Archive for April, 2010

La Boca

Spent a nice day at the La Boca today. La Boca, the “mouth” of the Riachuelo river, a tributary to the larger Río de la Plata (River Plate) that runs through Buenos Aires, remains one of the most eclectic neighborhoods in the city, despite its almost complete touristification. Originally settled primarily by fin-de-siècle Genoese immigrants, it claims itself the birthplace of tango and is identifiable today for its brightly colored high-stacked shanty townism (alleged to have begun traditionally because the barrio-ites were given the leftover paint from the seamen on leave from the freight ships stowing into the harbor). The scene today, of course, is about attracting goofy-hatted touristards like myself. The prime five or six blocks in the caminito district are littered with pricey, unmemorable outdoor cafes, Tango dancers in cheap ill-fitting tango costumery, shitty arts and craft salespeople and two week crash-course animators and cartoonists, just in case you traveled several thousand miles to obtain a caricature portrait of yourself with hilarious giant teeth and ears, which will go nicely next to the picture of an “old west” cardboard cutout you and your disappointingly idiotic children stuck their heads through at Six Flags, Bumfuckville. In any case, if you can wade through the inane irrelevance, there is some significant value in La Boca. It has some amazing architecture, traditional local food just a couple of blocks from the main drag and quite a significant amount of poverty to feel temporally awful about.

We arrived mid-day, while the sun was gushing rays unmercifully down on my delicate modely-high cheek bones, already slightly natural pink from the sweet divine European style double-sided kisses of God. We hadn’t eaten (since we had just woken up an hour or two ago) and I had a powerful craving for Sangria and cerdo of some sort. We had been to La Boca briefly years before, so we knew there was going to be a significant amount of annoying tourist trapism to avoid. Our defenses tightened up even more when the cab pulled up to the bustling, roasted peanut smelling harbor inexplicably blaring Born to Be Wild by Steppenwolf, a band that I assume rightfully and summarily died in a just plane crash after that horrible single was released. Either way, it didn’t bode well for our planned natural “ethnic” experience of the barrio.

We powered through the pickpockets and cheesy Tangosists offering pictures (complete with fedora and scarf that had, no doubt, beheaded and been wrapped around, respectively, a few thousand unwashed and potentially infectious touri just that day); slapping away, like the slowly approaching hand of a nipple twisting frat boy, cartoonists, desperate restaurateurs and shoeless patchouli-ed gypsy people under the obscure illusion that I might possibly like to purchase and wear a puka shell necklace or “peace” bracelet made lovingly just that morning in the dark deep unmentionable trenches between their street-crusted hell black toes, spiritual and free, obviously, via a steady and austere regiment of complete socklessness.

Once we were free of the mayhem, we could move at our own pace, check out some of the local art, watch some adorably impoverished children play concrete soccer and find a nice little parrillas joint for lunch. We settled on a place modestly named Paradiso, with a large patio under tree cover and offering tasty Choripans (spicy grilled sausages in hoagie rolls). I ordered a full pitcher of Sangria, and scarfed down a Choripan or two, as a nosey guitarist/crooner cranked out the Argentine favorites and went around the crowd (just pointing really) asking friendly questions of the patrons. I avoided eye contact like he had a goiter or an erection, or both, but he nevertheless eventually called on our table. We cringed and over-shrugged violently (even our gestures are like broken sloppy Spanish), moist palms pointing towards an indifferent and kind-of-douchy God asking why he would crucify us so, until I eventually spittle-stammered out “San Francisco, California” in response to what I perceived to be a potential “donde” slipped gently into his Infinite Jest-sized cavalcade of nonsensical Spanish. Americans (point in near future fact), I have found, almost never say they are from the United States. We either say America (suggesting to South Americans that they are not actually one half of a greater hemispheric entity, but really an annex, or extension wing of the “real” America, like those prefab wooden classrooms in high school that the slow-learning or emotionally unstable kids had to use out by the parking lot) or we just give our particular state, like I did, assuming that everyone in the world not named Sarah Palin must intuitively understand our federated state structure and the provincial entities that comprise it. Regardless, I am a terrible person.

Crooner backgrounding my sangria

My Choripan

Of course, our wild-eyed crooner, having no sense of subtlety, heard San Francisco in my fantastic deep Spanglishized South American travel accent, a slower less sexualized version of the effete pan-European that has served me so well on the Mediterranean coasts of Europe, and gleefully rattled off another couple paragraphs of breakneck incoherence that clearly demanded response. Confused and defensive, I realized that it was time to stop dicking around already. I raised high my glass of Sangria, contorted up a giant goofy chromosomally-ambiguous smile, and rattled off a randomly alternating stream of “si”, “gracias” and “bien” interspersed with unpredictable, inappropriate and insincere imbecilic laughbursts until, finally, he was forced to move along, bewildered, rebuffed, sad and little fearful. I looked around the patio for victory signs and found only head-tilted pity, but it was worth it. Fuck them.

I spent a good portion of the remaining afternoon trying surreptitiously to take a picture of the couple at the table across from us, which were ludicrously dressed in full Martin Fierro-esque Gaucho and Gaucho-wife attire and slowly working through a stove of various pork and beef loins. They were drinking wine heavily and talking to the annoying crooner between songs. Arual and I surmised that they had come into town from their estancia in the countryside, where said Gaucho must run a nice little Shetland pony ranch amongst the utter boredom of his wife, dressed like a Spanish caudillo version of Nicki from Big Love. They caught me taking a picture or two, but what the hell, it’s not my fault they are dressed that way. As I have said to many a policeman that has caught me in my neighbor’s bushes, “hey, I am not the one walking around my bedroom naked, am I, officer?” Dominated.

Arual pretending the picture is about her


The crooner wasn’t the only serpent in Paradise, though. We also witnessed a woman, roughly our age, pretty and dressed well and with her similarly well-dressed assumptive boyfriend, then standing just on the edge of the patio and enjoying their own freshly grilled Choripans, accidentally bite-squeeze half of her spicy sausage out the tail end of her hoagie, only to, upon casually chewing and swallowing the causal regretful bite, reach down and locate the sausage from the sidewalk – where barefoot gypsies tread I might remind you – it had by then become one with and place it back in the sandwich for further eating. That doesn’t have anything to do with Buenos Aires, or anything else really, but it deserves recording for the sake of posterity. I drank heavily to wash away the sight and turned to my Gaucho friend to see if he had seen it. He did, and to my delight, we nodded together in the universal language of disgust.

We finished up our pitcher of Sangria and headed out of Paradiso, to do a little sightseeing. After a couple of local shops and some architectural stops, we made a disturbing discovery. Just outside of a rundown walk-through knickknack home museum a few blocks from lunch, we found our short Gaucho man and his “wife” standing on the corner offering to take pictures with tourists for a couple of pesos. My illusions and self-worth duly writhing naked and angry on the ground, replaced by the heavy cross of shame, we doubled our pace, fought our way back through the nine circles of tourist hell and taxied out of La Boca, never to return again………but with no regrets.

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Fuerza Bruta

Arual and I went to see Fuerza Bruta (Brute Force) last night at the Centro Cultural Recoleta. The show started here in Buenos Aires about five years ago and has been making the rounds recently in the United States (New York, Miami, Chicago) and internationally to rave fan reviews. It has apparently been a big hit with the New York celebrity crowd, as Beyoncé, Kanye West, Ashton Kutcher, Pierce Brosnan (?) and others have been flocking to it in droves in an adorable attempt to pretend they are just like everyone else.


In any case, we didn’t see any stars at our show, and by stars, of course, I mean famous American people and/or Antonio Banderas. John Secada, for all I know, might indeed have been standing right next to me, but we are of roughly equal fame, based on the most informative modern measure available, Facebook friends, which he has been losing steadily for some time now. Either way, I didn’t notice him.

It was a little unusual to attend performance art that doesn’t allow people over the age of 35 to attend (allowable age spectrum was 21 to 35), which put Arual dangerously on the brink of getting left home watching reruns of CSI: Biloxi, and dripping her lonely tears into her pre-masticated tapioca pudding. But, alas, we just got her in. Actually, the age limitation makes some sense in light of the blasting and schizophrenic sound and light gyrations, unpredictable tongue chewing e-kids (less than I would have expected actually), and the requisite unintentionally violent mosh/jump dancing. There is something less bothersome about young fun-loving, nonsensically Spanish-speaking Argentinians banging into, and spilling beer all over, you, all adorably making no sense and being foreign (not geographically, of course, but in my heart), than leery-eyed, tight-shirted American 18 to 20 somethings. If this was in New York, and some douchey young lawyer guy or worse, an ironic moustached Jude Law, was jumping into me and jamming an untalented over-spraytanned Jude Lawy elbow into my unwitting ribcage, I would have been mightily annoyed and would probably have to punch him.

Annoying Jude Law at Fuerza Bruta in NYC

The show itself was great. I expected good things, as it was created by the same folks that did De La Guarda, which I saw and really enjoyed in New York about 8 years ago. I realize that the show was lambasted by the New York Times and others for being too clubby, overly sexualized, which is allegedly possible, and somewhat trite (artistic message-ly speaking), but for me, two bottles of wine deep from dinner prior to the show, a cold, tall tasty (like $1.50) beer in hand, which one of the female dancers barreling through the crowd also enjoyed a gulp of, watching beautiful and very well-done performance art by, even the most pedantic unappeasable reviewer must admit, extraordinarily talented dancers and technicians is a pretty good time. I also knew from De La Guarda that I was likely to get wet, so dressing appropriately and checking the leather coat for a peso was a grand and awe-inspiring move. I would highly recommend it, even to those jaded friends of mine that somehow find a way to hate the simple innocuous pleasures of the likes of Juno and Little Miss Sunshine (yeah, you know who you are).

Some random obscure pics from the show:

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Sun-Day in BA

There is a reason this city is called Buenos Aires (the “Good Air” or “Fair Winds”), and today certainly vindicated the otherwise questionable naming skills of the fine men aboard the ship of Spanish explorer Pedro de Mendoza, who founded the city (or the fort of San Telmo at the time) way, way back when Spaniards still did shit,..…….other than siesta, roll around feigning soccer injuries and make love to women better than I ever could. Certainly a better job than old Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón), whose dedication statue lies just a couple of miles to the southwest of this plaza, and who, quite adorably, was under the impression that a number of small islands in the Bahamas were coastal land fragments off of the west side of India, and was therefore, naturally, credited with the inadvertent “discovery” of a large portion of the globe despite the noticeable and ironic existence of hundreds of thousands of then-current long-term inhabitants. Oh well, a rant for another day perhaps. Either way, these Spanish explorers did a much better job, as I continually nodded today in slow languid pursed-lipped squinty-eyed nods of approval while basking in the glory of early Argentine fall. It was the sort of vindication you feel watching your friend Fat Rita lovingly devour a huge stack of pancakes with remorseless abandon………”yep, because that’s how Fat Rita rolls,” you think to yourself amongst slow pursed-lipped squinty-eyed nods. Today was like that.

I woke up earlier than the couple of others today and went for a run down through Plaza de Mayo, and around and through Parque Colón, then on to the river and around Microcentro. My first taste of feelgood ineffectual pseudo-athleticism and it was gloriously self-satisfying. The BA-ians don’t appear to jog much, and I respect them wildly for it. It’s a silly, silly affair (sorry, joggers), based mostly on the illusion of sportiness, mild sweating and marginal out-of-breathiness. I can run for what seems an endless amount of time, taking little Gumby-limp-legged half steps, more like little tosses of my legs away from my center of gravity, for miles and miles until my mental tumblers rollclick into the right combination of boredom, shame and self-pity to literally (not literally….never literally) force me to stop. And yet, no matter how much running I might be periodically doing at a given point in my life, 20 minutes of any “real” sport absolutely wipes me out, reminding me of the fundamental difference between an athletic activity and what is essentially walking impatiently. In any case, some form of exercise is a must in light of the ridiculous amount of Quilmes and Malbec I am consuming daily, and it’s not like I am bicycling or something similarly creepy (sorry, bicyclists). Plus, I don’t currently have the luxury of my typically most reliable diet component – overwhelming gut-wrenching fear and heart-palpitating stress of screwing up at work.

Arual and I had lunch at yet another wonderful sidewalk café today, where the beer flowed like wine and the salads just sat there really. Nevertheless, tasty delights in the early afternoon sun, just off of Plaza de San Martin.  Jose Francisco de San Martin, apparently, is also known as The Libertador, a great hero of the Argentine people and famed wearer of sweet-ass feathery hats, who along with The General, Simon Bolivar, is largely credited with bringing independence to South America, and Chile and Argentina in his particular instance. You would know this had you taken the time to read the South America travel guidebook I brought with me, but I guess you dialed that one in. Not surprised. Whatever. Our waiter, a kindly young Buenos Aires man with a noticeable hint of Northern Chilean provincialism to him and, presumably, a penchant for waiting tables, looked quite a bit like Colin Farrell, minus the bushy-brow-furrowing overacting. Arual didn’t agree, but did reluctantly confess that he had a very familiar face. Of course, keen observer of human nature that I am, I quickly deduced that she was merely trying to throw my scent off of a very likely prior encounter with the real Colin Farrell, by pretending she didn’t really know what he looks like …….our waiter.

The Libertador

Our Waiter

Thereafter to the glorious park hanging off of ass end of Plaza de San Martin, where, under the luminiferous rays of the receding but still proud sun, I starting writing the first chapter of my new fiction novel, a classic but entirely original tale of love, loss, redemption, hatred, vice, carnal passions, re-redemption after realization of illusion of prior redemption, amicable divorce, scalene love triangles, mild regret, indifference, unicorns, manticores, necromancy, make-up fornication, pederasty, loss of Godlessness, hooliganism, tatterdemalions, and the like. The working title is “Shakespeare Who? The Beautifully-Written Truth About Everything….Ever, Plus Some: The Literary Masterpiece”, but I am now leaning towards “The Taxidermist’s Daughter” for a more subtle approach. I only really have a title at this point, but am open to thoughts and cash advances.

Capped the day off with a very nice dinner at Dada, a tasty little restaurant bar between downtown and Retiro. The art was really more Surrealistic, but we shouldn’t quibble about the margins. Plus, how do you really conform art (or food) to the parameters, whatever they may be, of Dadaism and still be Dadaistic. Arual had some sort of giant-shrimped risotto and our heroic narrator had the noquis verde, which did actually turn out to be gnocchi, but not pesto as my rudimentary Spanglish suggested. Either way, the comida y vino were absolutely fantastic, and the scene was young, hip and eclectic. Arual struggled to deliver food from plate to gullet without incident, and spent the better part of the evening with a large chunk of food hanging (abstractly) up around the top of her left cheek, until she scratched her nose and an entire crawfish inadvertently fell back into a waiting bed of risotto. I would have told her, but I don’t speak the language here.

[This guy]

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Argentineans cannot make a Bloody Mary for shit. But, as yet, that’s really the only early kink I have detected in the armor. Lounging in the late afternoon at a pricey Americanized outdoor café and bar in Puerto Madero, just between the spicket-mouthed end of Avenida Corrientes pouring traffic into the riverside mediumway, and the provincial beauty of the Casa Rosada and the accompanying row of old-world hotels that delineate San Telmo from the southern neighborhoods, with the lady, whom we shall lovingly call Arual (a modern variant of Hekate the Destroyer in the underworld, Lilith for the Sumerian/Babylonian crowd or Gozer the Destructor of Ghostbuster fame), to protect identities, as she is burrow-clawing rapaciously into her Time Out Buenos Aires, I feel a deep sense of regret for putting the good people of BA (as it will be hereinafter known) in this awkward position. They already knew they couldn’t pull off a decent Bloody, but the dicky American in me had to make them try. The waitress’ response to my order should have told me all I needed to know, her dramatically slouched left shoulder and sad glossy eyes reflected my obtuseness. It’s like I asked a blind armless midget to hand me the ginsu knife from the highest shelf of the kitchen (…..as if he hasn’t had a hard enough time with things). Not cool. In any case, I now know what my go-to BA “drink” will not be. Arual is drinking Frenet y Cola, we will see how long that experiment lasts.

There are plenty of locals (or at least people who seemingly speak Spanish) at the café, despite the higher prices, tourist fare and unrepentant American classic rock music – lots of misplaced Hendrix, same-song Tom Petty and a sprinkling of Jackson Browne that just makes me sad for him, me and them. Fortunately, the outdoor deck in perfect sun and the generous riverside views have apparently won the day. This is but the first of what should be many, many cafes in the next couple of months, and I think we started rather nicely.

We arrived in BA yesterday morning, still somewhat groggy and dislocated from the long flight from San Francisco, by way of Dallas/Ft. Worth (two cities so equally and consubstantially devoid of culture or redeemable quality they decided to join municipal forces for the purposes of aviation and visitor-attraction brochureism). I don’t sleep well, or at all, on planes. Never have. Despite my usual diet of two miniaturized bottles of extremely cheap wine, it’s apparently not in my constitution to sleep sitting virtually straight up around a plane full of creepy and less somnolently sensitive strangers. I also don’t try terribly hard, but then I never have to (try terribly hard that is) in any other situation I can recall, which is well enough to remove lack of effort from the list of suspects. In any case, I don’t sleep well, or at all, on planes. Whether that is for good or ill with respect to my mental state post-international flight is probably up for debate. Inadequate shallow sleep comes with its own baggage. Plus, this just means more time to read my many books in tow and catch a couple of otherwise unwatchable movies perpetuating the talent-illusion of Jim Carey.

Arual the Succubus sleeps like a baby on planes, and more literally than is typically meant by that saying, as she drools at a fantastic clip – from an agape mouth seemingly pulled by preternatural forces towards the roof of the plane or the heavens, or both really. “WTF is she looking for up there….? God?” I, and several now-befriended former plane strangers, laughingly ask among jocular high-fives. Then again, she also snores and chortles a slight bit, so perhaps she sleeps more like an elderly baby, or at least one with a very difficult case of sleep apnea. So, in retrospect, maybe she sleeps like an old obese man on planes, instead of a baby. I don’t really know how babies sleep to be honest. It would be weird if I did.

We immediately went to meet Ignacio, which is apparently a real name for a person, at our apartment (Ignacio runs the long-term vacation rental company with his partner, who I have persistently called “Roberto”, despite his parents’ adorably feeble and, frankly, self-indulgent attempt to give him the Christian name of Martin), where I could unload the ridiculous amount of cash I was forced to carry with me to pay the two months rent and security deposit upon arrival. Of course, it wasn’t the flight I was worried about, as pickpockets are notoriously easy of locate on airliners and having a great deal of cash might actually help if the jet were to go down in the Andes. After the other soccer-player passengers finished gnawing the last vestiges of succulent meat from the big-boned bones of Arual (aw, short-strawed once again), I could pull out my cash and purchase my safety with the shining incandescent power of the U.S. dollar, which before the recent bust, ironically, might have still had the purchasing power to have saved Arual as well. Oh well, we all have to sacrifice in this economy. Little did those silly soccery cannibals, sleepy and confused after gorging themselves on my tryptophanic significant other, know that after we were rescued, I would almost certainly sue them for the return (with interest) of my money under some unreasonable duress/extortion theory. Arual would have wanted me to.

In any case, we made it safely to the apartment on Diagonal Norte, met Ignacio, who thankfully speaks English quite well, and transacted business in raw cash, which has an inherent feel (at least to Americans) of shadiness to it. Watching a moustached man count out tens and tens of hundreds of my dollars usually immediately precedes the receipt of guns or drugs or incriminating photos, or all of the above in the ideal context, rather than an extra mailbox key and a laminated list of “very nice” tapas restaurants in the area. Luckily, Ignacio handed me a hand-written rental agreement and receipt drafted entirely in colloquial Spanish to appropriately document my legal rights. He was even kind enough to give me the gist – “eh, don’t worry about this paragraph” – of what it said. Sounds reasonable to me. You won’t even get that buying high-priced hookers.

After kicking Ignacio out (yeah, check the contract people), I duly went to sleep for the next 8 hours (see, I don’t sleep well on planes), before waking up and heading to to this cafe where I now find myself.

(to be continued……….)

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