical Garden, bedroom with a view of the west, and kitchen with a view of the Palermo parks and Rio de la Plata. I can see it now.

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Class Struggle in Buenos Aires

20 Apr

A Polo Match, Enjoyed Mostly by the Upper Class

Today I had an interesting conversation at lunch with the guys. Reading a brochure on Buenos Aires, we came to the discussion of the differing realities of life in Argentina, and most notably, in Buenos Aires. The brochure had quotes from writers dating from the 1920s and 30s, talking about how beautiful the city was and how most families had a dozen servants. We laughed at how ridiculously outdated these quotes were and compared modern times to what was sold as the image of this city. The problem is that many people read these kinds of things and hear the phrase “Paris of South America” and think of something totally different from what you get. Those who visit for a few days and stay in Recoleta or Palermo might find that it’s an excellent place to visit, but if you stay longer you’ll notice how it’s not all the rosy picture some people would like you to think.

Buenos Aires can be such a divided place, with a large difference in neighborhood and social status. For a large majority of those who come from Recoleta or Palermo, their lives are in their eyes normal and what you would expect in Buenos Aires. Streets are safe, architecture is magnificent, and everyone is affluent and taking trips to Punta del Este in Uruguay. But far from that sort of life is another reality, in which people struggle to make ends meet each month and have to be careful as they walk in the streets late at night. It’s not to say one is correct and the other is false, but they are unique to the people who live in them.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I think Argentina has some of the best marketing geniuses around. Ask most people what they think of when Argentina is brought up and they’ll likely say one of the following: beautiful people with European features, the best soccer players in the world, the best meat and wine, tango dancing, and a cosmopolitan hub in Latin America. For one end, that is true, but it’s also just a small portion of the larger picture. There are a huge number of Argentinians without European features, not everyone plays or cares about soccer, there is a difference between a good steak and a great steak, and on and on. Somehow, the rest of the world has come to see Argentina is a pretty positive light, which isn’t a problem, except that it overlooks the fact that not everything is perfect.

Protests--A Reality for the Majority

This reminds me of the typical architecture in Buenos Aires, with that classical touch and a lovely facade, but turning the corner you notice that the whole thing is a sham. The sides are dirty and faded concrete and inside could be a similar disappointment. It’s like they put so much concern on the front which will be seen by everyone else, that nothing remaining was dealt with much care. In a way, you can say the same thing about the country as a whole. It’s a sort of facade, with many different faces which sell you on various points. Getting to know it a little better and entering, however, and you might not feel like staying too long.

Those who reign in the upper class and sit upon a perch, assuring the world that everything is fine, are essentially digging a bigger hole and burrowing further into a problem which won’t fix itself. Only fixing the problem in one neighborhood or putting more guards in one school will not help anyone in the long run, and only creates a gap which ends in resentment and mistrust. I won’t get into the end result which history has already spelled out in various examples. The point is, you need to hear someone when they say that, yes, those beautiful people who are talented at soccer and dancing are Argentinian. But so are we, and we are just regular, everyday working stiffs. So why don’t they figure into the reality that most of the world sees?

When the Time Gets Short, the Short-timers Get Going

8 Mar

The Botanical Gardens

Following the blog you’ll know that my time in Buenos Aires is slowly rolling down the hill. I avoid thinking of it at all costs, but it’s an inevitability that I can’t ignore forever, and though months here remain I’ve already begun to feel sort of sentimental. Take for example this long weekend that I’ve been marveling in. It has allowed me to spend time doing the things that most imagine an expat taking for granted. Walking around aimlessly, finding a cafe, reading and discovering oneself. Going out for a drink and having no worries about what time you wake up. The reality is that while some people might live that life, we don’t all get to taste the fruits of no labor.

Yet March is a magnificent time in Buenos Aires–the brutal heat of January is gone and the rains of February have subsided. It’s still hot, sure, but it’s a nice hot, the kind which you revel in because you know that soon the autumn will come and you’ll have no more opportunities to wear shorts or get a good tan. This time has allowed me to slow down and forget about work while admiring the good side of the capital of Argentina. Despite all of the bitching, it does have a European feel to it. I mean, just look at all the Peugeot’s flying around. There are a plethora of yet-to-be-found restaurants and cafes, empanada stands, and even kiosks which sell the cheapest sodas.

Buenos Aires

We don’t all experience this but now with my apartment by the Botanical Garden, I look out of the window and see a green park, maybe the equivalent of what someone living in front of Central Park in New York or Boston Common in Boston would see. It’s prime real estate and I’m just upset that I didn’t find this place a year ago. The sun sets over the city and I only want to stand around watching it for a few minutes longer, but it’s already getting shorter each day.

I was riding on the bus the other day and noted how this city is so big, you only scratch the surface day by day, no matter how long you spend here. You see a group of people in a park drinking mate or a big family at a restaurant, and it’s all so interesting and inviting that you can’t possibly cram it all in, not in 2 years of life, let alone a week of vacation. Over time I have created a series of things which I like to treat myself to on weekends when I have the time, but because the city is big, transportation can be a challenge, money is an issue, etc, I only work my way over to these things once every couple of months.

I’m talking about a visit to Chinatown for spicy fried chicken on a stick, going to the hidden Ecuadorian restaurant in Once for the memories of my first year in Latin America, going for a couple of drinks at Milion Bar or El Living for good music and friendly faces. I like to go for a run by the Rose Garden in the Palermo park system, get lunch time empanadas from the friendly Brazilian women a couple of blocks from my office. They always call me “ojos” (eyes) and the most audacious of them always asks me for a kiss. <Dáme un beso.> <¿Un peso?> <Un beso!> <Ah, buee.>

Fuerza Bruta, running man

Spring is such a happy time to be in this city, and even the fall is crispy and reminiscent of something pulled back from a childhood memory. Not as brilliant in tree color, but fresh nonetheless. But I won’t get another spring and I’ll just have to bank on coming back sometime in the summer, sometime in the future. There’s always a concert, always a new and interesting theater, always some kind of festival that might be hard to find, but getting into that niche makes you one of a privileged few.

In short, I want to make the most of my remaining months in Buenos Aires and end on a fantastic note. I’ve got two trips pending and am thinking of another short one before the jumbo jet home. I’ve had to put up with enough crap and setbacks here that I’m finally letting myself enjoy a cup of coffee at the cafe around the corner, and even checking out prices on a shirt in the store I walk by, because who knows, I might go home with some cool style that no one else has. And it’d be a shame to not use the resources I have in front of me to at least get a sample of the iconic expat life. Every steak, slice of pizza, or ice cream is helpful in reminding me that through all the complaining, it wasn’t all bad.

Carnaval Long Weekend!

6 Mar

The powers that be decided to throw us working folks a break by giving us a 4-day weekend to celebrate Carnaval. This holiday was formerly celebrated in Argentina, but under the military dictatorship of the 80s it was taken away, and only this year has it been brought back. I actually made the mistake of accusing my mom of making up childhood memories of Carnaval because of my past experience telling me no one cared about it, but the truth is that before the dictatorship, many people celebrated lavishly. Now Argentina is trying to bring that back.

A lot of people in Buenos Aires are taking advantage of one of the last long weekends of the summer to get out of the city, hitting up either the coast or other country estates in the provinces. But I’m here in the city for the weekend, though I’m not exactly just withering away. I need a nice break anyway, so this is actually perfect for me. On Friday night I met up with my friend Pablo and we got a nice dinner at a typical parrilla not too far from our apartments. We hadn’t seen each other in a while so we caught up and called it an early night. I was exhausted from the week anyway, so I was more than happy to be in bed by 1 am.

If it was possible to have more of an Argentinian day yesterday, I don’t know how. I woke up early but after some cereal went back to bed until about 12:30 pm. Again, the exhaustion of the week made it seem like I was out partying all night. I had no plans for the day, but I had a craving for some pizza from Pizzeria Guerrin in the center. This pizzeria is considered one of the best in the city, and in my estimation it’s the best. But I don’t go there too often because I try to avoid the center all all costs when I’m not working. I jumped on the Subte and got myself two slices of mozzarella and a slice of faina, which is kind of like a wet, cold spongy tortilla (terrible description but I don’t know how to put it). I’m not a big fan of the faina, but it’s more of a Turkish dish which was brought to Argentina and then combined with pizza. Almost never solo, it has to accompany a slice because for some reason the clashing flavors are enjoyed here.

I stood up at the counter to eat and saw a tour group of Americans marvel at the food while their guide mentioned that a writer for the New York Times had recently come here and written about his experience (I saw the same video posted on the Travel Section). Well-fed and satiated, I returned to Palermo to do some food shopping and take a little nap. After laying down for a bit I headed over to Parque Centenario for some mate with some friends, but once the sun went down I headed home to cook some steak. Having just gone to the market, I was somehow able to combine pizza, faina, mate, and now steak in the same day. But wait, there’s more…

Later in the night I met up with a friend and we went to two of my favorite bars: Milion and El Living. It had been a while since I’d been to both, but they’re laid back and cool places to go. At Milion we got an outdoor table on the patio by the steps and watched as it filled up with people. We seemed to be ahead of the crowd though, choosing to bounce to El Living, just a block away, before it got too packed. At El Living I ran into some people who I’d seen before and we enjoyed the good music played, and once again as it started to get filled up we decided to call it a night. But the drink of choice on the night: Fernet. So throughout the day I pulled in almost every Argentine masterpiece.

It’s Sunday now and the lovely thing is that there are still two days of relaxation or parties or whatever until returning to work for a short week. It’s a shame this holiday wasn’t brought back last year.

Running For My Life…with Nike

11 Feb

Reading this blog throughout the last two years you’ll have noticed that I’ve become something of a runner. I’ve always said that I’m not a runner, however, but rather just a guy who runs. Runners are always training for some competition and have short shorts. Well, now it looks like I’m officially a runner, even though I don’t have the short shorts yet. But I’m working on that part too. This week I began training with the Nike Running Team in Palermo.

I’ve always seen the various running teams in the Palermo park system and wondered what they did. The Nike team is easily recognizable by their light blue training shirts, and running in packs, the team seems to command attention. I wrote to the team captain, Marcelo, for information this week when I decided that I wanted to up my training and see what the club had to offer. Immediately he responded, telling me about the various times the clubs met and what they could offer, inviting me to try out a class on Thursday night. The nicest part about living in front of the Botanical Garden is that the club meets just outside of my doorstep on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

For $110 ARS a month you are a club member with certain privileges and training assistance. The workout changes every day, and on Thursday the club members showed up one by one and introduced themselves. The trainers ran along with me as we talked about running, and once inside the Rosedal park we began the real workout. It was more like a gym class for adults, with stretching and muscular training. It reminded me of when I briefly played football, with up-downs and running continuously. The only difference is that while I used to hate that kind of exercise, I found myself loving it last night. Of course, today I’m a bit sore, but all the happier for it.

I need to get some medical tests done first and be cleared for physical exercise, but once I meet with the team doctor (who is also Manu Ginobli’s doctor) I’ll be set to go. So look out, now I’m a real runner.

Pictures of My New Home

3 Jan

I’m very happy with my new apartment in Palermo, which I moved into a week ago on Sunday. The location is great, it’s a laid back environment, and most importantly, it feels like a home. I don’t think these pictures will clearly demonstrate what I mean, but here’s an idea of what the place is like.

My roommate is a concert pianist, so he has two pianos to practice on

 

To the east, we are directly in front of the Botanical Garden in Palermo

The Botanical Gardens

View from my room

You won’t see it in these pictures, but the sunset is incredible. On the 13th floor we have a panoramic view of the city, all the way to the airport and river, and on a clear day you can see to Uruguay across the Río de la Plata. I like it here.

“Dale. Boludo. Asado.”

1 Jan

New Years’ Day. 2011. The day started around 1 pm when a haunting Spanish song from some long past decade wafted into my room from the roof or a nearby building. Tired, but no hangover, that’s what not drinking much will do. So far the day was off to a good start, but how to kill the time. Breakfast, shower, and why not mosey over to Parque 3 de Febrero (aka the Palermo park with the lake) to read a book. Along the way I stumbled into what must have been the start of the Dakar Race which starts and ends in Buenos Aires. They’ve been setting up for this even for a few weeks now, and the continual buzz of the helicopter overhead with the lines of people told me it must have gotten underway.

I saw a couple motorcycles and cars go by but couldn’t see why people stood around for hours watching. In the park, cross-legged by the banks of the lake I opened the book but looked elsewhere. Across the lake I saw palm trees, a plane taking off from the domestic airport, and my past year. I saw specific occasions when I’d sat in this very area, and the people I was with, or the people I saw if I was alone. I’m still here, but they’re somewhere else. Bothered by the memories of good times past I decided to take off my shirt and lay down to soak up some sun. Being in an office five days a week takes away most of my chance to get a nice tan, and since I’m so fair skinned to begin with, a burn is the most likely result when I do get outside for an extended period of time.

Laying back I closed my eyes so my eyelids could get their share as well. All around me conversations seemed to melt into one as the wind blew dust and bits from the ground towards us. A thing happens when you’ve lived overseas and work hard enough at a language, that after a while you no longer have to think about what you’re hearing. You simply understand it, and don’t even need to process it. It’s such a level of fluency that it’s as if you’re speaking your native language. It neither affects you nor interests you, it’s simply a series of words which if don’t include threats based at you, don’t deserve your notice. Sometimes I forget I’m listening to or speaking in Spanish because it’s simply the language that I’m involved it.

But while laying back with my eyes closed, I couldn’t help but notice that after a while I kept hearing the exact same things over and over again, but from different voices. Now interested, I trained my ears to listen for certain words from the people walking by, and what I found just drilled home how funny and predictable Argentina can be sometimes. The most common words that I heard, in no particular order, were “Dale!” “Boludo,” and “Asado.” “Okay!” “Asshole” (among other translations), and “Barbecue.” To someone who’s never been to Argentina, you might not understand the context, but if you’ve spent enough time here you’ll know that these are three essential words to life in this country. The three magic words of Argentina.

Settling In to the New Place

27 Dec

Last weekend took a toll on me, but it was highly worth the exhaustion it caused. After Friday’s Christmas Eve bash in the park that lasted until 7:30 am my body was pretty much destroyed lasting all the way up until now, and I’m still trying to recover. The ongoing heat wave isn’t helping any, and yesterday was the long-awaited move into the new apartment which I just found a week earlier. I’m a bit too tired now to go into details and haven’t got any photos yes, but I feel very comfortable and at ease here. On the 13th floor we have an incredible panoramic view of the city. Right in front of us to the east we have the Botanical Gardens, from the kitchen we can see to the domestic airport and the river, and from the laundry room as well as my bedroom we see far to the western horizon of Buenos Aires. It’s hot now but with the windows open we get a great breeze blowing in after the sun has gone down.

Sitting in the well-lit living room we have a few comfortable chairs, a baby grand piano and another electric piano. A bookshelf houses volumes and movies, while artwork adorns the walls. Little things like a bookshelf and some artwork makes the greatest difference between a house where someone lives and a place that someone rents out. It’s the kind of thing I’ve been looking for all along. When I came in yesterday I noticed that in my room there’s a print of a Salvador Dalí painting hanging up. He’s my favorite painter, and I immediately thought, “I’m going to like it here.”

My roommate Tomás is a concert pianist from Bariloche, which is why we have such a musical house. Yesterday I listened to him play for a bit and we talked for a bit before he headed out. He’s heading south for a month this week but a friend of his will be staying here while he’s gone, so we won’t really get to know each other for a while. But the most important thing is that I’m in my place, in my home, and I feel good. More photos need to be taped up and random things arranged, but for now, the biggest step is over.