Sunday, September 30, 2007


The past few weeks have been a departure from my usual routine. First, I ended daily spanish lessons with tutor David. He went to NYC for 6 weeks to study under a special voice coach on Broadway - his true passion is theater, acting, producing and directing. The separation was bittersweet. I felt sad to leave behind this part of my argentine adventure, daily talks with David in espanol and 5 days a week intense immersion program. Learning new phrases and practicing my grammar with a rigor I'd never impose on my own. At the same time, I feel ready for a break. Ready to take all I've learned and practice more "en las calles" in the streets. I'm sure I'll return to formal study at some point but not for awhile.

After a long cold winter of me, Hugh and the dog huddled around the heater sipping mate and eating stews and soups, it's springtime and visiting season in BA. First in were Howard and Frank (see 1st pic above). Frank and I worked down the hall from eachother for two years at Schwab so was nice to spend a bit of time together in a more casual setting. They stayed half a block from our apt in Barrio Norte (by coincidence) so was easy to get together. We went to my favorite parilla Don Julios their first night in BA (after their whirlwind tour of Chile and Uruguay) - had a wonderful time talking about our travel experiences and sharing a big steak and Malbec wine. They brought me two precious jars of organic salted peanut butter - a true luxury in peanutbutterless Buenos Aires. Two days later, Jen and Jackie arrived from San Diego. Here for two weeks. They're staying in an apartment just a few blocks from us. I've been looking forward to their visit for months - saving up a lot of touristy excursions for when they arrived. So far we've been to the Recoleta Cemetery, Palermo Gardens, Sofie Martire shoes, Sette Bacco and El Mirasol dinners out, took a day trip to Tigre by train (my first time!), had a dinner party with friends Brad/Laura and Wendy/Maximo(made empanadas - thank you again to Tonito's Mom for the fab recipe!) and today went to a Futbol (soccer) game at the River stadium. Jackie's a photographer and animal lover so has logged no fewer than a hundred quality shots of Utta since they arrived.

Also, Hugh's back. We both agreed that 3 weeks apart is too long but it was a good trip for him and he brought back several of our rugs from storage to use in the apartment. Thursday we move to a new place. Well, new old actually. After nearly 4 weeks of searching for the perfect next apartment - closer to the park for Utta, a bit bigger for us and coming visitors, and in a different neighborhood for a change, we opted to return to the first apartment we lived in when we arrived. It's two bedrooms and in Palermo on Cervino y Lafinur streets, 3 blocks from our favorite parks where Utta can frolick untethered and I can get to my running practice without taking a cab. Its a "coming full circle" kind of moment. I must've perused no fewer than 100 potential apartments online through the short term agencies for expats and seen more than a dozen in person. Was difficult to find places that would accept a dog and we decided that location was more important than anything else. that narrowed down the search quite a bit. So, our new old apartment is in a great location, takes dogs and is 40% cheaper than our current place. Is it "cheto"? no. Its pretty average in terms of furnishings and the building itself. No amenities like a pool or gym or 24 security but we have the portero (doorman) named Carlos who is a sweetheart and a small balcony for Utta to watch people walk by. Goodbye winter in Barrio Norte, Hello summer in Palermo...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Thursday nights

I've been remiss posting photos from various outings so here are a few from the last few Thursday nights with the Girls. The first two are from a wine tasting at my place. We had 7 different wines (all red) ranging from 10 pesos (about $3US) to 29 pesos. I wrapped the bottles (quite elegantly don't ya think with the grocery bags) to hide the labels so we could sniff, swirl and attempt to guess the cheapest to the most expensive. My friend and former spanish tutor David would call this kind of activity very "Cheto". Means snooty or "richy". He says the activity of wine tasting isn't really done here - only by a few since the industry here is relatively new - only 5 years ago most younger people drank beer not wine. Well we had a great time as usual. The remaining shots are from the prior week - a visit to one of the few Greek restaurants in town - called Mykonos. Food was tasty but nothing noteworthy (hmmm I just had a flashback to a fabulous meal at Kokkari my fav mediterranean spot in SF). they had the obligatory line dancing and plate smashing. Last night we tried Japanese. I'd purposely avoided this type of food here as I knew it would disappoint and why burst the bubble? Well, yes. not stomach churning but I won't be back. The problem with sushi here is that there are only two types of fish available - salmon or a white river fish called merzaluna. So, how many ways can you put salmon on rice wrapped in seaweed and have it taste different? it doesn't. so Portenos think sushi is a salmon roll. unfortunately i know better. god help me if i ever stop eating meat and pasta....

pasta pasta pasta

Many who haven't visited Argentina assume that all countries south of San Diego feast on rice and frijoles but not so. BA was settled by Italians and Spaniards. More than any other culinary influence, with food you'll find Italian pasta as good as Rome or Florence. Here's a shot of the pasta making process at the little shop two blocks from my house. After taking these photos, I bought some ravioli stuffed with calabaza (squash) and ricotta cheese, creamy tomato sauce and parmesean cheese. Yum!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Someday arrived

A few years ago I was browsing through a bookstore (one of my fav activities) and came across a book by Julia Cameron called The Artists Way. Thumbing through it I was seduced by its premise - take part in these simple daily activities and you too can draw out the artist within. It seemed obvious yet so elusive in that moment. I was working 12+ hour days, stressed all the time, physically and emotionally spent. I knew reading through that book that I had neither the real time nor energy to dedicate to such a "frivolous" endeavor and yet I longed for it. I bought the book with the fantasy that "someday" I'd really sit down and read it, more importantly incorporate some of the artistic principles into my daily life.

Someday arrived last Thursday at 3pm. I signed up for a Creative Writing course taught by a somewhat crunchy, reddish haired middle aged woman from Portland. Her background impressed me ( - Masters in Screenplays, Doctorate in Communication, lived in BA more than 4 yrs, currently working on a book. And beyond that, she looked nice, inviting with a spark of mischief. We met at a cafe in Palermo Soho. 8 other women showed up - all mid 30s and 40s, brainy, bookish and serious about improving their writing. Two different women from England - each had coupled with Argentine men more than 10 years ago and had perfect spanish accents. Others were American but true expats, not just passing thru for a year or 6 months. Women making a life here like me. The Prof "Susanna" did some lecturing but it was mostly discussion style. Introduce a theme and ask for input. "Why do people think small - why is this more common with women?", "Why is getting honest feedback on your writing so important" "How has the business of writing changed? What's needed now to Market one's writing in order to get published". Then we moved on to some fun and introspective exercises. Spent 10 minutes on a "Free write" - just writing on one of 3 themes and don't stop (I was never, I was always, if only) - just to warm up and get the junk out. Then she read the first half of several sentences and we had to finish..."If it weren't so foolish I would...", "If it weren't so expensive I would...", "If I were 21 again I would...", "If I were another person...", "If I gave in to my secret dream I would...", "As my own best friend, I would really cheer if I saw myself ..." Then we did a few silly exercises to poke a bit of fun at writing. Picking from a list of selected words, we had to construct newspaper headlines for trashy tabloids "340 lb Blind Queen Caught in Vampire Monastary" and the like. A few more exercises and discussion and we were over for the day. Time flew and I had so much fun - felt really inspired. Yes. This is why I came to Argentina. The next day in my "free write aka morning pages" time at home I wrote a short piece about an Enormous Purple Elephant. Who knew I had a purple elephant waiting to come alive? What, who else is in there?.......

Monday, September 10, 2007

BA 1/2 Marathon


"This test of competitive character is directed to those who are arranged to confront the challenge of 21 km we hoped to count on the participation of all type of runners, as much professional as amateurs. We remembered all the runners interested that they must be prepared physical and medically to be able to complete this distance."

Maybe I should have read this excerpt from the official race website before heading out yesterday morning. I've been training with "Los Halcones" running team for 3 months now - 4 days a week, 3 hours each session. (If you sometimes wonder what I do with my time these days, now you know. Add daily spanish lessons, walking and feeding myself and the dog, the occasional social outing, conversing with the doorman Luis and there you go)

These last two weeks my coach "El Martin" prepared me to run the BA 1/2 marathon (or so he thought). Last wed I ran 11 miles - the last 5 with the team captain "Judith from Holland who speaks 6 languages effortless and runs like she speaks" and Martin on either side urging me to go faster. Then, Thursday the weather took a peculiar and dramatic turn. Wednesday was winter - cold blustery. Slept with 3 heavy comforters on the bed and wore a sweater to the park with Utta.

Thursday, work up sweating. It was humid and warm. Not spring, but summer. the kind of hot and sticky that leaves you feeling like doing a whole lot of nothing. same on Friday. that night I went to running practice and felt nauseous after two laps around the lake. fatigued and uncomfortable. I started to get worried as the forecast said the weekend would get even warmer and more humid. Martin told me not to worry - that we'd take it easy in the race if need be.

Saturday night he sent me a text message that said "Are you ready to fly like Rocky?" (yes, he's obsessed with Rocky and Apollo Creed and makes constant references to movie scenes where we might learn something about honor, good sportmanship or how Rocky got his groove back) Sunday morning was up by 6am to caffinate, then walk Utta around the block. It was already muggy and thick. Reminded me of the trip Hugh and I took with friends Dan and Michelle to New Orleans one week in July several years ago. The race started and ended at Plaza de Mayo. Site of the most important government building in the city and several other historic points of interest. It was quiet and inspiring. Runners are the same everywhere. Same attire, same long lines for the portapotties 5 minutes before the start. same stretching. same getting their ipods tuned up and the "elites" in the front wearing what seem to be eurobikinis. not attractive in the least but apparently practical on a hot day with 97% humidity and temperatures in the high 70s.

10 minutes after the start I was literally gasping for air. Martin planned to run the entire race at my side theoretically for "encouragement" and "motivation". Little did I know that those words of encouragement would be something like this: "faster Ambi, let's go, you're a falcon not a dove, watch your arms - swing forward a bit more, vamos vamos vamos, rapido rapido rapido". Somewhere around kilometer 10 I started thinking - honestly this must be what hell is like. I could not for the life of me turn off the negative thoughts. Pain, ugh. so hot. need air. need water. when is the next water stop. god i'd love to just walk for a minute. Then Martin again "eye of the tiger, eye of the tiger (yes, he actually said "ojo de tigre"). Do it like "Rocky" (Como Rocky asi!) Nothing at that moment was more infuriating more maddening than having an 89 pound Argentine professional runner screaming at me to channel Rocky freakin Balboa as sweat streamed down my face and my legs shook with exhaustion.

Somehow I made it to the 15km mark though with dread as Martin informed me at the start that our "strategy" for the race wood be to run the first 10k "tranquile" and the second half we would "fly like Halcones". How could I fly when I could barely breathe? When my legs felt like unnecessary appendages - weights that would drag me down and drown me? I was too drained at that point to argue or to think of the words in spanish to express the sentiment "I feel like i'm going to die - Rocky can eat my shorts!". the only thing that squeeked out was "no puedo" (I can't). he didn't buy it and continued to "encourage".

The final kilometer he started in again - "this is your time, your race, give it everything you've got, the fastest you can possibly run". Only pride and vanity nudged me forward and across the finish line with a near heart attack. Martin still had no idea how painful, how laborious, how unfun it was for me to run 13.1 miles in the stiffling heat sucking bus fumes with someone screaming at me the whole time to "vamos!". The Halcones team motto is "Fue duro pero lo hice" (It was hard, but I did it). That's all I said when the race was over. we stretched each other and went home.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

El campo

If these images seem oddly familiar, don't worry you're not going crazy. Yes we went back to the La Candelaria estancia for the second time in a month. This time for 3 days, 2 nights of galloping on polo ponies, playing tennis on clay courts surrounded by eucalyptus trees, long foresty walks with Utta to visit cows and other non citified beasties, asados galore (see charred skinned something or other over the fire) and quiet. Ever since our visit my birthday weekend we both ached to return. Not sure if its the magic of this particular estancia and its lush french countryside like gardens or a more simple need to get away from the roar of the city more often than not. Lately we have been rethinking our plan. 5 months of intensive searching for the perfect apartment in the city has yielded little more than an education in "how things work" in south america. At first I was disappointed. I thought by now we'd be a bit more "settled". We'd have a permanent residence and I'd have my jr. high and high school yearbooks neatly tucked away in my new escritorio/library. Another fantasy gone bust. So, our lease is up end of September. Looking now for a new place to rent for another 6 months - ideally closer to the parks. As the temperature climbs, Utta's capacity for long walks will diminish. Need to find a way for us to be one or two blocks from green space for our Precious. Plan B is to buy or keep renting a small place in the city and start looking for a weekend home (very common here) that we can escape to on a regular basis. Our own slice of La Candelaria.

In the meantime, I am alone in South America. Aren't we all completely alone anyway? Ok, a bit dramatic sounding but somewhat true. Hugh left last night for the US to visit friends in SF and Portland and spend time with grandma Vince Lee in Dallas who recently took a fall and broker her femur - ouchie. At first I was terrified and nervous to be here 3 weeks by myself taking care of Utta. In SF, I wouldn't think twice and would probably welcome the time alone. Here it's something altogether different. I immediate imagined all the worst case scenarios. What if Utta got sick and I couldn't get a cab that would take us to the vet? What if I got mugged on the street - who would I call and who would care? What if I forgot my keys in the apt and couldn't get back in? What if I sprained my ankle for the 3rd time - who would take care of me, of Utta? Panic mongering aside, its quiet but not in a scary way - more in a I need to be ok with some silence in my life kind of way and see what happens.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Gaby, Marita, Ambi y Lau

Everyone in Argentina goes by a nickname. My new friends Gabriela (Gaby) pictured with me, Ana Maria (Marita) and Laura (Lau) - photo below, are no exception. These shots are from a night out with the girls last Thursday at a Peruvian restaurant in town. Ate ceviche for the first time in more than 6 months! About a month ago Laura and I decided we should make Thursdays our regular night out so we see each other more often then in the running group and with our sig o's. I asked David my spanish tutor to teach me some expressions for how to ask someone out so that I could invite a friend potential to our regular Thursdays. I'd been thinking about how to invite Gaby out to do something socially for a few months now. She's one of the Halcones in my running group so I see her at least twice a week but we had never done anything outside of the group. I would ask her about her weekends and she always seemed busy. Worked at a call center during the week, went out with a group of girlfriends saturday night and sundays were reserved for family asados (bbq's). Finally a few weeks ago, I tested my newly practiced phrases "que estas haciendo jueves?" what are you doing this thurs? I invited her to join Laura and I for dinner and she seemed delighted. Ice broken. Marita is a good friend of Laura's who I've met a few times at group gatherings. She speaks perfect english (and her spanish is easy to understand because she's from Peru and has a different, more clearly articulated accent). when the four of us are together its spanish only so its great practice for me. We never run out of things to talk about - much of our conversation is sharing experiences from our different traditions and ways of growing up. what's it like being single and/or different (less macho) the argentine men are compared to other south american countries, the benefits of living alone and traveling solo at least once in your life. Different places we've visited, books we're reading, and of course the all time favorite topic - food. This week we go to a greek place called Mykonos where they break dishes over your head.