Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ana (By Ken)

Tonight we met our patroness, Ana, the woman from whom we are renting the apartment. She stopped by to see how we were doing after just returing from the United States where she was visiting her two sons in Atlanta and Chicago.

We had a lovely discussion about the city and the country--the politics, the history. We shared a bottle of Malbec and she helped us study for tomorrow´s Spanish final exam.
She is a lovely and intelligent woman with whom we spend a very pleasant evening. I hope we see more of her. She is an excellent speaker of English and a very patient tutor of Spanish. Spending the evening speaking Spanish with her was a very different experience than our three-hour classes at UBA where--let´s just say it´s not always pleasant and relaxed.
ON to the post office
We had a very different experience today that was actually not as bad as I had been told it would be. Our daughter, Kristin, sent us a package from the USA containing a few books and a left shoe--ask Helen to explain that one.
They could have delivered the package to our apartment, but, instead, sent us a notice to go to Retiero and pick it up there. When you enter, you take a number. That number tells you the order in which the clerk will process your request. About ten minutes later, they called our number and I presented the notice and my passport. I signed the form and was handed a part of the form I had been delivered that contained a 5-digit number. I was told to go and wait in the next room--the one pictured here. Everybody here had already been there for a while.
After a few moments, I caught on that they were going to call my number and I was to walk through a mysterious door. Last night, I asked my expat friend, Pete, the owner of Shoeless Joe´s, why this was necessary. He told me it was a shakedown. They were going to open the package, look inside, and determine what import tax I should pay on the contents.
I saw a young couple sitting in the row in front of us reading the Buenos Aires Herald (the English language newspaper). "Excuse me," I said, "Have you guys done this before." Apparently, I startled them--the combination of an American accent and someone actually approaching them in a public place and NOT asking for money was a bit offputting.
They told me that this was their second trip to the international package facility. The last time, they waited four hours. I sent Helen home in a cab and prepared to wait it out solo. I could not believe my ears, and doubted my ability to understand large numbers in Spanish, so when I thought I heard my number called, I ignored it--after all, the other North Americans had already been there an hour and they had not been called. About ten minutes later, I hear the number again followed by "Kehn Kehrr." OK, so I guess it was me. I went through the secret door to find what looks very much like an American post office--only older and dirtier. The man took my number and got my package. He opened it in front of me, rifled through it, taped it back up, and sent me on my way. After that was a rather embarrassing exchange with the next man at the final desk who, as hard as he tried, could not make me understand where I was to PRINT my name adn where I was to SIGN my name. I did it wrong. He didn´t give me a hard time.
All-in-all, it was not too bad--by Argentine standards. USAmericans would be screamming and calling their congressman over having to wait at all for a package, but I was out in about an hour and didn´t have to pay any import tax. No shakedown.
I must be doing something right.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Español para extranjeros a UBA (Ken)

Tomorrow, Wednesday, is the last day of class before exams. We have class the regular three hours and then a one hour review where we can esk for help with anything we want. Thursday is the two-hour written final. We will be tested on conjugating present and present progressive verbs, vocabulary, some imperfect past tense, me gusta, me encanta, me molesta, and irregular verbs.
Friday is the oral final. A professor, other than the two with whom we have been working, will interview each of us individually. We will be expected to hold a simple conversation about ourselves, out homes, our families, what we have done in Buenos Aires, and so on.
They will ask us questions that will make us talk in present tense, past tense, and discuss our future plans.
For those of you who have been following, the class was supposed to have 14 students. Two never showed up. There were two other US Americans: Leese and Guy, they dropped out the first week. Rebecca, from New Zealand, hung in there quite a while, but she is doing remote radio broadcasts back home and writing for the Buenos Aires Herald, the local English-language daily, while here. That finally caught up with her and she´s gone. Owen, from Dublin, just this week stopped coming. His roommate is ill and returning to Ireland. Owen is headed back with him Thursday. I guess he is busy getting ready to leave.
That leaves the lineup you see above. Left to right, Eva, the International Studies student from Shanghi; Ulrike, the lawyer from Munich, who is interning with an Argentine law firm while here; Helen, mi mujer; Barbara, an independent film and video producer from Berlin; Maria, a computer systems worker from Zurich; and Jonah, a marketing director from Helsinki. And me, absent from the photo, you faithful blogger and photographer.
We get a week off next week before the February class begins. Tomorrow should be a BIG adventure. We have to go to the main post office to pick up a package. Multiple challenges lie ahead: a new bus route, a huge beauracracy, Argentine efficiency and customer service . . . can´t wait.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Steve and Jan return from Patagonia (from Helen)

Steve and Jan have returned to BA after a week long whirl wind tour of Argentina. They saw cool stuff like prairies and PENGUINS! I am so jealous. We WILL leave the city just as soon as we can, but not yet. This time we ate at a local restaurant that was just great. We had a nice time.
Back to the "ying and yang" of Ken and Helen regarding the city that drips. I just love it when it rains here. I love to walk in it and smell it. It cools everything off and cleans the city of the smoot and I don´t mind the incessant drips at all. It really does drip all over the place here. Big blobs of crap on the back of my shirt that fell out of no-where.
Paper products here are still of constant amazement to me. The other day we went to Shoeless Joes and I went to the bathroom. First of all, I was way pleasantly surprised that there was toilet paper at all. That being said, I have really never seen toilet paper like this. I wish I could post a picture. It was several times thinner than single-ply. In fact, it was so thin that it had these little holes in it all over and looked just like lace. Exceedingly thin, lacey, single ply, toilet paper. And yet, I was very happy to see it. No paper towels though.
My spanish has taken a turn in the learning process. (Have I told you this already?). When I am at school and asked a question, I look the same, what with my incoherant stammering and all. Yet, at night as I am dozing off, in those few minutes between being awake and being asleep, I replay the day and I answer the question in very understandable spanish. My vocabulary is still small, but when I am calm and not hindered by inhibition or clumsiness, I can speak very clearly and coherantly.
Today I really like it here.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The youth of my old age (Ken)

I have heard it said that "the forties are the old age of your youth and the fifties are the youth of your old age."

That means I am really young or really old depending upon who you are.

Today is my official birthday. As of 6:32 am eastern standard time, I turned 50. It was a pretty quiet day around here. Helen and I had a lot of studying to do for our Spanish class.

A few of you wrote and asked about the guitar. It is a Gracia, made here in Argentina. I played a bunch of guitars and went back to the same store three times. I also priced it at a few other stores and they were all charging the same. So I bought it from the store that was nicest to me and tolerant of my limited Spanish.

I really wanted a cut away, so I only tried those. Also, I only wanted an Argentine guitar. The reason I picked this one is the active electronics. I has a 4-band EQ and built-in digital tuner.

I have played it a bit and like it very much.

. . .

Next topic: food.

There is nothing that makes it feel like home or reminds you that you are not home like food. I just can´t figure it out. I wander around the supermercado with an empty basket (well, there is wine in it). I feel awkward and embarrassed to ask what things are. I often don´t understand the answer. We end up eating the same thing a lot. It gets uninteresting. I tried something new tonight, milanaise, a type of flattened breaded chicken. I tried to make something approaching chicken parmesean--not even close.

I was suddenly reminded of the day just before we left when we had lunch with our granddaughter, Leah, at her elementary school. There was a little Latino boy who had just arrived the week earlier and spoke no English. He would not eat. They asked me to find out what was wrong. ¿No teines hambre? I asked. "No, no quiero," he said. "¿Por qué no?" to which he said, "No me gusta."

His teacher said he had been eating peanut butter and jelly sanwiches, but he didn´t want that either. Today, I knew EXACTLY how the little guy felt.

On the walk back form the music store we passed a construction site. Right there on the city street in front of the building they were working on was a makeshift parilla. All that was left were the sausages, Morcilla cocida, blood sausage. I left that on my parallada too.

Back home in Frederick, Maryland, there are several tiendas near our house where the Latinos (mostly Salvadorans) go to shop. Helen and I have been in them. Most of the stuff is the same stuff they could buy at the large grocery stores, but the Latinos go to the tiendas and pay 15-20% more. We could never figure out why. Now we know. They don´t feel stupid there.

Feliz cumpliaños a mi (Ken)

We celebrated my birthday tonight--mostly because tomorrow, we have to study for our Spanish final exam.
Thank you everyone who gave Helen a card to bring (and to Lee who actually mailed his and it actually got here). I opened them after dinner at the restaurant we go to near our apartment.
We went to the negocio de musica esta tarde and bought the guitar have been looking at for my 50th birthday present.
On our way back home, we stumbled upon a videe/TV/movie shoot. It was a big production at the corner of Guido y Juncal. I have no idea what they were filming but there were happy people dancing in front of a car.
The little park at the corner was all done up in Yellow and orange and green. There were several sets: a cafe. a shop, and the dancing in the street scene. We hung around for a while and watched them work.
The weather has been great. Low humidi¡ty, 60´s at night, 80´s during the day (non USA people, you´ll have to do your own conversions, I am a little tired right now).

Friday, January 26, 2007

A mi, no me gusta la lluvia (Ken)

Buenos Aires, the City that drips . . .

Air conditioning is not standard here--anywhere. So, in older buildings, of which there are many, it is a retrofit. Even our expat friends, Tom and Maya, who bought a new apartment here had to order AC as an option. Además, when you walk down a street, any street in Buenos Aires, you get dripped on from the unchanneled condensation valves of individual air conditioning units.

Some negocios put a piece of hose into a three liter bottle for the street level units which inevitably overflow into a mosaic of broken tiles, but the majority of the above-street-level air conditioners drip on helpless passers-by all day. I still have not grown accustomed to being dripped on. I guess they have never heard of Legionaires Disease. Helen and I think of it constantly.

Today it rained. So, the city was just one big drip. The sidewalks in front of the buildings are the responsibility of the building. As a result, many are in serious disrepair.

(A Shakespearian aside: there is a sense of personal responsibility here that is seriously lacking in the USA. In Argentina, you pays your money and you takes your chances. There does not seem to be the culture of victimhood here--or the participatory sport of civil litigation. Sin embargo, Peso-for-Euro, lawyers are paid about what they would be paid in the USA or Europe (according to my German-lawyer-fellow-UBA-classmate, Ulie) about $1,000 pesos a week. Teachers, however, are paid only about $800 pesos a month. It is only a matter of time.)

Mostly, these sidewalks are constructed of paver tiles in various stages of disrepair. Also, some of these tiles are really slippery when wet. I actually saw a woman skate home. And there are the "landmine" tiles. You step on the edge of a perviously-rained-on tile only to have a spray of black gunk of nepharious composition erupt upon your legs.

On the upside, the rain washes away the ubiquitous dog piles. And, for the moment, supresses the soot spewed from the colectivos and the mopeds--most of which have never seen a muffler.
It is summer in Buenos Aires. It is humid, it rained, todo de ciudad está mojado.
I really don´t like the rain.
Then again, at home, in Maryland, right now, it is 27 degrees (-3 for those of you in the rest of the world) and it snowed today. On balance, I love Argentina.
Bring on the drips!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Shopping in Once (Ken)

I don´t know what I was thinking when I packed to come here. Honestly. I look at the clothes I brought and it looks like I was cast for an episode of "The Love Boat."


I wish I could just pop back home, repack, and pop straight back. I just want a bit of a do-over in the clothing department. Since that is out of the question, I headed out to Once (pron: On-Say) this afternoon for a slight wardrobe enhancement excursion.


I have been warned that Once is the place to buy cheap (and poor quality) clothes. No worries here, I always buy cheap and poor quality clothes. That is how I can afford to be the straight guy who looks gay and does it on a budget.

It seems that all these inexpensive negocios are clusterd on Avenida Pueyrredon between Avenida Corrientes and Avenida Rivadavia. It is about a half-hour walk from my apartment, so I headed up Avenida Santa Fe.

Now, the picture here is Av. Santa Fe. I post it because of all the trees. This is a serious, downtown, shopping, banking, business, restaurant area--yet look at all the trees.

I make my way to Av. Pueyrredon and look around. There are all kinds of shops here. Many selling really inferior stuff. The music stores didn´t have any guitars over $180 (sixty dollars). There were the Argentine equivalent of dollar stores (peso stores?).

I finally found a mensware store that had some gaberdine slacks and casual short-sleved shirts. Se llama "Manhattan." I didn´t realize that at the time. The proprietor, despite his total lack of English and my inept capacity for Spanish, was determined to make a sale. I told him I did not know my size (centemeters, you understand) and we worked through guesses until we hit it. My size was not on the shelf, so he sent his assistant into the window of the shop to see if my size was on display.

Meanwhile, I tried on a pair of black jeans from Paris that work pretty well and a polo/golf shirt--you know, the ones with the collar and a few buttons. I picked out the olive and the black but rejected the lavender--despite his insistance. The assistant came back after snaking his way throught the window display and--sure enough--they were my size. At this point, I felt obligated to buy--he had gone to quite a bit of effort.

Sooooo, one pair of black jeans, a pair of olive gaberdine slacks, two polo/golf shirts--tap, tap, tap--that is $140 pesos (That is US$47.67).

I got home and unpacked my haul and found the $20 lavender shirt among my purchases. I am sure I told him, "no, solo los dos," pointing to the black and green shirts, but I guess he decided I really needed that shirt and he was going to sell it to me whether I wanted it or not.

Normally, I´d feel scammed. Maybe I should. But, it is a US$6.67 shirt. And, it is kind of pretty. I would return it, but, come on, it´s less than seven dollars. Besides, I didn´t get a receipt. Hmmmmm.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Updates (Ken)

My sister, Kathy, had her mtDNA checked for the matralinial ethnicity. Our mother seems even whiter than our father. It´s like our great-great-great . . . (insert more greats here) great-great grandmother left Aftica 150,000 years ago, moved to Whiteyville, set up housekeeping, and stayed for 149,000 years until some Irishman kidnapped her in the dead of night.

All kidding aside, I was really hoping for a more eclectic genetic past. It´s not like we are European royalty and will get invited to good parties now. We are still peasants. If we are decended from peasants, at least they could have been diverse peasants. It is what it is. No use crying over spilled DNA.

I have to tell you, we get a lot of pressure from our Argentine friends, and our professors at Universidad de Buenos Aires. They love their city so much that they want us to see all of it--NOW! The same for our expat friends: Where have you been? What have you seen? Have you been to X? and Y? You must!

It does not seem to me that we have been slacking, yet there is this constant pressure to do and see. So today, we went to MALBA. Museo de Arte de Latinoamerica de Buenos Aires. For proof, here is Helen at the top of the escalator. We kept thinking that had Richard Schellenberg been with us, we´d STILL be there. I see so much of his work in the pieces we saw. There were also a few video projects.
I saw an actual Frieda Kahlo and other famous guys.

Here is my favorite piece. You are not suppossed to take photos, but I sneaked this one in before I was thoroughly admonished. You have to admit, though, if I were to take one unauthorized photo, this is a good one. Those Latino artists, what a sense of humor, huh?

Other stuff: food here is a challenge. Some is really good, like the meat and the red wine. But we have limited cooking utensiles and facilities. Frying a beautiful steak in an 8-inch pan does not do it justice. The vegetables are different, mostly squash and potatoes. No green beans to speak of, occasionally broccolli. I have yet to see a mushroom. The coffee is all roasted with sugar. It tastes really good in the café, but it is kind of bad at home in the old Mr. Coffee.

The people here are city people: no eye contact on the street, brush by you on the sidewalk, no pleasantries exchanged between strangers, but, once you engage them, they are patient, friendly, and helpful. I belong to a discussion board call BAnewcomers; it is a Yahoo group. Many of them complain that Argentinos are rude and unfriendly. When I post to say that is not my experience, they tell me I have been here too short a time. I am still a tourist. The honeymoon with BA is not over yet. They may be right. They have been here much longer than I--years many of them. But for now, I´ll keep the rose-colored glasses in place and think the best of Porteños.

Our class at UBA has shrunk considerably. Rebecca, from New Zealand, is only there half the time. She is a radio/TV/newspaper reporter who is doing remotes and writing for the Buenos Aires Herald while she is here. Jonah, from Finland, is here only about half the time. No idea what´s going on there. Julie, the lawyer from Munich, is late quite a bit, but I think she stays out late (if I were her age and looked like her, I would too) and she is interning at an Argentino law firm while here. She hopes to enter the German foreign service.

Owen, from Dublin, is there everyday. Nice guy. Chews on his pen all through class, and speaks Spanish with an Irish accent. Eva, from Shanghi, is as sweet as she can be. Just a lovely girl. Her father owns a laundry here. She orries about him. He works so hard for his age--52.

Yesterday, she, and I and a girl from Japan were talking on the street. The Japanese girl does not know any Chinese or English, so we all spoke in Spanish--it was a bit surreal. The other two women: Barbara, from Berlin; and Maria, from Stockholm, come everyday. They are first to come, last to leave, and always prepared. Then there is Helen and me--representin´ Los Estados Unidos. The homesick girl from Oklahoma and the retired LA lawyer didn´t last the first week. The final exam is a week from Friday.

My 50th birthday is Sunday. I am buying that guitar.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

It´s official, I am Irish, not Black, too bad (Ken)

I had my DNA sampled and checked to trace my genetic ancestry. You get a kit with some cotton swabs and scrape cells off the inside of your cheek. After that, they get sent to a lab in Calgary. After a few months, you get a report showing where your genetic ancestors lived. As I understand it, the Y chromosome is passed from father to son virtually unchanged. Over time, certain mutations occurred at specific times and places. If one of these mutations shows up in your DNA, you have an ancestor who lived in that place at that time.


Above is my DNA patralinial ancestry. I am halotype R1b. It is pretty damn uninteresting. Here is what they told me:


How the journey of your ancestors is written in your DNA:

DNA evidence has shown that every human alive today shares one common ancestor arising from Africa between fifty thousand and two hundred thousand years ago. Over time, different groups of people made a decision to embark on an epic journey to find new places to live. These perilous paths our ancestors traveled brought them to the far-reaching corners of the globe over thousands of years, from the rocky cliffs of Scotland to the sandy beaches of Thailand.


Along these varied journeys, small changes called mutations occurred in our ancestors¡¦ DNA. These mutations act like markers, or time and date stamps, pinpointing our ancestors to a particular time and place. Each ensuing generation of our ancestors then inherited these mutations, and everyone today has these same mutations that our ancestors acquired so many years ago.


The groups or tribal clans that our ancestors migrated around the world in are called haplogroups. Each haplogroup is defined by it's own unique set of the genetic markers, or mutations located on the Y-chromosome (Y-DNA). Y-DNA is passed down through the generations along the paternal line. These markers found on your Y-DNA allow you to follow your ancestors back in time and discover your deep ancestral roots.


Your Results :
based on DNA testing of your 28 certified markers, your ancestral paternal line is predicted below.

Your predicted Y-DNA haplogroup is: Haplogroup R1b

Summary for Haplogroup R:The man who founded Haplogroup R lived in North West Asia approximately 30,000 years ago. His descendents migrated into Europe and many regions of Europe.
Sub-branches of Haplogroup R:
R1a, which is very common the Slavic populations of Eastern Europe;
R1b, which is associated with the Cro-Magnon people of western Europe; and
R2, which is found mainly in India.


Haplogroup R1b: (Thta´s me--and my brothers)

The founder of the R1b lineage lived over 35,000 years ago prior to the end of the last Ice Age in southern Europe and Iberia. Members of Haplogroup R1b are believed to be descendants of Cro-Magnon people, the first modern humans to enter Europe. Cro-Magnons lived from about 35,000 to 10,000 years ago in the Upper Paleolithis period of the Pleistocene.


When the ice sheets retracted at the end of the ice age, descendents of the R1b lineage migrated throughout western Europe. Today, Haplogroup R1b is found predominantly in western Europe, including England, Ireland, and parts of Spain and Portugal. It is especially concentrated in the west of Ireland where it can approach 100% of the population.This haplogroup contains the well known Atlantic Modal STR Haplotype (AMH). AMH is the most frequently occurring haplotype amongst human males with an Atlantic European ancestry. It is also the haplotype of Niall of the Nine Hostages, an Irish King in the Dark Ages who is the common ancestor of many people of Irish patrilineal descent.


Damn, I was really hoping to find I was at least as black as Will Smith, or Skip Gates. But noooo. I am a white guy. How you explain my cool factor and serious musical chops is now, and will forever be, a mystery.


I demand a retest. They MUST have mixed me up with Newt Gingrich or Ryan Seacret or Pat Boone, or somebody. I SIMPLY CANNOT be that white.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Out of town visitors and parillada (Ken)

My sister, Kathy, and her husband, Harvey, live in the Bay Area in San Francisco. They have some friends of 25 years, Steve and Jan.
Steve and Jan no longer live in San Francisco, but have moved to Reno, Neveda where Steve is an oncologist and Jan, like Helen, is pharmacist.
My sister told us Steve and Jan were headed this way for a one-night stop over in Bueos Aires on their way south to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. We passed a few emails back and forth with dates and phone numbers and the like. Yesterday, Steve called and said they were in town and asked us to get together para la cena. Well, as many of you know, Porteños don´t even think of going to dinner before 9:00. So, we made plans to meet at the café across from out departemento at 8:00.
Steve and Jan arrived by taxi. It was pretty easy to figure out whom each other was. We were the people sitting at the outside table looking for someone to arrive in a tax, and they were the people in the taxi looking for someone looking for someone to arrive in a taxi.
We greeted, and met, and had a drink at the café. From there we discussed options. Because Helen and I have been here three weeks, we were the default experts. We suggested that the group of us go for a traditional Argentine parillada. Since they were only to be here for one night, we thought we´d give them a cultural experience.
We arrived at the restaurant at about 9:00 and were the only people there. The restaurant advertises "show en vivo" and that, as usual, consists of a very handsome young Porteño with a quasi-karaoke machine. It is not at all bad. These kids can really sing--and they are cute. I have probably seen six or eight of these guys and any one of them could successfully front a really good band in the US. I don´t know what they are paid, but I have been looking at the price of musical instruments, PA equipment, and such. It is about twice the cost of the same in the USA and these people only make a third of what we make. That makes it six times harder, at minimum, to put a rig together.
Anyway, back to the restaurant . . .
I picked out a very nice Malbec, and we ordered the parillada and two pasta dishes. The plate of grilled things arrived and we dug in. Oh, yes, there were some pieces of beef and chicken--mere childs play. We were here to eat with the big boys: tripe, kidneys, lymph glands, intestines, liver, and blood sausage.
Adventurous as we were, Steve and I at least tried everything. Or, we tried to try everything. I don´t want to say anything negative about the traditional cuisine of my Argentine hosts, but . . .
I think I´ll stick to bife de lomo and bife de chorizo. I´m not saying I won´t try it again, but I don´t feel the need to choose it again. It was a good thing we ordered that pasta.
Steve and Jan are back a week from today for one more night before heading back north. They said we´d get together again and they´d tell us about their trip farther south. If we have not scared them away forever, we´ll take them someplace safe this time . . . and stick to steaks.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

El Hipódromo de Palermo

On Saturday, I met my new friends Alan and Tom, for a trip the the horse races in Buenos Aires. This is more like a horse palace than a race track. The entrance way is the French architecture building you see to the right. The complex takes up almost two kilomeres of Avenida del Libertador across from the polo grounds and within walking distance of the Buenos Aires Zoo.

They are very oppossed to picture taking there for some reason. We were allowed to tape pictures of the horses, but not the facility. I had to go out on the street to take a picture of the building. I asked Alan to videotape me placing my first Argentina bet and was specifically told that using my video camera required special authorization. Further videotaping was accomplished from within my open backpack and photos were (mostly) confined to the horses.

There is an expression here: hacé la ley, hacé la trampa (First
comes the law, then you cheat). I was just trying to fit in.

Tom, Alan, and I settled in on the grandstand with programs in hand for some high-peso, horse-wagering action. The programs is very different from a US raceday program. First, it is in Spanish. There is a race summary in the front with past performances, parentage, jockey, and trainer. Also there is information on the type of race adn the bets allowed. Curiously, there is no morning line, but the track handicapper has indicated his choice for ganador, secundo, y tercero (Win, place, and show).

There are 8 or 10 expert handicappers who give their top picks. Then there is a section with a pre-post time analysis of all the races by El Diabolico Cronometrista (help me out here . . .the devil´s handicapper?) Then we have the insights of El Jockey Enmascarado--the Masked Jockey. He seemed to have it going on and was often on or near the money. There are a few news stories about horse events and personalities. Then we have the race details for each horse. In the USA, this information is found in one place--here, you have to look two or three places to handicap a race. It´s all in what you are used to I guess.

The races all ranged from one kilometer (about 6 furlongs) to 1600 meters (one mile). For the 1000 meter races, the horses ran a straightaway, not turns. It was more like a 50 meter dash, there was no reason to ride next to the rail. The track also accommodates 23 horses. In one race we saw, there were 21. It was more like a stampede.

The track is not in great shape. A water truck wets it down between races, but it is not groomed. No horses broke down, so I guess it is not usually a problem.

Betting is very much the same. I mostly played exactas and came close--usually picking the correct longshot with the favorite failing to perform. I finally , refusing to be completely shut out, place a show bet, a tercero, and sure enough, he won. However, I got show money rather than win money. My $2 bet netted me $2.60. So, I was down $17.40 on the day.

The winner board is confusing, there are numbers put up mechanically with odd symbols next to win place, show (ganador, secundo, tercero). And there are three flags, red, green, an yellow. I think the yellow is for a jockey´s objection. I really have no idea.

The bell is what they ring for post time. There is no bugle for the post parade.

It reminds me of when I first started playing horses three years ago. I had no idea what I was doing and felt like an incompetent fool each time I stammered through making a bet. Now, I get to relive those days all over again.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

I miss my friends and family (by Helen)

Being a foreigner in a foreign land is very hard to explain. Time passes in that strange way where I feel like I just got here yesterday, yet I feel I have been here for a very long time. I think about people who, deep down inside of me, are a part of me, yet, who, ordinarily I don´t think about in that way at home. My beautiful sister-in-law Janie, who I wish I knew better, but love very much anyway. (Thank you for being my emotional contact with my brother.) My long time friend Lea who is part of me; my friend Julie, who doesn´t keep in contact enough; Charlie, who for some reason I just love very much; little Emily; Suzie, who thru all these years has remained a part of my life, and her beautiful husband Chuck, who I know I can always count on; my frederick friends who are always up for a fire module (Richard and Caroline), and so many more.

I am not including my nuclear family because whether here or at home, they remain the same to me. But friends that feel very far away keep quietly passing thru my mind.

On a lighter note. For the women out there 50 and older, you will know what I am talking about. I am actually trying to learn a different language while I am experiencing that time in my life where I can barely manage to speak my own language. Today I just stared at the lap-top trying remember what it was called. I truly, actually, could not recall the work ´lap-top´. Brain farts are just a normal part of my day. And, per my usual timing in life, I have chose NOW to learn my first new language!

My accomplishment of the day: I told the cashier at the grocery store that I did not want delivery, that I would take the groceries with me. And after only a short pause on her part - she understood me !!!!!


Tonight, we went to dinner with our new friend Magdalena. We met her at the café across the street two weeks ago. She lives on the building across from us. Like Helen, she is a pharmacist.

She took us to a lovely place in Palermo Hollywood, a trendy section of the Barrio Palermo, called Cabernet. It was a beautiful evening so we dined outside. The restaurant is an old residence built in the colonial Spanish style.


After a nice meal, Magdalena, who has a car, took us on a tour of the city. Speaking of having a car, we encountered another strange Argentino job. After she parked on the street, a man came up holding a shop rag and said something to her, she thatnked him. She told us that he offered to "keep an eye on the car" while we are in the restaurant. When we returned to the car, she thanked him and tipped him a peso. This enterprising man has set himself up in business watching over people´s cars while they eat--either that or it´s some kind of protection racket.


We have walked around quite a bit during the day, but the city looks very different at night--some parts really pretty, some parts really scary.

We were also able to see parts of the city we have not seen on foot or from the window of the #110 colectivo. We drove past the obolisque, the Congress Building, La Casa Rosada, El Hipódromo Palermo, past many embassies and elegant residences.


She speaks excellent English, but is very good about indulging us with our (somewhat improved) Spanish.

Our first class at UBA is now half over. We take final exams, written and oral, on February 2 and 3. That determines if we get to move up to the next level. That class ends March 7th after which we plan to visit Córdoba for about a week. Shortly after that, we will have to make a weekend trip to Montevideo Uruguay to start the clock over on our 90-day tourist visas.

Tomorrow, it´s off to the races where Ken tries his hand playing the Argentina horses.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

El hacer compras para una guitarra (Ken)

At Calle Talcahuano, just past Saramento, hay muchos negocios Instrumentos musicales. It is the Buenos Aires equivalent of West 48th Street in Manhattan. I took a walk today to shop for a guitar.

Me compliaños es 10 dias mas y quiero una guitara Aregentina. My collection is missing a classical guitar with a cutaway and active electronics. In fact, I have not purchased a classical guitar since I bought one from Colonial Music in Frederick back in 1980.

Every year, I work up my Feliz Fiestas repertorio, pero no tengo una guitarra perfecto. It is about time I got a proper guitar to play my Christmas music. I did not bring a guitar with me to Buenos Aires. Actually, there are many things I did not bring that I should have. But that is what happens when you have never been out of the USA before and try to pack for a six-month trip to live in a foreign country. I look at the clothes I packed and shake my head in disbelief. What the hell was I thinking? I think of all the things I would have brought if I had only known. (Charlie, we are making a list. Only ONE of your suitcases is for you. Fair warning.)

Mi amigo nuevo, Lucas, the barman at Shoeless Joe´s, told me about all the negocios de musica in BA and drew me a map. He is an aspiring musician who recently purchased a guitar, but has not learned to play. We are in serious negotiations for trading Spanish lessons for guitar lessons. I followed his map and found the mecca of music in BA.

I went to the first store and told the man what I was looking for: "Mirando para una guitarra clasica con electonicos activos y un cortado." He showed me the Takamenis and Fenders for $800-1200 pesos. "¿Tenés una mas barato?" He handed me a Chinese-made axe with a piece of plywood for a fretboard. I gave it a try, but it was a piece of junk. He then gave me the one-step-up model. It played well, but still, it was a $775 peso Chinese guitar with the brand name "Texas." For those of you who know me, ´nuff said.

I went next door to MAK music and met Stelis. I told her what I wanted and she showed me a Gracia, Argentine-made guitar. A young man hooked me up to a PA and left me alone to try it. It was nice. "¿Quanto questa?" me pregunta. Ella dije, "$580." Hmmm, some quick arithmetic, that´s, carry the one, US$193. "Necesito hablar con mi esposa." I told her and tried to leave, but, no, there were still more guitars to try.

Here is the one I like, the Gracia Modelo Junier with both a phone jack and XLR input and a six band EQ with a built-in tuner. For . . . $670. That is $US223.00

I think that is a reasonable sum to spend for my 50th birthday. ¿No?

And I really like the idea of coming home from Argentina with the guitar I have been wanting that was made in Argentina.

Also, for those of you keeping score-

I saw a mexican Fender Strat in the window of another store. They wanted $2400 pesos for it. That is $800 US dollars. Musician´s Friend has the same thing for US$400. That means there is a 100% import duty on musical instruments.

So, if you are headed to Buenos Aires, bring along a Statocaster and hook an Argentino brutha up. Musico a musico.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Livin´ just enough (Ken)

It is odd how some people scratch out a living. Here are two people I have encountered on two consecutive days.

This first guy sells socks on the 110 colectivo. I have seen him the past two days. Now, selling socks on a city bus is a strange enough way to make a living, but this guy really has it rough.

Nobody here wears socks. Admitedly, this is not a great picture, but take a look at the people on the colectivo. Nobody is wearing socks.

It´s like trying to sell snow shovels in Hawaii, or compassion to a republican. They have no use for it and wouldn´t know what to do with it if they did. Yet, here he is, two days in a row, on the same bus route, working the crowd, and selling the socks.

Now this old guy plays his violin at the corner of Guido and Montevideo every afternoon. When to foot traffic is slow, he wanders into traffic and plays into open car windows.

You can see that sack he has slung over his shoulder. It is full of monedas. This guy does pretty well. I´m not saying he is paying the mortgage with this gig, but, from the looks of his moneda sack, I am guessing this guy takes in $30 pesos a day. That´s about $200 a week. Which, I believe, is above the prevailing wage. It is almost what the police make.

There are other interesing jobs here that I am investigating.

Mate update . . .Mate update . . .Mate update . . .Mate update . . .Mate update . . .Mate update . .

I have been told that by my friend and neighbor in the US, Maria Eugenia, and my former student, Tom, that I made a grave error in my mate experimentation. I did not properly cure my mate. I am, as I write, curing it. I will give the mate another try mañana with some fresh mate after I properly cure my mate. I know, it´s a bit confusing, the drink, the herb, and the vessel from which it is drunk are all called the same thing.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Let me tell you about mate (pronounced "mah-tay") by Ken

Mate is more than a drink. It is a lifestyle. It is a cultural ritual that we don´t really have in the United States (unless you grew up in the 70´s, and, if you did, you will understand the reference as you read on.)

Mate is a herbal tea made from the leaves of the Yerba Mate plant. It is a drink meant to be shared among friends--new and old. There is a ritual in drinking mate. This is what makes it different from simply having coffee or tea with friends or co-workers.

The ritual has its own procedure and etiquette. I have been here over two weeks and have not had the pleasure of being invited to drink mate with any of my new Argentine acquaintences, so I experimented on my own with the stuff.

The ritual I will describe comes from my reading. The experience is entirely my own.

There is a cebador whose job it is to fill and refill the mate cup. The cup is a gourd, also called a "mate." The cup is filled near to the top with the dried yeraba mate leaves. Hot water is poured over the top. The cebador passes the hot mixture to his (or her, I suppose) left. That person drinks the broth through a metal straw with a built-in filter called a bombilla (pronounced: bomb-bee-zsha). This person is exected to drain the vessel and return it to the cebador who refills it with hot water and passes it along to the next person.

OK, so, no invitation, I set out to try it for myself. Following the specific instructions given me when I purchased my mate at the Feria de Recoleta, I filled the mate to the top with yerba, poured in the hot water and, with gusto, sipped the steeped liquid through the bombilla.

This is a picture of me before I tasted it.

With all due respect to mis amigos porteños . . .

the stuff is vile.

Helen, sitting nearby, asked to try it for herself. "You won´t like it, I warned." "How bad could it be," she replied.

"Ahgttt, ptuhhh," she spatted as she reached for a towel to wipe it off her tongue.

If invited to share a mate with some of my new friends, I´ll certainly try again. Admittedly, I am a novice and could have made a bad batch. Helen, however, has probably tasted her last.

My homegrown mate experiments have, for now, come to an end.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Just stuff, by Helen

More Beckham. And we still don´t really know who he is.

Women here are all about the shoes. Shoe stores every where. And for all the walking they do, they really like these flimsy Jimmy Choo type shoes. Little sandles with no support, or, really big is the plain old rubber flip-flop, for boys and girls.

NY bus drivers are just plain old sissies next to the BA bus drivers. I´m talking 2 inches from a car, wrong side of the road, a mile in 60. Don´t get me started on the taxi drivers. These guys have a death wish--I´m just not sure if it´s for themselves or their passengers.

Despite all the poop, I am really loving the multitude of dogs. And the love of a dog is the universal language. Wanna meet a porteño, make over their dogs.

If a line looks important, stand in it.

Everything here is delivered. It is actually easier to get your groceries delivered to your home than to carry them there yourself. And there is no take out, but they are happy to deliver--sin cargo.

Coins are at a premium. None of the negocios want to give coins. They even round in your favor to avoid giving you a coin. And there is no $1 note. The smallest is a $2. We have not seen a penny and do not expect to. We rarely see a five centavo coin.

Many people don´t have phones or computers of their own and go to places called locurtorios to use the Internet and make a call. The internet is cheap $1,50 an hour (about fifty US cents), but it costs fifty-centavos-a-page to print. That adds up.

Smile pretty, it makes up for a lot.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Puerto Madero y San Telmo, entonces la tarea (Ken)

I was having my cortado at the café yesterday, when I ran into my friend Magdelena (Mále for short, como Molly only with an "a"). We met her in the same café last weekend. She is a Porteña pharmacist who is in marketing for Merck. She speaks English very well and has helped us get to know the neighborhood. We really like this neighborhood and apartment. It is close to everything. We can walk to whatever we need, and all the great parts of the city are a long walk or short ride away. Mále asked where we had been and what we had been doing. She suggested that we go the the flea market at San Telmo on Sunday, today. We looked at the map and decided to walk.

On the way, we passed a monument to the Argentine soldiers who died in the 1982 Las Islas Malvinas/Falkland Islands War with Great Britian. It remineded me a bit of the VietNam Memorial in the USA. There is an eternal flame and two soldiers standing guard. My understanding is that the military dictatorship in power at the time had made quite a mess of things. The ecomonomy was ruined, people were protesting in the streets, and they tried to divert attention by provoking Great Britian into a conflict over some disputed islands of the southern Antarctic coast of Argentina. Great Britian quickly regained possession of the islands and the military dictatorship fell the following year. However, hundreds of Argentinos paid the price.

Although our intended destination today was San Telmo, I saw the newly reshaped skyline of Puerto Madero. The up and coming barrio of Buenos Aires. This is where all the new cinco estrella hotels and deparamentos expensivos are going up. There is also a Hooters and TGIFridays there. It´s strange though, Argentina is not really set up for North American tourists. There are a few old sailing vessles from the Argentine Navy that are being restored as museams. However, the signs are all in Spanish. We detourde to Puerto Madero because I wanted to see the famous De La Mujer pedestrian bridge that I saw in the movie "Nine Queens."
We stopped in the Buenos Aires Hilton to look around and use the restroom. We tried our best to "look American" so that they wouldn´t ask us to leave. There is a gift shop there that sells touristy stuff as well as traditional Porteño items. One special Porteño item is the maté cup.

Maté is an herb tea that Porteños drink by the gallon. The traditional cup is a gourd that is filled with the dried leaf of the yerba maté plant almost to the top. Hot water and suger are added and the resulting tea is sipped through a silver bombilla--a straw with a built-in strainer. In the Hilton gift shop, the kit cost $320 pesos--over US$100. At the San Telmo flea market, you can buy the same thing for $30 pesos--about US$10. We got the idea that it is possible for a tourist to stay in a 300-dollar-a-night hotel suite and see the city through the windows of an air-conditioned bus, eat in tourist-ready restaurants with English-speaking waiters and go home thinking they have seen Buenos Aires. You miss a lot that way. But, how would I know, before two weeks ago, I´d never been out of the USA.

The flea market, or Feria de San Telmo, only happens on Sundays. It was originally confined to the relatively small Plaza Dorrego, but has grown to encompass many blocks of the barrio´s narrow cobble stoned streets. These are blocked off, and the vendors take over. In addition to arts and crafts, there are street musicians and tango dancers on almost every corner--sometimes competing for the ears and eyes of la gente que pasa cerca. Some of these guitar players are so good, it just makes me embarrassed of my meager skills. They can play some really great stuff.
We made our way home, but still had homework--la tarea--to complete for tomorrow´s class. So off we went to meet with our tutor, Paula, at Cala Pizza. Ella es agradable y dulce. We like her very much. She is a student at UBA studying medicine. She is on summer break and works in the cafe. As you can see, she was not very busy at 3:00 on a Sunday afternoon and had time to proofread our essays.

It was a busy day. We walked for hours and saw two new barrios. It is back to school tomorrow for another week of class. Good night North America.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Beckham and Madonna by Helen

Is the story of Beckham moving to Los Angeles on the news every 5 minutes in the states?

Television shows don´t have as many commercials here, so when the show ends at about 7-10 minutes before the hour that time is filled with stuff like videos. The ghastly Madonna video is on every hour! and on more than one channel. BYW you can watch Little House on the Prairie in spanish every day, and several times too!

Beckham, Madonna, Beckham, Madonna, Beckham, Madonna, Beckham, Madonna. . . . .
The top photo is what you will see for hours on BA television. And the bottom photo is - can you believe it - Madonna on TV talking about Beckham.

The ying and yang of Ken and Helen regarding class.

As usual Ken and I see things differently. I wasn´t ready to form an opinion of school the first day, but feel more confident now after the first week. The two odd-men-out are gone. The one man who didn´t even know his numbers has moved to a class below ours, and the other man whose skills were far superior to any of ours has moved up. The rest of us seem well suited enough in our skills to form a cohesive class enviornment. The swiss woman is the best, the sweet chinese girl has ok skills but works like the proverbial chinese grad student and takes tutoring after our class. She is improving rapidly and will probably learn more than any of us. She claims all this spanish studying is making her lose her english skills. The cute little home sick girl didn´t come today, Ken thinks she dropped out. The rest of us are doing fine. We have two teachers for different days. The one Ken took a picture of is my favorite so far. She is very pleasant, but no nonsense. She doesn´t waste any time, and is serious about us doing it right. We only have 4 weeks, I really want us to keep moving. The enormity of learning another language is daunting. Ken and I could move here and study for 20 more yrs and not become native speakers. You need teenagers around, and little ones, and a history for word context and slang. As always, the more you learn, the more you realize how much you don´t know.

Pronunciation and Refrigeration by Helen

Pronunciation is a real challenge. For example, the other day I ordered some ham. Jamón común. There are lots of kinds of ham, and I wanted común. The nice lady repeated it for me several times and I repeated it back, not hearing at all what fine differences she is hearing. Hah-mun ko-mun. After a few trys she tells me I said it ¨perfecto¨. Today I went to the same store and a man was working instead of the woman. I said ¨Hah-mun ko-mun por favor¨ in my best practiced accent. He just looked at me with no idea what I wanted. I repeated it two more times and he said ¨Jamon natural?¨ Now, how did we get from the sound of ¨ko-mun¨ to the sound of ¨na-ture-el?¨ I mean, really, how could I have possibly been THAT far off. But that is the rule, not the exception. He was old though, maybe he was deaf. I´d like to think that he is deaf, and that I said jamon comun perfecto. And, like the states, 5 people will tell you 5 different answers to the same question regarding definitions, or what words are used for what, or when or how. For example, I went to the bar and asked the bartender what he is called. He said he was called ¨bartender¨. Now this surprised me because I thought he may have been speaking english, so I questioned him again and again. Yup, barTENDER. So, in my homework essay I use the word ¨bartender¨ and the teacher tells me there is no such word. Barman maybe, but bartender, no. No sense arguing, just erase TENDER and insert MAN. Anyway, I came home with 12 pesos worth of ham instead of 5.50 pesos which I wanted.

As for refrigeration, I am beginning to question everything we keep cold in the states. When you go to the deli and order ham and the person takes it out of the case, is the case cold? When a deli makes sandwiches ahead of time for lunch, do they keep them cold? Have you ever seen eggs that were just kept out on the counter? Well, the ham and cheese from the deli are sold at a temperature that is the same as the warm un-airconditioned store, and the sandwiches sit in windows for god-knows-how-long and eggs are never refrigerated. At home I´m afraid to eat the ham if it accidentally sits out all night, but here I am buying it that way. Maybe it is preserved differently, I don´t know, but when in Rome . . . (good thing I got that hep-A shot)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Studying Spanish in the Cafés (Ken)

The young Porteños are really great.
We go the the cafés and bars to do our UBA homework. Here is Helen getting help with her Spanish from Francisco, Lucas, and Mercedes.
We go at times when the restaurants are slow. Los mozos are not busy at that time. They see us with our books and cuadernos and take an interest. We ask them about conjugating verbs and the baffling "vos" form. Everywhere else in the the world uses "tu eres" for "you are" except for here. Here they use "vos sos." Y la professora insiste.
Another favorite spot to study is Pizza Cala a block up Junin. Paula, who is studying to be a cardiologist at UBA, tells us the names of things and explains the food on the menu. She was really happy that today she learned a new English word, "sick," and the English words "right" and "left."
They seem to really enjoy helping us learn their language.
The portero in my building, José Luis, also gets a kickout of saying "Good Morning" to us in English. That´s about it for him.
Oh, one more funny thing before I call it a night. . .
We went to Disco, that is the name of our local grocery store (no kidding, it really is), and when we went to pay, the cajero says, "¿Deesco Pluce?" Helen says, "Repite, pro favor," and he says, "¿Deesco Pluce?"
Helen shakes her head and says, "No entiendo." Just then, the woman behind us in line holds out a plastic card the size of a credit card. On it is printed: DISCO PLUS. It is their store discount card.
Just when I think we´re going to get away clean, they throw us a curveball.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Los negocios de Buenos Aires (Ken)

In Buenos Aires, it seems that every negocio is a specialty shop.
Today, in one short stretch of Avenida Santa Fe, I passed a shop that sells nothing but children´s clothes . . .

Next to a shop that sells nothing but perfume . . . .

And a shop that has nothing but Teddy Bears.

On my way back nome, I turned the corner at Uriburu where I passed Aoki Electronic, a shop that actually fixes electronic devices. For those of you in the USA over the age of 40, you may have some idea what I am talking about. Instead of throwing your broken DVD player in the trash, you take it somewhere and they fix it and it works again.

Which brings us to the topic of today´s post--the saga of the video camera, o la filmadora.

You have to understand that getting something fixed in the USA is, for me, a stressful and intimidating experience. I dread the strange noise in the car, the day the furnace won´t light, the lawn mower that won´t start. I know that I am at a distinct disadvantage to the technician who will be making the decision as to what can be done and what it will cost me. So imagine, my readers, what this experience is like for me after being in Argentina for 11 days and needing something repaired.

At this point, you will need some back story.
Richard, my colleague in the video production lab at my college, sent me to Buenos Aires with a JVC mini DVD camcorder so that I could send tapes back to Maryland about Argentina and my experiences here. He would then edit those tapes and play them on the college´s cable TV station.
I got some really good video my first week here: the cemetary, the Recoleta Market. I was starting a story on transportation when the camera just stopped working--no funcionando.
Also, I am on a bit of a deadline here. As I mentioned before, the mother of another colleague of mine in the math department, is here in BA. However, she is leaving Friday. She is going to take the tape back to Joanna (who is picking her up a the airport) who would then take it to Richard at the college, who would then edit it for TV.
However---no power, no ejecting the tape.
Which now bings us back to Sr. Aoki. He is a Japanese man who has had this electronic shop in Recoleta since 1978. Which brings us back to the point of this post--the preconceived stress involved in a repair negotiation. Which now, ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, will be done in Spanish. (I´ll pause a moment to let that sink in . . . . . . . . . . .) Moving on.

First off, I made the mistake of initially using enough Spanish to mislead Señor Aoki into thinking I could actually hold up my end of the conversation. Once he started asking me specific questions about the problem, I was lost. !Maldición¡ I would have been lost in the USA speaking English at this point.

We worked it out, though. It will cost me $30 pesos, (about US$10) to see if he can fix it, and he got the tape out, so, at least, Richard can start some editing when he gets the tape next week. I understand that mailing it from Argentina and expecting Richard to get it will be something akin to the Eskimo boy´s carved boat in Paddle to the Sea.

This was a big one, though. I successfully negotiated something fairly technical in a foreign language. I doubt I would have been more successful in the USA. Then again, in the USA, I would have thrown it away and bought another. . .