Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Learning the Ropes, Again

When our afternoon Spanish class finishes, we usually go to a restaurant two doors down from school for café con leche and medialunas, and lately I've noticed just how tired I feel at that time of day. More often than not, I want to scrap any ideas either of us has had for the evening and go home to our apartment to read or watch a movie. This afternoon, though, I had non-negotiable errands to run: I had a notice to pick up a package at the post office, and since it's right beside the main bus terminal (Retiro), I was also going to buy bus tickets for our planned weekend excursion to Mar del Plata (the beach!). Ken was off to watch a soccer match, so after our afternoon coffee I was on my own.

These errands were really no big deal. I have picked up dozens of packages and purchased a whole bunch of tickets in my day. But doing these things in Spanish is a whole different ball game. Before I say anything to anyone, I have to think carefully about the words, the pronunciation, the conjugation of verbs. (I've already sent one email about meeting someone to go running in which I wrote, "I will wear an orange shirt. Maybe I can look for me?") I try to smile and be friendly, but I'm also hyperaware that I don't look (or speak!) like a porteña and those things make me feel vulnerable, so I also try to look confident, and like I know what I'm doing. Ref: Elle Woods.

In short, I get all anxious. And sweaty. And all that anxiety and sweat are exhausting.

I wondered today if I felt this way, this *tired*, when I first moved to New York, and I think the answer is yes, I think I did. I probably went home from work and watched TV with a glass of wine and sometimes my boyfriends Ben & Jerry dropped by. And maybe that lasted for a month or two before I started to feel more comfortable exploring that particular city, before I felt comfortable with New York's own foreign language of subway maps and taxi drivers and giant inflatable rats.

This afternoon at the post office, I successfully retrieved the package, which was was a box of FIVE, count 'em, FIVE, different varieties of chocolate chips, compliments of Candace. I don't know if increased happiness implies better language skills, but I'm pretty sure that super-thoughtful box of chocolatefriendship from Wisconsin helped me successfully purchase our bus tickets as well.

And starting next week, I plan to distract people from my misplaced pronouns with superior chocolate chip cookies.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Our Imminent Downfall

A couple of weeks ago, Ken and I passed by a restaurant/bar on the busy corner of Santa Fe and Juan B. Justo, about a 15 minute walk from our apartment. We were captivated by the outside counter with its window looking into the kitchen and three little stools, on one of which sat a guy drinking a litre of Quilmes under a sign advertising choripán for 4 pesos. Ken expressed our mutual sentiment best when he said, "I want to go to there." Moments later, we too were sitting at the window, doing our Spanish homework and enjoying a 10-peso litre of beer served by a sexy porteña. We've been back a few times since, and now when we walk in, our lovely porteña brings over our beer and two frosty mugs without us uttering even a word of broken Spanish. We don't even know if the restaurant has a name - we just call it the place on the esquina (corner).

When we stopped in tonight after school I noticed one of the guys working there was making a sign that read, "Lunes-Jueves, Quilmes 4x1." I immediately reported the sighting to Ken.

G: Do you think it could really be? 4 for 1 beer?
K: Four days per week? That's insane.
G: I know, but that's what the sign said! Go look at it.

He went to the washroom and came back a few minutes later.

K: Yeah. That's what it says.
G: So... that would be 4 litres of beer for 10 pesos? That's better than the grocery store.
K: Yes. It's better than the grocery store.
G: And someone serves it to you in frosty glasses, AND you get peanuts?
K: Wait, that's insane. That's like... 4 litres of beer for under $3. That's 70¢ per litre. That's 35¢ per pint.
G: ...Go ask them if that's what it really means.

A few persuasive words later he went to ask if the deal really was that good.

K: So... I think it means 4 for 1. Litres.
G: Four litres. For 10 pesos. Are you sure?
K: Well, I asked, "Four of what?" And she said litres. And the guy looked at me like, "Yeah, it's nuts right? But that's what it is."
G: This place just got four times better!
K: Too bad we didn't know about this deal when Frenchy and Dutchy were here. We would have saved a lot of money.
G: Or been a lot drunker.

Monday, April 27, 2009

That Cat Sure Can Type

Memphis here---sending you an update on the state of the union. I'm getting along quite well except for those confounded DOGS. They really don't go after me it's just that I can't help swatting at them if they come anywhere near and then that little brat Duke really goes after me. Oh well it adds a little spice to the day. Otherwise things are going along tickety boom. Get fed in time, poop tray cleaned times two per day, played with on the chair, threatened with a swat if I try to push my way out the door, brushed every day. [don't know where this different type came from but it's kinda purdy] S is very chuffed re having wheels and is enjoying every minute. So my dears I gotta go and see if I can figure out how to send this epistle to you. love you and miss you MEMPHIS

Read Memphis' last update.

P.S. These Memphis updates are my favourite thing ever.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Saturday Afternoon

Saturday Afternoon
Originally uploaded by Kitty LaRoux.

This afternoon I walked around our neighbourhood, enjoying the sunshine and feeling intensely grateful for all the experiences we've had here so far. I also went to the Botanical Garden to pet the cats.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

We've Moved!

Amidst all the weekend festivities, we also moved down the hall into a sweet apartment that is approx. 3x the size of our old place, has many windows, a bedroom, a bidet (!), and--get ready!--NO ROACHES! Woo! Pics on Facebook.

P.S. Come visit!

Monday, April 20, 2009

The 12th Player

Originally uploaded by LUCHO :9.

On Saturday between Meatfest 2009 and meeting friends for dinner (I honestly don't think I've ever been *less* hungry before a meal), Ken and I were in our natural habitat: lying on bed and surfing the internets. We'd just heard from another expat friend that he'd scored coveted tickets to the Boca Juniors-River Plate football match at the Bonbonera on Sunday, and Ken had fan-envy. The UK Observer lists this match as the #1 sporting thing you must do before you die and here we were, a short bus ride away from the stadium, sin tickets. So he did what any capitalist-loving American would do: Hit up Craigslist for people selling tickets at exorbitant mark-ups.

A few emails later, Ken received a call from an English-speaking guy (Martin) to tell us that his (non-English-speaking) friend, Uli, had tickets for sale at 500 pesos each. They arranged for an exchange the next morning, wherein Uli would come to our apartment on his motorcycle and give us the tickets and we would give him half a months' rent. I was... suspicious. I agreed to play bad cop and called Martin back to ask him how we'd know the tickets were real. He sounded nice, I guess, and sincere, and he said, "Oh, they're real, don't worry. My friend is a member of the... I don't remember the word in English, but it's the guys who are the fighters, you know, the fan section?" I hung up feeling OK about the transaction, and a few minutes later Martin texted Ken with: "hooligan. thats the word, haha- enjoy-"

I was not reassured.

We'd both read much about the dangers of attending a Boca game; about how the fans were just crazy and that a couple of years ago at this same match some fans were shot. We'd read not to bring more cash than we'd need and to leave our cameras at home. When we mentioned to our porteño friends on Saturday night that we might go, the general reaction was, "Es muy peligroso" ("it's very dangerous").

Later Saturday night Ken emailed Martin to ask him more about the logistics of the game - how we'd get in, etc. The response:

I just talked to Uli and in case you end up not understanding each other tomorrow morning he wanted you to know that if interested (cause some people are obviously not ) he'll be meeting all ticket buyers at a McDonald's in Almirante Brown St. & García Av. ( this is a few blocks away from the stadium) to get everybody inside using his friend's van. I know this might sound scary since you don't know him yet, but that's just why; I'm sure you'll end up really liking him tomorrow when you meet up.

He was right: Giving someone 1000 pesos then meeting him in a McDonald's parking lot to get in his friend's van DID sound scary since we didn't know him yet.

Uli showed up at our apartment at 9 a.m., as promised. Ken gave him 1000 pesos for the tickets which we then learned was a mere SEVENTEEN TIMES the face-value of 30 pesos. He gave Ken advice on what to wear to the game (Boca colours: blue or yellow) and what not to wear: jewelry or anything that looked Richie. Since we we'd spent mucho dinero to go to the game and weren't even sure if the tickets were real, we figured, what the hell, and decided to meet him at McDonald's. On the way to the bus I said to Ken, "Do you think we should have called our parents?" He laughed nervously in response.

We arrived in the parking lot at noon sharp, waited for about an hour, and even tried to call Uli to no avail. Finally, we walked to the stadium.

The first line (well, crowd) we ended up in was for members of the club only, and we made it to the entrance only to find out that we were in the wrong place. We walked another couple of blocks, past a few choripán stands and dudes selling empanadas for 1 peso (about 27¢!) until we found the line for people with tickets only. The crowd there was calm and we passed security without incident. We found our gate and climbed into the stands to learn that the general admission seats were not actually seats - just a bunch of steps that we'd stand on for the game. We crammed in with the other fans and watched the reserve players scrimmage for about an hour until the game started.

The game start was one of the most phenomenal things either of us has ever witnessed. Just before the players came onto the field, people near us were handing out wads of torn newspaper which we would later throw as confetti. In the stands directly across from us was the Jugador No 12 - the fans who are the 12th player (the team has 11 players on the field at any time). It was fandom beyond any that I've ever seen, with giant banners and flags and amazing, contagious chanting and drumming. We didn't bring a camera but there are lots of photos online that capture the energy of this section. Toward the end of halftime blue and yellow balloons were distributed in our section, and as the second half began we released them into the air (and onto the field).

Boca scored in the second half, and the crowd's reaction was indescribable, and that, along with the festivities that opened the game, made the experience well-worth the money we'd spent. Unfortunately, River Plate answered with a quick goal and the game ended in a draw, which might actually have been for the best in terms of our safety walking back to San Telmo to catch our bus.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Carne Times

Vegetarians, caveat emptor: This post contains a lot of meat.

A few weeks ago at the gym, our trainer, Adrián, proposed a trip with us and our friends Dave and Mersal to what he deemed the "best parrilla [grill/BBQ] in the universe." Of course I agreed that Ken and I would love to go; after all, who am I to argue with a porteño about meat? (It didn't hurt that he also said that we wouldn't have to count any food we ate at the parrilla. Free calories!)

The parrilla in question was Los Talas del Entrerrianos, located about 45 minutes from our neighbourhood. Adrián arranged for a taxi to drive us there and wait while we consumed copious amounts of meat. Los Talas started out as a choripán stand for labourers and grew into a huge, comfortable restaurant that feels kind of like an Oktoberfest tent. Apparently all of the meat at Los Talas comes from their own estancia (ranch).

We started with house-made chorizo sausage, then ordered the lechón, or suckling pig. It's the specialty of the house, and it was beyond delicious. We sampled some of the crispy skin of the pig (which Adrián called the "galleta" or cookie) - it was crispy and salty and very, very yummy. The chicken was the best I've had so far in Buenos Aires - cooked just perfectly to be tender and juicy all the way through. We shared an order of mochillas (sweetbreads), then moved onto the beef: vacío (flank steak) and asado. While asado refers to roasting or barbecue in general, it's also used to describe a cut of meat (short ribs or spareribs).

Suffice to say we were pretty much sweating meat by the end of the meal. The ol' meat sweats didn't stop us, however, from sharing a couple of desserts, and we managed to squeeze some ice cream into our bellies somewhere between the pork and the spareribs. I swear the taxi groaned a bit when we piled back in for the drive home.

More pics on Flickr.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

El Mejor Estudiante De La Clase

Since we started Spanish classes four weeks ago (minus a weeklong Easter holiday), our class size has dwindled: The first week, there were eight students, and the second week we were down to five. We started this week with only three, but the third student was only in class on Monday and so for the rest of the week Ken and I had Alejandro all to ourselves. We both, but especially Ken, became much more comfortable speaking in such a small group.

To mark the end of our third week of classes, yesterday we had our first exam. I've been (very gently) teasing Ken all week for making flash cards for his iPhone, and generally nerding out about (read: studying for) the test, but guess who got perfect?

¡BRAVO! indeed! ¡Qué bellisimo! I got 88, and next time I'm going to give him a run for his dineros.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Belated Easter Greetings

¡Hola amigos! As life settles down here in Buenos Aires and we feel more like we're living here and less like we're on vacation, I've become a bit remiss in my blogging. I've invited Ken to join the festivities here at UFF as a contributor, but as he has yet to put pen to paper, so to speak, you're stuck with me. Suckas.

As last Sunday was Easter and I have latent Catholicism, I'd planned to attend Mass. However, we spent Saturday evening with the aforementioned Frenchy and Dutchy (aka The Europeans) and on Sunday morningafternoon when I woke up I was in no shape to be awake, which is usually a requirement, at least to get to a church. Also, Mass was over. So we leisurely started our day with oatmeal and coffee, and just after 1 p.m. Audrey called to tell us they wanted to go to the Feria de Mataderos, which I'd mentioned the night before as a possible Sunday activity.

Against all odds (odds that included hangovers and miscommunicated meeting places) we managed to meet the Europeans at the Retiro train station and find the bus that would take us to the feria (market). It was about an hour from the city centre. Once we arrived and found our way into the market we were not disappointed. In addition to the usual market stalls, there was a large group of Argentine folk singers, and another group of folk dancers who looked like they were having a grand time. We watched them for a while, then continued our tour to find a gaucho horse racing contest called Carerra de Sortija, or the Race of the Ring. The Buenos Aires Argentina Guide describes the race:

Gauchos race their horses at breakneck speeds towards a small ring hung onto a raised metal frame overhead. The gauchos stand up in their stirrups as they race, and try to spear the ring, which is no larger than a normal piece of jewelry, with a small pointy stick.

See the little pen-like thing in this guy's hand?He was trying to put that through a ring about the size of a keychain that was hanging just above his head as he galloped by. Not only did some of the cowboys actually achieve this feat, we didn't see one person fall off his horse!

Despite all this excitement, the best part of the day, and maybe of our whole time in Buenos Aires so far, was our chance wandering into a restaurant beside the market. As we were walking by we noticed a couple of guys playing guitars inside, and since we were looking for a place to eat, we thought it might be a good bet. The place was pretty full but the waitress found us a table at the back, and we sat for hours listening to the most beautiful Argentine folkloric music. To top it all off, a litre of beer cost a mere 10 pesos (about 2.72USD/3.28CAD). I'm not sure the short video I took will do the music justice. The main performer had both amazing guitar skills and a powerful, operatic voice, and he was joined in rotation by other people in the bar. The guy who we think was the head honcho welcomed us openly and tried to explain the meanings of the lyrics to us (pain, love, and imprisonment were amongst the themes). He even insisted that we pose for a photo!

Finally, I can assure you that this guy's reaction was not representative of the rest of the crowd: He'd obviously just been taking advantage of the 10-peso beers.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Frenchy, a Dutchy, an American, and a Canadian Walk Into a Bar

During our first two weeks of Spanish classes we had the pleasure of meeting Audrey, a woman from France who is traveling with her Dutch boyfriend, Eric. (When they're not touring the globe they both live in Amsterdam.) We had dinner with them one night a couple of weeks ago and got home at 4 a.m. Since then we've shared countless* bottles of Quilmes, stories about our homes and native lands, and maybe one or two pizzas calabresas. Audrey and Eric are leaving Buenos Aires tomorrow to continue their travels into Uruguay, and last night I convinced Eric to retell his story about ordering a cheeseburger in France. With Audrey's permission, of course.

*On Saturday night we put down 15L of beer. I think they're trying to kill us.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


The honeymoon is, as they say, over, at least when it comes to enjoying delicious Argentine foods like steak, empanadas, choripan, and provoleta. This afternoon when I put my jeans on I noticed that eating so much beef over the last few weeks has caused me to develop some beef of my own. On my thighs.

Both Ken & I have professed to wanting to lose weight, and today, our trainer Adrián sent us a spreadsheet to keep track of what we eat. The spreadsheet has space for meals and snacks:

Desayuno (breakfast)
Almuerzo (lunch)
Cena (dinner)

As soon as Ken looked over the spreadsheet, his eyes lit up. "Oh! Merienda! What is this?" A few seconds passed, then he read joyously, "'Merienda is a midday meal had in Spain around 5:30 p.m. to fill in the meal gap between lunch at 2:00 p.m. and dinner at 9:00 p.m.' I am going to like merienda!"

I'm not sure this spreadsheet is actually going to help us.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Steak & Eggs

A day that starts out with this breakfast - at 2 p.m., no less - can't be all bad, now, can it?

Saturday, April 04, 2009

No Entiendo

Last night after sharing a few chunks of bife de lomo, a bottle of wine, and several (read: about 10) litres of beer with a couple of new friends from school, we hopped in a cab in San Telmo to get back to our neighbourhood. Full of liquid courage, I decided to try to carry on a conversation with the taxista (driver). At first it was going OK - he asked where we were from, and told us about a few places he's been in the States. He spoke very quickly and I was having some trouble hearing him from the backseat, so at one point I asked him to speak more slowly so I could understand.

The taxista said 2 or 3 words at a slower pace then sped right back up. I listened as intently as I could (it wasn't easy, being both meat- and beer-drunk) and mostly tried to pick out words that were important for me to my end of the conversation, like "dónde" or "por qué." Ken & I took turns participating in the conversation, because I really didn't understand most of it, and saying, "No entiendo" ("I don't understand") over and over gets old fast. I guess it didn't go too badly because by the time we were back in Palermo the driver (Hugo) was playing his favourite tango CDs for us and even gave us his business card so that we could email him if we had any questions about Buenos Aires.

At least, I think that's why he gave it to us.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Baking in Buenos Aires

In honour of our Spanish teacher Alejandro's birthday next week, I decided to bake cookies. Tyler recently tagged a delicious-looking Smitten Kitchen recipe for me, so a few days ago I decided to give it a go. The only hitch: I couldn't find what I've always considered the most basic of baking ingredients at either of our local supermarkets. The stores only carried artificial vanilla extract, and brown sugar was nowhere in sight. While our package of oatmeal has a recipe for oatmeal cookies with chips de chocolate, I couldn't find those, either.

Since today was a holiday and we didn't have school, we decided to check out the widely-lauded and appropriately-named Jumbo Supermarket. You can read more about Jumbo on other sites, but it was pretty much akin to Wal-Mart or the Real Canadian Superstore. The produce at Jumbo was better than our local stores, but prices were more or less the same and the selection was almost overwhelming. I did manage to find baking soda and settled for artificial vanilla extract and baking chocolate that I could chop into chunks for the cookies, but was unable to find brown sugar, which I suspected would be key to the chewiness factor in this particular recipe. I finally bought a bag of azucar negra, or black sugar. Even though it looked much darker than standard American light brown sugar, it had a similar "sticky" feeling when I squeezed the bag (i.e., it didn't feel as granulated as white sugar).

When I poured the sugar into a bowl to measure it, it looked a LOT darker than I'd expected. Behold:


Aside from this substitution, the rest of the ingredients were as written, except I measured by weight instead of volume because we have a kitchen scale but no measuring cups or spoons. When I creamed the butter and sugars the resulting mixture was the colour and texture of used coffee grounds, and I was skeptical as to whether the recipe would actually work. To add to my skepticism is our oven dial (the one in the middle). Can you spot what's missing?

If you said a temperature setting, you're right! I set it somewhere in the middle and watched the first 2 batches of cookies very carefully to figure out the correct baking time.

And...? Success! I'm happy to report that we have a delicious batch of (very dark) chocolate chip cookies. We think they taste delicious; I'll let you know what Alejandro thinks.

Miscellaneous Updates

1. The internets work! I have to tell you, I'm particularly proud of this one. Last night I called the management company again to ask about the repair. The woman there spoke mostly Spanish, so I muddled through the conversation en español. This morning she called us to set up a time to have at technician come by. When I answered in English, she said, Podés hablar español, si? (You can speak Spanish, yes?). I think I said OK, and we (mostly she) then continued the conversation (which involved her explaining that the tech couldn't come while we were here, but that she would come with him in the afternoon and would be responsible for everything, etc.) entirely in Spanish. THEN, I even left her a note IN SPANISH about our oven maybe not working, and she left us another note IN SPANISH with instructions on how to light it manually. Now we know how to use our oven (el horno, in case you wondered, which cracks Ken up because he is adolescentes), and I can bake cookies. ¡Hurra!

2. Dave solved the mystery of the baguette question for us. To recap: When we buy a baguette, the cashier at the grocery store usually asks us a question. We stare blankly. She looks annoyed. Dave explained, "she's asking if you want her to break it in half or put it in the bag in one piece. Broken makes it easier to carry home!" Smart fellow, that Dave.

3. We have acquired another set of keys! Now we can actually leave the house alone. Good times, people.

4. We are one day into Cuerpo Caliente Abril (CCA). We've both started working out with Adrián, a personal trainer who came highly recommended by Dave. I had my first session with Adrián this morning, and I suspect he's going to kick our asses.

5. When you join a gym in Buenos Aires (Bs.As.), you have to have a short physical exam. I met with the doctor at the gym this morning and learned that not only is he a heart specialist who has lived in Manhattan and Cleveland, he's also a magician! He wants to practice his English so I told him that Ken & I would meet with him for conversation exchange. He said he would also show us magic tricks. I love this city!

6. Speaking of conversation exchange, tonight after school we met with someone we met on the internets (I love you internets! Please never leave me again!) to practice our Spanish. He was the nicest guy ever and we had a great time talking to him. ¡Hola Gonzalo! ¡Queremos encontrarnos con vos otra vez, por favor!

7. Tomorrow is another federal holiday, and all of next week is a holiday for Easter! Yes Adam, even us unemployed folk appreciate a good holiday. Four hours per day of language studies is exhausting! Particularly when followed by steak and red wine at 10 p.m., and clubbing until 5*, you feel me?

8. I was accepted into the CELTA TEFL course! But I don't know if I want to go. More on that coming soon...

*I don't really go clubbing until 5. But apparently some people do. Tonight around 9:30 we arrived at a parilla (grill) for dinner and waited over an hour for a table. When we walked home at 1 the neighbourhood bars were just getting started.