Sunday, 30 November 2008


I've been having vivid dreams since I arrived in this country: my mind must be in overdrive, trying to make sense of all the new things it's coming across. My dream last night involved the girl from the launderette. Not my launderette, but the one next to it. When I first when to pick up my clothes, I walked in there, said "Hola," looked bemused, then realised what I'd done. She looked at me as if she could tell from my face what I'd done too, and no sooner had I said "This isn't the right place!", than she was laughing in agreement. "I need to go to the other one!," I said, as I made my way out of the door and headed in the wrong direction to find the right launderette. She pointed me in the right direction. I looked at her through the glass, and banged my head with my hand to let her know that I wasn't quite with it, and she had a laugh...

So, I found this girl in my dream last night. Upon seeing me, she instantly started laughing, banged her hand against her head just as I had done, and said: "Hey, you're the guy who walked into the wrong launderette!"

Anyway, dropping your clothes off at the launderette is the only way to do things here. Unlike in my dream, where we actually had a washing machine in the flat that I'd never come across before.

- - - - -

The weekend has been rained off in Argentina. Check out the football match between Huracan and San Lorenzo!


Want me to write more? I'm not going to. The picture's said enough.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Banging pots and pans

I turned on the TV last night while eating my dinner, and caught some images of a cacerolazo taking place in some region of this enormous country, where they're protesting about a lack of power and water. A cacerolazo is the traditional Argentine way to protest: you get a pot or pan of some sort from your kitchen, together with a wooden spoon or something else with which you can beat out your protest rhythm in the street. Anyway, that's what's going on in some part of Argentina. I may be safe from such governmental neglect, as I live in a posh part of the important capital, but who knows?

It appears my slightly deranged and early-rising landlady (she pretty much stages a cacerolazo of her own every morning...) didn't spend the night at the flat last night, and this enabled me to have an almighty sleep, which saw me completely out for the count until almost 11am. Within ten minutes of getting my senses in order, I'd been greeted with the news that, outside of Argentina, there was even more unrest than a bunch of housewives in the street.

The siege in Mumbai is fortunately over now, but that could be the beginning of a new wave of something bad. Thailand's in a mess, and the tourists are stranded. I have two friends over there at the moment, as it goes. One of them will be "celebrating" his birthday tomorrow. Fun days... And, after reading so much about how nobody's shopping in the States any more, a Wal-Mart employee got killed in a stampede of shoppers, who then almost started another riot when they were told that the store would have to be closed because of the death. They needed those cut-price plasma screens.

I mean, that last story is just too much to take. This economy that we've created that can only function if people continue to buy stuff they don't even need is a complete and utter joke. Why can't a human stampede kill off a few of the investment bankers, advertising gurus and sensationalist journalists that are fueling the lunacy?

Friday, 28 November 2008

Amigo del Malba

In my dream last night, I was in England, and it was raining. I said: "Hey, it's baking hot over in Buenos Aires!" And someone then told me that, actually, it was raining there too. He turned on the TV and showed me. I woke up and it was raining.

Must've been able to hear the rain in my sleep or something. But, anyway, yesterday was a scorcher. I went sunbathing proper for the first time. Didn't last long: it was incredibly hot. I want to start using visible sun cream, so that I can see which parts of my body aren't covered, because I generally miss a bit. They should make blue stuff. Then I could paint myself blue when I go out to lie in the sun.

I have a new friend. I've become a friend of The Malba, the trendy art gallery down the road from me (a lot of things are "down the road from me", it just depends on how far I want to walk. The Malba is actually further than I thought: about 40 mins rather than 20...). Anyway, it's new and it's cool. 

(That's not my picture above, by the way. I've started questioning whether I should be taking pictures of sights and sites that have already been captured on film a million times. I'm hardly going to bring new perspectives to things: I'm not a photographer... I may now spend more of my time taking pictures of things that aren't already on flickr, like pictures of the street that's just covered in dog shit... Seriously, there's shit everywhere in this town, but the street that runs alongside the City Zoo - República de la India - seems to be the main dog toilet for Buenos Aires. It's disgusting. And, as it's right next to the zoo, well, just imagine how bad it smells...)

When I first visited Malba, I realised that this was the museum I thought I was visiting when I went out on the Noche de Museos... THIS is where all the avant-garde Latin American art is displayed! The Museo de Arte Moderno is full of European stuff, a lot of which is by artists I already know about. Very nice, but not new to me.

Anyway, I'm not writing any more here. See that? I started, but didn't continue. I love an abrupt end to things.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Puerto Madero (and that other part of town)

I woke up early on Sunday morning, and realised I’d have to do something with my day other than sit at my computer trying to get PHP to send mail. A couple of natives had told me that Puerto Madero was a nice part of town to visit, and since there’s a bus that goes there from right outside my flat, I decided to take myself off there…

The bus ride was quite pleasant, actually, but then, at 10am on a Sunday morning, neither the buses nor the roads in Buenos Aires are particularly busy. The buses here don’t really seem to be designed to hold many people, so I’d hate to travel on one in the rush hour. Anyway, it got me there easily enough, and I stepped out into the dazzling sunshine and blistering heat.

Puerto Madero - espejos

There’s not really much to be said about Puerto Madero. I took quite a few pictures (look on flickr) just for the sake of it. It really just seemed to be a dull place where rich people live (the estate agent I got the flat from said that about a third of the properties there are owned by people from the US, who only come here in the summer). I didn’t come across any shops, just a few brasseries and restaurants along the riverside. I would have liked to stop for a drink and a rest, but I figured the prices would be silly.

Walking further away from the river, there’s a big expanse of grass, and more normal folk were hanging out there, sunbathing. I would have stayed, but there was absolutely no shade, and I wasn’t there to sunbathe. I walked back the way I came, taking photos along the way to entertain myself. I must say that I liked the cranes in the area: I always like big cranes.

Puerto Madero - el lado de acá

I studied my map, and after about 5 minutes (my map-reading skills are perhaps improving with all of the practise – though I still feel for the hapless girl who asked me for directions last weekend, who I sent in exactly the opposite direction to where she wanted to go. Hey, that was her fault for being lazy: there was a map right next to her that she could have consulted, but she chose to ask a foreigner instead…) I discovered that I was actually right next door to San Telmo!

Anyway, I went to San Telmo to watch the Ajedrez de Tango Viviente once more. I took some videos this time: you can watch them someday, when I upload them… I’ve tried all day with youtube, but the quality’s been terrible. I’m now tweaking the settings of the video for export, and I’m going to try uploading them to Vimeo instead. Videos are a bit trickier to get online than photos. Here’s a photo of the beautiful dancing people to tide you over. Like you, they’re waiting for the show to start…

Ajedrez de Tango Viviente - antes de comenzar

And you can watch videos of the tango on Vimeo. I took a few, so go and watch them. Here's the opening dance:

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Bathrooms in Buenos Aires

The first thing I did upon arriving at my hostel in Buenos Aires was take a shower. And that was when I first came across the interesting approach they have to showers over here... The bathroom was one big wet room. In the bathroom I was using in the hostel, there was actually a shower curtain, but I'm not sure that it served much purpose, as the rest of the bathroom got soaked when the shower was used anyway. There were no ledges in that bathroom to place my things, but the toilet was right next to the shower, so I was able to leave my things there. This was the larger of the two bathrooms. The other one was pretty much a closet - there was a toilet, and a sink... and a shower head. Having a shower in that room would have been very difficult indeed. The only way might have been to stand on the toilet. Or just shower while sitting...

The setup in the bathroom in my flat is somewhere in between these two scenarios. It's difficult to find an angle that captures the bathroom in its entirety, but here's a picture to give you an idea:


I was talking to my flatmate about the setup, and he agreed that it was pretty cool, in a way... I said: "Hey, you can take a shower while sitting on the John! That's gotta be handy if you're ever in a rush in the morning, or really hungover..." Doug said: "Well, yeah, I was really tired this morning, actually, so I gave it a try! All I need to do is add in shaving as well, and I'll be doing all three things at once!" 

There you go: dreams can come true in this city. 

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Home sweet home

I moved in to my new flat yesterday. I have everything I need here. Last night was the first night I've spent in Buenos Aires where I haven't been disturbed by noise at some point of the night or morning. I woke up of my own accord today. Earplugs weren't needed. I like my new room at the moment :-)

The woman we're renting from is a therapeutic masseuse, who boasts of being able to cure all sorts of mental disorders. I should've lived with someone like that a few years ago... Anyway, there are strict rules to follow in this flat, such as:

- No alcohol in the flat. And no coming home drunk, either.
- No drugs. If there is the slightest evidence of drug use, you will lose your deposit, be expelled from the premises, and your parents and tutors will be notified!
- No guests. In particular, no overnight guests.

Then there are some rules which are potentially more bizarre:

- Keep toilet paper in your room, and not in the bathroom. (This rule will be interpreted by me as: only keep one roll of toilet paper in the bathroom).
- You are only allowed to cook between 8 and 9 am; 1 and 3pm; and 8pm and midnight. (the landlady explained that this is because she doesn't want the smell of cooking to disturb her clients).

Actually, the rules seem to be a generic set of rules directed at much younger people. My flatmate Doug is the same age as me, and we had a laugh at the prospect of someone "informing our parents" of any misbehaviour.

Anyway, Doug seems pretty cool. I mean: really cool. He's from Seattle, and he has that incredibly relaxed personality that you tend to find in people from over there. He said to me: "This town's a bit busy and noisy compared to Seattle." I was like: "This town is quite noisy, but you wanna go to the south of Italy sometime!" I'm fully on the coffee and sunshine tip at the moment, and talking twice as excitedly as normal, so who knows what he thinks of me?!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Ajedrez de Tango Viviente

I saw something very nice on Sunday, but I never wrote about it at the time, because I had a slight cold, and then I was too engrossed in my books yesterday...

Ajedrez de Tango Viviente in Parque Lezama!

This was a superb event, and I may well return to the park on another one of the weekends that it's scheduled to take place. It always promised to be good: a combination of chess, dancing, and the park surely can't go too wrong. But as soon as the dancers came out to the board and started dancing, I realised I was watching something I'd never seen before. Unfortunately, I only managed to take one half-decent photo of the event, but here it is:

Parque Lezama - Ajedrez de Tango Viviente

The game was played between two journalists who have made a name for themselves by writing about El Tango: they sat to one side of the "human" chessboard and played the game on a regular board. Tango dancers, both male and female, played the role of the chess pieces. There were two additional dancers (male and female), whose role it was to go to the board after each move, and dance with the relevant piece, leading it (or being led) to its new square. 

Some of the choreography was superb. The knights in particular were highly entertaining: played by men, they were bigger than the other pieces, and all had wigs woven into their hair, giving them horse-like manes. When it was the turn of these pieces to move, the female dancer would make her way to the board, and then mount the horse (generally by being spun around in the air before taking her place on the back of the horse), which then duly trotted to its destination. The Kings, on the other hand, didn't dance. They just picked up their partner in a vertical position and moved slowly to their destination. When a piece was caputured, the choreography would vary, and the "death moves" included a one-handed throttle, a sort of backward headbutt, or a flying kick (executed by the female pawns - this one was a fan favourite). Checkmate came courtesy of a death kiss by the female dancer. The black pieces gathered around the king, the dancer made her way towards the king, kissed him, and he fell backwards, to be caught and carried away by his minions. It's a shame there are no videos of the event on YouTube, as words can't capture just how wonderful the whole event was... I might try getting close enough to record my own video next time...

- - - - -

Well, today saw me move out of my hostel in San Telmo, and into my flat in Palermo. I'm a lot happier now, as I can leave my money and cards in my room now, and don't have to keep putting my laptop away. I'm settled, finally. But I'm still in no rush to go anywhere - for the time being, I'm busy putting together a website, and ploughing through as much literature as possible...

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Noche de los Museos... maybe

Today was decidedly cooler than any other day I've been here so far, which wasn't a bad thing. I was glad to be able to wear trainers, jeans and a hoodie again. My feet didn't get filthy from walking around the city (although I noticed that my bag is now getting very grubby - and my hands start to smell after carrying it for a while).

I actually had the opposite problem today to the one I had yesterday: I couldn't find a place in the park that was warm enough for me to sit and read comfortably. I picked up an old copy of 'El Escritor Y Sus Fantasmas' by Ernesto Sábato, which is every bit as interesting as I thought it would be. Sábato, although he only actually wrote two novels, is widely regarded as one of Argentina's great writers (like he says himself: if Cervantes made history with just one book, why should other writers be expected to produce a constant stream of novels?). His thoughts regarding literature are, unsurprisingly, thought-provoking and entertaining.

As the cold wind prevented me from sitting in the park all day to read this book, I decided that the time was right to visit the Museo Xul Solar. Xul Solar was an exceptionally intelligent and creative man, highly erudite, a mystic, an inventor, a contemporary and friend of Macedonio, Borges et al., and one of the most important artists of his time. The museum is Solar's old home, and, apart from the terrible music that they choose to have playing in the gallery, it is a wonderful place to be. I stayed for two hours. I won't say any more about Solar here, as he deserves more thought and attention than I have so far devoted to him...

As mentioned in the last blog entry, tonight was the "Noche de los museos", when museums across the city would let us in for free. I wanted to start my night at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, so I headed to Recoleta, which is a lovely, leafy part of town. I went there last Sunday, to visit the cemetery, but that was pretty much all I saw. There are some rather nice buildings in Recoleta, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes being one of them:

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

But, really, the building that really amazed me was the Faculty of Law and Social Sciences. It's HUGE:

Facultad de Derecho y Ciencias Sociales

I had some time to kill before the museum would open its doors for free, so I wandered around and enjoyed the scenery. Really, this was the most enjoyable part of my time in Recoleta... As I'd expected, the "Noche de los Museos" meant that the museums would be absolutely rammed full of people. Going to a nightclub that's heaving can be a lot of fun. But when I go to look at art in a gallery, I need space and time. Free entry and the resulting big crowds are what keep me from the Tate Modern in London. Sure enough, when I got into the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, I found myself in a chaotic place that wasn't conducive to art appreciation in the slightest. Near the entrance, there was a fantastic painting by Juan Jose Cambre: "Autoretrato de Jack Kerouac". I could've stood and admired this piece for quite some time, but at first my view was obscured by a guy who'd decided to stand right in front of it while he read his guidebook (I'm not sure he even noticed the painting). That was pretty much the story of the whole gallery. In another room, a young couple made out in front of a Kandinsky (and, no, I don't think they were inspired by the painting). Elsewhere, people were running around, pointing at the names of paintings triumphantly before moving on to the next one. I was surrounded by tick-box tourists... 

There are a few rooms in the museum that display the kind of art I find appealing. The largest of these rooms had some wonderfully large pieces, like "Retrato imaginario de Brigitte Bardot" by Antonio Saura, and an untitled piece by Manuel Viola. Before I had a chance to enjoy what was on display, a guide put her stool down in one of the corners and ushered all of the children to come and listen to her. The room was now full of children and their parents, with no space to see the actual work. Some of the parents were coming close to stepping back into the paintings.

On the upside, at least I know what's on offer, should I decide to go back on a quiet day. I went to retrieve my bag from the cloakroom. As a rule, you have to put your bag in the cloakroom before going around the gallery. But the place was too full. The girls running the cloakroom had run out of space, and patience. While security was telling people to leave their bags in the cloakroom, the cloakroom was telling people to just carry their bags around the gallery. I got my bag and just left the chaos.

I couldn't face the same affair at the Biblioteca Nacional, so I ditched my plan for the evening and hailed a cab to take me home quickly. Still, I'll leave you with one of the sculptures to be found in the area, the crazy 'Floralis Generica':

Floralis Generica - Homenaje a Buenos Aires


Culture overload

I was determined not to feel pressured into doing anything yesterday, so I spent my day going to and from Parque Lezama, which is San Telmo's local park. I have a book of short stories to read and study, and that's what's at the top of my agenda for the time being. If I'm here for 3 months, then there's really no need to rush around trying to see everything the city has to offer in the first couple of weeks. After the stress of walking through the hot streets of the city centre and sorting out a flat, I just wanted to sit in a park and read, so I did just that.

The government of la Ciudad de Buenos Aires seems rather generous when it comes to art and culture: to celebrate the arrival of Spring, they fund an enormous variety of cultural activities. I think that the film I saw for free the other night was part of this mammoth programme of events. That was just the beginning for me...

Starting from this Sunday, and continuing every weekend until into December, there will be "living chess" in Parque Lezama. I will surely write more about this after attending an event. Yesterday morning, I saw them start work on the giant chessboard, and then I watched them continue when I returned in the early evening:

Parque Lezama - making the chessboardParque Lezama - continuing the chessboard

I am, naturally, quite excited at the prospect of seeing tango dancers getting ordered around a chessboard, so I'm looking forward to this Sunday.

Tonight, we have "La noche de los museos" - a wild-sounding affair where every museum in the city opens its doors to the public for free, with some putting on special events. I spent some time this morning skimming through the enormous list, working out what I should see. The problem with such a night is that, just as a free bar seems to make people think they have to drink as much as possible, a night of free museums may make people think they have to see as much as possible. I've decided to focus on only two places: the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, which will be displaying avant-garde art from the 20th century, and the Biblioteca Nacional, where they will be giving a talk (and a tour?) on the labyrinths of the library and their relation to the work of Borges (who worked at the library). Both places are in Recoleta, so I shouldn't be rushing between shows, and should have time to actually think about what I've experienced...

- - - - -

It's got decidedly cooler in Buenos Aires overnight, and I think I may put on some jeans and shoes today. It's funny, actually, because I chose to take my jacket to the park with me yesterday evening (the park is well-designed: you can sit in the shade and be cooled by the breeze, which can actually get quite chilly at times - a pleasant relief from the incredible heat experienced on the streets). I was the only one in town wearing sleeves. But then, during the night, I was woken by torrential rain falling outside my door. And this morning, just as I was writing an email to tell a friend how I almost regretted bringing jeans and hoodies, I heard someone outside say that there was a very cold wind blowing...

I imagine it will get warmer as the day progresses, though. Still, it was nice to wear my hoodie as I went for breakfast this morning!

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

I go to bed far too early

No pictures today. I didn't take any. The day has been a bit fuzzy. Last night, after writing that things were going far too well here, I put my MacBook away and tried to read, but was too tired, so I tried to sleep. And then I laughed.

Things were far too good to be true: I realised that the the guys making noise outside my door weren't going to stop making noise any time soon. They're decorating here in the hostel at the moment. Right outside my door! After much searching, I found my earplugs (for a while, I thought I'd left them in the other hostel), and they helped a bit.

But still, I was woken up by the workmen before 7am this morning. I had planned to get up at 8 anyway, but being woken so early after having been kept awake so late, I was pretty tired for the first half of the day...

Anyway, the thing is: I'm going to bed far too early. Unlike on my last adventures abroad, I didn't come here to party. I came here to read and study and think and produce. Even so, in this country, everyone goes to bed late. The elderly are out until midnight. I'm in bed before 11. The hardcore raver. I joked last year that I'm in bed early every night, unless there's a nightclub to go to, in which case I can (and will) stay up all night, dancing until security pull the plug on the DJs.

I saw San Telmo at night for the first time this evening. It was hardly night, mind. About 10 o'clock. Dinnertime for these folks. I'd been to the cinema at Plaza Defensa, to see La Antena, which I'd half-wanted to see at the ICA a couple of months ago. In a way, it was good that I didn't, because I got to see it this evening free of charge. Plaza Defensa puts on shows for free all of the time: exhibitions, films, plays... It could well be a place I visit frequently.

This is the only noteworthy thing I did today, other than signing a contract for the flat I saw on Monday. I'll be paying less for three months than I used to pay for one month in Gipsy Hill. Nice. Jaime came along to make sure that everything was in order, which was nice (even though he had difficulty doing his sums correctly...). The meeting was prolonged as he got talking to one of the estate agents about mountain climbing. I like the way that Argentineans talk. They're like Italians. They just love talking. These two guys just talked and talked and talked. I was getting a headache, because I was tired, it was hot, and I hadn't had any breakfast.

The funniest part of the meeting was, of course, when the female estate agent asked me what I was up to in Argentina. The contract had been signed, so I let her know that, actually, I wasn't a student who was dependent on my parents for financial support. I was just someone who'd saved up enough after working for a while as a computer programmer. She looked very surprised indeed. I stopped short of telling her that, actually, I used to earn more in a day than I'd be paying for the flat for a month... I just said that, yes, if I liked it here, and if I could find work here as a programmer, then I may well stay on a more permanent basis. We'll see what happens...

I realised today why I'm not fond of blog chronicles, though: you just end up repeating yourself over and over again. Not in the same blog, but in emails and phone calls. People write and say: "Hey, what's going on?!" And it's not like you can say: "Just read my blog." So instead, you end up writing multiple versions of the same stories. And writing one version of events can be dull enough. The challenge for this blog now is to try and maintain my own interest in what I'm saying. Like I think I said (or at least suggested) in my first post: I'm not too keen on writing in straight lines. Another challenge is to format things so that the right edge of my photos don't get cropped. I looked at the published blog yesterday, and the photos looked stupid.

Anyway, time to try and read something now. I've been waiting for the right moment all day.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Getting stuff done, seeing new places, and doing the usual

With Stefan gone, the mission was to get stuff done. There were really only two things to do: buy a phone, and rent a flat.

Getting the phone was easy. I'd seen what I fancied on my first walk around town last Friday: a relatively basic, but nice, Motorola, for $169. Cheap and sufficient. Purchasing it was a doddle. The woman in the shop just did what she had to do and did it with a smile, and then I went to the shop next door to get some credit. Getting stuff done should always be that easy. Like installing software on a Mac. Download it. Drag it to the apps folder (yes, that's right, just do what the picture tells you to do). Bang. I did that with the flickr uploading tool today. Here's one of my new uploads for starters. I think it sums up my mood at the moment:

Jardin Japonés Greenery

Anyway, the next task was going to be trickier. I browsed through Clarín while having a cortado con tres media lunas (espresso with milk, and three small croissants - that's my breakfast over here, so learn the Spanish), and stopped to see what the classified section had to offer in the way of flats. A few properties, for good prices. Jaime wasn't lying when he said that paying Pisos Compartidos $950 a month to share a room with someone, in a dodgy part of town, was rather steep. Far too steep! If you're sharing a room around here, you could end up paying about $400. $950 a month will get you your own room, in a nice part of town.

So, I found a place for $930 a month, in a beautiful part of town. Alto Palermo! I'd always said I wanted to live in Palermo, for two reasons. Borges lived in Palermo, and I too once lived in Palermo (in Sicily). It's available from next Tuesday, and I fancy taking it, so I've booked myself into a hostel in San Telmo for the time being. This hostel is far better than the last one because it's in a nice part of town (still not absolutely perfect, but so much better than where I was), I have an en-suite bathroom, and I can freeload wifi here :-)

As soon as I found I had an internet connection, I got locked on to rinse fm and caught Crazy Cousinz. The beauty of the time difference is that the daytime shows I generally listen to will be on during the hot part of the day, when I won't want to be outside anyway. Things really are working out well. I was euphoric as I listened to the Cousinz playing their set (even though, as always, there was plenty of dodgy mixing going on...), and when they announced that "Go" by Meleka was available on iTunes, I didn't delay... The joys of modern technology! On the previous occasions when I've lived abroad, I've had to forfeit a lot of the culture I enjoyed. But these days, I seem to be able to nadar y guardar la ropa (have my cake and eat it)... This is all surely too good to be true. I downloaded a garage mix from way back for free, loaded up my Nano, and got going.

It was very hot today. This guy must've been baking:

Proud dude on a horse

It really was hot. I even have a red neck to prove it. For me to have a red neck, given that I've been walking around outside for the past few days anyway, is proof enough of how strong the sun must've been. Anyway, I spent the afternoon in the green part of the city. Very green. Very nice indeed. There's a zoo here, I might pay it a visit sometime. But I'll definitely be heading to the Jardín Japonés and Plaza Holanda with a rug, a book, and plenty of water and salty snacks, on a regular basis. 

Anyway, I saw on my map that there was a planetarium in the vicinity too, so I headed for it. It took me a while to find it. Quite a long time. I didn't mind, because I'm in no hurry these days, and it's not like I minded being outdoors. However, by the time I found it, I'd missed the events I could've attended that day. But anyway, there's plenty of time to do plenty of things there. I may learn all about the stars while I'm over here, in addition to getting one hell of a suntan. The planetarium building is totally cool: 1960s science fiction!

Planetario Galileo Galilei

It was cool inside, and by the time I got there, I was very tired and hot, and I wanted to sit down and stay there for hours. But I had the long walk back to look forward to... I sat down mid-way, but I had nothing to read, and I didn't have the energy to write, and I was out of water anyway. The lack of reading material was getting to me, though. I'd browsed through some books earlier in the day, but found nothing suitable. Fortunately, when I got off the tube and started making my way back to the hostel, I discovered that a bookstore had magically appeared.

Of course, bookstores can't magically appear, but I definitely hadn't seen it on the way to the park. I'm talking about magical appearances here, because I spent the morning looking for the same internet cafe that I'd used yesterday. Yesterday, I found this place twice, without problems. Today, I walked up and down the street about three times, but couldn't find it anywhere. Total confusion. Where had it gone?

Anyway, a bookstore had magically appeared. I went in and bought an anthology of Argentine horror stories. I want to stop writing this now so that I can start reading them. Anyway, I'm off to see the flat again tomorrow and probably put the deposit down. Life is going well right now, so let's hope that I get the flat and everyone continues to run smoothly ;-)


Sunday, 9 November 2008

The last day with Stefan... for now

My first Sunday would be my last day with Stefan, as he was setting off in the evening for a 15-hour bus ride to Malargüe. Stefan is a true adventurer, and a photographer: he showed me some amazing photos of past trips around Argentina and Peru. He likes to get on his motorbike and travel around, capturing the breath-taking and sometimes surreal landscapes of Latin America (he's a motorbike mechanic, so his skills are obviously handy for such expeditions…). There's talk of putting a website together when we both get back from our travels: upon seeing the photos, I told him that he simply had to share them with the rest of the world, and he admitted that he'd always been thinking of doing some sort of website. This was what we discussed at lunchtime, which we had in Recoleta, the posh part of town.

I wanted to go to Recoleta for a quiet Sunday, because this is the home of the cemetery where so many of the leading figures in the history of Buenos Aires are buried. I was, of course, looking for the tomb of Macedonio Fernández. It seemed like a strange thing to do, because I'm not particularly entertained by the Christian culture of burying the dead and erecting large monuments in their honour. What makes it stranger still is that Macedonio himself didn't even believe that people died. In a way, he was right: people do live on in the minds and hearts of others, even when their body gives up. The spirit of certain people, their achievements, their contribution to the world, will never die. Nonetheless, visiting Macedonio's grave struck me as one of those moments where cultural conventions and rituals won out over rationality.

Macedonio Tomb

After Recoleta, we headed into town, to the Abasto shopping mall again, so that Stefan could say farewell to Jaime. I picked up a pair of earphones and instantly got the urge to do the Rolex Sweep around the mall… Jaime saw me wandering around, lost in the music, and they eventually grabbed hold of me. Jaime confirmed what he had already told me on my first night here: that he was my friend, and he was here to help me. This sort of friendship is the most touching sort, and again, it's proof of the Latin spirit. I came to a large city where I knew absolutely nobody, but instantly somebody told me that they'd help me get through things.

Stefan left for his lengthy bus ride, and I wasn't jealous: after the flight here, it'll take me a while before I want to make any more long journeys. My excitement for his and for my futures offset the sadness that I felt that I'd lost my daily companion. There's talk of putting a website together to show off his adventures when we both return home and, who knows, we may even meet up again in another part of Argentina in about a month. He's not on his bike this time, but in a Land Rover, so there's room for a companion…

First impressions of San Telmo

I went to San Telmo on my first Saturday in Buenos Aires, with the intention of visiting the government-sponsored museum of modern art, and getting off the noisy, busy, dirty streets and into a space where I could actually relax. I liked San Telmo so much that I stayed there all afternoon: it was a different world to the Buenos Aires I'd seen and not particularly enjoyed over my first couple of days in town. It was the complete opposite, in fact: quiet, calm, and clean. San Telmo is the artistic quarter of the city, so maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised by this.

I liked San Telmo as soon as I entered the zone, walking along Defensa: there were antique shops and boutiques, I had space to breathe, and a sense of creativity lingered in the air. Excited, I headed straight to the Museo de Arte Moderna, which … which was closed... The building, although quite nice, looked like it hadn't been a museum for a while, in fact! I wandered further up Defensa to see what else was on offer, and soon found a building owned by an arts and crafts co-operative.

Museo de Arte Moderna

The guy inside the exhibition room was busy painting, so I decided not to disturb him, and to look at the paintings instead. They were nice enough: large figures and bright colours galore. The cubist-y paintings of Liliana Fernández were by far the most interesting on display. I gazed at them for a bit, then headed further up the road, where I came across a mini arcade. A record shop grabbed my attention: it was the first of its kind I'd seen (I'm talking, of course, about vinyl, and not just music - this was strictly vinyl). However, excited though I was, I chose not to enter, because the records were all from way back and probably not to my liking and, besides, knowing what I'm like in record shops, I would probably have picked something up inside anyway…

I went further inside the arcade, and a nice painting towards the end of one of the corridors caught my eye. This was the "Branco" Espacio de Arte, and the owner / curator, Julián Pino was happy to talk to me (he too thought I was French when I started talking…). I asked if the museum of modern art was in fact closed, and he confirmed that, yes, although there are no signs up, it's been closed for renovation for a few years (actually, I did see a sign on one of the walls, but it said that the renovations would be finished in 2007…). He told me that it might open again next year, but the tone in his voice said: "Hey, this is Argentina…"

Julián gave me some information booklets about the art galleries both in San Telmo and across the city and, after asking what type of art I like the most (conceptual stuff), proceeded to highlight those galleries that I might find the most appealing.

The work on display in Branco was by young, up and coming artists (he said "up and coming" in English, suggesting that they use the English term), and I enjoyed a lot of what was on display. Admittedly, a lot of it looked familiar and perhaps not hugely original, but some pieces were very enjoyable. If I end up staying in Buenos Aires for a while, then I may well go back there and visit again sometime.

Galería de la Defensa

I thanked Julián for giving me information and for letting me see the paintings, and continued my trip around San Telmo. I stopped off at the Galería de la Defensa, a lovely little place with open courtyards, second-hand shops and stores full of hand-made goods. There were some nice benches in the courtyard, and the area was quiet, so I sat down for a good while there. It was such a welcome change from the City Centre: I could have sat there for days.

Of course, I didn't sit there for days: I wrote what you've just read above, and continued my stroll around San Telmo. In my hurry to get to the Museo de Arte Moderna, I hadn't paid much attention to the area, and now I walked back the way I had come and gave everything the attention it deserved. My guidebook said that there were lots of pretty buildings in the area, and it wasn't lying. There was also a very lively square - Plaza Dorrego - where people were selling (you guessed it) bric-a-brac and handmade goods, which had tables and beer for people who wanted to relax in the glorious sunshine (it was by now a wonderfully hot day).

Plaza Dorrego

The last place I stopped off at was the Mercado San Telmo, which was full of interesting things. A gramophone shop! I stood and stared and stared and stared some more. Shops full of old toys. Records! I saw the 12" of "I'm Too Sexy" by Right Said Fred - this surprised me, but actually, given the gay population of Buenos Aires, it maybe makes sense. Food! Books! Oh my! Books! I browsed through old books for a while and got those tell-tale dirty fingers. I saw a couple that I might one day pick up. "When you've got the time to sit down and read," I told myself. For the time being, with so many new things on offer, the mission is to just write. I'll be back in San Telmo on a regular basis, that much is clear…

Trying to get a flat

Before coming to Buenos Aires, I used the internet to try and find some sort of longer-term accommodation. You can't live in a hostel for three months… I found a site called "Pisos Compartidos", and they said they could offer me a room. Excitement. I headed off to find the flat on the first Friday I was in town.

My contact was called Andrés, and we'd exchanged emails and talked on the phone. When I met him, he did the typically foreign thing, and decided to try talking to me in English. Upon realising that he couldn't really understand me, or explain the details of the flat to me in English, he soon reverted back to Spanish. I'm always intrigued at how foreigners love to try their best to speak English, no matter what your level of their native tongue might be. Earlier that day, I'd visited a tourist information kiosk in the centre, and after asking for a map in Spanish, the guy proceeded to talk to me in English. What was curious was that, when I was leaving he asked me if I was French (!). This made little sense - why had he just been talking in English to someone he thought was French, when the said person had come in and not displayed any difficulties with the language?! I found it interesting, though, because when I was in Spain all those years ago, I was on numerous occasions mistaken for a French person - allegedly, I speak Spanish as if I'm French (although certain Italian friends - who knew that I was English - disparagingly told me that I spoke with such an English accent that it was clear where I was from, not one native speaker ever guessed that I was English…). Still, back to the story…

The flat was indeed a shared flat, but what hadn't been made clear was that I'd also be sharing a room. I looked at the mess I'd have to share, and felt slightly disheartened. And then the news came that, actually, and Italian chap had been along earlier and said that he wanted the room anyway. I was a bit confused, and rather annoyed, because I'd sacrificed an evening in the company of a true Argentine family just to come and see the flat (I was the fourth person to visit the flat that day, so I imagine it would've been possible to come earlier). However, there was another shared room available elsewhere in town. I said I'd think about it, and headed off home to do just that. I was very tired, and not in a position to think clearly.

After a quick lie-down and some dinner, I realised that taking a shared room would be fine. I lived out of a tent in Denmark for three weeks, getting up early each morning to pick strawberries, in return for a pitiful amount of money, and had to share a common area with a whole host of strangers. Sharing a room in a flat with wi-fi would hardly be the most difficult thing I've ever done. And, besides, sharing a flat with other travellers would be far better than staying in hostels. I just hope that, when I get in touch with Andrés again, the room will still be available.

Metro II drama

The Hostel where we're spending the first few nights is basic, but reasonable. The owner is a very friendly lady who gained my trust instantly. I'm told that Buenos Aires isn't a city where you can trust many people, so we're lucky in that respect. I have bunk beds in my room; Stefan, who didn't book before arriving, has bunk beds and two singles that are joined together to form a double. I'm not greatly bothered, because he's tall and probably needs the space more than I do. The bathroom in this place is interesting: it's like a big wet room, with a toilet. I'm sure I know people who would shudder at the idea of standing in a shower that's right next to the toilet (hey, try the other one - I think you'd actually have to sit on the toilet while showering!), but this suits my needs for the time being. The TV sets in each room are an unwelcome feature, because the walls are hardly thick…

On my first night I was, understandably, exhausted, and fell asleep quickly in spite of the TV next door. I was woken in the middle of the night by some lunatic downstairs who was banging around for some reason, but soon got back to sleep. I woke again at 8, and went back to sleep, then was woken at about 10 by people who had to check out. I can't remember the last time that I felt so grateful to be able to lie in bed and rest.

When I was getting dressed I heard the hostel owner telling some story, and mentioning the arrival of the Police; I didn't think too much about this, and headed out for a short stroll before returning to meet Stefan for 12. When I returned, the hostel owner told me that she'd had problems the night before - the lunatic that had disturbed my sleep clearly was a lunatic. He'd been running around completely naked, causing a huge amount of distress to everyone around, and she'd had to call the Police in the end. The story still made little sense to me, because it was both fragmented and hard to understand.

As Stefan and I made our way down the stairs to leave the building, a door was slammed in the face of a man on the floor below, and he was left standing outside in his pants and a shirt. Stefan and I quickened our descent, slightly perturbed by what was going on. When we got to the bottom, the guy had caught up, and shot in front of me before I was outside, then stood in the doorway, talking to Stefan. He wouldn't get out of my way. Stefan and I looked at each other in worry and confusion - what was going on here?! The guy turned and looked at me, and his remarkably bloodshot eyes suggested to me that he was totally slaughtered, and his Mrs had locked him out of the flat due to his outrageous behaviour. An aged couple came down in the lift, and the woman gave me a look to say "Don't worry about this…", as if she knew what was going on. She asserted herself and got past the man, and I followed through. Stefan and I walked off.

I looked over my shoulder as we were walking, though, and noticed that this nutter was following us. He was wearing no shoes or socks, and no trousers, he was off his face and carrying an unlit cigarette. I was slightly worried, but safe in the knowledge that he had no chance of catching up with us, and that he'd never even remember us. He followed still, nonetheless, shouting for our attention. We turned a few corners and lost him, then went for lunch.

We returned to the Hostel after lunch hoping that the nutter would have disappeared. Fortunately, he was nowhere to be seen. I told the landlady that I'd met "el loco de abajo", laughing at how this guy was walking down the street after us wearing his pants. She then gave me a few more missing pieces to the story that had started being told earlier that morning. He was, as I suspected, completely drunk. He'd allegedly been demanding opium, and was going crazy because he couldn't get his fix. He'd been washing down handfuls of pills with bottles of whiskey, and had been trying to smash the place up. There are parts of the story I still can't understand: the Police were called, but they said they couldn't do anything because he was a druggie (what?! His behaviour would have seen him spending at least a night in jail in Britain…). His dad eventually came along to take him to another hotel (what?! The man is clearly not safe for any hotel!). Whatever, it seemed as though the drama was over.

Stefan and I spent the afternoon wandering around town before going our separate ways - I had to look at a flat, and he was heading off with Jaime to spend the night out of town with Jaime's family. I went for a pizza by myself for dinner, and was impressed by the quality. I bought a bottle of water and headed back to the hostel to think things through and rest - I was tired, and slightly deflated after the flat viewing. Just as I got to corner of the street where our hostel is, I noticed that the nutter had returned. He was there again, fully clothed this time, standing at the door. This wasn't funny. It really wasn't. There was no way I could go to the hostel, because it would involve meeting him again (this time alone), and he'd surely just follow me in to the building to cause trouble.

The Police HQ is right next to our building. I considered grabbing a Police Officer to help out, but decided to instead just walk around the block and hope that the problem went away by itself (the Police had already been alerted to this idiot, but had chosen not to do anything. And besides, maybe it wasn't him, but someone else - maybe I was just being paranoid). If he was still there when I got back, I'd have to talk to a Police Officer. I made my way around the block, then tentatively approached the road the hostel was on again. He had gone. I was in a bit of a state, but got into the hostel anyway, and felt relieved and exhausted when I locked my bedroom door behind me. I was really unsure if I was enjoying Buenos Aires at that precise moment, but, hey, nothing bad ever happened...

Friendliness and fear in a new town

This was not Stefan's first time in Argentina, and he had a friend he wanted to visit. For our first night in Buenos Aires, we headed to the Abasto shopping centre, where this friend, Jaime, worked. The Abasto shopping centre is a beautiful structure (on the outside, at least - inside, it's just like any other shopping centre I've ever visited) - it's an old market building. Stefan headed to Customer Services, where another charming young Argentinean girl made the necessary phone call. While Stefan waited, I headed off to see if I could find the earphones that I so desperately needed…

We waited for Jaime to finish his shift (the shops close in the Abasto centre at around 10pm), and I sat and marvelled at how everyone was still wide-awake and roaming around the shopping centre well past 10 o'clock. Stefan told me that it was the same even in small villages in Argentina: they stay up late in this country. Jaime turned up and we went for a quick coffee. He instantly extended a hand of friendship to me, showing a great interest in me and my life, London, and my future in Buenos Aires. He gave me his card and told me to come and find him whenever, and to keep in touch, and offered some words of caution about Buenos Aires. This wasn't the first time I'd been told to be careful in Buenos Aires. In my tired state, such cautions sounded to me like I was living in a crazy dangerous city.

Stefan and Jaime

"Keep your bag in front of you at all times," he told me. I've taken this advice ever since, and noticed that I'm not the only one in Buenos Aires who doesn't carry their rucksack as it was intended to be carried. It's common to see people walking down the street here with their backpack on their chest rather than their back. I know that in Spain, it wasn't unheard of for thieves to simply knife open a backpack and help themselves to the contents, so I'm not taking any chances in this town.

One thing that's grabbed my attention so far over here is the culture of weapons. In England, we have big problems in certain cities, and knife and gun crime is always being reported in the news. I'm going to be on the look-out for stories in the press here that echo what's going on in the poorer parts of South London, because things are rather different over here. I walked past a shop yesterday that had massive knives on display in the window. I doubt there are many restrictions on who can buy these (hey, it's Gaucho land! Knives are a cultural artefact…). There are gun shops galore. I walked past a news kiosk today and noticed that there was a magazine for sale called "Armas" ("Weapons"), which had pictures of guns adorning the front cover. It's a bit of a shock for someone who comes from a country where there's increasing pressure to try and get rid of weapons from daily life.

Anyway, enough talk about the nastier side of life. As a newcomer to a city that's incredibly different to my own city, some things are obviously going to be slightly unsettling. One thing seems clear to me so far, though: the government really is running this place into the ground. There's no way in hell I believe that a city like Buenos Aires should be in such a mess. Corruption and nepotism have destroyed what could be one of the richest countries in the world.

Jaime left me in no doubt, though: Argentina can boast of having a wonderfully friendly population (Jaime is actually from Chile, but he left when Pinochet was in charge there, and has lived in Argentina for so long that he's arguably more Argentinean than Chilean), and while there may be a few that are so desperate that they need to steal to get by, the majority of people here are probably very friendly and helpful. It was a shame that I couldn't go off with him and Stefan the next evening, to his house outside of the main city. I had to visit a flat instead.

Santiago to Buenos Aires

We got to Santiago, and the weather was beautiful. Upon leaving the plane, I momentarily forgot that I was annoyed at having to get off the plane just to get back on it 20 minutes later, and almost started dancing with joy at the sunshine. My first time in the Southern Hemisphere. Bright sunshine in November. We headed for Gate 20, and an astonishingly attractive girl showed us the way to the security check. Her looks almost made up for the fact that we had to go through the hassle of another scan. My first time in South America. Maybe it really was going to live up to its better image…

The flight from Santiago to Buenos Aires took less than 2 hours, which seemed like about 20 minutes when compared to the lengthy ordeals that we'd already had to sit through. They had neglected to provide me with a vegetarian meal, even though my boarding card clearly said that I was entitled to one, so I had to deal with some surly service from the airhostess and go without a main course ("You have to order in advance" "But I did, look at my card!" "You have to order in advance" "Excuse me, look at my card!" "You have to order in advance"). The girls on the flight to Toronto had been wonderful, but the ones on this one didn't seem to treat anyone with any courtesy (Stefan would later tell me that he too had been treated with total disdain by one of them). As we came in to land, things got decidedly bumpy again. Not just bumpy, but woozy, we were dropping from time to time in a way that made my stomach jump. For the first time ever, I started to feel very sick during the landing procedure, and I was very glad when we finally touched down.

As we sat and waited for a space at the gate, I continually expressed relief both internally and to Stefan that the journey was finally over. I realized then that some fool out there has probably set a Guinness World Record for the most number of consecutive plane connections, just for fun. I couldn't imagine anything worse. I joked that I wasn't ever going to go home, because I couldn't face making that kind of journey again.

Immigration was a doddle - far easier than arriving in the United States of Paranoia, and the people at the immigration desks all seemed to be typically friendly Argentineans. Stefan and I had decided by this time that we'd stick together. I was definitely glad for the company, and maybe he was too. I grabbed my bag, stopped by at duty-free for the camera I hadn't had time to pick up at Heathrow, and we headed for the exit.

Toronto to Buenos Aires

The flight from Toronto to Argentina was always going to be difficult, because it started at about 3 in the morning GMT. I was exhausted when I got on the plane, so I instantly covered myself with the blanket and got into a sleeping position. I came around momentarily during take-off, and the next thing I can remember is waking up and feeling sick. A combination of tiredness and sitting in the bumpy part of the plane was taking its toll on me. Not to mention the fact that it was feeding time. It must've been about midnight Toronto time, but they were handing out the meals: the cabin was filled with the horrible smell of aircraft meat. As if this wasn't enough, there was the incessant yapping of an air hostess. "Would you like chicken or beef? Chicken or beef? Would you like chicken or beef, sir? Chicken or beef?" I noticed I was holding my pillow next to my stomach for comfort, and all I wanted was to tell her to shut up, for the stink of meat to disappear, for the bumps to stop… "Chicken or beef?" Still, even though I was nauseous, the appetites of everyone else on the plane seemed unaffected by the fact that it was not the time to be tucking into meat and veg, and my fellow passengers all enjoyed their meals.

The food eventually went, and I took my chance to go to the toilet. I then sat back down and spent I don't know how many hours drifting into and out of sleep, waking each time with the inevitable sore neck. As I became more exhausted, my sleep must've become deeper, and I got to the stage where those moments when I woke up were really just like dreaming with my eyes open. My sleeping ended for good when I managed to have a proper dream, which involved the Big Brother house. After this, I woke up and was surprised to feel refreshed. I looked at my clock: it was 8.45 Buenos Aires time, so I was well within my rights to be awake. I checked the screen in front of me to find out where we were. We'd reached the equator.

The remains of the dream stayed with me for a short while, and I wondered what the dream could mean. But as the dream faded, so did my interest in it, as from nowhere a tune had started to play in my head. The keyboard intro to the Paleface remix of Bongo Jam was looping over and over... I had no idea why the tune had suddenly started playing, but I gave in to the urge and pulled my iPod out of my pocket. Soon after the tune started, I realized that there was no sound coming through the right channel. I started and stopped the music a few times, but still nothing. Either my right earplug had stopped working, or my right ear had… I plugged the earphones into my Nano, and discounted the latter possibility, then swore under my breath at the fact that my earphones had stopped working at such a bad time. I had about 12 hours more travelling to endure, and my earphones were bust. No music. No Elite Beat Agents on the DS.

I fiddled around with the wire, and realized that the problem was a dodgy connection at the jack (this was surprising, as every other set of earphones that has given up on me has always failed at the earphone end). Luckily, I was able to position the wire so that I got both channels. I listened to Bongo Jam. With that need satisfied, I realized that I needed the toilet, but the guy sitting next to me was fast asleep, so I'd just have to hold on…

Eventually, when everyone had woken up and breakfast was served again, I got talking to the guy who was sitting next to me. His name was Stefan, he was German, I started talking to him in Spanish at first, but a German will always speak to you in English… 38 years old, and he'd spent the last 10 years of his life doing what I was doing: taking time out from work in the winter, and heading to Latin America for an adventure. I couldn't help but start to wonder if this would be the first of 10 years for me, too…

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Rent-friendly Blogging

I have two hours before my journey actually starts. It's starting with a taxi, and it's ending with a taxi. In-between,  I've got two horrific flights to look forward to. London to Toronto, and then Toronto to Buenos Aires (via Santiago in Chile). I don't think I'll ever have spent so long getting somewhere, and I'm not looking forward to it. I have a bottle of Breath Of Fresh Air to try and stop me from feeling totally minging on the trip but, really, I doubt it'll be enough. 

I'm not taking any physical books with me, other than two books for writing in. Books have always weighed me down in the past. I have a couple of e-books on my laptop which I intend to consult frequently. I'm going to entertain myself on the plane by playing on my DS. Also for the first time, I won't be taking any musical media with me. Everything I need is on my two iPods and my laptop. Modern technology is grand sometimes.

This is a three month excursion into the familiar but unknown. I know about Buenos Aires through the literature I've read and studied and loved, but all of that literature tended to have a metaphysical bent to it. Street names look familiar, and I can pick out places on the map that have been mentioned again and again in stories I've read. But I have no idea what these places look like. Macedonio and Borges didn't waste too much time trying to describe the physical side to their environments, but instead spent time exploring the abstract worlds that existed inside their heads

Nevertheless, this is rent-friendly blogging, so I'm going to force myself to try and write in straight lines and describe what is "really" there. If all else fails, I can rely on photos to give you all something to grab hold of. And if you find yourself as bored as I imagine I will be as I treat you all to a slide-show, there are always the more messy blogs. If you don't understand what I'm talking about, then just ask.