Friday, October 30, 2009

toby, give her strength

I don't care what country you're from, this man is a douchebag.

The good part about moving to the new hostel a week ago was an Argentinian real estate agent named Martín, who has eyelashes that could sweep your whole house. Martín got us our little apartment and has been entertaining to hang out with/ fun to look at ever since. We cooked for him and his Uruguayan/vegetarian roommate Urux in what could be called the ultimate bachelor pad (not in a positive way) because these fools have NOTHING besides a bean bag chair, a table and a photo of Che Guevara. I thought Marlo might lose it when she was trying to light the stove with crappy matches and had to pray to the gods of Americana for the will to continue (“Toby Keith, give me strength”). Our tune changed preeetty quickly after dinner, though, when the boys asked if we wanted
a) More wine*
b) Ice cream
OBVIAMENTE. Martín then picked up the telephone, made a couple of calls, and within 15 minutes we had a massive tub of helado and two bottles of Malbec at the front door for less than twenty bucks. “We are NEVER LEAVING this blessed land!” Marlo whispered, her eyes getting watery as we tried to control our emotion. Es la verdad: one’s tune can change about a new country with just a well-timed bike delivery.

*This wine business is no joke. I can’t decide if it’s a problem that we are consuming half our body weight in vino every night, but if the situation calls for it and you are surrounded by $2 bottles of the world’s best Malbec, it’s really hard to remember what they taught us in DARE.

getting mugged on week one? no gracias.

After the infamous “Random Guy Getting to Third Base on a Spanish Sidewalk” incident of 2005, I have NO TIME for people trying to mess around with me when I’m trying to get from Point A to Point B in a new country. It really pisses me off more than most things, because a) I don’t want random strangers touching my lady parts/taking my stuff and b) I think it’s pretty low to try to take advantage of a tourist in the first place. Before we left, my doting father reminded me of the “mustard trick” where the unsuspecting tourist gets squirted with a condiment, and then in the fluster of getting cleaned off also gets cleaned out. And sure enough, some dude actually tried this on us as we trekked down Callao with all of our earthly possessions on our backs. I saw some green slime squirt us from about waist level, and it landed all over—our backpacks, in my hair, on our clothes. This stuff was potent and gave us a headache almost immediately, and a mustachioed Che with a Kleenex magically appeared to help—except he wanted me to take off my backpack and Marlo to not stand nearby. YEAH RIGHT BUDDY! I stole his Kleenex and we moved swiftly on, amazed that someone would actually try that maneuver on us within three days of landing on the continent and also assume that our backpacks were worth taking (if they want my ratty Pumas and cutoff shorts, by all means, lighten the load).

End of story: I was feeling pretty good about not having our stuff taken when we got to our new hostel and decided to rinse the creepy chemicals out of my hair. When I tried to turn on the little hotel hairdryer in the bathroom, I blew the fuse for the entire building. Hi, Buenos Aires! We have an interesting relationship so far!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

applause please

In Spain, the "hola guapas" annoyed me muchisimo, partly because their gutteral attempts at hitting on passerby struck me as lacking a certain necessary panache.

But leaving all Western feminism aside, who could argue with a place where a trio of men sitting on a step burst into applause at your presence as you walk by them? You just can't argue with that.

paging banksy

One of my most favoritest things about my favoritest places is the incredible political graffitti that starts to speckle the walls after many years of chaos... (addendum: i have been chastised and called elitist for not translating these. It's nice to know people care. Translations added, thanks Uncle Pime!)

"Revolution in the plaza, at home and in bed."

"It's the Vatican's fault."

"Are we really in a democracy?"

"The pencils keep on writing..."

"Victory for the Palestinian resistence"

"Where are the Disappeared?" (This building contains military history; the question was not randomly placed!)

"Effing Peronists!"

"Revolutionizing memory, constructing the future."

"Where is he?"

"Women standing to face crises!"

Saturday, October 24, 2009

someone give us a house, please!

Ok, ok, the ghetto is glamorous in the movies but when you accidentally live there in Buenos Aires, it's not as fun. Traipsing all over town to find apartments in legitimate neighborhoods is a) good for the glutes and b) really hard for two girls who like eating cheesecake and sitting down a lot. Today we tricked our new friend Jamil (born on Caye Caulker in Belize, raised in Guatemala City, yoga fanatic) into wandering around with us into Palermo.

Jamil, two miles in: "Ay Dios. I should be doing less meditating and more exercising."

This is Jamil's face after he saw Amy Winehouse in her drogaddiccion phase. Emotion was palpable. It was like telling a kid there's no Santa Claus.

Luckily, covering dozens of miles on foot was worth it. We now have an apartment to live in starting on Monday and the happy memory of a cute little Argentinian boy who gasped, "MIRA... que lindo vestido!" to his mom and swung around to watch Marlo's long dress swish by him. At least someone around here appreciates the fact that we brought cute dresses!

deudas y prestados.

Rick Steves says the only thing that means anything when travelling is the people-- you can buy a ticket to Dubai, Dublin, or Fez and if you never meet a new person or hear a new story, you aren't really travelling because your mindset hasn't been altered at all. Conversely, you can cross the street and hear a new story from your neighbor and consider that travelling.

So interesting people and their stories are most of the appeal in clicking "purchase" on a shiny new plane ticket. Our first was the gorgeous blonde sitting next to us on the plane from DC, an Argentinian who used to work for the World Bank (I suppose I knew that people from all over the world work for the World Bank-- it makes sense, right? But it also surprises me when people from Latin America admit to it!). So I had to ask her how socially acceptable it was for her to admit to such employment. She laughed a little.

"Right, well I think the thing is that most people don't know that the World Bank and IMF are sister organizations. Argentina's default on their IMF loan in 2001 caused massive discontent and in the public mentality, the IMF was just the devil. Just terrible. But since most people didn't know how closely connected the two organizations are, it wasn't an issue for me. And also I was running with the international finance crowd in DC for most of that, anyway."

Unfortunately our plane landed before I could ask her more. I wondered if she really thought that the IMF truly knew better than Argentinians on the issue of national economy. And if she didn't, how did she feel to be gainfully employed by what is essentially the same organization that was causing such economic chaos for her country? I laughed to myself when I thought of Argentina telling the IMF to take a hike.

Last night, after wandering down the Avenida 9 de Julio (supposedly the largest street in the world-- and learning how to walk on it is a lesson in putting your life on the line), we found a cafe in the shadow of the Obelisk. As usual when Marlo and I start laughing really hard, we found new friends, and in this case it was the owner of the bar. Howard spent a long time in California and likes speaking English because he's "so hard-headed." He wanted to help us find an apartment and insisted we come back in the morning, "but not before ten! Americans work too hard; it's part of the reason I came back here. Let's enjoy life more and work less, ok?"

Don't have to tell us twice!

So having early afternoon cafe con leche at the cafe today found us in the middle of businessman lunch hour. A bearded accountant started chatting with us from an outside table and I couldn't resist asking a little more about the economic woes of his country. After throwing up his hands in frustration at the "six presidents in five days" and "inflation that just wouldn't get under control" and the way the president just can't seem to get a grasp on things, the conversation turned to America, and this man and I had a little disagreement (Conversation paraphrased. My business Spanish could use some brushing up).

"America is so GREAT! You can have anything you want!" he gushed, looking a little weary after recounting the last decade of Argentine economic insecurity.
I snorted. "De veras? Is that really such a blessing? It's fake money we're using, and I don't see how having massive credit crises on an individual level is any better than having it happen with the government, because people have nothing to fall back on."
"No no, it's not the same. How old are you? At 25, Americans can have a house, a car, a spouse and kids, no problem. It's not like that here. The peso used to be pegged to the dollar at a one-to-one rate. Now, no one your age could even think about getting a house, because one day the peso is worth a dollar, the next it's worth four. How can we rely on a system like that?"

So what do we think about this? I have to admit that despite the skewed and selfish way most Americans view money (and our right to have material items), the mentality of freedom with money, based on the reliability of knowing your dollar will still buy the same thing tomorrow morning, is unparalleled in most places. But is it worth it, in light of what this past year has shown?

PS. Marlo's blog is a lot funnier than mine. She can be found at telling jokes about the people in our hostel who are a total grab-bag of randos.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

affluent travelers.

Someone actually buys this magazine. Doesn’t that just make you want to throw up onto their cashmere pashminas as you walk by them in first class?! And then pity them for the watered down experience they are about to have in their resort villas?

Ok, the fact that Day One happened at all was a Christmas miracle. I haven’t been so nervous for an event since... well, since getting my shots for the trip, and I almost made my dad turn the car around and get back on I5 when we got to the airport. I know, I know, we “wanted” to come on this “trip of a lifetime” that’s going to be “so awesome” but truth be told I think we both were pretty much ready to call it quits before we even left. But sometimes you just gotta put aside your personal issues with nervousness, be a big girl and get out your passport.

As we waited at our gate at SeaTac, the faraway yapping of a tiny lap dog filtered through the murmur of voices and insistently reminded every traveler in the N gate section of his little whiny existence. Once we boarded, I was delighted to discover that the lap dog was now directly behind my seat and would. Not. Shut it. You know how cute and witty that Taco Bell Chihuahua was? Farce. False advertising. As this little guy’s relentless yapping now filled the plane, I also became acquainted with the other members of his party: two kids under age 3; one of whom was so frustrated with the flight that his only recourse was to repeatedly kick the back of my seat throughout an entire airing of “Night at the Museum” (excellent work, United!), and another who was too young to do anything but wail. Next time I book a flight I’m going to watch out for the little “you will hate your life in this seat” icon so I’ll at least have fair warning.

Exhausted and only halfway into our trip, Marlo and I boarded our Dulles flight buoyed by just the basics of airline travel: sleeping pills for me, Xanax and red wine for her*, and my mom’s caramel corn for both of us. Peace out, America North! BUENOS DIAS, AMERICA SOUTH!


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

relativity, family-style

Alzheimers homes don't smell very good all the time. The conversation isn't always quick-witted (although sometimes it will surprise you). And they can be both wrenchingly lonely and quietly encouraging at the same time. These are all things I thought about as I sat on my grandpa's bed on Saturday, filing his nails and making him eat his sweet potatoes.

My mom's father Eugene is 92 years old and, according to her, "a 7.5 out of 8" on the dementia scale. Generally my mother goes to visit and take care of him alone, which I hate, but she goes cheerfully, which I admire. This weekend, the three of us trekked over together. Part of me thinks I was going to say goodbye to him, and a smaller part is a little hopeful that I was. He just seems to be outliving himself, and it's a difficult thing to watch.
In April, before my sister left to begin her life as a Faux-rean (that sounded better in my head than it looks written down), we went over to spend Grandpa Gene's birthday with him. It was an event that was exceptional only in its unexceptionalism. We sat at a dining room table. We chatted about our day. We laughed and wished birthday wishes for his upcoming year. It was as if we had been catapulted back in time, years ago, when his wife and my grandma was still alive and we sat conversing idly at a table about nothing and everything at once. You know, like families do.

Our food arrived: chicken breasts for us and unrecognizably-chopped-up chicken breast for him. "You've gotta be kidding me," he muttered to himself as he poked at the plate listlessly.
I have to say the following things about my grandpa: he can be one of the most crotchety, cranky people I have ever met, and he is universally popular no matter where he goes. Grace, the sweet Mexican girl who works at the home, came in repeatedly to make sure my grandpa had whatever he wanted. Rather than eating dinner, he drank three hot chocolates in a row, with whipped cream, brought to him by the doting waitress who wanted to make sure everything was perfect for him.

"He's a very special man," Grace grinned affectionately. "I want to be sure to show him extra care. I don't have parents, and I don't know what it's like, to have to take care of someone older."
My dad, as he does at any mention of a life story, tuned in. "Oh no. What happened?"
"They died when I was eight, in a car accident in Mexico." She placed more bread in front of Gene.
"I have five kids of my own now," she smiled bittersweetly, "and I wish they could have known my parents." She left to get more hot chocolate as the three of us sat, a little stunned, feeling the need to observe some silence for her decades-old loss.
Yes, it is difficult to watch someone you love grow old and lose track of the person you once knew. But Grace reminded us that even those things, when viewed correctly, are blessings: my mom still has a dad. We have had a grandfather who, 20 years ago, shaved his mustache so he could kiss us goodnight, and who taught us how to dance and drink McDonalds coffee and play Pavarotti on his record player and take long walks in his apple orchards and cook an egg in the microwave and love your spouse immensely. I'm grateful for everything his years have contained, and especially grateful for the fact that he has gotten so many of them.

it's cold out!

The past two years have been a humbling opportunity to meet and work with some phenomenal families whose stories exemplify so much courage. One of my favorites, a sweet Latino clan with four kids and a resilience that won't quit, seems to keep getting knocked down. Last winter's blizzard meant no access to the food banks, the recession meant a shortage of day labor opportunities, and now the kids all have swine flu and the electric company shut off their power. They need to send in at least $500 to Seattle Power so the kiddos can have some heat and start to get better, and while I wish I could provide them more than just a BandAid, right now it's the only thing we can do. Please consider making a donation; even a few dollars will go a long way for them right now.
Let's get their heat turned back on!

Friday, October 09, 2009


How do I love my roommates? Let me count the animal-socked ways.

Friday, October 02, 2009


I just made a fort out of pillows and ten years of Vogue magazine. Packing is sooo hard, ya'll.