Friday, November 26, 2010

Purple Rain

Sorry for the delay in writing posts. I hear from other bloggers that the most difficult thing about blogging is the consistency factor. But it's not like I'm not writing - I'm just writing for other venues, mostly about art. Check out some of my recent articles if you are interested:

The other day at an art gallery I met two people from Singapore, and we got to chatting about Asia. They, like me, had spent a fair bit of time in Japan and we were talking about how Japan and Argentina are about as culturally opposite as two countries can be. For me, the Japanese cultural systems, attitudes, sense of aesthetic, and well, just about everything, are like night and day compared with life in Argentina.

And yet, these days I find myself reminded of Japan a lot. This is due to what I like to think of as the Argentine cherry blossom - the jacaranda. I have always been obsessed with sakura (cherry blossoms). Like a true sakura junkie, I travelled to three different regions in Japan one year to catch them blooming at different times. There is nothing like sipping sake underneath a sakura tree, with petals falling around you like snow. Pure magic.

Well, the jacaranda here in Argentina are much like the sakura (minus the sake and all the hoopla that go with the sakura in Japan. Cakes are made in the shape of sakura blossoms, cards are sent out, viewing parties are planned...they sure do it up). They are similar in the sense that they bloom for a short period of time, and in that time, you are gifted with purple petals falling to the ground that create this amazing sense of beauty and peace amidst the chaos of the city.

I remember my first experience of the jacaranda last year, went I went to the Andy Warhol exhibit at the MALBA. I spent this amazing afternoon by myself looking at the well curated exhibition, which was only improved by the view outside the museum windows - a wall of purple petals falling amidst a row of jacaranda trees. When I left the museum, the sight I saw has stayed in my memory - a caretaker sweeping up all that purple as the petals fell around him. It was stunning.

Yesterday I walked from my photography class at the National Museum of Fine Arts to the MALBA for the opening of Argentine artist Marta Minujín's latest exhibition. The walk along Avenue Figueroa Alcorta, which is lined in jacaranda trees, was absolutely magical. It is like walking through purple rain. The pictures really don't do it justice.

I got to thinking about how hard to believe it was that a whole year had passed and how quickly time goes. And I was reminded that this is in fact why the Japanese are so obsessed with sakura. They bloom for only a few days and the lesson behind that is to take advantage of today - in stopping to view them, have parties underneath the trees with friends, and just enjoy the moment - because in a few days or after a strong wind, they will be gone.

In short the lesson is one that we all need reminding of: Life is short - take time to smell the sakura, or in my case, the jacaranda - because before you know it, another year will have passed.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dancing through the panic

It's been over a year now that I've been living in Buenos Aires. In some ways it feels like much more than that, but in other ways, I still feel like a shiny new tourist gawking at the chaos around me.

Coming from North America, I'm aware that I tend to seem more...uptight to the Argentines in general, despite my ongoing and arduous attempt at trying to be more more like a porteña (For the record, I just bought Fernet for the first time, which, for those of you who don't know it, is a VERY Argentine thing to drink. Truthfully, I still find it all kinds of awful in just one sip, but when in Rome...).

This tendency to seem uptight comes, I think, from being from a Northern country. We are without a doubt a little more reserved in our actions. Just the other day at a party, an exasperated Argeninian cranked up the music and looked at a bunch of us expats and begged us, "OK, we've talked, now can we please DANCE? We are Argeninians and we DANCE at our parties."

It's true, I've been at many parties here, where people simply spontaneously break out in it a big or small group. People here like to boogie.

So I was not surprised by this past weekend's Festival Buenos Aires Danza Contempranea, or Festival of Contemporary Dance, but I was particularly delighted by one of the events that took place at Galeria Patio del Liceo, where I've been doing some freelance work at Ups! art gallery.

Patio del Liceo is a new and hip place for independent creative spaces-galleries, jewelry shops, book stores, etc-and on Saturday it became a contemporary dance free-for-all. As my friend Gaby, the owner of Greens, said to me upon my arrival, "There are a lot of crazy ballerinas in this place!" An effective way to describe it.

In and amongst the shops of the patio were all kinds of dancers that were, well, dancing and climbing and painting, and being painted and hanging from the rafters. Each dancer was adapting to its own particular space. In one corner a pair of dancers tied together shared a chair for a prop. Above them on the second floor, raunchy tunes could be heard from a sex shop where a crowd gathered around some burlesque-clad dancers (Sorry, I couldn't fight my way through the crowd to get a picture!). Using the spaces for inspiration and baskets of lemons for props (I never did get that...the lemons just kept circulating), the space as a whole twirled and swirled with the movement of all types of dancers.

Fighting my way through the crowds amidst onlookers and the odd break dancer, it occurred to me that the scene was a bit like a microcosm of Buenos Aires: complete chaos, yet beautiful in a way that you had to be there to understand it. Now if only I could say the same thing about the traffic!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Buenos Haires

A few years ago I spent a summer month teaching art history tutorials in Florence, Italy. One of the paintings I discussed was Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, which hangs in the Uffizi Gallery. You’ve all seen the painting, if not in person, than in various forms of reproduction, and I’m sure you would have no trouble recognizing the goddess and her long blond flowing locks.

In art history, Botticelli’s infamous Venus is a topic for many themes, one of which is sexuality. Now I could go into all the details about the sexual symbolism, how she is standing on a shell, etc., but I’m sure you get the picture. What what I really want to point out here is her hair and its undeniable sensuality: hair that blows in the sea breeze, hair that coils around her neck like a serpent, and hair that she uses to cover up her nudity (which of course only serves to accentuate it). It is in fact next to impossible to imagine Venus without her long hair.

It is also difficult to imagine women from Buenos Aires without their long hair. It’s pretty hard to miss when you come here to visit, but when you live here it’s in your face, both literally and figuratively, every day. Almost ALL the women have long hair. Some of them have reeeeally long hair. Some of them simply don’t cut it.

Where I come from, there are groups of women who don’t cut their hair, but they tend to live on colonies and only wear dresses. But that’s another post for another blog entirely.

What I have realized is that hair here, as it has historically, acts as a kind of sexual currency. Take my gym classes for example, which some women actually attend directly after going to the hairdresser. Instead of the North American custom of tying long hair into a ponytail to keep it out of your face while exercising, they leave it down, long and flowing, so as to be able to flip it around during the classes and be that much more appealing. It is quite something to behold. Sometimes when I’m on the treadmill I watch the classes going on through the windows and marvel at all the hair flipping, and wonder if it doesn’t get rather hot with all that hair in there, but then I note that I am one of the few women who is actually sweating in the gym.

Don’t get me wrong here – I’m not dissing the hair. I’ve never seen so much long beautiful hair before, and I’m not sure what their secret is. Maybe it’s all the protein. In any case, I do not have the penchant for having long flowing hair. Thin, wispy, and unfortunately frizzy in this climate, I’ve never hated my hair more. So what’s a girl to do? Well apparently, chop it all off.

Enter Ryan Oakley from Canada, stylist to the expat community and advocate of not looking like everyone around you. He is a master at hair and I for one don’t know what I would do without him over here. (Only in Buenos Aires do you get back from your haircuts at 1 a.m.!) Not that I needed to work hard at looking like a foreigner or anything, but now that my hair is shorter than Justin Bieber’s, it seems more obvious than ever.

I must admit, it feels a bit bare. And I guess long hair is a kind of security in a clothes you like it clothed Venus. Moreover, while the other women are flipping and coiling and twisting their tresses, I’m left empty-handed.

But in the same light, it feels rather empowering to do your own thing. And fresh – just in time for spring (please let it be spring soon!). After all, it was the style guru herself, Coco Chanel who said, “In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.”

Monday, August 2, 2010

Bag Lady

I apologize for the long hiatus. Part of the break was due to a month-long visit to Canada, and part of it is due to me finally starting to work here in Buenos Aires (at a very cool art gallery called Ups! Art Gallery. More on that in a future blog because it is a great space filled with lots of interesting art coming from some even more interesting Argentine artists). But since arriving back in the city two weeks ago, my brain has been chock-full of new impressions.

Part of the initial shock of arriving back to Buenos Aires was related to the fact that I was returning to a record breaking cold winter from spending time in the oh-so-gorgeous Canadian prairie summer. But even more shocking was going from the scene you see above (a typical scene from rural Manitoba taken by my lovely friend Tamara) to the complete chaos that is Buenos Aires.

Now aside from the obvious rural/urban difference, one thing that has really been brought to the forefront for me is the lack of concern for the environment.

I will admit it off the top. I am a prairie girl through and through. My city, Winnipeg (I call it my city, but I really grew up outside Winnipeg in the country), may have its drawbacks which include but are not limited to arctic temperatures, howling winds and fierce mosquitoes, but I still love it. What can I say? One of the things I love most about Winnipeg is its community of people committed to living in an environmentally conscious way. This is exceptionally evident at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, which I was delighted to attend.

Now, you may have read previous posts about the size of the steaks here in Buenos Aires, and the infamous asados, so you can probably appreciate how delightful it was for me to be at a place where they serve tofu burgers and tempeh bowls. But even more notable was the use of reusable plates at all the food stands and everyone walking around with their own reusable mugs. It really is amazing how much waste you can eliminate when people do their part. That festival had over 62,000 people attending and from what I could see, a shockingly small amount of garbage.

Now, I know that having lived in a co-op in Winnipeg and having friends who cut their grass with non-motorized lawn mowers may mean that I see more of an effort to tread softly on the earth than that being made by the average Winnipeger, but it still is shocking to come back to a place where it is not uncommon to see people simply toss their garbage out of the windows of buses that are belching out black exhaust fumes.

At a recent expat party here in Buenos Aires, I got to talking with some fellow expats about the differences in environmental awareness in some of our countries compared with Argentina. It most certainly has to do with education, but I still can't help but marvel at some of the things that are common here. I won't even get started on the amount of dog excrement on the sidewalk, which is an entire post on its own, and a typical conversation topic among expats.

The other, even more shocking and continually disturbing thing is that there is no recycling pick-up here in Buenos Aires. Imagine a city of more than 10 million people who drink more soda pop than any other city I have visited with no recycling pick-up. It is overwhelming. There is something in operation that acts as a kind of recycling, but it is more money driven than environmentally driven. This would be the group of people known as cartoneros, who pick through the bags of trash every night to collect materials such as cardboard and bottles that can be sold and recycled. The plight of the cartoneros is another post entirely because it is a social issue fraught with much controversy in this city. It is not easy to sit by and watch people, some of whom are young kids, pick through the garbage and pile it up on hand-pushed carts to earn what is often no more than the the equivalent of pennies.

But another thing that continues to amaze me is the insane amount of plastic bags being used and thrown away here. Just the other day I was shopping at Coto, one of the major supermarket chains in Argentina, and I watched as one of the cashiers was bagging. One pineapple, one bag; one plastic bottle of coke, double bagged; one package of individually wrapped snacks, one bag. You get the picture.

When I got to the checkout, I did my usually thing: pulled out my reusable bags and said in Spanish, "No bags please." The cashier did the usual thing and ignored me, licked her finger and started peeling off plastic bags. I politely repeated my request for no bags and the cashier looked at me like I had horns growing out of my head, shrugged and proceeded to toss my grocery items down the ramp at me, pausing only to put the milk in a plastic bag before I could stop her. "No bags please," I repeated in Spanish for the third time. "Not even for the milk?" the cashier asked? "No, not even for the milk," I replied. She shrugged as I took the milk out of the plastic bag and put it into my reusable bag. She threw that plastic bag away. Sigh.

So where to go from here? I could keep bagging (sorry, I couldn't resist!) about the lack of environmental awareness, which is probably the easiest thing to do. Or I can take the more difficult route, and just keep doing my part, little by little, and try not to get discouraged about it all. And while the landfill sites continue to fill up, I will continue to seek out new environmental options and projects like this one, which do exist but you just have to look a whole lot harder, and continue to fight the good fight where the whole plastic bag thing is concerned. I do dream of a greener, cleaner Buenos Aires, and I know many others do too.

Monday, June 7, 2010

All that Jazz

Having been out of commission for the past couple of weeks due to a wicked cold and no voice at all, I don't have much to report. Buenos Aires is a terrible city to be sick in, because while you're cooped up inside, you are well aware of the quality and quantity of activity occurring around you that you just can't take part in. While I'm all better now, I feel like I've missed out on a few weeks of life over here, and thus, am going back to some older material.

I have long wanted to write about this little jazz club in Buenos Aires called TheloniousClub after the jazz pianist Thelonious Monk. Nights out here have been some of my favourites in the city.

I'm not exactly sure what it is about the place - it's murky atmosphere lit by an infamous net chandelier; the bartenders and mozos (waiters), who seem to be having more fun than the clients; or the tasty drinks - but it's a spot well worth visitng. While I'm not a huge fan of margaritas, theirs come highly recommended. While my sister was out, we enjoyed their bellinis. But the best part about the club, of course, is the music.

I must admit, every time I've gone there, it has been to hear the same trio: Esteban Sehinkman 3, a trio that if you ever get the chance to hear, you should not hesitate. I discovered this trio because one of the members is the brother of my husband's best friend, and I am so lucky I did. Their performances are magic.

I could try to describe what their music is like, but like most jazz, you need to hear it and better yet, see it to really get it. I've always loved watching musicians communicate with each other while they're playing, and this trio is no exception. I guess part of it is the improvisation, which is always amazing to hear and watch unfold, but part of it is that it seems as though they have developed their own language of sorts.

The verb for enjoy in Spanish is disfrutar, and I'm not sure why, but it seems to hold more power than its English counterpart. Disfrutar seems to better express what the trio is doing while playing. While they never fail to provide an amazing performance, you get the sense that they would be having an equally fine time if they were just playing by themselves.

In any case, I have two of their CDs: their latest - El sapo argentino de boca ancha - and Búfalo. Both are great.

Like most nights in Buenos Aires, TheloniousClub seems to start and end late, and before you know it, the wee hours are calling you to another deep sleep, lulled by some great jazz melodies. But like I said, nights at this club have been some of my favourites.

And with that, I'll leave this post short and sweet. Now that I'm back in health, time to get out and face the music, so to speak.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Celebrating 200 years of celebrating

For those of you living in Argentina, I don't need to explain what this past weekend was all about. But for those of you living in other countries, we just celebrated Argentina's bicentennial. I don't think I have ever seen so many flags in my life - it's been nothing but blue and white here for the past week.
May 25 is a public holiday celebrating the May revolution of 1810, which led to Argentina's independence. This year, because the country was celebrating it's 200th year anniversary, the holiday included the 24th as well. So, a four-day weekend and millions of Argentines can only mean one thing - one hell of a birthday bash.

The long weekend made for a tough decision - to take advantage of the holiday and go on a little trip, or to stay in Buenos Aires where countless activities took place. Fate made the decision for me, as hotel vacancies were a rarity. I forget sometimes, living here in Buenos Aires, that it is much like Japan in that you always have to think ahead. Getting a last minute movie ticket on a Saturday night or on a weekend afternoon when it is raining is wishful thinking. You just have to keep in mind that there are always a million other people with the same good idea that you have.

So with that decision made, Friday night was a quick trip to closing party for an art exhibition - Clarisa Grabowiecki at Appetite Gallery in San Telmo - and then dinner at a very cool little downtown restaurant called Dada. The food was great and the atmosphere sort of reminded me of Montreal. But it was a perfect night to be in the microcentro as they call it over here, as all the big celebrations were just getting underway, and it gave me just a taste of what it would be like trying to maneuver my way around in the crowds. The Casa Rosada was lit up extra pink, roads were cut, tents were set up and people were definitely in a party mood.

But then I got to thinking, minus the flags and the tents, how is this weekend much different from other weekends in Buenos Aires? I guess I have sort of become accustomed to returning at five in the morning on the weekends. I am sort of embarrassed to admit that while living in Calgary, Alberta, I can actually remember going to bed at 10 p.m. some Friday nights. You can blame it on the winter temperatures or the abundant fresh air, but whatever the reason, people just sleep more there than they do in Buenos Aires. I'm lucky if I've even started dinner at 10 on a Friday night. All this to say that from what I have seen, people really make the most of their weekends over here, bicentennial or no bicentennial.

Saturday was supposed to be the day to leave on a trip, but since I stayed, I went to a concert at the University of Buenos Aires Faculty of Law building in honour of the bicentennial. It's a beautiful building located in an amazing area, and it was really something ascending those grand steps with all the Argentine flags flying outside to attend a concert like that for free. It was one of those moments for me when I remind myself that despite all the chaos, Buenos Aires is a pretty incredible city. After a post-concert map (napping, I have discovered, is an absolute necessity if you want to keep up with the Argentines), I attended a birthday party, which started at 10:30 p.m. Birthday celebrations, from what I have seen, are non-stop feasting and drinking and talking and dancing, topped off by cake and champagne. The night never ends early, but that is sort of a rule in this city.

Sunday I headed out on a day trip to San Antonio de Areco, a small historic city northwest of Buenos Aires. It seemed fitting to go there, a place where gauchos supposedly used to roam, to celebrate Argentina's history. My Argy husband does a lot of scoffing about gauchos, claiming they don't really exist, or at least not anymore, and are totally a way of bringing in more tourism money. I suppose it's a lot like the whole cowboy thing in Canada - trying to create some sort of culture or identity that sort of sticks after a while. So while he scoffed, I admired overpriced ponchos and listened to a very enthusiastic gaucho painter, Luis Gasparini, talk about the good old days.

I had full intentions of eventually making my way over to 9 de Julio, where all the celebrations were taking place, but after Saturday's party, and a late return from Sunday's day trip, by the time I was up and rolling on Monday and finished with a few errands, it was almost time to make dinner plans, which was done with two friends from New York who had attended the Argentina-Canada football game and left early, claiming it was one of the most boring sporting events they had ever attended. Apparently Canada was slaughtered by the Argies 5-0. I was hardly surprised, and to tell you the truth, I didn't even know Canada had a soccer team.

After a late dinner of empanadas and drinking wine into the wee hours, Monday quickly turned into Tuesday, the infamous Veinticinco de Mayo, and when I finally woke up, I was greeted with a completely congested head and a very sore throat. So I missed the parade and all the hoopla on 9 de Julio, which apparently more than 2 million people attended, but I still don't feel like I missed out on any celebrations. Besides, from what I could tell, a lot of Argentines were not in a big hurry to attend all the festivities, happy to avoid the crazy traffic and celebrate in their own way I guess.

Today in my gruelling gym class, as we all slogged along after four days of feasting, my teacher stopped the music and demanded to know what was wrong with us, and what had we done all weekend anyway? Drink endless amounts of Malbec and champagne? he asked. Well, in a word, yes, but I don't see how that differs from any other birthday party here in Argentina, or any weekend for that matter.

And with that, I'd like to close by personally wishing Argentina a very Happy Birthday. It was an honour celebrating with you and here's to 200 more!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Carnal Desire

While it may seem odd for a vegetarian to be blogging about meat, I just couldn't resist.

Here in Argentina, carne is not only something you eat, but an entire culture. Not a day goes by where you walk along the street and are not engulfed by the smoke from a nearby asado (barbecue) or choripan being prepared at a street stand.

There are days when I take in my laundry, which has been drying on the balcony (it can take days due to the humidity), to find the fabric softener smell replaced by the smokey scent of sausage, or cow, or who knows what type of animal it is , but it's definitely not fleecy.

It is not unusual for me while out and about to think that a house fire has broken out before seeing my way through the smoke to find meat being cooked on the street. There are millions of things I could tell you about the kinds of meat, the different parts of the cow, the way they cook it, what they eat it with, but I'll leave that to the experts. Or better yet, I'll let you figure that out for yourselves if you ever visit Argentina, and unlike me and 0.00000001% of the population here, you eat meat.

I have become accustomed over the past months to the astonished expressions of the Argentines when they realize that I do not eat meat, as well as the conversation that ensues filled with questions about why not (when I can tell that ultimately, they think not many of my neurons are firing upstairs), and what exactly I do eat. But the most horrified expressions of all have come from fellow expats, for whom I would go so far as to say, meat may just be the country's biggest draw.

My sister was just here for a visit. It was her third time to Argentina, and when I asked her what she wanted to do on her first night here, she did not hesitate before firmly answering, "Eat steak." And so it was. Here she is at La Fonda del Polo with her bife de lomo, where until her last night here at Parrilla Don Julio, she claimed she had eaten the best steak of her life. Watching her facial expressions when she eats meat here is something...a pleasure I do not know, nor understand, but I take joy in it nonetheless.

And then there are my lovely friends from New York, Sharyn and Mike, and their infamous asados. The last one included not only the typical choripan (which I am told is a specialty at their asados) but pata de cordero, or leg of lamb. The moans of pleasure coming from the table as people bit into that meat were something to behold. Here they are biting into a leg of lamb with a joy that is best captured with a photo.

I'm not really sure how to describe the whole asado experience - it really can be kind of medieval. It is customary to eat on wooden plates with cutlery that has wooden handles. There is a lot of cutting and chewing, and is often accompanied by a lot of wine and toasting.

At parrilla restaurants, you can order this mixture of barbecued meats called parrillada that comes to your table kept warm on a mini grill. The waiters carry them out, piled high with steaks, sausages, and intestines, cracking and sizzling, and place them on the tables at which point people literally dive in. I have watched them chewing and cutting, cutting and is almost like a ritual.

Now while asados would seem like no fun at all for the vegetarian, there are treats to be had if you can find your way through the smoke to toss on a few vegetables, like grilled calabaza (squash - delicious here) or even better, provoleta. Provoleta, or grilled provolone cheese topped with olive oil and oregano, as far as I'm concerned, is food for the gods. That with a glass of malbec is one of my favourite things to dine on over here. But I'm digressing from the topic at hand - the incomparable lure of carne.

Parrillas, the grills used to prepare meat here, are gigantic. I remember my Argentine husband scoffing at the size of the grills in Canada. While I would be marvelling at the monstrosity of my parents' new stainless steel barbecue, he would be thinking it insufficient. Now I get it. In fact, I remember him scoffing in general at the meat, even when we lived in Alberta, where they take a lot of pride in their beef. I now understand why he would look so unenthusiastic at steaks in restaurants, as opposed to now. For the record, in this picture he's halfway through his steak, and this one was not even considered large.

Despite all the carnal desire in this country, and you can take that however you want to, because it will likely be applicable, I have to say that I've never been happier being vegetarian. While it may seem like a lastima (shame) to the Argentines, and a downright sin to foreigners, I'll take grilled squash over blood sausage any day. Besides, with everything else there is going on, I don't have the energy for all that cutting and chewing.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Creative Juices

I apologize for not having posted earlier this past week. I've started working on a couple of new things and one of them has been helping out with a play as a lines prompter (in Spanish). While prompting lines in another language may seem like a crazy thing for me to be doing, it has turned out to be an amazing experience, as well as excellent Spanish practice.

So, I got this gig through my very cool Spanish teacher, who aside from being a kind of personal guide to life here in Buenos Aires (she not only teaches me Spanish, but shows me where to shop, how to cook Argentine dishes, how to deal with difficult people/social situations...I am very lucky to have found her), is always working on something interesting. A few weeks ago she spent the week working for Sabastian Bach (Skid Row opened for Guns and Roses...a concert that I went to by the way), and right now she is directing this play, which is called Chingoil Compani by Jorge Accame. When she suggested that I work as her assistant, she explained that the script might be a bit of a challenge because the play takes place in Jujuy, a northwestern province in Argentina, and that I might find some of the dialect a "bit difficult".

And that has been...while ploughing through it with my husband, a true porteño, I couldn't even count on him for definitions of everything. It's worth the effort, however, trying to figure out what everything means, because it's incredibly funny. It's a story about a poor couple getting ready for the big carnival celebration in their neighborhood when they find oil in the back of their property. What ensues is essentially a big piss up, where they proceed to drink 30 bottles of a kind of home brew called chicha because they need the bottles to put the oil in. It is hilarious and the actors do a great job. There is everything from water balloon fights to an imagined phone discussion with JR Ewing of Dallas (see video).

I guess what has struck me the most working on this play, is the creativity and resourcefulness of the Argentinians working on it. There is one director, four actors, and a costume designer (and me), and it is really impressive to see how much a small group can do. Now I know that theatre people the world through often don't have a lot of resources to work with, but I am always delighted by how little you need to create a performance that can be very captivating. Just the other day I was on the subway, when a couple of actors started a small performance in my subway car - they managed to capture everyone's attention in about three seconds and a long boring ride was transformed into a trip to the theatre. You really don't need much, and it's been quite something to see the people working on this play pool together to make things work.

When I started working on the play, practices took place in the very cool home of one of the actors, on a top floor that he usually rents out to an artist. This past week we practiced in the theatre where performances will take place, in the basement of a restaurant called La Clac (see photos). It's one of those classic Buenos Aires places, with lots of stuff on the walls, historical and eclectic, and the theatre, with its vintage seating and movie posters, is charming.

I've had my days working in theatre...I started doing plays in junior high, died my hair red to play Annie in my high school production, and eventually did my first degree in theatre and music . Eventually I got involved in other things and I suppose theatre just fell by the wayside. I had forgotten the joy of it all, the satisfaction of watching a production move from mere lines to being stage ready, the anticipation you feel when the lights go up on the stage, and how great i it is when the actors really deliver a zinger of a line. Or perhaps more recently I've been frightened away by my neighbor's vocalizations (see previous post), but it's been great to be involved in a production again. And I wasn't even scared off by their vocalizations! (see video)

In any case, if you are reading this and are in Buenos Aires, you should definitely go see the play. It is very funny, even if you don't catch all the dialect. Click on the link for info on where and when it playing - the first performance is a week from Sunday.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Love thy Neighbor

I've never been one to shy away from getting to know my neighbors - goodness knows, I ended up marrying one of them. But there's something about neighbors - I can't quite put my finger on it - maybe it's a whole yin yang thing about wanting more privacy, while at the same time being incredibly curious about the goings on next door, or maybe it's competitive - some sort of subconscious colonial desire for more land.

I guess in some ways neighbors are a lot like relatives. Like it or not, you're stuck with them and the wise thing to do is to make the best of the situation and try to avoid conflict.

Having grown up on a farm in southeastern Manitoba in Canada I didn't exactly have next door neighbors, but I did have little stand-offs with the boys who lived down the road. I would stand on the corner of my dad's fields, looking through the water culverts (linked to definition for those who are not from the Canadian Prairies) that we used to wade through and dare the boys to take a step onto "our land".

Needless to say, those little confrontations never ended well, usually with me fleeing in fear across the field in my rubber boots. But I must have eased my notion of boundaries over time because I ended up sharing the smallest of spaces with people while living in Korea and Japan, and even lived in a housing coop in Winnipeg called Common Ground.

In Montreal I lived in a very colourful bohemian apartment building on Rue de Boullion, where almost all of the tenants came from different countries. Above me was crazy Louis, the writer, below me the crazy caretaker, and beside me, with whom I shared a French balcony, was my first Argentinian neighbor, who would eventually become my husband.

Truth be told, before I met the Argentinian, I thought he was crazy too for the simple fact that I heard Celine Dion piping through his speakers, a CD which he later explained was one of his first Canadian gifts. A little side note to Canadian souvenir buyers out there - stick with maple syrup and ice wine. Actually, just stick with ice wine.

Here on my beautiful boulevard in Buenos Aires, the whole Argentinian neighbor experience has been less charming - more noise, less romance, and a strange little situation that I like to call "the battle of the balconies." On the left, we have a family with the loudest kids in the world. While I've only seen as many as two kids on their balcony at once, with the amount of screaming that I hear on a daily basis, I find it hard to believe there are less than 10 children living in that apartment. On the right, we have a singer/actress who likes to "vocalize" in her apartment. I'll get to that in a bit.

Now, part of the noise thing is simply about adjusting to a new culture, and I know I still need to work on that. The reality is that kids just scream more here and people in general make a lot more noise than I'm used to. As my husband told me during my first few weeks hear, upon seeing countless demonstrations in the streets, "people like to be heard here."

I think it's safe to say that that is an understatement. I've been known to throw eggs off my balcony at four in morning at the porteños partying away on our boulevard in the middle of the week. And even that, I understand - everybody likes a good party.

The view from our balcony at night, and very often, party central.

But part of the noise is simply ridiculous. Sure kids scream now and then, but the quality and the quantity of screaming that goes on on the balcony next to us, which I would ballpark at about 60 cm away from us, is something that should qualify as noise pollution. And the vocalizations to the right - well, let's just say that the sounds of cows during mating season sound subdued in comparison. My husband didn't believe me about the vocalizations until one day I held up my cellphone to the wall during vocalization practice and he asked me if there was an animal outside.

The other factor in the battle of the balconies is the visual aspect. Obviously there is not much privacy, and that I can handle. I can ignore the kids next door clinging like cats to the netting they have caged their balcony with, and the vocalizer has actually created a beautiful space on her balcony with lots of plants and some festive lights.

The thing is, the family to the left has taken to piling up tonnes of crap on their balcony, right beside ours, which is not only unsightly, it totally obstructs and steals the attention away from the amazing green of the boulevard and the polo field. You name it, it's been piled up there. I'm waiting for a toilet to appear.

For a long time, I have been wanting to set up some sort of wall to block that ugly scene. I've tried to rearrange the plants to block it, but alas, you can still see all the junk. I recently took a trip to the markets in El Tigre, home of all things made of bamboo, to look for some sort of outdoor structure to do exactly this. And then, ironically, in the midst of all this, the vocalizer went and set up her own walls.

I have to say, I'm not sure what bothers me more - the fact that she set up the walls first, or the fact that I haven't been able to find a reasonably aesthetically pleasing blockage like hers. And, truth be told, I feel kind of hurt. I'm the one who wanted to block out the others and now I've been blocked.

I racked my brain thinking about why she would block us - we don't store junk on our balcony and I'm not a really noisy neighbor. The only thing I could come up with was my husband's penchant for watering the plants naked, but he does that at night, and I doubt she's seen him because she's almost never out there. So why the walls?

And the worst part about it all is that now we've got a wall on one side and a wall of junk on the other. I would ask the neighbor with the walls where she bought them, but I never talk to her anymore because I can never see her.

If it is in fact a battle of the balconies, I do feel as though I've lost.

Monday, April 5, 2010


Hola and welcome to my blog!

This is my first go at blogging, despite many months of good intentions. I had my hesitations, worrying that blogging was narcissistic, or that there was already an influx of foreigners blogging about the expat's view of Buenos Aires. But also, as those who live here can attest to, I don't know where the time goes in Buenos Aires - it always feels like there is something to do, places to go, people to meet and malbec to drink. But I'm here now and that's what matters, so without further ado, my first trip to the Atlantic coast in Argentina.

It may seem strange that my first post about living in Buenos Aires is not in fact about Buenos Aires, but a weekend away a coastal city called Necochea. If you're one of the few (and I use that word lightly) people left sweating it out in Buenos Aires in January and February, you get used to hearing about the coast and cities like Pinamar, because that is where a large portion of the city goes to escape the heat. I, being one of those people stuck in BA during the summer months, spent many a non-air conditioned day dreaming about the coast and feeling the wind on my face. So when an invitation to a friends' house in Neochea for Semana Santa, or the Easter long weekend came along, I jumped at the chance to finally go.

About a five-hour drive from Buenos Aires (we took the seven-hour night micro there...a story for another day because I hear that the the buses with beds or "coche camas" are normally comfortable, not freezing cold with broken seats, Van Halen blasting out the drivers' speakers, and bathrooms with lights that don't work), Necochea is a sharp contrast to the non-stop hum of BA. Wild and windy, and seemingly locked in somewhat of an eighties time warp, the city is a breath or more aptly a gust of fresh air for porteños (local term for people living in BA). It certainly does not have the glitz or the glam of other coastal hot spots, but it is rustic and beautiful, and in summer, when it is not quite so cold, I can imagine it as the perfect getaway.

After watching the sun rise (stunning) over the ocean upon our early arrival on Friday, we headed out with the group staying at the house to neighbouring Costa Bonita. The winding drive is beautiful with lots of sun and sand and great little tidbits to see like this very cool shipwreck. The beaches have a very deserted vibe that I loved and we went for a hike among some incredible sand dunes that felt almost otherworldly.

We went to a great little spot for a seaside coffee with cake and eventually made our way back to Necochea, where I was happy to explore all the little stores and cafes, many of which seem completely content to remain in the style of many years gone by. There was this amazing optical place with a stash of vintage sunglasses that was unheard of. If it were located on Queen Street West in Toronto, those things would be selling for a fortune, not the equivalent of around $40 CAD.

Our friend's house had much of the local charm, with a parilla, or Argentine style barbecue, in the back yard and an incredible grape vine. While the nights are cold, it is beautiful to see the stars shining brightly. The cool air, the wind, the clear skies, the vast feeling of it all really reminded me of Canada, and made me a little homesick for the prairies, of which I call home.

Even though the beach in Necochea can be a bit rough because of the wind (and for you fellow Winnipegers reading this, the wind made the corner of Portage and Main feel like a soft breeze), I liked the solitude that it provided. I went for an amazing hour-long windswept run along the beach on Saturday, and another run through the neighboring forest, also a flashback to Canada for me. The air was so fresh, and the scenery so beautiful, it is a place I definitely want to return to, but in summer, because Autumn was definitely a bit chilly for my liking.

We opted to return to Buenos Aires on Sunday in a car with friends, much more comfy than the micro, and the best part, perhaps even the highlight of the trip, was stopping in Tandil, home of the famous tenista Juan Martin Del Potro, to an AMAZING restaurant called Epoca de Quesos. In a word, this place was magic. As you can tell by the name, it specializes in cheese and salamis.

You walk in and are greeted with the strong aroma of all kinds of cheeses and salamis hanging by strings, piles of artisenal chocolate and all kinds of delicious and high cholesterol goodies available for purchase. The inside is romantic and rustic with candlelit wooden tables covered with big wooden boards piled high with cheeses and meats. Not being a meat eater, I opted for a cheese platter only, but the provoleta (grilled provolone cheese topped with olive oil and spices - one of my favourite Argentine dishes) shared by the group was the best I have had in Argentina.

As a little touristy side note, I LOVED the fact that the soda water came in an original glass sifon.

We sat outside in the garden underneath the vines with the sun streaming through, sipping wine and trying not to think about the fact that the weekend was over. It was one of those magical afternoons, I longed to return to that place before I had even left. Everyone in the group left with bags full of stinky cheese which made the the long ride back to BA a bit "sharp" inside the car, but well worth it.

All in all, a wonderful trip to the sea with a nice finish in Tandil. I hope to go back to Necochea, as I think it would be a perfect place to rent a house by the sea, and also would love to head back to Tandil again, not only to feast on cheeses, but because it really is a charming place.

After all that fresh air, and the looming traffic coming back into BA after a long weekend, it was great to be home. As I wrote that, I couldn't help but smile at the fact that indeed, this crazy city is starting to feel like home to me. I will leave you with this last photo from Epoca de Quesos, where if I look a bit perplexed, it is likely because I am pondering how Del Potro managed to win the US open with all that cheese and salami so close to his training grounds.

Chau for now.