Day of chaos

So, yesterday was an interesting day in Buenos Aires. By 4pm, it seemed the so-called Mayan apocalpyse predicted for December 21, 2012 had hit us a couple weeks early, featuring:

  • a toxic cloud of pesticides covering the city
  • ensuing evacuation of downtown schools and offices
  • torrential rain that flooded several neighborhoods with one meter of water
  • suspended train and subway services
  • a mass robbery of a local mall
  • a bus drivers’ union strike
  • injunction of major pending law to deregulate the national media
  • a freakishly beautiful, fiery sunset (hello, pesticides)

Thursday morning I woke up late to a strange smell: something resembling green bean casserole. I remember lifting my head from the pillow thinking, Wha? Is my roommate cooking this morning? I dismissed the smell for a few more minutes of snoozing. Then when I finally decided to start my day, I checked the front page of Argentina’s largest national newspaper, Clarin, and saw that my roommate was not, in fact, cooking anything at all– a container full of pesticides in Puerto Madero was mistakenly assumed to be on fire and released a toxic pesticide cloud over the entire downtown area after firefighters tried to put out the “fire” but instead converted the powdered pesticides into a hazardous, fast-moving gas after drenching it in large amounts of water.


Apparently downtown offices and schools were evacuated and everybody got a free afternoon off (burning lungs included free of charge!). It was the typical story: the government assured the public that the cloud was not toxic while agronomic experts warned that the particular pesticide in question was actually incredibly toxic in gas form. (Yippee!) The smell ended up clearing up by mid- afternoon– just as strangely intense rains overtook the city and started to make it flood. So in less than 5 hours we went from toxic gas to overwhelming rain!

Several neighborhoods got the shit kicked out of them with water overload, and poor people had to be rescued as they tried to navigate the waist-high water. The enormous Pan American highway was entirely shut down. Fortunately I got to spend most of the day inside as Thursday is my day off from teaching, but to additionally attest to the strength of the rain, when I opened my bedroom window for two minutes, rain came in and soaked the floor, no interfering wind necessary.

And apparently shit went down in other parts of BsAs too– a local mall got stormed by 50 people who seemed to be there to rob stores, but it turns out they were protesting unfair water drainage from the mall that had flooded their settlement nearby. Plus there was a temporary strike of bus drivers AND local trains and subways were shut down, so you couldn’t get the hell out of this city even if you wanted to.

To end the day of freakish chaos, we were all rewarded with a beautiful sunset that seemed unusually sweet given the horrors of the day– and then we all remembered that it was probably due to the pesticide cloud we had been gifted earlier.

This was all hilariously and beautifully summed up by a local reporter whose weekly news summary I read every week. Adrian Bono, you make me laugh out loud every Friday, thanks.

Aah, Buenos Aires. I still love you in all your fucked-up glory.

Enlace permanente de imagen incrustada

photo courtesty of Adrian Bono

Charlie and one year of friendship!

Today my friend Charlie wrote the loveliest blog post about the day we met, which was one year ago today. Charlie and I met through a mutual Internet friend who knew I was living in Buenos Aires and that Charlie wanted to travel there. We traded emails for a few months until Charlie finally came to Buenos Aires to work on his spectacular novel. During his five months here, we lived together in the same house in San Telmo and had some absolutely fantastic days– lots of coffees, empanadas, twisted funny dark talks over alcohol, an unforgettable trip to Chile. Charlie and I hung out pretty much every day!

I felt so sad when Charlie returned to the U.S. because we spent so much time together and he had quickly became a close friend. But fortunately we still keep in touch through the magic of the Internets, and now he’s living his dream in a cornfield in Illinois, building a ridiculously tiny house on his parents’ farmland and continuing work on his novel. He is one of the sweetest, kindest people I know and I am honored that he considers me a friend.

Read the lovely words he wrote!!

It was one year ago today that I met the famous Lauren! I wrote about it here if you’d like to, like me, relive the experience. Sigh.

It’s strange. While it does feel ages ago and continents away, it feels as though it’s still happening. That somewhere in a universe I’m hailing a taxi, asking for _ _ _ Carlos Calvo, and gazing through the taxi windows as we race up packed streets and down narrower ones.

It’s a sunny day and the old buildings of San Telmo bounce the sun back to me off their worn stones. Nervous, I approach the wrought-iron door, re-checking the address, eyes darting up and down the street. I ring the bell and suddenly a voice shouts down from above. It’s a youthful looking woman–hair pulled back in a girlish ponytail–talking to me while she leans out from the terrace. I think she even says my name. She disappears in an energetic flash and soon she’s ushering me inside, receiving me with a huge hug and a kiss. This is Fer, the owner of the house.

The house seems busy, shower running in the bathroom, people talking and laughing through a closed door, more voices from the kitchen where the cleaning lady chats as she cleans.

Again, another shout from above and I just barely catch Lauren leaning out from the upstairs hallway. She races down the stairs and we quickly hug. We’d been emailing for a couple of months and now we are meeting for the first time. Lauren greets me warmly, and my nervousness falls away as I realize that somehow this is my long lost big sister. Soon Fer is giving me a tour in rapid fire español. I immediately look to Lauren for help (something that, I’m sure, became a daily occurrence for the next four months). I briefly meet Juli as she emerges from the steam of the bathroom (it won’t be until Lauren’s Thanksgiving that I properly meet everyone).

And in that still happening universe Lauren and I have an entirely too caffeinated lunch, laughing, talking, and cracking crass jokes. Later, standing on a busy corner in the now overcast light, we continue with our espresso-ed chat until a guy across the street sticks his tongue out at Lauren. She returns with her own tongue and I wonder what strange custom this is. It’s Johannes, the past and future housemate (but it won’t be until later when the Germans come back).

It’s a wonderful, welcoming day. Clearly, any anxieties about meeting an “internet friend” are gone as quickly as a dulce de leche smothered dessert.

Back in this universe, Lauren has already celebrated one year in that magical, crazy city (on September 6th). She’s working, teaching, living, and writing! And most likely speaking fluently by now. She’s my hero, my big sister (wait, I’m the older one?), and my inspiration.

While none of us–Lauren, Juli, Leentje, Lucky, Johannes, Jordan, Joanna, Max, Peter, Old Dan and Little Ann, and a few others I can no longer remember, sorry Spanish girl–reside on Carlos Calvo anymore, all of us still live in that crazy house with too much Malbec (thanks, Lucky!) in some other–and much more fantastical–universe.

All the best, mi amiga (mis amigos).

El mercado en Avenida Balcarce

I’m back in San Telmo again, living in one of my favorite neighborhoods (also the first neighborhood I lived in when I came to Buenos Aires). My roommate Ande told me about a neat market nearby that’s only open on Saturdays, so after rolling my ass out of bed at 1 p.m., I went to check it out:

This is Larguirucho, a famous cartoon character in Argentina.

The market is small but has everything: fruits and vegetables; fresh fish, meat, and eggs; cereal and beans.

cereales: Argentina makes a lot of cereal, but oddly enough, Argentines really don’t eat that much of it.

having fun at work

zukini: a Spanglization

This market is one of several traveling markets that service different neighborhoods in the city with afforadable produce and goods:

C = C       concrete = canvas

I wanted to take photos of so many moments today: the old man grilling chicken thighs on a tiny parilla in the street; kids hanging out at the kiosco; a bright red muscle car slowly turning the corner on a cobblestone street. Each snapshot in my mind is like a love letter to this city, as if one day we will turn the pages of a photo album in bed together, remembering the days the came before.

Snippet: An evening with the biddies

I come downstairs to see both tables set, the special occasion pink-orange and blue tablecloths, and now I understand the shopping list I saw on the table earlier.

“Who’s coming?” I ask Marisol, who is pulling empanadas out of the oven. She offers me a cheese one and I quickly accept. I am no fool– everything Felisa makes is delicious, especially for special occasions.

“Twenty friends from high school,” she says. Normally Marisol wears a tank top and a ponytail when she comes to clean the house, but today she wears a pretty blouse and dangling black earrings. She fusses with her hair between empanada batches. “They’ll be here from 6-8. I’m waiting to greet them.” I have never seen Marisol here on a Friday evening.

“How long will you stay?” I ask.

“Until she tells me I can go,” she replies.

Since the occasion clearly calls for beer, I go to the chino and buy a bottle of Stella and mini pizza crusts at the bakery along the way. I pour Marisol a glass; she and I have talked many times about our love for beer.

“You served me?” she asks, surprised. She shakes her head. “I can’t drink this early.”

I tilt my head toward the glass on the counter. “Bueno, I guess I’ll drink it, then…”

She grins and picks up the glass. “Well.” We hold the glasses up to toast.

“To the old ladies,” I say.

“To you, that everything goes well,” she responds. We clink glasses. This is probably the last time I will see Marisol– I am leaving the house for good.

We spend the next twenty minutes talking about the cats and the ridiculous amount of money that her boss and my landlord, Felisa, charges to the foreign students who live in the house next door. (20,000 pesos a month, or 4,000 a pop.) “She understands how to make money,” Marisol says. Marisol makes about 100 pesos a day cleaning three houses for Felisa’s family. I ask her how long she’s been working for Felisa and she tells me eight years; the pay’s not good but she would never be able to find such a flexible schedule with anyone else. We keep chatting as Marisol puts more empanadas in the oven and tells me about the other girls who have lived here, like the divine girl from Mexico she once went to Uruguay with, and how Felisa and she used to cook together in the mornings when Felisa was 20 kilos heavier.

I eventually go upstairs with a new glass of beer and hear the first visitor ring the bell a little while later. The earliest guests are perfectly within schedule per Argentine standards: it’s 6:40. Felisa has not arrived yet.

Over the next couple of hours I work on my laptop with the door open, listening to the women come in. Part of me pretends to be annoyed that such a large amount of people are over, but I’m secretly happy to hear the biddy voices coming from below. In the beginning, when there are fewer women, I can hear each woman’s personality– who is dominant in the group, who is genuinely friends with who. Their voices are assured, confident in a room without men.

I listen to the women fill the room with their voices, punctuating the conversation with calls to Marisol:


“Cerra la puerta!”

I go downstairs and see the wonderful long tables full of women, each chair occupied. I smile and greet them, call them lindas, and feel a little shy at all the attention. One woman asks me if I’m the roommate and for some reason I say no. I search for Felisa at the table and find her slouched in the corner, a smile on her face. Her eyes quickly pass over me and return to the table as if I am a moth that has entered the room.

I approach her and ask if she wants me to take a photo of the event. She looks at me as if I have asked for permission to shave my head with the lawnmower, a typical Felisa response. “No, no, no,” she says, shaking her head. I can feel the women watching her, so I ask her if she’s sure, thinking one of the women will pipe up and say yes. But Felisa says no and so I put the camera back into my pocket and pour another beer, my excuse for coming downstairs.

I text Pablo and he suggests going out to dinner– he is kind enough to rescue me from the evening. When he comes to the door, I walk down the stairs, smile at the women, and slip out the door, a moth escaping back into the night.

The best guerilla surprise ever

A couple weeks ago I was in the bathroom when the door rang. I heard someone else answer the door and I wasn’t expecting anyone, so I took my sweet time before coming out. But when I stepped into the foyer, this is what I found:

reenactment brought to you by Laura V. Holcomb and Lauren Stephenson

The last thing I expected on a regular Thursday afternoon: one of my closest friends, Ms. Laura Vaughn Holcomb, here to surprise me in Buenos Aires (while wearing a gorilla mask, no less). When I saw her it actually all made sense– I knew she’d been traveling in Brazil with her husband but we’d never talked about meeting up somewhere while she was in South America. Turns out she had sneakily e-mailed some of my friends to find out my address and surprise me with a visit. It was a perfect, unexpected moment– I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to see her.

Talk about setting the bar for future visits, no? :)

We spent the next two weeks exploring the city and doing many things I hadn’t gotten the chance to try yet: we went to a puerta cerrada (closed-door restaurant), a play, a soccer game, biked around my neighborhood, and made so so so much guacamole. Check it:

shopping at the ferria in San Telmo

gettin’ silly and tryin’ on hats

For several days the weather was bad, but that didn’t deter us– we went to the national cinema which shows movies for 10 pesos ($2.25!) a pop, and we also saw a great one-man theatre show:

Teatro Anfitrion

free movies on Wednesday afternoons at Teatro Cervantes (if you haven’t seen El Lado Oscuro del Corazon, rent it)

We also went to a really cool drum show here (love this picture):

Rest assured we also ate our way through the city, hunting for gluten-free specialties (Laura doesn’t eat wheat, oat, etc.), and we found some amazing treats:

gluten-free pancakes with berries and honey for Laura and apple French toast with sugar-toasted almonds for me

One night we went to an amazing puerta cerrada restaurant called La Cocina Discreta. There are a number of puerta cerradas in Buenos Aires– these are restaurants that typically operate out of someone’s home, where a chef makes special meals one or two nights a week. You call to make a reservation and then the owner reveals the address to you. I’d been to one before that a yoga friend owns, but it was neat to try one in my own neighborhood:

A small room of 6 tables

Laura totally had the winning dish– a steak wrapped in bacon and covered in a chocolate-coffee sauce. Plus some fantastic potatoes. DROOOOOL.

tasty meatballs in a simple tomato sauce

We also went to a parilla with Pablo one night– I was a very happy girl with two of my favorite people in the same room together. :)

Parilla Elisa la Salteñita

happy meat eaters

One of my favorite days was when we rented some bikes and went exploring:

We also took some time to check out the pretty ecological reserve:

It was such a wonderful visit. Laura knows me well– that I would LOVE having her here as surprise, and we’ve always traveled well together on all of our adventures, from when we first reconnected after college on a trip to Nicaragua in 2008 to our Cucuyo work in the Dominican Republic. She is one of my soul sisters for sure.

Gracias por venir, amiga. Te espero la proxima vez… o mas probable, nos vemos en la Republica Dominicana. :)

Mil besos,