30 noviembre 2006

nos llaman los desaparecidos

We're now in Salta, Argentina. Tonight we leave for Sucre, Bolivia, which will allow us to renew our three month Argentine visas when we return to Buenos Aires for the new year.

The following I am transcribing from my past few day's notes:

It occurs to me that I haven't really touched on very much of what happened during our two months in Buenos Aires. In truth, I'm not a great fan of blogging, but I realize that I have some friends who might be interested in and/or entertained by hearing some of what has passed, so I'll try to catch up. Additionally, I'm happy to have kept journals (online or otherwise) of past trips, as they serve as nice memory triggers.

Erica and I left BaAs yesterday, and arrived in Paraná, the capital of the province, Entre Rios, just north of Buenos Aires province. As I was rushing to leave the city yesterday (having been burdened with the chore of retrieving my cell phone at Casa Zoola 30 minutes before our bus was to leave), I jogged past the corner of Avenida de Mayo and Avenida Nueve del Julio, where Erica and I asked the cab driver to drop us off from the air port two months ago. The airport was a minor nightmare that day. The attendants kept arbitrarily moving our baggage back and forth across the terminal (as we searched for my bicycle, which would not arrive for another four days), and then demanded we tip them for the service.

When we arrived in town, we assembled Erica's bike on that same corner, in the middle of a work day, while the bustling Porteños gawked at the ridiculous gringos and their baggage sprawled across the plaza. In retrospect, we're lucky someone didn't run off with anything. At the time, we had little choice but to so collect ourselves in public.

We then lugged ourselves down the street, and in the first half a block spotted Gabriel, a loud, frenetic Israeli who urged us to stay at his hostel, Avenida Hostel (aka Casa Zoola, which I've since learned is a Hebrew word with the same connotation as the Castellano, fiaca, or the practice of doing not very much at all, but relishing it). Gabriel's first sell was a bit pushy for us, so we continued searching, and returned to Casa Zoola after finding each of two other nearby hostels overbooked.

We stayed there for just over a week, during which we explored most of the barrios (checking out an apartment as far out as west Caballito), made a few good friends at the hostel, and learned a few of the city's secrets, before we found a room share with Marina, who helped to make the past couple months completely splendid.

Interestingly enough, the hostel we had initially avoided continued to serve as a sort of home base for us throughout our stay in BaAs. It is where we met Val (with whom we are now travelling), Ivan (our recent spanish instructor) and Cesar (who has now gone off to Brazil, where we may meet him for Carnival in February), who introduced us to some of the city's terrific secrets, its theatre scene, and its proper place within the world of Latin American circus and street performance.


23 noviembre 2006

yo monté mi bicicleta por tu ventana anoche...

We've become members of the South American Explorers Club (SAE), a dubious honor, which has at the very least provided us a place to store certain of our belongings while we travel elsewhere. We had heard it was a good resource for maps (which are difficult to come by here), and that other members (some of whom were cyclists) had recorded detailed travel logs with specific routes and anecdotes concerning water, food, etc. When we first visited there about three weeks ago, I felt as though I were at a summer camp, or a training seminar for missionaries. A bubbly, blond Californian named Jenny greeted us at the door, each sentence a crescendo: "Well, hello, how are you! Welcome to the clubhouse! Now, how long have you been traveling in South America? What are your plans!"

The "clubhouse" holds regular events for gringos, including such staples as yoga and tango, and has regular dinners and parties. Two days ago, we joined the club in order to have a place to store our bicycles for the coming month. That evening, Ivan, Erica and I were walking down Florida (the commercial pedestrian avenue downtown) on our way to Lavalle to see a movie, which was playing two doors down from what is apparently the only "California Burrito" place in Buenos Aires. A week earlier, as we were craving Mexican food of any kind, Erica and I had eaten at this overpriced Chipotle knockoff, and now Erica was describing for Ivan, in detail, exactly how insufferable the food had been. The details of this conversation I shall not recall here, except that I remember Erica comparing the rice to the residual plastic inside the lid of a gallon of milk, and the black beans to saturated gardener's mulch. The conversation lasted the better part of the 20 minute walk.

As we crossed the street at Sarmiento, we saw the same blond Jenny, who immediately stopped and asked in the same bright crescendo, "Hey, are you guys on your way to the California burrito place?"

"No, we're going to see a movie," Erica told her.

"Oh," said Jenny, "I just assumed you were on your way to the California burrito place. Tonight is 'Networking Night' there, and that's where I'm coming from right now!"
* * *

Buenos Aires, we've heard from many people, is a very unique place in Latin America, an apparent island of European sympathies and sentiments, and the PorteÑos (Buenos Aires natives) consider themselves a separate brand than the rest of Latin America.

Apparently the job of the SAE is to make the experience of traveling to a foreign country (even one so accessible, so European, as Buenos Aires) as easy as possible for gringos. Not to say this isn't an honorable goal, but not a word of spanish did I hear spoken in the clubhouse, all the signs were in English, and every time they quoted a price for us, they helpfully reminded us how few American dollars it translated to.

We're ready to leave here for a bit, though the SAE really isn't any indication of anything save for its clientele. This city is pretty rad, and I will happily return.

estamos viajando, ¿recuerdan?

Tomorrow we leave Buenos Aires. We've been here two months as of the day before yesterday. A lot has happened, and then again, very little has happened. I've learned to juggle clubs, to play Jesse James on the mandolin, and to use La Guia "T" to get around La Capital Federal. I've practiced my tenses regularly and believe myself to be ready for the subjunctive, though my professor does not agree. Give it time, he says. And yet, so frequently do I wish to form a sentence with two separate subjects and two separate verbs (i.e. "I wish that he would just teach me the subjunctive"), that when it finally occurs, the sensation must certainly be mystical.

Learning another language is one of the most wonderful things in the world. I've waited a long time to really devote myself to it, but at least at this age I am able to appreciate the beauty and drama of the learning process moreso than if I were raised bilingual, or had learned at an early age.

We share a common reality as human beings, and yet with differences in language, with variations in our sensory perceptions, we each carry with us a separate overlay, like topographical transparencies in a road atlas. Our professor sees this, and for that reason do I tolerate his constant tardiness, occasionally ill-prepared course material, and the fact that he smokes all my marijuana. Ivan is working now on his Portugese, after which he's excited about tackling a Germanic language (German?), and then Arabic. Someday he'll by a boat.

I can see the appeal, and in fact have lately been wondering whether I shouldn't myself continue merely to play with language(s) for the next few years or so. (Then again, "study" has never really been my thing.)

* * *

We've packed our bikes up for this next month, during which we're heading north to Rosario, Salta, Jujuy, and then probably continuing into Bolivia (as far north as Santa Cruz), before returning to the city for New Years when we'll have some friends in town. No cycle touring just yet.

03 noviembre 2006

me pregunto a veces

I've been having extraordinarily vivid dreams lately. I haven't been recording them except insofar as to run them by Erica each morning, which is enough that I'm able to clearly remember them afterward. Caveat: many people don't like to hear others' dreams. If such is the case for you, read no further. I've been entertained by my dreams of late, so decided to record them here.

1. Last night I dreamt that I was part of an undercover team of documentarians who were following a team of highly sophisticated bank robbers in their regular capers. Their gimmick: the entire team was comprised of actual convicts, who would break out of prison at night, rob a bank, and then break back into prison before morning. Additionally odd were these facts: each of the bank robbers moved as though he were encased in a giant marble or hamster ball, so that their nightly descents resembled one of those "marble rallies." Imagine fifteen human-sized marbles careening through a six-story parking garage. We shot such great footage. Also, Samuel L. Jackson was one of the bank robbers.

I've been reading The Brother Karamazov, which I believe is a lodestone pulling my subconscious toward the topics of crime and the flouting of systemic punishment in favor of the punishment of one's own shame, remorse and self-degradation.

2. Two nights ago I dreamed that Erica and I were walking home from a costume party in the city. I was dressed as a bag of french fries wearing a basketball jersey, but it was hot that night, so I had pulled most of the costume off. It was hanging out of my sarong as though I were a frat boy at frisbee golf. We walked along the side of a famous church south of downtown Buenos Aires, through a parking lot which was overhung by the same cable and plastic tarping as every other parking lot in the city. It was more or less an enclosed space.

When we reached the exit of the parking lot, two security guards rounded the corner and stopped us, saying "You can't be here with those!", presumably referring to the costumes. We tried to ignore them and to continue walking out onto the sidewalk, but they suddenly grabbed me and I yelled "No me tocas!" until, in typical dream fashion, we had time-leapt past them and were in a swirling crowd in front of the church.

I remembered just then that it was at this same church that a certain high-ranking public official was being publicly excommunicated from the Catholic church, and that it was to be televised to the entire country. Indeed, the front doors of the church were opened wide, and I could see the flash bulbs popping. I turned to my right, and there was my friend Leslie, from Chicago, dressed as a carrot.

"Wait a second," I said, "are you really in Buenos Aires, or am I actually in Chicago?"

I don't remember her answer, but it must have been Chicago because when I leaned in to kiss her cheek (as is the customary greeting here) she withdrew abruptly and said, "Jesus, can't you see that Zeke is right there?" Indeed, Zeke, whose hair was well-oiled and who was wearing what the Israelis dance in when they visit Buenos Aires (a costume?) was just over her shoulder. He, however, seemed not to have noticed the near-scandal.

I wanted to leave then, but I looked back to see that Erica had walked into the church and was headed down the central aisle, the headstock of her banjo poking out of her backpack, bobbing up and down as she made her way toward the altar. The flashbulbs suddenly went like firecrackers.

But I was tired so I went home.

3. I could recount a third concerning a certain drink which left me unable to communicate or descend a set of stairs at a party held by my Californian uncle, and which left me with a terribly stiff neck upon waking up, but I think this shall suffice for now, as the latter is enough for me to recall those more ineffable bits later.

terror a bordo

"If this spanish class were a Cadillac dealership, I'd be, like, throwing in the OnStar system for nothing. If this were a casino, I'd be giving you the high-roller suite."

-Ivan Brickman (nuestro profesor del español)

01 noviembre 2006

yo no soy marinero; soy capitan

Hola chicos. I've created a website. Here it is. The locutorio I'm writing from is a block from my apartment in La Capital Federal de Argentina, Buenos Aires. My friend Erica and I are living in a barrio called San Telmo, which is south of downtown by just a short walk. La Casa Rosada (Argentina's gay equivalent to the White House) is our most proximal landmark. From what I can tell, the vandals have not yet managed to stencil a picture of Garfield having sex with a vampire anywhere on its pristine pink. Not the case for most other buildings in the capital.

We arrived here 22 Septiembre. Shall I work backward? It's easiest to speak of that which has occurred most recently. Thus, we spent this past weekend in the Argentine countryside, at the farmhouse of the woman whose apartment we are presently sharing. She, Marina, is the daughter and granddaughter of Argentine surgeons, and as a result has the sort of unshakable propriety and class that is so charming in a woman who licks the bottom of her soup bowls and gallops comically from the kitchen to the living room to fetch the Dostoevsky novel she's just been speaking about. The farm, she says, has been in her family since the early part of this past century, when her family's affluence was apparently much more conspicuous. The house we stayed in was meant to be a "temporary" while their grand country manor was built. However, just before construction was to begin in 1929, the Argentine economy (so long tied to that of the United States) went sour, and with it went their ambitious plans.

"Such fortunate timing!" according to Marina, "for imagine if this entire beautiful pasture were covered by some ostentatious monstrosity!"

To be sure, the place we stayed was nothing to spit at, though it's true that the plastered walls are pulling apart in places. Marina visits once a month, and returns with bags full of limones and quinotos (kumquats) to make marmalade. It is beautiful there. I will try to post photos soon. We laid in the grass, read, and ate three wonderful meals a day. Marina borrowed a horse from one of the caretakers, and we rode circles in the yard until we couldn't walk. Friday night we remembered that there were stars. Lots of stars. Saturday night we sat on the covered porch in the pitch black while the rain came in sheets. With each pulse of lightening, the fields lit enough to see the cows grazing entirely unfazed.

Incidentally, when I started writing this, the radio was playing The End of the Road by Boyz 2 Men, and is now playing Stay by Lisa Loeb. It's difficult to not write this in Castellano.

I'm running out of time, but rest assured, I'll fill in the blank spaces. Hasta pronto.