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!

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