Thursday, April 30, 2009

My Letter to the Trib and Other recent writings

As previously promised, there's more in the hopper for Reed's Ramblings, but it's not ready yet. Still percolating or whatever. while you wait for me to get off my duff and put something together 'round these parts. But that doesn't mean I haven't been writing anything. The Book continues and weekend writing sabbatical to Córdoba was very successful. Belu and I are about to take another, this time to Cariló.

I don't know who has been following the "debate" on torture in the US. Personally, I find it abhorrent that so many people are defending the practice, largely because they want to support Republicans who aren't even in office anymore. Either that or they're mind-numbingly naive. Anyway, I wrote a letter to the Chicago Tribune in response to this editorial. They decided to print it. Well, some of it anyway. You can find it here. I've already e-mailed some of you, but I repeat the urge to everyone to please write your local paper and federal reps. Here was entire letter I sent:
In your editorial, "Torture and Truth," you assert many questionable claims and quote people involved in this scandal as if they are unbiased experts without any note of their potential culpability. Ironic given the title of the column. Saying "this needs to be put in the rearview mirror, and soon" implies that we should just keep on walking as per Peggy Noonan's recent infamous statement. Quotes attributed to Dick Cheney, Michael Hayden, and Michael Mukasey are given without qualification, but you reference "policies that may or may not have crossed the line into the torture of suspects."

There is an obvious slant to this reporting in order to make the case that we have done nothing out of bounds. Yet this is in clear conflict with reality. The US government admits that many detainees have died in our custody, often in violent ways. Frankly, I'm disgusted with this type of reporting. By promoting the right wing desire to "move forward", you are complicit with the lawyers who drew up these opinions. A clear majority of Americans want prosecution or an investigation. They are right.

Finally, you say "cruel and brutal treatment [could] be routine for American interrogators, because it often yields valuable intelligence." Nearly all intelligence experts completely disagree with this statement. They say you end up with more faulty intelligence than anything else. I would be surprised if the Tribune Editorial Board didn't know this. How many American lives has the faulty "intelligence" used to justify the Iraq war saved? -4,274 and still climbing higher. And this version of journalism was complicit in that disaster as well.

On the internets, I haven't exactly been active, but there's plenty to peruse. Over at Fighting the Youth, Brad and I reviewed...
Slumdog Millionaire
The Wrestler

Then at Road Games:
A trip to an Argentine soccer match (kinda long, but fun!)
A Boca vs River overview (short and sweet)

...check ya soon, y'alls!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Jetskis to Brazil

When I first took this gig, I figured it would provide the opportunity to travel for work all around Latin America. Of course the financial crisis made quick work of such notions, but thanks to an urgent situation with one of our biggest clients, I was afforded the opportunity to fly to São Paulo to participate. Unfortunately for me, such a journey required obtaining a visa (thanks Dubya!). This process brought to mind the incredibly high stress levels I endured when originally moving to Argentina. Four times I had to go to the embassy and deal with the same dour-faced clerk. He insisted that it would take three business days to obtain the visa (after costing me one due to his general unhelpfulness). Luckily, my compañero Juan Carlos was able to sway him, using the fact that we were literally talking about a million dollars worth of Brazilian business. On the last day of March, and more embassy delays, I packed in about fifteen minutes and was on my way.

Ever since seeing City of God, I have found Portuguese completely impenetrable. When someone speaks Portuguese, it sounds like a language from another planet. I can't even hear the sounds, let alone the words. Belu happens to be fluent and tried to give me some lessons in advance of the trip, but they only served to confuse me all the more. Spanish is my "other language", so by default that's what I spoke. But many people understood English better. I was consistently confused as to which one to use, but not nearly as confused as the people listening to me. Thank goodness my company had taken care of nearly all the arrangements.
This is the bus line we took. It's pronounced "Happy-doo." Really? Really.

The Onion's "Our Dumb World" describes Brazil as, "People at their most beautiful, humanity at its ugliest: 'Boasting some of the sexiest people every to be stabbed repeatedly at night, Brazil is home to perhaps the most attractive victims of carjacking, robbery, and violent assault in the world.'" That's certainly an exaggeration on several fronts. São Paulo is a "thick" city. It's the fourth largest on the planet, and I found it very hard to get a feel for its character or even where I was at any point. To me, it was just an endless sprawl of buildings and traffic. Again, I wasn't a tourist and there was little time for exploring, but the sense that I was caught in an obtuse maze was always there. A couple excursions to Vila Madalena gave me the chance to see SP's version of Wicker Park, but it didn't really win me over.
Yet, there were some welcome signs of home. The power outlets and voltage are the same as in the US. I could charge everything all at once! Brazil is apparently a nation where they actually believe in recycling. Along those lines, there was also a much greater emphasis placed on general cleanliness. Everyone washed their hands before eating (there are special sinks in the company cafeteria for this!), and food preparers always used gloves and wore hats or bandanas. Also, despite what the Onion had to say, in many cases the body types resembled those from the US. More on this in a little bit. All of these things are completely the opposite of Argentina. Until this trip, I hadn't recylced a damn thing since my November excursion to Chicago. My frequent illnesses are likely due to the fact that the overall cleanliness of restaurants here are subpar to say the least.

I certainly ate well. I loaded up on mangoes as they are hard to come by in BsAs. Seafood was plentiful, a welcome development. There was a curious obsession with banana that worked really well sometimes (a delicious grilled salmon dish in my hotel) and failed miserably others (I believe I'm the only one of my friends who can say they've had a hot McDonald's Banana Pie - don't be jealous - it was rather disgusting).

The highlight of the trip was clearly that I was able to get away for a very short weekend in Guarujá, a beach town just an hour and a half away from São Paulo. Even better, Belu came up for the weekend (no visa needed for an Argentine). That meant I had a translator, tour guide, and arm candy. The bus ride passed through the lush Brazilian countryside which gave me two major thoughts. 1) It was gorgeous. The hills we climbed reminded me of my trip to Clemson, driving up over the Smoky Mountains. Belu said it was reminiscent of a rain forest she visited in New Zealand. Just beautiful. 2) They have built an incredible amount of hideous structures in that lush greenery. There is no concern for aesthetics. This was the case all over Brazil, but particularly stark in this area.
I get restless on a beach. Sitting around ain't for me. So I convinced Belu that we had to take a jetski out. It didn't take much arm-twisting. After the trip, a friend of mine claimed, "You can't ride a jetski without kind of looking like a douche," to which I said, "and yelling like one!" But really, who cares? There are few things more thrilling than trying your hardest to flip the sucker even though it's impossible. Needless to say, I can't wait to do it again.

Still, the peaceful action of eating corn on the cob followed by árroz con mariscos on the beach and washing it all down with a fresh coconut has its merits. Of course, I figured that the "scenery" would be as impressive as The Onion described. However, the real unique thing about Brazil is that its citizens have no shame about their bodies. This applies to the perfectly toned dancers at Carnival, but also to the majority of beachgoers who were far from fit. We only saw about five or six bodies worth looking at and a heckuva lot of this:
This is probably the wrongest thing I've done in the blogosphere - whatever, you're getting the full tour

Not that it bothered us. I'm sure my pale torso had people scrambling to purchase bonus sunglasses.
This coconut was rendered blind from the glare

After the brief, sunny day, it was back to São Paulo for some more work and further failed attempts at understanding Portuguese. One last story before I end this long ramble. One night I found myself briefly seated at the hotel bar next to a New Yorker who was in São Paulo on business. He had been there at least a dozen times. He'd been to Buenos Aires twice, but said he didn't like it and couldn't find any food worth eating. "I can get a better steak in New York," he declared. He was that kind of Ugly American. This is a guy who gets to travel all over South America on business and isn't taking advantage of the opportunity at all. He prefers to stay in his New York condo and "watch hour-long detective shows." Ugh. There's a verb in Spanish that doesn't really exist in English: aprovechar. It basically means to take advantage of the opportunity provided you. I love this word and wish we had something in English that could sum it up so succintly. It might be my favorte Spanish word (well, after helado, of course). I consistently feel blessed to have my time down here, and a trip to Brazil is just one example of something cool I get to do. Ron lives in NYC and thinks every other place can't measure up. He wouldn't know how to aprovechar if he sat on it. After such a successful trip, I feel lucky that I'm here, and lucky that I'm not the kind of person who would prefer to spend his time watching the TV. Now I just need to start exploring the rest of Argentina. Starting the day after I arrive from Brazil. We'll get to more aprovechando in a near-future post. Until then, tchau!

Friday, April 10, 2009

The view from the top

Just a quick note here to say yes, I know I'm behind, and yes, I have a lot of stories, anecdotes, political rants, and other stuff to get to. It's all in the hopper. Work has been extremely busy as of late. But this Easter weekend, Belu and I have fled to the mountains to take some quiet time alone with me and my book. I am expecting major progress. But first, I did want to share what it looks like with all of you. Hopefully you can click and enlarge this, because it's the view from just above our cabin (it's the one just in front and to the left of that close roof you see), and it's amazing.
Coming up after I get back to Buenos Aires, time permitting:
A Real Ramble
How Glenn Beck is killing people
Jetskis to Brazil
Easter weekend in Villa General Belgrano

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Finally a Real Visit

Because there have been plenty of people blowing through town, it seems like I’ve hosted many friends here, but in actuality, none of my visitors had stayed with me yet. Chris had the honor of being my first houseguest, and I was determined to show him some of the local culture, flavor, and above all some fun.

He was a trooper, joining me for roughly 30 miles of death marches throughout the week and even a Big Red practice! More than anything, we ate as much as possible. Here are some of the highlights.

Right off the bat, we got the local flavor started. Chris arrived, ate some of the cake Belu baked for him, and then we scooted over to the local empanada joint. From there, we took in a fútbol match, my first. You can read about that in great detail over at Road Games. A quick nap set him up for dinner at Guido’s (pronounced gi-dohs). I don’t believe I’ve written about the place yet, but it is easily my favorite restaurant here, and the place Belu and I went on our first date. Just know that if you come and visit, you will go. There are no menus at Guido’s. You sit down and they start bringing you food. And then they just keep on bringing you more and more. They have the best pasta I’ve tasted outside of Italy, and the only tiramisu I’ve ever enjoyed. Chris, a certified paisan, gave it a very big thumbs up. From there, we braved the rain and clubbed it out at Bahrain until about 6:30 in the morning. That was met with the requisite, “why are you leaving so early?” from the locals, but we’d had enough.
Did I say "cake"? I meant two cakes. Mmmmmmm.

It's way past these guys' bedtime

A jog around Palermo Lakes to sweat out the excess booze was just what we needed. A relaxed Sunday, including a dip in the pool followed. Did I mention before that I have a pool? I’m guessing not because I never, ever have time to go there. We closed the night down with sushi libre at Azul Profundo, easily the best sushi restaurant I’ve found in town. Especially surprising since it’s all you can eat. Monday night brought an attempt at Bomba del Tiempo with the frisbee crew. BdT is a percussion extravaganza which has become so popular that we, uhhh, couldn't get in. So it became poker and beer night at Mike-n-Kyla's instead. Which is probably even better!
No Bomba para vos

I should note briefly that we ate helado nearly every day. This was wholly at my insistence, but I don’t think Chris was hard to convince. Needless to say, the ice cream here is out of this world. More to come on this topic very soon. Choripán, on the other hand has been talked about here previously. I wasn’t about to let Chris come to town without risking his personal health at one of these parkside vendors. Chris tried to test out whether his fluency in Italian would pay any dividends during the week, and at times it definitely did. The Choripán, man, however was pretty much impossible for me. Then, when he found out we were from the states, he only wanted to talk about Las Vegas. I have no idea what the obsession is with that place here, but it’s ubiquitous. Anyway, the greasy mess hit the spot. After fending off the rattiest looking pigeons I’ve ever seen during our meal, we were on our way to more fun in the sun, hitting the Florida shopping district and eating more helado.
The Choriman

Tell me you're not drooling...

...cause I sure was...

...and Chris, too!

Having a guest also got me out to a Tango show for the first time in six and a half years. My previous experience was a work outing in 2002 at La Ventana. The only thing I really remember from that show was a segment with three old guys going crazy on accordions – perfectly in sync and popping with energy. We hit up Esquina Homero Manzi, a show/venue named after a renowned Tango lyricist. The food was great. The band, fine. The singers, good. The dancers, amazing. Three couples, each featuring a gorgeous female, dominated the night. And frankly, I think made Chris miss his girlfriend all the more.
Quite a show!

Unfortunately, a week didn't leave us enough time to explore the countryside, but we managed a day trip to Tigre. We took the Tren de la Costa, which allows you to stop and gawk at the gigantic homes and Rio de la Plata views along the way. Far from truly having our act together, we tried to hit the art museum, but it was closed for renovations. Still beautiful from the outside, though. Having a peaceful day away from the smog and bustle of the city was a welcome change. A leisurely lunch on a deck overlooking the river was well earned, and the relaxing day in the sun was just what we needed.
Chris poses in front of his future summer home

Not sure why I'm standing at attention. But it's good for the back I suppose.

Canoe in Spanish is canoa. But these are for rowing.

Maybe the best helado I've had yet. Though this is the "before" photo

It was a beautifully tranquil day

With only one night left, we decided to live it up a bit and eat dinner at the Hyatt Park Hotel. An old mansion originally owned by the Duhau family who apparently fled the country due to some sort of mafia involvement. What a palace they left behind. I really don't think I've ever been in a place this nice. The meal was nothing to write home about, but we stayed for hours, admiring the everything from the building, the fine collection of local artwork they house, and of course, more helado. I'll just let the photos do the talking...
Belu in her element

Taking pictures with the flash felt disruptive and still aren't doing the place justice anyway

They have a meat and cheese cabinet

Just one of many extravagant salas

Just one of many extravagant pieces of art

Extravagant helado

I'm not even going to joke that this is anybody's future home

In all, it was far too short a visit, though we felt like we got a month's worth of stuff done in one week. Well, at least a month's worth of meals! Now. Who's next???

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