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July 2004

New Art by Luis Niveiro!

Tuesday July 3rd, 2004 – We’re in the process of obtaining legal residency status here, not to become a citizen, but just to become legal residents.  I would never give up my USA citizenship.  Even though for the last 30 years Argentina has had an open policy on tourists living here, as long as they leave the country every 90 days to renew their tourist visa, Ron was concerned that with increasing world security problems, that Argentina might change the laws and not allow us to reenter the country. 

So at every social event, we would tell everyone around us that we were trying to obtain residency, with the hope that someone would say, “Oh, my cousin works in immigration, for 500 pesos, he’ll get the proper stamps!”  Well, finally, at one party we were at, sure enough, a very sweet woman, Alejandra, said, “I have a good friend who’s an immigration lawyer, I’ll give you his name.”  We contacted them and they were very pleasant and offered to help us for a reasonable set fee because we’re good friends with Alejandra.  I didn’t tell them we just met her! 

Part of the process required by immigration is to get a chest X-Ray, I guess to check for tuberculosis.  Ron and I headed off to the hospital to obtain the Xray.  On the way I saw this very cute sign that someone had strung across the road.

It roughly translates into “My Yani, Happy Birthday!  You are my air, my sun, my soul, my breath, I exist because you are there, I love you, your Fabio!" I melted.  How romantic is that??.  When I took photos, several people were watching me, with grins on their faces bigger then mine.  I love it here.

July 7th, 2004 – I belong to a Yahoo group for expatriates who live in Bs.As.  It’s an extremely helpful list for newbies who have questions on anything from how to find a good doctor to where to find (or make your own) peanut butter.  In case you’re interested the group is

I love this group, when we first arrived, Colleen was the “answer Goddess”, she had been here almost 5 years and knew EVERYTHING about Argentina, where to find anything, what to substitute in recipes, where to find fresh basil, EVERYTHING!!.

Someone recently posted a message on what things cost here, and what it would cost to live here comfortably.  This got my wheels cranking and I thought I would give my experience on what it costs to live here at this point and time in history.

Like any city in the world, prices vary by neighborhood and "tu cara", (your face) and how you dress, believe me, once I open my mouth to speak, prices go UP.  People even look at my clothes and start speaking to me in English before I ever open my mouth.  Argentine friends groan when I tell them what I pay for things.  An Argentine friend of mine spit wine across the table when I told her what I paid for our dining room light! 

Ron and I, in my opinion, are both frugal, by frugal I mean we watch what we spend money on, compare prices and look for values, we spend money on things that matter to us, like sushi and vacations.  We don't have a car, you don't really need one if you live in the city, buses here are cheap, safe and fast, taxis are EVERYWHERE and very cheap also.  The subway is also cheap, safe and faster then buses, but there are only 5 lines so it doesn't cover the city really well like in Paris.  Another thing to remember is Argentines are VERY frugal, they will act like you're ripping their heart out no matter what they charge, it seems to be part of their national heritage, to get the most money from anyone they can and avoid paying any taxes, it's not that you're a foreigner, they do the same thing to their brother or sister, (Please no offense to my Argentine friends, but I think you will agree this stereotype is true!)

That said, just to give you some numbers, here's some info from our Excel budget (That's Ron's job, I just spend it, he tracks it)

Like anywhere bargains can be found, we happen to live in an expensive part of the city so you have to search or travel further for real bargains.  Basmati rice for 22 pesos a box is NOT an option for me, it's a necessity, I could NOT LIVE without it.  For me, trying to budget myself, I always want to budget on the high end, so that if I can get things cheaper, I have money left over, instead of budgeting for something lower and then not being able to find things that inexpensively.  That's why I quoted the clothes prices as what you see in the stores on Sante Fe, that's "regular" store prices, not discount prices. 

I was surprised myself when I was looking at Ron's spreadsheet and I saw how much we spend on groceries, many of my friends don't earn 700 pesos a month at their jobs, and that's what we're spending on groceries alone!

Pete’s List for What things Cost in Buenos Aires / Circa July 2004

Everything below is in pesos, to get USA dollar amounts, for this date and time divide all figures by 2.90, to check on current exchange rates.

  • Prices are going up, but I think you can still get a nice modest 1 bedroom in a good part of town for 1,000 pesos a month.  An Argentine friend negotiated a 5 year lease for 800 pesos a month on a HUGE 2 bedroom apartment, in fantastic shape in a great, safe part of the city.  I have a friend paying 250 pesos a month for a small one room studio right around the corner from us in Recoleta, but he's been there several years.
  • Of course there are still places that rent for 250 pesos a month, but usually in an undesirable part of town, again, there are always exceptions to any rule.
  • We purchased an apartment in an expensive part of town and we pay about 400 pesos a month for home owners association dues for a 125 square meter (that's about 1,200 square feet), that includes our heat, hot water, 24 hour security, a garage, garbage, and maintenance of our building.
  • My friend who lives in not such a nice part of town pays 60 pesos a month for his expenses for a small 35 square meter studio.
  • Even if you rent, you have to ask about who pays the expenses and what's included (like water, gas, heating of the apartment, etc), some owners make the renter pay them, some have it included in the rent.
  • Movies in the newest, most comfortable cinemas are 11.50 pesos for admission, 6.50 for seniors, however, there are lots of theatres showing movies that are a few months old for 4 pesos for a double feature. 
  • Food prices have been going up, but in general the cost in restaurants is pretty stable from before the crisis.  We just had dinner in our favorite neighborhood mom and pop restaurant for 55 pesos for 2 people, that included appetizers, salad, a bottle of wine, 2 entrees and a free little shot of lemon liquor (we were too stuffed to order dessert), there are lots of "fast food" parrilla places where you can get a choripan sandwich (a wonderful sausage sandwich big enough for a meal) for 1.50 pesos for lunch.
  • Lunch specials for 7-8 pesos in nice "regular" neighborhood restaurants are everywhere, this includes an entree, dessert, salad and some sort of drink, usually served on a white linen tablecloth  by someone wearing a little bow tie and crisp white shirt (Argentines have a lot of class and style).
  • Buses cost 75 to 80 centavos depending on how far you are going, they don't do transfers here so every time you need to change lines you have to pay again.  However, the bus system is great here and you usually don't have to change lines unless you're going really far.
  • Taxis start at 1.44 pesos when you sit down, a 20 minute trip to most parts of the city cost around 8 pesos.  Tipping is not expected in a cab.
  • People LOVE live entertainment here, there are cafe / restaurant / bookstore places EVERYWHERE where you might pay 5 pesos cover charge to see some live music for 1.5 - 3 hours, a great way to sit and let your late Argentine meal digest while you enjoy some music while sipping some inexpensive champagne.
  • Good red table wines in the supermarket can be found for 8-12 pesos, pay 15 and you'll be saying "OH MY GOD IS THIS GOOD!!!!"
  • Restaurants are starting to raise what they charge for wines, in the supermarket it cost 8 pesos and you'll pay 12 in the restaurant, but I still think the markup percentage is much less then what the USA does.
  • In the past, tipping in restaurants was not expected, that's rapidly changing, especially if you don't speak fluent Spanish, but 5 - 10% is considered good.
  • You can have a single cup of coffee delivered, I AM NOT making this up.  They deliver anything here, usually there is no minimum amount, you can have your groceries delivered for free so you don't have to lug them home, we usually tip the kid 1 or 2 pesos and they are very pleased.  We have our cat litter delivered as it's so heavy and the kid arrives on roller blades!
  • Don't forget private medical insurance, Ron pays 404 pesos a month, I pay 248.  However, this is at one of the private hospitals that is considered one of the best, Ron had some surgery and was in there for 4 days and we paid 6 pesos for the bottled water he drank.  There are companies that charge much less, make sure you know the deductibles you need to pay to compare different plans.  An Argentine friend pays 150 for a plan that he thinks is amazing in that they cover everything.
  • In general, prescription drugs are much less expensive here then in the USA
  • Ron had his prescription eye glasses replaced for 300 pesos (they used his old frames)
  • I had my teeth cleaned for 65 pesos
  • Some dental work was 50 pesos per tooth
  • Teeth molds to have my teeth whitened 120 pesos
  • Bleaching agent was 250 pesos
  • We paid 30 pesos each to see the violinist Joshua Bell perform at the Colón theatre, their premier opera house, Ron was in heaven.
  • Clothes are about the same "amounts" as in the USA except of course here they're in pesos, so think 35 pesos for a pair of slacks, shoes for 80 pesos, coats for 125 pesos.  There are of course discount cloth stores where you can get TShirts or gym shorts for 5 pesos or you can go to Patio Bullrich (an expensive mall) and pay 300 pesos for a silk tie.
  • 3 HUGE rib eye steaks in the supermarket are less then 9 pesos.
  • Our favorite gin is 6.99 pesos for a 750ml bottle, AND IT'S GOOD GIN!!!!!!!!  Goes great with Paseo de los Torros Pomelo lite (a grapefruit drink), try it, you'll like it, very refreshing!
  • We have sushi delivered for 56.50 pesos that is enough to stuff 2 sushi lovers and have the gyozo left over for lunch the next day.
  • "Scuzi" (a pretty good chain restaurant) delivers 2 delicious dinners with spicy toasted bread for 22 pesos.
  • "Rigolleto" (a very good yuppie restaurant) delivers full meals for 9.50 pesos including salad, bread, entree, dessert and drink.
  • "Crazy Cheese" (I love the name) is a hole in the wall place that delivers a whole rotisserie chicken for 13 pesos, it used to cost 8 pesos and you got 2 beers with it but after the crisis in 2001 you only got one beer, then no beer, then the price started going up.
  • Gas for our stove is 17 pesos every 2 months, our heat and hot water is covered in our home owners expenses
  • Fibertel cable modem service for the computer is 105 pesos every month
  • If you don't use the computer a lot, is free internet service or use the PCs at any locotorio (businesses that offer telephones, fax and copying services) for 1.50 pesos an hour.
  • Cable TV is 56 pesos a month, this is with no "pay" channels but just basic service of about 35 channels
  • Water is 69 pesos for 2 months, they don't use water meters here, it's based on the square footage of your apartment
  • Electricity 64 pesos for 2 months
  • Telephone 65 pesos every 2 months, this is for basic service and does not include long distance
  • I like to cook so we eat at home a lot, for the first 6 months of this year we've averaged 707 pesos a month for groceries for 2 people.  I must admit I don't scrimp on grocery items, we eat a lot of salmon and fish which is a little pricey here, we buy imported basmati rice for 22 pesos a box (Argentines faint when they see we paid this for a box of "rice"), brie cheeses, cheap caviar, etc.
  • 1 hour massages are 30-40 pesos (I get one a week)
  • 1 hour yoga class 10 pesos
  • I pay 580 pesos a year for a gym membership
  • Music CDs are 16-24 pesos, there are street vendors who sell illegal copies on the street for 6 pesos, but I don't like to support illegal copying of things.  These illegal vendors are totally ignored by the police, it is acceptable I guess.
  • You can buy designer rip-off underwear on the street for 3 pesos, REALLY!
  • If you buy batteries, make sure they say Duracell, NOT DuraBle, boy was I pissed on these cleverly disguised rip-offs that look identical but only last about 15 minutes (Duracell's last 6 hours)
  • Maids are very common here, I think they earn between 5 and 7.50 pesos an hour (I wouldn't know, Ron won't let me get one)  An Argentine friend gasped in disbelief when I said I didn't have a maid, she said, "They are the pillars of our society, without them we would crumble!"
  • Lots of things are imported, cameras, appliances, digital cams, watches, batteries and razors for shaving, so they will cost the same in pesos as in dollars in the USA, lots of my friends can't listen to their Walkmans anymore because they can't afford the batteries.
  • The best bet is to get some Argentine friends and ask them where they shop for things.

Sound interesting to you?  Want to live here?  We’re not here because it’s cheap, but it sure is a nice perk at the moment!

Here are some other helpful links:  Great starter page for lots of things   Colón theatre, their premier opera house  A hotel guide (not all inclusive for sure) A new website for things going on around town A newspaper for owners to sell items English newspaper Spanish paper Spanish paper

Real Estate Places

Tuesday July 10th, 2004 - Today we had to go to the immigration office to present our chest X-Rays.  We entered the large, imposing and ugly governmental immigrations building, as I looked around I could not help but picture the image in my mind of the stereotypical image of Ellis Island in New York.  Very crowded, lots of families, lots of babies, lots of lines, lots of waiting around.  I don’t mean to sound insulting, but I felt VERY out of place.  We were there with one of the lawyers, Lucas, to help us through the process. 

In all honesty the inside of the building was very clean and newly remodeled with new equipment and computers, coffee machines, and easily marked signs everywhere.

When we first tried to get into the waiting area, the guard stopped our lawyer and questioned him.  He talked with him for 30 seconds or so and then let him pass.  I asked him what the issue was and Pablo said that the guard was asking him why he was here with us, Lucas was dressed very nicely, as a lawyer usually is dressed, and they are concerned about lawyers telling immigrants that they needed a lawyer to get through the paperwork, when in reality, the process is all free, however, it’s only free and easy if you can converse with everyone around you fluently, where we cannot.  We got our number to wait and bought a coffee from the coffee machine.  I talked with Lucas about their economy, their politics, their possibilities to exceeding in the world market, things I never get tired of discussing.  I swear, every Argentine has a different view on things and how things are going to work out.  I’ll never get tired of this.

Friday July 16th, 2004 – A friend of mine from the gym, Luis, invited us over for dinner at his home.  Previously, Luis had told me that he was an artist and I asked to see his artwork, so he invited me over one day.  I was blown away, I really loved his art.  He then told me of the different exhibits that he has been in, he didn't tell me he was "famous", who'd a thunk it?

He has a wide variety of styles and also makes sculptures with antique toys which are really cool and fun.  He gave Ron a tour of his apartment, every room filled with his artwork and artwork of friends, toys, works in progress.  Then after the other guests arrived, once everyone had a glass of wine, he gave us a little show, showing us 15 or so of his paintings.  Most of them are quite large, although he has smaller canvases also.  One picture really caught my eye, but I didn’t want to say anything to him since we were in a social setting. 

We then moved to the kitchen for dinner, Luis’ apartment is odd in that there is an outside hallway that is open to the elements, to get from one room to another, you have to go outside.  This may not be so bad in summer, but the winters here can get a bit chilly.  We all scurried along the balcony to get to the kitchen as it was pretty cold that evening.  Can’t imagine having to go outside in the morning to get my first cup of coffee!

For dinner, Luis had cooked some small pumpkins and then filled them with a meat stew, a wonderful meal for winter, you could scrap up the pumpkin to eat along with the stew, very yummy.  Dessert was lemon sherbet, mixed with pieces of orange, Luis previously put the mixture into the empty hollowed out oranges and put them in the freezer, so you ate them out of the orange shells at dessert, a wonderful presentation and the sour lemon mixed with the orange flavor was a really nice combination.

Luckily we brought scarves, hats and gloves for the very brisk 20 minute walk home.

Saturday July 17th, 2004 – I talked with Ron about the painting that I liked at Luis’ and Ron agreed that it was his favorite also.  I emailed Luis to let him know we were interested in it and to ask the price.

They have an interesting holiday here called “Friends Day”, which is kind of like Valentine’s day, but for friends instead of lovers.  Most Argentines I know have life long friends, the relationships start early in their lives and continue their entire lives.  Although the official date is July 20th, Alberto invited us to a friends day lunch on Saturday because finding dinner reservations for the actual day is a pain because everything is so crowded and filled up.  We met Alberto, Gonzalo, Miguel and Eduardo in a restaurant downtown that Alberto used to work at.  The staff all remembered Alberto and were very fun with us.  We had a huge parrilla lunch of all sorts of wonderful roasted meats, lots of wine, then dessert and coffees.  We decided to skip the gym that afternoon as we could barely walk we were so full.

Sunday July 18th, 2004 – Luis emailed back with the price of the painting, Ron and I talked it over and agreed that it was a fair price.  I emailed Luis back with the good news that we’d love to have his art in our home.

Monday July 19th, 2004 – Luis delivered the painting, it looked fantastic in the house. 

The painting is large, 1.5 meters square.  We took it from room to room, seeing where it might look best.  I just propped it against the wall in the living room and stood back to admire it.

He explained that when he was running low on money, he didn't have enough money to even buy canvas, and once he was looking up a friend’s number in the phone book and discovered, FREE PAPER, he said he started painting on the paper, then cutting out the figures, this gave him the idea for his paintings.  You can see the phone numbers on the close-ups. 

Wednesday July 21st, 2004 – Ron’s birthday was the Saturday coming up and I wanted to make a liver paté to serve as an appetizer.  HINT HINT, I LOVE paté!  I have a great and simple recipe for paté but I also like to put some cognac in it, however, when you do this you really need to let the paté rest for at least 3 days, so I made it this evening.  We also thought we’d make a pasta dish for the party to simplify things.  Ron bought a pressure cooker and we tried making a few things with it, wow, those things are amazing, just 20 minutes to cook things, like a super microwave.  However, pressure cookers are a little scary the way they hiss, rattle and spit on top of the stove.  The cats were a bit freaked out by it at first.  We tried a stroganoff recipe but substituted chicken for beef, thinking that might be healthier.  I also wanted to make this ahead of time as I also thought it would get better after a few days to get the flavors melded properly.

Ron decided to make his world’s famous German Chocolate cake for his birthday cake.  I’m not a big chocolate fan, that’s Ron’s job, but my favorite cake in the world is Ron’s German Chocolate cake.  He makes it from scratch and it’s totally awesome.  Since I was cooking in the kitchen, he decided to join me and make the cake. 

When Ron pulled out the flour for the cake, I couldn’t believe the character on the package, kind of like “Aunt Jemima” from 20 years ago.  I don’t think that image, no matter how innocent, would go over well in the USA.

This is the image today of Aunt Jemima that I got off their website!

Friday July 23rd, 2004 – Ron’s birthday was the following day and we were going to have friends over for a dinner, so I asked Ron to hang the painting.  It looks great in the master bedroom and of course the nosey cats had to supervise and get under our feet.

                                                                                                                 Gratuitous Cat Shot! - Loretta

                                                                                                               The closets are all mirrored

Gratuitous Cat Shot! - Scarlett

Saturday July 24th, 2004 – Ron’s birthday, we have both been suffering with a winter cold and luckily I was feeling somewhat better.  We had some friends over and had a real nice dinner.  Russell was pissed that we didn’t tell anyone it was Ron’s birthday, but Ron didn’t want anyone to get him a gift.

                       Gonzalo,             Hernán           Adrian              Ron         Alberto            Luis
                                                             Russell                       Pete                                  Gustavo

Sunday July 25th, 2004 – A friend told us of a musical review called “Mina”.  I asked my friend who Mina was and he clutched his heart like he was going to have a heart attack and said, “You don’t know who Mina is???”  Apparently Mina is a very famous Italian singer from the 60s and 70s and a real icon here. 

We asked Felipe if he would like to go with us and Ron bought tickets for 30 pesos.  The seats were perfect, 5th row right in the center.  It was a great show and Elena Roger as Mina was fantastic.

Click here to download Mina

Tuesday July 27th, 2004 –One of the last things we needed to do in order to get our residency was to register with the police here and be fingerprinted!  I have never been finger printed in my life, so this was a new experience.  We waited outside for our other lawyer friend Pablo.  Standing outside the police station at 8 am, well….., I guess I’m getting old and opinionated but everyone looked like a criminal going inside.   Pablo arrived and we went inside, filled out a form, grabbed a number, and waited.  It wasn’t actually very long before my number was called and I went to a clerk to have my information entered into “the computer”, I was then passed onto the fingerprint guy.  He had a pad, about 6 inches square, that he was oiling with such care that it looked like he was preparing to accept the Queen of England’s fingers, he looked at my passport and started to rifle through it and ask me questions that I couldn’t understand, finally I understood him saying, “Who took your information?”, and I said “The woman at terminal six” (to add to the confusion, this is all in Spanish of course), he rose his voice and said, “Terminal 6?”  This seemed to sound very serious, I looked over to make sure, and nodded and said with renewed confidence, “Yes, terminal 6”, he looked over, scowled, and said once more, “Terminal 6”, I could say nothing but repeat, “Yes……, terminal 6”, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but it didn’t look good for the clerk at terminal 6. 

He started fingerprinting each and every one of my fingers, and then the “Terminal 6” clerk walked by, he rapid fired something incoherent (to me) to her, and she flashed a smile that could melt the polar pole ice cap, and he said, (in Spanish) “Don’t let it happen again.”

Apparently if there is not a thumb print in the passport, then you have to have a photocopy of your passport to give to the person taking the prints.  I apologized but the clerk assured me it was all the fault of the clerk at “Terminal 6” for not catching this before I proceeded to his station.  He dumped a big gob of dish washing soap into my hand for me to clean off my hands and pointed at a garbage can and a stack of paper towels, fingerprint ink is MESSY STUFF.

As we left the building I told Pablo that I have never been fingerprinted and he said that it’s mandatory here to be printed at age 16 and then again at age 21.