Saturday, August 30, 2008

Keeping up is hard to do

I am consumed with blogger's guilt. Faced with the terrible choice of experiencing Buenos Aires, or blogging about it, this week, the blogging part clearly lost out.

Fear not. Tomorrow is Sunday, with hours of vacant time looming. I promise some kind of enormous prose dump. Right here, on this very blog.

That is, assuming I don't yield to the siren call of Evita's grave. Right there in the Recoleta Cemetery, just a handful of blocks away. Not as full of celebs as, say Pêre Lachaise, but still on the list of things a person's gotta visit. Then there's Montevideo, though I'm kind of saving that for next weekend.

I promise, I will try harder. Honestly. Really. I will.

For those of you who check this blog just to see if I'm still alive, the answer is "Yes". Though I am quite tired, what with all the walking and sightseeing and general taking a gazillion hours of classes a week. But my Spanish, she is better than ever. I can say things I couldn't even say in English, now. Not that that's necessarily a good thing.

The plain people of Ireland: Here, this is very disjointed today.
The management: Yes, it is. And your point is?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Doomed as doomed can be

At the end of last week, I decided to take advantage of the extraordinarily low cost of private lessons (about $28 U.S. an hour) and paid for ten lessons, so that I ended each of the last four days in school with an hour-long private lesson with Ciro, possibly the most charming Spanish teacher I will ever have. (His name is the Spanish version of 'Xerxes', a fact which I also find charming).

During today's class we listened to the music of the awesome Astor Piazzolla, who single-handedly invented a kind of fusion of tango and jazz, which earned him popularity outside of Argentina and the fury of the purists at home. At the end of class, Ciro recommended the Libertador bookstore as being a possible place to pick up some interesting tango CD's at a reasonable price.

Oh, dear Lord! The librería Libertador! I am doomed as doomed can be.

Readers of this blog will know that books are my major weakness (or 'punto debil', if you prefer). This store will be my complete and absolute downfall. Here is what I staggered home with earlier this evening, for a total expenditure of $23 U.S.

A 200-page dictionary of Lunfardo
The collected Father Brown stories (in Spanish)
A CD of Astor Piazzolla selections (20 tracks), with accompanying 100-page booklet about his life and work
A CD of Osvaldo Publiese selections (20 tracks), with accompanying 100-page booklet about his life and work
The Sibelius 2nd Symphony and various orchestral works (68 minutes), with accompanying 48-page booklet about his life and work
The Rachmaninov 2nd and 3rd piano concertos, with accompanying 48-page booklet (80 minutes)
10 volumes (each illustrated, 48 pages in length) from the Biblioteca del Conocimiento series , covering topic as diverse as "Human Beings", to "Physics: Energy and Motion", to "Literature: from Romanticism to the Present"

Let me tell you, a world in which it is possible to get a CD of the Sibelius 2nd Symphony (some of the most joyful music ever composed), for under 2 bucks is OK in my book.

¡Dear God, I'm doomed as doomed can be!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tuber Abuse

Our research has determined that tuber abuse is rampant here in Argentina. In the name of "gastronomic excellence", it is routine practice to kidnap whole gardens of sleeping potatoes, to haze them by forcing them to imbibe large quantities of alcohol until they are drunk, to gouge out their eyes with unimaginable cruelty, finally killing them by repeated bludgeoning with nasty instruments left over from the Spanish Inquisition. All in the name of bringing the tasty side-dish "smashed potatoes" to the diner's table.

tuber abuse

¿Won't you help put an end to these barbaric practices?
¡Join the smashed potato boycott now!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Princess Twinkly

I had planned to bring you further ruminations about Buenos Aires today, honestly. But I've added an hour of individual classes to my daily schedule, so that I didn't get home tonight until 6:30pm. So you will have to wait a while for your dose of pseudo-profundities.

But I feel confident that you will forgive my failure to blather on about B.A. when you visit this link, brought to my attention by my good friend Paul B.

Hasta luego, chicos and chiclets!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

¡¡Hay un montón de fotos!!

la_boca_domíngo 145

Bessie (or, as she is known hereabouts, Isabel) would like you to know that 150* new photos have just been loaded to David's Flickr account.

These are accessible at:,

but have yet to be organized into any coherent grouping. Go ahead, check them out! They are pretty fun.

*: all taken today, almost all in La Boca.


Way cuter, if you ask me! Guinea pig archery, what's not to love?

La vida cotidiana : la ciudad

I've been postponing writing about Buenos Aires itself because the topic somewhat overwhelms me. Truly, of all the cities I've spent time in, this has to be one of the most stimulating. Which is a good thing, but I have so many impressions, and there are so many sensations to try to capture, that it's hard to get down in any coherent form. So, forgive me if I resort to the slightly random bulleted list option, rather than aiming for any kind of linear narrative.

There is a slightly frenetic buzz to the city that is maybe best captured by the local version of a 7-11 store in the U.S.:


It's almost like there's a kind of hyper-industry, an excess of entrepreneurial spirit, that maybe results from relatively recent experience with economic catastrophe, and an ongoing sense of potential instability. It manifests itself in all kinds of little details. Thus, for example, the local tobacconist on the corner will not be restricted to selling sweets, tobacco and newspapers: there will also be a couple of tables in case someone wants to have a coffee and doughnut, as well as a couple of "locutorios" (phone booths to make long-distance calls), and often as not a couple of booths dedicated to internet connections at the back of the shop. Similarly, even the tiniest of cafés in the city center transforms to a lunch place from 11:30 to 3:00, even if only to offer three or four "menús del día". Furthermore, it's entirely normal to see the waiters from such establishments scurrying along the sidewalk, making full-service deliveries (complete with linen and silverware) to local offices. Invariably, whenever I've taken a taxi and engaged the driver in detailed enough conversation for him to know where I'm from, he has pressed his card on me, reminding me that he is available for airport service. On my way to school every morning, I pass the main court building, outside of which it's not uncommon to see distinguished elderly gentlemen (retired lawyers?) selling law texts on the sidewalk.

People, with the exception of the loathsome, snotty waiter at the vile "Broccolino" restaurant,

the loathsome BROCCOLINO restaurant

have been universally charming, and extremely helpful. This covers not only the teachers and staff at school, but also the charming Dr Gualtieri and her assistant, assorted waiters and attendants in shops, the doormen in the building, taxi-drivers and random passers-by. I am beguiled by the people of Buenos Aires.

I am less charmed by the pavements of Buenos Aires, which pose a significant health hazard to all and sundry. If you come here, be warned - these sidewalks are lethal! In two weeks, I've already witnessed three full-fledged spreadeagle accidents, and uncountable near-misses. Compared to the lurking pitfalls of the porteño footpaths, the quaint cobblestone streets of Guanajuato were a cakewalk.

Prices are almost uniformly ridiculously low. My most common experience is that I will look at the price of something, go through an initial thought process that it's a little bit on the high side, then make the realization "Oh, wait! That's the price in pesos". Dividing by 3 makes everything a lot more pleasant. The only exception to date, oddly enough, has been the price of stamps: to send a postcard to the U.S. costs 5 pesos, which is about $1.66 U.S., a bit on the high side. But, as I mentioned in a previous post, spending more than $20 U.S. for dinner is a challenge.

Further impressions to follow.

El Príncipe Feliz

I should have known better. Yesterday evening my options were:

1. Join the assorted 19- and 20-year olds for a so-called "Buenos Aires pub crawl", which promised - for less than twenty bucks - free drinks and appetizers at each of no fewer than four bars, followed by V.I.P. entry to a "hot club" in the city center.

2. A relaxing dinner alone, with an opportunity to catch up on some Spanish reading.

OK, I'm a wuss. My 51-year old liver and I chose option 2.

The root of the problem was my choice of reading material. Rather than eat to the accompaniment of the bloodless prose of Borges's "Ficciones" (which, I hasten to add, are just fine if you are in the right kind of mood), I opted instead to bring along a Spanish translation of collected stories of Oscar Wilde: "El Fantasma de Canterville y Otros Cuentos". I had bought the book earlier in the day, for its nice simple prose - a fine choice for non-native speakers like myself. So my dinner courses were punctuated by intermittent sections of "El Príncipe Feliz" (The Happy Prince).

Problem was, I'd forgotten the effect this particular story has on me. As a kid, I could never make it to the end without bawling my eyes out. And sure enough, the Spanish translation had lost none of the tale's emotional wallop. By the time my espresso was served, when the swallow dies and the prince's heart breaks in two, well - let's just say I had to go to the men's room to compose myself.*

The Happy Prince: reading it in public is a bit like watching "Brokeback Mountain" with the lights on - a recipe for embarrassment.

Damn you, Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde! And I mean that in the best possible way.

* I'm all better now, I swear.


Tráeme las dos cosas más preciosas de la ciudad -- le dijo Dios a uno de sus ángeles.
Y el ángel le trajo el corazón de plomo y el ave muerte.
Has escogido bien -- dijo Dios -- porque en el jardín del Paraíso este pajarillo cantará eternamente y en mi ciudad de oro del Príncipe Feliz me glorificará.

Bring me the two most precious things in the city -- God said to one of his angels.
And the angel brought him the heart of lead and the dead swallow.
You have chosen well -- said God -- because this little bird will sing for eternity in the gardens of Paradise, and the Happy Prince will bring me glory in my City of Gold.