Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Worth The Cost Of Entry

On Sunday afternoon Ken & I walked about an hour to a bar downtown to watch March Madness with a bunch of other expats (mostly Americans). We arrived home in the evening to find the wi-fi in our apartment was down. We tried the ethernet cable as well, to no avail. Our Spanish school has internet access but it's painfully slow. I managed to read my email during a break on Monday only to learn that my BFF Sirrah! might already be in labour - 10 days early! - with her second bebé. We arrived home on Monday eagerly hoping to have everything all fixed so that I could call Sirrah! (using Skype, natch), but it was still down. I tried to distract myself with a half-hearted attempt to read my latest acquisition, "Becky prepara su boda," part of the "Loco por las compros" series. (Yes, I'm reading a Shopaholic book in Spanish. Borges can wait.) After much internal debate about whether I really *need* the Internet (...I do), I finally called our flat's management company to tell them about the problem. They assured me it would be fixed this morning. I then had a minor breakdown in which I felt extremely disconnected, somewhat unattractive, and badly wanted to eat a cookie.

Several sympathetic hugs and a good night's sleep later, I felt better. Still web-less, this morning before class we finally went to buy vegetables from a verdulero, thus staving off scurvy another day. An aside about vegetables: While the grocery stores near us are mostly great, the produce sections are terrible. There are, however, many verduleros (vegetable sellers) nearby, who sell excellent produce. We bought a bunch of beets, a package of zucchini stuffed with other chopped veggies, a generous package of crudités, 2 apples, 2 tomatoes, and a great-looking bunch of basil for only 13 pesos (around $3.50 US or $4.40 Cdn). We've been kind of intimidated to tap one of these places because of our inadequate vocabularies. Anyway, fear conquered! And I ate more healthily today than I have in 2 weeks.

Tonight our internets are still down, but we're chillin' at a groovy little wi-fi-equipped resto-cafe-bar a few blocks from our flat. I'm washing down my web-surfing with a 10 peso glass of vino tinto that's totally worth the cost of entry.

P.S. I miss you guys.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

¡Hola! Me llamo Gillon.

Hooray! We finally figured out our phones! As an added bonus, my old Razr works here, thanks to AT&T providing the unlock code. (T-Mobile can suck it: They wouldn't provide the code for the phone I used when I had service with them for YEARS, because it has been more than 90 days since I was a customer.) As another added bonus, Ken used the wonderous information on the interwebs to figure out how to unlock his iPhone. I'm not doing that yet because I'm still too nervous to carry mine around (see: CRIME).

Anyhoots, we also muddled through the phone company's Spanish website to figure out how to add credit to our phones. However, on logging in, we learned that our names didn't translate very well. I've already discovered that my name is particularly difficult here. If you were to pronounce it in Argentine Spanish, it would sound something like "Hee-zhee-an," where "zh" is kind of the "s" sound in "casual." In phonetic Spanish, I'd probably have to spell my name something like "Chilian" or "Jilian." When I bought my SIM card I wrote my name down to make it easier for the guy working at the store, but it still ended up on their website as "Gillon." Hee.

With our newfound cellular technology, we can actually leave the house separately now! We might even figure out how to get another set of keys made at some point. Exciting times indeed.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I just returned from Spanglish, a language exchange gathering that happens three times a week in Buenos Aires (one of which, on Thursdays, is at a bar just a few blocks from our flat!). I arrived shortly after 7:30 and paid 15 pesos (around $4 US) in exchange for a drink ticket and a table assignment. I traded my ticket for a glass of vino tinto from the bar and headed over to table 16. I was soon joined by two porteños (Buenos Aires locals) and we were instructed to converse for five minutes in English, then five minutes en Español. After 10 minutes, the Spanish-speakers rotated tables and I was joined by another one or two porteños. For the most part the whole 10 minutes of each group conversed in both languages, with each person practicing their language of choice.

Everyone I met was incredibly friendly and patient with my Spanish, which is still muy despacio (very slow). The Argentines explained phrases in both English and Spanish. I really didn't need to help anyone much with their English, as most of the people with whom I spoke were already quite fluent!

I have to admit, I was a little nervous walking over to the bar, even though it's only a few blocks from home. This evening was the first time Ken and I have been separated since we arrived a week ago. We only have one key to our flat, and the key is needed both on entering and leaving the apartment, as the doors can only be locked from both the inside and the outside with the key - so we've gone everywhere together since we got here. Codependence much? Anyway, tonight Ken went to meet our new friend Dave at an event for techies (Palermo Valley, "la Comunidad Web 2.0 de Argentina" (I'm sure you can figure that one out without translation!)) so I was on my own for Spanglish. It was a blast, and I can't wait to go again next week - if not before, in a different neighbourhood.

P.S. These are our keys. Ken especially loves them because they are old-timey.

Spanish in Buenos Aires

This afternoon our Spanish teacher, Alejandro, wrote the following on the board:

Please avoid the verb coger* in Buenos Aires, just say "tomar."

to be excited: estar emocionado/a
(Never say "estoy excitado/a," except in sexual occasions.)

to be embarrassed: tengo verguenza
(avoid estoy embarazado/a except in the case you're pregnant)

Someone then asked if "estoy embarazado" would ever be correct, because a man can't be pregnant. (A woman would say, "Estoy embarazada.") We then got into a discussion about the pregnant man in Bend, Oregon, who my friend Aaron met once while Aaron was waiting with his wife for an ultrasound.

Oh, and to those who inquired after my subway-fainting incident, tengo verguenza pero no estoy embarazada.

*In Buenos Aires, coger means, in the immortal words of Ralphie in "A Christmas Story," the "Queen Mother of dirty words." In other places it means "to take" or "to catch," like a bus. Noted.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fun Stuff!

To make up for yesterday's holiday, our Spanish school offered a free conversation class this morning at a café in San Telmo. An instructor from the school came to give us an explanation of mate, the traditional beverage of Argentina. Mate is a very strong herbal drink that is served in a gourd and mixed with hot water (in Argentina, although in other countries it may be drunk lukewarm or cold) and sometimes sugar, depending on taste. (Mate is very bitter and we both liked it better with sugar.) The gourd is passed around a group. When it's your turn, you drink through the bombilla (straw) until the water is gone, then you pass the gourd back to the "cebador" (the person serving the mate) to refill. And you never say "gracias" until you don't want any more at all.

After class today, we walked back to our neighbourhood (about an hour) and stopped at a sanwichería for a snack and a cerveza. We followed that up with the best deal on helados (ice cream) in Buenos Aires: A very small cone for only 2 pesos! That's 54¢ US. The best part is that this particular heladería is just a block from our apartment, and the guys working there are extremely friendly (I think they might have had a boy-crush on Ken, or at least his hair). Needless to say, we'll be back. We also need to get our asses to the gym, because the cerveza and helado are starting to take their toll!

P.S. Pics soon; I'm still a little gun-shy about carrying about carrying and using a camera since the CRIME incident.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Las Cosas Pequeñas

We've been here for almost a week, and despite a spate of travel adventures like crime and fainting, most of our time has been spent navigating the most basic tasks of setting up our lives here.

For example:

- We bought a SIM card for our cell phone, and we think it works (we have a signal), but we don't know how to buy minutes for it. The website is entirely in Spanish. Our landline works, though, and we can make free local calls and receive calls.

- Every time we buy a baguette at the grocery store, the cashier asks us a question. We respond by looking confused. So far we've always managed to walk out having bought the baguette, but we're still not sure what we're being asked.

- One of the girls in our Spanish class has a birthday today. I wanted to bake something easy, like cookies, but I couldn't find baking soda or chocolate chips in the grocery store. I bought a cake mix instead, but I have yet to find a pan in which to bake it.

- We're going to join a gym tonight, based on the recommendation of anther expat, Dave from NY. We met Dave and his girlfriend Mersal last night. They moved here in August of last year and their blog is a great reference for us!

Improving our Spanish will help with all of these challenges, and we have a couple of supplementary conversation classes to attend this week that will hopefully help move that process along.

In other news, the weather continues to be insanely beautiful, hovering at 25-30°C (80-90°F) for the foreseeable future. Today was a federal holiday and we spent the afternoon lounging in a park (Plaza Palermo Viejo) near our apartment.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Subte Blackout!

This morning Ken & I got up bright and early to start our first day of Spanish class. We'd signed up for classes daily from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., which meant waking up quite a lot earlier from our new norm of getting up when the lord wakes us, or when one of us flushes the toilet (which makes a very loud groaning noise not unlike a bagpipe). We found the subway ("subte" en español) and boarded at what I assume was the peak of rush hour. It was hot and packed. Having lived in NYC for almost 10 years, I'm no stranger to a full subway car. This morning, however, some combination of heat and crowd and low blood sugar led me to feel dizzy enough to tell Ken that we needed to get off at the next stop.

I started to collapse while we were still on the car and he noticed and immediately wrapped both arms around me so that I didn't fall, and when the train stopped I made it a few steps onto the platform before I went down. I came to with about six people standing over me, fanning me and holding my legs perpendicular to the ground. The were all super nice and besides feeling embarrassed about the whole thing, I felt very safe. Don't freak out, Mom, I'm fine. Really.

We postponed our trip to the Spanish School and joined an afternoon class from 1:30-5:30, which I suspect will be much more compatible with our current sleeping schedule!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Helados, Gatos, Y Un Conejo Blanco

After a late dinner last night at an excellent restaurant/wine bar, that, for appetizers, entrees, desserts, and wine, topped out at a whopping $35 per person (a splurge for those of us who are unemployed, but hopefully incentive for you people with jobs to visit!), I finally slept in this morning until after 10. We lounged around in our pajamas, drinking coffee and eating bread and cheese until around 2, when we finally ventured out to complete our previously-thwarted attempt to buy a SIM card.

On our outing we met a big albino bunny who lives in a Chinese restaurant a few blocks away. We named him Ferdinand. We then walked over to the Botanical Garden where porteños [locals] leave their unwanted house cats. I wanted to pet them all, and Ken wanted to hose me down before I came back into the apartment. We ate some delicious ice cream, and picked up a few bottles of cerveza which we're now enjoying while we kill time before dinner, which won't be until 9 or 10 p.m.

I also learned that neither of the 2 old cell phones I had are unlocked, but it turns out that quick phone calls to AT&T and T-Mobile yielded the requisite unlock codes, for free! Good times. So now we have a phone! We also have a landline and Skype, so we're all kinds of connected.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Pocket: PICK'D!!1!

While we were out this afternoon, my wallet and (small) camera were stolen from my purse. We were walking home along the busy Avenida Santa Fe, and when we stopped to buy SIM cards for our phones I realized that both my wallet and camera were missing.

Getting robbed or otherwise ripped off is pretty much my biggest fear when I'm traveling. I've been lucky in that it hasn't happened very often, given the amount of traveling I've done. I felt like a moron, because my purse isn't the most secure and I certainly wasn't carrying it as well as I could have to prevent such a thing. Despite a few moments of EXTREME frustration, I surprised myself by not freaking out (I didn't even cry!) and just spent about two hours canceling various credit cards (thank GOD for Skype!). It wasn't the most fun thing I could have imagined doing, but it also wasn't the worst thing ever. And since my cards won't be replaced until next week, Ken has to buy me dinner!

P.S. Suck it, Crime.

La Cucaracha

Setting: Last night, after a few beers, Ken & I are lounging on the bed, philosophizing. I look up at the loft and notice a large black bug flutter and settle on the railing.

G: There's a big bug up there.
K: Where?
G: Second railing. It's crawling up.
K: Oh. Oh, yeah. Oh god! It's big.
G: Yeah. Now it's on the top of the railing.
K: Oh god. I think it's getting bigger.
G: It's looking at us.
K: I can see its antennae. I can see its antennae moving from all the way over here.
G: Can you please go kill it?
K: I don't like it. Remember how I was calm about the other ones? I don't like that one.
G: Please? You're the boy.
K: Stupid penis.

Armed with a glass and a paper towel, he climbed the ladder to the loft.

K [looking at the gigantic bug]: We shall call it "El Grande."
G: Oh god, can you get it?
K: Oh. It's fast.
G: Please tell me you can get it.
K: I lost it.

Apparently El Grande figured out that he was being hunted and scurried off. This story does have a happy ending, as later on Ken trapped El Grande under a glass and released him into the night. Unfortunately he landed on the wall right next to our kitchen window. We closed the window and are hoping that El Jefe doesn't show up to avenge him.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mis Tobillos Estan Hinchados

¡Hola desde Buenos Aires!

We arrived safely this morning after an uneventful 11-hour flight. It was the longest flight I'd been on; Ken has flown to Asia a few times so he's a pro. It turns out 11 hours on an overnight flight when you haven't slept for more than 5 hours in the two previous nights is cake. I was asleep before the plane took off, and aside from a brief period of being awake around midnight, I slept until about 2 hours before we landed.

Our apartment is in Palermo Soho, a neighbourhood laden with shops, restaurants, and bars. The apartment itself is super-sweet - it was describe as a studio but I think will be plenty of room for us and the occasional visitor. I noticed a couple of roaches when we first got here and christened them Wally and Eva. On our return from dinner this evening we found that Wally and Eva have a whole family who apparently live in our walls, and didn't scurry away quite quickly enough when we turned on the lights. We added roach traps and spray to our shopping list for tomorrow.

On our post-nap venture this evening we found the local supermarket (at which we purchased the requisite jar of dulce de leche) and a gym that's quite reasonably priced at around $35/month.

Tomorrow afternoon I have an interview with the school at which I'm hoping to take a certificate course so that I can teach English at some point, and tomorrow night we have our first social engagement! Friends of ours from San Francisco are here on vacation and we're meeting them for dinner. Porteños [locals] eat late, so we're meeting them at 9 or 10.

Both of us are kind of stunned, like, holy crap, we live in Buenos Aires.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Things That Can Suck It

1. Justice: I just spent an hour at the Brooklyn Borough Traffic Whatnot to contest a parking ticket I got the day we left for Canada. It was Sunday afternoon and we'd parked under a "no parking during street cleaning on Tues/Thurs/Fri" sign. What I didn't see was the sign at the end of the effing block that indicated that the whole block was for commuter vehicles only, all days and all times. The judge didn't buy my reasoning ("So, that street-cleaning sign only applies to the commuter vehicles?" "No, it applies to everyone." "But only commuter vehicles can ever park there, so really, it's only for them, right?" "Just pay the ticket."). Suck it, Justice.

2. National Grid (formerly known as KeySpan): Earlier this year they sent us a bunch of notices saying they were going to shut off our service. When I called about those, they were all, "Oopsie! We forgot to send you a bill, here's one for $400." Apparently they haven't sent us a bill since then because our final bill is for $500. Suck it, National Grid.

3. AT&T: I just called AT&T to invoke the "I'm leaving the country" clause that should waive the $175 early termination fee. Great, no problem! I just have to send them a utility bill or a bill from a new cell phone carrier with my new address on it. THOSE ARE THE ONLY TWO OPTIONS. Oh, and I can't fax it, because they only have a toll-free fax number that won't work outside of the U.S. Suck it, AT&T.

T-Minus 14 Hours

Our flight leaves tonight at 10. Our stuff is in a state of loosely controlled chaos. The only thing I can't find is the bra without underwire that I bought specifically for traveling. It's plaguing my mind, of course.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Guest Blogger: Memphis

This afternoon I received an email update from SunnyMemphis.
NB: This is Sunny's third time sending email, ever. She is 77.

from Sunny
to Gillian
date Sun, Mar 15, 2009 at 1:02 PM
subject memphisupdate

ivetried to get the old woman to do this but she just gets that glassyeyed look as if to say '' a computer oh my no t me.....i ain't doin' that... soooo i guess i'll just have to play little red hen..this isn't such a ba place---just lonesome without you. The old woman talks to me ,feeds me on time, cleans my litter box, brushes me daily but IT'S THOSE CONFOUNDED OTHER FOUR LEGGEDS. The other day they went downstairs for their before bed treat. SO I went down and sat on the steps.When they tried to come upstairs I gave them my best hissy hiaay.They both backed off and I smiled happily. They both went into the bathroom with the old woman.Then Duke came out and started up the stairs----I hissed and hissed---H just totally ignored me and breezed on by.So much for hissing--he's a saucy brat. So Ill keep you up to date. Miss you both and love you Memphis.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Update on Gillian's Failing Health

Turns out the cleanse was not the cause of my malaise this week.

Turns out it's another kidney infection.


On the plus side:

- I paid for extended health insurance this month and actually used it, which makes me feel virtuous (or something)
- I won't be toting a defective kidney to South America
- I am incapable of lifting our heavy boxes labeled "Sort in March" out of storage [minus for Ken]
- Given my recent experience I was able to maintain some dignity (I only cried a couple of times today [minus for Ken])

This is like pre-South America "Land of Milk and Honey" purgatory.

Don't Try This At Home

Reader Discretion Advised: This post contains information about bowel movements. You've been warned.

Still with me? GREAT! If you've been following along at home, you know that last Sunday (and Monday, for that matter) involved a little roadtrip and an introduction to a certain feline to two barky canines. It marked the first days of a year of unemployment and followed much celebration. After a fun week in Waterloo (during which not one, not two, but THREE entire pans of Rice Krispy Squares were consumed), on Saturday I found myself in a health food store. I was just looking for almond milk, but a 7-day herbal cleanse (for the low low price of $19.95 Cdn!) caught my eye. I flipped through the accompanying recommended meal plan and it looked pretty comparable to my regular menu, so I decided to give it a go.

The "kit" contained 2 different herbal pills: one a colon cleanse, to be taken twice daily before breakfast and dinner, and the other a "multi-system cleanse" to be taken twice daily WITH breakfast and dinner. The ingredients lists were quite long and all-natural and honestly, I was skeptical as to the efficacy of something like this, but I was thinking, new beginnings, detoxing, Spring, etc. OK, I was also thinking, wouldn't it be great to lose 5lbs before we get to Buenos Aires?

I started the regime on Saturday morning, and all was well until I woke up Monday feeling a little under the weather. I'm going to be honest with you here: On Monday morning, I pooped three times. Before breakfast. I'd had plans to meet various people in the morning, one of which I cancelled and the other of which was blessedly cancelled. I managed to get myself showered in time for a lunch date, only to have that cancelled as well. At least I was clean, because I promptly went home, curled up under a blanket on the couch, and, much to the chagrin of the people who are used to see me Tiggering around Waterloo, slept for the entire afternoon. Like, for six hours, through ringing phones and barking dogs and a hissing cat. I woke up for dinner, ate a piece of chicken and a few grains of rice, then went back to the couch, at which point I decided to immediately retox because cleansing? Totally not worth it, and I don't care how great I was supposed to feel by day 5.

I can only hope that tango will have all the benefits without the discomfort. And the pooping.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

A Supposedly Fun Thing

Last Sunday, following two nights of no-holds-barred alcohol consumption that included Ken and our friend Aaron consuming a 1.5L bottle of White Zinfandel (...for real), we managed to clean out the remaining piles of crap from our apartment and load a bike, several boxes full of the aforementioned crap, an angry cat (complete with litter box!) and two tired, hungover people into a rented Chevy Impala for a roadtrip to Canada.

We (read: I) had originally set a goal for 8 a.m. departure because the drive is 10 hours and our unemployed selves can't afford a fancy motel. However, after another trip to storage, a stop at IHOP to stave off our collective increasingly low blood sugar, and various drop-offs in Brooklyn, we finally hit the road at 5:30 p.m., if by "hit the road" you mean "sat in standstill traffic waiting to enter the Holland Tunnel". At first I was optimistic: As we finally settled into a comfortable speed on the interstate, I suggested that maybe we could drive straight through.

About an hour later we were both done, and we spent the night in a Super 8 Motel in Binghamton. The Super 8 Motel very responsibly keeps the heat off in unused rooms. Given that the outside temperature was around 3F (-16C) and we could see our breath in the room, we cranked the heat. Before we turned in Ken lowered the heat so we wouldn't sweat ourselves out of the room in the middle of the night, but apparently it wasn't quite low enough because at 3 a.m. I had to get up to throw water on the rocks.

During the drive Monday Memphis was calm enough to ride on my lap. The side effect of her being uncontained was a lot of cat hair in the car. Everywhere. By the time we crossed into Canada my left eye was swollen shut and I could only hope that the border guard wouldn't refuse me entry because of suspected pinkeye or because he thought I was a pirate.

We finally arrived in Waterloo about 3 p.m. on Monday. Memphis has been... well, she's been a total bitch since we got here. I get that she isn't thrilled about the dogs (who, incidentally, are about half her size) but enough with the leaky tire routine! I'm sure she'll adjust, and her M.O. this week of waking us up at 5 every morning has made it just a little easier to bid her adios for the year.

Up next: Ken learns Canadian! We kiss babies! Dinner at Swiss Chalet!