Tuesday July 9th, 2002 – Today was Argentina’s Independence day. I asked a few Argentine friends if there was going to be any kind of celebration or parade, but with the current economic crisis, most events had been cancelled. When we had visited previously one time, we caught a wonderful parade down Ave Santa Fe that was huge, along with representation from the different military divisions, including a ski team with rifles. I understand that it takes money to put on a parade, but it IS their independence day. Quite a shame
I spent the day with my friend Alberto who I speak Spanish/English with.
On the bus on the way to Alberto's you pass by the Congress Building
Although we’re in winter, it was a beautiful sunny day and we started by walking his dog, Eva, named after Eva Peron. Ever see the cartoon show “The Simpson’s”? Eva looks just like that, a small to medium sized dog, very thin, agile and a bundle of energy. She’s less then a year old and is still a puppy, jumping all over you, racing around his apartment, picking up tennis balls and putting them in my lap to throw for her. Alberto loves her, but her energy level would drive me crazy. Alberto has a simple chain to use as a leash and Eva was struggling to go forward because she knew we were on the way to the park, choking and wheezing. We reached the park and Alberto unleashed Eva so she could run free. People love their dogs here and there are many dogs in the park, it’s still amazing to me that there isn’t more fighting between them, everyone let’s their dogs off their leash in the park and all the dogs run, play and sniff butts with no fighting. Occasionally you will see a dog with a muzzle on, but whenever there’s a minor barking scuffle between dogs, all the other dogs turn around in puzzlement, “We’re in a park having fun, why would anyone cause a problem?” they seem to say to each other.
We get back to Alberto’s apartment and he told me that he just met someone new. I asked him, “How is it going? Are you enjoying things?” and he said in Spanish, “A new broom always sleeps well.” I hadn’t heard that phrase before but I thought it was pretty funny. Alberto then started making ñoquis for lunch, I just love ñoquis and wanted to see how they’re made. Alberto boiled 2 or 3 potatoes and as they were cooking he started a salsa of sautéing some onions, garlic and oregano in olive oil. Then he added some ground beef, and then finally some chopped tomatoes. He then tasted it, seasoned it with some salt and pepper and added a pinch of what looked like cayenne pepper. He then left that simmering as the potatoes were done and he drained and then mashed them. To this he added flour and 1 egg. He then started rolling it out like a pastry. He did this several times, adding flour as he checked the consistency. He measured nothing. It all looked surprising simple, but then as anyone knows who has tried to make a pie crust, the ingredients ARE simple, it’s the proportions and the working of the “dough” that determine how it will taste.
He then rolled out some of the “dough” into a ½ inch roll about a foot long, then he cut that into inch long pieces. He then told me in Spanish that they are NOT ñoquis unless they have the little ridges in them, so he took EACH little piece and rolled it along the back of a fork to give it little ridges. He then put these in a container and dusted them with flour as we worked on the next roll of dough. I watched and we chatted as he would go back and forth between the salsa, stirring it, tasting it, adjusting spices, and then back to rolling more ñoquis. I asked him if his mother taught him how to make these and he said that his father had, hah! While we were talking, Eva kept coming into the kitchen to see what we were up to, trying to give me a tennis ball to throw for her. The whole process took about 2 hours, but we had a great time talking. I wondered why on earth he would go to so much trouble to make lunch, when you can buy ñoquis in a restaurant for almost nothing, but I realized he wasn’t making lunch to save money, but for the joy of cooking and having company over.
Alberto then put the ñoquis in a pot of boiling water, as he checked the meat salsa one last time to be sure it was perfect. After a few minutes he tried one of the ñoquis and announced they were ready, he drained them, put them in individual bowls and then poured the meat salsa over the top. We sat down, clinked glasses and I tasted his ñoquis. Similar to eating a piece of Ron’s home made German Chocolate cake, I will never again be able to order ñoquis in a restaurant, when they are made fresh like that, they are HEAVEN, just an excellent meal.
Saturday July 13th, 2002 – Alberto called me again and asked if I wanted to go over to his apartment again for lunch, food?? Are you kidding? I went over to his apartment and he apologized but that he recently started two different waiter jobs and he had been so busy that he hadn’t had time to go grocery shopping. I told him that was no problem and I’d be happy to go shopping with him. In our house, Ron does all of the grocery shopping because I just don’t have the patience to stand in the long lines. I had the impression that since the devaluation, prices really haven’t gone up, in the restaurants prices are the same as they were before the devaluation. However, as we walked around Alberto kept sighing, groaning and rolling his eyes, I asked him what was wrong and he responded that every time he goes shopping the prices have gone up. I asked him about this and he said that cooking oil used to cost $1 peso before the devaluation, and now it was $3. Flour had also gone from 49 centavos for a ½ kilo to $1.29. When you look at that way, prices for food staples had tripled. I still think this is extortion, they seem to raise the prices on things that people can’t do without like milk, eggs, flour and oil. None of these things are imported, so why should the price go up? Alberto went to buy razor blades, which are imported, and they now cost $12 pesos, he groaned at looking at the price, but you can’t do without shaving. He told me that he buys only what is absolutely necessary, no special indulgences. He then stopped and picked up a big jar of “dulce de leche”. Dulce de leche is a sweet caramel sauce made by cooking down milk, it is an Argentine staple and they put it on EVERYTHING. If you asked for it on a steak at a restaurant, I doubt they would blink an eye before plopping a big dollop on your steak. Anyways, I said to Alberto, “I thought you said you can buy only what is necessary, no special treats?” Alberto said, “Dulce de leche IS NECESSARY!” I thought this was pretty funny.
He then picked up a package of some kind of organ meat and asked me if I liked riñons. I didn’t know what riñons were and I asked Alberto what they were, he said, “They’re riñons!” I told him I like everything so I’m sure I’d like them. When he paid for the groceries he used his credit card, the “coralito” is still on where the government has forced the banks to freeze accounts so people can’t draw money out. It is legal, however, to pay with a debit or credit card and you can pay your bills directly from your account, you just can’t withdrawal cash. I noticed that Alberto had to show a picture ID with his credit card. I asked him about this and he said that because there’s been so much credit card fraud here that it’s required to show a picture ID. Our credit cards charge us an international purchase fee so we avoid using them, we pay cash for everything.
We got back to his apartment and I looked up riñons in the English – Spanish dictionary Alberto had, riñons are kidneys. Oooops! I told Alberto I love everything, I wasn’t really looking forward to lunch then. Alberto put on his apron and started making lunch as we conversed in Spanish, his crazy dog Eva continually running in and out, giving me a soggy tennis ball to throw for her. We sat down for lunch and it was wonderful. The riñons weren’t like the VERY strong kidneys I’ve had before. It had a kidney taste, but very mild and wonderful. I asked Alberto if they were cow kidneys, lamb kidneys, or what, but he wasn’t sure.
Wednesday July 17th, 2002 – When I had been at Alberto’s the other day I noticed a bicycle store. Ron and I have been wanting to buy some bicycles for awhile and I wanted to stop and see how much they were. Alberto said that the owner of the store builds the bikes, so if you have any problems with it, he can take care of it, as opposed to an imported bike where it might be more difficult to repair. Ron and I took the bus over to Alberto’s neighborhood to look at the bikes but Ron wasn’t to impressed with the quality of the frames and gears. We took another bus to another bike store we had been previously to several months ago. Of course we got there around 1 pm and the store was closed for lunch. A sign on the door said that it would reopen at 3 pm. We decided to spend the time having our own lunch so we found a nice restaurant, ordered some steaks, “jugoso por favor” (rare), papa fritas, ensalad mixta and a bottle of red wine. What a great way to spend a few hours!
This was on our steak, it means, "I am juicy!"
After lunch we went back to the store and talked with the owner about buying some bikes. The imported ones were high in price, but they had some Argentine manufactured frames with Japanese brakes and gears. I asked if there was a discount for buying two and they asked if we were going to pay in cash. Originally they wanted 450 pesos per bike, but with 2 they would be 380 each. I then bought a helmet for 80 pesos, some bike gloves and some chains and locks. It all came to about 980 pesos which was only about $280 USA dollars. Not bad for two nice bikes, in the USA they would have cost around $500 each.
Thursday July 18th, 2002 – A friend of ours from the gym was in an Oscar Wilde play, “The Ideal Husband” at the British Cultural Center. They perform plays in English with Spanish subtitles. Ron and I love theater but we haven’t been going because our lack of Spanish skills. The play was quite good and we enjoyed it immensely. On the nice stroll home Ron mentioned how much he missed seeing live theatre.
Saturday July 21st, 2002 – Took our bicycles out for our first bike ride. I didn’t want to ride in the street because the drivers are so crazy here, so we stuck to the sidewalks. Unfortunately this isn’t a very “bike or wheel chair friendly” city and there are very few sloped ramps at the curbs, so we did a lot of stopping and hopping the curbs. We bicycled out by the domestic airport along the coast of the river.
This is along the river "La Plata"
Since it was the weekend, lots of families were out enjoying the fresh air. There were numerous parrilla grills setup along the street grilling chori-pan sausage sandwiches. They smelled heavenly but we didn’t bring any money with us so we just had to keep bicycling. We’ll be sure to bring some money next time. There are many of these asado grilling stands along the street and it’s funny to see all sorts of people stopping to enjoy some lunch, from parents with their children in strollers to business men in suits. This being Argentina, there were bottles of wine setup along with the condiments, apparently you can order a glass or a whole bottle of wine to enjoy with your lunch.
We went over to Gary and Colleens to go out for dinner. Today was “Friends Day”, something like “Valentine’s Day” but for friends instead of couples. Argentines usually have very long term friends that they’ve known throughout their lives so this is a special time to get together with them. The restaurants are always all packed on “Friends Day”.
Gary greeted us by making some of his famous margaritas, then they sprung the news on us. Gary got a big promotion and they would be moving. Awwwwww! These things are always so bitter sweet, you’re happy for them and the promotion, but they’re going to be moving away. Up to then Gary thought his job here might extend his assignment another two years. Gary and Colleen have lived in some really interesting places, Jakarta, Bali, etc. We asked them, where are you going next? Gary said, “New Jersey!”, and we shout back, “New Jersey?!?!?!?! I’m so sorry to hear that!” Gary and Colleen are Australian and this will be their first time living in the USA, so they were excited about it. I just hoped we didn’t scare them with the horrified looks we had on our faces when we thought about being assigned to New Jersey!
We then started saying how much we were going to miss them and we had to jump up and get going to dinner before Ron got all mushy on us!
Monday July 22nd, 2002 – Our realtor Olga had returned to New York to handle some business there so she had a friend of hers show us an apartment while she was gone. The apartment was nice enough, but right on Avenue Santa Fe which is a very busy, very noisy street. I opened the balcony doors and couldn’t believe how loud it was, the realtor said, “It’s very quiet with the doors closed!” but I told her that I liked the windows opened all year long. To top it off there was a supermarket next to the apartment and the windows that were on that side of the apartment overlooked the roof of the supermarket, this wasn’t so bad but there were some air conditioners on the roof that sounded like jet engines. I pointed that out and the realtor said, “The store closes at 8pm and then it’s quieter!” Thanks, but no thanks.
We got back to our nice quiet apartment and I noticed that the sun is getting higher in the sky every day with the approach of summer and this is the first day that the sun was high enough to clear the building across our courtyard, sun was streaming into the living room and the cats were taking full advantage of the warm sun by sprawling out on the carpet and taking a snooze.
Wednesday July 24th, 2002 – Ron’s Bday! We went to the Abastos shopping center to try and find a gift for Gary and Colleen’s going away gift. I also wanted to buy some new shirts. It’s really hard for me to find shirt styles that I like here as I like really loud and colorful shirts and they’re just hard to find here. Because of this I haven’t purchased many clothes but we’ve been here almost two years and I was in desperate need of some new clothes.
We were walking to the shopping center when I saw a line of about 60 men, they were all nicely dressed in coats and ties and they all had a portfolio with them. I guessed that they were waiting in line for a job interview. I told Ron, “I want to see where this line begins.” We followed the line and it started in front of a café and a hair salon. I just couldn’t believe that 60 men would line up for a job in a café or a hair salon. I looked to see if there was an office above the stores, maybe a lawyers office or something, but I didn’t see anything. Signs of how bad it is here to get a job. I thought to myself, if I had to get at the end of that line, I would just feel terrible.
At the shopping center Ron wanted to go into a cooking store to find a tea bell and I told him I was going to check out a clothing store and meet him back outside the cooking store. I didn’t find anything I liked, no surprise there, but when I came back to the cooking store I saw Ron doing some pantomime in front of a store clerk, he looked like he was weighting himself and then making some hand motions. I couldn’t figure out what he was asking for but I continued to watch him as he did his charades. He finally bought something and came out of the store and I said, “What were you asking for?” and he said that he was trying to buy a scale, but one for weighing cooking ingredients, not one to weigh himself on.
For Ron’s birthday we invited Gary and Colleen out to dinner. Turned out Colleen’s birthday was the following day so it was yet another excuse to go out for dinner.
A friend of ours, Diego, recommended a nice restaurant that was close to our house. The restaurant was quite small, but the food was fantastic. Unfortunately, a group of 7 men that I guess were businessmen came in and sat down next to us, one man sat at the head of the table and proceeded to take out a cigar and light it up. The staff said nothing to him, I thought, “What an ass, to light up a cigar in a small restaurant!” I figured he was probably someone “important” as nobody said anything to him, but I did look around and see other patrons were as annoyed as we were. This kind of put a damper on the rest of the meal as all we wanted to do was get out of there and get some fresh air.
Friday July 26th, 2002 – The 50th anniversary of Evita Peron’s death.
Carolyn and Richard threw a going away party for Gary and Colleen. We enjoyed cocktails and appetizers and later a few folks got up to say a few words about them and it was very sweet. Gary threatened to make everyone pay their margarita bill before they left!
What a great bunch of people!
A lot of people were leaving at a respectable time and I wondered if we should leave also, but we’ve never been one to leave early! Usually we’re the first to arrive and the last to leave. Carolyn asked if we wanted a drink and Richard said he was making “Rusty Nails”. I haven’t had a Rusty Nail in years so of course we said, “SURE!” We were having a good time when Richard asked, “Anyone for another Rusty Nail?”, “SURE!”
Around 2 am we staggered out to get Andrew a cab, Richard said he wanted to make sure that we stuffed Andrew into a safe taxi as Andrew (and the rest of us) were feeling no pain. Carolyn and Richard have a really nice apartment that is right next to the “Design Center” a trendy mall. Richard was joking that this is where the hookers hang out and sure enough as we stood on the corner talking, waiting for a cab, I looked at the corner café and there through the windows the café was filled with call girls. A SUV drove by with 4 guys in it and the driver just honked his horn and some girls came out to greet him, classy guys!
Richard spied a cab that looked good and we flagged him down, stuffed Andrew in the back and waved him goodnight. Ron and I had a nice walk home without getting further offers for some companionship.
Sunday July 28th, 2002 – Alberto called and said that there was an Evita exhibit going on to commemorate the 50th anniversary of her death and asked if we wanted to go to it. Sounded like a great idea. It was a beautiful winter day as we walked to Plaza Italia.
There were huge posters on the outside of the library where the exhibit was held, along with a train car that was like the one the Peron’s used to campaign in.
The inside of the exhibit had lots of memorabilia but it wasn’t laid out very well and not that informative, still it was fun to be there.
By then it was after 1pm and our stomachs were growling so we had lunch in an outside restaurant, boy it was a great day.
Next Alberto said that there was another exhibit of Tato Bores, a political, comedic, commentator who would interview politicians while eating a dinner of spaghetti. This exhibit was huge with lots of pictures of famous people he had interviewed, a large projection display showing his interviews with the previous president Menem, a huge display of a bowl of spaghetti, his trade mark, etc. The exhibit was packed and it was fun to watch people’s faces as they looked at things, and “Ooohhhed and Aaaahhhhed, and I remember that show!” kind of recognition.
This was an art display next to the Tato exhibit, just some crazy art, but I loved it!
After all the walking and looking, we decided to stop and have a beer in the Recoleta cemetery touristy area. This is a favorite place to go when you want to feel like you’re on vacation. We stopped, sat in an outside patio and ordered a picture of beer, Alberto asking for several options to make sure we were getting the best deal. After our long day, the beer tasted great but we all started yawning like crazy.
Monday July 29th, 2002 – Colleen and Gary moved to New Jersey yesterday and she asked if we wanted the stuff from their fridge. Never to be wasteful we took a taxi over to their apartment for one last visit. Emma, their maid and nanny was there to let us in. It was amazing to see the apartment empty of all of Gary and Colleen’s belongings. A house is not a home until you put your things in it and make it yours. We cleaned out their fridge of jars of sauces and condiments, things you use just a little of and seem to last forever in the fridge. There was also a big bag of light bulbs, apparently it is very common in Argentina to remove all the light bulbs when you leave a house and Gary told us when they moved in there wasn’t a single light bulb in the entire house and he was damn sure not going to leave a single light bulb in the apartment when he left. We asked Emma if she was excited to go to the USA, Gary and Colleen offered her a job in the USA to keep taking care of their two boys. Jobs being hard to obtain, she agreed, even though she has children in Peru. She had come to Buenos Aires to find work and now she was going to the USA. We talked with her in Spanish about it, she didn’t seem to be WOWED about going to the USA, as I thought she might, I just got the impression she was glad to have a job and an income no matter where it was.
Wednesday July 31st, 2002 – My friends Dee and Thomas have been studying Spanish with a teacher who goes to Dee’s apartment. I’ve been wanting to go back to Berlitz to startup our Spanish classes again, but Ron or I always seems to get sick whenever we plan to go to the office. A little Freudian psychology going on there. I asked Dee if we could join her to see what her Spanish teacher is like and of course she said, “Sure!”.
Ron was trying to find the best bus to take to Dee’s, she’s not far from us, but in the morning one always runs a little late and I didn’t want to walk there and arrive all sweaty. Ron was studying the guia bus guide and couldn’t find a bus that goes near Dee’s apartment. This is quite weird as the buses here go everywhere, Dee appeared to be in some kind of bus route black hole. Someone living near her probably pissed off whoever creates the bus routes. We took a bus that dropped us off 7 blocks from her apartment.
Dee is dating an Argentine man and he helped her find a large furnished, one bedroom apartment for $450 pesos a month, or at the current exchange rate about $125 USA. It’s in a nice neighborhood (with the exception of no close bus routes). We arrived and were introduced to the Spanish teacher, Elizabeth. Elizabeth said that normally she gives us a written test to evaluate our Spanish skills, but since we just “popped in” that she would just have us both tell her something about ourselves in Spanish. We both did our best to talk about ourselves, etc. I could see Dee and Thomas both snickering as we stumbled out our phrases. She then went on with the lesson. Starting with any new teacher is like going out on a date, you have to see if you like the person, how they work, how they teach, if they’re “right” for you. Elizabeth wanted us as students, so she’s willing to do anything we wanted, however, I want an instructor with a lesson plan, something they make you go through. We’ll see how it works out.
I was asking Thomas if he knew of any good clothing stores as I really need to buy some new clothes. There is a shopping mall near Dee’s apartment called Palermo Alto so we all went there after the class to go looking for something to buy. I really hate shopping and didn’t find anything I liked, which is not very surprising.