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.