Sunday, December 28, 2008

How I learned the word garganta

As anticipated, I have fallen way behind on my blogging here. Actually, I've fallen way behind on my blogging everywhere - this is space only one of the casualties. Fighting the Youth and Road Games continue to saunter forward and one day I'll get my act together and put everything in a common location, but for the time being, let's keep things a-rollin'...

After returning from Monte Hermoso, I came down with an illness. Nothing major. A slight temperature and I missed a day of work. Unfortunately, the cough lingered for two more weeks after which I was struck with a stabbing pain in my throat. The pain was accompanied by a general feeling of weakness and was debilitating enough that a trip to the doctor was deemed necessary. They have socialized medicine here, and also they don't. Um, what I mean is, they definitely do, but if you have the right insurance plan, you get to pick your choice of hospital and doctor. Lucky for me, my company has set me up with the good insurance plan. Again, I have no idea how all this works (and my company apparently doesn't know my name because the insurance is listed under Adrew Reed). Not having a doctor of my own, the emergency room was the easiest place to get one. I always dread trips to the ER because it always means you're going to be there for at least two hours. But I quickly bounced from the triage to the clerk who presented me with this bill:
That's right - 0.00, but it's much cheaper when you convert to dollars...

From there, I had to wait for my number to come up on the big board - like at a busy hardware store, only it wasn't busy, so I was called very quickly. The doctor took a quick look at my throat, said, "Tenés infección en tu garganta. Antibioticos." He then sent me on my way, prescription in hand. All in all, the entire visit took about 15 minutes. That's amazing. Perhaps it was a slow day being that it was Christmas Eve and all, but whatever the reason, I was totally impressed. So my first warm Christmas was spent in bed, trying to recuperate. Unfortunately, the pain and weakness didn't pass and I returned to the hospital again on Saturday, just in case. Finally the antibiotics kicked in Saturday night and I began to feel whole again.

But don't expect me to complain that I'm only picking up bad germs here. As I've mentioned previously, I've met a ton of incredibly cool people here. Furthermore, one of those people turned out to be a beautiful porteña named Belu who I can now proudly call my girlfriend. Without her, I'm sure I would surely have never figured out the health care system here, let alone countless other recent dilemmas. In sum, she's great and I feel really lucky to have met her. Surely there will be more postings (and eventually some photos - I promise) where she figures prominently.

I recently joined an Ultimate Frisbee team. The team is brand, spanking new, so you could argue that I helped found a team, but that would be really misleading as I've done zero heavy lifting at this point. So far, we're seven strong, and the enthusiasm, organization and dedication shown by the members has been impressive. This is my first regular team since my last campaign with Dirty Thirty, way back in spring of '07. There are now three teams in the whole of Argentina, so there's hope that this will help build the popularity here. Our name is Big Red which is a double-ententre as "red" means network en español. Expect many updates on the progress in the future. For now, we're still forging everything, but have hopes for rapid development and great big fun, too. For me, I still need to get my throws back, but the practices will surely help with that.
With a shoutout to all my Nebraska and Wisconsin homies!

I'm kind of a fast walker. OK, that's not true. I'm one of the fastest walkers on the planet and various friends and family often complain about it. I've got long legs and I just can't wait to get places. What can I do? Some people here walk more quickly, some don't, but the strange thing is how they manage to spread themselves out all across the sidewalk. Inevitably, if you are trying to walk past someone, they are in your way. My theory is that people walk this way because the roads are exactly the same. Lanes markings are mere suggestions, and whenever possible, drivers prefer to get in each other's way. It's a chicken-and-egg scenario. I have no idea if people drive the way they walk or vice-versa. I generally don't let this bother me, but there is one place where it drives me bonkers. I used to love going to the grocery store, but here it's always an unnerving proposition. People leave their carts right in your way and have never move them for you. They will wander right in front of you as you peruse the shelves, too.

Actually, that problem pales in comparison to the delays in the checkout aisle. The other day, I waited in the checkout line for 33 minutes. I timed it. I should note that when I got in line, I was 4th, and only one of the people in front of me had a full cart. Also, this was surely the fastest line available. I can't imagine how much this is harming the Argentine economy, but if it happens nationwide every time someone buys groceries, you can imagine that it adds up to a colossal amount of wasted time. I keep planning to do my shopping online, but haven't managed to figure that out yet. Maybe that can be a new year's resolution...

We'll finish up today with a brief discussion of Los Pitufos. Pitufos are the Spanish-language version of The Smurfs. But they don't throw the word "pitufo" into every sentence which kind of ruins the fun, right? The interesting thing is that many people here belive that the Pitufos represent the Seven Deadly Sins, and that Gargamel is actually a monk who is trying to take care of them for the good of all humanity.I guess you can see how this would go:
  • Lust = Smurfette
  • Gluttony = Greedy Smurf
  • Greed = uh, also Greedy Smurf?
  • Pride = Vanity Smurf
  • Envy = Nosy Smurf
  • Wrath = Grouchy Smurf
  • Sloth = Dreamy Smurf or Lazy Smurf
I'm having trouble buying it because Azrael was clearly an agent of evil. That cat was one mean muthascratcher. But either way, thanks to the doctors, drugs, and girlfriend, I'm feeling smurfy again and look forward to the start of '09! See you then, chiquilinos!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sun Over Beach

Long about 16 months ago, I injured my knee. You've heard me whine enough about it already, but throughout my rehab, my main goal has been to get back to the point where I can play Ultimate again. Last weekend, I joined the local Ultimate jugadores on a trip to the southern end of Buenos Aires province for a beach tournament in Monte Hermoso. 50 of us met at the Plaza Italia Burger King and piled into a comfortable touring bus headin' south. Most of the gang already knew each other pretty well, having played many Saturdays and weeknights together, not to mention various extra-curricular activities (read: staying up all night as is the custom in Buenos Aires). That bus ride provided a chance to get acquainted with some of the gang. Of course because this is Argentina and Ultimate Frisbee, everyone proved friendly and cool.

We arrived at 7am to a still sleeping beach town. I had a spot reserved in one of the apartments, but we didn't have assignments. So I just followed four random people into one of them and claimed a bed. Of course, since this is Argentina and Ultimate Frisbee, all four of them were awesome. I shared a tiny room with Nick and Nick while Josh and Julia (a couple who live in San Telmo and have maintain an absolutely prolific blog on life in BA) had the other bedroom. This was the first time I'd slept in a bunk bed since my 2002 visit to Argentina. Random yet true. After a quick recovery snooze, we all hit the beach which was rrrrre linda.
Team Argentina on a beautiful morning

This entire weekend was set up by Maxi who grew up in Monte Hermoso and had everything laid out so smoothly, all we had to think about was bringing our A-game and sunscreen. I was placed on Team #3 which quickly was named Aguavivas. Once again, everyone was cool. Instead of writing that over and over again, I'm going to use the local colloquialism, buena onda. Onda literally means a wave, but the loose translation of buena onda is "good vibes." I've certainly experienced it in many groups of people down here since my arrival, but never in as much abundance as I did in Monte Hermoso. With people from all over the world (countries represented include: USA, Argentina, Japan, Germany, Colombia, Canada, Australia, Great Britain), there was buena onda to spare.
Katsu's solemn rendition of the Japanese National anthem

I'd never played beach ultimate before, but I'd certainly witnessed enough of Sandblast to be excited. Unfortunately, excitement didn't translate to accurate throws as it's hard to calculate just how much more slowly people run on the sand. Furthermore, I'm rusty as hell. But my team played really well, and we ended up 1-1 on the first day. More importantly, after each game, we jumped into the South Atlantic and frolicked. In sum, it was a really good day.

However, it was not without minor concerns. My knee felt great, and running at a slower pace on the soft sand was probably the perfect place to really break it in. Unfortunately, that meant getting my knee brace totally gunked up with sand. At one point while jogging over to the line, an Argentine teammate said, "Andrew, you are squeaching." Worse than that were the ampollas (blisters). The sand was so hot that nearly everyone had blisters on their toes. I ended up with five, which I think was the tourney record.
Mmmm.... Knee brace burn.

After brief respite at the apartments, we headed down to the main square for a "beer fest." Walking through town, if you could tune out the Spanish and just focus on the basics, Monte Hermoso would look very much like any beach town in the world. There are video arcades and ice cream shops (to which I made two trips), and a boardwalk-ish main drag. The festival was rather small, but totally crowded. Getting food or a drink was a challenge, as was maintaining our reserved tables. After a goofy, "German" act (sung primarily in Spanish), they played more traditional Latin music and we took to the "dancefloor" for the rest of the night.
Welcome to Beachtown!

On Sunday, the blisters were very problematic, and without any bandaids or athletic tape, I chose to simply gut it out. But the sand was even hotter. For our middle game, I donned a brand new pair of black dress socks, and it alleviated most of the problems. Our team had trouble getting in synch and lost our first two games. But we bounced back in our last contest, flowing like champs and toppling the second-place team 8-1 (honestly I think they were tired, but is was certainly our best effort as well). Temporary roommies Josh, Nick, and Nick went on to win the tourney championship, but once again, buena onda ruled the day.

After watching the sun set......we quickly showered and headed to the group asado. With our own private room at a country club, hungry mouths were filled with roughly an entire cow's worth of meat. For some reason, I was most drawn to the salad (but still obliged when the waitress insisted I take another helping of chorizo). After giving various awards to teams and individuals, the party was on with dancing, night-frisbee (played using glowing headbands and a lit-up disc), stargazing, and of course, arm wrestling:We returned to the apartments after 4am, not that late for Argentina. After some brief palling around which some spent briefly napping and others spent eating peanut butter straight from the jar, it was decided that we should hit the beach again. Monte Hermoso being the only beach in Argentina where one can watch the sun rise and set, we decided to take advantage of the situation. So with a guitar and a ewer of water in tow, we encamped on the sand, awaiting the dawn. After about an hour, however, our peaceful group was disturbed by the policía. They demanded to know where we were from and proceeded to kick us off the beach. Maybe it was for the best. We were tired and shivery. And I've seen enough sunrises here in Argentina anyway. Still, the cops didn't have to be jerks.

Monday was rather chill. The girls the apartment next to ours had put together an amazing spread of food. Tuna salad with avocado, chocolate milk, peanut butter, dulce de leche, fruit and all kinds of other goodness. Then Martín and Ian arrived with two heaping boxes of empanadas. Dave, for some strange reason, had a tube of Vegemite on his person. OK, well, I should note that he's Australian, so perhaps that's the reason and perhaps it's not so strange, but I don't go walking around town with barbecue sauce. Anyway, I was glad he brought it because I tried some on bread and found it to be quite delicious. I have no idea why the condiment gets such a bad rap.
Dave, powered by Vegemite (photo by Mike)

After a quick stroll through town, it was time to depart. This time the bus ride was far more low-key, but I got to know a few other folks I hadn't had much time to talk with earlier. I had an upper-deck front seat with was a bit trippy, but provided great views of the flat countryside. When we stopped in Azul to grab some food, we were there for nearly an hour. Part of the delay was the fact that the fifty of us caused the small outpost to be overrun. But then we lingered longer anyway. While in line, one of the more jovial members of the group, and Argentine native who speaks mainly in Spanish, said to me and another American, "I'm learning more English. You are a showerbugger!" We exchanged puzzled looks and he said again, "Showerbugger!" as he gave us high fives. Not wanting to stifle his progress in learning the language, we waited a minute as he said, "Espera... Shower - duchar.... Duchabug?" "You mean douchebag?" "Yes! Douchebag!" More high fives. "What does it mean?" "Uhhhh...." Well, we gave him the colloquial meaning and saved the literal one. He wheeled around to the other English-speakers nearby and said, "Douchebag! You're a douchebag!" After a beat, they exchanged gleeful high fives. I mentioned the "d-bag quotient" in my last posting and this was of course the term I was referring to. Here's the Urban Dictionary definition. My favorite is #4. I should also note that unfortunately, most douchebags are not only well aware of the term, they use it liberally, unaware of their own bagginess. So McRae informed me in Chicago that they had taken to calling them Delta Bravos so that they can't figure out when you're labeling them. I felt that took too long to say, so we shortened it to simply Bravos. "Bravo! You're a bravo!" And now I give you the requisite high five.

We didn't arrive back in BA until nearly 2 AM, which is roughly four hours after everyone lamented the extended food break in Azul. We parted ways at Plaza Italia as people figured out how to get home. Lucky for me, I was able to hoof it. Unluckily for me, I had work early the next morning. But I wouldn't have traded the weekend for anything. The trip definitely has a place in my top three events of the Buenos Aires experience so far, and I know I'm going to get more time with all these great people in the near future.

As an added bonus, someone from a local TV program was there and filmed much of one of my team's games. At the 4:40 mark, you can see Josh outrace me to Nick's brilliant throw for the game-winning point (hint - I'm the one in the kneebrace):


Speaking of great people, you've no doubt heard in the news that the sitting governor of my home state, is not a great person in the normal sense. He is a great something, but I'm not sure what word to use. Douchebag? Yes, that's the word. High five. Rod's campaign slogan was "Getting Things Done For People." You have to give him some credit for honest dishonesty. He simply never declared who the "people" were. Turns out it was him and his wife. When I tell people here that my current governor was just arrested and my former one is busy serving a six year sentence, the normal reaction is, "So it's just like here. Except at least you throw them in jail!" Ah, something for the good people of Illinois to hang their hats on.

But unfortunately, as pathetic a public servant as Rod may be, he still can't hold a candle to our dear, departing president. Lest we forget that Blago's crimes are merely the sort of graft we expect when politicians go corrupt, it was announced this week that a bi-partisan Senate committee with zero dissenters declared that the systematic and brutal torture committed by American troops in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and lord knows where else was approved by none other than George W. Bush. The same George W. Bush who at first blamed this kind of thing on "bad apples," and on many occasions declared, "We do not torture." The man belongs in prison or worse. There is no statute of limitations for war crimes. I hate to bring down all the buena onda in this posting, but of all the horrible things that this man has done, I don't see how any of it can top this. We have a moral responsibility as human beings to condemn the man, regardless of political or religious affiliation. Because this is downright evil.

Certainly, I'll go on living here and not let it ruin my days. Right now, my biggest problem is that I've met too many cool people. I realize that is a wonderful problem to have, one for which I am grateful. In other news, a headline in today's Chicago Tribune says, "Forecast: 20 below windchill coming". So think of me while you're shivering. And plan your visit. I and the warm, southern air await you:

Friday, December 5, 2008

Chicagoing

So I packed up as little as I could in as many suitcases as I could, and flew back to the states. Arriving in Chicago, I got the treat of flying directly over downtown on an absolutely beautiful day. Things had been so hectic in BA that it hadn't really hit me that I was coming home until right then. Mom and Dad met me at the airport and it was great to see them first. I feel as though I haven't been absent that long, but I'm sure to my parents it's quite the opposite.

But almost immediately, I left Chicago to head back to Michigan for a reunion of some of my old college buddies. To do this, I had to take the Metra from Wilmette all the way to the south end of the city so Chris could pick me up. Before I went to buy my ticket, I was subconsciously trying to figure out how to say the words I needed. I apparently do this every time I have to talk to a stranger in Argentina. As I approached the station house, I of course realized that I was in the US and didn't need to translate anything. Also of course, the woman didn't know the answers to my questions anyway. But this brain function continued for the next couple of days when dealing with any waiter, teller, or other somewhat helpful person.

Getting back to Ann Arbor was great as always. This particular reunion has gone on for the last ten years, but I've actually only been part of the gang for the last six or so. Everyone lived together in college except me, but I've become an honorary member with full standing. The Michigan/Ohio State game, uhhh... let's not sully this blog by talking about it here. The full report in all its whiny glory can be found over at Road Games. Seeing the gang all together was great. One had his third baby just the night before and others had come from as far away as South Carolina and Florida (but yeah, I had 'em beat on the mileage).
Some of the best guys in the world!

While the gang had a great time and reminded everyone what an awesome group it is, some things didn't feel quite right. When out at some bars, I found myself randomly talking to people. But I was met with a pretty gruff attitude in each of those cases. No, I wasn't hitting on women. It must simply be very normal for people in Buenos Aires to talk to those around them. This is definitely not so normal in the US. I didn't even realize I had changed much in this regard, but the porteños have clearly rubbed off on me.

From there, it was back to Chicago. A chance to see old friends, spend time with family, and tie up all the remaining loose ends. But Chicago felt very strange. over 28 years of my life have been spent there, but on this trip, I was a tourist without a home. Actually, that's not true. It felt very clear to me that my home (mi hogar ahora) is Buenos Aires. That's surely a good thing considering I'm here for at least two more years. I just didn't expect it to happen this quickly. Then again, the three months have felt more like six.

I slept in a different bed/air mattress nearly every night and got to see all the Nielsen folks and a whole slew of friends. Brad was back from Amsterdam, which was awesome, though without Natalia in tow which was not so awesome. Nevertheless, I think I saw everyone I was supposed to and managed to eat pretty high on the hog as well. Between a few exquisite meals prepared in Ma Reed's cocina and various Chicago favorites, I was far from hungry. Unfortunately, my camera was broken for much of the excursion so there are no family photos. Luckily, Brad was able to play Jimmy Olsen on the obligatory return trip to Piece:
Also some of the world's best guys. Nielsen represent!

I didn't realize it until I decided to post the photo, but this is actually a picture of me and my three oldest friends on what will surely be my last night in Chicago for a very long time. They also happen to be some of the other greatest guys in the world.
Look at all that water we're drinking. How responsible of us.

On the last night, I ducked out for a bit to see Japanese speed/metal act Boris at the Empty Bottle. I felt bad removing myself from the party for a bit, but this is what I do in Chicago, and something I have yet to figure out in BA. Plus, Boris melted pretty much every face in attendance. You gotta beat the cold somehow. Besides, I made it back out and we kept having fun. Exhibit A:
It's 3am. Spot the Argentine resident in this group.

From there, I hung with McRae at his pad for the last time in a long time and made it back to Mom and Dad's by 4am. They drove me to the airport but not before Mom packed me the most impressive sack lunch ever eaten at O'Hare International Airport (it was so plentiful, in fact, that I had to finish much of it at JFK). A fierce snowstorm moved in on Chicago just as I was leaving. And now it's almost summer. There's no question that at least in a few respects, I've traded up here.

People love to ask what I miss about Chicago. Honestly, outside of family and friends there isn't a big list. I guess I'm adaptable. But there are some things I definitely don't miss about life in the states. And here's that list:
  • Commercials for Tyler Perry's House of Pain - I've never watched the show, but the commercials are bad enough. Thank goodness I can't see those here.
  • The d-bag quotient - McRae and I discovered that they've infiltrated Wicker Park somethin fierce. We really don't have d-bags here in BA.
  • Driving a car - But that's not really a surprise, is it?
  • The commercialization of Christmas - Of course, I'm not coming at this from a pompous Bill O'Reilly angle, but even before Thanksgiving it was impossible to avoid the annoying music and decorations. This photo was taken in a train station a full week before Thanksgiving:
I know I've gone on for far too long here, but there are some other quick things worth saying:
  • I interviewed Brad from his brother's rooftop for his blog. Check it out in all its rambly goodness here.
  • I've mentioned this before, but there's a real problem with coins here. Slate has a column on it that is accurate and informative.
  • I reviewed the new Guns N' Roses album over at FtY.
  • More updates to come shortly, including a recap of the Monte Hermoso Beach Ultimate tournament. Until then, hasta luego!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

There is no día de gracias in Argentina, but I'm in Chicago to enjoy it. And because I referenced Les Nessman previously in this space, here is a special holiday greeting from him and his cohorts at WKRP:

Hey, it's better than Sarah Palin's greeting...

I hope everyone has a great holiday, eats their fill and enjoys their folks!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

It's Morning Again in South America

I first visited this country in August of 2002. That seems like such a very long time ago. Everyone I met wanted to talk about the 9/11 terror attacks. It had been nearly a year since those horrible events, but they still felt tangibly close, even for people over 5,000 miles away. They felt the impact, too. I remember Santiago, a 17 year old kid, showing me how he had saved the local newspaper and telling me how much the moment had affected him. I must admit I was touched by the sentiment. The notion that we're all in this together couldn't be ignored. But in the six years that have passed, that kind of sentiment has completely dissipated. It's easy to blame George Bush for this, but that's only because it's all his fault.

I spent far too much time paying attention to the election this year. This was partly due to the fact that I was willfully unemployed and rendered lame by knee surgery in January. Staying current with the daily minutiae was a great way to pass time when I wasn't doing leg-raises or jacked up on caffeine for the sake of plowing forward with the book. But also, it was the most fascinating political occurrence of my lifetime. And it went on for an entire year. So when Tuesday rolled around and the big moment finally came, it was somehow odd to find myself sitting with two friends in a Brazilian restaurant, trying to find a channel on their screen that had complete coverage. The whole thing was a bit anticlimactic for me. And when I saw reports such as this one:

...from the US, I have to admit I felt longingly absent. Outside of an extended "Wooooh!" (which totally took my roommate off guard), there was little celebration here. Whereas people all over the country took to the streets with joyful revelry.

I can't comment on what those people were thinking, but there was a hell of a lot to cheer about. We shunned George Bush. Young people finally turned out to vote. We turned our backs on campaigns of slander. We actually elected a smart person. We took another step toward healing the scars of our racist past. For me, I remain in a state of disbelief that this happened. Not that we elected a black man, but that someone ran for president with a direct, honest, mature approach to the electorate and actually won. Maybe we had to sink to such horrendous depths to actually start paying attention. Certainly it wasn't worth it. But my personal joy at this situation has very little to do with Barack Obama. It's that, against everything I've seen in my entire life, people actually did put country first. If Hillary Clinton had won the primary, we would be stuck in the same stupid mess we've always been in - fighting over nothing, and accomplishing less than that. Now, we've got a chance.

Wednesday proved even better as I finally received my stuff from customs. For six straight weeks, I slept on an air mattress and had roughly ten days worth of clothing. I had no dishes, pots, pans or silverware. I had no stereo. Since the bed arrived, I've been thinking about the exchange between Kirk Van Houten and Homer Simpson after Kirk has been kicked out by his wife:
Kirk: Singles life is great, Homer. I can do whatever I want. Today I drank a beer in the bathroom.
Homer: The one down the hall.
Kirk: Yeah! And another great thing, you get your own bed. I sleep in a racing car, do you?
Homer: I sleep in a big bed with my wife.
Kirk: Oh. Yeah.
No wife, but a big bed anyway

Life here's been good, but without a bed it never felt normal. In sum, I'm like a real person again. My back is already feeling better, and I was able to make some food and not eat it off a napkin. Perhaps most importantly, my Michigan flag was hung on the balcony during the team's first win in six weeks. If it weren't for all the red tape, we'd be bowl bound! I feel like I just arrived all over again and am ready to begin living. Also, the "lead" mover (at least the one who talked to me the most and had me sign all the papers), only had one hand. The guy was a mover, and apparently had been successful enough that he was in charge of the other eight dudes. He was as capable as any of them. Yes we can.
This pile actually grew a lot bigger, but I forgot to take a picture

Beyond the spontaneous celebrations across the US, the world also raised its voice in support. I must admit, that this video really got to me. And this one was nice to see, too. Many of you have asked me what people here think about the election. There was a lot of interest, and certainly they all preferred Obama, but Argentina on the whole is a country rather disillusioned with politics. They've had a steady string of leaders who have ranged from corrupt to self-interested. Yes, there's not a lot of space between those two. Because of my accent, the cab drivers always immediately ask me "De dónde sos?" They really want to know the country, but my new answer is "Chicago, la misma ciudad que Barack Obama." They always give me the same response - a broad, content smile. Then they ask, "That's in the West, right?" or some similar question.

The details don't really matter. What does is that, after eight years of overt obstinance, we are all in this together again. And now it's up to Obama not to squander these good feelings like Bush did. He's got his work cut out for him, to be sure. But I think a little of that hope rubbed off on the rest of the world. That's a great place to start.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Can't Stop Climbing

I'm not gonna lie. It's been a good week, and I'm having good feelings. After fourteen long months, much physical pain, and countless hours of rehab, I finally got back on the horse and played some Ultimate thanks to a Halloween tournament here in BA. It was such a thrill to get back out there and run. Of course, since all of my possessions remain stuck in customs, I had to play without cleats. That may not have been the best idea with a reconstructed knee, but at least I had my brace. I had a pretty scary feeling wipeout early on due to the lack of traction, but either the knee is fully functional or the brace did its job, because I popped right up and kept running. I felt more surprised at that then the fall. So I gotta give both Dr. Palutsis and Mary at Athletico two big thumbs up. And one for me, too. I’ve worked pretty hard in my own right. My throws were a bit rusty, but generally in the vicinity of their targets and flutter-free. My team went 2-0 before I called it a night, not wanting to overdo it on the first day. Of course, all the Frisbee folks were friendly as hell. Even though half were Americans (four from Chicago), nearly everyone spoke Spanish all day. I remain more convinced than ever that it's the greatest game on the planet. I can't wait to get out there next week, hopefully with cleats, dammit!
Good people, as always

On that point, word came through today that I am to receive my held-up belongings this Wednesday. I was all set to write that I have really gone from patience to pissed. Not having my stuff is affecting so many things. No bed is killing my back and my sleep. No clothes is killing my urge to get dressed in the morning. No stereo is killing my groove, and no running shoes is killing my endurance. There are so many little things that are affected by the absence of my stuff. One of the biggest is that Josh and I have to split time on the internet. We can't both use it at the same time and have to pass a cord back and forth, taking turns all the way. This has been a serious stress on the home front. We spend all our time in the smallest room in the apartment, eating, working, socializing, always in front of our laptops. Especially when you consider the close quarters, we’re getting along really well. If the reports are to be believed, my things arrive on Wednesday. I’m inclined to believe them this time, though. Maybe.

I put up a post over at Fighting The Youth about the election. Check it out here. But a gabber like me can’t be limited to just one political espousal this week. Like all of you, I have a ton on my mind. Being unemployed for half of 2008 led to my spending far too much time on this election, but I couldn’t help it. It was far too compelling

I think back to a restless night four years ago. Come Tuesday I had, perhaps naively, gotten my hopes up about Kerry actually winning. When the election returns were limping in, all the networks refused to call Ohio. With the TV flickering away into the night, I was lying in bed, knowing in the back of my mind that Bush would be declared the winner, but unable to fall asleep and unable to turn off the television. I eventually bothered to change the channel to an infomercial for a big ladder. And I still couldn't sleep at all. Occasionally, feeble hopes led me to bounce back to the election coverage only to learn that there was no change. It was a miserable feeling, but not because I thought we were that much more screwed. I knew Bush had already done his worst and that maybe if we had another four years with him, people would pay enough attention that they'd figure out who the real Bushy was (the slightest sliver of a silver lining). It was more that my country was so embarrassingly stupid as to vote for this buffoon and his band of criminals again. I was equal parts sad for us and really angry at us. For me, the indelible image of election night, 2004 is a big ladder. I hate that ladder.

The Porteños here keep telling me that I must be happy because they’re watching the news and the election is in the bag. I’m terrified of deluding myself again. I don’t want to let myself believe. As a statistician, I have great faith in the idea of polls, but I don’t know the guys running ‘em, and you never know what the Diebold factor will be this year. I was told I’d get all my stuff from customs two weeks ago, too.

But there’s that Hope thing.

I referenced this once before, but last year I saw the best that American partisanship has to offer. Good-natured ribbing, joking, and prejudice. College football games, particularly rivalries are damn important. I wouldn’t be writing a book about them if they weren’t. But obviously this election is at a totally different level. This is literally life and death, peace and war, prosperity and poverty. And even the most vociferous of college football nut has at his foundation a respect for the camaraderie of those who share his passion. When it comes to America, we haven’t seen that in my lifetime. Honestly, I’m 33 years old, and I still remember a kid being chased around the playground the day after the 1984 election because he publicly admitted he was a Mondale guy. We were nine. I kept my trap shut for fear of similar treatment. My parents raised me to care about this stuff, and I always have. But I’ve never seen a candidate like Barack Obama.

If he is elected tomorrow, it will be with a different kind of mandate. He has ridden a crest of populism that I’ve never witnessed in America. People didn’t fall under his spell because he’s a slick talker, or because he’s cool, or because he’s a black man. He pinned the success of his campaign on the faith of the American people to believe that we can do better. That we can win with honesty and integrity, even though that’s never worked before. If it couldn't work, then he wouldn’t work. But America was ready for it. And now he knows he must deliver. Of all the moments in this election splayed across the Youtubes, the one that keeps coming back to me was when Obama addressed his staff in Chicago after he finally vanquished Hillary Clinton. He put it to them simply: “We have to win.” Had he lost to another Democrat, maybe they would have gone on and helped with all those issues the people gathered in that office cared about. But lose now, and education, the environment, the war in Iraq, the war on terror, health care reform and everything else would have to wait another four years. That’s quite a statement, and I believe he believed it.

More than anything else, it’s that different mandate that gives me faith in the man. He knows what’s at stake beyond the issues. If he breaks the trust of the American people via corruption, ignorance, or incompetence, our nation will never get over it. Maybe this is all just feeling. And maybe I’m being naïve again. But if America feels it too, after a long march into one of the darkest pits in our history, then that’s the first step in the right direction. I know where we can get a good ladder if we need a boost.
.

And if for some reason things don’t go our way, I can always just cook this up for dinner in Buenos Aires every night for the rest of my life:
Yes. That says Barfy. And it's for people. To Eat.

You know what, fuck it. GOBAMA. GO AMERICA! Come on, people. We need this one this time. WE CANNOT LOSE!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Waving and wisting

Hey, look up! New banner! For those who don't know the flag on the left is the flag of the City of Chicago. Every part of it means something, and it's long been one of my favorites. The one on the right is of course the flag of Argentina, also one of my faves. They're two great flags that wave great together. OK, I'm a dork, but you already knew that.

People often ask me what I miss now that I'm living down here. I don't have a clear answer for that, really. I'm still settling in. Work is busy (and good), and I'm having a real blast exploring my new city. I don't really miss anything outside of many, many people. But then I got this note from the Obama campaign about a chance to get my hands on a ticket to their election-night festivities in Grant Park. I suddenly felt very far from home. Assuming the polls are right and good will triumph over dumb, this will be one of the most monumental evenings in Chicago history. One of our own will become President of the United States. And I won't be there for it. I mean, how cool is it going to be for Chicago? An amazing, amazing day. I have Josh here, but he's not quite the freakishly obsessive fanatic that I've become over the course of the year. And I frankly don't know anyone else here who shares my "passion" for this election. Seriously, I have a problem. But we'll find a way to party. I suppose it's OK to start believing, isn't it? Can we convert hope to belief yet?

As far as other things I miss are concerned, I miss seafood a bit. There's not much of it, and what little you can find is very expensive. But I actually haven't noticed that much. They say chicken is the seafood of the land, don't they? OK, no they don't. I just find it weird that I'm eating chicken again in the first place. I also miss my bed. Have I mentioned that here before? Only on every posting you say? I suppose that has nothing to do with "life in Argentina" - only "my life in Argentina." I'm sleepy.

Buenos Aires has a reputation for crime, but thus far I haven't seen much evidence of it. Recently, however, I was on my way to a friend's house for dinner, driven by other friends. We were stopped in a row of cars near a train station. Quickly, my friends rolled up the windows. A kid just ahead of us was trying to get into cars. Cars with people in them. I didn't even notice. The crazy thing was, I was planning to take the train, but my friends insisted that I not go that route. None of us were harmed or aggrieved in any way, but it was a reminder to keep on my toes. In sum, it helps to have friends who know what they're doing.

You can feel summer coming around. On Sunday, the deck by our pool was pretty crowded. Maybe this week I'll check it out myself. If I'm not too busy blogging.

I went to lunch with Nico a couple weeks ago at a place we'd been before. He told me, "I like this place because it's one of the few restaurants downtown where you can talk without having to shout." No less than a minute later, a kid screamed bloody murder. Then he got louder and louder. I've never heard anything like this. It was amazing. We laughed (once the tyke was hauled out of there). There are a lot of loud kids here, louder and more disruptive than in the states. At least that's how it seems to me. The dogs, on the other hand, are almost all extremely well behaved, even the strays (of which there are many). They're totally docile and are almost always off their leashes just walking along with their owners. They must be bred differently. Of course, I proffered this theory during lunch with a friend on Saturday, and as soon as we left, we were followed by a dog (with owner) who barked his fool head off for three blocks. One other note on the dogs, there's poop everywhere. Every morning they hose down the sidewalks in front of every business in town, including apartment buildings. They do this because they have to. It's the aspect that the greater Buenos Aires area shares with Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood.

And since that ties us back to the new banner up top, albeit in a gross way, why don't we stop today's ramblings right there.

I've written some other things in other places recently. On FtY, I look back at albums from the 1990s you never heard, but you should have.
And on Road Games, I talk myself off the ledge that is Michigan Football, 2008. My commenters manage to get me back in the window. Rob, special thanks for your words there. They made me feel good.

I almost forgot. It's not celebrated here, but since I didn't get any photos up in this posting, here's a blast from the past. Happy Halloween everyone!
I's from Staines!

Monday, October 20, 2008

All the Fits I Choose to Print

There are plenty of odds-and-ends stories that I have neglected to include here. So this is going to be kind of a skitzo rambling entry. Yes, I realize that's how they all are.

Back in my days at the Hotel Regal Pacific, on my one month anniversary, I arrived home to find a full plate of fruit and a small pitcher of juice. I had already eaten dinner, but couldn't let it go to waste and nearly ate the whole thing. Of course, I had mixed emotions about it. What the heck was I doing at a hotel for an entire month??? All the staff seemed to know me, greeting me with a different level of friendliness. That seems like forever ago now, but it's only been a month. It was a weird time.
I haven't mentioned my roommie much yet. We're getting along really well, and learning the language, food, customs and city together. And outside of my penchant for olives, we have a pretty similar preference in food. Also, we share an unhealthy obsession with La Pequeña Sarah Palin. "Vota for me!" Josh is a bit younger than I am, causing me to happily play the old fart role from time to time. I blather on about Perfect Strangers or the theme song to Wonder Woman and he looks at me like I'm John McCain. My friends, compared to him, I am John McCain. You can check out his bloggy exploits here. The dude climbs mountains and stuff. I don't know how these young whippersnappers have so much energy! I may die from exhaustion here, but it'll be a fun way to go. This week was loaded with late nights, including two that ended after the sun came up. In honor of that dubious achievement:

My Spanish is improving a bit every day. For the topics I discuss frequently, I can rattle off my schpiel somewhat effortlessly. But a new challenge awaits. Tomorrow is the first Spanish-only day at work. We're going to have English day every Thursday, but I found it only fair to meet the team halfway by translating in kind on Tuesdays. I have instructed my team that if I try to speak to them in English that they should act like I'm speaking Martian. Wish me buena suerte!

I still don't have my things from the port, even though they arrived 2.5 weeks ago. I'm really not happy about it. I don't even know who's the foot-dragger in this scenario or exactly who deserves a good throttling. But it's somebody. It's been a really frustrating experience, but friends in Amsterdam and Shanghai have gone through similar experiences and turned out OK eventually. Still, because I know everything's actually in town, and has been for over a fortnight, it makes it that much harder to wait patiently. So, here are is a baker's dozen worth of things I am desperately waiting to get my hands on so I can actually start a real life here:

1) My bed
2) My stereo
3) My kitchen stuff (literally everything but the kitchen sink)
4) My clooooothes (I feel like I'm one of The Simpsons - I only have two weeks of clothes, and I've been here for over 65 days!)
5) My electric toothbrush
6) My bed
7) My running shoes
8) My Michigan flag
9) My cleats
10) My records (please don't melt, please don't melt)
11) My coffee table (technically not mine)
12) My trimmer
13) My dog, Buster (Just kidding, I don't have a dog, but if I did, he'd be really hungry by now. No, I'm not getting a dog.)
13) My iron and ironing board
14) My rug
15) My tennis racket
16) My bed

See, it started as a top ten, but kept growing. There's a lot, OK? Actually, I don't care that much about the rug. It would look silly in here on its own. But in case you can't tell, I'm not sleeping all that well on the Aerobed. It was fine for a bit, but my back ain't quite right, and I can't seem to sleep consistently for more than six hours. See comments regarding late nights above. The tennis racket would just be nice since my place actually has a tennis court. I could feel like I'm getting my money's worth.

I realize that all of the above sounds really negative. Don't be misled by my Monday evening tone. I am really having a great time here. I just need a nice long snooze. Entonces... Buenas Noches a todos!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Praying for Better Days

My friends, this is a wholly political posting. If you want to ignore what's going on, please don't read it. But I think I'm right about all this, and would love to hear a counter-argument that can prove me wrong. I'd honestly feel better about life if that happened.

Eight years ago, life was pretty good in America. Sure, our president was a bit lecherous and the dot-com boom was folding on many a beloved website. But America was generally a pretty amazing place to be. It was time for Bill Clinton to go and we had a wide variety of options to replace him. For the Democrats, there was Al Gore and Bill Bradley. For the Republicans, along with Alan Keyes, John McCain, and various others, we were given George W. Bush. Despite his family lineage, Bush was somewhat of a mysterious character. The sales pitch we received used some tortured logic that now seems laughable. He was an "oil man" who would use his background and expertise to help us deal with energy in the 21st century. He had been a successful governor of one of the largest states in the union. And hey, when in doubt, he could ask dear old dad for help. Yes, he'd been an alcoholic, but those days were behind him, and now he was hooked on Jesus instead. He preached "Compassionate Conservatism", and promised to be "a uniter, not a divider."

At the time, I found all of this very suspect. From his ridiculously hypocritical stance that "for too long, Americans have said, 'if it feels good do it,'" to the fact that he slid through life on his father's connections, influence and money, to his obvious arrogance despite having failed at nearly every endeavor he'd attempted in life, the script being peddled to us just didn't fit reality. I recall saying to a close friend that Bush was "emblematic of the worst aspects of America." Hypocrisy, nepotism, and ignorance, were treated as qualities to be admired. Power and wealth for the select few was the new American ideal. And unfortunately for the entire world, enough people bought this line of argument that they were able to steal the election. I don't care to rehash all the details last eight years, but here's a quick list of some of the things that happened:
  • Warnings about 9/11 are ignored; 9/11 happens
  • Utterly misguided and illegal war in Iraq sold to us under blatantly false pretenses; hundreds of thousands murdered
  • Repeal of Habeas Corpus; Constitution generally trod upon in the name of "Freedom"
  • Brutal, illegal torture of innocent people
  • Severe environmental damage
  • Sky-high oil prices
  • Economy in shambles; China owns us
  • The world at large thinks far less of us now, largely for the above reasons
That's reality. There is no arguing any of the above points. I am sad to say that my gut instincts about Bush were correct. The man was as much a fraud then as he is now. He is neither compassionate nor conservative. Just a rich kid who still hasn't worked a day in his life and still hasn't learned any common sense along the way, either.

When I declared him emblematic of everything that was wrong with America, it was a cynical approach to the situation. Because whatever was wrong with America, there was a heckuva lot more that was right. We were far from perfect, but on the whole, the nation was a great one. I didn't expect us to be corrupted. I just thought we deserved better than our worst.

These are serious times. In my lifetime, we have never faced a more important election. The country is actually in some serious trouble, largely thanks to Bush's stewardship. And we are once again offered a candidate who represents everything that's wrong with America. This time, it's the Republican nominee for Vice President. As in 2000, we are being told of the wondrous personage who embodies the heart and soul of America, reality be damned. For those looking closely (i.e. not nearly enough people), it is evident that Ms. Palin is an utter fraud. She is on the record with no less than 19 blatant lies, for which nobody seems to be holding her accountable. She is evasive with regards to her Christianist views, intentionally implying that she's gay-marriage nuetral and that abortion should be an issue "left to the states." Furthermore, she has made it evident that she is in no way capable of leading the country because her fundamental lack of knowledge is so pervasive that she is afraid to name a newspaper she reads.

And yet there are those who continually praise her in public. She is the shining light of today's Republican party, and she can just "study up" on all those facts and positions and information. In reality, nobody knows what she really thinks about anything. We're not even sure whether she does! The "she" we see is not real. She's the made-up fictional character that the wing-nuts want to believe in. She is their fairy godmother, reality be damned. This is a laughable situation. And I am lamentably reminded of that comment I made regarding George Bush eight years ago. Sarah Palin is emblematic of the worst aspects of America.

However, there are two major difference this time around. The first, this isn't even her fault. All she did was say yes to the offer like any remotely power-hungry person would. She's towing the company line, but not the one penning the script. The second, the worst aspects of America are far more opprobrious today than they were eight years ago. A blatant disdain for the truth coupled with a sadistic approach to defending our country have given rise to attitudes that make shouting death threats at a political rally a viable form of discourse. I had this posting nearly completed a week ago, and it comes as no surprise to me that this is where we have landed. Because to believe in and embrace a character like Sarah Palin, you must do the same to the darkest parts of today's America.

A year ago, I visited 43 of our states and met over 1,000 regular people, all in less than four months. My country means more to me now than it ever had before. As much as anybody, I know that most of America is better than this. But when lied to, we make mistakes. We can't trust our media. We have to think for ourselves. It's time to turn our backs on everything that's wrong with America. Right now, that means turning our backs on a lot. More than any time I can remember.

There are two men running for president. One openly embraces our most forbidding traits. The other shuns them, preferring to tie his future to our most promising ones. This isn't a damn football game. We can't afford not to pay attention this time.

Incidentally, the title of this posting refers to a song by my brother's former band, The Wayouts. It's ten years old. Who knew that, at least in some ways, those were the better days... This concludes my serious rant for this week. I'll be back with tales of dulce de leche and hopefully a bed very soon. Until then, God Bless America.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Poppin' Corn

Coclo con fuego:

Crinancial Fisis 2


I've had some friends ask about how people down here are reacting to the ongoing financial crisis. Well, firstly, they're not exactly giddy. In a country that's still considered "developing", overall financial health of other countries is crucial for financial health here. So everyone here is extremely concerned. For starters, so much of what happens in the US is out of their control. Yes, I realize most "U.S. Americans" would probably say the same thing. But secondly, and more important, they have been through scary and difficult economic times here before. For now, life is pretty stable for Argentines. They don't want to go back to how things were in 2002-03. But their history is relevant and certainly worth looking at in comparison to what's happening in the US right now. My friend Nico and I have been talking about these issues at length. He knows a lot more than I do about the subject, but I throw in my perspective when I can. He recently gave me the rundown of everything that happened back in those days. It was pretty crazy. What follows here are largely his words:

Let me tell you what happened in Argentina during the huge economic crisis in my country (I say huge for us.. not in relative comparison with the rest of the world).
  • 1- Some banks went into bankruptcy.
  • 2- People started doubting about the health of their banks, so many people rushed to their banks and tried to take their money out of their banks.
  • 3- Government said that our money was secure, we didn’t have to do that.
  • 4- People continued aggressively withdrawing their money and changing it into dollars.
  • 5- Our money started depreciating so the situation got worse.
  • 6- The government implemented el corralito, which meant taking money out of the banks was forbidden. You could use your money with your credit card or with checks but no cash from the banks.
  • 7- People managed to keep some of their money apart from the banks. For example many supermarkets or retailers did business in a way that someone could transfer money electronically to them but sold the cash with a % increase.
  • 8- Nobody had money to pay their employees, and middle class and lower class that had no money in their banks weren’t able to work. There was no cash on the street so they started organizing open markets where no real money existed. They invented a currency whereby if you made a cake you could sell that cake for 2 credits and use those credits to buy a service from another unemployed worker.
  • 9- The government didn’t have money either, therefore each province invented some kind of bond that was used as parallel money. They started paying salaries partially with real money and partially with “that money.”
  • 10- So you could find in the street: real money, different bonds from different provinces, and also “credits.” Since nobody had jobs and money, many formal buseness started accepting “credits” from that artificial market. For example my father, a doctor, was offered credits so he could receive patients and at least get paid partially . Then he had to go to that market and hire employees to fix some things around the house for example.
  • 11- Suddenly, someone saw the opportunity to “print fake credits” so those markets were suffering inflation since the “ticket or credits” were being printed for many people so they had to stop using them.
  • 12- Then the country finally run into a huge default and huge devaluation. Our peso had been 1 peso = 1 dollar. Now is 1 dollar = 3 pesos.
  • 13- We started exporting products.
  • 14- Money started to come.
  • 15- So those bonds were eliminated.. and here we are.
Me again. I'm really struck by two things here. 1) That when faced with no help from the government or banks to solve the problem, the people managed a viable temporary solution to keep the country afloat. There were a lot of riots and unrest, but it never devolved into anarchy. 2) Just how fragile that whole “consumer confidence” thing is. Everything sits on the shoulders of that confidence. When comparing the situation here six years ago to the current state of affairs in the US, there are a few major differences that work to our advantage. #4 above - there's no obvious change in currency that people will rush to. Sure, you could buy Euros or gold or Loonies, but we're not going to see everyone do that. Furthermore, we can always print more money to pay off our loans. That will really mess up inflation, but we'll survive. No matter how much we're slipping, there's still a ton of power in our position. And that makes odds of survival (and the health of that consumer confidence) all the more stable.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Crinancial Fisis

Things are going well. For the most part. But there are struggles. Struggle #1: I'm still without the bulk of my furniture. It's here. It exists in Buenos Aires. Some port somewhere. I await all the proper paperwork to finish itself up. I've done my part as far as I know. I really, really miss my bed. It's a good bed that has served me well for many years. The air mattress is a good air mattress, but that's like saying "These Eggo Waffles sure don't taste as good as real waffles, but they do accept maple syrup." Seriously, I'm tired.

At least I'm eating well. There's a lot of really good food here. Friday, Josh and I went to an Italian place that Dolo recommended very close to here. There are no menus. They just bring out random plates of food and a bottle of vino tinto. And it was absolutely delicious. We immediately made concrete plans to make Guido's our regular joint.

People wanted more apartment photos. Here you go:


So there's a financial crisis at home, eh? I've got one of my own here in that it is taking me forever to set up a bank account because I don't have a local SS#. It's OK, though, the proper authorities tell us that they have a meeting already on the calendar. It's in May of 2009. Woooh! No, this isn't a joke. And of course, I have rent to pay. So I spent nearly my entire afternoon trying to figure out a way to get my hands on some real Norteamerican Dollars from my bank account in Chicago. This was harder than you'd think. Luckily, after various phone conversations with various incompetent folks at Chase (one of whom was nice enough to hang up on me), Nico bailed me out with his invaluable assistance. If all goes well, I won't have to move back into the hotel. Double woooh!

Speaking of the financial crisis, Nico and I were talking about it today after we solved (fingers crossed) my crisis. It's generally held that the overarching cause of this problem is that people were cool with taking on bad credit, from each side of the desk. But it's OK. The government has a plan. They're just asking us for a $700,000,000,000 loan (whoops, forgot the pork; make that $840,000,000,000). No need to check into those figures. Just trust that the government has good credit. I'm sure this Paulson guy is good for it. Plus, he's investing in a growth area. I mean, if the problem was stupid, short-sighted loans, how is a gigantic short-sighted loan supposed to be helping matters? I'm sorry, but this feels too much like the Iraq snowjob all over again. Incidentally, as an Argentine, Nico reminds me that at least we have pockets deep enough to bail ourselves out. If most countries needed to come up with seven-hundred-billion dollars, they wouldn't be able to do it. Hey, where are we getting this money again? Nobody knows? Sweet.

And since that all sucks, here's a photo of a cute kid in a huge sweater eating an all-day sucker:

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Cruising Along

First, a word from our sponsors. Note, this is a game show where the winner is whoever can eat an Argentine Whopper with no hands:
Can you imagine this commercial airing in the US? There would be protests from Indians, Japanese, women, and gameshow hosts. But here, it's on all the time. And I actually think it's hilarious. I may go to BK for lunch tomorrow.

I'm taking the bus to work every day. I'm probably the only person in the city who thinks it's fantastic. But I'm also the only person in the city who used to drive to Schaumburg. Every day. For nine years. Shudder... I get picked up just a block from my place and get dropped off a block from work, and the whole thing takes about 15-20 minutes. The cost is only 30 cents a ride. The complaints from people here generally focus on two issues. 1) The bus is really crowded. This is true. From what I hear, the subway is worse:...but I don't really mind the crowds that much. That's probably either because the ride is pretty short or because I just like being around the locals. 2) The bus company is not run by the government and they hoard all the spare change in the city. This is true. In fact, I was desperate to do laundry when I moved in two weeks ago and nobody would change any bills for me. The bus company collects so much change in a day and they then later sell off, say, 90 pesos in coins for 100 in bills. In the mornings there's a guy who's a dead ringer for actor Mike Starr that sells tickets. That saves time. But then, you get on the bus, the driver takes your ticket, rips it in half and throws the other half out the window. It's like Rip Taylor is driving your bus! Today, Rip threw his confetti all over Mike Starr. Starr didn't seem to mind.

So I have a roommate. His name is Josh and he's from Los Angeles. Josh and I met in Lincoln, Nebraska while doing simultaneous hard-hitting journalism for Sports Illustrated (i.e. eating beef and ogling college girls). So far, we're getting along quite well. It's fun to have someone to practice the language with you who's forced to be as patient as you are. We're learning the neighborhood pretty well, and testing each other's Spanish. I don't have a photo of Josh yet, but my female coworkers think he looks like Mexican pop singer Christian Castro, so here's a picture of that guy.
Feast Your Eyes, Ladies

Probably the biggest news here is that I finally got a fridge! I haven't had one since I left home on August 16th. I was a member of the clean plate club by necessity. There was simply no place to put the leftovers. I'd been putting my jar of dulce de leche out on the balcony to keep it fresh. That was silly, but soooo sweet. There are other things going on, like late nights at clubs. Oh, and bouts of writers block, but I don't even have a bed yet. It's hard to write on a lousy night's sleep. Incidentally, the rest of my stuff shipped here was supposed to have arrived today. We'll see how long it takes to tussle with customs and actually get it into the apartment. I'm hoping "not long," but expecting "when we feel like getting it to you; pipe down, sonny."

Finally, Josh and I were poking around on the internet here, trying to find out what a Flogger is. More on Floggers and Glams and Emos and Cumbia when I have my research done, but in the meanwhile, have a dancey weekend!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I Can Has Apartmint?


So, I'm moved in. Wooh! I have, like, zero stuff. Woooh! But I'm in, and it feels pretty good. My big shipment of "stuff" will be here in about two days. I'm hoping that my records didn't melt in the cross-ocean journey and that all other items arrive intact. I'm sleeping on an air mattress for which I thankfully remembered to pack sheets. A blanket, however, was missing. Air mattresses don't provide any insulation, and even though I'm always the bragging about never being cold, my first night was somewhat frigid. Using a towel as my only blanket, I made do. So now I have to set about filling the apartment with stuff. I have a roommate lined up at least. He's from Los Angeles and we'd previously met briefly in Lincoln, Nebraska when we were both doing stints for Sports Illustrated. Small world, eh?

Perhaps the biggest reason I was eager to get into this place was that I haven't been able to do any laundry yet. My stock of clean clothes was seriously dwindling. I have enough ropa sucia to do about four loads, but I had another problem. The machines in the building only take coins. And coins are extremely hard to come by in Buenos Aires. I learned the reasons at work today. The bus company is privately owned and has cornered the market on loose change. If you want to ride the bus, you have to use change, and nearly everyone rides the bus. I rode the bus to work the last two days and it was a 15 minute ride. It picks me up a half block from home and drops me off a half block from work. The only time I had a better commute was when I was an unemployed book writer.

Speaking of writing, I wrote a column for a movie site I really dig. Check out my Top Ten Unfairly Maligned Sequels and drop a note saying why I don't know what I'm talking about.

Off to scrounge for change!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Futbol Saturdays

First, a story I forgot to mention earlier. When you start work here in Argentina, your company makes you take a physical exam. There's no appointment for these things; you just show up and take a number. This was an assembly line exam, and after each step, they sent you back to the waiting room. I really had no idea what to expect and I had a lot of trouble understanding what anyone was saying. However, checking boxes the form with my list of prior ailments was pretty easy. Syphilis is pronounced the same in every language. No, I do not have syphilis. I don't have anything so I just checked all the "No"s, except of course, for dolor en rodillo (knee pain). It was all a bit surreal - almost Kafka-esque. Eventually, I made my way through the system. It began with a chest x-ray. Then I was called into a room to have blood taken. The old woman taking the blood wore no gloves. The cloth beneath my elbow was not changed before or after my vein drain. Then, I was told to give a urine sample. The urine sample was then given back to the same woman who takes people's blood. Turns out she's also the cookie lady, giving an alfajor and a token for the coffee machine to each person in return for their urine. So in the middle of puncturing my arm, there was a knock on the door, someone came in with a full cup of urine, was handed a cookie and a token, and then this same women went back to my exposed vein. You can imagine the thoughts running through my head during this process. I wasn't about to complain. It's not like my Spanish was good enough to communicate my concern anyway. It was my third day. Later, a doctor asked me pertinent questions, examined "all of me," and tested my vision. Turns out one eye is better than the other, but only on the bottom row of letters. At age 33, I still don't need glasses. Wooh! Last, they hooked me up to some weird EKG machine with suction cups attached to my torso. Those left a mark for two weeks. I suppose I passed all the tests because they didn't send me home. So, ready for work with a clean bill of health. At least I had one before I went in there.

An infinitely more festive occasion was two weeks ago when Ursula and Juan invited me and several others over for Asado. In the states, we would simply call this a barbecue, but Asado carries other connotations here. It's not simply grillin' burgers in the backyard. These are familial occasions where you invite anywhere from six to 12 people over, grill out, and make an entire day of it. Here's Juan, taking charge of the meat:
El famoso Juan

Then you bring the meat to the table on/in a metal box that you also load with coals. There are about 38 different types of meat - ribs, chorizo, steak, blood sausage, chinchulines (intestines, but the Spanish sounds much better, no?). Perhaps it's simply that Juan is the man when it comes to Asado, but my first one in six years did not disappoint. Honestly, it not only lived up to all the gorging I did last autumn, but surpassed it - all in one meal. Here's what the first (of three) batches looked like when it hit the table:
Delicioso!

After all the eating, we set up camp in front of the TV to watch some futbol. Obviously, I mean soccer, but it's getting harder and harder to figure out the best way to make the distinction. I can say "futbol Americano", but when it's futbol non-Americano, I have to say futbol-futbol which just sounds dumb. Argentina battled back to tie Paraguay even though they had one player ejected, so it was pretty fun. The tie did make me feel a little let down by the affair (not even an OT period), which makes me have to question my prior stances on overtime in futbol Americano de Universidad.

Also, only a quick hitter, but I just signed my lease and move into the new place mañana por la mañana!

Lastly, I have been keeping up with my other blogs, so just in case you want to see what else is going on, here's a quick summary of the postings from each.

Road Games
Notre Dame game Preview
Notre Dame game post-mortem

Fighting the Youth
Lollapalooza Sunday Review (way late, natch)
Random Chatter I
Random Chatter II
Random Chatter III
New Music Recommendations for you!

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

One of the weird things about being down here this time of this year is that I am physically removed from the US Presidential campaign. However, the internet has been doing a fine job of maintaining my connection to the issues at hand, both real and fabricated. Things are pretty serious now, and we've come a long way from the days when we can joke about The Big Lebowski or professional wrestling.

Back in March, I was discussing with my former boss that this had become the most fascinating and entertaining election any of us had ever seen. Things have only continued down that path, powering right through the conventions and beyond. If there weren't so much at stake, it'd be a barrel of monkeys. Or maybe that's why it's all the more interesting. During said conventions, I received some enlightment about our country and how we've come to this particular point in our history. I had my set tuned for the festivities in Denver and Minneapolis like a ton of Americans. Only, I didn't have a choice in my broadcast network. The only place I could watch all the speeches and balloons was on Fox News.

My goodness. I had no idea what a bunch of clowns these people are. Sitting through seven days of Fox News over the course of two weeks is enough to make someone go legally insane. OK, we all know that they call themselves "Fair and Balanced," and that's nothing more than a big smokescreen, but I really didn't understand the degree to which they are propagandists. And it's especially apparent when you sit through the coverage day after day. They are relentless. I could point to all kinds of instances, but I will highlight merely one. After Michelle Obama gave her opening night speech, they revert back to their "Fox News Contributor Panel," moderated by that beacon of impartiality, Brit Hume. I don't know if you saw Mrs. Obama's speech, but here's a video of it. It was pretty kickass and did all the things that the campaign needed it to do. When they get to Bill Kristol (yes, you may remember Kristol from that time he helped sell the American public on a war in Iraq), he says, "Wahhhhhh." (He always starts this way.) "I was unhappy that she didn't mention her alma mater and mine - Harvard. Wahh." The panel continued to go around, complaining in their "reality is irrelevant" manner. When Kristol got his second chance to address the viewing audience, he went with, "Wahhhhhh. I just didn't like it." That's an exact quote.

I swear he always looks just like this

When it came to Obama, they all complained that there was not enough policy in his speech. (Though to be fair, amazingly, Kristol said, "Wahhhhh. I thought it was a great speech.") That the Republicans were delayed due to Gustav was certainly not a problem. The only thing that beats blatant bias is the chance to sensationalize a national disaster. Of course, when the convention finally began, the same panel spoke glowingly of every speaker, regardless of untruths and a serious lack of policy content. They of course went bonkers for Sarah Palin. One can't help but wonder what would have been the reaction had she been a Democrat. When Bill O'Reilly is your network's voice of reason, fair and balanced, you are not. In going through this ordeal, I realize two things. First, I'm more of a glutton for punishment than I thought. And two, no wonder Bushy got a second term.

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