Che and Evita

October 19, 2009




BA Maraton Pics

October 18, 2009



Buenos Aires

October 18, 2009

Butcher Shop between Palermo and Recoleta

Butcher Shop between Palermo and Recoleta

San Telmo street market

San Telmo street market

La Catedral

October 15, 2009

Last night we went to a tango hall.  It wasn’t touristy, or glossy, or even made to look like anything in particular—no checkered floor, no typical “Argentine” flourishes.  It wasn’t in a perrilla, serving sizzling steaks to over-stuffed tourists.

We took a cab to the middle of the city and got out at a small street.  The driver gestured to the entrance—an unmarked entryway with ‘tango’ scrawled in orange spray paint across the concrete above the door.  We walked in and up the broad 19th century staircase in the fluorescent light to the second floor.  There was a guy sitting at a wooden desk, with some plywood sheets and other assorted torn furniture around him, separating him from the main room.

“Are you here for the lesson?” he asked us? “The next one starts in ten minutes.”  In Spanish.

We answered yes and paid our fifteen pesos each.  We went around his makeshift screen and into the main room.  The cavernous space was better than a movie set, built organically in layers of art and passion and innocence, with odd, perfectly placed pictures and mismatched furniture.  The worn wooden floor creaked as the thirty or so ‘regulars’ tangoed to the voice of the instructor and the serious, dramatic music.  Some wore jeans and sneakers, other skirts and appropriately healed tango shoes.  There was an air of content happiness in the seriousness of the dance, satisfied study.

We crossed the candle-lit room and found Gui, sitting at a large table, facing the dance floor.  I sat on a hard wooden chair, and Scott sat on one upholstered with orange vinyl, the foam stuffing mushrooming out.

A broad bar spanned the back of the room, glittering with bottles and candles and mirrors, glasses, and tempered by chalkboards, a few worn menus.  Splaying out from the bar forming a horseshoe shape around the dance space (patched with pieces of plywood where the planks had come up) were mismatched tables, ringed by chairs that inevitably moved as groups of friends came, sat, ate and drank, got up to dance and shifted to different chattering groups.  Suspended from the ceiling—a wooden beamed peak that would have formed the roof of a forest cathedral barn—was a tangle of red leather or plastic interwoven with black and clear tubes.  It was the heart.  Perhaps seven feet long, it would have been easy to miss, the ceiling was so far above.  Along the walls were paintings—modern, new, old, childish, whimsical.  Old signs, and random objects, sculptures, things like wheels and iron pokers and ornate mirrors sniped from Argentine elite lined the surfaces.

Behind the dance floor was a stage used for storage, with amps and more furniture—a Jenga puzzle of chairs.  A ten by ten photograph of the father of Samba (who’s name I forget) hung high, opposite the heart.  He is said to have brought tango to the masses.

After half an hour of the Regulars’ lesson winding down, it was the beginners’ turn.  The teacher stood in the middle of the circle of fifty people rolling their necks, shrugging their shoulders, loosening up for the unknown.  He was barely taller than me, with limp graying black hair, tanned skin, squinty eyes and an easy grin.  In a black wife-beater, loose jeans, and thin-soled dancing shoes he started us walking.  Not strolling walking, dancing walking.  We walked, altering the rhythms, incorporating the steps.  Uno, dos, uno dos tres.  We walked forward, than backward.  The Argentines were serious.  It was Tuesday night at 11.30pm and they were here to learn.  After a few trips around the circle we grew hungry for dinner and sat back at our table, which had amassed a group of about ten visitors and expats.  All of the food was vegetarian (a very welcome respite from the steaked-out country) and eased with Malbec.

At 12.30am, the beginner lesson was over and the real dancers glided onto the floor.  “They’re here every week,” Gui whispered to me as I watched a slim, serious girl in flowy black pants, a white t-shirt and sneakers in synch with her partner.  Another couple joined them and after a while all four of them moved deliberately, more controlled that I ever would have though possible.  It was intimate, yet so precise, slow, careful.  I was mesmerized.  The live music hadn’t come on yet, and a few more couples joined the floor as a sort of tango overlayed with rap filled the space.

A little while later the band came on.  They took their place at the front of the dance floor—first a guitar player, than a twenty-year-old accordion player with super cool hipster sneakers, and a drummer, who had one loose drum and the wooden crate he was sitting on and playing simultaneously.  They played a tango tune—also slow, and deliberate and soulful, the drummer riffing with whatever he felt like, the accordion player surprising all of us (who’s ever seen a young, cool accordion player rocking out?). The dancers let the musicians play the first song through out of respect, and then the one regular couple eased back onto the floor again.  Dancing for the pleasure of it, they knew everyone was watching.

It was a real night, authentic, with Argentine 20-and 30-somethings learning how to master these traditional moves. The space was extraordinary, and the atmosphere, twinkly and warm and full of laughing and drum beats, was magical.



October 12, 2009

After showering and eating yesterday, we went to the San Telmo street fair and wandered through it’s packed cobbled alleys, looking at antiques.  There were some incredible old books and maps, gorgeous mesh evening bags, and the usual old glass seltzer bottles and broaches.  The architecture of the area was so cool–with French flourishes on every corner, balconies, French windows.

From there we met up with Robby, our friend Gui, who’s from New York, but is spending a semester of law school here, and two more of his friends.  After grabbing a drink in Palermo we headed to one of his Argentinean friend’s house for a pot luck dinner (we had picked up empanadas, wine, chicken and cake from a super market just as it was closing at 10pm).  Our cab drove through a quiet residential neighborhood, and pulled up at an apartment building.  Another friend of Gui’s had also just arrived, and Judi, our host came down to let us all in.  Red haired, in jeans, knee-high green leather boots, and a colorful hooded sweatshirt, it was clear we were very welcome.  We walked into her apartment where there was another woman, who’s name I didn’t catch, and another couple.  This other couple lived in Bariloche, but were in Buenos Aires for their own wedding in a couple of days.  He was from Florionopolis, in Brazil, and she was from Buenos Aires.  From there the conversations flowed easily from Spanish to Portuguese to English, a mash of romance languages as we all picked at Empanadas and drank Malbec.  A few more people showed up and crowded the small apartment with its orange walls and ever expanding plastic stools.  It was super fun and sort of a “how did I wind up here?” moment.  We didn’t start eating until 11pm or maybe even later.  Dinner eventually turned into dessert, and then there was talk of dancing.  We found out that Judi, our wonderful host is scientist (she said physicist, but it seems a little different than that) and came up with an algorithm to figure out the lowest dosage of radiation necessary to detect cancer cells in people.  The Brazilian guy does computer programming for the same project, and his soon to be wife is involved in that, too.

It was really generous of Gui to invite us, and for Judi to be willing to take in five stray Americans.  It was definitely a cool experience, and nice to think we could keep up with the shifting languages.

We Did It!

October 11, 2009

The marathon was super fun and a great way to see the city.  Scott was a rockstar.  Pictures to follow as soon as we get a cable to get them off the camera.

Bring it home for Jerome!!

BA Maraton

October 10, 2009

Scott and I are ready to go.  We took it easy today, ate our pasta dinner (it was pouring rain and we ducked into the first Italian place we saw–it was called Mafia something and had Goodfellas, The Godfather and Scarface posters on the walls) and ordered our wake up call for the morning.

We’re hoping the rain stops enough for it not to be too bad.



The Home Hotel on Honduras Street makes for excellent people watching.  For less than a nice dinner in New York City, Scott and I are staying at an industrial chic, super cool hotel (on the wrong side of Palermo Viejo’s tracks).  I’m falling for it’s polished cement floors, shaggy rugs, warm wood furniture, and giant pump bottles of high-quality shampoo, conditioner and bubble bath.  I also just got back from the included breakfast, where the small dining room was filled with the most universally attractive tables of hipsters and carefully ruffled jet-setters.  As we all spread jam (served in shot glasses) on bread there was an Asian couple next to me, he with tattoos up his forearm, she with perfectly mussed hair and a cute flowered dress.  At another table, two Brits in plaid shirts mused as they sipped apple basil juice from another shot glass.  The conversations that floated through the small space were quick and witty.

Another table had a young British businessman and a stunning Brazilian woman.  He was asking her questions in English, she was speaking to the waitress in Spanish, and every once in a while she peppered her sentences with Portuguese.  It reminded me of something Fabio had said as we were driving to Democratica a couple of weeks ago.  (Fabio lives in Rio and we were connected to him though Marshall’s manager who was in town for the Rio film festival–he’s a mover and shaker in the Brazilian film industry).  He was talking about doing business in English–that there’s one English that people have to know to do business with Americans and Brits, and then another sort of international English.  He was describing meetings that he’s had in LA, or New York, or London with Parisians, Spaniards, Japanese people, and they speak in English, but it’s grammar is less precise.  The sentences can be wrong, but they all know what they’re trying to say.

Scott and I were talking about that last night, too.  As we spoke together in Portuguese over dinner to practice, I was saying that I’m less shy about it now.  Even if some of the conjugations are wrong, I’ve realized that I should just go for it and not be self-conscious about speaking.  We were talking about the collaboration of speaking a foreign language–that even if someone speaks English badly, you’re still immediately at ease when they speak your language.  You work to figure out what they’re saying, meet them half way.  I like the idea of language being a collaborative effort between the speaker and the listener.

I’m also still trying to figure out what I think about Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Price.  I guess everyone is, huh?  Thoughts?

Buenos Aires

October 9, 2009

Scott and I arrived in Buenos Aires today.  Its beauty and elegance is mesmerizing–and shockingly different from Brazil.  It’s calm, quiet, leafy, with stretches of green space and marble sculptures, cobble stoned streets and perfect boutiques.  We spent the day walking around noticing a tawny wood balcony spilling over with geraniums here, a sleek restaurant there, the intricacies of the old French-style architecture.  It all felt clean and grand and proud, but still with that laid back Latin-ness.

In fairness, it was a weird day for us.  We woke up early, didn’t eat anything until 4pm because the GOL terminal at Galeao let us down, and I think we’re both a little consumed by our thoughts. It was impossible not to reflect on the last four months in Brazil, thinking about going home (we’re headed to Philadelphia and then New York from here), and being in another city that is at once more familiar (more European, more orderly and manageable) and totally new and exciting.

I spent the day trying to flip from Portuguese to Spanish.  When we arrived in Brazil we spoke far more Spanish than Portuguese, and used it to fill in words we didn’t know.  Now it’s reversed and my first instinct is to say obrigada rather than gracias, to talk to everyone in Portuguese.  The switch is harder than expected, they both now sound right to me.

Our long, meandering walk ended at the BA Marathon Expo, where we got our packets for Sunday’s race.  We’re running the half–which should be an amazing way to see more of the city.  After a little bit of confusion (we signed up online, but weren’t able to pay, so we weren’t in the system, but it worked out after a little while) we’re ready to go, with bright teal Adidas Tank Tops emblazoned with our names on the back.  Don’t even try to stop us.

Policia Federal

August 31, 2009

Scott discovered this morning that he has been in Brazil for 90 of the past 365 days, the maximum allowed on our tourist visas without an extension (I’m about two weeks behind).  He had been mildly worried about the expiration all last week while our guests were here, but since extending the visas for another 90 days included a trip to the Federal Police, we put it off, waiting until they were gone.  There were other complications as well.  We had to have a ticket out of Brazil, which we had waited for a while to book to be sure of our plans (we’re going to Buenos Aires to run a half marathon and see the city before we head to New York for a few weeks in mid-October) and when we did book our Gol Linhas tickets, they were only able to take American Express on their website, and they wouldn’t take credit cards over the phone.  We had to go to a physical Gol counter to pay.

This morning we did our due diligence.  We counted up Scott’s days, figured out which forms we needed, went to the Internet Cafe to fill them out and print them (and have a coffee) and realized at the 11th hour that there was no reason to go to Santos Dumont (the closer, domestic airport to pay for our Gol tickets) and then the defunct Policia Federal building in the Centro that no longer exists, but straight to Galeao, the international airport here, to the Immigration Police.

We got in a cab expecting the worst–to be told that we had to leave immediately, to be deported, to be thrown in airport jail (unlikely, but you never know how things work here).  We thought that maybe they could count Scott’s days in Brazil differently and think it was his 91st day and kick him out, not renew his visa.  It could take all day.  All night, we could wait in line for ever, we could be told to come back tomorrow after hours of deciphering too fast Portuguese.

We got to Galeao quickly, and paid at the Gol counter within in minutes.  We were given a confirmation for our flight to Buenos Aires (the missing piece since we hadn’t paid for the tickets yet) and then traversed the airport to find the Policia Federal.  The room looked a lot like the DMV, we took numbers and sat, forms in hand.  We waited, eyeing the finger printing station set up in the back of the room, wondering what everyone else was doing there.  After about half an hour we were called in.  Have you paid yet? we were asked in Portuguese.  We gave the man in the office our passports.  He entered Scott’s information into the computer and then moved on to mine.  From our side of the partition, all seemed to be going well.  Take your form and go pay at the Banco do Brasil, he said to us (in Portuguese).  We left the office (and our passports!) to run to the opposite side of the building to the bank.  We paid, nervous the whole time, and came back.  Were they going to snatch our passports and pretend that they had never seen us before? Were we going to have to wait in line all over again?

We walked right in.  He handed us both another form to fill out–our addresses in the US, our parents’ names, our address here.  We signed a couple of times, and boom, we’re good to stay in Brazil until late December (at which point we should have more permanent visas, but I guess that will be the next installment of this tale.)