Monday, April 30, 2007
Last friday was my final exam at Univ buenos aires aka UBA for the intensive 3 week program i've been in since early april. somehow i passed the exam which means i qualify to move up to level 3 - intermediate. still i can't say that i know how to ask for a chicken patty at the butcher or that even one time a taxi driver (taxista) understands which street names i'm telling him due to the incorrect pronunciation. i'm mentally fried and over sitting at a desk all day with 19 year olds even though the UBA program is quite affordable and the teachers are decent. so, starting next monday, i'll be working with a tutor 3 hours per day here at the apartment - focusing more on speaking and pronunciation. the tutor guy is very strict and gives lots of homework so it will probably be as intense as my uba program but maybe i'll see more pronounced results. his teaching approach is pretty interesting. his tutoring pays the bills but his other job and passion is acting and producing plays. here's the email he sent to describe his spanish immersion course:
It consists of three hours a day five days a week for one month.
> > >
> > >The program consists of speaking, reading out loud, listening and
> > >repeating, and writing. Overal there are very few explanations, lots
> > >of reading out loud, and finding spanish sounds that may be
> > >particularly difficult for the student to identify and repeat, and
> > >more than anything lots of speaking from day one. Basically you have
> > >to plunge in and begin to speak freely. There is little time to
> > >think, and with my guidance you will begin to develop ideas, phrases,
> > >thoughts, in spanish by the end of the first week. Of course, there
> > >is some grammar and some vocabulary to learn, but we are going to rely
> > >on the little vocabulary it seems we know, to through association
> > >develop new vocabulary. Believe me, you know far more than what you
> > >give yourself credit for even if you have never studied spanish
> > >before.
> > >
> > >We will begin working on your accent from day one. As soon you step
> > >on the street you should be understood. Many students have told me
> > >that they feel frustrated when they are not undestood, even when they
> > >express themselves correctly, and this lack of understanding leaves
> > >people inhibited and unsure of what they really know. Every language
> > >has key sounds that we must find and release out of us.
> > >
> > >Another key aspect of learning a language is rhythm. We will work on
> > >finding a natural speaking rhythm from day one. If we don't we will
> > >fall in the habit of chasing words and making long "thinking" pauses,
> > >instead of relying on what we know and getting the best out of it.
> > >Also, the more we develop a natural speaking rhythm, the more we will
> > >understand somebody speaking fluently and naturally. I want you to
> > >speak with confidence and freedom. My classes are a testground where
> > >you should truly feel free to fail, and try, and try again, and play.
> > >No self criticism allowed.
> > >
> > >I am quite demanding and I look for students who have the need to grow
> > >and work. This is the reason why I do not give single classes, and I
> > >do not work with more than three people at a time. I will pose a
> > >challenge to you because that way, we will both be rewarded at the end
> > >of the month.
> > >
> > >lastly; if you are used to learning by memorizing rules and words, you
> > >will have a brief period adjusting. I call this an "I" course, because
> > >we will rely on your Instinct, on your intuition, and on your Innate
> > >need to communicate and survive.
for this week, i'm taking a breather, sleeping in a lot more. tomorrow is a major holiday aka feria so everthing is closed. meeting friends in the chinatown of buenos aires for a stroll and lunch. hugo and i made a pact to stop watching tv in english so tonight we rented "the sea inside" - no subtitilos.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
was the theme of a fashion show benefit we attended tonight - compliments of an invite from my friends Matt and Caco that stood us up on Saturday night. Matt lives in a tony neighborhood called Palermo Chico. two blocks from his apartment is the Museo Metropolitan where they had the event. We sat at a table with several other argentine friends of his and his sister in law who sat next to me and fortunately spoke perfect english from two years living in switzerland and a year in new york attending parsons then on to designing windows at bloomies. the fashion was interesting but nothing worthy of the milan catwalk. nonetheless, i took a few shots to give a flavor of a local show. you can guess which lingerie designer hugo fancied. he nearly fell out of his chair when the size -2 6ft tall women sauntered in with g-string underwear. great inspiration for my new class at the nearby gimnasio - its called GAP which stands for glutes, abdominales and Piernas (legs).
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Last night we had our first dinner party. My three girlfriends from the UK and US came. my argentine friends Matt and Caco were supposed to come too but one hour before showtime I received a call from Matt that he wasn't coming. his family was having a "meeting" about the family business - their farm. strange excuse. did they just decide to meet on a saturday night? He was apologetic and ended the call with a desperate plea "ambi, don't be mad, I love you!" coming from a 25 yr old marilyn monroe obsessed gay argentine man, that doesn't mean much. my girlfriends claimed similar experiences with their local friends. something about how argentines hate to say no to an invitation even if they can't or don't want to go. so, they cancel a lot. ugh. that is going to take some getting used to. we spent the entire day preparing for our guests. i found what seemed like an easy recipe online for an argentine stew. just buy a bunch of different things, throw in a pot with some water and simmer for a few hours right? well, that's why i'm not the chef in the house. we went to 5 different shops to gather ingredients. butcher shop for the stew meat and bones to make the broth. big market to buy a large enough pot and misc veggies. cheese shop for appetizers and wine. panaderia for a chocolate cake (a surprise with candles for hugh's birthday which was last tuesday). hugh did most of the heavy lifting in the kitchen and i served as assistant. nonstop all day long until about 7:30pm. then it was time to clean the house. patricia who cleans our house m/w/fs couldn't come on friday as her daughter got sick. i'm a bit worried for her as her daughter has a condition similar to Uttas where her esophogus was formed incorrectly, so she had to have major surgery and can only eat certain foods or she'll vomit. Patricia's husband left her when their daughter fell ill. terrible. anyway, girls arrived at our place at 9ish and stayed until 3am. practically had to kick them out. the stew was delicious and even better leftover today. it was a great night.
Monday, April 16, 2007
Someone asked me today what my favorite Argentine word is so far. I'd have to say "amigovio". its a combo of two words - amigo and novio (boyfriend). an amigovio is a "friend with benefits" or a friend who as bob eubanks would say - that you also make whoppee with on occasion. this is an important word to know if you are single in buenos aires.
i've posted a few shots of a ladies dinner party i attended recently. made friends with three lovely english speaking women - two brits and an american who've been here 6+ months and speak what sounds to me like fluent spanish. Anne-marie invited us to her place for a meat fondue party. what you see is beef (lomo is the cut), pork and chorizo. it was delicious. she bought the meat from a butcher across the street. i think the cow died like two hours earlier. katherine (pictured with me) is british but has been traveling south america and malasia for some time now. she got a job here in market research without any formal language training but picked it up somehow. the woman in the dark hair pictured is lorena, the sister of Anne-marie's argentine boyfriend Pedro -he's her novio not amigovio. 80 percent of the conversation was in spanish. i listened a lot. last friday night Emily had us to her house for dinner and also invited one of her argentine friends Silvana who works at a Jewish deli in the morning and in the afternoons is a shrink. its been written about a lot but in my experience so far - its true, argentines love psychotherapy. its socially acceptable too so it comes up in conversation when you don't even know someone that well. She's also a tango dancer and teacher of salsa. we ended the evening with an impromptu salsa lesson. sunday morning was my earliest so far in BA. I went to my first argentine "maraton" with a new friend Emily (another brit). ok, not as impressive as it sounds. a maraton is a running race of any distance. the sunday race was about 4 miles so nothing too strenous. hundreds of portenos were there and they lit fireworks at the start. ok a bit over the top for 4 miles but i liked it.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
big epiphany for the week - learning a new language is hard. Started a three week intensive course at UBA (univ of buenos aires - free to the locals and pricey for us expats) on tuesday. monday they cancelled class 10 minutes before it was supposed to start. gotta love it. the entire city shut down for 3 hours so all the teachers and students could protest the killing of a teacher in a southern province who was killed by the police (during a protest for better wages). confused yet? huge front page story for days and still going. i wanted to ck out the protest but a local scared me out of it. she said it would be very "pelligroso" (one of my new favorite spanish words) - dangerous. so, tuesday was the big first day. i tested into level 2 of 6 - essentially an advanced beginner level but i feel more like level zero. four hours a day of conjugating verbs, reading the spanish newspapers and trying to converse is somehow more draining than a 10 hr workday in downtown sf. ok, maybe not. i would like to fast track this whole process but i know it is just going to take a long time to sink in.
also, in the process, i've suddenly become "old". the classes are fairly small - 5-10 students and most are 18 yr olds from US, UK or China on exchange programs, living in hostels and 50 cent beers. i'm reminded each day what it was like at that age in school - lots of rolling of the eyes, staring out the window and general complaints about the homework. meanwhile i'm nerd beavis in the front row always raising my hand and trying to squeeze in some extra convo with the teacher during breaks to practice my vocab "tengo un marido muy pelligroso! ha! we had an exercise on friday where we had to break into pairs and converse freehand for 5 minutes on any topic while the teacher and other students critiqued and marked the errors. one of the students noted that my partner (a 19 yr old british girl) incorrectly used the formal term for "you" when addressing me. the brit said no - she did it on purpose as since I'm so much older than her, she assumed she should address me as an "elder". she said this with a totally straight face and no intent to offend. jesus, when did i become an elder? young people addressing me as they would a parent or grandparent? ouch. another similar incident occurred last week when hugo and i were at a cafe. we met a young couple from texas studying at a nearby language school. the manboy (no older than 21) made this unsolicited comment "we wish we were at a different school since all of the people in our class are y'alls age and we just want to go out at night and party". again, was i asleep when i suddenly became "y'alls age" or is it just that this is the first time i've been around college students since i was at university? i'm sure my mom's laughing her head off right now and feeling smug. yes, we all age....
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
What a tasty meal Hugo prepared the other night. Two steaks from across the street mini market costing $1.50 and some spinach with onions.
Here's a sampling of a typical lunch purchased from a takeout place. Cooked veggies (beets and green beans) and a beef stew with lentils, carrots and potatos - yum! oh yeah, cost is about $4.
I've ventured into a few places called "Dieteticos" that claim to have "naturale" or organic stuff but mostly I see diet supplements with skinny toned women pictured on the packaging and soups as meal replacements. think i'll stick with the steaks until bikini season.
new address for anyone inclined to send care packages is: Pena 2562, Piso 5, Numero 25, Buenos Aires, Argentina 1425
Technically we now live in a neighborhood called Barrio Norte but it is also close to Recoleta. Last weekend we walked a few blocks to the Recoleta multiplex theater to see a horrible film called "Shooter" or in espagnol "Tirador". My generations answer to Rambo. I want Sylvestor back.
Favorite things about the new place so far: lovely soft wood floors, two bathrooms (even though one is technically for "servants"), huge walk in closet (photo inc above), high ceilings, lots of light and big comfy sofa for Utta. Speaking of Utta, she doesn't like the old style elevators where you have to open and close two metal gates each time you enter/exit. Sometimes the elevator stops just shy of the floor so you have to step slightly up or down to get out - really disturbing for her.
Friday, April 6, 2007
Today is a nationally recognized holiday here. In fact, everyone had yesterday off, too. People kept asking what our Easter plans were as its common to leave town for a weekend retreat at one’s estancia aka ranch/farm. Unfortunately our plans are nothing so glamorous. Today we moved all of our worldly belongings to a new apt. One we’ll be at for 6 months. This past week has been a bit stressful and frustrating. For anyone that prefers to imagine my life as a long term holiday full of cavorting, shopping and eating empanadas with the model beautiful locals, you might want to stop reading and return in a few days to a new post. For those interested in the good, bad and ugly of this town – let me describe a few experiences to illustrate why although BA looks, smells, tastes and tries to act like a sophisticated European city, it can be as third worldly as Tijuana, Mexico.
A week ago, we found the apartment of our dreams. Nestled in the finest neighborhood in town - Recoleta, across the street from the British embassy, situated in the back of the building so quiet as can be, furnished by a gay man in the most tasteful, chic Parisian style and plenty of space for all three of us. Even had a lovely terrace for Udita to sun herself in the morning while we read the Buenos Aires Herald and drink café con leche. The price was steep for BA but not too outrageous given the swank location and size. We offered a bit less and asked for the owner to throw in expenses like internet, phone, utilities and maid service. He agreed (through our agent) and we stopped looking for an apt. 3 days later our agent called to tell us the owner changed his mind and also didn't calculate his expenses accurately. Now, he wants an additional $150 per month even though we already had a deal and agreed to the price. ughhhh. we hem and haw then stupidly agree. but no, that's not all. he wants all 6 months rent paid up front in cash the day before we move. and.....even though you can only withdraw pesos from the atms, he wants to be paid in dollars which means we lose money on both exchanges. UGHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! So, we are two days from being evicted from our apt with no options except this guy that is now royally trying to screw us and a real estate agent that is leaving town for the easter holiday so hands us over to her lackey assistant that speaks like 10 words of english. So, I spend two stressful days online (had to go to internet cafes since mysteriously our wifi stopped working at the apt) and on the phone with 4 different agents trying to find us a new place to move into. just yesterday afternoon i wasn't sure if we'd be literally homeless. Fast forward....the very first place we looked at almost two weeks ago was still available so we jumped and moved in this morning. It's in a very nice neighborhood. Still Recoleta but further east, not as close to the parks as our supposed dream apt but a nice plaza a block away and the famous Freddo's gelateria around the corner. I'll post some pix of it in a few days. It's on the top floor of an old style building in the back so its also very quiet.
2nd incident of the week: when we thought we were moving to the other place, we went to the local Citibank branch to meet the woman who helped us open an account (through our attorney here) and to withdraw some money. We take the elevator to the 4th floor - we step into a swank lobby filled with mahogany chairs and elegant decor. A big sign says "Citigold Wealth Management". I feel rich for a second. yeah, this is our life. here, we're serviced by "wealth managers"...right.
We meet Daniela - our branch rep. She pulls up our account info on the computer and voila....seems we have a zero balance. hmmmm, wait just a goddamn minute. ok, heart beating fast, mind spinning. is this what happened in the crash of 2001? you went to the bank and they smiled and just said too bad - the govt took your money, ciao. two weeks before i left sf, i made multiple trips to the Citibank branch on Market street. They knew me by name. I gave the branch manager flowers the day before I left to thank her for all the hassles. I had wired $25,000 US dollars to the Buenos Aires branch. I had a notarized apostilled letter from the sf branch manager attesting to the transaction. I had a print out of the confirmation of the transfer. WHAT THE HELL DO YOU MEAN WE HAVE A ZERO BALANCE? Well, several calls with our BA attorney Rodrigo. One hour in the posh wealth management office on the phone with Citibank US (that say the wire was made) and then another hour later in the day in a international phone booth to Citibank International Wire transfer team later, still no resolution. Yesterday, our lawyer tells us that Argentina has changed the rules - now its impossible to wire money into the country as we thought we had done. It's now against the law unless you've lived here at least a year. Something about "criminales". Great, well then where is our money? It's in the "grey zone" he tells me. We'll coming from financial services, I'm not comfortable with the whereabouts of my hard earned dinero being referred to in shades of grey. In the good ole USA, it's pretty black or white. He assures us that because it's the same bank, we will get it back. It will be put back into our account in the US. Then we'll just have to access our money via atms as we've been doing. I don't know whether this is good or bad news. I'm thinking now, actually pretty good news. If the money's not here in Argentina, they can't move it into the "grey zone" again.
vacation is over. real life has begun.
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
Was a 3 day weekend here in BA. Monday was Malvinas Day - national holiday to honor the Argentines who fought (unsuccessfully) to take the british Faulkan Islands. Was nice and quiet yesterday in our neighborhood. For once we slept in without waking to the sound of a jackhammer with construction on a new apt building across the street.
Sat nite we were invited to a dinner party with a group of expats. Gay couple from SF and several single women from the US and UK here trying to make new lives for themselves. After dinner half the group went home (inc Hugo) and I joined the ladies for my first girls nite out. We tromped around a trendy bar district in Palermo Hollywood until 5:45am. Not sure how I stayed up that late but I never got tired. The scene seemed to just get going around 5. It was so warm - mid 70s and humid that most people hung out in the bars with rooftop terraces and back patio areas. had a great time.
Sunday we went to a friend of a friend of a friends expat brunch in a barrio on the outer edges of our known neighborhoods. This area called Baracas is next to San Telmo. Lots of old beautiful buildings but more run down looking and not as safe as where we've been. also more affordable to buy and rent. The host of the brunch party - Russell, owns a very spacious loft that he also uses for his export business. It was the kind of afternoon I never had in SF. A truly diverse (sexual orientation, profession, culture, religious background) mix of people - no one in any kind of rush, enjoying the food and each other for hours. Most stayed 4 hours or more. Early in the gathering, there were several children and two dogs inside too. There were two argentine ladies cooking made to order omeletas and a constant flow of mimosas. Hugo and a new friend from LA played ping pong for an hour. I chatted up two interesting women. One from Chicago who came here to learn spanish and is now working for Russell's biz. The other from Colombia who's been here 3 years now and spoke very good english so i learned a lot about the Colombian way of life. She thinks the mafia in Argentina is actually worse than theirs. The friends we came with are another gay couple from SF who are here to 1)take up a new life as a painter, 2) finish dissertation on the mythology of "nothingness" and how one needs to come from a space of nada to create something entirely new. Another guy I met bought a building to live in and also used part of it to open an art gallery (which apparently didn't work out). Now he is thinking of using the space for a private club (popular trend down here) and a kind of salon space where smart people come to philosofize on art, politics and the meaning of nada.