Friday, March 30, 2007
Last night we had a relatively light dinner. Some leftover steak and a medley of veggies - espinaci, broccoli and some roasted red bell pepper. Around 11ish, Hugo got hungry again so we decided to try the delivery option for a snack. Much like NYC, this city delivers anything and everything - restaurant takeout, groceries, gelato...even a cafe con leche. Hugh ordered 4 empanadas - two ham and cheese, one cheese and onion and one of their special - spicy carne. Cost 8 pesos or about $2.50US The photo above is what we got. yummmm. yes, i've been doing localizada and running around the nearby lake but daily deliveries of empanadas and dulce de leche gelato is definitely going to make Ambi muy gordo muy pronto. its hard to resisit though as the food is so good.
This morning we got an in home visit from a chubby el doctor Jorge - Utta's new vet. Love that they make house calls. his english was not great but between our broken spanish, and some pantomime, we got along fine and understood each other. He's a surgeon who specializes with bulldogs so has done dozens of cesarians etc. he's also experienced with megaesophaegous and questioned whether that was her true diagnosis since he's never seen a dog in as good health as Utta with the condition. that was nice to hear. towards the end of the one hour visit (no rushing off of course) he asked hugh if he like to fish. I smell a man-date coming but hugh has actually been a bit timid given his limitations with conversation. yesterday, we spotted two nice looking bulldogs in a nearby park while we were in a taxi. i think Utta is going to be just fine here.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
by now most americans are on to "the secret" of a successful, happy life according to the book and dvd. think positive thoughts and be specific about your intentions. sounds easy - too easy. i do remember though last year when we vacationed here in ba. most days we meandered through the different neighborhoods, imagining ourselves living here. one day we passed through a beautiful tree lined street one block from the zoo. i have distinct memory of that day because i said that if we ever lived here, this is the neighborhood i'd want to be. well somehow - we are currently living on the exact block where i said those words. i don't know if thats intention, luck or destiny but whatever it is, its real.
back to the real secret....how do argentine women get such great figures? and how the heck are their hineys so tight and perky? it's baffling to the food loving foreigners. until, i joined a gym last week and tried my hand at a class called "localizado". i've no idea what that word means but the gist of the class is a half hour of latin style cardio - lots of mamba moves, shimmy of the shoulders, arrrribbbaaaas, and hips dont lie type gyrations. yes, i'm the only gringa in class. then the second half is pure burn of the lower body. leg lifts, butt lifts, hip burners like i've never seen before. it was a big ah ha for me. i thought i was in pretty good shape from sf style bootcamp but no. the women in the class with the best bodies actually wore leg weights on top of doing all of the exercises effortlessly. the leg lifts are a bit of a throw back to jane fonda jazzercise moves but who cares - it works. well, maybe that along with a bit of lipo but i'm gonna try the natural way first and see how far it gets me. now you know where to find me each night at 6pm.
Monday, March 26, 2007
saturday night we had plans with another couple we met recently through friends of friends. Brad is from Wisconsin and moved here two years ago to develop real estate. he met his girlfriend Lara the second night he arrived and they seem pretty serious now. fortunately she spoke excellent english having worked in the UK for 3 months and a few different US companies in argentina. we ate at a fancy pizzeria that grills its very thin crust pizza on the barbaque grills that are more typically used for cooking steak. delicious! the restaurant was a ways from our apartment, but it was yet another warm night so we decided to walk back to our part of town, talking and strolling through the different neighborhoods for an hour. (so far, buenos aires has felt very safe to me. even more so than san francisco. the streets and parks are extremely well lit especially at night. also, so many people stay out in the evening that it seems comfortable to walk around. )
we ended up at our favorite heladeria aka ice cream shop called persicco. i've a new afinity for dolce de leche con brownie - yes, exactly as it sounds and better than any ben and jerrys flavor you can imagine. the square we sat in for an hour eating our ice creams was packed with families and young people at 2am. at one point several cars drove around the square honking their horns. a young man with nothing but a g-string bikini on and a mask was in the back of a pick up screeching with delight. a friend stood next to him with a fly swatter whipping his bare bum. they stopped in front of the heladeria so that he could honor the obvious hazing ritual and run inside. i assumed it was his bachelor party but who knows....
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
today our cleaning lady Patricia - currently our best spanish speaking friend came over to make us a few Argentine meals that we can keep in the fridge. she made a tube pasta dish with cubed steak, a chicken and rice dish and a breaded thinly sliced steak that we are supposed to panfry in olive oil and then melt some mozzarella on top. Yum! i could get used to this. lucky for us she is a great cook and its nice to have some home cooking. yesterday we ventured to the big supermarket CorreFour to find me a blowdryer, a coffee maker and various sundries. also discovered a dozen different types of mayo. mayo with olive oil - of course! i got hit on twice in the fresh seafood section by the ever present attractive mullet shorn argentine men. hugh kindly wandered off and watched smiling from a distance.
Monday, March 19, 2007
so far what i love about it-
freshly made empanadas on every corner
everyone has a dog and loves utta - que lindo, nene or nena?
beautiful tree lined streets
living one block from the zoo and a huge park with running trails
they don´t sell peanut butter
women wear pants so tight you see everything
mullets are the cut of choice
what i don´t love but will get used to-
mosquitos in the parc
noisy at all hours
half understanding what people say
no wireless connection in the apartment
cold showers - well, it´s supposed to get fixed tomorrow but won´t hold my breath
the adventure continues manana
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
A. The CondeNast article says it best - scroll down to read
Q. What will I be doing?
A. learning, creating, exploring, investing and cavorting
Q. Am I excited?
A. Not presently. still too much on the to do list
Q. How long will we stay?
A. unknown. likely a year, maybe more maybe less
Q. Do I know spanish?
A. un poco - not enough
Q. What did I do with all of my stuff?
A. storage, giveaway, sold
Q. Am I excited?
A. Didn't you ask that already?
Q. Will I learn the Tango?
Q. Is it hard to get pets into the country?
A. no, Utta flew down last week with no issues, no quarantine
Q. Are you going to start a blog?
shout out to mi madre - don't worry we'll be back
Buenos Aires in Bloom
by David Ebershoff
Published February 2007
Buenos Aires used to run on nostalgia and was proud to consider itself more European than Latin. Then came the financial collapse of 2001 and everything changed overnight. David Ebershoff visits the new Buenos Aires, an electrifying—and deeply affordable—city, where necessity really is the mother of invention
Flower power: Floralis Genérica, architect Eduardo Catalano's eighteen-ton aluminum flower on Avenida Figueroa Alcorata, opens its petals by day and closes them at nightLaunch slideshow
It used to be that if you were visiting Buenos Aires, especially for a short stay, you had little reason to stray beyond the neighborhoods in and around the Microcentro, an orderly European grid of narrow streets and wider avenues that is home to many government offices and historic churches. Or perhaps you'd branch out to nearby Recoleta, the elegant enclave of early-twentieth-century embassies, neoclassical mansions, doorman apartment buildings, a cemetery for the elite, and a central avenue lined with upscale boutiques: Armani, Ralph Lauren, Vuitton.
Your visit would probably begin at the Plaza de Mayo, a paved oval cut with paths, palms, and patches of grass, an obelisk standing nobly at the center. At one end of the plaza is the Casa Rosada, the faded pink presidential palace from whose balcony Eva Perón cried for Argentina. This is a city of pronouncements and protests, and the Plaza de Mayo has been the site of military coups and political rallies and gatherings throughout the country's history. Here the crowds thronged for a look at Evita. Here the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, a group of mothers demanding a full inquiry into the disappearance of their sons and daughters—an estimated thirty thousand of whom, political opponents of the government, vanished between 1976 and 1983—first began congregating in 1977 (every Thursday at 3:30 p.m., the group assembles in the plaza still). And here, more recently, is where demonstrators lit bonfires to decry the government's handling of the December 2001 economic crisis, the event that was the catalyst for much of the city's recent transformation.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's continue. Here, on the northwest corner of the plaza, is the Catedral Metropolitana. Completed in 1827, it resembles a Greek temple from the outside, with twelve massive fluted columns defending the entrance. Once inside you could believe, however, as in many places in the Microcentro, that you'd been transported to Catholic Europe. The floor plan is in the shape of a Latin cross, and everywhere are tons and tons of marble the color of weak tea. In a side chapel, you'd visit the flag-draped tomb of General José de San Martín, who liberated Argentina from more than two centuries of Spanish rule in 1816, and where two military guards, stiff and still in full regalia—gold braid and red epaulets—stand with drawn swords. If you were the goofy type, you might try to get one of the soldiers to crack a smile. (I did, and was rewarded with a smirk.)
In the afternoon, you'd drop by the Basílica de San Francisco. This Baroque church and convent, which dates from 1754, is one of the oldest in the city, its twin bell towers, topped by copper cupolas, floating over the nearby rooftops. Here is the gift shop selling postcards, rosary beads, sacks of hard candy, and soaps and salves made on a bee farm outside the city by four Franciscan monks. There are white jars containing a beeswax-and-pollen cream for the skin around the eyes, brown jars holding something for rough elbows that looks like chocolate pudding. The man behind the counter would give you a lozenge of honey-flavored candy wrapped in cellophane. Next you'd go for a café con leche and a sugary alfajor, a smear of dulce de leche sandwiched between two shortbread cookies, at La Puerto Rico, the kind of old-fashioned place with a long wooden bar, pastries and croissants displayed behind glass, a terrazzo floor, and waiters in crisp white aprons who hold their coffeepots three feet above your cup, tip, and pour without splashing a drop. If you were in town on a Saturday night, you might return here for the dinner-and-tango show and marvel as a man with a naughty mustache and a woman with glossy hair prowl, strut, and tangle like two black cats. And so this was the visit you'd have, this kind of dreamy, nostalgic stroll through the city's past—the kind that has charmed visitors for decades, and deservedly so.
But that is no longer Buenos Aires. Or rather, it is no longer the only Buenos Aires.
"We're about so much more than the tango," Agustina Menendez tells me. Menendez is a twenty-five-year-old singer and modern dancer. Recently, she began a small company offering visitors what she calls "alternative urban tours"—studio visits, gallery drop-ins, a trip to a metalworks that transforms into a performance space at night. "I've always hated the regular tourism thing," she says. "The tango shows, La Boca, Recoleta, and those places that have nothing to do with me"—the areas, she means, which tourists used to frequent before Buenos Aires began, suddenly and necessarily, to transform itself from a city run on nostalgia into a capital of design and style.
This is Buenos Aires today. The city that used to promote itself as the Paris of South America, with its wide boulevards, café culture, and opera house to rival the Palais Garnier, has at last shed its stubborn European envy and become—first grimly and then exuberantly—a wholly different and distinct place, going from derivative to innovative almost overnight. But it took a tragedy—Argentina's devastating 2001 economic meltdown, one of the biggest financial collapses anywhere, ever—to shake this city of three million (fifteen million if you count the entire metropolitan area) out of its creative deep sleep and into its current fizzy era of entrepreneurship and invention. The Porteños (as Buenos Aires residents call themselves) I met on my most recent trip—leading designers, artists, gallery owners, chefs, and hoteliers—have unleashed an unprecedented amount of energy into their city, making for what must be the most colorful financial recovery in history, not to mention one of the world's most profound, and thrilling, makeovers.
Such energy is, it seems, contagious. For who isn't talking about Buenos Aires these days—its food, its galleries, its bars and boutiques? And there are other reasons too: Despite the city's size (it is divided into forty-eight barrios, and you can spend forty minutes in a cab just getting across town) and distance from the United States (an eleven-hour flight from the East Coast, but with a time difference of only an hour or two), it is both accessible and, still, affordable. There is also the irresistible feeling as you walk through here that you are witnessing that rarest of occasions—the very moment of transition, a city in its adolescence, transforming itself from what it was into something different and new, redrawing its boundaries and rethinking its identity, the public face it presents to the rest of the world.
Even the heart of the city has shifted. Palermo Viejo, a large neighborhood of mostly one- and two-story buildings from the early twentieth century, has overtaken the Microcentro as the cultural core. For years it was mixed-use and modest—a storehouse squatting next to a town house, which sat next to a bodega, which stood beside a vacant lot. In the late 1990s, just before the collapse, the variety and breadth of space here began attracting the usual urban colonizers: artists and gay people, gallery owners and restaurateurs. Fashion houses and bars, hotels and boutiques followed, cropping up faster than anyone could write them down. Here, though, the Argentinean restaurant of one's dreams—the one with the gleaming red banquettes, the unfussy grilled meats and fish, and the waitress who looks like Gabriella Sabatini, only hotter—is just as likely to be next to an auto body shop as it is to a handbag boutique.
This neighborhood, too, has a plaza in its center: the small, circular Plazoleta Cortázar, named for one of Argentina's two literary giants, Julio Cortázar, whose renowned 1963 novel, Hopscotch, concerns the Porteños' eternal dilemma—how much of their identity is European and how much is Argentinean? Calle Jorge Luis Borges, honoring perhaps Argentina's greatest writer, runs into the plaza, bringing together the two literary rivals for eternity. Is it a sign of the times that precisely where they come together there's a prominent real estate brokerage? Borges, of course, is known for his love of labyrinths and puzzles, confusions and mysteries, dead-ends and trapdoors. He lived not far from here, on Calle Serrano, a dignified residential street, but alas, there's nothing Borgesian about Palermo Viejo's orderly grid of streets planted with dusty shade trees.
Palermo Viejo is divided into two areas separated by a no-man's-land of train tracks. Palermo Soho is the more established and polished, its gentrification mostly complete. In Palermo Hollywood, which is farther northwest from the Microcenter, the transformation is ongoing. The streets are wider here, the old warehouses larger, the trees fewer, the sun, it seems, hotter. Because of its large industrial spaces, the neighborhood has become a nexus of television and film production companies, thus its name.
It is Palermo Hollywood, perhaps, that best epitomizes the new Buenos Aires and the new Porteños, the pioneers who have turned the status quo on its head. Take, for example, the restaurant and lounge Ølsen. When Ølsen opened in July 2001, the neighborhood hadn't seen anything like it: a two-story warehouse converted into an indoor-outdoor hot spot, drawing crowds throughout the day and late into the night, its menu both straightforward (a whitefish fillet leaning against a springy hill of lightly dressed red lettuce) and playful (a pouf of basil mousse). Ølsen was an instant hit, satisfying the city's demand for something hip and young and un-nostalgic, something that didn't look to nineteenth-century Paris or Rome for inspiration but turned instead to the mirror.
Or so it now seems. But this wasn't necessarily apparent at the time. "For two months the restaurant was packed," Germán Martitegui, Ølsen's chef and owner says. "Then, the crisis."
What happened next to Martitegui and Ølsen is typical of what befell entrepreneurs throughout the country. "For two months I couldn't pay my employees on time," Martitegui says. "There were no customers and no money. But they agreed to wait for their pay and…" He makes a gesture with his hand that means, in any language, somehow we got through.
Almost everyone here has a story of "the crisis," and indeed, in order to understand the vibrancy of Buenos Aires today, you need to know a little about the trauma the city recently survived. From 1998 to 2002, Argentina's GDP shrank twenty-five percent. Nationally, unemployment reached twenty percent and ran even higher in the capital. By the end of 2001, the country was on the verge of collapse. Then, overnight and without warning, the government detached the peso from its artificial link to the U.S. dollar. Instantly the exchange rate went from one-to-one to approximately four-to-one (after several months of turmoil, it settled at three-to-one, where it remains today). Panic ensued, and the government froze nearly all bank accounts, making it impossible to withdraw funds. Quite literally no one had any money.
Buenos Aires went from being one of the most expensive cities in the world to one of the cheapest—cheap, that is, for foreigners. Argentineans, on the other hand, had to face the high prices of an import economy with drastically reduced buying power. The country's large middle class—once the envy of Latin America—suffered the worst, with large swaths of it simply disappearing. Take for example one man I met, Claudio Escariz, a principal officer in the Federal Police's first precinct. Before the devaluation, he was solidly middle-class, making 22,000 pesos a year, or $22,000. After the devaluation, he still made 22,000 pesos, but it was worth approximately $7,300. For him, he says, it was like going to bed in the First World and waking up in the Third. No one escaped the effects of the crisis. Stores shuttered. Banks were vandalized. The opera played to an all but empty house.
Today, five years later, Argentina's economy is growing at a rate comparable to China's. But what is perhaps more remarkable about the city's financial bounce back is its collective response to the disaster. "Argentina paid a huge price to achieve its current level of competitiveness," says Joydeep Mukherji, a credit analyst at Standard & Poor's. "But now there's lots of pent-up demand, pent-up entrepreneurship. Many people quickly became creative once the economic context around them had changed." In other words, the Porteños had to innovate as if their lives depended on it—and in many ways, they did.
As you stroll through Palermo Viejo, evidence of this innovation is everywhere. "We could no longer look outside for ideas," says Josefina Ferroni, a designer who lives and works in Palermo. "We had to look within." We're sitting above her store on a blue quilted ottoman in the loft where she designs shoes, many of which appear to have been inspired by those worn by a tango dancer—thick, elegant heels with sturdy but sexy straps and tiny buckles. For Ferroni, the crisis was a transforming moment. Five years ago, she worked at a small advertising agency. When the crisis hit and she lost her job, she asked herself what she should do next and thought of her father—when she was little, he used to call her a centipede ("I've always loved shoes!"). The crisis literally forced her to create.
Before the currency devaluation, imports were artificially cheap because of the propped-up peso. Monetary policy was so screwed up that it made more economic sense to import than to manufacture at home. Many of the fashion cognoscenti considered local designers déclassé, and jetted off instead to Paris, New York, or Miami for their shoes and clothes.
That all changed after the crisis. Today, if you ask anyone in Buenos Aires's creative fields why their city has rebounded so spectacularly, most will tell you that it's because they finally started looking to their own culture for ideas. This was a country of imports, but there was no more money to import anything. No longer could people afford to envy everything European, to ask someone else to define their style for them. Louis Vuitton may have remained in Buenos Aires, but such global brands are joined, increasingly, by local designers: Pablo Ramírez, who makes sleek, highly constructed black-and-white couture inspired by historical themes such as immigration and the tango; Nadine Zlotogora, known for her unexpected mixings of local fabrics such as wool, cotton, gauze, and broken tweed; and Fabian Zitta, an anesthesiologist-turned-designer whose current collection is a romantic vision of butter silk and black organza.
"We used to love to copy," says Carla Cando, the designer and owner of a men's label and boutique called Spina. Her studio, accessed by a heavy, chicly rusted door, sits across the street from Ølsen, and as we leave after our coffee, she stops in the garden to chat with friends, colleagues, and competitors. There they are: the members of the city's new creative class. They are young, educated, often beautiful, unafraid to wear sexy, skimpy clothes, eager to work hard. On any given day in Ølsen's garden—with its redwood patio furniture and sound track that sounds like The Strokes in Spanish—you're likely to see in motion the people who are redefining the city. But the true sound track of the neighborhood is the noise of construction: the hum of a buzz saw, the peck of a hammer upon the head of a nail. The sounds of change, of the neighborhood's future. I realize this as I'm walking down Calle Humboldt, a cross street in Palermo Hollywood that a few years from now I won't recognize. I'm picking my way around the construction sites that creep into the street. It is late morning on a clear spring day, the sun pitiless between the shade trees. A dog walker is leading a dozen pooches on a stroll. He has to keep guiding the pack into the street, navigating his way around the plywood walls that advertise future condo towers, each trying to outdo the other with computer-generated images of rooftop pools. It is then that I hear the sounds of Palermo Viejo: the call of the construction crane overwhelms the dog walker's warning to his hounds to be careful of the cars.
When I ask people here to describe the local aesthetic, the word I hear most often is capricho. Capricious, of course, has two definitions: one meaning whimsical or fanciful; the other—a more negative connotation—impulsive, mutable, fleeting. In terms of this new generation of designers and creators, the first definition is the more accurate. But the second is also worth remembering: This is a country, after all, whose fortunes have turned so suddenly, and so often, that its people are most comfortable expecting the worst from the future. Joydeep Mukherji, from Standard & Poor's, reminds me that over the last century Argentina has experienced one year of recession for every two years of economic growth. Chart those numbers on a graph and the peaks and valleys would make anyone queasy. "People in Argentina are either euphoric or depressed," he says. "They don't know slow, steady growth."
There is probably no one in Buenos Aires who more grandly exemplifies the first meaning of capricho, and whose outlook more boldly defies the second, than the hotelier Alan Faena. Two years ago, he opened the Faena Hotel & Universe in a restored granary in the dockland district of Puerto Madero, near San Telmo. His goal was to create a destination—not just a bed to sleep in but an experience, whether it was lounging on a blood-red chaise by the pool, or eating in the unicorn-themed restaurant El Bistro, or seeing a postmodern tango show in the cabaret. Faena says he wanted the hotel "to show Buenos Aires in a language that everyone could understand," and he rejected seven designs before settling on Philippe Starck's red-and-black bordello-inflected theme. Here, last century's Buenos Aires has been reimagined as a dream of its future. "Every part of the hotel represents part of Buenos Aires's history," he says. "The restaurant El Mercado represents the old cantinas, the cabaret, the old nightlife and tango. I wanted to use the richness of our history to re-create the future of Buenos Aires."
And the city is evolving still. From the Faena, it's an easy walk or a quick cab ride to San Telmo, another neighborhood that is rapidly being renovated. A nineteenth-century district of cobbled streets, parillas (grill rooms), and the multiethnic dance halls where the tango was born, it is now home to some of the city's most interesting boutiques, as well as a museum of contemporary art in an old tobacco warehouse. But the real pleasure of San Telmo is simply to wander around, stopping to notice how, in the morning light, the cobblestones have the hammered-metal look of the Río de la Plata; or how the stucco on the facade of a merchant's mansion has flaked away to reveal the brick; or how the girl at the denim boutique, her eyes as big as plums, daydreams behind the counter—and how she wakes up when her boyfriend with the dark locks drops by for a morning kiss.
Borges once worked in San Telmo, too, running the old National Library on Calle México for eighteen years. He became its director at roughly the same time he lost his vision, and is quoted as saying, "I speak of God's splendid irony in granting me at once eight hundred thousand books and darkness." Today the pale stone neoclassical building is a music conservatory and is closed to the public, although a shut door has never stopped a true Borges fan.
The barrio's center is another square, the Plaza Dorrego, Buenos Aires's most picturesque. On Sundays it becomes the city's largest flea market. Nearby is the Mercado San Telmo, a large, covered antiques market where you'll find oil paintings of snowy Patagonian mountains, old Victrolas, and filigreed silver fish-knife sets. It's here I really come to understand something that one Argentinean financial analyst told me: that up until the 1930s, Argentina ranked economically alongside Canada and Australia. Many families saw their wealth peak then, and now, evidence of their lost prosperity is everywhere—in the boxes of amber rosaries, in the buttoned velvet chaises, in the peacock fans.
That night, in the first hot weather of the spring, I visit Mariana Szulman in her new studio, CasAzul, a blue box behind her apartment building. A textile artist who uses her sewing machine "like a pen," Szulman is showing me her tapestries. They are abstract depictions of love, family, and national identity in intricate collages of canvas, wool, cotton, paper, and ink. For two years after the crisis she didn't sell a single piece. Today, she says, she has too much work. She's not complaining, just stating a fact. When I ask her what's different since the crisis, she says, "There's an energy that makes you want to create." She shows me a wall-hanging inspired by her grandmother. In bright, futuristic colors, she's reworked an old black-and-white photograph of a handsome 1930s woman with dark hair curled under at the ear. "Mi abuela," she says. In the evening's fading light, holding her artwork, she seems to be looking into her past and her future at once, while outside, beyond the iron gate, her beloved Janus-like city does the same.
Concierge.com © 2007 CondéNet Inc. All rights reserved.