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:

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.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Try to get yourself a bargain son; Don't be fooled by the very first one

As I said the other day, I want out of the Hotel Regal Pacific, nice as it may be. The company set me up with an agency that is supposed to help me locate a place. They seem to know what they're doing, but we hadn't been looking as actively as we needed to. I only have a limited time in the hotel. Dolores was my town-wide apartment tour guide during this process. With boundless enthusiasm and a knack for quickly figuring out when I was going to hate a place, it made our visits efficient. But despite all the looking we didn't find any good options.

Finally, last week we loaded up with seven appointments. Surely one of them would work out. Here's Dolo and some (supposedly) famous actor who owned one of the units we looked at:
The place had an absolutely amazing view, but was just way too small for my needs. But here's that view (click on it and it should get bigger):

After kissing so many frogs, the prince was finally found. We're in negotiations now, but I have every belief that it'll work out. Fingers crossed. Here's one shot of the place in action. OK, it's empty, but it's ready for action...

When Dolo was describing the fact that the major roads converge a somewhat in the area near one of the apartments, she couldn't think of the english word. So she put her hands to her sides above her hips and said, "You know, it's like a waist." That's the easiest way I can sum up that people just aren't anywhere near as fat here as they are in the States. I think I've seen maybe one acutal overweight person since I've been here. Yet the meals are all gigantic (more on this in a posting soon!). Go figure.

I got my first crack at being a tour guide when Dhvani and friends came to town. Not really knowing anything yet, I relied on a co-worker for some help and he got us out to a milonga. Milongas are clubs where people go to dance the tango. More procedural art than a sock hop, the dancers are extremely intent on what they're doing. Also, they woudn't let us get out there without a lesson. I wanted to try, but after watching for a bit, I understood. You can't just go tango. Still, we had fun watching. It's interesting to note that all the tango music is from the 1940s and 50s. That is likely a bit part of the reason it's not very popular with the kids here today. Out of the 20 people on my team, only one of them has really even tried it. I plan to give it a shot when someone visits who wants to take a lesson. Any takers???

As I said before, my Spanish is sucky, but improving sucky. I've had more than a few language gaffes. The first one occurred over e-mail when I meant to tell some of my team to let me know that if they needed more advice to let me know. Advice in Spanish is consejo. I left out the s which made the word conejo - rabbit.

Más conejo

Other botched translations include when I tried to ask someone about local customs worth checking out. Only I used the word for customs at the airport and he was all, "Why the hell would you want to do that?" And finally, as I said I have grown accustomed to this whole kissing-as-a-greeting thing. I told my frined Nico that I have been kissing the guys in the office. Of course, there's a different word for kissing as a greeting than kissing kissing. Now I know (and thank goodness he was there the first time I made that error). More to come...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

I Always Wanted to Be a Tenenbaum

I knew I'd be out of my comfort zone and in a new, sometimes strange environment. But I didn't expect to be at this hotel for as long as I have been. Living in a hotel seems like a really fun thing to do until you actually try it. After the first week, it's a really dispiriting existence. You come back to your room which is designed to be a comfortable place. It's not designed to feel like home, and none of the stuff there is yours. The situation is made all the worse by the fact that I'm unsure of exactly how long I'm going to be here. If I'd known right off the bat that it would be a four week stint, I may have approached things differently. Nice though it may be, this is not a home:
The entire staff now gives me a knowing smile, but we don't really chat. Hotel life is not something I look forward to repeating. Even worse, because I forgot to extend the reservation, I was nearly kicked out on the street yesterday. Thankfully they either had a cancellation or otherwise found a way to keep me on. So I remain the longest tenured guest at the Hotel Regal Pacific. It's the same breakfast spread every day which always, always consists of no less than two medialunes con jamon y queso (ham and cheese croissants - they're really freaking good). I have no scale here, so I don't know how much weight I've gained, but I reckon I'm eating healthier than I did last September, though that's really not saying much.

Work has been the most positive thing to this point. I have this kickass view...
...from my actual office with a door that closes and everything. Eat your heart out, Les Nessman. The team is doing great so far, way ahead of schedule in many respects and they're a lot of fun to be around. My Spanish remains kind of sucky, but it's improving sucky which means I'll continue to integrate better as time goes along.

There's a dramatic cultural difference in the way one starts the work day. It doesn't really begin until 9 AM, and even then, there is a greeting / social interaction portion of the day. I'm the weird guy who goes straight to his e-mails. It probably doesn't help that everyone's speaking Spanish. It's always harder in the mornings because I'm out of practice from a night of sleeping. Maybe if I could force myself to dream en español... One thing I've gotten the hang of is how people greet one another. With women, it's almost always a kiss on the right cheek and a hand on the left shoulder. Greeting men, a handshake until you get to know them better. Then it's the same kissing procedure. Being American, I found the practice uncomfortable. But after a week or so, I not only got used to it, I think it's a far more human way to interract, even for guys. Maybe if I return to the states, it's something I can bring back with me. Kisses for everyone! Just on the cheek - no biggie. A quick side note: to any former girlfriends who may be reading this, I apologize for all those days I didn't shave. I now understand.

Everyone here is bundled up in parkas and scarves. I trek the three blocks to work every day sans jacket and people look at me like I'm a freak. Summer will be a different story. I fear it greatly.

More updates to come - ¡muy pronto!

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