Monday, April 14, 2008

In Which I Preach About Why You Gotta Write This Stuff Down

The Spouse found the following two emails I wrote about our time in Argentina. I had totally forgotten these details. Gotta write this shit down!

Okay, so I'm here. The flight was okay, and by that, I mean just okay. The Baboo [who was about 16 months old] did fairly well, but wanted to sleep ON me. And she was extremely vexed by the 45-minute delay and SCREAMED at the gate area until everyone stared at me like I was Cathy Bush (for you non-Floridians, this is the woman who slowly poisoned her child to get attention, which, I confess, in my weaker moments, has crossed my own mind). But she did mostly sleep and was mostly cheerful and mostly sat in her car seat like a champ. I don't know if I could expect much more for her age and this length of flight.

We arrived at something like 8:00 a.m., and I had a car seat and this back pack for her and her carry on and she's in the backpack banging me on the head with her cast [she had broken her arm two days before this trip] while I'm waiting to go through Immigration. At one point, she whomped me really hard, so I, in a very mature move, whomped her back with our passports (over my head and blindly), so she begins to SCREAM again, heads turn, and an airport official suddenly appears, takes my cart o' car seat and giant Laa-Laa, and says, "Come with me." I think, "Great, I'm being taken away for child abuse," but she was taking me instead to the crew line, which had no one in it. A nice treat.

Then, after I have to shove the business men out of the way to gather my luggage, and hoist it, over their empty carts, to my cart because they won't move or help me (I'm still wearing the Baboo in the backpack), I got all the way to the hotel before I remembered that I never collected my stroller. The Spouse volunteered to go by himself at 6:00 in the morning the next day to fetch it, and you can't really use it here anyhow because the sidewalks are all uneven and under repair, but that's another story. Plus you roll over a pile of crap (dog crap, that is) about every 10 yards or so. In this way, the city does resemble Paris.

The Spouse collected me, and we drove into town. We spent the rest of that first afternoon looking at apartments and, I must say, this is a very cool town. He really lowered my expectations, but it has lovely architecture in more places than I thought I'd find it.

I also found a very lovely mall already, and lots of adorable kids' clothes.

We have narrowed the apartment search to two, both of which are quite nice and both on Montevideo, the street where the newly elected president is living. So now there are the equivalent of Secret Service guys and police dogs in front of his place!

One apartment is decorated in a sort of SE Asian motif, but not really. It looks out over the Vatican embassy's gardens, which we are told, are lit at night. It has a really nice kitchen and a little porch sort of sunroof place to sit outside and enjoy your paper and coffee. My biggest concern about this is that the windows open into nothing and my mountain goat could learn to climb out and fall -- so we must be vigilant and keep certain windows and doors locked. [This is the apartment we ended up renting.]

The second place is on the first floor (which is really the second floor, over the parking garage), so it has a sort of private garden, which is mostly Astroturf, but some plants, and it would be a good place to store toys and kid stuff. It is newly painted and very charming -- so we'll see.

We are still hot in negotiations trying to get the agents and owners to come down in price, with modest success.

I walked, in the rain, with the stroller and an umbrella, to see this apartment, and I'm here to tell you that you just can't go to the store or the cleaners. I have to put Baboo in the stroller or the backpack and then carry my purchases --we may have to consider using a babysitter more often because I can't do this every time.

I understand you can get groceries delivered, but taking the child out in the rain was bad -- not so much because she minded (it wasn't really cold), but because I got such awful looks from people for doing it. She had removed her new shoes and socks while I was crossing the 9 de Julio (the world's widest street -- I am not making this up. In places, I swear it is 10 lanes in each direction). So her little legs are bare and wet and dangling. Earlier today I had her in the backpack and was walking down the Calle Florida, and some woman stopped to tell me that the water from my umbrella was running onto my child. So that didn't work. Plus she gets heavy in that thing, and, for at least 2 more weeks, she's seriously armed and dangerous with the cast!

Last evening I took her to a little park near our hotel, and we swung on the swings, and she loved that. Plus everyone has a dog -- she thinks that is totally great. We have met lots of cool dogs.

I did take her to see the Casa Rosada this morning. You enter the Plaza de Mayo, and there it is at the end, and all you want to do is sing "I want to tell the people of Argentina . . ." You CAN'T help it. So I walked closer, because the building seemed a bit hazy, and I realize that it is covered with a scrim with the façade painted on it because the actual building is being worked on! What a hoot. So we bought some bird seed and fed the pigeons.

Our hotel room is tiny and very European, but the continental breakfast is included and the staff seem very patient with us and our screaming child.

Everywhere you go you can get empanadas (filled with delicious chicken and other goodies) or these tortas which are filled with spinach or ham and cheese. We haven't had a chance to get adventurous with food because the Baboo really restricts us. We do find highchairs in restaurants -- they just aren't out, but the staff always offers to get us one. I often just use the stroller, though.

The plumbing seems to be part of the family atmosphere here, by which I mean that the bowel habits of all of the guests are common knowledge through a series of echoing pipes and drains. The lady in the next room needs a little more fiber in her diet, and we are tempted to slip a note reading "eat more cabbage" under her door, but don't know how to say cabbage yet in Spanish.

This is more of a meat-lovers sort of place. Even the vegetarian place serves steaks. We try to follow the habit of getting some sort of green vegetable each day. The man upstairs has no trouble getting things to move. Could he be the one with the coffee and the cigarette we see in the bar in the mornings running back up to his room (clutching his free newspaper) as soon as he's finished?

All in all, it does feel European -- you just can't quite figure out what city in Europe. The parks have huge shade trees (I don't know what some of them are), and there are plenty of them. The ice cream is supposed to be really good (I haven't had any yet, if you can believe that). The steaks really are good and cheap. There are sidewalk cafes with officious waiters and napkins fabricated inexplicably of wax paper. They absorb nothing.

The Baboo really makes this sort of travel a completely different experience from our last overseas jaunts as she really likes hotel rooms and doesn't like meeting strangers (even if they are telling her how "hermosa" she is). She gets bored and fried fast and doesn't understand what's going on and throws worldclass tantrums in restaurants and taxis and potential apartments . . . and I can't get away from her. In the past, when travel started to get weary, I'd go sit in a cafe and have a drink and write postcards, but that's not an option here.

We did find Teletubbies (pronounced Tele-Toob-ies, and yes, they dub the cooing too so Tinky Winky is extra annoying now and Dipsy is vaguely malevolent) and there's the Sony channel which features just about any American show you'd want (with the possible exception of Law and Order), so I get small breaks by watching some tv -- and since the English-language shows have Spanish subtitles, it really helps me with my Spanish.

There are some Teletoobie knockoffs in the stores, and they look sort of like the real ones only with an extra chromosome and a prosthetic piece of aluminum foil taped to their middle.

The accent is amazing. Anything with the ll or y or j is pronounced zh, so calle is cazhe. When I say Baboo se cayo de la silla, I have to say cai-zho de la si-zha. Very odd. And even ads use this pronunciation! I find it incredible, but they all do it! It's like hearing small schoolchildren in Australia all speaking with an Australian accent -- incredible!

One constant source of amazement is the traffic. Lanes are marked, but locals tell us that these markings were made by some anal-retentive traffic engineer and the driving public cannot expect to be so restricted. Even when there is nobody on the road, they will straddle the lane markings and zoom hell-for-leather through the darkened streets of the Argentine capital. At red lights, if you are behind someone, and there is room beside him in between the car in front and the guy in the next lane, why, you just go right on up there and when the light turns green things will sort themselves out.

The taxi drivers are all maniacs, but, we observe, in contradistinction to the United States, none of them seem to have been born in Nepal or Oman or Gabon or wherever and none of them are named Singh, although a sort of dark sweatiness seems to be a common element the world over. We were somewhat alarmed and confused when our driver crossed himself and kissed his rosary as he took to the freeway on-ramp. I am serious about this. He really did this as a precursor to merging.

Well, the Baboo calls -- more later. We really like our adventure here and miss you all. Hasta luego.

Some of that is too funny for me to believe that I wrote it. Surely I stole it from something The Spouse wrote to me.

What follows now is from our first Christmas in Argentina, 1999.

We had a lovely evening last night (Christmas Eve or Noche Buena) as one of The Spouse's colleagues invited us to join his family.

This is Alejandro -- he invited us to the BBQ a few weeks ago, and, in fact, is the only one from The Spouse's office to invite us anywhere. His wife is Alejandra (no joke). They both speak English and have four children: the oldest is 15 and the youngest is 3.

They live is a suburb called Acassuso which is positively delightful and very Swiss looking. If we were to ever buy a house here, we'd look for one there, although bank loans for houses here don't seem as generous as at home -- Alejandro said he borrowed $80,000 to put toward this house and paid it off in 2 years! I don't know how much they put down.

Anyhow, he said to come over any time after 3:00 p.m., so we had a car pick us up at 6:00. The 3-year-old met us at the door (Adele), still wet from the pool, and insisted on giving me big hugs and kisses. Then she and the Baboo were off to the garden.

It's a great backyard with a small pool (fenced), a German Shepherd (Kissi), a club house with chairs and everything, a swing, two patio areas, a ping-pong table, two parillas (BBQ pits), and lots of flowers and grass and trees. It's a perfect place for kids. We even saw a hummingbird.

The little girls ran around and played with toys and dolls and the dog. Alejandra brought them ham and cheese sandwiches and deviled eggs filled with paté -- which Baboo gobbled up!

Around 8:00 or 9:00 the rest of the family showed up: Both of Alejandro's parents came, but separately as they are long divorced (but friendly), two sisters and their spouses and kids, and a priest.

One of the brother-in-laws is a vet and had happened to adopt one of Kissi's puppies, and because the puppy was (supposedly) scared of loud noises, they brought him along for a family reunion. He was the fuzziest Shepherd puppy (about 5 months) with funny floppy ears, and he and his mom ran and wrestled and chewed on each other all night. They had a great time.

By this time the Baboo faded and was put to bed in one of the children's rooms, but Santa showed up and distributed toys and gifts to all assembled.

By the time I returned, Santa was back in his civvies, and it was time for dinner. Which was sort of odd. Some of it was quite delicious and some was positively inedible. There was the following:

1. Slices of very lean ham (almost like a Canadian bacon) with pineapple and a sauce.

2. More deviled eggs with paté

3. Tomatoes filled with a ham mixture (very good) (featured MAYO)

4. A seafood salad with hearts of palm and K-R-A-B (also very good) (featured MAYO)

5. Slices of a beef product covered with a thin layer of MAYO and garnished with capers. Turned out to be, God help me, tongue!

6. A mystery meat in aspic that was served with a pickled onion relish and mustard (presumable to disguise the taste?). All we kept thinking was "50% less rectum!"

7. Octopus. I'm a coward. I refused to even try.

8. Some sort of mystery layered dish that I guess I would describe as a terrine? It involved lots of MAYO. I took a bite, but was convinced I encountered mini marshmallows, so I abandoned that effort.

And of course rolls and champagne and beer and sodas.

Desserts included three or four frozen mousse-type dishes (I recognized strawberry and dulce de leche). I brought a cake that had a base of meringue topped with two different types of chocolate mousse -- of course I bought it, and here, you buy cakes by the kilo. Very odd. But wonderful. There was also another meringue-type dessert that had a dulce de leche sauce. It was very good, too.

And then Alejandro brought out the fireworks! In fact, the whole neighborhood brought out fireworks. It made the whole evening -- with the lovely weather and eating outside -- feel like the 4th of July. He started with sparklers for all the kids, but they were GOOD sparklers that changed color from yellow to red to green to white as they burned down.

Then they shot off rockets. Car alarms were going off and stray rockets were landing in the neighbor's yard and the sky was filled with professional looking fireworks. It was like Beruit. Or Miami. Actually, it was fun, and no one got their eyes put out or their fingers blown off.

We got a ride home from the vet (who was also dropping off the priest) at about 1:30 a.m.

This morning we woke up around 9:00 a.m. and gave the Baboo all her presents to open. She figured it out pretty quickly, and decided this was a good plan.

Then we walked around the corner to the Hyatt and enjoyed their breakfast buffet. Scrambled eggs, bacon, french toast or pancakes, fresh squeezed juice, coffee, fruit, pastries. It was the best Christmas present ever. We may go back for the brunch later . . . well, certainly for New Year's.

Now it's nap time. I've never heard the city quieter. I understand it should stay this way for several more weeks as everyone flees for their summer vacations. it's really nice. And The Spouse soaked his ankle [I have NO idea what this was about] in hot water and hot towels yesterday -- today it is feeling much better. I'm glad he has three days to baby it before he has to walk to work on Monday. He should make a complete recovery.

Hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas! Keep those e-mails coming. It's a treat to hear from you.


The Expatresse


worthy said...

Oh sigh... I remember when Baboo fell of the kitchen chair and broke her little arm. Poor little thing. And when I came to Buenos Aires to visit and you were so pregnant with the one who would be Isabel and Baboo was learning her letters and we'd push her in the stroller and go to Bullfinch's for supper and feed her empanadas and put her on the carousel for a ride. How she loved that. And the view from your balcony into the garden of the Vatican Embassy was fabulous.

What a lovely city with that huge park adjacent to the cemetery and the stray cats. I remember there was an aluminum tray of a moutain of bare spaghetti left outside the cemetery for the cats. Baboo watched them disappear behind those huge grave markers and family mausoleums!

And the Japanese garden with the koi which looked like they had come from another planet in their orange and black spotted enormity!

And 40 kinds of dulce de leche icecream!

The tango night was amazing and the switchblade legs of the dancers and the Piazzola music with its discordant melodies and dissonnance. And visiting that tango club in the basement of that huge community center where elegant old men danced with young women to the scratchy recordings and everyone moved harmoniously around the floor, all strangers who wanted merely to dance.

I have so many vivid memories of the week I spent there with you and the spouse and the Baboo. And I am so lucky to have gotten to visit you all there. It is European in an oddly unrecognizable city... Sort of like Paris but not quite, Rome but the wrong colors, Swiss like parks but not clean enough...a very strangely haunting deja vu sort of place.

And visiting the Plaza de Mayo where the mothers had a little table selling calendars and other memorabilia to help support their cause. It was very touching to be there and remember all of the disappeared and the horror that Argentina had known during the military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983.

My dear Ex-pat Argentine friends Naucunan and Elsa had walked the same streets in Recoleta before his murder, the country of his birth and life before he'd emigrated to the US and she to Italy. I felt as if I was gaining some little bit of insight into his and Elsa's world view by being there if only for that fleeting visit.

Sitting with you in that hotel cafe eating media lunas and drinking fabulous cafe con leche and you sipping your submarinos...the chocolate bar dissolved in a glass of warm milk...the ones your doctor suggested you should forsake to "stay above the water" as you were gaining weight more rapidly than he wanted with Isabel...

YOU were really radiant then in your red and white print dress, rosy cheeked and golden haired pushing that blue eyed baby in the stroller, like Lorca said, the "red carnation amidst the corn" and telling me all about the magical city which had become your home, so very far away from Ohio...xov

Anonymous said...

hi from Penny
.. reading these posts makes me want to travel again..
what a pity to be in such a small place now..
Met Janet and Jerome.. it helps to meet foreigners, but it s not the same when everybody else aorund is just locals.. I d like to leave soon but my boyfriend is a deep rooted Slovak :) Hard time to convince him that the world out there is interesting and various.. Slovakia seems to beat all for him, his favourite food, his friends and family.. but I dont belong here ..

Today is a warm day, but grey and cloudy.. and what do you do on such days in Bratislava..? Slovaks would go to Aupark, what an exciting perpective :)
Enjoy Moscow, I could sit in the metro and watch people for hours , it cant get boring..
Yesterday I met a couple from Brooklyn, they say the energy in NY is amazing, everybody is moving and you get energy from the mass of people by just standing in the crowd..
Thanks for listening to my interior monologue.. :)
Did the Spouse got the pack I sent you..?
Let us know how you ll get on this summer, when the heat will come.. any B plan? Dacha or escape in the nature..?

Pekny den! Poka!

Penny Lane

Anonymous said...

Hi Amanda - I know you will remember the one whose kitchen chair joggled your little one and caused her and you so much misery... And then Jack added insult to injury by being of no help whatsoever at the Doctor's office. Kelly just led me to your blog, where I found pictures of lovely Babu - she's grown into such a beautiful girl!! Both your girls are stunning - it must be something in the water - or limonade.
It's so nice to read what you're up to. We've moved back to my hometown in Massachusetts (bold of me), and have found great happiness in New England - the changing seasons, the many young families, etc....I'm writing again and my brain age has dropped dramatically as a result, which is nice. When I start my blog I'll send you the link. In the meantime, I'll enjoy catching up reading your entries.

Best Amanda,
Your friend, Lynne (Hendricks) Wiehe

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