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December 2000

Our first Christmas in Argentina

Friday Dec 1stI get up in time to do a little “composición práctica” in my hand journal for Spanish class. We’re studying how to decipher times that businesses are open and closed, so I clip out some confusing ads from the paper to use in my composition.  Ron got some sweets to have with our coffee in the morning, I split them between us and they were truly horrible!  I ask Ron where he got them, “Don’t you like them, I thought the coconut one was good?”, he said.  Ron is truly a dessert hound and even enjoys things that are terrible, as long as there is SOME sweetness to them.  “Don’t buy anything from that bakery again!”, I say, Ron says, “Grumpy, wumpy!” At the break of our Spanish class I start telling our profesora Lucila (In Spanish of course) that we’re going to a party tonight and we couldn’t find pecans anywhere, “Pecans, what are pecans?” We explain a little more and she goes around the office asking coworkers what they are called.  After much collaboration and speculation with her coworkers, she thinks they are called “nueces del tigre”.  Well… “nuez” is Spanish for nut, “nueces” is the pluralized stem changing form.  “Do I have to go to El Tigre to get these?”, I ask, “no”, she says, “Pecans are called nueces del tigre in Spanish”.  More puzzled looks and Ron translates, “Why are they called Tiger nuts?”  This got us all chuckling, but Lucilia didn’t know why they are called Tiger nuts, they just are.  She then mentions a store where we might be able to buy Tiger nuts. We then start asking about Crisco to make the pie crust, and again, no one has any idea what we’re talking about. “How do you make pie crusts if you don’t use shortening?”, I ask, Lucilia says they just use butter, flour, salt and sometimes egg to bind the dough, she also starts explaining the differences in cultures, we are influenced by England/English ways of cooking, they are influenced by Spain/Spanish ways of cooking.  Well we came here to experience a latin culture and I guess we’re doing just that.  After class we go to the “dietética” store to look for the Tiger Nuts, this is like a health food store which has lots of interesting stuff.  We miraculously find pecans and the hand written label just says “nueces”, I was really hoping for a label that said “Tiger nuts”!  We try and look for Crisco, but only found liquid vegetable oil.  The pecans are $2.50 for about ž of a cup, not really too expensive when you consider pecans are ALWAYS expensive.

We head off to the notary’s office to sign some papers to continue the process of establishing our business.  Things have been moving very slowly and it’s nice to feel like we’re accomplishing something.  We speak with Leonor Ortíz Elissetche and find out that we have to sign some papers for tax tracking purposes, both personal and for the business. She asks us “Why Argentina?”, this is the question we get asked most often, usually when we say we’re from California, everyone wants to live there and can’t imagine why we would come here. The grass is always greener!

We get home and receive a call from Olga regarding dinner that night.  Her friend from Uruguay still has not called her but she decides that we have plenty to give thanks for, so we’ll have dinner and celebrate Thanksgiving even if Rhonda can’t attend.  Ron starts baking his Pecan Pie, Pie # 3 comes out of the oven looking perfect, just like Ron always makes.  He had enough dough left over so he made a small little pie for us to try before we took it to Olga’s party.  Just as we’re about to eat it we get a phone call from Mariá from Crown, the relocation company.  We forgot that we were to meet with her and the general manager of Crown, Nick, at the café next door to talk about our visas, the lawyer and our move.  We rush over and have a very productive meeting, they wanted to apologize for the lawyer taking so long getting us our visas and that the lawyer was not meeting their expectations on our case.  We agreed that the lawyer was not meeting OUR expectations, but we weren’t sure if the length of time we were experiencing was accepted business practice in Argentina.  We’re relieved to hear that Nick and Mariá are going to switch to a lawyer who is more familiar with setting up visas, where the lawyer we were working with was adept at setting up businesses.  Nick was born in Virginia and has lived in the orient, now he’s heading up the Buenos Aires office.  He related many stories about how he had to go through the same process as what we’re doing when he came in to start up the local office.  He also told us that there are 2 words you should know if you’re living in Argentina, “trucho” and “chanta”.  “Trucho” is someone who will try and take advantage of you, “chanta” is someone who will REALLY take you to the cleaners!  We all got a laugh out of this handy bit of new information!

We went to Olga’s for dinner and it turns out that Olga’s friend from Uruguay, Rhonda, was going to make it after all!  Great, we finally get to meet another expatriate! Olga had also invited another friend and with her husband, Miguel, so there were 6 of us.  Olga had set a wonderful table and we started with appetizers and wine.  We had brought an inexpensive table wine but then had also stopped on the walk over to Olga’s house and bought a bottle of nice wine that we knew about.  Olga knew the nice wine, but didn’t recognize the inexpensive table wine we also brought.  Best to open the good stuff first, so I poured and we all toasted to life, good fortune and friendship!  Olga had prepared a full turkey dinner and everything was perfect. When it came time to open another bottle of wine, Olga decided to open one of hers, I joked that she didn’t want to try the cheap table wine I brought, and she just smiled and handed me the corkscrew!  Conversation was all over the map, very animated and very interesting, things turned to politics and our still unknown presidency.  Olga, Miguel and Olga’s friend all talked about the corruption in Argentina and how it is affecting the economy and stifling growth, stuff you just don’t learn about in books.  Extremely interesting!  We left around 1:30am and had a nice walk home, it was still very warm and humid and the streets were filled with people, kids, older couples, people pushing baby carriages, etc.  This has been called the city where people stay up the latest in the world and I believe it.

Saturday Dec 2ndOur Fibertel modem is down again, that’s the 4th time in the last 5 days.  The cable internet connection has been terribly slow, worse then a 56K modem, but at least it’s been reliable up until now.  Ron is pissed because he can’t check the markets and asks me to call the cable modem company.  Last time I did this I was fairly satisfied with the phone support, however, my guess is that my current problem is not local to just me and it’s probably affecting a lot of folks.  The phones put me on a perpetual loop of “Please hold” messages, then it cuts me off. I call again and at least one of the prompts says to “Press 2 for service in English”.  I finally get through to a representative and I ask “habla ingles?”, to which he replies, “no”.  I guess “Press 2 for service in English” meant that I would get the recorded messages in English, not that I would get an English speaking representative. Sigh.  He puts me on hold and it finally transfers me to a recorded message followed by a BEEEEEP!  I guess it’s so I can leave a message, so I do.  I HATE Fibertel, hate is a strong word, but ”desperate times cause for desperate measures”.  I’d change in a second but I think that your choice for a cable provider is limited by your neighborhood.  All the same, I saw an ad for a competing cable modem company, next time I see it I’m going to jot down the phone number and see if they can give me better service.

Since the internet connection is down, I decide to have my coffee on our balcony.  It is a truly gorgeous day, so I take my sunglasses and magazine and sit outside. There is a huge, mature tree in the courtyard between the apartment buildings, giving our “garden” a truly nice, serene feel, a little quiet oasis in the city.  The birds are chirping in the trees, there’s a nice breeze and the cats are sitting in the sun, soaking in the morning sun.  With my second cup of coffee I split the remaining pecan pie with Ron.  Ron is still working on the computer creating business sales transaction receipts for our business, what an optimist!  Pie # 3 is delicious and was worth the effort!

Sunday Dec 3rd – Sunday Dec 10thI’ve been bad at keeping my “Diary” up, hence the little lapse in time between entries.  I guess we’re finally settling in and life is becoming a little boring to put in the journal, just the usual trips to the supermarket, department store to buy essentials, etc.  We’re definitely falling into new daily routines, we are all creatures of habit I guess.  Just like the cats waking us early for their breakfast and then screaming at us at 5pm for their dinner (how do they know what time it is?), we fall into routines with our daily lives.  We go to Spanish school Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. We check email in the mornings, we’ve been enjoying playing cards on the balcony in the cool of the evenings, etc. Now there’s an intrusion into this boring daily routine!  The nerve! 

The apartment downstairs has a nice yard and garden which we get to enjoy from our balcony one floor up.  We found out that the owner rents the apartment and it goes vacant for long periods of time, actually if anyone comes to visit we were told we can rent the apartment for them!  It’s been so nice and quiet until NOW.  Well, a new family moved in with one 2 year old, a 15 year old, a 17 year old, a 19 year old and the two parents.  The boys play soccer outside every day in the yard making quite a ruckus (am I getting old or what??).  Occasionally the little 2 year girl comes out and starts screeching and yelling. No matter, we still play cards on the balcony and say “hola” to them, but it IS a break in our nice quiet routine!

One thing we’ve found annoying in Buenos Aires is that kids are constantly lighting off fireworks.  You’ll be walking by a park and kids will be lighting off BIG firecrackers and things that sound like M80s (BIG BOOM).  I don’t know why it’s tolerated, I guess it’s part of their expressive culture, but it can scare the begezzes out of you when you’re walking along.  The kids don’t intend to light them at you, or throw them at you, they just have no regard for who’s around.  Even sitting on our balcony at home, all the rear of the apartments face an inner courtyard and kids will throw firecrackers off the balconys so the sound reverberates between the buildings.  I could kill these kids and don’t understand why the adults tolerate it.  Again, I guess it is just part of their culture, but it can be VERY annoying.

Monday Dec 11thThe family renting downstairs is still making a racket with the kids playing in the yard. In the afternoon we go outside to play cards on the balcony and have some peanuts with gin and tonics.  I love this balcony, sitting outside, listening to the birds while petting the cats under us, stomping Ron at 500. Such simple things, so relaxing. Up till now I wanted to buy this apartment if it was for sale (Ignacio said his mother loves the apartment and would never consider selling it), but now I see what a disruption it can be if the people below have kids playing in the yard.  Now I want to buy the place below us so we would have the yard. Since the owner rents it out, maybe she would be interested in selling it.  We’re told Argentina is in a recession now, who knows, maybe she could use the money and we could get a good deal on it!

Remember the movie “Rear Window” where you could see the goings on of people in other apartments?  Well, there are apartments about 50 to 100 yards away from us (Ron thinks it’s over 100 yards, I think it’s more like 50) and their decks are facing us.  It’s kind of far away so it doesn’t feel like they’re on top of you, but you can still see them on their decks reading, watering plants, etc. It’s fun to get to recognize the different people and imagine their lives (and invent their histories), there’s the older woman always tending her plants, there’s the married couple who like to have drinks on their balcony like we do, the apartment with 2 swinging bachelors who are always throwing parties (luckily they’re quiet parties!), the old man who likes to have a cigar on his deck while watching the world. They’re probably looking at us and imaging the same things about us, inventing our history!

Tuesday Dec 12thIt feels like summer is finally kicking in.  Everyone kept talking about how sweltering Xmas in Buenos Aires can be, now I’m starting to believe them.  It’s hot and VERY humid, making it difficult to sleep.  There’s an air conditioner in the apartment, but I’ve never liked air conditioners in the house, I’d rather have the windows open.  There is a floor fan in the storage room, but like the vacuum cleaner that came with the apartment, it seems like it was purchased recently after World War II, it works but makes a terrible racket and you can barely hear the TV when it’s on.  We go to “Coto”, (the “we have everything” Walmart type store) to look for a fan. They have a nice selection of fans and we’re trying to listen to each one to find the quietest one.  The fans are right next to the electronics section so they have all the radios blasting, making it hard to figure out which fan is the quietest.  We see some fans on stands that rotate back and forth and think that would be better then a floor fan, however, a woman sees us looking at them and comes over and takes the last 2 that were on sale for $39 before we could make up our minds, damn!  The next model up is almost twice as much at $69.  We decide to wait, surely there is more then one store in Buenos Aires that will be selling fans in a heat wave (insert omen here).

Wednesday Dec 13thWe finally decide to go sign up at the gym.  We’ve been here 2 ˝ months and figure we’ve procrastinated enough.  Ignacio had previously taken us to his gym to show us around and answer any questions we might have.  It’s a 10 minute walk from our house, the place is huge, in a great old building with marble stairs, it’s 7 stories high, has a large pool on one floor, aerobic classes on another floor, big weight machine area, lots of free weights, bicycling machines, ski machines, etc.  Very well equipped.  We ask about rates and it’s $80 a month, each!  Ouch!  Ron asks for a senior discount and they just chuckle, senior discounts pretty much don’t exist here. We ask if there are cheaper plans, like if we don’t use the pool or don’t take aerobic classes, and they tell us it’s cheaper if you pay 3 months in advance, hmmmm!  How about 6 months in advance?  Cheaper still!  How about 1 year in advance?  Only $35 if you pay a year in advance!  That sounds more like it, still a little pricey but the other gyms we’ve seen in the area are about the same price so we figure it’s a good deal with all the equipment they have.  We sign up for a year and pay in advance, hope they don’t go out of business or we’re out of luck!

We get home and Ron asks if I want to go to the gym to exercise.  Heavens no! The 10 minute walk there was enough of a workout for today, you can’t rush these things you know!  Don’t want to get all sore the first day!  We decide to play cards on the deck with a gin and tonic instead of working out, procrastination wins again!

Ron asks what I want to do for Xmas, we still have 2 weeks to use on our timeshare so we figure it would be nice to go to a resort on the ocean.  Mar del Plata is a touristy beach town, like Fort Lauderdale in Florida or Palm Beach. EVERYONE goes there in January but we heard that it’s not very crowded in December.  With check with the condominium exchange company and find that the earliest we can get in is in April.  Oh well, we haven’t found anyone to watch after our cats for us anyways, guess we’ll just have a nice quiet first Xmas in Bs. As.

Thursday Dec 14thWe talked to Ignacio and asked him if he knew anyone who could watch after our cats for us when we travel.  He asked around and it turns out his daughter can look after them for us.  What a relief, someone we can trust and not worry about the cats or that we’ll come home and find the apartment empty!

We go to the gym for the first time.  Feels good to get back into exercising.  There’s a nice mix of people in the gym, the perfect toned gym bodies yes, but also housewives, older people, teenagers, thin people, fat people; I like it!  I don’t like to go to a gym were everyone has a lot of attitude or scoffs at anyone without a perfect body or who tries to lift less then 250lbs.  The people seem friendly and relaxed, VERY few people care about looking perfect or showing off, I think I’m going to like it here.  They have some new machines that are like ski machines only your feet never leave the pedals, they kind of go around in a circular motion, up and down.  I really like my Nordic track ski machine and this is similar with hand levers you move back and forth as you work out to give a full body exercise. I don’t like stationary bikes or stair climbers because your upper body doesn’t get any exercise.  This machine is great aerobic exercise using your whole body, we do it for 20 minutes and with the humidity I’m soaking wet. Didn’t bring a water bottle today and I’m dying for some water, won’t forget that next time.  We work out for 2 hours and head for the showers.  Walking home feels great, feels good to get back into exercising, the day is nice and bright, the street we take has mature trees down the whole length of the street so the dappled light coming through the trees onto the street is perfect, the breeze nice and warm.  A nice 10 minute walk home to cool down.  We get home and treat ourselves to what else…?  Playing cards and gin and tonics!

Friday Dec 15thWe leave our apartment to walk to our spanish class at Berlitz at 9:54am (it takes exactly 6 minutes to walk to class).  The sky is incredibly clear and blue; it’s so bright!  I remember reading some author who said how strange Bs. As. is in the summer, brilliantly bright, hot and clear; since most buildings are concrete instead of stone the buildings give off their own kind of reflected light. Now I know what they mean.  It’s not only bright, but things seem to give off their own light, it almost hurts your eyes.

We’ve been writing short one page compositions for each Spanish class, this gives us practice learning words, doing conjugation, tense, sentence structure, etc.  My composition for today was on buying flip flops for the pool at the gymnasium.  I try to use words and expressions that we learned in the previous class, it’s not easy doing that though, you always want to say something simple like “It makes my hair dry” and you go nuts trying to figure out how to say it.  This time I wrote about trying to buy flip flop sandals for the shower at the gymnasium.  The teachers always get a chuckle out of our stories and the way we try and say things. Of course using the dictionary to find words doesn’t always get you the right words, so there’s usually plenty of laughing going on when she corrects them.

Saturday Dec 16thI was reading email on my computer when my sister Cindy logged onto her computer in California and instant messaged me with yahoo messenger.  I love the internet!  We started having a conversation and then my mother joined us from her computer, then my niece Nina joined in.  Cindy likes to play games online with friends at www.flipside.com.  Our family loves to play cards and there’s a Euchre and Hearts game area on flipside. I created a login and started playing cards with Cindy online.  You can pick an icon for your character, of course Cindy’s was a pretty blonde cowgirl, I picked a skeleton for me (I love skeletons).  As you play you can press various key strokes, like shift 1, and a sound effect will play on all computers who are playing together, like “Aaaaaaaawwwwwww!”, or “HeeHeeHeeHee”.  It was a lot of fun and very humorous with the sound effects. It’s great to use the chat sessions to keep in touch with folks so that we don’t feel so isolated.  If you have MSN you can add me to your friends list as “petemacay@hotmail.com” or if you use Yahoo messenger I’m “pmacay@yahoo.com

Ron goes to the supermarket and comes back with "Paso de los Toros - Light - Pomelo".  He thought it would be nice to try something different when we play cards.  Turns out Pomelo is Spanish for grapefruit and the "Paso de los Toros” is delicious, tastes great with Gin!  Very refreshing drink to quench the thirst in the warm evenings!

Monday Dec 18thWe get a care package from our friend Elis.  It was a very sweet thing to do and very unexpected, she included some spices, pistachios, chocolates and toys for our cats.  Elis had bought a toy mouse for her cat, it’s made with some kind of animal fur and she said her cat went wild over it.  The cats loved their toys and were tossing them around in the air having a great time.  Most exercise I’ve seen them do since they got here

Care package from Elis.

Cat pictures

Ron was experiencing some discomfort in his right eye and it was getting red so he decided to go to the hospital.  He was gone for quite awhile and when he got back he said that they took two Xrays and saw an infection in his sinuses below his eye. Ron has been experiencing constant sinus problems so he was kind of glad that the antibiotics they gave him might finally clear up the problem.  Good thing we signed up with this hospital, it’s a relief to know that we have coverage. 

I received a call from Maria at Crown, she wanted to check up on us and see how we were doing.  She had sent us an email documenting next steps we need to do before we can get our visas.  The list seems imposing, but like any task if you break it down into steps it seems you can accomplish anything!  Turns out the Argentina immigration office closes down the entire month of January so we will probably be without our things for a few more months.

We again play 500 on our balcony and have the pistachios that Elis sent us in her care package with our gin and tonics.

Wednesday Dec 20thWe have a new Spanish teacher.  It’s nice to experience different teaching styles and accents, but it’s always a challenge when we have a new teacher.  Even though they follow a scripted set routine in the teaching curriculum (so they know exactly what to teach next), they still have to determine our abilities (or lack thereof) to see how fast they can go, etc.  As usual, she puts us through the ringer! Where do they hire these instructors, previous drill sergeants from the army???  By the time we leave an hour and a half later, we’re exhausted!

Later in the afternoon we get back from the gym and Claudio, our doorman (portero), lets us in and tells us that we received a package. We rarely see Claudio even though he is supposed to always be at the front desk.  However, he’s been around a LOT lately, I think he’s bucking for a Xmas tip!  I don’t know if it’s standard to tip them or not but I think it wise to tip them at Xmas, Ron looks nonplused when I mention it.  Turns out it’s an Xmas package from my mother that she sent on November 27th!  Elis’ care package only took 11 days, don’t know why mom’s took so long?  We also received some Xmas cards from friends and relatives, very nice surprise.

I’ve been trying to invest the money I received from my Xerox pension and 401K monies.  I had them transferred to American Express because that’s where our financial advisor, David A. Cooper, works.  It’s been very frustrating doing research on mutual funds because our connection to the internet is so slow, curses to our cable modem provider Fibertel! I go into fits at the movie theatre when they show a commercial for Fibertel and say how fast the internet connect is, LIARS!  REVOLUTION! I’M GONNA SUE FOR FALSE ADVERTISING! 

I thought I had everything figured out and then when I went to place an order I found that 3 of the funds I wanted are closed to new investors, AGH!  Why didn’t they tell me that when I was researching the funds?  Very frustrating!

We’ve been eating a lot of healthy meals at home so we decide to go out for dinner.  We head to our favorite Mexican restaurant, “Guadalajara de la Noche”, and have a great meal.  They had given us some free margarita coupons the first night we went there and we keep bringing them back. Like sake in Japanese restaurants here, the margaritas are VERY expensive, $8 for a large, which is really a medium, BUT desperate times cause for desperate measures!  How can one eat Mexican food without a margarita? Horrors!  We have no choice but to order 2 (because they’re so small of course!), turns out the waiter didn’t charge us for either drink because we had presented 2 coupons, the meal turns into being VERY cheap!  We leave a big tip and high tail it out the door before the cashier figures it out.  We have a pleasant 10 minute walk home, the night is very warm, I love not having to get in a car!

Thursday Dec 21st– The family moved out who was renting the apartment below us for the last 2 weeks, thank god! I was really getting tired of the kid’s daily yelling, but you have to be careful what you ask for.  A new group moves in and throws a huge party, there’s no way we can watch TV with the balcony door open.  Hope they don’t stay 2 weeks!

Ron keeps finding little tuffs of cotton all over the house, I peer under the beds to see if they’re ripping out stuffing or something. We couldn’t figure out where the stuff was coming from.  Finally I was vacuuming and I picked up the toy mouse that Elis had sent us for our cats. The poor thing was disemboweled! The stuffing was from the toy mouse! I gave the mouse to Ron to repatch! I still can’t even sew a button on my shirt!  MOM?!!?!?  Why didn’t you teach me how to do that?

Friday  Dec 22st– On the way home from the gym we spy some pineapples that look so ripe, you can smell them from 10 feet away and they’re only $2. Ron says, “Wouldn’t those be great in Mai Tais while we play cards tonight?”  Well, that sounded like an excellent idea!  Ron goes to the store to buy the pineapple and find some Mai Tai mix.  Of course he couldn’t find Mai Tai mix but comes back with some green liquid in a bottle with palm trees on it, looks promising.  Turns out it makes a perfect Mai Tai mixed with rum and our "Paso de los Toros - Light - Pomelo".  We have the drinks on our balcony while playing 500, toasting to life and munching peanuts.

We’ve been eating at home a lot so we decide to go out for dinner, plus it’s Friday, we HAVE to go out!  We went to a restaurant that our friend Pierre took us to when our friends from California were here.  It is a very “neighborhood” kind of restaurant with a limited menu serving very simple foods.  We order an empanada for an appetizer and we both order bife de chorizo with papa fritas (french fries).  We haven’t had it in quite a while as we’ve been trying to trim down at the gym.  Of course it was fantastic and we also had an ensalada mixto with a bottle of inexpensive red wine and some freshly baked bread.  Life is GOOD!  Turns out that Antonio Bandaras ate here with Melanie Griffith when he was filming “Evita” so of course they have a picture of them on the wall, their claim to fame for the next 100 years!

Saturday Dec 23rd– Went out shopping for Ron’s Xmas gift!  Just like in the USA, if you go out 2 days before Xmas the streets are packed with people, some carrying multiple shopping bags, some with bottles of champage, some with arms full of flowers, oh look, that person has a pastry cake under that plastic lid!  Where’d they get that I wonder???  Ron and I weren’t going to get each other anything this year, what with the move and all, but it just didn’t seem right not buying SOMETHING!  It is Xmas after all!  I wanted to get Ron a VCR since ours is still in shipping, besides our VCRs in the USA use NTSC and they use PAL here, an incompatible viewing format.  We actually have a Blockbusters right across the street from us if you can believe that, I thought it such an eyesore when we first moved in but will probably love it once we start renting movies so conveniently there!  We have cable TV but you never know if a movie you want to watch will be dubbed in Spanish or not, so I thought it would be nice to get a VCR to watch some videos. It’s funny, I never noticed it before, but there are MANY films where no one says a word for several minutes until after the movie starts.  We’ll be watching the start of a movie waiting…, waiting…, and then after 10 minutes someone finally says “Donde es su hermano?”  “Aaaaaggghhhhhh”, we both scream as we quickly grab the remote, then go channel surfing for something in English!  Our Spanish professors tell us we should watch Spanish TV, but it’s just so hard right now to figure out what the hell they’re saying!

The day is very pleasant and cool and the walk is great as I go shopping.  There are many people on the street begging for money, I guess they feel that people give more right before Xmas, but it’s still a lot less beggars then you find in San Francisco.  There are also lots of people selling things on the streets, much more then usual; Xmas cards, shirts, socks, gift wrapping paper, amazing variety of things can be found just by walking down the street.  I arrive at “Garbarino”, the electronics store where we’ve bought several things in the past, and the store is packed, I start looking at the VCR’s and a sales clerk comes over and asks if I need help.  I explain my lack of Spanish but I enjoy trying to communicate with what I have learned, I AM learning something I guess!  He tells me about some specials on the VCRs and I pick out the model I want.  I get halfway home and realize that he didn’t give me the $30 discount that I should have received so I walk back to the store, I figure he was probably distracted by my Spanish and didn’t credit it properly.  He’s very apologetic and reruns the charge to my credit card a second time.  I get close to our house and see a store with colognes and bath products so I go in and get some cologne for Ron and some bath salts for me, since we’ve been working out at the gym I wanted to get something to take a nice hot bath in.  The girls wraps the two gifts for me, a very good job and no extra cost!  They actually decoratively wrap just about anything you buy here, I was at a local liquor store where the owners looked like a bunch of grumpy old men, very much like a tough 7-11 store in the USA where you feel like you’re imposing on them by buying anything. I bought a bottle of wine and they wrapped it for me as if it was a gift, very unexpected!  When you buy croissants or pastries, they always wrap it in colored or patterned paper and tie it with ribbon.

Just as I’m about to get home I see a very poor woman selling gift wrapping paper on the sidewalk.  She says you get 4 small sheets of metallic gift wrapping paper for $1, seems like a good deal.  I ask her how big the sheets are because they’re rolled up in very tight little rolls and you can’t tell how big they are.  You can tell she buys the paper then sections it off to make a little profit, I can’t communicate too well so I just ask for 8 rolls for $2 figuring it should be enough to patch together to cover the VCR box.  She is very happy and keeps calling me caballero, which means “gentleman”, and I keep saying “feliz navida”.  Arms now loaded with gifts and wrapping paper, right before I go home I decide to buy some flowers for the table.  I love being able to go walking for a few blocks and get everything accomplished in one trip, everything is so handy here.  I get home and Ron is working on the computer in the office, he asks “where have you been?”, I say, “oh nowhere, just don’t turn around”!  I start to undo the small wrapping paper rolls and find that the first one says “Happy Birthday”, damn, it looked like Xmas paper when it was all rolled up!  The second one says “Congratulations” (little more appropriate for Xmas, but still not right!), the third one says “Feliz Navidad”, ah, paydirt! I get the gifts wrapped and hide them in the closet.

Off to the gym!  On the way back from our workout Ron asks me what I would like to have for our Xmas eve dinner.  There is a whole row of shops right by our house, one has produce, one has meat, one has fresh pasta, one has fish, one has cheeses and dried meats; we stop and press our noses to each window thinking up a dinner menu.  We return to the apartment and Ron goes back out to get the groceries after he gets some money (we don’t carry money when we go to the gym).  He’s back in only about 20 minutes with all the groceries but somehow he forgot to get something for tonight’s dinner.  We decide to walk 2 doors down to “Scuzi” and have a nice meal at our local restaurant.

Sunday Dec 24th- Ron and I went out to do some last minute shopping for our XMas eve dinner.  I had called mom the other night to ask her how to make a beef roast.  I love to cook but rarely make “mom style” dishes like pot roasts, baked hams, etc.  I don’t even know how to roast a chicken! Ron usually does the turkey every Thanksgiving and he also does all the pie, cakes, and pastry baking, I just don’t use the oven when I cook.  So I had called mom and she gave me the “secret” recipe to making a beef roast, which as everyone knows means just throwing a roast in a pan with a bunch of vegetables, herbs, garlic, salt and pepper and cooking it for a few hours. Another mystery of the universe revealed!  We went to the Norte supermarcado looking for things, I REALLY wanted to find horseradish.  Sometimes these things are easy to find, other times you get the wide eyed, “deer in the headlights” look when trying to describe something.  Searching the entire store, isle by isle, I would find things, scrutinize the label, reading ingredients, trying to see if it was horseradish.  I found something that might be it, but it said “Ajo” on the label amongst other things (which is Spanish for garlic) and it kind of looked like sauerkraut.  Well, it looked good whatever it is so I thought I would try it.  I was just ready to give up when I saw a jar of horseradish on a decorative ledge in the deli section with olives, flavored oils, etc. There was only ONE jar and I GOT IT! Hah!  Oh boy, beef roast and horseradish, I’m in heaven.  I look for eggnog in vain, no one has ever heard of eggnog.  My first XMas without eggnog, I think the world may collapse after all!

Ever since we became “adults”, XMas eve has always been the big celebration night for our family.  We have a big dinner, drink a lot of eggnog with brandy and then open gifts. My sister Cindy would send my niece Nina to bed when we started opening gifts.  Nina used to hate this as she would have to wait until XMas morning to open her gifts.  Our beef roast dinner was cooking away in the oven so I decided to call home to talk to everyone around 9 o’clock, which would be 5 pm California time.  It was nice to talk to everyone and wish them a Merry XMas, my sister Phyllis had flown in from Seattle to be there.  The dinner party sounded like it was in full swing and it was great talking to everyone.  Even though I miss them all, it was very nice to hang up and have a nice peaceful, quiet, first XMas dinner in Bs. As. with just the two of us.

 

                           Champagne and pate outside on our balcony        Notice how we got dressed up for our first XMas eve dinner!
                                      to start off our XMas dinner

                                                                                                                                 XMas PREZZIES!

       My first steak roast!  Notice the horseradish on the right!

After dinner Ron and I sat on the balcony and enjoyed a glass of red wine, then went into the living room to open gifts.  Ron bought me a wild vacation shirt for our trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, in February.  Ron liked the VCR and cologne.  We started watching a movie when all hell broke loose at midnight.  Seems the Argentine’s love of fireworks make midnight on XMas eve a huge celebration event. Fireworks started booming everywhere, if Santa was overhead at the time, I think they would have shot him out of the sky.

Monday Dec 25th- XMas morning and the time honored tradition of trying to get whatever you received as a gift, working, begins.  I unbox the VCR and discover that ALL of the instructions are in Spanish, ut oh! There is no English instructions. Oh well, not to worry, those expensive Berlitz Spanish classes should make this a breeze, right?!??!?!  I try reading the instructions for programming a show ahead of time, what the hell is an “Audinac”????  That’s gotta be Spanish for something, but what?!?!?! One cool thing I discover is that this VCR can play tapes both in the European PAL and the USA NTSC format.  I had recorded some Star Trek episodes before we left the USA and had the tape in my suitcase when I first got here (you can see where my priorities are).  We have fun that night watching Star Trek and Mad TV comedy episodes.

Tuesday Dec 26th– It’s definitely getting hotter again so we decide to go to Coto and see if we can get a fan for the house.  As we’re walking along we stopped at a corner waiting for the light to change when a bus started to make a turn onto the street in front of us.  I saw there was no way the bus could make the turn without backing up and cutting his wheels sharper to miss the parked cars. He just kept advancing and we saw there was no way he was going to make the turn without hitting the cars.  We were standing at the corner with a few other people and we’re all watching to see what was going to happen next.  The bus just kept moving forward slowly till it touched the bumper of the car and kept going as it pushed the car forward. It was just a little car and I thought for sure something would break, however, the bus successfully pushed the parked car forward about 3 feet till it could get by.  We were all chuckling and shaking our heads watching this.  Note to self, when we get a car, don’t park on the corner of the streets!  We got to Coto and found that they had restocked their selection of fans. Great!  We compare prices and settle on a fan that is mounted on a pedestal base so that it can rotate back and forth.  As we’re leaving I see some computer chairs that would be perfect for our office and they seem to be very reasonably priced at $29.99.  I try my espanol and ask the clerk if they have 2 in stock, “manana” he says, “manana?” I repeat, “si, manana”.  Well, I wasn’t sure if that meant truly tomorrow or the Latin “manana” which means sometime in the future.  I decide I’ll check back in about a week.  On the way home I see a small independent barber with haircuts for $5 inside a small enclosed mall area.  They have these little interior strip malls all over the place and usually the cheapest (and best bargain) stores are in the back because they don’t get as much foot traffic as the stores nearer the street entrance.  Ron goes to a large salon on Av. Sante Fe (a large, popular, crowded avenue filled with expensive, overpriced boutiques) that has $5 haircuts Monday through Wednesday if you go before noon.  It’s a big place with probably 25 people cutting hair.  Well, I like to patronize small, independent businesses so I thought I’d try this guy out.  He had a tiny, closet sized salon and also ran the key making kiosk in the center of this little store mall.  As I peer in the door of the salon and I see no one there, he pokes his head out of the kiosk and asks if I want a haircut.  He puts a closed sign on the kiosk and then spent a ˝ hour cutting my hair for $5, wow!  My first haircut in Argentina and it’s a great haircut too, I tipped him a peso ($1).

We get home just as a huge storm starts up, it starts pouring sheets of rain with great claps of thunder and bright cracks of lightening.  It’s so nice to be in a place with nice thunderstorms, I love them!  We decide to play cards inside tonight because it’s quite windy and our balcony is soaked.

Friday Dec 29thI get up in the morning and look out the window to notice that the downstairs renters have cloths spread all over the yard.  They must have had laundry hanging outside to dry, then during last nights deluge they forgot to bring it in.  They now have cloths draped over all the patio furniture in the hot sun!

We head off to the Hospital Aleman after our Spanish class to have some tests done for our residency Visas.  As we’re walking along I notice almost every apartment building has people coming out of it with luggage, packing up cars, stuffing kids into backseats, pickups filled with lawn chairs and ice chests, etc.  I had heard that Argentine’s head to the coastal touristy towns during the month of January in order to vacation and escape the heat of Buenos Aires.  Looks like Godzilla is heading towards the town and the inhabitants are fleeing the city. An expatriate I met said that January is her favorite time in Bs.As. because everyone has left the city and it’s nice and quiet.  Interesting.

We get home and usually the first thing I do is open the doors to our balcony and all the windows.  I notice a kid in the backyard in front of the large built in brick barbeque with stacks of mail.  He’s opening the mail and feeding the sheets of paper into a fire in the BBQ.  This looks extremely suspicious and I call Ron over to show it to him.  I heard the mail system is extremely unreliable here and that you should never send important documents or checks through the regular mail system as it may get stolen.  I’m wondering what is going on but Ron says that it is just the kid who has been renting the downstairs unit for the last few weeks.  Hmmmmm, it still looks very suspicious, why would someone burn mail instead of just throwing it out?  We decide to have gin and Toros on the balcony and play cards, as we do almost every night.  As we’re playing cards, the kid’s brother comes out and helps him burn the mail as they’re casually chatting away.  They don’t seem too concerned we’re out there, watching them, so I guess I was just being paranoid.  We continue playing cards when all of a sudden there’s a big “KABOOM!”.  It sounded like a large aerosol can blew up in the BBQ but what really happened is that as they were burning the papers, they just kept stacking the paper against the back of the BBQ.  The back wall is covered in inch thick ceramic tiles and I guess it wasn’t used to having flames directly against the tiles.  The tiles had expanded as much as they could against the wall and then exploded outward.  The younger boy was hit with some of the flying tile and it looked like it hurt his arm pretty bad.  I called down to them to make sure they were OK and they said that they were.  They then brought the garden hose out and killed the flames in the barbeque.  A little late for that! 

We continued our card playing and then went in to start dinner.  I looked out later and saw the father out by the BBQ, burning the mail in the opposite side of the BBQ (that still had tiles), however, now he was piling the paper in the middle of the BBQ, not against the back.  Hmmmm, first the sons are out there burning stacks of mail, now the father is out there to make sure the job is finished.  I wasn’t being paranoid, something fishy is definitely going on!  The father really wants to be sure that mail is burned.  Another interesting dSaturday Dec 30thWe got up, had our coffee and headed for the Hospital Alemán again for our blood tests for our visas.  It was a simple procedure and we’re done in a ˝ hour.  I also had to have a chest Xray to check for TB.  The nurse positioned me in front of a big Xray machine and tried to explain something to me.  I think I understood her but she goes into the other room and starts talking with another nurse.  I hear the other nurse say in English, “When I do THIS, hold your breath and don’t move.” More Spanish conversation…, then I hear the other nurse repeat in English, “When I do THIS, hold your breath and don’t move.”  More rapid Spanish….. then my nurse brings the other nurse in, who says to me in English, “When I do THIS, hold your breath and don’t move.”  I had to chuckle, like me learning Spanish, the longer the phrase the harder it is to remember the entire thing.  My nurse couldn’t remember the whole phrase so she just brought the other nurse in to tell me!  Since we had to fast the night before our blood tests, we decide to have a café and croissant in the restaurant in the hospital for breakfast. Just as we’re leaving the hospital we see our friend Olga going into the hospital.  As usual she’s a whirlwind of kisses, greetings, conversation, information, questions, then “sorry darlings, have to go, we’ll catch up soon over a café” and zing, she’s gone!  Meeting Olga is kind of like have your pocket picked, it’s fast, furious, thrilling, frantic and when it’s over you’re not sure what just happened. 

We go to Coto to see if they have the new computer chairs in stock we wanted for our office, sure enough, just as the clerk had said a week earlier they have a large shipment of chairs to choose from, we even get to pick the color.  Ron doesn’t want to take a taxi home so we carry the chairs all the way back to our apartment, it’s usually a nice 20 minute walk but carrying 2 heavy boxes is no fun.  Sometimes Ron is just so damn cheap, a taxi would have cost us $2, instead we arrive home all sweaty and stinky from carrying the chairs all the way home.ay in Bs.As.!

Sunday Dec 31stI found an expatriate email group on the internet called BANewcomers@yahoogroups.com and there’s also a cool website called http://www.expatvillage.com/home/ for information on Bs.As.  Through the egroup I learned of a new year’s eve party for expatriate’s and of course we wanted to go.  I asked the coordinator of the party what we could bring and she suggested an entrée, “like lasagna or something like that”.  Of course I thought right away of Ron’s great quiches and offered to bring that.  I helped Ron out by frying the bacon for the quiche (I did have to help after all, since I volunteered Ron to make a quiche).  It was a VERY hot day and as Ron fired up the oven and me frying bacon it was getting really hot.  That didn’t last long before I pulled out both fans to try and keep the kitchen cool as we cooked.  He makes this fantastic crab quiche but I haven’t seen a crab since we got here. We have a very good fish market right down the block from us, the fish is of excellent quality, but it’s kind of like whatever they catch that day, the selection is limited and they don’t always have everything, and I’ve never seen crabs there.  So we decided to make one “classic” bacon, swiss cheese and onion quiche and one shrimp quiche.  The quiches require heavy cream as one of the ingredients (they are certainly not low cal, but why do you think quiche tastes so good?) but Ron ran out of heavy cream ˝ way through making the 2nd quiche.  He decided to substitute some condensed milk for the cream but it turns out it was sweetened condensed milk.  Luckily he had enough dough and fixings left to make a little individual quiche for us for lunch that day.  After all the baking we tried the little individual quiche and found it had a sweet flavor because of the sweetened milk.  It tasted OK but I thought we would only take the “classic” quiche with us to the party that night, the one that didn’t have the sweetened milk in it. We’ll save the sweetened shrimp quiche for our lunch!

Turned out the party was 3 blocks from our house, how convenient!  We took along a few bottles of wine with our quiche, the night was still very warm and you could hear fireworks going off everywhere. If they light off fireworks at 12 midnight for XMas eve, god knows what was going to happen that night.  We get to the apartment and it’s magnificent, the apartment covers the entire floor of the building and has 15 foot ceilings. We put our quiche down at the table and I’m glad we didn’t make a lasagna!  There are already 3 on the table, I guess the suggestion to bring an entrée, “like lasagna or something like that” was made to everyone!  We meet our hosts, Michelle and Jason, and start introducing ourselves around, it’s great to put the faces with the names I’ve been corresponding with over email.  Great group of people!  Extremely fascinating learning how everyone got to Bs.As., what companies they are with, how long they’ve been out of their countries, what other countries they’ve lived in, how their kids are adapting, stories of substituting ingredients because you can’t find something, where the best Chinese food is (I knew I should have taken notes, standing there with a wine glass in my hand I don’t remember any of the places), vacations spots they’ve been to in Argentina, etc.  The group was very diverse, from young professionals working with small start up companies to international bankers to security professionals working for the embassy.  We’re the only unemployed ones there and of course everyone asks, “Why Argentina?”  I love telling our story (as you can probably tell) so I blabbered the whole night on.  I started talking with my new friend Colleen about missing certain TV shows, like X-Files and StarTrek, I could only find them dubbed in Spanish here.  My Spanish teacher says I should watch shows in Spanish, but it’s just impossible when you know what people should sound like, and they’re saying all these science fiction words in Spanish, like watching Captain Janeway say, “Animar el photon escopeta a la titanium forzar campo!”  It is just too ridiculous for words!  Colleen was telling me that if you have a stereo TV, that you can switch it to the left channel only for English, the right channel only for Portuguese and switch to stereo for dubbed Spanish.  OH MY GOD!  I’m saved! I can now watch X-Files and StarTrek again!  I’m dying to get home to see if our TV is a stereo TV.

With the great conversation midnight comes much too quickly and party favors, hats, horns and confetti are passed around.  We watch the TV as they do the count down, 5..4..3..2..1 KAPPOW!!!!!!!!!  Fireworks start going off everywhere!  The TV view is one of the entire Bs.As. coast shooting off fireworks, it’s just amazing.  If the city didn’t catch fire, I was going to be very surprised.  Our host, Jason, had purchased a bunch of fireworks to shoot off and everyone starts piling out of the apartment to go to the nearby park to shoot them off. Luckily, a few of us scaredy cats stayed behind, the way these crazy Argentine’s shoot off fireworks, I didn’t want to leave the building for at least an hour.  Ron ventured off with the new Argentine green beret explosion force, I stayed behind, filled my wine glass, and hoped everyone would come back with all their body parts intact.  Luckily everyone returned about an hour later with many stories of rockets flying down the streets (set off by other people) and fireworks whizzing in the opposite direction then they were intended.  We left the house about 3 am and people were STILL setting off fireworks, the night had cooled down a little and it’s a great walk home.  We survived another holiday!