31 December 2010

"no. . . it's uruguay"





"is this heaven?"

(Note: This is one of those boring, "here's what I've been doing so you know I'm not dead" posts. If you're looking for action, look elsewhere. If you're looking for bus drama, post-Christmas gratitude and skimpy bikinis, you've come to the right place.)

As you may or may not have heard, Christmas was last weekend, and as such, I received a great many gifts from my admirers.

Okay, that's not entirely true, but I did get a few crucial gifts from some people who are very important to me. Because we're not sure how to get mail to me, these gifts were mostly in the form of checks deposited into my bank account. Very much appreciated.

Of course, that money was (figuratively) burning a hole in my pocket, so I went straight to Punta Shopping, the local mall. My intent was to buy at least one very versatile outfit for the polo on Monday and Tuesday, plus some riding boots if possible, new headphones, chapstick, mascara, and chocolate. All essential items.

I decided to take a tour of the mall first to get a feel for prices. And wouldn't you know it, a surf shop caught my eye. They were having a sale on last season's bikinis. They were supposed to be from summer 2010, which here was last January, but that whole thing confuses me so much that I figured they might as well be brand new. Plus, I've run into this problem of being the most conservatively dressed person on the beach here, even in my string bikinis. There's just too much coverage on my backside for such a liberated continent. Obviously, this needed to be fixed.

I walked out of the surf shop with two brand new bikinis, from Roxy and Rip Curl. Let's just say I will have a significantly tanner bum once I wear them out on the beach. Assimilation has begun. I also bought a third suit at a different store, and it was even cheaper. It also offers a little more coverage and security, for when I (hopefully!) start learning to surf. Aunt Becky and Uncle Dave, I'm crediting you with my new swimwear. To you I say: "Thank you! This is exactly what I wanted! How did you know?!" (Thank you though, seriously.)

I did eventually get two dresses at a two-for-one sale at Urban Outfitters. Not sure if this is the same Urban Outfitters that we have in the US, but it feels sort of similar. That covers me for the polo matches. I also bought a pair of sandals (heels are just not practical enough for the amount of room I have in my suitcase and the number of times I'll wear them here), a Seventeen magazine (I've been reading it since I was fourteen and I'm not going to stop now just because I'm almost 23), some chocolate, and those headphones. Grandmom and Granddad, your Christmas gift to me covered all that, plus my bus tickets home, with a little left over. Thank you so much!

Somehow it took me about four hours to get home, in part because of misinformation and in part because I wasn't outgoing enough to ask for help when I needed it. I ended up sitting at the Punta del Este bus terminal for two and a half hours, and talked to a few strangers who were just as confused about the incorrect bus schedule as I was. Two people told me that my Spanish is very good. I've got the strange new verb tenses down now, and my accent is getting better.

The rest of the week was pretty uneventful. There were some beach days, and a lot of running, and a cat attack, and just things of that nature. I think I'm settling back into the country life very nicely.

Oh! Thank you to everyone who took part in the last poll. Voter turnout was almost unprecedented, and I shall take your opinions into account. Operation Seduce Nacho Figueras shall commence at dawn.

27 December 2010

come on and let it snow?

Nope, definitely no White Christmas here. It's been mid-80s for the last week, but the abundant breeze has made it more than bearable.

As I miss my home state of Kansas (greatest state in the Union), I just wanted to point out an interesting connection that I found. It's kind of a long story, but I'll try to get to the point.

Being a diehard KU fan, I have set the background on my laptop to an image of our beloved Jayhawk (thanks, Pink, for making such awesome wallpaper, which you can find here), and Vale asked about it today as I was setting up the fantastic family film Sky High for him to watch. I believe the boy's exact words were, "Oh! What a strange bird!"

I told him that the jayhawk is supposedly drawn as a cross between a blue jay and a chicken hawk, which confused him so much that I decided not to mention that it was also the nickname that citizens of Kansas (greatest state in the Union) had during the Civil War. I did, however, go off on the Bitter Bird tangent.

During the Korean War, my grandfather was part of a naval squadron nicknamed the Bitter Birds. I don't know a whole lot about their history, but I'm pretty sure they were just bitter about some stuff, plus they were based in Kansas (home of the Jayhawks; also greatest state in the Union), so they called themselves the Bitter Birds (plus, who doesn't like a little alliteration?).

This piqued my interest, along with the fact that the K-State grad I'd met on Christmas Eve had mentioned the military base where the Bitter Birds originated, so I started looking some stuff up. (Here's the Bitter Birds' insignia, in case you were wondering. Don't you just love his little club with the nail through it? I do.)

Unfortunately, there's no Wikipedia page on them, which made my search considerably more difficult than I'd hoped. However, there is this page for the 2nd Escuadrilla Aeronaval de Caza y Ataque, the primary attack unit in the Argentine Navy's air division. What's their insignia? The exact same jayhawk, still carrying the club, but with green coloring instead of blue, so it looks like the parrots that are so common here.

How they found the Bitter Bird, I have no idea. But finding even such a distant connection to my family while I'm so far from home makes me feel just a little bit closer to them.

so if you really love christmas

"Grita todo que quieras, mini-cartero. Ningunes de tus amigos carteros podran oirte."
-'Up' (in Spanish)

Last week, when I made Mexican food for dinner (with Teen Vogue on tortilla duty), I was informed that David Hasselhoff can't eat peppers, mushrooms, or cilantro.

Sir, if your lady specially requests Mexican food for a family dinner, knowing full well that you can't eat PEPPERS or CILANTRO, maybe you should reevaluate things. You have surely amassed a large fortune in the cheese-making business, and her willingness to poison you (or maybe just give you heartburn) is a sure sign that she may be a trifler.

25 December 2010

it's everywhere I go

"Girls were hot, wearing less than bikinis
Rockman lovers driving Lamborghinis"
-Vanilla Ice, "Ice Ice Baby"

Such a random day yesterday. I stayed in, because the family wanted bonding time at the beach, so I bonded with my own family via skype. I might have been a little bit stressed, because this is my first Christmas away from home, and I guess I just felt a little alone.

It doesn't feel like Christmas here. It's going to be 87 degrees today, and it's already 73 at 9am. I may very well spend my Christmas day on the beach. But the thing that seems most wrong is the lack of family and other loved ones around.

Anyway, back to yesterday. Jose Ignacio has been described as the Hamptons of South America. What do people like to do in the Hamptons? That's right, wear white at their get-togethers. So when I found out I'd be going out to La Barra with the family for the evening, I knew it was time to dig up that white dress with the gold shoulder beading I bought at H&M in Milan for 5 euro. I knew there was a reason I'd hung onto it for these five months or so.

True to form, host mom was wearing a white flapper dress with mad fringe, and Teen Vogue was in an off-white lace shift. Very demure, and very stylish. They were really sweet to compliment my dress, even if they could probably tell that it was supposed to be a really, really oversized shirt (I bought it in an extra large though, because I didn't want a white, off-the-shoulder, oversized shirt with gold beading, I wanted a white, off-the-shoulder, short dress) and I'd gotten it off a clearance rack in H&M. At least it was from Milan, right? That's sort of classy, isn't it? (This would be a good time to forget all the things I've said about Milan being almost more hellish and depressing than Naples.)

Anyway, the neighbors came over, we had some hors d'oeuvres (really? did I just spell that right?), drank a little champagne, opened gifts (I was pleasantly surprised to get a little gift from Santa as well), and then piled into the car to make the arduous journey to La Barra.

Once again, the family had neglected to explain to me what we were doing in La Barra. I think everyone assumes that someone else has already explained things to me, which only results in mass confusion. As a result, I didn't know that we were going to mom's boyfriend's parents' house until, oh, thirty seconds before I walked in their door. Maybe I should have been worried, due to all the straightening up the kids were doing, and how nervous they looked, but I don't think I had time to worry. Within moments I was swept into the house, and introduced to half a dozen people between the ages of probably 35 and 80.

You want to know something? They were awesome. I'm in my element when people see me as a novelty and want to know all about my adventures and the differences between my culture and theirs, and I was never without someone to talk to. I first met the mother, who sort of glided around the room in an aqua-colored chiffon ensemble. When she heard I was from Kansas, she told me I simply had to meet her husband. I was a little confused, because what could an elderly German man possibly know about Kansas (greatest state in the union)?

Well, it turns out he had graduated from K-State. Yes, that's right, KANSAS STATE UNIVERSITY. Maybe I'm being overly dramatic, but I just find it to be an incredible coincidence that this man, who was born in Germany and grew up in Argentina, should find his way to Manhattan, Kansas in order to study agriculture and economics. But then, I don't really believe in coincidences.

So we talked about that for a little bit. The penitentiary at Leavenworth was brought up, as were the Flint Hills. He actually claims that the best beef in the world comes from there, and he's lived in Argentina. How incredible is it that, at a time when I'm so far from home, Kansas should come to me? I had a smile on my face all night.

And it may sound lame, but these people really were fascinating. One woman, whom I really think I recognized, although I can't remember from where--spoke English with such a perfect accent that I simply had to comment on it. "Oh, but darling," she laughed, "I was born and raised in Manhattan!" They were all like that--'darling,' and 'Oh, but I say' and things like that.

I had a very in-depth conversation about forensic and linguistic anthropology with the youngest man in the group, a guy named Lupo (why a German-Argentine who speaks English with a perfect aristocratic accent would have the Italian word for wolf as his name I have no idea). He seemed to be very amused by everything I had to say, so maybe I had a little too much champagne by this point (only four glasses in five hours, I promise!), but it was still nice to talk about such complicated things with someone, because it's tough to find people who even speak English well enough for that.

We were there from around 11 until at least 1:30, having a light dinner around a table on their patio, with Chinese lanterns around and fireworks going off overhead.

"You know," Lupo told me, "You can see the fireworks much better from the rooftop terrace, and there's a beautiful view of the ocean."

"Oh, uh, I can actually see them really well from here?" was my awkward response. I took another drink of champagne and looked around for someone else to talk to. (Trying to think of a really bad joke about him being 'hungry like a wolf' for me or something, but I've got nothing.)

And did I mention what was on the menu? Champagne obviously, but there was also caviar and foie gras. The grandmother was appalled and could be heard muttering, "Caviar and foie gras for Christmas? But they brought it all the way from Germany and France, what could I do. . ." I declined to taste either, being a vegetarian, but now that I've looked up caviar and its harvesting methods (rarely involves killing the fish anymore; did you know that?), I kind of wish I'd tried some. Just a little bit, with my cream cheese and toast.

The conversation was mostly in German, with plenty of English thrown in for my benefit, and a lot of Spanish as well. I even heard a tiny bit of Italian. By the end of the night, though, everyone was exhausted, and we drove home in silence.

Today, Teen Vogue and Jeremy Sumpter leave for Buenos Aires, where they'll meet up with their mom and then fly to Italy, to spend a month with her boyfriend's family in Milan. (Did I mention that I'm insanely jealous of their lifestyle? Except for the part where they're going to Milan) I heard somebody mention that they would need to leave around 8:30, so you'd better believe I set my alarm nice and early so I could help out. I ran out to the bathroom in the stables (so I wouldn't be in anyone's way), alarming both Karina and Juan, who were cleaning/mucking stalls.

"Ah! Liz!" Juan exclaimed. "Did you fall out of bed or something?!"

I did my makeup and my hair and brushed my teeth so I would be presentable, and then hurried back to my room so I wouldn't be late. And then I waited.

And do you know what I realized, after an hour of waiting?

They aren't leaving until 8:30 tonight.
A little gift from me to you.

24 December 2010

it's written in the wind

"So this is Christmas?"
-A song about Christmas

I was informed last night that I get to go to the polo matches we're hosting in two weeks! These are major events, with a thousand people expected to attend the men's match. The next step is getting myself into the after-party at the Setai Club. That may be considerably more difficult to do, because they have a whole wristband thing going on. But now at least I have an opportunity to attend the match, catch the eye of some sexy polo player, and get him to insist that I accompany him to the after-party. And come on, that's what I do best.[i]


References:

[i] Kansas, Lizzie. "Nice is Nice." 12 August 2009. http://lizzieinmadrid.blogspot.com/2009/08/nice-is-nice.html


22 December 2010

and so the feeling grows

"I left a good job in the city, working for the man every night and day
And I never lost one minute of sleeping, worrying about the way things might have been"
-Tina Turner, "Proud Mary"

Today was my day off. I didn't get out of bed until noon, and then I made my own lunch because the fam was out, and then I got back into bed. That was sooooo nice.

When the flies started to get riled up by the mid-afternoon heat, I got back out of bed and did some sketching. Then I discovered that my scalp is peeling from my sunburn last week, and decided to go running. I found a path to the ocean, and got to see some cattle.

I 'get' cows, and I miss being around them. They're a lot more straightforward than horses are, I think, and lot more trusting. Horses are sneaky and conniving. They'll do things like fall over while you're riding them.

I'm not sure if I mentioned this already, but this area reminds me of home. There are dirt roads in every direction, except for the highway to the city, and homes only every quarter- or half-mile. Wire and wooden fences line the roads, and every ranch, or chacra, has a cute name like 'Campo Chico' (Little Field) or 'Las Dos Marias' (The Two Marys--not really sure what that's about).

When I got back, I showered quickly and then headed up to the stables. Marcelo had invited me to drink mate with him and the other stable hands, and I figured it would be good for me to take him up on it. We sat there and talked a little (he knows zero English, and I have a tough time understanding his Spanish) and got the horses ready for the family to go down to the beach after the sun had gone down. Juan and Karina showed up and asked me about education in America and things like that. I stayed with them for a couple of hours, until the mate was gone and the sun had long since set.

They know I get bored sometimes, and I think they also recognize that I'm in a tough place here: I'm not one of the family, but I do live right off the house in my own room, which is a step up from their shared quarters to the side of the barn. I really appreciate that they're trying to make me feel at home. It's a great opportunity for me to improve my Spanish and also get to know this culture better. I'm drinking mate, so that's a step forward for me, and I think the next step is to get a pair of alpargatas.

Do I know what my Christmas plans are yet? Nope, not a clue. Will they include the beach? I hope so. I needs to get my tan on. For the fourth day this week. Best possible Christmas gift to myself is a golden glow.

20 December 2010

christmas is all around me

"I'd be safe and warm
If I was in LA
California dreamin'
On such a winter's day"
-The Mamas & the Papas

Friday night, the mom's boyfriend arrived with his two teenage children. The boy's 17 and the girl's 14. Basically, everyone in this house is beautiful. Host mom is super skinny, with blonde hair and a constant smile, her boyfriend looks like David Hasselhoff in his prime, Vale's got perfect hair and bright shiny eyes, and these two kids look like movie stars. Specifically, the boy looks like Jeremy Sumpter in the live-action Peter Pan, and the girl looks like all the kids of celebrities I used to read about in Teen Vogue. She can roll out of bed, throw her hair up in a bun, and be ready to go--I'm so jealous of her! Lord knows I didn't look that good at 14. I mean, I don't even look that good now.

You get the whole family together and they're like a Ralph Lauren ad- they're all thin, with light hair, perfectly tanned skin, and model-like good looks. I stick out like a sore thumb, being a curvy brunette, with constantly sunburned skin, who doesn't look like them or dress like them. That's probably why they stuck me in the garage.

Anyway, the family held their end of the year barbeque on Saturday night. I wasn't sure who all would be invited, but in the end it was just staff and family. It was held in the stables, which are immaculate. There was a long table set up in the middle, and a few of the horses watched us eat. There was steak, and salad, and a variety of cheeses (apparently that's what the mom's boyfriend does, make cheese), and some other sides. And of course, there was beer and wine aplenty.

The boyfriend gave a little pep talk to encourage the staff, telling them that the high season was just around the corner, and they must be careful to always represent the stables well. There will be plenty of celebrities around, like athletes, actors, and even models, so it's essential that they always be impressed, even off the ranch. I was even mentioned in the speech, and of course my incident from the day before was brought up and laughed about by everyone. Then we had ice cream, which eased the pain somewhat. (But not the physical pain, because by this time I had about a billion bruises coming up.)

Sunday was supposed to be beach day, but it ended up being a little cloudy. That didn't stop us. Vale and I hunted for treasures in the surf and along the rocks, and I realized that he and I have very different ideas of what constitutes a treasure: at the end of the day, his pockets were full of little bones and red rocks, while I was holding sea shells.

Later in the day, I overheard the family saying something about going into La Barra in the evening. I assumed this was all we were doing and dressed according, with a tee shirt and skirt over leggings. Then people showed up in dress shirts and nice outfits and I was like, "Wait what?" Turns out it was a pre-Christmas family dinner which no one had told me about. I ran back to my room to change, but I'm seriously running out of things to wear. On top of that, the things I put in the laundry room to be washed have disappeared. It's getting tough to put an outfit together. Send me clothes for Christmas?

Today's another lazy day. We're just waiting for Vale's mom to come home, and then we'll have lunch. Vale wants to go to the beach later, and I'd totally go with him. Need to work on my tan. . .

i feel it in my toes

"I'm just gonna ride out of this town the same way I rode in, and when I go, I'll take your heart with me."

-Flight of the Conchords

Thursday was a quiet day. Vale and I ran around the ranch and did a little painting, and then his friend Joaquin came over. Vale's friends are adorable, and so well-behaved. Joaquin even offered to help me make their snacks. He spent the night, and the next day we were off on adventures around the ranch, finding horse teeth in the horse cemetery, playing with kittens, and visiting the riding instructor's new puppy, Pipoca (a Jack Russell terrier-Chihuahua mix, as far as I can tell).

Vale had promised me that I would get to go horseback riding soon, and it finally happened on Friday. Let me give you a little background information. I come from a rural area in Kansas. I've spent my whole life around livestock, but they've mostly been of the bovine persuasion, and you can't ride them (unless you're this lady). I've also had a few less than enjoyable (some might even call them traumatic) experiences while riding horses. I know plenty about horses and horseback riding, but I am definitely lacking in practice.

Still, when I was shown Carpintera and told that she would be my horse for the afternoon, I wasn't that apprehensive. She looked old and quiet. I approached her from the side, so she could get a good look at me, and I let her smell me and petted her nose with my fingers flat and together, so she wouldn't think they were carrots (I feel like my mom always reiterated that horses would eat your fingers if they looked even vaguely carrot-like). And then I got up in the saddle, and it felt good.

"Oh!" the riding instructor said. "You have to sign a waiver."

She brought the waiver out, and I signed it from the saddle and handed it back to her. And that's when Carpintera freaked out. She whinnied, took a few steps back, and the next thing I knew, my field of vision had changed from including Vale and Joaquin on their horses in front of me, to nothing but sky.

As soon as I realized what had happened, I scrambled to pull my leg out from under the horse. Carpintera was on her side, not moving. The stable hands helped her up and took off her saddle while I tried to figure out what had happened. My sunnies had come flying off when I hit the ground, and my elbow was a little scraped from the landing, but other than that, I felt fine.

I was later told that Carpintera has a bad habit of sitting down or rolling when her saddle is cinched too tight. Some of the stable hands know this, others apparently do not. She was led back to the pasture to take the rest of the afternoon off, and Anastasio was brought back as her replacement.

"You want to try again?" they asked. Did I really have a choice?

Things went much more smoothly with Anastasio. He had a quicker pace than the other horses we were with, so he kept trying to pass them, and when he got bored, he would stop to graze. But that was okay, because at least he didn't fall on top of me. We rode through a couple of fields and around a pond, and even though the Atlantic was in view the entire time, I realized that this place looks surprisingly like Kansas.

After the ride, Marcelo, Loli, Paulina, and the rest of the riding team told me they'll turn me into an expert rider by the end of the summer. I'm definitely okay with that. Once I get a little more familiar with the horses and how to work with them, I'll be allowed to go along with the rides that the ranch organizes down to the beach. (Did I mention they have hitching posts at the beach, and I saw a horse parked there when I was in Jose Ignacio?) They even do a moonlight ride once a month, when the moon is full, with a barbeque and bonfire at the end.

The stables crew have been so nice. A few of them speak English, and I speak some Spanish (although not the kind they speak), so we talk a little. They've told me I can hang out with them and the horses any time I'm bored. I feel like I'm going to take them up on that. They always offer me a drink when I see them, whether it's mate tea during the day or beer in the evening. Really must party with them more often.


i feel it in my fingers

"Christmas is a time for people with someone they love in their lives."
"And that's not you?"
"That's not me, Michael. When I was young and successful, I was greedy and foolish, and now I'm left with no one, wrinkled and alone."
-Love Actually

So how did the rest of my Week Before Christmas go? Let's see, I spent day two on the other side of the Punta del Este peninsula, walking along the beach all morning. The sand was beautiful, the water was refreshing, and because high season doesn't begin until next weekend, there was almost no one around.

As it warmed up, I headed to the shops to escape the sun (I'm pretty sure there's a hole in the ozone layer above here, because the sun is more brutal than in any place I've ever been in my life). I tried on harem pants and loose Indian dresses, checked out some shoes, and went into a home goods store in search of items to decorate my little room. I ended up with a painted ceramic mug, a rustic glass vase, and a soap dish shaped like a seashell for about $10, and I've got those at the corner of my desk, organizing pens and the shells I've found so far. It sounds silly, but things like that help my room feel a little more like it's mine, which it should feel like, since I'm going to be living in it for another three months.

Along the way, I stopped to check myself out in the reflection of a shop window--well actually, I didn't stop, and I probably should have, because I kept walking and failed to see the bench that came out of nowhere and collided with my shins. I now have two vicious, green bruises under my kneecaps.

Then I decided to explore the old town a little more. I walked up to the lighthouse, to the end of the peninsula, and down to the port. I saw a parrot playing in a puddle on the street. Awesome.

Vale's friend Rufino came over to play in the afternoon. His nickname is Rufi, which I find hilarious. I had to mediate a fight between the two of them because Rufi said he was bored and Vale couldn't think up anything interesting to do. Rufi also thought Vale's dog, Goofy, bit him. Major damage control was necessary.

On Wednesday, I was dropped off at La Barra while Vale had his end-of-the-year school assembly. It was nice and early when I arrived, so I could enjoy the cool air and have my first experience watching real surfers (I mean, the blog's called the Endless Summer, so it was really about time).

There were probably about 20 or 30 of them in the water, each waiting for the right wave. I climbed out onto a rocky area that jutted into the water, feeling very much like the Little Mermaid as I watched them and yearned to be, you know, a part of their world or something.

Cliches aside, surfing might be the most amazing thing I've ever seen. It's so intense, and so extreme! I mean, to even swim through that kind of water you need to be a very confident and smart swimmer, and then you've got to have great strength and balance to even get up on your board. I'm a great swimmer, and I would be terrified. Basically, my ambition for the
summer is to learn to surf, although I feel like this could potentially be impossible. Surfing lessons are expensive, right? Contact lenses are probably a hindrance, right? I could die, right?

So I guess my plan of action is to make a surfer fall in love with me, so that he will give me free lessons. In surfing. (Just to clarify.)

Anyway, host mom then picked me up and took me to Jose Ignacio, where she had a business meeting. I got to wander my new hometown. Basically, the ocean continued to scatter its bounty all over the beach. I found what I believe to be a cow stomach, a bunch of dead crabs, and some fishy bits (not to mention part of a dog jawbone in La Barra). Lots of dead things here. Still beautiful.

I walked up to the lighthouse (they're big on lighthouses here, although I feel like this one was a little ineffective as you can still see bits and pieces of ship from when one ran aground like 30 years ago) and around the rocks at the peninsula. I wanted to walk down to where they're building the new Setai Club (look it up if you don't know it), but that would have required a lot of walking over rocks, and I wasn't feeling up to that. Basically, I got to know the tiny town that is Jose Ignacio, and it's full of quiet locals, rich tourists, and quaint street signs with cute names.

18 December 2010

the big move!

So. I arrived in Punta del Este airport (PDP, for those of you planning to visit me) at 9:00pm Uruguay time, which is one hour ahead of Argentina time, which puts me four hours ahead of everyone in the central time zone. My new host mother and my charge, 9-year-old Vale, rushed into the tiny airport just as I had sat down to wait for them. We went to McDonald's, as the mom said she had nothing in the fridge. This made me a little bit nervous because, as you all should know by now, I like to eat.

We drove the thirty minutes to Jose Ignacio, and I was shown my room. It's sort of a multi-purpose room off of the patio, not actually connected to the house. The floor is tiled, the walls are painted yellow, and the ceiling has very rustic exposed white beams. I've got plenty of windows, and I can see to the ocean in two directions (there would be a third direction, but the house blocks that view).

So I got to bed around midnight or one my first night, and woke up at 6:30 the next morning so we could drop Vale off at school in Punta at eight. While he was there, I explored the shopping mall, where I used my powers of intuition to estimate that an Uruguayan peso was worth approximately five cents (yep, the signs at the exchange offices advertise 19.40 pesos per dollar) and took in the sights.

Then a very helpful security guard directed me to the beach. He was so helpful, in fact, that he not only walked me through the mall, but also through the parking lot, all the way to the street so that he could point me in the right direction.

I spent the rest of the morning wandering the beach, and enjoyed feasting my eyes upon the bounty of the sea, which included several apples, a couple of onions, and a dead bird. I still love it here.

the departed

"If that's what you had in mind
If that's what you're all about
Good luck moving up, cuz I'm. . . movin' out."
-Billy Joel, "Movin' Out"

It strikes me that I didn't give Kaela nearly as big a mention in my last post as she merits. Let me change that right now. She's an awesome girl with a strong faith in God and a ready smile. I'd heard only great things about her, and they were all true. I'm so glad that I met her while I was in BA, and I hope to see her again when we're both back in KC.

So, as I said, I spent all of Sunday packing furiously. I was trying to decide what to take and what to leave behind, which meant that a tee, a cardigan, and a pair of boots were left behind. Somehow, though, I managed to fit everything into my small suitcase, small backpack, and tote bag.

I got my deposit back from Marisa, said goodbye to John, and headed to the airport. I was worried about traffic, although I don't know why, because I arrived in plenty of time. That enabled me to sit around for a while and then buy a few last-minute gifts. (Sorry Theresa, apparently your name or its derivatives aren't common enough to show up on souvenirs, but I'm going to keep looking!)

There was a little confusion at the ID checkpoint after the x-ray machines because apparently, Argentines don't even know their country's rules on tourism. This woman wanted me to pay the fee for overstaying my visa, or perhaps the fee that's been implemented on US tourists at Buenos Aires' major airport, Ezeiza (not the one I was in). Fortunately, her co-worker informed her that stays of fewer than 90 days don't necessitate the first fee, and I hadn't flown through Ezeiza, so I'd never needed to pay the second fee. By my calculations, I made it out of Argentina with approximately two days to spare.

Eventually I boarded Pluna's tiny plane, the same sort of plane in which I'd flown from Montevideo to Buenos Aires. (If you ever have a choice between Pluna and another airline, choose the other airline, because Pluna is just annoying. Their customer service is awful, as is their website. Just don't do it.)

But flying out of BA was one of the most amazing departures I've ever had from any city. I knew the Jorge Newbery Aeroparque airport was near Palermo, but I didn't realize we'd be taking off along the eastern edge of the city. The first thing I noticed was an unusual apartment building that I identified as one between Sarmiento and Bullrich streets in Palermo. Using that as a point of reference, I spotted another unique building that I passed a couple times a week on my way to work in Las Canitas.

From there, I knew where the zoo was, and also spotted the rose gardens and planetarium. Next were the Flor and the law department building, and then Recoleta Cemetery. After that, the view opened up so that I could see all the way down the Avenida de Julio (widest avenue in the world), including the obelisk which stands right in the middle of it. South of that was Puerto Madero, where I could see the famous Puente de la Mujer and the shipyards. I saw nearly every great landmark in Buenos Aires in the span of about 30 seconds, and that made for a great send-off.

16 December 2010

last weekend in the ba

"Weren't you the one who tried to break me with goodbye?
Did you think I'd crumble?
Did you think I'd lay down and die?"
-Gloria Gaynor, "I Will Survive"

So. My last two days in Buenos Aires. The long-awaited photo shoot with Miss Kaela. It was set for Saturday afternoon at four, to try and avoid the midday heat. However, pretty much as soon as we walked out the door of my apartment, we were met with a grey sky and the sort of clinging humidity that indicated it might rain soon. Still, we started walking, because if it didn't rain, a little cloudiness
can be ideal for taking portraits, and if it did rain, maybe it would stop by the time we got to the gardens. I chose the route to the Subte so that we would pass as many graffiti-covered walls as possible (like this one).

It was a twenty minute walk from my apartment to the green line, and during that time it started to sprinkle. Then it started to rain. And then it started to pour. We took shelter under the overhanging of an apartment building's parking garage, and waited for maybe 45 minutes while the rain came down in sheets. It started to flood the streets, to the point that passing buses sent waves of murky, swirling water sweeping across the sidewalks. One of those double-decker buses with the top open drove by, and the brave tourists who had chosen to remain up top were completely soaked, holding their maps and information sheets like oars as they pretended to row.

Needless to say, Kaela and I had a good talk. When the sprinkles had subsided, we got on that green line and headed to Plaza Italia, where we were once again delayed by a hunt for shoes, which would have been no problem if only we'd been able to find a working ATM in the vicinity.

Basically, by the time we got to the Rosedal, the cloudiness combined with the late hour meant that we'd pretty much lost our light, plus it was closed. We couldn't figure out if that was because they're still on their winter schedule, since it's not technically sum
mer yet here, or because of the rain. Probably the rain. Anyway, we didn't let this stop us, and we frolicked around in the puddles for a little bit.

After that, I figured I should deliver Christmas gifts to the family I'd been babysitting for, since I wouldn't see them again. Surprise, they were at their house when they told me they wouldn't be. So I said my goodbyes to the parents, since the kids were asleep, and that was that.

Then, Kaela pulled out her handy dandy Guia-T city transportation guidebook to figure out the quickest route from here to there. She and I parted ways when I got off the bus near a friend's house for dinner.

Yep, I went to chill with Dave and Henrique and the girls from the various embassies one last time. We ordered sushi, then went out to a gay club, where we had a very memorable night. They had a drag queen there dressed as Lady Gaga, who I thought was just incredible (and I told her so). The highlight of my night was probably debuting my choreographed dance to TiK ToK, which I'd come up with during recess at English camp this summer.

Basically, I just act out the words to the song. When Ke$ha sings, "I'ma fight til we see the sunlight," I pretend to punch an invisible foe before pointing towards a distant sunrise. When she says, "Tick tock on the clock," I make my arms the arms of a clock. By the end of the song, I had people around me copying my moves. I have no idea why, but it was fun.

And then Sunday was spent packing and flying. More on that later though.

15 December 2010

la la la la la la barra

video
Sorry for the sound quality. Please enjoy anyway.

10 December 2010

lifestyles of the rich and famous

"Brandy, you're a fine girl; what a good wife you would be
But my life, my love, and my lady is the sea. . ."
-Looking Glass, Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)

Big, big news: I'm moving.

Moving out of Buenos Aires, out of Argentina even-- to Uruguay.

And not just anywhere in Uruguay, but to Jose Ignacio, which is a little town about 30 minutes from the city of Punta del Este. Punta del Este was huge in the '40s to the '50s, with stars like Yul Brynner and the Rat Pack vacationing there. It's still popular, with Leonardo di Caprio, Robert de Niro, and Antonio Banderas visiting in recent years, but for many of the elite, it's lost its luster. They wanted to have a hideaway that was their own again, and they found it in Jose Ignacio.

Jose Ignacio started out as a little fishing town, and from what I've read, it still retains its rustic charms. There are only a handful of hotels in the area, and the restaurants are very difficult to get reservations at. Many celebs go there to get away. They can eat dinner at a spot so exclusive it can only be reached by boat. They can ride horses along the beach under the moon. And that's where I come in.

I got a job working as an au pair for a family that runs a ranch in Jose Ignacio! They have a stables and they arrange horseback riding excursions through the forests and down to the ocean. Their property has ample views of the Atlantic, and they've got around 40 horses. And the woman's cousin is one of the world's greatest chef! He's basically the undisputed top chef of South America. And he has a restaurant in the next town over.

So. I'm going to be spending three months living on a horse ranch, watching a nine-year-old boy for 25 hours a week, spending all my free time on the beach or on a horse, in the town where Naomi Campbell and Giselle Bundchen go to party and Shakira owns a ranch. What?! I can't even comprehend this right now.

And can I just say-- you all officially have no excuse not to visit me.

09 December 2010

walkabout in recoleta

"Oh, father of the four winds, fill my sails
Across the sea of years
With no provision but an open face
Along the strait of fears. . ."
-Led Zeppelin, Kashmir

Well, for whatever reason, I might be moving on from Buenos Aires before too long, so I thought it might be a good idea to make sure I see everything in this town that you're supposed to see. I set out to visit Recoleta on Monday, walking the entire way.


What's so great about Recoleta? Well, it's pretty much adjacent to my district (but walking through it can still take a looooooooooong time), so it's one of the places the richies moved to during that silly yellow fever epidemic back in the day, because it's on higher ground, meaning there's less standing water, meaning there are fewer mosquitoes, which in turn means a lower likelihood of yellow fever. Anyway.

After the rich people settled in Palermo and Recoleta and the surrounding areas, they started burying their wealthy, dead family members (who hadn't died of yellow fever, at least) in Recoleta Cemetery. As you may recall, I've already visited this cemetery with Dave, and we saw Evita's tomb and lots of other beautiful things.
But there's more to Recoleta than the famous cemetery. There's the university's law department, which is housed in one massive building with beautiful steps and columns out front. It really is pretty amazing to behold.

There's also the building that houses the engineering department, which coincidentally used to be the law building. It's a masterpiece of architecture-- actually, it looks like a church to the untrained eye. And the trained eyes too.

And then there's the giant metal flower. It's kind of a must-see here in BA. Basically, it's this huge sculpture of a flower which moves to follow the sun all day long. It was donated by its sculptor (I think? It was donated by someone), and it's just really pretty and awesome.

So I took pictures of or with all of these things, because I realized recently that I have barely any proof that I've been in this amazing place with all of these beautiful things. It reminded me of a friend of mine who is fantastic at setting up and exectuting photo shoots: JaNae. We used to get crazy with the cameras on swing sets, around statues, in her backyard, with memorable results. If she were here, I know I could call her any time and just be like, "Rose garden in an hour. Bring your camera," and we'd have a full-scale model sesh like that. It made me miss her.

But then I remembered that Kaela's here for another week or so, and she has the same appreciation for photo shoots that JaNae and I do. Plus she's awesome and hilarious. So we've set something up for this weekend, and I can't wait. There are going to be flowers, some graffiti, sweet outfits, and big hair, if I have anything to say about it.

08 December 2010

blintz in a bowl

"So go and tell your friends that I'm obsessive and crazy
That's fine, I'll tell mine you're gay
And by the way. . ."
-Taylor Swift, Picture to Burn

No, I don't have pictures of my latest culinary creation. But I still want to mention it. Basically, after I went running today, I had a mad hankering for some blintzes. I put together the one egg I had left, a scant amount of milk, threw in an unmeasured amount of flour, pinch of salt, generous sugar, you know the drill.

I have this habit of avoiding measuring at all costs; I think it stems from my loathing of math. And yet, I always act surprised when things I cook come out wrong. Today, the batter was a little runny; I didn't grease the pan properly; I don't know-- anyway, the blintz stuck to the pan a little bit so that I couldn't flip it smoothly, and then it got all bunched up and didn't cook properly. So I had a soggy blintz on my hands.

Then, I made too much filling. And I tried to roll all of that filling into the blintz, and put that
back in the pan to seal and brown it. The ends started to come apart and it was just a sad-looking blintz all around. It became clear that it would never hold up on a plate. . . so I chucked it in a bowl and poured the strawberry topping over it. Behold! Blintz-in-a-bowl!

If I were in a country with functioning kitchen appliances, I would have considered turning the ingredients into a veritable mechayeh of a smoothie, which I would then dub blintz-in-a-blender.

What can I say? My endearing neighbors, with their delicious cuisine and delightful customs, are wearing off on me. Here's a pic of just one of the many families of observant Jews in my neighborhood. You'll also notice the horse-drawn carriage in the background. Likewise, it is another fixture of Almagro.

07 December 2010

shalom!

Oh my goodness, this has been a week if ever there was one. I know I left you all hanging about my job situation, but I am going to have to leave you on the line just a little bit longer because I'm still in limbo and I hate getting ahead of myself. It invariably ends in disappointment for me. You may rest assured that if something comes through, you all will be the first to know. But until then, you're just going to have to sit tight.
Anyway. . .

The Hanukkah season is upon us! And nearly over, actually. While I love to recognize the Festival of Lights, I usually just use it as an excuse to eat chocolate coins and revel in my shiska-ness.

However, being as I am in Almagro, an area with one of the largest Jewish populations, well, ANYWHERE (oh, you don't believe me? Well guess what: the Abasto shopping center, about 4 or 5 blocks from my apartment, is home to the ONLY kosher McDonald's outside of Israel. Behold, I have proof), I thought I might put a
little more effort into celebrating these eight crazy nights. And days.

So I looked up latke recipes. Potatoes and onions and eggs all fried up into little pancakes, with sour cream and applesauce on top? Sign me up. You better believe I made all of it myself. . . except the sour cream.

And the next night, I decided to take it a step further. I made blintzes. It's been a long time since I've had them, and the last time I did, I was not a fan of soft cheeses. That has since changed. So I fried me up some crepes and stuffed them with ricotta and cream cheese, and then I fried 'em again. And then I threw some strawberries on the top. BAM. Wait, what's that sound? Is that the sound of my shiksa stock rising? Pay attention, Jewish mothers, because I would make a fantastic daughter-in-law.

And no, this is still not a cooking blog.