La marmota vuelve! (The groundhog reemerges)

Hey there! I’m not dead!

Apologies for not updating much; I spent the last couple of months working a lot, complaining, and then freaking out about finding a place to live. (Three delightfully useless activities.) Now that all of those issues are settled, I wanted to share some things that have been going on recently:

1. Goodbye, Leentje

My good friend Leentje returned to her homeland of Belgium this week. She arrived in Buenos Aires just one month before I did, on a sabbatical from her job as a ceramics teacher. Leentje is also a well-known tango dancer in Belgium, and she came here to dance in every milonga (tango club) she could find, winning a ton of friends in the process. We met after briefly living in Fernanda’s house together. I love being friends with Leentje because she’s the kind of girl who will help you with anything you need– she’s like sunshine. Golden. Happy. Radiant. A really lovely girl who I will miss a lot. (I nicknamed her Lenteja, or lentil, because her name is hard to say in Spanish. It’s pronounced Leen-chuh.)

Check out Leentje dancing the tango on her last night in Buenos Aires:

The Friday night before she left, Leentje prepared one last delicious meal for Fer, Juli, and me: moussaka! (Recipe at the end of post)

moussaka-making

Fer, Leentje, Juli, yo

Good luck/friendship bracelets Fer brought back from her recent trip to Brasil

We’ll miss ya, doll– come back soon! :) xoxo

2. Apartment nonsense

In April, my friend Juliana and I started looking for apartments together. We had both been living in Fernanda’s shared house for some time (me, six months; Juli, more than a year) and we wanted a place that we could truly make ours, without the rotating cast of characters. So we began our search and right away found a BEAUTIFUL apartment the next block over in San Temo. It had everything we needed– furnished, no credit guarantee necessary– but it was really expensive. After talking with the intermediary, a man who was helping the owner rent the apartment, we got him to lower the price a bit so it was manageable. I wasn’t crazy about the price (a little high for my tastes), but I was really excited to live with a friend and share a home with her, so we put down a small deposit.

Cut to June– just four days before we were supposed to move in, Juli realized that we should inquire about the price of the apartment in pesos. (Que QUE?! you ask?) Here’s one thing you have to know about apartment prices in Buenos Aires: they’re often charged in dollars. (This is especially the case with furnished apartments for foreigners and tourists.) This habit stems from a time a little over ten years ago when the Argentine peso had the same value as the American dollar; you could often use them both interchangeably in the city. However, in 2001 Argentina suffered a crippling financial crisis where the government defaulted and many people lost a good portion or all of their savings and many families were thrown into povery. Argentina is still struggling to recover from this crisis, and as a result of that time, many landlords request rent in dollars because dollars are the surer financial bet over a long period of time. Some people (an estimated 10% of Argentines) convert their savings into dollars for this same reason.

But the biggest reason today why some landlords charge rent in dollars is that they can sell those dollars on the black market (here it’s called the blue market) for significantly more value than the official value set forth by the government. For example, if the official value of $1 USD to ARS (Argentine peso) is 4.55, the blue market value might be closer to 6.00. This has gotten worse in the past couple of months as the government has tried to pesificar (peso-fy, or cut reliance upon the dollar) by limiting people’s access to dollars. This currently means that Argentines and foreigners alike cannot buy dollars without special permission– so the blue market value of dollars has soared. The blue market value today is 6.23, significantly higher than the official value. So if a landlord charges $1,000USD in rent, they could turn around and sell those dollars and receive 6,230 pesos instead of 4,550 if they did so through legal means. That’s a lot more money.

So, Juli was thinking about this and called the intermediary to ask what value of the peso we would be paying for our rent. (I had assumed we would pay the equivalent of the official value; at the time, I didn’t understand that many landlords charged a considerably higher exchange rate.) The intermediary wanted to charge us the blue market price but said he would offer us a good deal of something in between, “five something.” (How generous.) That pushed the monthly price beyond our means and Juli and I had to let go of the apartment– four days (!) before we were supposed to move. This pushed us both into panic mode, trying to figure out what our living options were.

Fortunately, everything worked out well– I had been subletting the apartment of a friend of a friend and I was able to stay there for another month and look for apartments. Juli had an amazing stroke of luck and found a great studio apartment through one of her colleagues and was able to move in right away. During the last week of my time in the apartment I was renting, I found a great setup– I will be renting the only spare bedroom in the house of a wonderful woman named Felisa, who lives in a great neighborhood. I have all the furniture I’ll need AND a private terrace! I spent some time with her and her family last Saturday and I can already tell that it will be a great place for me. Meanwhile, for the next two weeks,  I’m staying at Fernanda’s house (home sweet home, ha ha!) until I move in August 11. Pictures to come!

During the time that I spent looking at apartments– I looked at at least 25, no joke– I learned a lot about the renting market and environment in Buenos Aires. Charging rent in dollars is extremely common; legally, the owner has to let you pay in pesos, but the set value of your rent (official value or blue market value) can be set by the owner. I encountered people on all points of the scale– some who posted a set monthly rent in pesos, some who would only except the blue market value equivalent, and others who wanted to negotiate a complicated rental price in between the official and blue market value. But fortunately there are a number of people in this city who actually advertise fair amounts of rent (in pesos!), and I was finally fortunate enough to find one of them. The next time that I rent an apartment, I will have a much better understanding of the market, my rights as a renter, and how to deal with my own sense of panic at not having a place to live (I may have gotten worked up a few times.) And, most importantly, Juli and I remain friends, with this housing mini-disaster safely behind us.

3. Pablo!

This is Pablo. He my boyfriend! (Que guapo, no?) We met during my vacation in February at the bus station in Jujuy. I was wandering around wondering where my bus was and I went up to him and his friend Leandro to ask if they knew anything– and they were waiting for the same bus! Turns out they were both from Buenos Aires, also vacationing in the north. After that, due to a quilombo (clusterfuck) of weather problems, we ended up traveling together for nine days. Then, when we came back to Buenos Aires, we started spending time together, and now I get the pleasure of annoying him with my company every week.

A little bit about him: he’s 25, works full time doing QA for a bank and also goes to school full time (a very hard worker). He’s a wonderful person– really kind and also spectacularly weird, which you know I enjoy. Plus he’s good about giving me a kick in the ass when I need it (read: often). Who’da thought I’d find another Metallica-loving weirdo like me down here in Argentina? :D

4. Buenos Aires, te quiero

For the next couple of weeks I am enjoying some downtime from my freelance work, so on Monday I went to take advantage of a yearly tradition in Buenos Aires– La Rural!

As I described it to my friend Charlie (miss you, goddamnit), La Rural is basically the 4-H of northern Argentina. People from the northern provinces bring their best livestock (chickens, cows, horses, pigs, sheep, llamas, chinchillas, and more) to be judged and gifted with ribbons. There are also vendors who sell food and wares from the north. I spent a few fun hours walking around stuffing my face with apple strudel and marveling at chickens that had feathers like lions. Take a look!

baby got back

Doesn’t this cow’s hide look fake? Extraordinarily beautiful. Also, this cow was enormous.

vecinos

I got to pet a four-day old goat! (Not that kid, the other kid.)

Let’s get onto the important part: food

strudel de manzana

Spoils: salami, queso, pan de campo (bread from the countryside), and a bottle of vino patero, a sweet wine (Ma, clear some room in your stocking, this has your name all over it)

Just another funfest in this city that I love.

So all is well– I hope you are the same. Won’t you leave a comment and let me know how you are doing?

Much love,

L

Leentje’s Moussaka

Ingredients:

-one potato, one eggplant, a hunk of nice cheese like Reggiano, one small container plain yougurt, tomato sauce, salt

Make a nice tomato sauce with onion, tomatoes, and oregano. Let simmer for a while (tip from my friend Gustavo: don’t stir your tomato sauce or you’ll introduce too much oxygen).

Cut potatoes into thin slices and line on bottom of pan. Cut up eggplant and salt heavily. Let sit for 30-60 minutes. Rinse thoroughly.

Introduce eggplant and tomato sauce to pan in any combination you wish. Throw half the cheese somewhere in there. Then, mix together some yogurt and cheese and oregano so the mixture looks chunky. Put yogurt mixture on top of moussake.

Bake at 180 degrees C (350 degrees F) till the cheese looks wonderfully brown. Test a portion to make sure the potatoes at the bottom are cooked through.

Serve and bless your now worshipping adorers.

8 thoughts on “La marmota vuelve! (The groundhog reemerges)

  1. Alta, I haven’t been keeping up with this blog (no excuse, many apologies), but I’m glad I read this post, because it is all kinds of awesome. For me, it’s kind of like returning home, reading about the life and times of El Cono Sur. I resonate with the mixed blessings of people entering and exiting your life (I recall this one tall chick I used to work with …) y te ofrezco mis pesames

    • (dammit, posted too soon; I go on) Truly I am so pleased to read about your current state of affairs. Speaking of affairs (I jest), congrats on Pablo! Companionship truly does heighten adventures, does it not? I commit to reading this more faithfully. It does my corazon good to see you good!
      Much love,
      Miguel “MikePoor” Pobre

    • finally read this, dahhhling. as always, enjoyed reading about your latest adventures. your chronicles never cease to simultaneously entertain and educate. i couldn’t be more pleased that you’re truly making the most of your life in argentina and that you’re so obviously loving it. hope to make it back to the southern hemisphere and share more adventures with you, doll. you’re amazing. love you to pieces.

  2. I love it! We like pablo! Baby got back-I laughed outloud. So glad you found a place to live and a 4-H festival. Good job on your life. Well done my beautiful friend.

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