Monthly Archives: April 2007

all night long

intermediazero.JPG 

Well it took three weeks but I finally managed to aquire a hangover in Buenos Aires! This has definitely been the best week here so far though. Thursday night was a really nice chilled out affair, four of us went to dinner and out for a few drinks in Palermo. Typically I didn’t get home until 2am which considering Craig and I had a spanish exam at 9am the following day was maybe not the brightest idea. Anyway we totally aced the test anyway and next week we start Intermedio Uno!

We watched a really good Argentian film called Valentin by Rodrigo Noya in school on Friday afternoon. It’s the story of a eight year old boy who lives with his elderly grandmother in Buenos Aires in the 1960s. The kid in the film is just brilliant, so funny and so cute but the story is quite moving. We watched it with Spanish subtitles which definitely helped me follow most of what was going on but I think I’ll try and get hold of a copy to watch again with the English ones!

Last night was a fairly big one. Thirteen of us ended going out for a meal, two brits, one kiwi, six americans, one czech, one austrian and a south african. Chris had booked a table at a really gorgoues restaurant called Milion in Recoleta and we ended up with our own private room. Then there were beers in an Irish pub until around 2am at which point we hopped off to a small local club somewhere in town to dance. There was a lot of crazy salsa and Meringue music and downstairs there was some bizarre equivalent of line dancing but salsa style being led by a group of ridiculous muscled male dancers on stage. Craig and I tried it out but gave up in the end, it was pretty damn complicated, either that or maybe I’d just had too many beers by that point. A pit stop for empanadas on the way home and Miss Linney crawled into her bed at 6.30am. I didn’t get up until one this afternoon. After sufficient coffee and cereal I sauntered out into the sunshine (sunglasses firmly on) and strolled around the markets in my barrio before settling down outside a cafe to drink Licuardos and watch the world go by. And I’m doing it all over again tonight as it’s my German friend Basha’s last night in Argentina! And then tomorrow I’m getting stuck in to the football madness and going to see Boca Juniors vs Racing!

suits and salsa

Just when you think you cannot stand the rain any longer and silently curse this place under your breath having had to run for shelter into an internet cafe after slipping on a sodden smear of dog shit in your flip flops, everything changes. You emerge an hour later to find the rain has stopped, the sun is shining through the clouds onto the cobbled streets in Palermo, the leaves just starting to turn gold and just like that, you fall in love with Buenas Aires all over again. It’s a place where popping into a shop to ask about buying stamps leads to a fifteen minute chat about where you are from, what you’re doing and how you are enjoying the city; when you end up sitting outside a cafe in the early evening to do your homework and the owner comes out to adjust the position of the lights so you can see better; where dog walkers wrestle with ten huge beasts along the streets at 8am in the morning and where you can pop out for Mexican food at midnight and find the restaurants heaving with life.

This week has been fairly dance-tastic! Nero and I have a new playmate in our class this week, Craig who’s from Wigan. Unfortunately having two brits in one class has significantly lowered the tone of the general conversation, the first and last time I try to explain the double meaing of “cuning linguist” in a spanish class. It has been very funny though and luckily our teacher Tali is lovely and very tolerant! Craig and Nero got roped into our second visit to Tango lessons, Taral and I got to do the whole foot kicking thing which was very funny although things definitely got more complicated.

Nero and Taral tango-lesson2.JPG getting the hang of tango? Craig gets marched around the Tango salon

 Then Tuesday night we randomly orgnaised a wine and salsa evening in Taral’s flat with his Venezuelan housemate Cristian, who teaches Salsa. As we had more girls I can now salsa as a boy or as a girl, some serious gender confusion going on here! It also randomly turns out that Taral’s sister is Asne Seierstad who wrote The Bookseller of Kabul, a present I got a few years ago and really enjoyed!

Salsa, Venezuelan style! Salsa with wine

Last night we checked out a club called Opera Bay which has this wednesday night after-work scene. It was like being in a bar in Canary Wharf on a Friday night. Lots of guys in suits all over the place but it was very entertaining that the boys got all suited up so they could get in. Chris, who’s from California, looked particularly mafioso in his get up! We left earlyish and walked to Recoleta for Mexican food. We ended up having an rather loud hour long discussion as Chris had ben eyeing up one fo the girls on a table next to us and we were debating the best way for him to approach her. Eventually he goes up to bar to give the waitress his number on a napkin (yeah, so we didn’t come up with anything hugely original!) to take over but while he’s explaining all this in Spanish the girl and her friends are leaving. So Nero nabs her by the door and asks her if she has a boyfriend. She simles and says “yes, he’s called Chris too!” So it turns out they clearly spoke english and overheard most of the debate. Ah well, I don’t think it’s entirely disuaded Chris from perservering with the local girls!

weekend of shame

It is still raining and when it rains in Buenos Aires it really gets stuck in. We are talking walls of water with some thunder and lightening thrown in for good measure. I am still defiantly walking around in my flip flops and refusing to wear my raincoat (god knows why) and getting pretty wet in the process!

On Friday night we got invited to a house party of one of the housemates of my friend Nero, so three of us went out for a quick bit to eat which rapidly became a three hour wine and empanada fest so we didn´t arrive until 1am, which turned out was pretty much as things were getting going anyhow. A real mixture of locals and a random assortment of americans and germans who came to the city to visit and just never left! The red wine had definitely loosened my brain and my tongue by that point and I spent half the evening chatting away in Spanish with a fluency I have certainly never achieved in class. Although as Rebecca pointed out maybe I was too tipsy to notice I wasn´t making any sense! All the portenos there spoke English and all the americans, spanish, so conversations would just drift easily between the two. It was good fun, but by about 5am after vodka, salsa dancing in the living room and a very animated discussion about why it is very wrong that Americans call holding a drink in each hand ´double fisting,´it was definitely time to call a cab. It was about 5am at this point so I felt I´d done well and went to bed very tired but very content!

As the weather has been a little on the pants side we instigated the weekend of shame. Saturday afternoon Rebecca, Nero and I went to the plush cinema in Recoleta Village, got popcorn and watched ´300´. I knew it was going to be bad but honestly, it was utterly and completely ridiculous, but in a very amusing way! Saturday night we went to an English pub in San Telmo and drank pints of beer (this is about the only place that will serve you a pint in the whole city) until 3am. Then today we went to a spa in town to lie in the steam room, bathe in the jacuzzi and indulge in hour long massages. Yes I know I´m supposed to be travelling but it is so much cheaper here and it was definitely worth it. So now I am heading home (once it stops raining) for a very long siesta and the six pages of Spanish homework I need to do for Monday morning!

Fernandez Fierro

fierro.jpg Last night we went to check these guys out in a club called Niceto Vega. They’re a tango orchestra but totally different to the traditional one we saw last weekend. These guys were all in their twenties and thirites with dreads, beards, wearing football shirts and trackie bums, sunglasses and smoking the odd cigarette inbetween songs on stage, never-the-less they were absolutely brilliant. It’s tango music but turned on its head, very dramatic with heavy strings and crazy solos with four accordianists, three violinsits, a viola, cello, double bass, piano and Fernandez Fierro himself singing. We had our own tables for the ten of us that went, with a waiter to bring beer and wine and tapas, this is definitely the life! I got back to the house around 1.30am which I am now starting to think of as any early night!

Have spent the afternoon watching an Argentian film at school called Oso Rojo (the Red Bear) which was pretty good actually even with a rather randonly violent section just near the end. It did have english subtitles, my spanish is definitely not yet that good!

tangos and thunderstorms

Five of us and the riverThe weather is crazy, properly loco and not even the trusted bbc is up to the task of prediciting what will happen tomorrow. On Tuesday we awoke to blue skies, sun shining, warm with a lovely cool breeze. There were a few odd grey clouds on the horizon, but nothing to be concerned about, or so I thought.
After school Nero, Rebecca and I headed out to San Telmo which is the part of the city that looks most like you imagine Buenos Aires: cobbled streets, cafes, music playing, antique shops with a definite raffish charm. We stopped for beers along the river in Puerto Madeiro which is an area of converted warehouses along the river with views across the city. By now the sky had started to turn a very strange shade of luminous grey but I ignored it and hurried off to my first taste of tango in the centre and got there just as the heavens opened.

Tango was awesome, really good fun. I managed to convince Basha and Tarell to come with me and there were two other beginners and about 7 or 8 portenos who were rather more advanced. We were taught by a stout little guy all in black with an impressive moustache. Outside the rain poured, the thunder roared and the sky was starkly illuminated with flashes of lightening while inside the tango rhythms played on the stereo and we stumbled through the first three or four steps. As Basha and I were both sharing Tarell as a partner (who was pretty good) I got to dance with our teacher quite a bit which was fantastic especially as, with the other guys, I got told off for trying to be the boss (I mean, can you imagine?) where as with someone who is good and confident, you totally follow their lead without thinking. The basic steps are not so difficult once you get the hang of them and you get to do some cool little foot twiddles which look very impressive! We are definitely going back next week.
Unfortunately due to the torrential rainstorms the subte (underground) flooded and then stopped when I was half way home and all the taxis were full, it took 20 mins in the rain to find one, and then, they charge you extra due to wet weather. I may never complain about public transport in London again!

Wednesday was hot, sunny and beautiful so we all fled up to Tigre as soon as class finished to go and do the boat trip we´d planned for last saturday. It was wonderful because the whole river delta area is heaving at the weekend when the weather is good with hundreds of boats. But on a wednesday afternoon in autumn, apart from the odd rower and occaisional small ferry, I felt like we had the river all to ourselves. Just five of us, a mini inflatable speed boat, our guide and the jungle.

Jungle river delta from Tigre

Tigre is a town on the end of a large maze of rivers that go through the delta of the Rio de la Plata. And along the main waterways are hundreds of houses, bars, cafes,  few churches, a floating petrol station, poilce station and three schools. Most of the houses are weekend houses but some people live here all year round and the only way to get around is by boat. The further out you get the more remote and infrequent the houses become until suddenly all signs of civiliastion vanish and you are alone in the jungle with the turtles, kingfishers, dragonfiles and the mosquitos. We boated around for about two hours in all the tiny channels and wide cross rivers of the area, skating around huge expanses of floating lilies. Heading back to the habited part of the Delta we stopped in a riverside bar for beers and snacks – being 5pm I did point out that it was definitely beer o´clock. We headed back into the marina just as the sun was setting behind the ferris wheel in Tigre.

In theory we should have chilled out after Tigre but there is a big after-work club night in San Telmo on wednesday evenings which everyone from school was going to. It´s a fairly big club called Museum which kicks off from 8pm, gets going about 11pm and continues until 2am which is really early for this city. For 20 pesos (about 4 pounds) we got entry and a speed and vodka (speed as in a type of red bull that is!). There were huge mirror balls hanging from the ceiling, galleries of seats occupied by the professional late twenties and thirties local crowd, a lot of guys still in work suits, very banker style, and bubbles pumped continually over the entire mid section which formed the dancefloor. I think we danced to everything from the Rolling Stones to Madonna, House of Pain to Scissor Sisters and even Flashdance! It was a very entertaining evening especially as being ´touristas´ we attracted a lot of attention from the portenos. I even got seranaded to Duran Duran! I think what was more incredible is that I only had about three drinks all night and woke up this morning, a little tired, but otherwise feeling quite perky which, after a night clubbing in the UK, would definitely not be the case. Either this is a sign of my growing maturity (no really you can stop laughing) or I´ve just finally settled into the pace of life in Buenos Aries.

My Neighbourhood in Palermo

never trust the weather man

friday13th.jpgJust to make everyone back in London feel happier, while it´s been warm and sunny this weekend in the UK, it decided to drizzle on and off all weekend in Argentina. It didn´t even occur to me to bring an umbre

Friday night was excellent, but still really early by local standards. It’s really bizarre to be walking through the main night life area in Palermo Hollywood at 9.30pm and find everywhere almost totally deserted. The usual suspects, Nero, Curtis, Rebecca and myself, decided to meet up at a fairly trendy bar and, as we arrived unfashionably early, got a great table with white cushions on the roof terrace underneath the stars. (It hadn´t started raining yet). We drank red wine (which is cheaper than the beer here) and cuba libres all night and slagged off our respective nations (the UK, USA and Australia respectively)! I think we called it a night about 3.30am which was pretty much as things were kicking off. Suddenly understanding the need for the latin amercian siesta.

Since the trusty weatherman had promised sunshine and happiness all day Saturday we planned to go up to Tigre, a river delta area one hour north of town. There was no sun, no blue sky and lots of rain so we ended up spending the day stopping off the tourist train up the coast and drinking Submarinos (amazing hot drinks, they give you a glass of hot milk and dunk a huge slab of chocolate inside!) and then had lunch in Tigre and watched the rain. The area does look pretty cool though so we´re going to head back up the first hot afternoon after school. I did get to have my first full on ridiculous argentian meat fest though. Our Norweigan friend Taral and I decided to get a grilled platter for two which not only contained really good joints of beef and pork but some other more unusual cow body parts. Liver, kidneys (they were a bit tough actually) and blood sausage. Now I was all over the blood sausage, really nice, until Basha, one of the German girls, casually informed me it was made from blood (well I guessed that much) but also randon other cow bits including cows ears. Which would explain the odd bits of gristle. I kind of gave up on the sausage after that!

Saturday night we went out to see a tango orchestra, Raul Garello and his orchestra in a cool little darkened cafe venue with spotlit tables and exposed brickwork. Raul was the leader and the accordian player which was really cool, who knew an instrument shaped like a overgrown caterpillar could be so expressive. They also had a really fantastic violinist who did some amazing solos. The guest singer when he came on looked about 18 with these cute dimples but when he started singing had this beautiful really deep rich voice which was so unexpected. Afterwards we went for dinner, which at 11pm, was just the right time to eat in Buenos Aires.

colonia-streets.jpg
Today my Guyanian New Yorker, Nero, and I decided to pop over to Uruguay for the day, well why not, the rain had stopped and I´m all for another stamp in the passport. The ferry takes an hour to go over to Colonia del Sacramento which is a really cute cobbled town overlooking the Rio del Plata. We visited all the craft shops, climbed the lighthouse and had a long lunch with lots of wine in this brilliant brightly coloured cafe called, bizarrely, El Drugstore. colonia.jpg
We got back just in time to catch the weekly weekend craft fair in Recoleta which has the most amazing jewellery, I´ve so far bought two pairs of earrings and a ring. Everything really is so cheap but still, I´m not sure my daily budget will support this jewellery habit much longer!

Buenos Noches!

¿cerveza o cuba libre?

First big night out in town and we’ve managed to pick a bar like 6 blocks from my house, hurrah. Given that nothing in Buenos Aires gets going until well after midnight I’m not sure my speedy English pace of drinking is going to stand me in very good stead! But we passed our Spanish exams this morning so it’s definitely time to celebrate and handily there is no Friday 13th superstition in Argentina, it’s Tuesday 13th instead. so what could possibly go wrong? I have my map, my compass, my house key and lots of mosquito repellant. Vamos con tuti!

welcome to buenos aires

After only four days in Buenos Aires it already feels like life has settled into a comfy routine and I’m starting to get the hang of things. (Well it was a whole day before I figured out that North is at the bottom of all the maps, after that with my compass and my map I’ve avoided any major disasters but I’ve done an unbelievable amount of walking.) Actually I’m feeling particularly smug this evening as I’ve just managed to buy a phone for the princely cost of 120 pesos, about 25 pounds, half of which I get back in call credit over the next three months. Admittedly my dogdy spanish in the shop did propmt two customers to offer their servies in English but I’ll put that down to the helpfulness of portenos (locals) rather than my spanish!

I’m definitely falling for this city. The family I’m living with are in Palermo Viejo, a laid back, trendy but unpretenious part of town with tree lined cobbled roads and just south of a huge expanse of parks and botancial gardens. There is the mother, Lilliana who is lovely and patiently corrects my spanish, her daughter who pretty much hides in her room all evening and a house keeper Kelly who’s orginally from Peru. There’s also another student, Curtis, a 24 year old curly haired designer from New York, living there who is in my spanish class at school and my new partner in crime, well until he leaves next week at any rate! I’ve even managed to land my own ensuite bathroom and there’s a garden out back with a pool full of dodgy looking green water!

So, in the morning we get an extremely squahed bus half an hour into town to our spanish school which is small and friendly. There’s probably about 25 students there, scandinavians, germans, americans and brits. There are 4 of us in Principale 2 (not quite beginner beginners) with a lovely teacher called Caroline; Marie who’s French and only 15 bless and very sweet, Curtis, myself and another New Yorker, Nero. Classes so far have been great, it’s nearly all in Spanish and at just the right level for me at the moment. After four hours of class (which fly by) we all head around the corner for lunch, cheese and ham pies, steak sandwiches or tortillas. Then the afternoons we visit the museums, different barrios in Buenos Aires, hang out drinking beer in cafes or, like this afternoon, sort out laundry and buy mobile phones!

The centre of town is full of huge streets, traffic, old cathedrals, shops, noise and demonstrations. We went to check one out on Monday and there seemed to be about 8 different groups protesting including one slightly sinister bunch of young men sitting down with their faces covered with scarves.

cemetario.jpgIn the Recoleta Barrio there’s an amazing cementry, Cementario de la Recoleta, which is the most expensive real estate in Argentina. If you are famous, rich or notorious you are buried here. It’s like a city block with every street lined with everything from ostentacious black marble tombs, white marble edficies or ancient stone constructions with wrought iron gates allowing glimpses of dust covered elaborate coffins inside. Stone angels and madonnas, domes and crosses adorn the tops and everywhere sleepy eyed cats watch with disinterest as you loose yourself in the city of dead. Actually I think the reason for the cats in the cemetry is that the rest of Buenos Aires is definitely a dog’s city. Everyone seems to have a dog, an not small ones either, everything from moderate sized labradors to huge alsastians and in the mornings and evenings you see guys walking packs of 10 or more enormous dogs around Palermo.

Xul Solar
Yesterday a group of us from school headed down to Museo Nacional de Belles Artes for an afternoon of culture. The Museum started off with your fairly standard classical pantings, portraits and landscapes from the 16th to 19th century which is not so much my thing. Then we came across a huge white gallery showing an exhibiton of a very modern and very avant garde Argentian painter which was weird but fascinating and then upstairs was a maze of rooms with more modern art from argentian cubists of the 1930s (my favourite was a guy called Xul Solar, a kind of Paul Klee meets Miro) to some really bizarre avant garde and post impressionist sculptures and painting from the 1970s to the present day. There was everything from light installations with mini fountains in glass bowls to sets of dentures on pedastals and portraits of half faces, half skulls. After this bizarre art fest Nero, Rebecca and I went to drink beer and watch the sunset along the design terrace in Recoleta before heading home.

It’s wonderful to think I still have over three weeks in the city to explore and with the spanish school there’s a ready pool of people keen to hang out. Tonight, as thursday night is a big one in town although nothing happens before ten, we are possibly going to a tango show or just going out drinking and there’s a group of us that are heading out to Tigre, a river delta north of town, on Saturday. I just need to buy some industrial strength DEET as the only thing I’m not loving about this place is the mosquitos and they can’t seem to get enough of me, literally. Right now my stomach is rumbling so I’m off home for dinner via one of the many pastry shops in our barrio for a snack of something with Dulce de Leche! Buenos Noches!

the geek within

nerd.jpg

It’s a little after midnight on my final night in the UK ,for what will be some considerable time, and I have spent the last hour and a half trawling through word press tech support blogs to find out why I temporarily couldn’t upload images onto my blog. I now know that the permissions on my uploads folder was not correctly set and had to access my internet files remotely through an FTP server and manually change them. I hate to admit this but there was loud whooping when I finally fixed the problem and a warm fuzzy feeling of a job well done. On reflection, I think it is just as well that I am going travelling for a year, life without daily access to a computer, at this stage, can only be a good thing. Now where did I put my Star Trek DVDs…?