Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Greetings from North America

We arrived home wthout any problems. The plane was on time and we moved quickly throught Customs and Immigration. Our friend, Charlie, was waiting for us outside the international terminal to drive us home the 50 miles from Dulles International Airport to our home in Maryland. It is almost summer here. It was over 90 degrees today. Our house, yes, there is a house there in all those trees, was in good shape, but there was a lot of late-spring cleaning to do.Yesderday, I stopped by work and checked in on my office. It was pretty clean, just like I left it. Everyone at work was happy to see me. The neighbor were happy to have us back too. That's kind of nice: the people in Argentina were sorry to see us go ( and we were sorry to say goodbye) and the people in the USA are happy to have us home (and we are happy to be here). It all worked out.
Our 13-year-old dog, Jack, looks pretty good. He has been staying with our younger daughter, Katherine. He's kind of slow though. He barked at us when we got here, then he went away for a few minutes. He then came back waggin his tail and licking our hands. It seemed to take the old guy a minute to remember who we were.
We got busy right away cleaning up the house and the yard. Helen put quite some time into gettin teh back porch cleaned up--lots of pollen and spider webs. Our Granddaughter, Leah, was at our house when we arrived home. She slept there the previous night so she could be there when we got home. She left notes all over the house telling us that she loves us and welcoming us home. She spent the day helping me cleanup the yard and start the fire for the Memorial Day cookout.My fish seem to have survived the winter pretty well. It was nice to come home to see them swimming around rather than floating.
I prepared the Memorial Day cookout in a quasi-Argentine-asado style. By the end of the summer, I'll have a proper parrilla constructed. I'll keep you all apprised of the progress.

My girls and Charlie came over Monday night and we sat around the fire until well after dark. But it was work and school for everyone the next day. Helen went to Leah's school and had lunch with her today. I continued working around the house. The suitcases are all unpacked and everything put away. the house is slowly coming into order.

It was good to sleep in our own bed and wake up in our own house. It is so quiet here. I sat and listened to the birds our first morning home. I think my neighbors were a bit surprised when I reflexively kissed them on the cheek to say hello. I wonder who long I'll keep doing that.It is a bit surreal--Argentina and all my friends there seem so far away. We miss you and think and speak of you constantly.
I won't be posting daily anymore, but I'll let you all know how we are doing settling back into life in the USA.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Final Postcard from the Bottom of the World (Ken)

I am writing this from a Locutorio on Avenida Las Herras. We returned home about midnight last night to find the laptop had crashed. (Perhaps as a result of all the attacks from the ongoing international blog wars?)

So this will be my last post from Buenos Aires.

Let me begin by saying: I got nothing-but-love for Argentina.

This trip has been fascinating, frustrating, educational, humbling, bewildering, inspirational . . .in short: everything I had hoped it would be--and more.

How much can a person really know about a country after only five months--and most of that spent in its largest city? Honestly, I´m not sure. But I am sure he can know more than if he had stayed home on his sofa watching Fox News. Over then next weeks and months, after some time and perspective, I suspect it will become clearer to me what it is I learned and how this experience has changed me.

This little blog started out after I began reading other blogs in my preparations for coming to Argentina. I found Alan´s blog and then Deby and Jude and Yanqui Mike and "Bloggers in Agentina." It occurred to me that this might be a good way to keep in touch back home. With postcards and letters costing four pesos and taking almost three weeks, this seemed a good choice. I saw a "hit counter" on the Salt Shaker blog and installed one on mine. No one was more surprised than I to find that I had more readers inside Argentina than I had back home. That changed things a bit. I didn´t start to write for a different (and inanticipated) audience, but I began to be read by a different audience.

Anyway, some of you have asked that I keep the blog going to document our return and re-entry into the USA and North American culture--part two of the expat experience. I will do that.

But I was not a blogger before I came here, and I doubt I will be a blogger much longer--once I write about my re-entry experiences. There just won´t be anything interesting to write about.

Thanks for reading. To many of you--thanks for your help and friendship. My next post will be from the USA.

Twenty, twenty, twenty-four hours to go.
I wanna be sedated . . .
The Ramones

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Sweet Sorrow (Ken)

The Farewell Tour continues.

Tonight we met friends at Antares in Palermo Viejo for drinks. It is the last time we will see Tom and Maya. They were very helpful our first week here. We met for coffee and they gave us our first few hints at living here. And, of course, Alan was there. This trip would have been very different if we had never found his blog last summer—almost a year ago. Perry and Holly and Kiki . . . all of whom we met first by reading their blogs or BAexpats and then met in person.

We have a tendency to keep our “virtual” and personal lives separate in the day of the Internet. I am exceedingly happy that we were able to have both a virtual and personal relationship with so these friends.

Last night, we went to the home of Ana and Carlos. Ana, from whom we rented our apartment, has been a great friend and a great help to us. We finally met her husband, Carlos. He took me to play a short round of golf and then cooked us a fabulous dinner. Their friend, Sophia, also joined us. It was a very relaxing evening because they can all speak English very well.

Carlos is an amazing man who has lived a fascinating life. I would have liked to have spent more time with him, but I am grateful to have spent even a few hours. From politics to parrillas, and from nationalism to the supernatural, we covered a lot of ground.

It is difficult to say goodbye. But it is even better to take the time to do so.

One last thing.
My friend Charlie told me that the moon waxes and wanes in the opposite direction in the North and South Hemispheres. I took this picture last night. Those of you in North America—click to enlarge it, see what direction the terminator line is, go outside and compare it to yours.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Here's something you don't see everyday (Ken)

Quail eggs. This week has been a week of hurry-up-and-do-all-the-little-things-you-said-you-were-going-to-do-before-you-leave. Today, it was quail eggs.

I have seen them in the store and was thinking if I am ever going to have the chance to eat some quail eggs—it is here and now.

As you can see, it is about a 3:1 ratio with a chicken egg, and it is easy to overcook them. Yet, they taste remarkably like chicken eggs. I don’t know what I expected, and I probably would have been surprised either way.

I went for a walk today, just because I won’t have many more chances just to get out and see the city and the people. It is Semana de Mayo—May Week. On the TV today, there were man-in-the-street interviews asking people if they wear patriotic items or display the flag. Most enthusiastically said they do. Friday, May 25, is a national holiday commemorating the May Revolution. Argentine Independence Day is July 9. This begins the patriotic holidays.

On Avenida Santa Fe and Avenida Callao, there were girls with flags at all four corners of the intersection. When the light turned red, they ran out into the mass of idling cars and gave anyone who wanted one a flag—the kind that hooks to the car window. These were all over town. On Callao, there was a trailer with a radio station doing a live remote and they were handing out the flags to pedestrians. I got one. Maybe I’ll put it on my truck to celebrate 9 de Julio when I am back home.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Change of Plans--Antares this Thursday

I stopped by El Alamo this afternoon to check and make sure my reservation for tomorrow night was in order only to find a sign that says they are closed until May 29 for repairs. That's all I know right now.

Obviously, that means our Fiesta de Despedida cannot take place as planned tomorrow night. I hope no one shows up tomorrow night.

Alan and Frank have both suggested that we move the Fiesta de Despedida to Antares in Palermo Viejo. The address is Armenia 1447 (between Gorriti and Jose Cabrera).
We will move the day to Thursday, and the time is the same: 7-9 p.m.
Alan and I went there on St. Patrick's Day with Yanqui Mike and 99. You can read Alan's review here.
.Maya and Tom will be back from New York, and we can see them again before we head home.
OK, sorry for the change of venue. I hope everyone gets the message in time. Hope to see you on Thursday at 7:00.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Some Favorite Pictures (Ken)

This is a really great statue of a gaucho. It stands in the square in Mataderos. I wish I could find a minuature replica to take back to the USA with me. There are many parallels between the American cowboy and the Argentine gaucho. Both have a cool mythology--but I think the gauchos edge out the cowboys in overall coolness.

Dogs are everywhere in Buenos Aires. Unfortunately, many appear to be strays. But what amazes me most is that they are so socilized--completely comfortable around people and other dogs. Many look sick and weak, and it breaks my heart sometimes. Overall, dogs here are well behaved. Often, they are walked on city streets without needing leashes. They pretty much ignore any human who is not their owner. They don't wander into traffic or bother other people. Yes, there is the problem of relieveing themselves on the sidewalk--but that is really the responsibility of the owner--not the dog.

Here is a picture I took of Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Pilar near the Recoleta Cemetary. It is a beautiful colonial chuch that is even more striking at night.

I love passing by these fruit stands. This one is on Zabala in Belgrano. They are so pretty and colorful. The vendors seem to take great pride and care to arrange and stack the colorful fruits a vegatables. Pictures like this actually take themselves.

Finally, Argentina has a really pretty flag. It looks especially beautiful against the clear blue Autumn sky.

Perhaps I like it so much because it holds a striking resemblance to the sun in the Kerr Family crest.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Fiesta de Despedida

Amigos Mios

Our time in Buenos Aires is rapidly coming to an end. We arrived here in late December and had no idea what we were doing. All of you have helped make this experience remarkable and memorable.

We want to get together with you one last time before we leave.

Come and have a drink with us at Shoeless Joe's El Alamo in Recoleta on Uruguay between Arenales and Santa Fe next Tuesday--May 22--between 7:00 and 9:00 p.m.

Drinks are on us.

Un Beso--Ken and Helen

Strike Four--We're out!

Helen and I had an appointment in Belgrano this afternoon. We decided to take the subway—our new mode of transportation. In the past, we have used the busses because we are not that close to a subway station and there are any busses a block from our apartment. But, lately, we have been making increased use of the subte.

We allotted ourselves 45 minutes: the 15-minute walk to the subway station at Avenida Santa Fe y Puerryedon, 15 minutes for the ride to Juramento station, and another 15 minutes for the walk to our destination.

The first part went fine until we arrived at the subway access to find it gated and locked. The subway workers are on strike. The sign said:

“Interrupción total: Medidas de fuerza gremio”

In other words: the subway is shut down because of a union work stoppage—a strike.

(This is twice now. First I write about crime and then I am a crime victim. Then I write about strikes and a strike affects my life. OK—I can be bought. What do you want me to write about next? Whatever it is, it is sure to be in the news the next day.)

Resourceful expats that we are, we quickly spotted a #118 collectivo headed the right way and took it as close as it could get us. We then walked the 8 blocks to where we needed to be and got there only 20 minutes late—on time, actually, by some standards.

I have noticed that workers in these essential service industries usually announce their strikes well in advance and usually for non-peak ours. Last week the colectivo (bus) drivers threatened a work stoppage between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. but called it off at the last minute.

It is rare, in my limited experience, to encounter such a high-profile strike that was unannounced--especially on the heels of the riot yesterday because a train broke down and interrupted commuter rail service at a critical part of the day.

I can’t wait to see what the TV and newspapers have to say about it in the morning.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Three Strikes—yet nobody’s out (Ken)

Strike One: Unpaid Professors

I read in the newspapers last week that a study done by the University of Buenos Aires revealed that as many as one-third of their faculty had received no pay in the previous five years of teaching. That means that something like 30,000 of the 130,000 people listed as faculty were not being paid—anything. The study then went on to say that these professors were entitled to at least a $700 a month salary.

I have been told that it is considered a privilege, and honor, and a valuable professional credential to be able to describe one’s self as a member of UBAs faculty. Helen’s dermatologist spoke impressively of the pathologist he instructed her to go to as, “The best in the city—he is on the faculty at the University Medical School.”

In a country where a college education is absolutely free, there is no shortage of college-educated professionals. Therefore, in order to distinguish one’s self from all of the other professionals, teaching at the university—even for free—is a way to improve the resume.

The following day, a group of these unpaid professors demonstrated at Plaza de Mayo for their rightful pay. At first, I thought it was in response to a situation of which they had just become aware. Now, I see it differently.

UBA revealed this information from its own study. They are smart people and had to know what the study was going to say. They also had to know what the reaction of the unpaid faculty was going to be. I now think that UBA actually wants to pay these faculty and this is the first move in an attempt to procure additional funding from the government. At first I thought these professors were just happy to have the professional opportunity to teach and only protested after the size of the situation was brought to their attention by UBA. Now, I think it was all a plan by the university to encourage the unpaid professors to demonstrate after they had some data to back them up.
It's funny, kind of. At my college in the USA, we have a hard time finding part-time professors to teach a single class for US$2000 (6,000 pesos). Here professionals are eager to teach for free and only begin to ask for AR$700 (230 dollars) a month, for what amounts to a full-time gig, once the University brings it to their attention. We really do look at a university, and all that implies, very differently in our two countries.

Strike Two: Where’s the Beef?

I also read last week that the head of the organization responsible for sending live cattle to the slaughterhouses was reducing, by half, the number sent to slaughter. He assured the public, however, that there would be sufficient supply and that any shortages would be a result of governmental interference. Last Wednesday, there was a agreement between ranchers and butchers that allows the price of live cattle to rise between 6 and 18%.

At the Coto on French St. where we shop, there has been no beef in the store since Saturday. Today’s paper said that 6,800 cattle entered the Liniers stockyard for slaughter on Monday and 8,000 yesterday, “but retailers have yet to respond by either placing more meat on the shelves or lowering prices, pleading uncertainty.”

(The meat counter before, the sign announcing the problem, and the same meat counter after)
It seems to me that there is a culture here of high-quality, cheap beef, in abundant supply. Argentina may be at a crossroads where this tradition is concerned. I don’t pretend to understand it. I just don’t see how an empty meat counter and an election year can peacefully co-exist for long.

As for us, I guess that last package of taco seasoning we have been saving will have to wait a few more days.

Strike Three: “If that train’s on time, you can get to work by nine.”

I guess Bachman Turner Overdrive never tried to commute to Buenos Aires from the suburbs.

This one is not so much of a strike as it is a riot. Last night, train commuters, angered by technical problems that cancelled the trains they depend on to return home from work, rioted at the Buenos Aires City’s Constitucíon rail station. Over 20 people were injured—10 of them police—and 16 were arrested after over 100 riot police were called in to quell the demonstrators.

Here is the history as it has been explained to me. Argentina once had a great rail system, built and operated by the British. President Juan Peron, wanting to demonstrate Argentina’s ability to run its own rail system, purchased the trains from the British. I am also told he did so at an above-value price. However, Argentina did not have the money or technical expertise to maintain the system and it has slowly fallen into disrepair over the past 50 years. Today, there is only one line that operates with a great degree of reliability.

As I said before, this is an election year. I don’t know of this level of social unrest and demonstration is common during other years or not. There seems to be some level of dissatisfaction with the city government. From those I have talked to, it looks like current Mayor Tellerman will be defeated by mayoral candidate Mauricio Macri —the owner of the successful futbol team: the Boca Juniors. It also appears that there will be a Kirchner in the Casa Rosada for the next four years as well—we just don’t know which one yet. (Photos from La Nacion)

In any case, this is a country that has a longstanding tradition of strikes and demonstrations. There are powerful unions and worker organizations that can really exercise some influence in the lives of everyday people and cause some serious headaches for the elected leaders.
I think they protest a bit too much here. With all of the constant protesting, the really important issues get lost in a "Me Too!" situation. On the other hand, we don't protest enough in the USA. We let really important stuff go with little more than a mention during lunch at work sometimes.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Guest Bloggers--John and Tenaya

Hello, it's John and Tenaya, Ken's sobrino and his novia, visiting from Seattle. Our trip was a mere 12 days--six nights with Ken and Helen in Buenos Aires, punctuated by two nights in Iguazu Falls (in the north, where Argentina borders Paraguray and Brasil) and three nights in Bariloche (a Swiss Alps aesthetic-obsessed town in the Andes foothills of northern Patagonia).

We've been looking forward to contributing our guest post since we read Charlie's, but now that Ken and Helen have chronicled so much of their ex-pat journey from F.O.B. (or, more precisely, F.O.P.) to Porteño, we've had to think a bit harder about what uniquely to contribute!

Ken and Helen were wonderful hosts, but because they've already have done a great job covering daily life in Buenos Aires, this post will focus on our travel beyond District Federal.
Internal flights. Semi-cama or full-cama, we didn't have time for overnight bus trips, so took domestic flights to go to Iguazu and Bariloche. Friends from Seattle who are spending a year in Cordoba (Argentina) warned us away from Aerolinas Argentinas, which has a reputation for scheduling twice as many flights as it intends to fly.

We opted to fly Lan, a Chilean airline which flies many intra-Argentina routes. Lan proved to be a great airline, with three flights on time and one just 20 minutes late, a far better record than we've experienced flying between Seattle and San Francisco on Alaska and Southwest. The airplanes (brand new!), service, and food were significantly better than on domestic American carriers (see the picture of Tenaya displaying our snack boxes of cheese crackers, lemon cookies, and Havanna brand alfajor). Amusingly, on one flight John bungled drink order in Spanish and "lost" his Spanish privileges--for the rest of the flight the flight attended continued to communicate with Tenaya in Spanish and John in English! Moral: Fly Lan.

Igauzu Falls. Spanning the border between Brasil and Argentina, Iguazu Falls is wider than Niagra Falls and rival Victoria Falls. The falls are an incredible natural wonder, but they are a self-contained international tourist destination and not really an Argentine cultural experience. Iguazu National Park has incredible infrastructure brings visitors to breathtaking viewpoints at the lip of the falls, but it's difficult to do anything else! Incomplete maps and the lack of a central information center frustrated our efforts to see wildlife (including the dog-sized rodent known as a Carpincho and the Toco Toucan), but we eventually managed to figure out a rushed, but nice hike in the sub-tropical forest on the Sendero Macuco.

Bariloche. Argentina's Lake District is in the Andes foothills in northern Patagonia. Bariloche is its largest city. Beautiful mountain and lake scenery, with a few interesting physical differences from comparable beautiful mountain and lake areas in the United States (e.g., there�s bamboo in the alpine forests, and deciduous forests are located between the evergreen forests and the tree line). Like Iguazu, Bariloche and the surrounding Lake District is very, very touristy. Indeed, tourism appears to be the primary industry in those parts. But it's different from Iguazu; the tourism seems to be largely domestic travel by Argentines, so even the touristy aspects of the area seemed more genuinely Argentine than they did in Iguazu.

Driving. We rented a car in Bariloche so we'd have the flexibility to drive around the mountains and go hiking on our own. After coming to Buenos Aires and watching the local drivers, we were a bit nervous about this, but we gave it a shot. We had a reservation with Budget. At the airport in Bariloche, there was no Budget counter, so John went to the Hertz counter to see what their prices were (for whatever reason, car rental companies don't require credit cards to secure reservations). Hertz's rates were higher than what we had reserved with Budget, so we asked where Budget's counter was. The woman at the Hertz counter told us that Budget is in town, not at the airport, but to look to see if they sent someone. For those of you who have rented a car in the United States, you're no doubt aware rental car companies do not "send someone" to pick you up. But this is Argentina. Indeed, Budget had sent someone with our car, delivered to us at the airport. He gave us a tutorial on how to put the car in reverse (pull up a ring, much like the 1984 Volvo wagon John learned to drive on), wrote down his cell phone number in case we ran into problems, and made sure we have the proper papers to drive into Chile in case we wanted to (we didn't even try). So, like Lan, fantastic service--far beyond what we are accustomed to from American rental car companies. But the car? Not so much. We reserved a midsize car because it wasn't much more expensive than the cheapest model, and we thought it would get us something a few steps up from an econobox. What we got was a tiny Chevy Aveo with removable radio, ~80K kilometers on the odometer (very high for a U.S. rental car), no power steering (lots of fun pulling out into traffic from a parallel parking space), and a trunk that could cause a concussion to the unwary.

We learned by observation that parking on sidewalks is normal, that lanes were merely suggestions, and left turns are *sometimes* made from the right lane (yes, you signal left, but move right and stop to wait for all the traffic to pass....). We were feeling good until we went to go get gas on our way to the airport. We pulled into what seemed to be the last gas station on the airport side of town. The attendant came over, looked at the car, and told us that we needed a "NAFTA" station, something this station didn't have. To John, NAFTA is the North American Free Trade Agreement because he wasn't listening when Tenaya told him that gas was called "nafta". As it turned out, we passed no "NAFTA" stations before reaching the airport (with no time to spare), but the Budget guy just charged us 60 pesos for a tank of gas, which seemed fair. We're still wondering what was sold at the other fuel station--we didn't see any references to diesel.

That's our $.02 on aspects of Argentina Ken and Helen have yet to see. We've had a great time and look forward to coming back in a few years so we can see all the parts of the country we couldn't make it to in this 12 day trip.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Lost in translation (Helen)

Some things just don't get translated due to context clues. For example, it is almost impossible to order a cup of hot tea. My latest (but not only) example of this was while Jon and Taneya were here. We were out for dinner and I asked for a cup of té. People here do not drink tea with their dinner so the waiter didn't understand what I was saying. He assumed I was making pleasant small talk that he didn't understand and therefore I got no tea. I asked again, he didn't understand, I spelled it, still no entiendes. Taneya was saying "bebida" (beverage). I was saying aqua calliente con tè. Nothing. He went to get the manager, and by then we had written it down. Té. Oh! Tè! Then the waiter brought me my tea and very politely said "disculpa" (excuse me). I think I am the only person he has ever served a cup of hot tea to at dinner time.

Today I was buying a small gift for my granddaugher Leah. The nice man asked me what the name of my granddaugher was. I said "Leah". He asked me again, very clearly.


Now a woman joined in, and in her few english words explained to me that he was asking the name of my nieta.

Ella nombre es "Leah".

They very politely gave up. It took me hours to figure out that they thought I was saying something like "it read", the past tense of "to read" - leía. The name Leah is not used here, so they did they best they could.

Today I was paying for groceries and the total was 25.27. I gave her a hundred peso note plus 30 centavos. My change was supposed to be 75.03, but they don't give pennies, so I expected just 75 pesos back. She gave me 75.10. I gave her back the 10 centavos because that seemed more fair to me. Her response was a very sweet, somewhat confused, "gracias". When Ken and I left the store we figured out that she thought I had tipped her 10 centavos! Good grief, how embarassing! Who tips a dime?

This context clue thing works both ways. The first time I was asked "un pago?" when using a credit card, I had no idea what they were asking me, even though I understood the words "one pay". I just didn't have reference for such a question. But here it is very common to charge an item and have it charged to your credit card in several equal payments. I can't imagine how that system plays out by the end of the credit year.

Also, just an aside. Ken and I rode an elevator up and down twice the other day because we couldn't figure out how to get out of it.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Going home soon (Helen)

Our time here is coming to an end – two more weeks. Before I came here I remember somebody telling me that following a similar trip, she couldn’t really answer people’s questions about it for quite some time. That sounded so odd to me. However, now I totally understand what she means. We didn’t come here for a vacation, we came here to live. Yet, that was naïve; we don’t live here, we are but spectators that live on the outside while maintaining our place in our own world. It is exhilarating as well as depressing.

It's strange having a foot in two worlds, you can't really live in either one. This one is temporary and home is unavailable. With all the ex-pats here, there is always an active social life available to us, with really interesting, adventurous and ecclectic people, but they will be gone soon, or we will be gone soon.

It will be good to be home with familiar people with whom I have a history as well as a future.

University of Belgrano (Ken)

During my final weeks here in Buenos Aires, I have been meeting with people from the University of Belgrano about the possibility of having students from my college in Maryland spend a semester in Argentina.

Over the past two weeks, I have visited the campus four times and met with Sr. Alfredo Martinez, who is it the Director of Student Housing; Sr. Silvia Maggiorini, the manager of the Office International Students; and Dr. Martin Furlong, the Vice Director of International Programs. I had to work my way up to Dr. Furlong after it was fully understood that I work at a community college.

The Community College concept is uniquely North American; the people at the University of Belgrano needed some help understanding just what it is. I explained that in 1901 the community college was born in Joliette, Illinois in response to increased desire for higher education and limited capacity. It was at this time, in the middle of the Industrial Revolution, that the need for educating middle and top management—as well as technical and scientific expertise—became critical. Existing universities were not capable of or willing to educate this new type of student who came from working class families with no legacy of university education.

The community college was a new concept that served two purposes: to provide the first two years of general education (mathematics, history, sciences, composition) for students intending to matriculate to four-year institution to continue on to the baccalaureate, and to provide two-year professional programs for direct entry into the work force. Once I explained that our graduates, who transfer to four-year universities, typically out-perform those students who began at the four-year institutions, they seemed satisfied that my community college students were every bit as capable of having a positive study-abroad experience as the other international students with whom they have been working.

We both still need to prepare and present proposals to our respective superiors before this can happen, but I believe it can be done.

Frederick Community College already has a semester abroad program where we send students to London. It is a good and successful program. Building on that success, I think we are ready to expand to South America. After all, going to London, for a USAmerican, is rather like going to visit your grandparents in the family’s original home town—the accent is different and some things look strange, but, for the most part—it feels like home.

Argentina is altogether a different story. While the British Pound is at 1:2 for the US Dollar, the Argentine Peso is a 3:1. That is six times the purchasing power for our students, which makes Argentina an affordable destination.

Another attractive reason is that, for most USAmercans, Latin America begins and ends with Mexico. It will be good for more of us, especially young Americans, to come here. We will never really know what the world is like unless we see it for ourselves. We need look no where other than the White House to see the truth of that.
On the evening of the 4th of May, there was a Noche Internacional where all of the International Students (of whom there are now 2000 a year at the University of Belgrano) were invited to set up a booth to share something of their culture with the others. I stopped by and talked to the kids from the USA. They were all happy with their experience in Buenos Aires and at the University.

In their booth, they had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on white bread, hot dogs, apple pie, Oreos, and Peanut M&Ms as examples of American cuisine. For American culture, the boys set up a Beer Pong game and broke out the Beer Bong. So much for American culture!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Why Argentina (Buenos Aires) is like the USA in the 1960s (Ken)

Everything is done by hand: demolition, ditch digging, cement mixing, and street cleaning.
In the United States machinery has replaced so much of this manual labor, or labor has become so expensive that entire industries have closed. This has destroyed cities. Baltimore, for example, where I grew up, lost almost its entire employment base and half its population when the ship yards and steel mills shut down. It was cheaper to buy imported steel and ships. Now the city is riddled with poverty, crime, and drugs. I don’t know if it will ever recover. If there is no work and no opportunity, what are people to do?

Returnable bottles
Well, we have those in the USA too. Some cities even charge deposits on cans and plastic bottles. But the bottles here are the heavy glass bottles that I saw as a kid. It is rather nostalgic to see them again. In the USA, they are sometimes collectors’ items or sold in specialty stores at a higher price.

Everything is delivered—even groceries and alcoholic beverages.
Not just pizza. Several grocery stores tried to make use of Internet ordering and home delivery of groceries. I think they are all out-of-business now. It just costs too much money to deliver things in the USA. And I don’t know of any pizza chain that will deliver beer like some do here.

Manual transmissions
The automatic transmission is practically non-existent here. I asked about it while I was in Córdoba and was told that Latinos—not just Argentines—like manual transmission because they like to be in total control of their automobiles. I like that explanation.

Air conditioning is not standard equipment in houses and apartments—even in new construction.
My friend, Tom, told me that when he bough his new apartment in Nunez, he had to order the AC. And it gets hot here. I understand why old buildings are not retrofit with AC, but I am surprised that it is not standard in new construction.

Elevator doors don’t open automatically.
This one has embarrassed me more than once. I have been stuck in an elevator that I didn’t know how to get out of. Helen and I rode the elevator up and down eight floors—twice—until I asked the portero what the trick was. “¡Empuje!” he said. We rode it up again, pushed the door, and sheepishly walked out.

There are specialty stores rather than department stores.
In the USA, it is almost impossible for shops that only sell one type of item to exist. Even the gas stations sell newspapers, magazines, cigarettes, sandwiches, groceries, and any number of other items. This is because the profit on a gallon of gasoline is so small that they need to do this to survive. Large US corporations have squeezed out the little guy and a person who would once has owned a small shop now has to work for the corporation that made his shop unprofitable. Here, a guy can still open a small shop and make a go of it.

No dishwashers, you have to defrost to refrigerator, No garbage disposals in the sink, No ice makers, you have to light the gas stove with a match each time you use it.
These are strictly matters of convenience, and, mostly, I am just whining here. I am surprised, however, to find that these things have not made their way here in great numbers yet. In many ways, however, these conveniences are energy wasters—pilot lights that constantly burn gas, refrigerators that heat themselves up every day to keep frost from building. But the refrigerators in the US have become so efficient that if ANYTHING goes wrong, you can’t correct it. Where I live in Maryland, we lose electricity frequently—sometimes for over a day. There is a drip pan in the bottom of the refrigerator that collects the water that is melted from the automatic defrost cycle. When the power goes out, the fan that evaporates it does not run. The water stagnates and stinks. I called the company and asked how to empty the stinking water. I was told that was not possible, and that I should try and throw some baking soda in it—if I could reach it—to absorb the smell. Sometimes, I feel "convenienced" to the point of inconvenience.

People dress more formally—they don’t dress like slobs in public.
Seriously, people here simply look better. You rarely see anyone under the age of 30 in exercise clothes unless they are actually exercising. After 5 months here, I am sure I will be shocked upon my return to the US if my memory of what slobs people in the USA are is accurate.

Single pane windows—with no screens
Mosquitoes here are a problem. Unless an apartment or a house has air-conditioning, it can get pretty bad. Maybe this year was just a really bad year for mosquitoes, but I think Porteños may want to consider this window screen option.

You can get stuff repaired—TVs, shoes
We don’t fix anything in the USA. Well, we fix our cars until they are paid for and the repairs cost as much as a car payment. But we don’t re-sole our shoes, put a new zipper in a jacket, or repair the DVD player—we throw it away and buy a new one. While I have been here, I have gotten shoes re-soled that I would have thrown away in the USA—and I like them. It’s not that you can’t get things fixed in the USA; it’s just cheaper to throw it away and buy something new. Why is that? It seems so wasteful.

Corner Hardware stores
This is like the specialty shops. Back in Frederick, there is still May’s Hardware, and I go there whenever I can just to give them my business. But usually, I just go to Home Depot. In Buenos Aires, there is Easy, it’s kind of like a Home Depot, but it is far away and there is a hardware store every couple of blocks here in Buenos Aires. They have just about anything you need. I am amazed that the city can support so many of them.

Corner bakeries
The bread here is really good. There are bakeries every few blocks and they deliver fresh media lunas to the cafes all day long. When I get home, I will be eating far less bread than I eat here. In the USA, the bakeries just can’t compete.

Family get-togethers on Sundays.
This is nice. Sunday time is family time. Smoke from parrillas wafts through the city. I think I will institute this when I get home. I’ll tell my daughters that there is a standing Sunday asado. They are encouraged to attend. (Once my parrilla is finished, anyway. Charlie can come too).

Multiple daily newspapers with multiple ownership groups
In the USA, almost all the media is owned by five conservative corporations that have most USAmerican convinced that the media is biased to the left. There is very little objective news reporting, and anything that criticizes the government is criticized as being disloyal and aiding the terrorists. Newspapers are more maverick here and not afraid to criticize the government.

No wall-to-wall carpet
It amazes me that in the USA, some people actually cover their beautiful hardwood floors with carpeting that collects dirt. This started happening in the 1970s if I recall correctly

You can feed the animals at the zoo.
This is fun. You can buy a big bucket of food for a few pesos and feed almost any herbivorous animal at the Buenos Aires Zoo. Some of the cages ask you not to feed certain animals anything, but it is really fun to throw a food pellet to an elephant and watch him pick it up. I don’t know why it’s fun—it just is. You used to be able to do that in the USA, not anymore.

Cashiers count out your change in your hand.
Coin-by-coin, bill-by-bill. I don’t know whether it is a matter of courtesy or mistrust, but it is a nice touch.

People work to live rather than live to work.
I may be imagining this, but it seems to me that when I was a kid, people were not as materialistic as they are now. If your dad made enough money to keep you in a home with regular food and an occasional vacation trip, life was good. Now, there is so much emphasis on material gain that we are working more and enjoying life less. That change does not seem to have happened here yet. I hope they can hold out much longer.

Police on the corners
You see police here on the streets walking beats. I have heard many different opinions on the police here that I won’t get into here—that’s not my point. In the USA, it is rare to see a policeman outside of a police car unless he is actively engaged in hands-on police work.

People sell things on the street without a business license--even food, cooked food.
We are so over-regulated in the USA that it is almost impossible to sell a hotdog. There is a “First Saturday Gallery Walk” in the town where I live. The art galleries would put out some wine and cheese or food items for the visitors. The health department insisted that everyone get a permit and submit to inspection each and every time. The permits could only be valid for the one day, so it involved applying every month. They made it so difficult that most of people just stopped offering food. That does not seem to be a problem here. In the USA, one person gets ill and there is a lawsuit.

They spend money on public parks and public art
In the five months I have been here, I have watched many lovely parks throughout the city get renovated. All throughout the cities of Buenos Aires and Córdoba, I saw public art—and not all of it old work. New sculptures appear frequently. And the parks here are used all the time. As soon as the park near my apartment reopened, it was full everyday. There is a county commissioner in Frederick, where I am from. In a public candidate forum, I pointed out to him that Frederick spends about 17 cents per citizen on the arts while nearby Montgomery County spends $1.74. He said that if he had his way, it would be “zero.” He was re-elected.

Kids don't ride in car seats, there are no head restraints in car passenger seats, and people ride motorcycles without helmets.
This may not be safe, but it speaks to personal responsibility. In the USA, you are fined if your child is not in a car seat—not just babies, children. You are fined if you don’t wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle. In many places, children are REQUIRED to wear a helmet to ride a bicycle until age 16. I think these are matters of personal choice. I like it that people here take responsibility for their own decisions. It is like they are saying to the government, “Leave me alone and let me decide what is best for me and my family.” With People for Science in the Public Interest telling us we can’t eat Movie popcorn anymore, and the Fundamentalist Christian Right attempting to constantly legislate morality—I find this behavior refreshing.

People litter
I don’t understand this. This is a beautiful city. In the USA, we used to litter too. There was a commercial with an American Indian in a canoe. As he paddled, the river became more and more choked with trash. The commercial ended with a closeup of his face with a tear running down his cheek. There was also Woodsy the Owl who said, "Give a hoot--don't pollute!" We are better about littering now.

But I remember that, as children, my friends and I would count on it. We’d walk the mile to the country store with no money hoping to collect returnable bottles (like the one’s I mentioned above) and get enough money for some candy. We were rarely disappointed. But there is a lot of trash on the street here, and I see people just dropping their trash as they walk. It is a pity. It really does diminish the beauty of the city. The mayor even complained that it was a contributing factor in all of the flooding that happened in the heavy rains here this summer. The trash would clog the drains. He, Mayor Tellerman, has ordered thousands of trash dumpsters to be stationed all over the city to see if that will help the problem.

You can open the windows on the subway cars.
I was amazed to see this. In the USA, the people are so frightened of law suits that all the windows in any moving public vehicle are sealed. In Argentina, if you get hurt doing something stupid in an open subway window—it’s your own fault.

People protest against the government--Imagine!
Maybe they protest a bit too much, but who am I to say? My point is that in the USA, we don’t protest enough. I know that many USAmerican will disagree with me, but . . . how did we let this president get us into this Iraq mess. Did we protest? No, we re-elected him.

To summarize, the things that are different here, and that remind me of the USA in the 1960’s, all seem to relate to two factors: huge corporations and rampant litigation.

Huge corporations have put small businesses out of business. Health care cost—again related to huge corporations—have raised labor costs so high that we have displaced and marginalized entire sectors of society: the under-skilled and undereducated. We are so afraid of a lawsuit that our freedoms and ability to make personal decisions have been diminished.

In another 40-50 years, will the same thing happen here? I hope not. I hope that Argentina learns from our successes—but also learns from our mistakes and prospers without losing that sense of personal rights and responsibilities.

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Local Bar

I love bars and bar culture. I have been going to bars since I was old enough to sit on a bar stool—at least that is what my uncle Tony tells me. My dad was a bar patron extraordinaire, and he acculturated me when I was barely out or diapers. I guess that is why I have a strange attraction for bars and why I am always drawn to explore them. My father died when I had but 14 years. Perhaps I go to bars to understand him.

There is a bar, the “Pool Bar” on Calle Ayacucho not but two blocks from my departemento. I have passed it over 200 times in the over 120 days I have been here—vowing each time to enter. And each time passing by—except for tonight. Tonight, I went in.

Unlike most Buenos Aired drinking establishments, this bar has an actual bar with bar stools. Most bars are cafes that serve alcohol at tables—but this was a bar. I went in, sat on a stool, and order a “Botella de cerveza.” No chopp (draft) here—only bottles. The bartender, who could only be described as “disinterested” opened the half liter in front of me, as they always do, gave me a glass, and sat back down to resume futbol match that was demanding the balance of his attention.

I settled in and watched the futbol game—Gimnacia y Chicago—while young people came in and ordered drinks and bought tokens for the pool tables. After a while, I started taking pictures of the place—with the flash off to avoid being too obvious. Apparently, my clandestine picture taking attempts were all-too-obvious because the man in the stool near me tapped me on the shoulder and mugged for the camera. This was followed by other poses.

He introduced himself as Miguel and told me he is an artist. An Argentine, but not a Porteno, he came to Buenos Aires at age 32 because he, as he said, “Buenos Aires IS Argentina.” I am not sure I agree—but I know what he means. He said he has lived all over. He went to Catholic University, he has lived in Peru, Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico . . .but he now chooses to live and paint in Capital Federal.

We had a long, and—at times complicated—conversation. He asked me what I like most about Argentina. I told him, as best I could in my limited language ability.

In the United States, there is always someone, something, some group, some law who will tell you want is best for you. In Argentina, the people take responsibility for their own lives. In the USA, people give away their responsibility in the name of safety and security. Here, in Argentina, they fight to keep it and are willing to take the consequences.

In the USA of my childhood, we had that. We lost it. Or we gave it away. We got lazy and complacent. We are no longer responsible for anything. We are a culture of victims. Things happen TO us. We are passive and reactive.

Argentinos live on the edge. They pay their money and they take their chances. In the USA, we take our chances only if it’s someone else’s money.

I am glad I had a beer in that bar. And Miguel helped me find the reason.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Fernando and Liliana (Ken)

I panic when the phone rings. Usually a “Hello?” in my very-best American accent is enough to elicit a quick hang-up on the other end. But occasionally someone actually wants to speak with me—in Spanish.

A few days ago, Adrianna called. She is the widowed Argentine daughter-in-law of my neighbors back in Frederick, Maryland. She was calling to invite us to an asado at the home of her friends’ on May 1st—el Dia de los Trabajadors (Labor Day). I go the date and time right, but I had to call her back to ask her how to spell the name of the street—Yatay (Zhja-Tie).

Helen has not been feeling well (it’s her turn to be ill), so I took the #10 colectivo to Plaza de Mayo and then the A Line Subte to the Rio de Janiero stop in Barrio Almagro. I buzzed at the gate of the three-story brick house and was met by Fernando and the family dog. I was welcomed inside where Adriana was waiting. I then met Fernando’s wife, Liliana. Guadalupe, Adrianna’s 18-year-old daughter was there as well. I then met Agustina, also 18, and Cecilia her younger sister who has just started secondary school.

I was ushered trough the house to the small enclosed jardin with a parrilla already started with vacio, asado, and chorizos. We all sat at the table with all eyes on me. Show time. As no one else spoke any English, the next four hours were completely in Castellano. Agustina has taken some English in school, but she would not speak it in front of me. She was useful in helping when I was reaching for a word—but that is all the English she offered.

The conversation was lively and varied: politics, education, economics, Argentina and Argentinos, North Americans, cars and drivers, food, customs, education, what I have been doing, what I still want to do, my family, my job, my dog, their dog.

We moved inside to eat, and I was surprised to see Liliana acting as asador. She is educated as an architect, but does not work outside the home. Sola una ama de casa. She is a very good cook; the meat was tender and done perfectly. We had tiramisu for desert that was really tasty.

After we ate, I was welcomed upstairs. This level is only for los asados and las fiestas, I was informed by Cecilia. Before going upstairs, Fernando showed me his double basses. He is a bassist for the opera orchestra at Teatro Colon. He let me try out his 18th Century bass that is as old as the United States of America. I have never touched—let alone played—any instrument that old. You can see where the wooden tuning peg holes were filled in when the modern brass tuning machines were installed. It is a remarkable instrument.

Upstairs the conversation continued. I learned that Fernando is the childhood friend of Adriana’s recently deceased husband (who was the son of my neighbors back in Maryland). Their daughters, Guadalupe and Agustina, were born a few weeks apart, and the girls grew up together with one family hosting the other for an asado each Sunday for the past two decades. The older girls took themselves up to Agustina’s room while Cecilia stayed and talked with the old folks. She is really cute. They have a family place en campo where she caught a sapo (toad) and brought it to school for show-and-tell. It now lives in their jardin. It rained while we were eating and, after it stopped, she called me to the window to see her toad as it was hopping around the yard. Although Cecilia said she has studied some English in school, when I asked her how to say a word (“Como se dice ‘elect,’” I said), she stood up and called, “Agustiiiiinaaaaa!!!” I guess she was not ready to show off her English skills.

Fernando’s father makes and sells replicas of aboriginal art here at the fair in Recoleta right near my apartment. I have been to his booth many times and planned to buy some pieces before I came home, now I will make a point of doing so.

With the girls needing to do some homework and studying—Agustina is studying biochemistry, Guadalupe studying literature, and Cecilia needing to complete a presentation on the history of timekeeping—we said our goodbyes and I headed back to the subway.

I have said it before, but it is worth repeating: these are our favorite times in Argentina when we spend time with the people in their homes. These are the memories I will keep.