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


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!

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