Monday, January 31, 2011

Plaza de Mayo, caballos, y Michelle!

In Plaza de Mayo with the Museo de la Casa Rosada in the back.

The Palacio del Congeso, headquarters of Argentina's governing class.

We went to a horse race at the Hipodromo. Entry was free! We won 40 pesos on our first bet and lost it on our second.                                                                                                                       
We were able to stand right next to the winner's circle.

Michelle and I in front of the Rio de Plata ! 

You can see Buenos Aires on the horizon.

Graffiti is all over Argentina. I particularly liked this one of beetle juice. 

On Sunday Matt and I went to visit my friend from high school Michelle. She works for a famous super model named Valeria Mazza as a nanny for her four kids. They live 45 minutes outside the city in El Tigre. For a two-way ticket to El Tigre it cost us about 25 cents each. Public transportation is cheap enough for any class or income level to enjoy. I don't believe there is anything you can buy for 25 cents in Newport Beach that isn't being sold at a garage sale. Matt and I have been splurging in taxis because you can get across town for 20 pesos, or five dollars, but now I am starting to see why people ride the collectivos (buses) for a peso.

El Tigre is a upper class suburban neighborhood located right on the Rio de Plata, or the River Plate. The river, which is brown and muddy, is fed from the north by the Parana River. People treat the edge of the river like a beach, sun bathing on the grass and playing in the still water. From the edge you can  see Buenos Aires' high rise building and Puerto Madero, the main harbor in Buenos Aires. It was great to catch up with Michelle and compare stories of our experiences thus far in Buenos Aires. Michelle shared stories about the family's perspective on Americans and the states. The dad asked Michelle if she lived on a farm because she was dressed less formal. The kids speak four different langauges: Castellano, Italian, English and a little Portuguese. Michelle and I have both decided that we both want to teach our children Spanish because it is so much easier to learn a language at a young age.

Today Matt starts his Spanish classes. Originally I wasn't going to take any classes here but seeing that Castillano, the Spanish they speak here,  is much different than the Spanish I know I might take a few classes just to familiarize myself with the differences. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Joya de Palermo Hollywood

Last night we accidentally found the most amazing restaurant. It is called La Cabrera and is in Palermo Hollywood, an exclusive and posh neighborhood very close to the one we live. Matt read an article a friend forwarded to him featuring this restaurants that "takes Argentina's amazing steaks in a direction". The directions we found online lead us to a restaurant on the corner of a busy block with huge willow trees with branches overflowing onto the patio tables and cobblestone street. Every table outside was full and groups of people were waiting outside to be seated. The furniture was vibrant red and inside was a visible kitchen with lots of huge open fire barbeques. Since we have discovered that waiting for a outside table can take up to an hour, we opted to sit inside right away. The menu I was handed was frayed and worn out, a good sign if you ask me.  Everything on the menu looked delicious. Compared to my first night dining out, I feel much more confident in ordering even though I still ask the waiter at least three or questions. Matt and I ordered bife de lomo y bife de chorizo, both steak but different parts of the cow. Considering the amount of meat I have eaten thus far, I was going to go with a salad but when I smelled that sweet smoky barbecue flavor in the air I just couldn’t resist. When our waiter put the plate in front of me my eyes lit up. Not because of how good it looked, which it did, but because it was the biggest slab of meat I had ever been served. I have heard that Argentinean girls don’t eat very much (a generalization of course) and I am sure my waiter was a little shocked when I ordered it. The meat was delectable and the caesar salad side was about all I could handle. Not to our surprise, Matt and I both took our food to go and it ate it in a sandwich for lunch and pasta for dinner the next day. In total our salad appetizer, two huge our steaks, and bottle of red wine cost 45 dollars- tip included! It is pretty outrageous how cheap things are here if you find the right places- meaning anything that’s not targeted toward tourists.

The reason we accidentally found it is because we came across the real La Cabrera restaurant yesterday when we were walking around. Based off the description in the New York Times, this place fit the bill a little better than the other. Looks like we went to the wrong one but if the article is right, looks like you can’t go wrong with La Cabrera! 

Today we are going to Plaza de May, Buenos Aires’ central square in “El Centro”.  The plaza became Plaza de Mayo in honor of May 25, 1810, when a massive public protest backed by the American-born Spanish convinced the opposing Spanish born oligarchy who supported Spain’s control, that independence from them was inevitable. This place has a lot of history so I am very excited to check it out. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dog walkers are a common sight here. This man had more than ten dogs!
                                                      Each mausoleum has its own architectural style and decorations.

Caskets rest in shelves in the mausoleums and there are stairs the lead underground with more.

Yerba Mate, Argentina's national drink

 It is 2 am in the morning as I write this post. The sun doesn't set until 9:30 pm so it is easy to forget what time it is. Today we visited the famous Cementerio de la Recoleta. The cemetery opened in 1822 and was built by a Frenchman in Recoleta, a neighborhood known for its exclusive and expensive real estate. The cemetery entrance has tall greek columns and as you walk in you are overwhelmed with which direction to go. The narrow passageways and high walls make it seem like a maze. The mausoleums, most sitting side by side though some standing apart on their own, are made out of marble and granite and contain elaborate designs and an array of different styles. Names like The Alvears or The Estradas are posted proudly in big bold letters across the top. The cemetery is home to some of the most prestigious and powerful families in Buenos Aires. As we weaved through the jungle of buildings, it was clear the most popular site was the grave of Maria Peron or Evita, the first lady known for her contributions to the women's suffrage and worker's rights movement. There is no vacancies in the cemetery but you can purchase a grave if you can find a willing and perhaps desperate owner. If you want the honor and prestige of enjoying the afterlife in this haunting and historical place, one thing is for sure- you better have a lot of money!

Yesterday we tried the national drink yerba mate. The starter kit includes a hollowed out pumpkin cup, a bombilla or a metal straw with a filter at the end, and yerba mate tea which is looks like dried out leaves and twigs and comes in a large bag. I have seen people drinking it here as they work at their desk or as they hang out in the parks. One lady we met claimed she was addicted to it. For this reason or perhaps just for convenience, it is normal to carry a thermos of hot water along with you. An avid tea drinker myself, I was excited to try this unusual custom. The first sip hit our taste buds hard. It has a sharp, bitter, unsweetened smoky flavor. We started to think maybe we didn't prep it the right way so I reread the directions and prepared it with hot, not boiling water and shook it instead of stirred. Second batch  tasted a little better but still too sour to drink more than a couple sips. Matt and I might have to ask some locals how to prepare it before we try it again.

Monday, January 24, 2011

No mas para mi

Matt and I had our first encounter with Americans since we have been in Buenos Aires. The Bears game was on yesterday so we took a seven minute taxi drive to an American bar called Shoestring Joes. The place was packed with Americans either students, visitors or locals wearing college shirts, khaki shorts, sports hats and almost everyone with a beer in the their hand. Our first night out we noticed the huge cultural difference in social drinking here. Even on a Friday night you won't see a Porteno indulging in a two pint pitcher of beer or stumbling disoriented out of a bar. The people here seem to value being clear-headed and composed. This night was the first time we saw people getting sloppy. I read in a book that Portenos look down on people who get drunk and out of control.They see it as a weakness. This attitude is very refreshing for someone experienced in the Newport Beach Peninsula bar scene. The social scene here is much more pleasant and enjoyable to take part in. People treat themselves with good conversation and story telling.

Matt and I have observed another difference in the social culture that is perhaps linked to the lack of heavy drinking here- everyone wants to be seen. Almost all of the restaurants have outside seating on the streets and it is very rare that you will see the inside filled before the outside. Yesterday we ate outside at a restaurant where not one person was inside. Often times, groups of girls will often congregate near the entrance, showing off their very fashionable outfits as they wait for a table. We have found the same trend in most of the bars we have been too. You won't find many people in the back of the bar, everyone gathers in the front.

I am meeting up with a girl who went to Harbor High School in Newport Beach, but is originally from here and is not living here with her boyfriend. Our mutual friend hooked us up. I look forward to asking her about this social behavior and her opinion on the differences between the Newport Beach night life and here.

Stay tuned! Hasta luego!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Las Pequeñas Cosas

There are some things you cannot prepare for. The other day Matt and I went on a hunt to find things for our apartment, including clothes hangers. It is little items like this that are very hard to find if you don't know where to look. Frustrated, I asked a lady working at a dry cleaner store if she knew where I might find some, pointing to all the hangers in clear view, and she said she had no idea. After going to three different supermarkets we finally found some.

There is a supermercado (market) down the street from our apartment that we have visited a few times now. There is one lady working there who hasn't found a good babysitter, not that day nor any other, so her daughter and baby come to work with her. As we were waiting in line, the little girl was playing pretend grocery shopping with the scanner as the lady at the register was holding a baby. The lady laughed, clearly in no rush to help us. I imagined walking into a Ralphs or CVS and seeing a cash attendant holding their baby. Just one of the little differences in how businesses operate here. One of the big differences is that many businesses are not open for the summer, and if they are they are not open in the afternoon. One of our tasks today we to buy a sim card for my phone, but it makes it difficult when no phone stores are open. Making money does not seem to be a priority here.

These cultural differences make simple tasks challenging. To live in a different country you must have patience and a open mind. Each day is a learning experience and with each challenge, their is a opportunity to overcome it and learn from mistakes.

Tonight Matt and I are going to try out a sushi restaurant. We did some research and found ten sushi places near our apartment. I am glad Portenos share a similar interest in sushi! The lord knows I couldn't go three months without it. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Primero dia en Buenos Aires

Our living room!
This is our view from the first floor balcony.
View from our second floor balcony.

Yesterday was my first day in Buenos Aires. The day felt twice as long since I didn't sleep at all on the plane. I landed at the Aeropuerto de Buenos Aires at 9 am and after getting through customs I had my first Spanish test with the taxi driver. Matt had warned me that no one spoke English here but after this incidence and many more to come, it is for the most part true. The 45 minute drive to the city was a not so pleasant reminder how poor this country is. As I tried to remember conjugations from Spanish class, I stared at the rundown apartment buildings with no roofs and the people who were living in them. This part of the city looked neglected. When we started getting into the nicer parts of Buenos Aires, I had a new perspective on my life in Newport Beach and the life I am about to start here.
I was dropped off at Matt’s hotel where he had been staying the past five days. We had done some apartment searching while I was still in  the states and the plan was to stay there for the night so we could look for an apartment. The day before Matt had gotten a tour of a apartment that he really liked. Soon after my arrival, one of the agents called and said we could move into the apartment that day. I saw photos and agreed that we couldn't pass this one up and we moved in that day. 

The building is in a calm yet lively area called Las Canitas. The streets are wide and lined with cafes and quaint stores. Our two-story apartment is on the thirteenth floor and has a panoramic view of the whole city.  The first floor has a living room, balcony, dining table and small kitchen. The second floor has a bedroom, bathroom and a big balcony with table and chairs. The view is worth a million dollars. There is a small pool on the roof which is one of the coolest parts of apartment buildings in Buenos Aires.  I told Matt if he comes home in the afternoon and I am not in the apartment, he can find me there!
Once settled we did some grocery shopping and later after a long nap we popped a bottle of champagne to celebrate our first night in Buenos Aires! We admired the city lights and listened to the faint sound of people laughing and shouting from below. We met our neighbor that night and were able to have a twenty minute conversation in Spanish. Matt is picking up Spanish pretty fast and these types of conversations are more useful than reading any Spanish book. He gave us a couple dinner recommendations, all around the corner from our apartment. In the day it is hard to tell but at night restaurants open there doors and the whole block is filled with tables. At 9:30 we left the apartment and it felt as if the entire city woke up, everyone refreshed from their naps and geared up for the night. We ate at a restaurant called La Fonda. I ordered pork tenderloin and Matt ordered bruschetta mixta, basically a kabob of chicken and beef. The waiter and I must have had some confusion because he put a plate of salmon in front of me. He ran off before I could say anything and after taking a bite decided it was worthy of keeping quiet. We have found that you have to be very firm with people here. Matt found a good strategy that has been working for him while he learns Spanish- show them your money and point to what you want.
After some helado (ice cream), I couldn’t wait to get a good night’s sleep. Today we are going to go walk around a different area and get some more groceries and things for our new apartment.