Wednesday, January 10, 2007


I was thinking about pretending I was still in Argentina so that I could continue to post on my blog, but alas, the cat's out of the bag. It's just that as I'm going about my day, so many things pop into my head that I've forgotten to mention, little bits of trivia, conclusions I've come to, etc...

Anyway, I am, indeed, back in L.A. I've spent the whole day sleeping, and now it's 5 a.m. and I've had to reset my computer, because the time was set to the Buenos Aires clock. I am in a state of disbelief. I keep thinking about something I'd like to do this week, a restaurant I'd heard about, some area of town to explore - and then realize that I can't actually do it.

I realized that there was something important that I failed to mention thus far in the blog: the matter of poverty. There was a New York Times article recently that discussed the widening gap between the rich and the poor in Argentina, and indeed, it's true. The middle class is evaporating:

...“In the past, Argentina really was more like Europe than the rest of Latin America,” said Bernardo Kosacoff, the Argentine representative of the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. “Parents had the perception that their children would live better than they did, because workers had well-paying jobs in the formal sector, their own houses and access to good education. But now the process of social ascent is much more complicated.”

Statistics clearly make that point. In the mid-1970s, the most affluent 10 percent of Argentina’s population had an income 12 times that of the poorest 10 percent. By the mid-1990s, that figure had grown to 18 times the income of the poor, and by 2002, the peak of the crisis, the income of the richest segment was 43 times that of the poorest. The situation has improved only slightly since then.

The economic crisis, which built through the 1990s, peaked when the government froze bank accounts and declared its largest foreign debt default ever. The peso’s value collapsed, millions of Argentines lost part or all of their savings and the economy contracted by more than 11 percent the next year.

Despite the recovery, barely 5 percent of Argentine families are now saving money, according to a study conducted in April by the Market Foundation, a research group. That compares with nearly 30 percent at the end of the 1990s. At the crisis’s peak, nearly 60 percent of Argentines had incomes below the poverty line...."

As a traveler, the thing that really startles you is the children. No matter what time of day or neighborhood, there will be children begging in the street. Okay, you think, it's really sad, but many countries are like this. But try to imagine it in a city like New York, or Paris, because that's what Buenos Aires is like in many other ways. It's 3 am, and you're walking out of bar in the East Village, and there is a cluster of 7 year olds asking you for money. Or better yet: it's a sunny Saturday afternoon, you're shopping in Soho, and there are several, very skinny, undernourished children sleeping on the street outside of Anna Sui. It's quite startling. Argentina is like a third world country in a first world country's clothing. At every traffic light, there will be a pre-teenage boy with a some soap and a cloth offering to clean your windshield - people just wave them off, because it's such a natural occurence. Most of the time they don't even ask, they just start squirting away, in hopes that you'll feel guilty and give them a few cents.

I've spoken with a lot of people who had thriving businesses and then lost everything during the economic crisis. The only thing many people had left were their houses or apartments, which at that point weren't worth that much. Still, the price of an apartment in Buenos Aires is about a third of it would have been a few years ago. A friend of mine, Pedro, had a cable company, with 123 employees working for him. In 2001, he lost everything - the company, his savings. Everything but his apartment. He told me he went into a terrible depression and had no idea what direction to take with his life. At that point, his mother was living in New York, so he decided to join her there, not knowing a lick of English. "Mozhan," he said, with a quiet sigh and a long pause, "that was a very difficult year."

Alright, I'm NOT going to end my blog on this note, guys, don't worry. I've left Argentina with a very distinct feeling that I will be back there, and not just once or twice more. I really feel a great kinship with that city, and I could totally imagine living there. The only thing that would worry me is the little matter of gender relations, but hey, every city's got to have it's problems!!! Also, everywhere in the world, ladies have to deal with men ogling them on the street, but in Argentina it's taken to a whole new level. Again, I've never been anywhere else in Latin America, so I can only speak of Argentina, but instead of the regular "Oooh, baby you're so fine, " or "Hey baby, where you going? Give me a smile!," it's more like, "Hey baby, I'm gonna fuck you so hard and you don't know how much you're gonna like it!" Charming, right? It took me a week or so to understand what exactly the men were saying to me, but once I did, I was a bit taken aback.

In any case, the day I left, a few friends dropped by my place to say goodbye, and of course, Argentinian style, stayed all afternoon. They brought wine and ice cream, and as I padded around my apartment packing up last minute items, they sat out on the balcony, with the sun shining on them, eating, drinking and talking, and it gave me a very good feeling. I don't know exactly why it is that in one month in Argentina I met more people than in the whole time I've been in L.A. Partly it's that I had nothing to do when I was Buenos Aires BUT meet people, no responbilities, no job, etc. But partly, it's because they're slightly more accessible, I think, than the people here. You will meet someone one day, and before you know it, you're on a boat with him and five of his closest friends. Of course, he will be three hours late to pick you up, but that's another story. Americans, among others, are protective of their privacy and their "space." I didn't see so much of that there. There's nothing wrong with privacy or space, and my lord, with an Iranian family, I've definitely grown up very attached to my privacy (as it is consistently being violated), but mostly, I really adore their sense of community.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Some Day Trips

Yesterday, a group of us took a little day trip to San Antonio, a sleepy gaucho town about two hours west of Buenos Aires. We walked around, went to a gaucho museum, went to a typical gaucho saloon-type place, and saw some, uh, gauchos. Yep. It was a gaucho kinda day. At one point, I saw a sign that said, among other things, "churros." I forced the group to take a detour. We ordered some churros, and the guy behind the counter told us that he had to prepare them, and would we mind waiting. So we ordered some beers, took a seat, and waited for the churros.

When I tell you that these churros were so amazing that I had to lower the volume of my pleasure groans lest I embarass myself too much, I'm not exaggerating. They were insane. Warm, lightly crispy and sugared churros, with just the right amount of dulce de leche INSIDE of them, so that when you took a bite, your experience was as follows: first, the light crunch of the outermost layer, then, the soft, chewy, sweet taste of the churro dough, and finally, the warm, gooey, heavenly experience of dulce de leche. Oh. My. God.

En route to San Antonio:

Sitting on a well outside the gaucho museum:

Some gauchos on horseback in the street:

Today, a different set of Argentinians took me and Diana out on a sailboat all day. We drove to San Isidro, a suburb of Buenos Aires, and got on a boat and spent the day on the Tigre River, swimming, talking, drinking, and playing Beatles songs on the guitar. At one point, one of the guys, Matthias, took the guitar and started strumming and singing a song from....THE SOUND OF MUSIC!!!! I couldn't believe it when I heard those sweet words made famous by my dear Fraulein Maria, reinterpreted by a stoned 30 year old Argentinian male: "Perhaps I had a wee-ked child-hud, Perhaps I had a meeserable youth...but somewhere in my wee-ked, mee-serable past, I must hev done some-ting gud..." Another guy, Alexis, when asked about a scar on his chin, recounted a story from his youth. His older brother decided he would make, you guessed it, a dulce de leche churro out of Alexis, with Alexis as the dulce the leche, and a bunch of pillows held together by belts as the bread part of the churro. He tied Alexis up so tight that the poor boy could only stand very straight and hop around. Eventually, he got tired, and tried to rest himself against a countertop, but he lost his balance, and timber-like, fell flat on his face.

But all the dulce de leche churro talk made me a little crazy for some more of my new all-time favorite dessert. Alas, in the middle of the Tigre, there were none to be found.

With the two guitar players, Matthias and Marianno, on the boat:

Tonight is my final Saturday in Buenos Aires. But honestly, I'm TIRED! I don't think I'm going to do a seven o'clock in the morning sort of night. No puedo mas!

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Mas Fotos

For some reason, the bike photos from my post a few days ago aren't appearing, so I'm going to show you a few different pictures of me and my friend Diana on wheels. These were taken today, riding around my neighborhood Palermo Hollywood:

Taking Personal Stock

Hello my friends,

I suppose people write in journals for the same reasons that they dream: to purge and synthesize the experiences of their days. Also, it's nice to have a record of your thoughts and feelings at certain stages of your life, in order to look back and compare with your current situation. Anyway, while this blog hasn't been filled with the most intimate details of my trip, I have felt that by keeping this blog, I've had to reflect, synthesize, and record a lot of my experiences that I may otherwise not have. When I was a child, I think I honestly thought that when I wrote in my journal, I was indeed writing TO someone, and I diligently started every entry with "Dear Diary," I think, for that reason. That idea was comforting - that I was not alone with my thoughts. Somehow, the blog has had a bit of the same effect, although, in this case, I actually AM writing to someone - to a lot of someones, my close friends!

Why the sudden wistfulness? I don't know. My trip is coming to an end, and it's 7 in the morning and I haven't slept much this past evening. I watched the Argentinian heist movie "Nine Queens" last night, which I had with me on DVD, and was surprised to see just how much Spanish I've learned, and in particular, Argentinian Spanish. It's quite different. The accent is clearly very particular, but also many of the words they use are unique to Latin American Spanish. For example, (or as they say in Spanish, per ejemplo (it was a long time since I threw one of in, just thought it was overdue)) in Spain, the word for avocado is "aguacate" (a word I learned because I love avocados and wanted to buy them). I walked into this hovel next to my apartment which sells produce, asked for an "aguacate", and the vender looked at me blankly. I of course had no back-up word for avocado, so I did the thing that foreigners do when they don't know a very simple word: I described it. "The thing...that" "Ah! Una palta!" Ah yes, a palta. Likewise, the word for "fuck" (ahem) is "coger" (te quiero coger - I want to fuck you), whereas in Spain that verb is used for "to take", to take someone by the arm, to take someone's coat...In this case, I see how it arrived at its Latin American connotation, but many of these words or alternate meanings kind of come out of the blue, at least for me.

Anyway, I had a bunch of goals for myself for this trip, and clearly I haven't come close to achieving them all - but I have been really surprised to see how much I just FORGOT about my life in Los Angeles while I've been here. It seems like a distant, inconsequential dream. I don't mean to sound negative, and one of the things I'm working on for the new year is how to enjoy my life there more, but it's funny how quickly a city, a life, can fade in your mind when you're enjoying yourself someplace else. So I'm happy about this temporary Los Angeles amnesia, if for no other reason than it gave me a much-needed break, perhaps in service of re-entering that life refreshed and more optimistic. That was, in fact, one of the goals. Some of the other goals? To learn Spanish, to spend a month by myself, to get to a know a new city (I only mention the ones I've accomplished, you'll notice)...

So now it's 8 am, and I'm going to try to get some sleep. This is actually a pretty normal occurrence for me here, the only difference tonight is that I've been home all night. I don't know how people have romantic hookups here - when a night ends at 7 in the morning, it's already light outside, your eye makeup looks like heroin chic, and the mood is totally lost.

(A little post-script about avocados, I looked them up because I was curious: it seems that the English word avocado is derived from "aguacuate," which is derived from the Aztecan word, "ahuacatl," which means.....TESTICLE! Because of it's shape!)

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Forizzeal Estate?

I learned something very strange today. So, I've been looking at some apartments, because the idea has been tossed around to buy an apartment in Buenos Aires as an investment. The prices are low and you can get lovely one-bedroom apartments for anywhere between 60,000-100,000 dollars. Anyway, I was in the car with Lucrecia, the real estate agent, who was describing the process of buying an apartment as a foreigner. Apparently, all owners only declare a portion of the selling price in the deed, so as to avoid taxes. This is totally common, and everybody does it. So, if you're bringing your money from outside the country, you can bring the money that is declared legally, and the remaining money that you still have to pay the owner, but that the owner isn't declaring, has to be brought in "under the table." There are organizations that will help you do this. The really funny part: the Argentinian owner does not accept transfer of money, checks, nothing that can be traced - so you have to bring it all in cash. Lucrecia was telling me about how she sold a building for $3.1 million to a foreign couple who was going to transform the place into a luxury hotel. They had to bring the money IN CASH, and the owner brought a few people and they sat there in this room, with millions of dollars on the table, and counted it all, bill by bill. It took three hours. This process is, apparently, completely normal.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Calling All Urban Planners!

Buenos Aires needs your help. It is in desperate need of a public transportation makeover. They have five subway lines, and they are mostly to get from the outer suburbs of the city to downtown. So imagine four subway lines, coming from the north, north-east, north-west, and west and all converging at one point in the south. Then there is a fifth, very short subway line, running east-west, in the southern part of the city. And beyond that, NADA! There are very large, very popular neighborhoods with no subway stops. Also, to get from one line to another, you have to go all the way to the south, (downtown), usually to the end of the line you're on, and then switch. Apparently, the city was all set to make 8 subways lines, but on the fifth, they ran out of money, and then there was the economic crisis, so....It's also very crowded, very humid (no AC in the subterraneo), and stops running at 10:30 pm, if you can believe it. For this reason, I rarely take the subway. There is, however, a very extensive bus system. Also, cabs are quite cheap, even for Argentinians.

But what, you ask, is my preferred method of transportation in Buenos Aires?

MY BIKE!!!!!

Yes, my friends, I'm on wheels. Buenos Aires is not exactly a bike-friendly city, it's true. About as bike-friendly as New York, I suppose. There is a major war between bus drivers and cab drivers, and sometimes, it's a little scary to be a two-wheeler caught in the middle. But I thought it would be a great way to get to know the city, and frankly, I was tired of asking people which bus to take where, so I just went for it. My German friend Kristina bikes all around Los Angeles without a helmet, and I'm always saying that I'd be way too scared for that, but I think there's something about being in a foreign city that makes it seem like it's possible. I would say, "when in Rome," but it's not like a lot of people are biking here!

Here are some photos of me and my friend Diana, on our bikes:

Diana is another friend of a friend, a half-Danish, half-Spanish woman who is also spending a month here. The other night, we ended up at a tranny bar called Kim Novak, which is walking distance from both of our apartments. It has a very Berlin vibe - it's decked out like a grungy but retro apartment with no windows and a mixed crowd of trannies, gays, and straights. Anything seems to go at Kim Novak. On the bathroom door, there is a sign that reads, "Please, No Drugs," but of course that doesn't stop anyone. Diana returned from the bathroom, half-giggling, half-disturbed. She told us that there had been a slightly freaky-looking woman who was exasperated by the long wait for the toilet. She decided she had had enough and grabbed a paper towel, put it down her pants, peed in it a little, threw it out, and then grabbed another paper towel, peed in it a little more, threw it out - she repeated this process four or five times. What would the Hitchcockian actress have thought of that!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Taking Cultural Stock

I've been here for almost three weeks now, and I am at the point where I can begin to assess some aspects of Argentinian culture - some qualities I like, some I don't.

What I like:

Argentinians have the true joie de vivre that the French only think they possess. They love to eat, they love to party, they love spending time with large groups of friends. It is truly a culture that holds community in high esteem. Because most people grow up, go to high school, college, and then work in the same town, many people have large groups of friends that they have had their entire lives. Every weekend, they assemble in large groups, and everyone in the group always knows what everyone else is up to. I like this. Perhaps I like it because I'm an only child of divorced parents, and I have always longed to be part of a group, a large, close family. Perhaps I like it because I'm a very social person, and enjoy assembling friends. Argentinians make a lot of noise, they have a lot of parties, and they have a lot of fun.

I also love the schedule. Of course it's not like this only in Argentina, but I love that they have a long dinner at 10 pm, linger until 1 or 2, and then go out for drinks or to a party. You can't meet someone for a quick drink or dinner here - there's no such thing as the American two hour meeting (which I can't stand, incidentally). Nights will very often end at 6 or 7 in the morning.

They also, like in practically every country but the U.S., live with their parents well into their 20s. It's expensive to live on your own, but even among the wealthy Argentinians, I haven't really seen it. The only people I've seen who don't live with their parents either have very, very bad relationships with them, or have parents who live outside of the city of Buenos Aires. To be clear, this particular aspect for me is neutral, it's just an observation.

What I don't like:

They're kind of flakey. I guess when you're really carefree, and you're also trying to coordinate plans with 50 people, some plans fall through the cracks. They are also notoriously late. Several times I've been lost and running 30 minutes late to meet someone, walking frantically around, asking for directions, only to arrive at the meeting place, usually a streetcorner, and see the person just walking up.

Argentinians, because they're so friendly and so communal, have a weird tendency of inviting you to do a million things and then not following through. It's strange to begin with - you wonder why someone you just met is inviting you to their family's weekend house, or to spend Christmas with them. I met a guy for the first time, and in the course of the evening, he made plans with me for practically every night that week - we'll go for an asado (barbeque) this night, we'll go water-skiing this night, you'll come to my family's place the next night, we'll go to the theater on this night, we'll hang out with Maradona on Friday (yes, he said this)....and then I never heard from him again. This is actually pretty typical.

They also have sort of strange dating rituals. The men are quite aggressive, as you may have already guessed. It is normal for a women to reject a man 4 or 5 times before accepting a date. In fact, it's sort of required. In the U.S., if a guy asks you for your number and you say no, unless he's sort of strange, you'll probably never hear from him again. Maaaaaaybe he'll ask a second time - but FIVE times??!?!?! Then, on the fifth time, if she's interested she'll say yes, and they either go out, or else it's quite typical that the guy will then back off, and not call again, regardless of whether they've slept together or not. If the woman doesn't reject the guy at least a couple of times, she seems desperate, and the guy usually backs off.


You talk to Argentinian women and they all say the men are "histericos," which obviously literally means hysterical, but has the connotation of "tease". If you talk to the Argentinian men, they swear up and down that the women are very "histerica", and they're much worse than the men. In any case, who has the time?

One last thing: like most countries outside the U.S., political correctness hasn't really made it down here. As Americans, we take it too far, in my opinion, but all in all, I'm glad that most people feel uncomfortable using, for example, the word "nigger." Here, it's quite common, and they use it to talk about the "native" population of Argentina, the non-Europeans. Of course, at this point, there has been so much mixing going on, that I doubt there is a pure "native" population. However, the people you see begging on the subways, the children who come up to you and ask for money, the people who do the manual labor, all have darker skin. Many "white" Argentinians feel very comfortable joking about the "negras", and I've heard three guys tell me that as a rule, the negra girls aren't pretty. At a dinner, one guy I was with was talking about his friend Jose who was about to join us, and he said: "I love Jose. He's one of my best friends. And he's one of the only Jewish people I know who isn't obsessed with money." Awesome. Of course it's not like no one thinks or says these things in the U.S., it's just that in many circles, people don't feel comfortable being so explicit with their prejudices. I pointed out to this guy that what he was saying was a bit of an ethnic stereotype, and he started backpeddling, realizing he was in the company of an American who probably had a lower tolerance for off-the-cuff racism. "No, they're just so GOOD with money, don't you think? I mean, that's probably what was so threatening to Hitler, no?"

Nice try.