Monday, July 30, 2007

Paying my dues

Last week life was "hard" - thankfully a rare sentiment since arriving in BA but distressing nonetheless. I've finally gotten to the point that I feel capable of communicating my basic needs without the use of my native tongue. yes, i know (though hardly use all) the grammar fundamentals and am now learning more idiomatic expressions, slang, expanding vocabulary and putting my grammar to use in practical situations. so, I felt ready to take on a volunteer commitment - a part of my life from SF that I miss a great deal. of course there are many advantages - potential friends, practicing spanish in a real life environment and connecting myself to the community here. i know from many years of service to non profits in the bay area how rewarding it can be to give time and effort with like minded individuals towards a cause you believe in and hopefully improve the lives of others. all very altruistic and fine sounding. well, i did some research and got a few referrals before deciding on an organization called Fundacion Leer. sister org in the states is Reading Is Fundamental. Their mission is to inspire new generations of readers by setting up reading centers and programs in libraries, community centers, schools etc all over Argentina. They also help parents understand which books are best for children at different ages of development. Perfect. I'm an avid reader. believe in the mission. they focus on the most needy and are a well run, professional group. I interview a few times with their volunteer coordinator and her boss. they are welcoming, gracious and want to match my interests and skills with their needs. (that said, my ability to accurate express my experience and interests was shoddy at best - "i love to read, important to help children, i am happy to do anything, worked for many places such as this") the first time i went to interview, i was impressed and couldn't wait to start. like my first day at school, i was nervous and changed my outfit 3 times. need to look like a portena but not like an extranjera trying to look like a portena. casual but put together. hope they like me. hope i make a friend. hope i remember to use the subjunctive tense at least once. well.... i had this fantasy that i'd make at least 3 new best friends - they'd probably invite me to go out with them that night or the coming weekend, i'd be speaking spanish with ease and with a melodic accent and be helping them devolop and market their annual reading festival - all from day 1 of course. darn fantasies...darn darn darn.

la verdad es que (the truth is) that i left seriously wondering what the hell i'm doing in this country. it was hard. it was humbling. it was boring and it was uncomfortable. my spanish failed me miserably. every time i opened my mouth to say something, all you could hear was a sad stammer of two syllable words in present tense. no sharp observations of the argentine economic malaise. suddenly i was shy. first grade at a new school all over again. worse, all the women who work in this office seem cool, genuinely nice, my age (thereabouts) and energized with their work. they chitchat over cubes and in the hallways constantly, laugh, tell jokes, help each other. meanwhile i was put on the mind numbing task of entering email addresses into an Access spreadsheet. two painful hours later and barely an "hola" from my neighbors, i summoned the courage to tell my "boss" that i couldn't do anymore on the computer. Me duele la cabeza. it was embarassing after i had told her with a smile at the interview that i was happy to do whatever they needed. ok, that was a lie but maybe i lied to myself too. i am not happy to do data entry. and afterwards i punched holes in the cover sheets of an annual report - aghhhhhhhh. in this einsteinian exercise i was at least stationed near the water cooler so had a few exchanges of pleasantries as my imagined friends walked by. god i missed my old job at C.S. ok, maybe not the work part but the comraderie and my friends. the socializing in the halls, the giggling over a too zealous email exchange, the collaboration of ideas. and yes, happy happy hour with Nina at Metropol. when i recounted the experience the following day to my spanish teach David, he smiled and said to me in an excited frenzied tone "this is great! i'm thrilled for you. you are paying your dues. this is what life is like as an immigrant. this is an important step".

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ciao for now to Emily

Saturday night was Emily (of London)'s going away dinner at the posh and overpriced restaurant Sucre. I befriended Emily, Katherine (pic above) and Anne marie my first week in BA. Emily's been working (for free) at a non profit here the last 6 months and trying desperately to find paid work. She has her lucrative yet wholely unsatisfying consulting job waiting for her back in London. We all hoped she would find a way to stay. At the dinner party she told us the non profit she works for finally offered her a paid job (only part time) if she wants to return to BA. So, now her plan is to go back to London for a few months and make enough money to live on here for another year or so. Anne Marie (from Florida - broke up with Argentine boyfriend Pedro mas o menos 10 times since I met here - they are currently a "go") is going back to the states in a few weeks. Katherine and Ed are likely here for another year but eventually they want to settle somewhere closer to their respective homelands - england and malasia. So goes it with the expat community... We had a good time though and I rallied for a later than usual night of dinner and bar hopping till 4am. Hugo and I dressed up a bit for a rare evening of fine dining. They actually had some decent seafood on the menu - see pix above of my octopus appetizer! Usually, I would rather have a casual hole in the wall parrilla with a cheap but tasty steak and side of creamed spinach any day. Argentines love this kind of food cause its nouveau and cool.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Empanadas are the staple of any real Argentine diet and I've had my fair share. However, I've been a bit intimidated up until now to try my hand at making my own since its so easy and so cheap to buy them. My amigo Tonito shared an excellent recipe (handed down from his Argentine momma) so I enlisted the help of Marta who cleans our apt a few times a week. The end result was much better than I expected. So good in fact, Hugo helped himself to 10 or 11 of them that day and I brought the rest to a friends party. I made another batch a few days later - this time on my own and shared some with my running coach and spanish tutor. All agreed they were "ricisimo". I say its hard to make a bad tasting empanada with the meat here. I bought the dough from a place around the corner that makes fresh pasta and empanada shells. Next step is to attempt the dough from scratch at home. Tonitos mom's recipe filling includes ground beef, onions, green olives, hard boiled eggs, raisins, pimiento, salt and pepper.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Chick Mullet

One of my more courageous moments yet came yesterday when I ventured to a hair salon called "Cool Cuts Studio" - which in the US by name alone would ensure one to walk out with anything but a cool cut. but in BA, anytime a shop has an English word in it, means its very hip, so now. My real estate agent friend Fernanda was supposed to meet me there so we could 1) ensure there was no miscommunication between me and the stylist and 2) to grab coffee or a drink afterwards in my new fab do. Fernanda has the argentine flakiness gene so of course she didn't show up. That left me in the hands of a seemingly competent svelte argentine estilista named Alvaro. He spoke not a word of english so I tried hard to explain that I didn't want him to cut my hair short, I didn't want short bangs (circa my do in '99 - very cool retro in my mind but Hugo still cringes when he thinks of "the curtains" that adorned my forehead during that time). I told Alvaro to make me look like an "Argentina" and left it at that. Here's the end result which I have to say I'm pretty pleased with. Lots of layers and a sort of chick mullet in the back so you can still tell theres some length on it. Once it all grows out another 4 inches I'll look like every other woman on the street here. during the clip clip session, I discovered I had little to fear from Alvaro. Fernanda had good reason to recommend him. He's a stylist to the stars here - is part of the beauty team for the most famous model in Argentina named Araceli. The "People Magazine" of Argentina called "Gente" features a 10 page spread of Araceli cavorting around Brasil a few weeks ago with none other than Keifer Sutherland to promote the new Citroen. Alvaro is in a few of the pix so by association I now feel like a close personal friend of Keifer's. oh and my celebrity cut cost me all of $30 US.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A real winter

Ok this may not be the most illustrative photo but it was the best I could do. Yesterday afternoon it SNOWED all afternoon and and into the evening. BA's first snow in 89 years. Incredible. I ran outside with Utta to see if she would appreciate it but no, she was cold and wanted to jet back indoors as quickly as possible. It's felt like a real winter the past week with temperatures in the high 30s and low 40s throughout the day. yesterday and today it hurt to go outside even bundled up. Of course the snow made front page news here and will probably be talked about for decades. Thank god for all my sweaters and the fox fur bambuska hat Theresa gave me for x-mas years ago. am drinking Mate like mad....

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Los Halcones - The Falcons

A few weeks ago I joined a running team called "los halcones" or the falcons. We practice every other day for three hours. yes, three hours. The team mantra/motto is "Era duro pero lo hicimos" - it was hard but we did it. Coach Martin focuses on improving technique and all over body conditioning rather than simply running farther and faster. His idol is Flo Jo. "Con swing, como las negras, como Flo Jo" is one of his favorite motivating expressions. He's also a big Rocky fan. We have a few arm exercises - one called the Rocky where we punch to air forward with both fists at once (tied to the resistance bands of course) and the other called the Apollo - punching towards our phantom opponent one fist at a time. So, each practice starts with an hour or so of different strength training exercises using the bands, medicine balls, and rope stairs. We spend a lot of time on moves to improve balance, coordination, posture and core strengthening. All of this is to eventually improve ones running. The last few days, we've been jumping over hurdles and alternating running laps around the lake with cycling (duathlon style) for time. to be honest I'm not exactly sure what we're training for though some days it feels like we're going for the Olympics but its great fun. Coach Martin likes to take photos of us during drills to show us when we are doing the exercises right or where we need to adjust something. He also produces a monthly team newsletter with photos, links to sports sites for female athletes like and of course the wise words of Rocky and FloJo. Practices are held evenings from 5:30-8:30pm at my favorite lake in the prettiest park in the city. its a small team but diverse. all mujeres from different countries. There's Anna-may 22 yr old model/ballerina from Holland; 33 yr old argentine Gabi works for italian call center; 26 yr old Kati from Finland here studying fashion design at the Univ of Buenos Aires, 21 yr old Camila from Brasil, 17 yr old Ludmila from BA finishing her last yr in high school and headed for med school next year, 25 yr old Cintia who teaches phys ed to students here in BA and 45 yr old Alejandra from BA. I am the only "yankee" - pronounced SHC-AHN-KEH in the group which I don't mind as it's great for practing my espanol. of course the europeans all speak 5 languages perfectly including castellano.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Personal Grooming

Yes, this is in fact a photo of a taxista (taxi driver) stopped at a light at 4 in the morning on Saturday night shaving his face with an electric razor.

Brad's 4-0

Last weekend we helped our friend Brad usher in his 40th at an elegant and tast-isimo pizza restaurant called Ruffino followed by bowling - yes, that's Hugo with the "suav-isimo technique". Stayed out till 4am and suffered muchly the following day. It was an eclectic crowd - Brad's girlfriend Lauras family including parents and young cousins, friends of Brads from the states and expats from England, Malaysia and Peru. I have a more diverse group of friends now than ever in my life and its definitely one of the more interesting aspects of living in BA. My new friends hail from England, Malaysia, Holland, Finland, Argentina (of course), Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Germany, and Brasil. This week I'm learning how to describe things in espanol. How to add emphasis to your adjectives - throw "isimo" at the end of every word. I love it! Bonisimo. My bowling score - Malisimo. People on the street find Utta -Lindisimo. Today is wintery and "chill-isimo" so I've been drinking lots of tasty aka "ricisimo" mate to stay warm.