Monday, February 28, 2011

El Tigre

Last weekend we went to El Tigre, a riverside town an hour north of BA. Matt's friend Bobby was staying with us and one of my favorite things about having visitors is not only showing them places we have gone but also discovering new places together.

El Tigre is the gateway to the Delta, a network of waterways and islands, and a paradise for vacation homes. Matt and I heard it was the perfect place to have a relaxing day away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Locals and tourists alike go there to enjoy the river deltas, the fresh air and the Puerto de Frutos- the outdoor markets that line the river ports. By far the biggest attraction was the outdoor markets where you can find wicker furniture, homemade honey and sweets, jewelry, vibrant flowers, and of course fresh fruit. When we got off the train it was first things first- find a parilla so we could walk around with a full stomach. We followed our noses and looked for a place that had more people that empty chairs. At lunch that day I learned a two very valuable lessons: Ordering a salad at a parilla is always a little risky. Lesson number two: Don't order a salad if you don't know whats in it. My attempt to be on the healthier side did not go as planned. I ordered a Waldorf salad and what I was handed was a bowl of cream and celery. I have found on this day and my other attempts to order salads at a parilla is that what you see is what you get, and if it doesn't list the ingredients, make sure to ask your waiter or simply don't order it.

As we walked around the markets and looked out onto the river, it was easy to forget we were in Buenos Aires. Buying furniture was out of the question, but we got our hands dirty with the best fruit smoothie I have had in a very long time. Our hands also got sticky eating figs, a fruit hard to describe because it is unlike any other but basically it is candy.

Matt's friend Bobby was anxious to find some water sports, seeing that he lived on the peninsula and was deprived of it for the last couple months as he traveled around South America. We hopped on a tourist tour boat in hopes of finding a waterski lodge. Once we found the waterski lodge, we jumped off onto the dock, not knowing when the boat would return. The lodge was clearly someone's house because their was two little girls playing in the front yard with the dogs. Finally a adult came out to help us and they informed us that the speed boat was gone and wouldn't be back for a while and the tourist boat would be back in about three hours. Another valuable lesson: doing a little bit of research will help you avoid situations like this. Although, we did accomplish our goal of relaxing. We kicked off our sandals, popped a couple quilmes and practiced some Spanish.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

BA Fashion Week

The lines to get into the runway room.

A dress hanging from one of the designer showrooms.

Matt getting some fashion tips from one of the designers!  

Buenos Aires loves shoes...The higher the better!! 

Buenos Aires Fashion Week, a biannual event showcasing 20+ designers and their collections for the winter and autumn seasons, was this past week. I had never been to a fashion show before so I was excited to check it out and get some insight into the Argentine fashion world. Matt and I ended up seeing the second to last show on Friday. As we approached the venue, scores of 15 to 23 year olds flooded out of the building into the streets with glowing smiles and shopping bags in hand. Matt and I entered the massive auditorium, featuring designer showrooms, and stood still for a moment in silence to watch the crowds of young girls decked out in their closet's best arm in arm with their fashionista friends galloping in their stunningly high high-heels around the fashion race course.

The designer showrooms featured select items that were available for purchase and very fun to gaze at. The auditorium was also a sort of waiting area to get into the runway room. The lines to get in ran all the way to the opposite side of the auditorium so far you could even see where it ended. Groups of girls sat in circles on the floor as they waited in line to get a glimpse of this winter's hottest trends (winter is just about to start here). I was very surprised at how most of the attendees were teenage girls. I was expecting a older crowd and a few more men.

We didn't know much about Vicki Otero, the designer we were about to see, only that she was a woman and she was from Argentina. The show ended up being around 12 minutes. Her collection had a lot of baggy clothes and dark neutral colors. I don't know much about judging this sort of high end fashion but thanks to Project Runway I could catch the intricate details and innovate cuts she mastered.

I don't know if I would wait in line again for an hour to see such a short show but I am glad we stuck it out and got to see some of BA's fashion icons and the teenage girls that seem to be front and center when it comes to seeing the latest trends.

I simply remember my favorite things...

Here are a few of my favorite things about living in Buenos Aires...

Best ice cream I have ever eaten. The helado here is so thick and creamy you could chuck some at the wall and it would stick. Dulce de leche granizado and tramontano are my favorites! (Dulce de leche is a caramel-like milk based spread-very popular in South America)
Red wine. You can buy a deliciously smooth bottle of Malbec (Argentine grape) for less than $7 (US). Don't get me wrong California has good red wine, but it wine just seems to taste better right after a bite of bife de lomo.
Weather. Summers get really hot but are not too humid and apparently in winters you can still wear sandals and dine outside.
Grid system. For someone like me who is awful with directions, I really appreciate how this city was built. The grid system makes it a lot easier to get around and the main streets are a good point of reference.
Long days. If your a Cali girl like me, there is a certain level of sun required to feel balanced. Furthermore, when the sun is out longer psychologically I don't feel as rushed to get things done (I suppose this can be a good and a bad thing).

Like with almost anything you encounter in life, when there is upside there is a downside. Living in a different country requires patience and perhaps sometimes a realization that it could just be the language barrier. My hopes are to give you some insight, instead of sounding judgmental, in telling you some things I am not so fond of living in Buenos Aires...

Uncertainty. You never know if a store might randomly be closed or if the owners decided to go on vacation.
No fresh fish. For a city that is so close to the sea you would expect at least a couple fish markets or fish restaurants. Perhaps they exist we just haven't found them but I am pretty convinced meat has taken over this city. Although they do have a thing for salmon. Go into any sushi restaurant here and you will find 30 different rolls that have creatively combined salmon and cream cheese.
No healthy/organic food. I have yet to find a health store or even a section for healthier choice. I would kill for a bag of trail mix or dried fruit from Trader Joes!  

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Puerto Madero, BA's youngest barrio

Punta de La Mujer (Bridge of Woman)
The historic red brick warehouses have been turned into office lofts and flashy restaurants. 

Even the youngest barrio in Buenos Aires has some awesome graffiti! 

Yesterday we went to Puerto Madero, the dockland area located on the banks of the Rio de la Plata. Since its inception the port has undergone many make-overs, the latest one being as recent as 1996 and since then the port has been a representaion of BA's self image as a grand, European style city. The red brick warehouses, built in the 1890s, have been transformed into modern residential and office buildings. The appearance of the structures and the bridge is unlike anywhere else in Buenos Aires. The east side of Puerto Madero has sprung up high rise residencies and luxury hotels and is still undergoing vast construction. The immigrants who once arrived in BA in the 1890s would not recognize such a modern skyline! As BA's "up-and-coming" barrio,  is has attracted a lot of foreign investment yet as we walked around it felt like a ghost town. The half-finished buildings were tall and beautiful but they looked unloved, as if the construction workers were taking a lunch break but no one knew when they were coming back.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mate bajo el sol

Drinking mate in the park! 
Like I have stated before, Matt and I have adapted quite well to the life style here. We have actually gone beyond the call of duty as foreigners trying to immerse themselves in a different country. We eat dinner at 10:30, we have indulged in almost every part of the cow, we tango, we eat ice cream after every meal, and last and certainly the best- we are addicted to mate. For all of you who haven't read past entries, mate is Argentina's national drink. Mate is actually the name for the whole experience and the yerba leaves are used to make the tea. Drinking mate is a very common social practice in Argentina and you will see people with thermoses and jar of yerba mate more than people holding starbucks in the states. When people ask me if I have tried mate of course I say yes and when I proceed to tell them I am actually quite fond of the beverage, they look at me like I am crazy. Based off these reactions and the opinions of fellow expats, I think the majority of people who try mate for the first time hate it and settle with the fact that mate is not for them. I had a similar first experience but decided to give it another shot, or two.

Today Matt and I took part in a popular Argentine activity... Hanging out in the park and basking in the hot sun while drinking mate. Don't ask me why anyone would want to drink a hot beverage when you already have a sweat mustache going but even so we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and the nice caffeine buzz. 

When I wasn't working on my tan or reading Rolling Stones magazine in Spanish, people watching was in order. It was like a hot summer day at the beach, but actually less clothes if you could imagine that. People here are not afraid to show a little skin. What caught my eye the most was a man who pulled his pants down to his feet and collapsed on a lawn chair with his pants still resting on his ankles, boxers visible, and the rest of his body hanging on the chair like a deflated balloon. It was as if he had a bad day and decided to the park where he could relax, take a load off and forget all about what was bothering him before. In a city full of noise and chaos, how wonderful it is to have a place where you can find peace and solitude. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tango conmigo!

The dance floor at La Catedral, a milonga in Palermo Soho.

Matt and I took our first tango lesson the other day. Our first dance lessons ever actually. We both agreed that since Buenos Aires is the birthplace of Tango, taking a dance lesson was the best way to learn about it. To give you a brief history, tango was started in the lower class districts of Buenos Aires was first debuted in the 19th century amongst Italians, Spaniards, blacks and urban gauchos. It order to become truly excepted by the upper classes, tango had to be shown worthy to european culture. It become the latest fad in Paris and London and New York were quick to follow suit.

Just walk around the city and you will see how very alive tango still is today. Matt and I took a private class at the school where he takes Spanish lessons. Our instructor started the class with a series of balancing and walking exercises where she lead and we followed. She explained to us, in Spanish of course, that tango is all about keeping your head level. As Matt and I tried our best not to bobble our heads as we strut across the room, our instructor with her lean figure and graceful feet showed us each new slowly and effortlessly. She would show me a routine and then move onto Matt and after Matt would try it together. There were many instances where I wanted to laugh or make fun of Matt but I used my better judgement and kept quiet because tango is a very serious dance and I didn't want my teacher to think I wasn't taking it seriously. The other keys to tango are leading with your chest, not your arms and always maintain the same distance between you and your partner. When the man takes a big step, the woman has to mimic the same size step. Even though the man leads, the woman has to accept the offer first. It truly the dance of proposal, invitation and seduction!

With a lesson under our belt and a newfound appreciation for the dance, we threw on our dancing shoes and headed off to a milonga, or a tango club. Ok just kidding, we left the dancing shoes at home but maybe after a few more lessons we will build up the courage. Milongas are all over Buenos Aires and typically they will have lessons from 9 to 11 and then 11 to 4am the dance floor is open to the public. Compared to the tango shows, which can cost up to $300 dollars, milongas are a fun and cheap way to experience the magic of tango. Milongas are not choreographed like shows and not every milonga is the same. There are traditional milongas, couple milongas, formal milongas, and ones that I am sure I will never know. The one we went to was in a large industrial garage-type room with old dusty couches and broken wooden tables. There were couple free style dancing under the light and surrounding the stage were people drinking and chatting at tables. We took a seat and enjoyed the young, the old, the short, the awkward, the nervous, the pros, all come together on the same platform and strut their moves. This is chance for tango enthusiasts and wanna-be pros to practice their style and feel the beat. I know for a fact that if I hadn't taken a lesson I wouldn't have appreciated the experience as much.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

This is what Buenos Aires looks like at 6 in the morning! 

The city softly sings me to sleep. 

I had fun playing with my camera and photo shop. Matty is on the right. 

Monday, February 14, 2011


The season opener game for the Boca Juniors soccer team was last night. The Boca Juniors is located in La Boca and they are one of the most successful clubs in Argentina. Their arch rivals are River Plate, another team in Buenos Aires and their stadium is less than 15 minutes from our apartment so I guess that does make us River fans. Something I just recently learned is that the Boca Juniors have more fans flood their stadium than the Argentina National Team. The stadium La Bombonera, which means chocolate box,  is one of the biggest in Argentina. The fans are known for their passion and over the top rowdiness. Check out this youtube link to see get a taste: Boca is one of the few teams that has a strong connections with the neighborhood they were founded upon. Many clubs move from their local communities but Boca has stayed true to this colorful neighborhood (check out pics from previous post). For this reason, many of seats are reserved for season ticket holders.

Matt and I found tickets for standing seats available online but decided we would get more information from locals before we settled. It took us one day to find a guy who knew someone who had connections with the club president and often sells the tickets he doesn't use. That was the good news. The bad news he told us is that it is very dangerous for girls to go. Specifically a American, blonde, tall one who would stand out like a sore thumb. He is said it is dangerous because the fans at these games target tourists for stealing and harassment, and La Boca is not a place to be at night. I would like to think this is just one opinion but perhaps he is right because while watching the game neither Matt and or I could find out one girl in the crowd. I am hoping if I take the right precautions there are ways around this. Maybe I can dress like a boy and where a hat to hide my long blonde hair!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

One of our favorite restaurants La Cabrera in Palermo Soho. It is known for its high quality steaks (of course), extensive wine list, plentiful side dishes and free champagne while you wait to be seated! 
Matt stuffing his belly! 

We ordered bife de lomo wrapped in dried red peppers and cheese! 

Success, we licked our plates clean! 
We got to leave our mark and sign a bottle of red wine at Don Julio's last night.

Its been three weeks and I am finally starting to really feel comfortable living here. There was a lot of trial and error at the start and even though I still get lost and give blank stares to people who talk too fast, I feel like a local. My first couple times walking into clothing stores I was intimidated by the employees, convincing myself that they were staring at me and judging me. I have come to the realization that people here really do just want to help and are patient with foreigners. Having lived in Barcelona for five months I really appreciate the friendliness of the Portenos compared with the colder Spaniards.

Matt and I actually laugh that we over-adpated the life style here if there is such a thing. I really enjoy staying up late and eating out late. I love the long relaxing dinners and the delicious varieties of red wine. The laid back people here are easy to get along with and the only time I have really felt like I was in any danger in the back of a taxi when my driver was driving like he was playing a video game. We were warned about the confusing bus system but its actually quite simple once you figure it out. We not only know where you can buy hangers but also things like peanut butter, plug adapters, hot sauce, antibiotics (no prescription necessary), and sake.  All in all, Buenos Aires is treating me just fine and I think Matt is getting some of the hair back he lost at his old job, in fact if you look at the pictures of him he might be rocking a pony tail in the near future!

Seeing that our kitchen is smaller than the kitchen on Matt's boat, we have eaten out a lot since our arrival. Okay so the kitchen isn't all to blame, there are just too many good restaurants less than two blocks from or house. Since food is a huge part of culture, I will share with you some of my experience thus far with dining. People here eat dinner around 9 or 10 and go out to bars around 12:30 a.m. Dinners are at time to reflect on your day and talk well after the meal is over.  It often will end with a coffee or expresso or if you have a sweet tooth like me, a large piece of chocolate lava cake. Waiters do not play the proactive servient role they do in the states. It could have something to do with the fact that people don't tip very well here, compared to other places. Waiters are not there to make your dining experience more enjoyable, the cow on the other hand is. We have learned a couple things dining out that are worth noting: The waiter will not approach you until you close your menu, so if you have a question about something do not read your menu. The men always taste the wine. If you ask for recommendations (assuming you go to a Argentine restruarant), 99 percent of the waiters will say carne or something from the parilla (grill). If you want to add a little spice to your dish they will hand you ground black pepper. I am passive about spicy food but for people like Matt who enjoy a little tongue tingle, you will be disappointed. Continuing on my list... If you want the check you have to ask for it. We have been the last two people in the restaurant and still we have to get attention of someone to get our check. Unlike in the states where they clear your plates as take your last bite and place your check on the table as you wipe the crumbs off your face (exaggeration of course- blame Kathy Fallon).  We found humor in a experience the other day. In the middle of our lunch, our waiter and the other staff sat down for a lunch in the restaurant and we didn't see him the rest of the meal.  Instead of being impatient Americans we ordered another Stella and hung out until we got the attention of another staff member. These are all just observations and good things to know when eating out in Buenos Aires!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

So I have figured out that a pretty good amount of Americans reside here. The cheap prices, laid-back lifestyle and charming people have attracted us like moths to a flame, and everyday more and more expats call this home. This fact (and numerous other factors) contributes to the beginning signs of a real estate boom in Buenos Aires. Matt, who if you don't know is constantly coming up with unconventional  ideas, is thinking about possibly buying a apartment here. To give you an idea, one and two bedroom apartments in the higher-end parts of town are in the $60,000-100,000 range. The one kicker about moving here is that you can't expect to find a job that will pay even close to what you were making in the states. If you can work from your computer or phone you've got it made.

If you don't want to get discouraged, make sure you don't read the ridiculous amount of articles warning  expats that finding decent work here is a near impossible task, claiming the high unemployment rates means the competition is that much more stiff.  The last stated unemployment rate was close to 9% but  that number is way understated according to many locals. For example, if you work only work one hour a week you are employed or if you are unemployed for more than two years, then you are taken off the unemployed list. Another interesting piece of information I was also told is that it is completely normal to live at home until your late 20s here. The parent's adapt to the lifestyle of their adult children, meaning they won't get in trouble for coming home at 6 in the morning after a night of partying. I haven't talked to one myself but apparently the Argentine consensus is that we are the bizarre ones, needing to live on our own fresh out of college. The attitude here is why pay so much money for rent when you have a free place at home? Frankly, I couldn't agree more! Well, maybe not until my late 20s but definitely for a couple years. I have many American friends who are struggling with the idea of living at home after college and I think hearing this cultural difference is one way to gain a new perspective on the whole concept! If you disregard that social pressure, and have tolerable parents, then life at home aint so bad.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Hombres vs Mujeres

I had a interesting conversation with a fellow Californian the other night. We got in touch througha ex-coworker of mine and I asked her to dinner. She has been living and working here for almost two years with her Argentine boyfriend. One of the conversation topics was the difference between Argentine men and American men. Talk to any other female who has visited or lived in Buenos Aires and they will tell you that the men here are very blunt when expressing their feelings towards females. On our way to the restaurant, men yelled from across the street "que linda!", which means how nice, how beautiful. I asked Valkyrie about it because it wasn't the first time I have encountered this and she explained that Argentine men believe it is their duty to make women feel beautiful. They want to make sure we are getting the attention we deserve, and of course to bring attention to themselves. This of course is just one perspective, but after weeks of observation it seems right on point. Valkyrie and I both agreed that in the states, it is very rare to hear a stranger pay a compliment as you walk by, unless they are intoxicated or with their friends. This behavior is part of the culture here and to further attest, when I was walking home from the grocery store yesterday a boy who wasn't more than 13 or 14 years old looked me up and down as I walked past him on the sidewalk and yelled out behind me "que bonita!" I gave him a smile a wave back to show my gratitude. It was at this point I decided to embrace this cultural difference. She further explained, and her having a boyfriend who is included in this category I listened closely, that Argentine men play the power position, period.

Two nights later Matt and I both went out to dinner with her and some friends to a persian restaurant. One of the girls had been there before so we agreed that she should order for the whole table. Our waiter brought the bottle of wine over and poured it in Matt's cup to taste. Matt offered for the girl to taste it since she picked it out but out waiter just stared at Matt, waiting for him to take the cup. He did and after we all laughed at how enforced these gender rules really are.

Now onto the female role. Keep in mind this is just one viewpoint and there are always exceptions. However, what I have most heard and seen is that the female role is to look beautiful and put together, which in turn balances out the power difference between men and women.  The women do not want to be out of control, so I have found that they drink less. It is unlady like to be sloppy and unreserved.

When it was Valkyrie and I at dinner, the waiter brought us our check and notified us that we get a 20% discount because we are girls eating on Thursday. How gracious of them! Not to mention almost every Thursday night and at least one weekend night, girls get some kind of deal whether it be free drinks, discount on food, free entrance or free showings. This incentive for female participation is nothing new, but it sure does happen here more than anywhere I have been!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

La Boca y San Telmo

Some home-made jewelry and ceramics in La Boca.

Former soccer star Diego Maradona's portrait is painted, drawn and plastered all over La Boca.

The start of Caminito street, which means little walkway.

A bum's home in San Telmo. Somehow a bird got in the picture.

In front of a church built by the Europeans in the 1700s. 

We enjoyed a Quilmes in this ancient bar in Plaza Dorrego. Quilmes is Argentina's national beer. 

Yesterday we took a 30 minute bus ride to the Southern most part of Buenos Aires, La Boca. La Boca means mouth in Spanish and it was named this because up until the late 19th century it was the main entry point for both goods and immigrants. Once the docks moved north the port became dormant and today you can find abandoned wearhouses and shabby looking boat parts. We got off the bus when we hit a main street and then took a taxi to a nieghborhood on the waterfront. The taxi driver told us on the way over to be careful because La Boca can be very dangerous if you venture onto the wrong street or go at night. A few steps away from the taxi, we walked through the street vendor kiofs who were selling colorful and unique crafts and trinklets, a nice change from the china imported goods that most street vendors sell here. We bought two hand painted mate cups from a pregnant lady and her husband. We continued onto a street full of cafes, tango dancers, colorful buildings, and touristy shops. There is only a few streets that are bustling with people and stores, the streets surrounding looked desolate and silent. It seems the few streets that were colorful and full of life, had been embellished for tourism's sake. You could see the paint on the buildings had been restored and the tired eyes of the tango dancers. Nonetheless, it was worth the trek and it was a paradise for a photographer.

We then took a bus to a neighboring city San Telmo, also a destination in every guide book you can buy. Today San Telmo is known for its cobblestone streets and crumbling mansions that were once European old quarters. My guidebook claims the city is becoming less faded and more glamorous thanks to the arrival of antique dealers and restauranteurs, and more recently hostel owners and a thriving gay scene. A daytime experience I am sure is very different compared to a nighttime one. Unfortunately since this part of the city is neighbors with La Boca, it is also unsafe.  We took a pit stop at a old bar in Plaza Dorrego, where they had candles and bottles from the 1800s. We took a stroll through Plaza Dorrego, one of the few Spanish-stlye plazas where you can enjoy a beer or coffee outside, and found more street vendors and people enjoying lunch under the trees. If you see tourists in Buenos Aires, you are sure to find street vendors! Here you could buy crafts and jewerery and meet the designers, which makes table shopping much more fun.  We continued down an adjacent street, and checked out a few of the aintique shops. With heavy legs, an empty stomach and 300 photos we headed back home.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

El Estilo de Vida de un Porteño

Today I did something out of the ordinary. I woke up before 8 am. I am not trying to rub in how nice it has been to sleep in or make all you fellow alarm clock haters jealous, it is simply the lifestyle here. For instance, it is 7:45 in the morning and nothing is open. I couldn't sleep because I have a bad sore throat and against my natural instinct, got up and walked across the street to our local supermercado to buy some throat drops and fruit for breakfast. Even though it was evident the store's garage door was down from where I was standing, I got a closer look just to make sure. Yup, the sun has been up for 3 hours now and not this store nor any other in sight seems to be open.  Besides a couple dogs barking the only other noticeable sound was from the water hitting the concrete on the side walks. I learned today that everyone is responsible for the pavement outside their building. Store owners were even scrubbing away at the concrete before them, probably trying to get rid of the dried dog poop residue. I wondered the other day where all the dog poop goes, if it just disintegrates or if people actually clean it up. In case I haven't mentioned, dog walkers here do not clean up dog poop. In fact, in almost every dog pooping incident that I have witnessed the owner has looked away and pretended something interesting was happening  in the other direction. Sorry for using dog poop five times in the last four sentences but has 'cow pies' listed as the first synonym. ¡Qué extraño! 

As I walked around the block in my black leggings and baggy shirt in search of a cafe so I could at least grab a coffee, I found cafes aren't open either. Don't people drink coffee before work? It could be the serene neighborhood we live in, but mornings here are like waking up in the park.  Instead of drinking a Starbucks on the way to work, maybe everyone is enjoying yerba mate at home. By the way Matt and I did learn the right way to prepare this popular drink and after a couple tweaks and lots of azucar (sugar), it's not so bad. And apparently, at least for me, it can really give you a boost of energy. Mate contains lots of mateína (caffeine) and the tannins from the leaves are what make it bitter. 

Everyday I learn something new. I was telling Matt yesterday that I don't think living here for only a month or two would do this city justice. There are too many mysterious I still need to solve, too many locals I still need to talk to, too many parts of the cow I still need to taste, before I can return home and confidently say I dedicated my mind, heart and stomach to learning the Porteño ways!