Buenos Aires, Part 1

Sunday, January 9, 2011

So, I’m in Buenos Aires with Christin. It’s early afternoon Sunday and we’ve just been kind of slowly puttering around Rocio’s house — drinking coffee; eating a small breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, toast, and ham; reading things on the internet (including a bunch about this whole, terrible Gabrielle Giffords shooting episode, which has spawned several long conversations). We’re taking it easy. We mostly did this yesterday, as well (Saturday): Except for a sojourn out to grab a late lunch, we mostly just hung out at the house until dinnertime. Which was good, actually. Especially after a rather intense few days traveling around Uruguay last week. We have to balance being tourists out here with relaxing so we’re not exhausted upon our return home.

Anyway — taking a step back… The flight out here on December 30th was a bit of a mess. New York had been snowed under, so our 11:30pm (December 29th) flight got pushed back and back and finally got off the ground at about 4:30am. Which. Wow. Let me say a couple things about LAN airlines. First: The flights themselves were fantastic. I’m not the best air traveller — I tend to feel really cramped up by the confined spaces and vaguely terrorized by the simply fact of hurtling through the air at high speeds. But. The LAN planes had great legroom and the flights were just very easy to get through, considering that we spent about twelve hours total in the air. The second thing about LAN, though: So we missed our connecting flight out of Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires. Because of the delays in New York. Fine. It happens. But the people at the airports in both New York and in Santiago were on the edge of being useless. They did get us on a decent connecting flight (finally — after initially putting us on a flight that would’ve arrived in Buenos Aires at about midnight, December 31st). But not until we waited in long lines, battled people who gave us no good information, and just kind of worked our way through a half-dozen employees who just kind of leisurely didn’t appear to give a shit about anything. Really frustrating. (One other American couple we met and commiserated with were repeatedly sent to the same gate, being told that their plane there was boarding. They went three times, I think. No plane. No people at the gate. Nothing. Frustrating.)

At any rate: We survived, got in at about 11pm local time on the 30th, and were greeted at the house by Rocio, her significant other Mariano, and a couple friends they happened to have over for drinks (and their wiry little 11-month-old pastel calico kitten, Kika). Very nice people, all of them, and we had a great time hanging out and relaxing (finally) in the warm night air on their patio (one of three this place has). We spoke mostly in English, as Christin and I chose to do our duty as freedom-loving Americans and not at all brush up on our Spanish before coming out here (though we are getting better — Christin, especially — and I can ask where the bathroom is like a champ). The also introduced us to Fernet (a liquor that is accurately described as “black licorice-flavored Listerine” — but in a good way), which Argentines apparently like mixing with Coke (or Coke Light) and drinking very, very cold. We had some. It’s an acquired taste, for sure. It’s a pretty intense flavor pairing with the soda, but we had some and enjoyed it. (I ordered some from a restaurant later and enjoyed it less — Fernet and Coke may not be for me, but I’m still kind of up in the air on it.)

Going to sleep that night and waking to the bright, bright, warm sun were kind of surreal given how stressful those final days of preparations and dealing with the Christmas holidays and squaring away work had been. I have been tinkering with work tasks here and there, but it’s been so nice to simply have the time blocked out. I’m already feeling excited to get back home and get my fingers back in my projects — which is, I think, an excellent sign. I really enjoy the work I do, but I was experiencing pretty severe burnout the past few months. Now I no longer fantasize about throwing away my computer and getting a nice city job digging holes somewhere in Queens. In that regard, this trip has been a necessary break. Part of my New Year’s Resolution, as well, is to improve my work-life balance. Just having some separation from New York allows my brain a bit of space to cogitate on how to make that happen… Anyway.

What else? So, yeah — despite the threat that we would have to fly in New Year’s Eve, we did actually get here the night of the 30th and were able to celebrate NYE in the city. Rocio and Mariano have been traveling, as well, so they took off the morning of the 31st and we had the place to ourselves. We checked out the neighborhood that day. We’re staying in the heart of Palermo Soho (a subsection of the much larger Palermo part of town). The “Soho” in the name isn’t a coincidence — it’s a sunny neighborhood full of clothing stores and gift shops and bars and restaurants and very much to Buenos Aires what SoHo is to New York. But, y’know, Buenos Aires is clearly a city in the process of turning into something nice. It’s on its way, but not quite there yet. Even right around here it’s kind of shocking how things can go from very, very nice to dirty and dilapidated in less than a block. And automotive emission standards are a libertarian dream come true: Many cars and buses pump out thick black clouds of smoke and the whole town smells of exhaust. So. We wandered the hood, poked our head into a few places, and moseyed around with an eye on places to be for the actual New Year’s Eve celebration.

And here’s where I made my most grievous error of the trip (so far — we’ve still got a week).

So. New Year’s Eve. A trendy part of town. The equation in my mind led to the conclusion: There will be a bajillion people down here and it will be well-nigh impossible to get a table reservation. Especially since we don’t have a phone and would need to either reserve in person or show up at dinnertime and cross our fingers. So. We walked by some Italian place that seemed open and suggested we just go in, see if we can make a reservation, and at least have a place to be. Christin kind of hemmed and hawed, not really into the idea, but also (like me) not really knowing exactly what to expect and worried that we might be left with no options at all. So we did it, and paid the stupid deposit. And kind of worriedly went on our way. Nothing else really presented itself, so when the time came later that evening, we just went for it.

And, honestly: This is the worst meal I’ve ever had at a restaurant. I don’t even remember the name of this horrible place. On Honduras street near Godoy Cruz street. We sat outside along he street, which was nice. But let me describe this culinary adventure: It started with some kind of eggplant parmesan thing which had clearly been made earlier in the day and microwaved before being cut into squares. Kind of rubbery. Flavorless. The the main courses. I had some kind of cold meat. Christin had penne pasta in a sauce which tasted like ketchup. Also cold. And then desert, which was a plate with a few stale Jordan almonds and a variety of other shitty-looking sweet things they probably just picked up from the neighborhood supermercado earlier in the day. All for the reasonable price of U$S 50 (ish) apiece, prix fixe. Just awful. Sub TV dinner grade stuff. We did get through it, though. No one really did a countdown, so it just kind of suddenly was 2011 and then the much more interesting part of the night began.

Buenos Airians (? — “porteños?”)… BA’ers love their fireworks. On my pre-dinner run across the neighborhood to pull some money from an ATM (fun fact: most places only take cash, but ATMs are extremely hard to come by and most of them that you do find are broken, anyway)… On my run to the ATM I passed by a couple handfuls of kids popping loud firecrackers in the streets. POP POP POP. Loud, but otherwise harmless. After dinner, the entire neighborhood went off. It sounded like a warzone, with firecrackers just going off seemingly on every street and every intersection. Sound everywhere. And mixed in, the occasion larger crashing KABANG like a dumpster exploding. And at regular intervals more traditional fireworks streaking into the sky and colorfully exploding. We walked back towards the house from The Horrible Place and just kind of took it in. On Borges street (where we’re staying) a bunch of people had gathered around a large drum circle sort of event. We grabbed some beer and watched (and copiously videoed on our iDevices) the sea of people. A really good time, especially since the weather was so warm and we could be out and under the stars. We walked around a bit more and eventually wound up home.

A good night, overall. When traveling, things go wrong. I’m definitely of the opinion that you aim for the best when going to a new place, but you’re going to screw up and you’re going to have some uncomfortable moments, but to a certain degree that’s just Part of the Experience and you have to relish it and not be too negative about it. There has been a lot of complaining in this post, but he trip has been great so far. And this only really takes us up to the New Year. I’ve got to wrap up here so we can go do some stuff with our day, but I’ll write up more about our trip to Uruguay and other stuff when I get a chance in the next few days. And I’ll post more photos.