Monday, July 29, 2013


Not all police persons here dress alike, but I just saw one guy wearing blue uniform pants with sliiight bell bottoms and a bulletproof vest.  Fabulous look.


I like the abbreviation the locals use—BsAs—where we just say BA.  Because when your adjectives and articles all have to agree with your nouns, when things are plural you best TAKE NOTE.

Like, LA is not right, because as we all know that is a city of many many angels.  NYC and SF are fine, but really we gamble and see Cirque de Soleil in LsVs.  (All those waves!)

People here call everybody "cowboy."

Hé, caballero!

Saturday, July 27, 2013


She's everywhere here of course.  This one is by the National Library.  I don't remember this pose from the choreography of the musical, but the sculptor may have been taking artistic license.

Friday, July 26, 2013


I love the crazy brutalist architecture here.  It may not be pretty, but it's not nothing.




Wednesday, July 24, 2013

la confianza

One thing you hear about in terms of making your way in a foreign language is having the confidence to actually speak.  Like, school Spanish is one thing but being confident enough to use it can be a challenge.  I’ve realized I don’t have that problem.  Maybe because I can get by in French-speaking cities, and because I spent a bit of time boning up on my Spanish before getting here, it seems I do have enough confidence to launch into Spanish sentences with people.  The problem is I don’t speak Spanish anywhere near as well as I feel like I do, so I often confidently make pronouncements that are wrong and/or make no sense.  For example, I think this afternoon I breezily asked my waiter how much he owed me for the coffee.  Or maybe how much he owed the coffee?  I’m still not sure, even having thought about it.  Oh boy, time to start lessons.


For me that first day after a red-eye flight is always pretty much a dead loss.  This time, the one thing I did manage to do that day (after having gotten more or less moved into my temporary apartment) was change some money. 

Money in Argentina is weird right now.  The official exchange rate for the dollar hovers around 5.5 pesos per US$.  The actual street exchange rate for US cash, however, is called the “dólar blue,” and fluctuates from 7.5 pesos to 9.5 pesos.  This exchange is technically illegal but apparently everyone does it.  So Americans are advised to bring in as much US cash as they plan to spend, and find an illicit way to exchange it at the blue rate.

So on that first hazy day, with only dollars in my pocket, I asked the landlady for a place to exchange them.  I assumed she’d point me to a legal cambio—I figured I could eat the official rate for the first hundred dollars.  But she looked at me carefully, and wrote down the name of a street, and two cross streets.  She told me it was near the very fancy mall she was proud the apartment was in walking distance of.  So I walked about 12 min from my seedy hood to a much fancier one and down this very fancy-feeling little street.  It felt just like a side street in central Paris.  A fancy little florist, dry cleaner, old-school shoe repair shop, but no cambio.  She hadn’t given me a street number.  So I continued on to the fancy mall, paid with a card for a disorienting fancy food court lunch, and prepared to head back to the apartment to somehow solve the problem.  I thought, I’ll take the same street on the way back just in case.  I walked slowly.  As I passed an elegant doorway, a gentleman was coming out, and through the doorway I caught over my shoulder an elegant glassed-in lobby with foreign bills mounted on the glass.  I turned back.  I buzzed, and got buzzed in.  A beautifully dressed middle-aged woman asked me, “Sí?” and I said “Cambio?” and she escorted me inside and said to have a seat.  The room looked just like a bank in that it was blandly decorated and had two of those windows at the back, except that the walls were bare.   When it was my turn I went to the window and asked what the exchange rate was for dollars.  The lady punched a number into a calculator and turned it towards me.  It was much more than the official rate, just slightly less than the day’s blue rate.  I gave her $200 and she gave me pesos.  I strolled out.

I don’t think I would be exaggerating to describe my mood on the walk home as jubilant.  Rockstar king of the world.  At the end of the day, usually there are illicit things, and there are glamorous things, and these things don’t go together because illicit things tend to feel seedy.  (That’s part of how we get people to not do them, right?)  And you know who lives where illicit things are also totally glamorous?  James effing Bond, that’s who.


Today I thought, going to a foreign country is about learning things— but that's not new, we're always learning things.  Going to a foreign country you learn different kinds of things— fundamental things, things that you used to know but now suddenly you don't.  It made me think (and I know how terrible this analogy is, but here goes) of a person who's had a bad accident, or a stroke— someone who says, I had to learn how to talk, or how to walk again. Basically, I’m here in a great city that has many resemblances to other cities I've been in, except here I can't really talk.  I can walk fine, and I look like a normal person, but I can only buy groceries or order in a restaurant in the most clumsy and approximate way.  I’m sort of like a gorilla in a very good disguise, smiling gamely and pointing at what he wants.  (Since people, including me, seek this experience out, presumably this kind of relearning-from-the ground up is salutary, or at least stimulating, or at least makes for something different.)  I am excellent at taking the subway, and I can borrow a bicycle from the good citybike program with a level of clumsiness similar only to that I deploy in cafés— but taking a bus, for example, or buying a theatre ticket, are so far projects whose complexity have been too daunting to approach.  Here I come!

new digs

This is the building!  Decrepit glamor like only the Argentines can do it.  The arched window at the top is the bedroom (whuut!)  In mid-August we move down one floor to an equally nice apartment that's better for guests.

View out the front door:

Cafés (a kind of day 1)

actually SUNDAY JULY 21:

Two weeks into the BsAs adventure and I'm finally putting some thoughts onto “paper”.  A bit of a shame, since the impressions I formed in those first days will probably the most vivid of the whole trip. By that token, though, maybe they will also be more lasting (and recoverable.)

Easy to say why I'm only beginning to write about BsAs after two weeks: two big projects, each of which took one week.  First, finding a long-term apartment here, and second, a NY-based project I’d committed to before I left.  This second project was fine, but I'm relieved it’s over— the apartment hunt of the first week thrust me intensively into the textures of the streets and neighborhoods of the city— and naturally, (fascinatingly) into the insides of probably a dozen different apartments, and into conversation with their various dueños or gerantes.  Then, having found a really great place, I was forced to retreat from the city into it for a week.  But today was the first day of the rest of my life and I could plunge back into BsAs life!

Chilly and a bit rainy, the kind of midwinter day that porteños like to complain about, but no matter.  I walked the length of the San Telmo Defensa street market— our apartment is ON Defensa street, and the sound of amazing (and some not so amazing) bands playing all day traveled up to the windows.  I have to say, if today's market and crowds were typical of a wintry off-season Sunday, by the end of the year, it will be a zoo downstairs.  The scene downstairs was a lot like a lot of street markets around the world— fun to wander, but one wonders who actually buys all those crafts.  Still, it would be foolhardy to leave the country without having bought a 50-peso sturdy leather belt.

For the most part, though, the weather forced the day into a classic (so one hears) BsAs model: lounging in cafés and reading. 

In the morning (having fortuitously run out of milk for coffee at home), I found my way to La Poesía It was as lovely as I’d heard, full but never packed in such a way that it felt like one should free up one's table.   It actually did house a number of grizzled old men reading newspapers and greeting each other heartily who looked, if not like poets, at least like intellectuals.

Then after the market walk and a veggie pan relleno for lunch, café phase two: Le Marais.  Completely different, Paris-inspired (obvs), gay-friendly to judge by the discreet rainbow stickers about, brightly-colored and as brand new as La Poesía is proudly old.   But in some ways exactly the same: a good latte and pleasant table from which I didn’t feel pressed to budge.

(I was reading the MS of Nick's new book.  It's great.  Very exciting.  And it turns out the old Kindle is great for note-taking.)

Anyway, this is a blog, not a diary, and I have no intention of making each entry such a pedestrian list of "what I did today."  For this first one, though, that’s what I wanted to capture.  And now, back at home, the rain is really audible on the big skylight… the drops sound sharp and thin, though maybe this is a function of the plastic they're landing on.  In any case, not thick pelting drops, but a million little needles, and it goes with the chill.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Hello gentle reader.  I started jotting things down for this project way before I figured out a blog software, so the first several posts will be "anteposts" with actual dates earlier than their apparent ones.  

Here's how they start— most posts will be much shorter than this one, but I wanted to leave this intact because it was, you know, a moment.

SUNDAY, JULY 7, 2013

OK.  I'm writing this having just drunk a scotch on the rocks and a pint of Smithwick's, taken a "muscle relaxant" pill that my doctor told me was really good for sleep and to seal the deal, two of those over-the-counter buddies that used to be called Sominex.  It's 8:42 pm and I'm in the departure lounge, waiting to board the red-eye.

I'm not writing this into any blogging software-- I expect very soon to be too sleepy to figure out anything like that-- and in any case I'm too cheap to pay for the airport's boingo™ wireless.  But I have been thinking that maybe it would be worth keeping a blog of this adventure, spurred on by a handful of different folks who quite flatteringly proposed the idea (without, BTW, my having proposed it first.)  So why not start it already, here in EWR?

The kinds of non-usual experiences one hopes will accompany a half-year like this have started.  I spent a weird 24 hours in New York from 3pm yesterday to 3pm today (when I lugged my stuff onto the Newark Airport train at Penn.)  It was wonderful, really-- it's hard to love NYC when it's 94 degrees, I don't need to tell most of you that-- but everything I did during that 24h had a lovely valedictory feel to it.  (Is that the word?)  Like, one last morning iced coffee and muffin from the deli.  One last slice of eggplant and basil pizza from the corner shop.  Ah, what a nice block kind of thing.  The potency of that familiar feeling -- turning off the lights in the apartment and locking the door behind, everything squared away -- was multiplied by quite a bit given the longer absence sprawling ahead.  And yesterday, as I pulled into New York on the bus from Ithaca, I did feel a surge of love for that skyline seen from Jersey-- high downtown and midtown, a valley where the Villages are (and Chelsea)-- a real mountain range made from people's ambitions (or maybe I should say dreams? or maybe I should just admit it's been mostly naked greed).  In any case, it sure looked beautiful then.  And same thing leaving it on the train to EWR-- from that vantage point, the new World Trade Tower seemed prominent in a way that felt right.  I don't like the building-- not because it's such a monument to capitalism, no, it's that given the void it's meant to feel I think somehow I wish it were taller or more interesting or awesome.  But it just capped off, and from the train it looked tall and awesome enough.

I got to the airport very early (extremely early, by my standards) mainly because I'd done everything I needed to in the city, and my huge suitcase was burning a hole in my soul.  I've liked being here in EWR for a few hours -- ate, drank, and remembered how much I've always loved airports.  They still seem romantic to me, full of people going to amazingly far-flung places.  I develop a strange envy for the people who work there-- who talk casually every day about Milan and Tokyo (and Buenos Aires) with real immediacy-- even though I know whatever romance of those jobs probably wears off fast and those gorgeous global words must start to feel exactly as utilitarian as "file this" or "fries with that."  But to me they still sound gorgeous and global, and all the more this time, going somewhere far away myself for a while.  

It must be producing a kind of heightening of sensation, because I've been in this airport countless times and it rarely makes me feel like an important character in a glamorous movie.  I hope that heightened-ness persists-- I suppose, in the end, it's a way to describe the main reason one travels, though it's not until now that I'm thinking that, and heaven knows I've spent a lot of time thinking about what, exactly, I'm hoping to achieve during this time away.  My feeling of the romance of airports goes way way back to childhood, and I can't help but wonder if it had something to do with being gay, and of growing up in a small community with a different culture than my own-- the thrilling feeling of other things being out there, the feeling of escape.

The queue is starting, boarding soon.  Wooooo, I just sat up, no joke, these pills are starting to hit.  Ha, airport Ben and Jerry's, there you are across the way.  I'm about to board without having succumbed to your siren call.  Annnnd… here we go.