Thursday, December 06, 2007

Friends, Porteños, Countrymen

I come not to praise this blog, but to bury it.

I started this blog a year ago in preparation for my sabbatical in Buenos Aires. I posted almost every day during my time in Argentina. But I have now been back home longer than I was there.

So, let’s put this one to bed.

I have begun a new blog about what is going on here in Frederick, Maryland. It is not nearly as interesting as Buenos Aires, but I thought some of my friends and readers may occasionally want to check in and see how things are going with Helen and Me and the family.
Thanks for reading. It was fun while it lasted.

Felices Fiesta a todo
Ken and Helen

Friday, November 09, 2007

Hay Progreso

Since I last posted, there has been great progress on the parrilla. First, I had to build the soot shelf and adhere the fire bricks to the cooking chamber

I braced the row of fire bricks ar a 30 degree angle. I then wegded brick ties into the mortar between the bricks and tied those to pieces of rebar that extend behind the side rows of fire brick. I filled all that in with concrete. After the concrete dried, I completed the shelf with mortar and made a concave shelf. Luckily, when I removed the bracing, everything stayed in place.
I cut a length of angle iron to go across the front where there are no blocks. This will support the structure above.

My friend, Mark, and I built a wood frame for a vault. There is a smaller frame inside. The inside frame is 4 inches smaller to allow for concrete and reinforcing wire. My neighbor, Andy, came over to held with the concrete casting and bracing of the frame.
It took ten 80 pound bags of concrete to fill the frame.
I removed the frame today and it looks pretty good. I will eventually face the entire parrilla with stone from my property.
Here is a section where I have attached part of the stome facing ( and the gargoyle sconse to hold my beer).

And a detail of the exterior stonework.
I will still have to put two more course of block on the top to get a good draft. I also need to get the metal parts fabricated: the cooking surface, bar, chain and so forth.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Birth of a Parrilla

While I was still in Argentina, my friend , Charley, sent me some photos of my yard. I decided on this spot for the parrilla.

I dug a footer 22 inches deep to be below the frost line and so the poplar tree roots would not get under the base.

It took two yards of concrete to make the footer. My friend Mark joined the effort at this point.

Once the footer dried, we started laying block.

I could only do two courses at a time. It is autumn here now, and the sun goes down pretty early.

We then made a frame to pur a slab.

Mark tied the rebar to the wire mesh before we mixed the concrete. It took 16, 60 pund bags of concrete to complete the slab.

We made sure it was level.

Once the slab dried and we removed the frame, we started laying block again. My friend Richard joined the effort.

Last weekend, we had friends from Cordoba visit. I needed to get the parrilla functional so we could have an asado last Sunday. It is not finished but it is functional.

I'll have to disassemble the fire brick and finish the chimney. We will start on that next week.

But for now, we all had a good time, and I cooked my first asado.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Reflections (Helen)

We have been home now for 2.5 months and I think I finally have some perspective on our time in Argentina. I think about BA in a sort of mental split screen. One side has a long list of positives - people, places, and things that I miss and would like to import here to the US. The other side is a sort of PTSD based entirely on my (and Ken's) inability to communicate for such an extended period of time. I felt like Blanche Dubois always "dependant on the kindness of strangers" to get through the day. And honestly, the Portenos were incredibly helpful and kind. But as more time went by, the helplessness and dependancy didn't resolve, it only became that much more of a burden. So, the negative side of the list is short but profound. I will use my experience in BA, here in the US, with our many immigrants. While I always had sympathy for their plight, I now have empathy as well.

As for the good stuff.....

I miss the relaxed, "easy" life style in BA. I know how crazy that could sound, because, honestly if there is a harder way to do something the Portenos will find it. I was always amazed at how people took 10 steps to do something that could be done in 2. Just going to the Post Office could take 3 hours. So, I can't really put my finger on it - life is just less complicated, easier somehow. Life in the US is more frenetic. We do everything as quickly and efficiently as possible. We take 2 weeks of vacation a year and fly through our destination on a mission to do as much as possible in as short a time as possible. The only things we don't do faster in the US are talk and drive.

I miss the restaurant life in BA. The cafes. Eating in a restaurant here can make me a nervous wreck now. There is even a commercial for a restaurant that is comparing their relaxed atmosphere to the average restaurant by showing the waitress asking the patron (muy rapido) - "do you want dessert? Ok, I"ll have it ready for you in the car." My first week back I went out to lunch with a friend and I swear that waitress asked us every 3-4 minutes if she could get us something. I had almost a full plate of food in front of me and she asked me if I was ready for dessert. I said, "I'm not even half finished with my lunch" and she very politely asked me if I wanted a box! I just smiled and said no, but on the inside I was saying "NO, I DO NOT WANT A BOX! STOP STALKING ME. GET THE F--- AWAY FROM ME". Of course, the upside to all this is that Ken and I are rediscovering privately owned restaurants and staying away from the corporate chains.

I miss the upside of how the Argentine gov't still doesn't regulate your every move. Por exemplo, the farmacia. I liked not needing a prescription for everything. On the otherhand, the selection of drugs in BA was poor.

I miss public transportation - even during rush hour when I just simply could not believe that the bus driver was going to stop and let one more person on that bus. I do not however, miss the noise and pollution of the bus.

Before Argentina I was angry at my gov't. I was angry at all the things we don't do better. Now, even tho I am still angry at the Bush Administration, I am also proud of how resiliently we will return to a better administration. I do not have to bribe policemen to keep my car from being impounded. I am not afraid my economy will collapse. I am not afraid of a military takeover (altho I think Bush was trying for that).

I miss the ex-pat personality. They are sterotypically an adventurous, open, friendly, confident, wanderlust, interesting group that were available in group-form at a moments notice.

I miss the flow of BA. The streets would fill up and then empty out everyday at the same time. It would draw me out of the apartment and into the flow of their well-oiled community-think machine.

I could continue to list the many things I miss, and then their flip side that I do not miss, but that is because with all good comes a little bad, and with all bad comes a little good.

People always ask me "Was Argentina fun?" No. It was hard. It was interesting. It changed me. I miss it. I don't miss it. I have enormous gratitude towards those people who made my visit good. I will always feel a certain melancholy when thinking of my time there. I had fun moments. I could go on.......

Monday, August 06, 2007

Helen's High School Reunion

Last Saturday, we went to Helen’s 35th high school reunion in Silver Spring, Maryland. Helen was unquestionably the most beautiful woman in the room and arguably the life of the party.

She worked the room like a politician: telling everyone who wonderful they looked and how she has such fond memories of them from school. She was a star and the room was in orbit around her.

There was a really good Top-40 band fronted by a member of Helen’s class. Once the dancing started, Helen was getting groups together, making the wall flowers get up, even leading everyone in a conga line that circled the dance floor.

Every man in the room searched for an opportunity to talk to her.

I kept her drink filled, and checked in on her frequently. There was a caricature artist in the lobby. This was not my school, and no one knew me, so I told the artist that I was a computer programmer who has the hobbies of martial arts—especially the nunchucks-- and bow hunting.

I wanted a Napoleon Dynamite picture with my skills: “computer hacking skills, nunchuck skills, and bow hunting skills.” I thought 50 dead wolverines would be too much for him to draw.

The swinging nun chucks kind of look

like a wheelchair, and the bow hunting became archery, but I was laughing to myself the entore time he was drawing because it was so rediculous and he so totally believed me.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

What I have been up to . . .

Well, it’s August already. Sabbatical is officially over as of today. I had a meeting at the college and actually put on a tie. I have not been writing too much because—it’s not the same here. Nothing is really new and novel and exciting. Anyway, here is an update about what I have been up to.

I went to visit my mother in California. She lives in the Bay Area in a community for 50+ called Rossmore. She moved to California in 1992 after the last of the original neighbors left the street where she lived, and I grew up, in Baltimore.

Both of my sisters were already living near San Francisco, so it seemed like a good place for her to go. She is 83 now and does not drive anymore. My sisters check in on her and take her shopping and to the doctors. Twice a year I go out to give them a break.

When I arrived at the Oakland airport, my niece, Lauren, and her brother, Michael, were dispatched to get me. As we made our way to the Caldecot Tunnel, Lauren’s car overheated. My already-long journey was about to get longer. We had to wait for my sister, Karolyn, to rescue us in rush hour traffic.

I stayed with my other sister, Kathy. Her son, John, visited us while we were in Buenos Aires. Kathy was supposed to come and we were going to celebrate our birthdays together. She got cancer and has been undergoing treatment. While I was there, she went out without the head scarf for the first time. We thought it was amusing that we now have the same haircut.

Traveling between my sister’s house in Orinda to my mother’s in Rossmore, I pass Lafayette. For the past years or so, some people have been placing crosses on a hillside for each American soldier who has died in Iraq. While I visited, it was up to 3592; it’s higher now.

There was a bit of excitement one day at my mother’s. A power transformer blew and sparks ignited the hillside behind her condo. We watched the fire copter scoop water from the pond on the golf course and drop it on the fire. That was fun.

Another fun time was Friday the 13th. It was pretty strange that 777 and Friday the 13th occurred in the same week. Anyway, my brother-in-law, Dan, is a VIP in an accounting firm in the City. They were having their annual company meeting and family night and Dan got me a ticket. After their meeting, my sister and I met him at a really great cocktail party in the terrace of a hotel across from the ferry building. After getting all liquored-up there, I stumbled to the stadium to watch the Giants and the Dodgers. It was funny to think that two New York teams are now California teams and playing in San Francisco.

Barry Bonds went hitless that night, but that did not stop a thousand camera flashes with each pitch. In the seat in front of us was Meredith—a three-year-old who kept sticking her hand in Dan’s soda for ice and “allowing” us to shell peanuts for her.

Before my week was up, Lauren’s car was determined to be unfixable. Her dad went out and bought her a new Nissan as a wedding present. She gets married September 1st. (Dan has some scratch.)

So, I am back home now and have broken ground on my parrilla. I’ll keep you apprised on the progress.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Week Three (Ken)

A few days after we returned, my friend, Alison, called to see if I was availabel to play a show at Theater on the Hill in Westminster, Maryland--"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." I gratefully accepted.

One of the things I really missed about being in Buenos Aires was that I didn't get a chance to play any music--I tried, there just was no opportunity. So this was great. Here I am in the orchestra pit at McDaniel College (glamorous huh?).

I was cleaning up the yard and had a little campfire.

Here is the site I am preparing to build my parrilla.

I am still feeling a bit out of sorts about being home--it's like I am neither here nor there. I am glad to be home, but someting is not quite right.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

News from our backyard (Ken)

We have been home for two weeks now. There is still a lot of work to do to get the house and yard (and Cars) back in shape.

The cherry tree out front gave us more than enough cherries for Helen adn Leah to make their annual grandmother/granddaughter cherry pie.

Both cars have been int he shop this week. Helen';s for a oil problem and mine for brakes. It makes me miss the colectivos and subways.

The strawberry patch we put in last year has begun producing. And the blueberries will begin to ripen in about two more weeks. We always have enough in time to bring a blueberry pie to our friend's house for a 4th of July party.

I rented a tiller and got the vegetable garden back in shape. We are little late, but I think we can still get some tomatoes and zuccini by Labor Day. The good part is that the little plants are on sale, so I got two-for-one.

There has been some interesting wild life in the backyard. I spotted tis red shouldered hawk sitting on a sheperd's hook taking a look at my fish pond. I looked him up in the bird book and fish are not part of his diet, so I won't worry about him too much.

I was happy to see the Northern Bluebirds in the yard. They have been in deline in recent years. Many people (including me) put up bluebird boxes and they seem to be recovering.

Friday, June 01, 2007

First week back (Ken)

We arrived in the USA one week ago today. It has been a much easier transition back than I thought it would be. There is a lot a spring cleaning to do around the house since we were not here for the spring to do it. I still have to file my taxes—but that is another story.

I have been driving again for the first time in over 5 months. I noticed that it was not an adjustment at all. I am, however, surprised at hoe I immediately got aggravated at the other drivers. When I was in BA and taking colectivos everywhere, I never got aggravated at the other drivers. If we sat in traffic, I assumed that there was a good reason. I gave all the responsibility for getting from A to B to the colectivo driver. But here, in my own little pick-up truck, I get impatient if someone takes too long to make a turn or drives too slowly in the left lane.

I see restaurants are differently now. Since we had no food in the house when we got home, and because both of our daughters work in restaurants, we have been to several restaurants in the fist week. What I like about Buenos Aires restaurants is that the mozos are available but not ever-present. I met a friend for lunch Friday and we were greeted by a hostess who lead us to our table—rather than seating ourselves wherever we wished. The waitress took our drink orders and gave us menus. She was back in two minutes, “Have you decided?” she asked. “Decided!” I replied; I haven’t even considered.”

After ordering and the food arriving, she was back every five minutes inquiring if we needed anything else. She brought the check without being asked. At a breakfast restaurant the other day, the waiter was so overly familiar, that I thought he was auditioning to be a part of the family. I miss the Argentine “I am over here if you want me” style of service.

I have been to work a few times, and I already feel like people have a list of projects with me included. I really don’t have to be back at work until the end of August, but I am already feeling that pull to get back there and involved.

Tomorrow, Helen and I start Spanish classes again. We will go two days a week for four hours a day. We are afraid that if we don’t keep studying—we’ll lose all that we learned. It will be interesting to see the difference in teaching Spanish here from UBA.

We went to a neighborhood party Saturday. Everyone was asking, “Did you have a great time?” Well, it’s not like we can answer that question in 10 seconds over the steamed shrimp platter. Helen came up with the perfect answer: “It was like any other five-month period of your life. There were good days and bad days. Some time it was fascinating, sometimes frustrating. We didn’t go there to be on vacation; we went there to live.”

While it is good to be home, there are things and people I miss about Buenos Aires: morning coffee at Balcarce, an afternoon beer at El Alamo, long walks through the city. It is so quiet here at my house. I welcome the rest and ease, (and the streets are really clean here) but I think I will soon miss some of the excitement.

Leah (Ken)

It was Field Day at our granddaughter, Leah's, elementary school yesterday. Our daughter, Kristin, Leah's mom, was starting a new job, so Leah stayed the previous night with us. I took her to school that morning.

Helen and I went back to the school and sat with Leah during lunch. I stayed and volunteered to help run the Field Day for the kids.

It was really hot here yesterday--today as well--with temperatures well into the 90s and high humidity. The kids were all well behaved and had a good time. The litle girl next to Leah, in the second picture is Alexandra. Surprisingly, her parents are from Argentina.

One thing I liked about Argentine schools was the "uniform." I thought it was brilliant that all the kids wore lab jakets. They could wear whatever they wanted under them--but they had to wear the lab jacket.

(We are always having discussion here in the USA about school uniforms. As far as I am concerned, Argentina has that one already figured out.)

In another three weeks, Leah goes to spend the summer in Oregon with her father, and we won't see her again until the end of August. So we are spending as much time with her as we can. She'll spend this weekend with us.

She is almost seven now and growing up very fast. But, at least for now, she is very sweet and likes spending time with us. So, we'll take advantage of these days.