Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Photo Ninja

Back home on the 152

My head hurts, not so much from smacking it into the edge of a low-hanging 2x4 earlier today, but more because of Samantha and her brujeria – witchcraft. I call Dave and he tells me all about smashing up his new RC glider back on the ranch in Piru, next to Fillmore…Ventura County, California… across the river from the house where I spent my youth – on the poor farm as we used to call it, fifteen acres of oranges. He says the glider is all taped and glued up but at least it’s flying and he’s getting the hang of the controls.

After an entire afternoon, evening and then night with Samantha, I learn a whole slew of new things… like you can say ‘Yo te quiero’, not only to your lover, or the love of your life, or your husband or boyfriend, but to close friends, you’re family, even your dog basically whoever (later, yesterday... her ex-boyfriend would confide in me that its all lies, not Samantha... but women in general. He also tells me that with him and Samantha there was before and then after and that I should call him to hang out next week when I get back into town. He´s a painter, someone I can relate to and it would probably shed some light on this whole craziness). I pour a little Fernet with Coke on the whole situation and vow not to speak to her for at least a week. I’m gonna go check out some paragliding this week up in Cordoba with my flatmates… get away from the city and from her. The LP Argentina guide (DP’s) says that famed WPC pilot Andy Heidiger is now living and teaching paragliding north of Cordoba in La Cumbre. I hope to rent a wing for someone that weighs 100 kilos and take some lessons in thermaling, how to catch the columns of hot rising air for the uninitiated. There are supposed to be Condors in the area also. Dave tells me he’s coming on the 26th or 27th of December till the first of the year… that can’t be right. No matter what, we’ll have a good time, even if Mei Mei is coming at the same time.

My head is now throbbing as that 2x4 really did a number on me. The day before I walked into a low-hanging concrete stem wall and still have a knot on my noggin’ from that one. I actually had to sit down before we boarded the bus as my vision blurred from the throbbing pain, which buys me a few more minutes to talk with Samantha. She tells me she’s not ready for anything right now and indeed does want to be single. I try my hardest to convince her that we could have something good but we have to try, no... we have to start. But I can´t continue on like this... lost and confused. “I’ll be in my house waiting for you next Monday… after Cordoba,” I told her.

We catch the bus back to Ritiro, the main transit hub in BA. From there we can both catch our respective buses back to our own lives… I lean into the window of her bus and she pulls close. “I’ll call you…” she whispers, “I’ll call you.” Me and that same empty feeling hop back on the 152 and head home. Once again I’m totally drained… but somehow feel relieved that I’ve made a decision not to see her or to speak with her for an entire week. Paragliding for my 38th birthday, away from the city and her, starts to sound better and better and I pass out, exhausted beyond belief.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Don´t Do It!

A cartonero pushes his recycling cart up the street past Parque Lezama towards our house. (the photo looks dark on this computer screen, but if you click on it and view it larger, read the back of his t-shirt! Cosmic could have made a fortune on this one.)


We head off for the bus stop after eating empanadas in the park… lying in the grass, stargazing and laughing. This is what I came back for, to spend time with her. The bus is jammed packed and I have to put the camera bag on the ledge next to the driver in front of the windshield so that he can shut the front door. When we stop to pick up another three passengers its amazing that he can still get the door shut. We jump off fifteen minutes later after hopping on and off the freeway, crossing the river to get outside of the capital and get in line at La Joya Disco. Tonight is cumbia night and I’ve been wanting to go to a cumbia club for some time now, just to check it out. There is not one foreigner in site.

I pay for two tickets and after a thorough pat down they tell me they won’t allow me to enter with the camera bag. I try to explain that I won’t take pictures but always have the bag with me. If you want to leave the bag in the office that’s fine, but we will hold no responsibility for it. That’s obviously not going to happen. Finally Samy comes back outside and suggests we jump into a cab and zip back to the city, drop the camera at the house and come back… she has half an hour before the contest starts. It’s 1:30AM. “The thing is… the ‘boliches’ or clubs are the most mafia of anything here,” she tells me. Hmmm… I’ll leave the mafia topic for another post, but basically they use that term synonymously for corruption, at whatever level. But people die regularly at the hands of the mafia here in Argentina, all over South America.

Like the other day, this homeless guy approaches me while I’m sitting with Julia, one of my flat mates, in the plaza down the street from our house here in San Telmo. First he asks me to take his picture, but doesn’t want to look at the camera, rather look upwards towards the heavens. Then he trys to hustle a stack of post cards on us, you know those postcards you get for free at bars – the publicity ones? I agree to give him one peso, half of his asking price, not so much for the post card but for the story that he tells us about the way things are here in Argentina. About the death of ex-presidents Menem’s son (he’s the one that sold off all of Argentina’s national industry, including their international airline which is now bankrupt, to private interests, basically robbing the country of its wealth and spearheading the economic crash in 2001 which the country is still recovering from) and how it wasn’t really a ‘helicopter crashing into some power lines´, but rather a perfectly executed mafia hit, the helicopter which was transporting the presidents son receiving gun fire from all sides and crashing it into the ground killing all passengers aboard… but more on this later.

We finally make it back to the club just before 2AM, just in time for the first cumbia band, Los Avilas, which is really a cross between cumbia and tropical. After another two hours the band does its final encore and the MC comes back on and says let’s get this dance contest underway, to the screams and whistles of the fans. There has to be at least a thousand people in this huge two-story club and here comes the Credence – Bad Moon Rising. The first eight dance pairs, one at a time each perform for about a minute, all to the same Credence song. Then, the MC asks the crowd, which three couples out of eight should advance to the semi-finals. I can’t imagine that this is much competition for Samy and her dance partner for tonight, Luis. He reintroduces each couple one at a time and the crowd clearly selects the best three out of these first eight. Samy and Luis are number twelve and won’t compete until after the next band.

Finally at 5:30AM the band wraps up and its time for the dance contest to continue. And here comes the Credence once again – Bad Moon Rising. Pairs nine and ten go and so far, no one has really busted anything out of the normal fifties rock and roll style of dancing… not until pair number eleven, friends of Luis’ which were sitting at our table upstairs. They blow everyone out of the water and finish to a fervently screaming crowd. I don’t think Samantha and Luis can compete with that… but its finally time for them to perform. And it’s a solid performance and Luis even does a couple of flips during their one-minute routine, finishing with a one-handed handstand. The crowd actually is strongly behind them and they easily pass to the final round along with five other couples. Pair number eleven winds hands down and are amazing to watch. He spins her around his back, over his head, under his legs and I don’t know what else. Samy and Luis take an easy second place, winning a small trophy and three hundred pesos… not bad for a nights work. Later Samy confides in me that her and Luis have never even practiced and dance once every three months or so together, just for fun. That´s my girl.

Monday, November 28, 2005


Racing back to the house to shower and shave, I tear back down the marble staircase, slipping and almost breaking my neck, but successfully grab the first cab to Constitución train station. It’s now dusk and I leave the camera and sunglasses back at home. Tonight is obligation, not work. I’m excited that I actually came through with the photo for Samy’s mom and the smaller framed photo of Samy’s younger sister on the bus on the way home from the cemetery. The train is ridiculously packed with commuters returning from the Capital back out to the provinces, hereafter referred to as the barrios, or back home – the ghetto.

It’s actually quite challenging being at least a foot taller than everyone else, especially when it comes to public transportation. Not a day passes without me severely banging my head on something. And on the local buses, its more like being inside a pinball machine than anything, banging my head back and forth between the metal handrails trying not to fall while not stepping on or banging into my fellow passengers. The other day on the way to the Manu Chau concert in a bus that was at least fifty years old, tiny and packed, an elderly woman looked up at me from her single-aisle seat and asked me to stop molesting her. Immediately irritated, I simply told her that I wasn’t doing anything and couldn’t she see how jam packed the bus was?

The train arrives in La Nues, four stations out from Constitución pretty quickly. Walking towards the exit I’m nearly killed by another train that snuck up on me from behind, not even hesitating to slow down, barreling through the station at more than 60 mph. A group of drunken teenagers all-at-the-same time grab me as I tried to skirt past the throngs of people and dangerously walk the line on the edge of the platform hanging dangerously over the tracks, and pull me to safety. It’s the same with the buses in the capital… for short people there’s no problem walking down the sidewalks as the side mirrors of the bus fly by overhead. But for tall gringos, OJO – CAUTION! I can’t even count how many times I’ve felt the mirror swoosh by just inches from my head… and I’m extra careful foreigner. It’s like the hole I stepped in the other day walking back from the Recoleta cemetery with Tommy, a friend of mine who is from BA, went to NYC for a stint and now lives and works here as a fashion photographer . We had just done some test shots for a new model he was working with in the cemetery and I was viewing images on the back of the camera while walking down the street in my filp flops – not advised. As I suddenly felt myself falling, Tommy grabbed the back of my shirt and surely prevented the breaking of my leg.

Outside the station in La Nues I look for a payphone that works. Samy begged me to call her from the station before I take the bus to the party to make sure I understood the directions clearly and to let her what time I board the bus. The first two public phones both eat my coins and then, across the open entrance to the station I see the 283, the bus that’ll take me to the birthday party and drop the phone, sprinting across the traffic, barely making it to the bus before he takes off. Now I’m short one coin… and the next bus won’t come for like another twenty minutes. “Don’t worry about it,” he shrugs allowing me to board and telling me that he’ll advise me when we get there, in about ten minutes. It’s like the other day in the restaurant down the street from our house, across the park sitting in the no smoking section. I knew it was the no smoking section, an extreme rarity here in BA, but ask the waiter if I can smoke none-the-less. “No, smoking is prohibited here… but go ahead, “ he says and quickly comes back with an ashtray - special Gringo treatment.

The party was fun, for ten year olds. I chatted with Samy’s father… among other things about her heritage. Pointing to his forearm while shouting in my face, “she has the blood of the Indians.” Whao… Afterwards Samy politely asks me if I’d like to go back to her house to drink some mate. That’s the very last thing I want, to spend more time with a woman that I’m in love with but that doesn’t want to be with me. But I agree once again, cursing my stupidity under my breath. Late into the morning after drinking mate at her friend Bete’s house we return back to Samy’s place… it’s like 4:30AM. Finally we are alone and I somehow feel content… like the connection is still there getting stronger all the while. I ask if I can see some of her drawings and this is when everything changes. She begins to tell me that tango is just a small part of her life – for right now. But her real love is drawing. She tells me I can take the two best drawings, ten years old at least. “These don’t represent the way I draw now… these we’re student drawings, from a long time ago.”

It’s now 6:30AM its light outside. Once again I’m completely exhausted, physically, mentally and emotionally. We walk across the dirt street to the bus stop and I try once again and for the very last time to explain to her that I came back to BA for her and can’t continue forward like this… like a love-sick puppy dog. Three buses passes us by and I refuse to board, trying to illustrate that I want to know where we stand. “Gregorio, por favor… get on the bus. I’ll call you!” she pleads. The ride back into the city is blurry and surreal… the train is once again packed and its 7AM on a Saturday morning and the sun is burning my eyes. I over sleep and its now too late to get back to Constitucion where I was supposed to meet up with Danny and clan to go to a BBQ out in Quilmes, where the national Argentine beer comes from. I’m still completely exhausted from all of this, having slept for only about three hours and think its probably for the best given my current mental state that I don’t go out to the BBQ. Suddenly the telephone rings… “Hola mi amor,” says a soft and sexy voice, slowly and succinctly. At first I think it must be a wrong number, but realize its her! Yes? She’s finished a morning shift with the tourists and tells me that she very much wants to come over to see me but thinks its better if she goes back home and gets some rest. But she proposes that we meet up around 8PM tonight, do the tango lesson that she blew off last week, get a bite to eat and then meet up with Luis because she has a rock and roll dance contest tonight. “How does that sound,” she softly asks? OK. “And there’s one more thing I want to say to you… si, yo te quiero.” Literally – yes, I want you but figuratively, “yes, I love you.” TBC….

Sunday, November 27, 2005

BK in BA

Oh shit… now I’m gonna be late for Samy’s sister Yamila’s 10th birthday party. I can’t believe I’m even going after all thats not happened, but only because Samy asked me to. I had dropped off some photos at the lab earlier in the day because Samy’s mom Gregoria specifically asked me for a black and white copy of a photo of Samy from the day we went to the cemetery to view her mothers gave site the last time I was here. The fact that Samy doesn’t want to be with me doesn’t deter me from my previous obligations and promises to her and her family, like this birthday party.

I run down two blocks past the park to the bus stop and wait less than two minutes for the 152, which barrels down Paseo Colón to Corrientes, one of the main drags in town. When I arrive at the lab, really a smallish one-hour type place, they bring out the 11x14 black and white and it actually looks pretty good, especially for $1.00USD. I’m actually amazed at how good it looks. I also had them print a small photo of Yamila as a birthday present but it’s not in the envelope. Finally after much discussion, the most adult-looking of all the employees behind the counter picks up the telephone and calls someone and then informs me that it’ll be ready in thirty minutes. DAMN! Now I’m gonna be super late after I swore I’d be on time after the mishap the other day at Constitucion, when I waited for her.

Across the street there’s a monster-sized Burger King that looks like it takes up half the block and is at least three stories high. I haven’t had fast food once in Argentina and am actually starving. In the name of journalistic research I enter and its crazy full of kids, business people and families, all eating over-priced crap. I join right in and go with the basic Whopper combination number one with medium fries and a medium drink - $9 pesos ($3USD, which is actually kind of steep for Argentines when the average empanada costs about $1.25 pesos = $0.40USD). This is the strangest BK I’ve ever been to… and I’ve been to a few (as Super Dave can attest to). I jam up this giant marble staircase with my tray into what looks like an old mansion fit for a king and arrive on the third and final floor. This building obviously belonged to some ricos long ago and is big enough to house an army of soldiers on horseback. All the doorways are encased in giant Victorian-looking crown molding and you could easily ride a horse though any of them. In my dining room, one of dozens, there are the same basic blue plastic BK tables that you would see at any BK worldwide… but the similarities stop there.

Green Day is CRANKING over the speakers (then Maná and then some crazy salsa) as I sit and wolf down my meal, marveling all the while at the ornately decorated ceiling which is at least twenty five feet high, reminding me of Versailles on the outskirts of Paris. But then I actually look at the huge velvet-Elvis type portraits done in that realistically Tiajuana-cartoon style, hanging in gaudy frames around the dinning room, one of many throughout this palatial BK. The first is a giant portrait of Luis XIV [ironically I’m listening to Toots and the Maytals version of Louie Louie via our newly established wireless MP3 network in the house] and below in a gold-plated placard it simply reads “King” Sun – Luis XIV of France. Next is another huge portrait of Henry the XIII, which reads “King” of England – Henry VIII. This is where they get start to get kind of weird. There’s a huge portrait of Buffalo Bill Cody that reads “King” of the Western Frontier and then finally on the fourth wall is another giant classic shot of Freddy Mercury, which simply reads, “QUEEN”. Hurriedly I run to the bathroom before leaving for the lab to get back home to shower and then take a taxi to the train station to get out to the barrio where I’ll have take a bus to the birthday party. On my way out I see more portraits… Albert Einstein, “King” of science, Michael Jackson, “King” of pop, the Lion King which reads “King” of the Jungle. Only on the train on the way to the barrio to I make the connection – Burger “KING!”

Piso Compartido Balcony

A view from the balcony which overlooks this street in one direction and then Parque Lezama in the other.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


November 25, 2005 - Thanksgiving Day (which makes even less sense to me down here than back at home).

The sweltering heat has finally subsided somewhat and now, after a brief sub-tropical storm passes through, spewing out just enough rain to wash the dog and pigeon shit off the balconies and sidewalks, cleaning the decrepit cobbled streets, the city once again breaths freely.

Yesterday was a big day for me. I actually (and finally) put in a ten-hour workday, catching up on my backlogged photo archive while continuing to establish a strong digital workflow. Naming conventions, metadata, keywords, color corrections, storage, and then correct titles, captions and descriptions… transforming a basic digital photo, which really has no value without these key pieces of information into a digital asset, which has value and will live in a searchable archive long past the point when I’m gone.

Excitedly, I clean the entire house in anticipation of Samantha’s arrival. The first time she came over she commented on how dirty our kitchen was. Strange, since I don’t really use the kitchen and didn’t think it was actually that dirty, but first impressions are the hardest to erase, like the day I met her in Caminito. This would be our second private tango lesson and I’m finally starting to make sense of this crazy and painfully difficult dance to learn. I showered, dressed, thought about shaving, lost the flip-flops for my dancing shoes and made some coffee. Victoria from Mendoza, the queen of the house, comes home from a long day of working in an office doing marketing for a local media company … can’t say I’m jealous of that at all.

“Tonight’s the night,” we both agree, like the Neil Young song playing on my i-Tunes. All this waiting and anticipation has come to a head… I can wait hasta la muerte for Samantha… but I must know if she wants to be more than just friends.

When I arrive at Constitución just as the first raindrops begin to fall its 8:37PM, eight minutes before our schedule meeting time. Perfect... but I always get nervous waiting for her here, not because it’s as dangerous as everyone says, but because of the anticipation that always builds before I see her smiling face. I expect her to be a few minutes late because she has to take a bus to her train station and the schedules in the barrio can be less than exact. I decide to eat one tic tac every five minutes on the dot... call me OCD, whatever. After twenty-five minutes pass I begin to think of all the scenarios that could have gone wrong, like when your backpacking cross country and someone unexpectedly takes a wrong turn unbeknownst to the rest of the group. You start to realize that you have no idea what could have happened and even less of an idea about what to do now.

After forty-five minutes I start to get anxious… and finally find a public payphone that works and call her house. Her sister Valeria answers and tells me Samantha didn’t come home as usual after work and how strange it is that she isn’t at the train station because usually she is very punctual. I try calling her cell phone, which isn’t receiving calls at this time… and then after more than an hour of eating tic tacs and waiting, I am forced to hurriedly take a cab back home. Victoria tells me that Samantha called earlier, at 7PM and left a message on the answering machine saying that she wasn’t going to be able to make our scheduled class. “I’m gonna kill her,” I say. “No, no, no…” Victoria says, covering the mouthpiece on the phone as she talks with her boyfriend. “She just called again and feels horrible that you didn’t get the message but very much wants to meet up with you tonight. She’s in her house and you need to call her right now.” After she finishes her call she continues, “but I think you need to tell her that you want to sit down with her and talk.” Dios Mio is correct. Samantha knows I’m pretty steamed at this point but agrees to meet me once again (or vice versa) back at Constitución, this time at 11:45PM. We had planned on seeing a live Tango-electronica band called Narco Tango tonight in Palermo and we stick with the plan, with the amendment that we are going to actually sit down and talk beforehand.

This time she arrives on time, hiding her face behind her jacket as she approaches me in the train station, the very same station where I first danced tango with her more than two months ago. We leave the station to grab one of the many buses out front and head across town, laughing and joking despite our talk that is yet to come. In the restaurant we finally are served at 12:30AM, Thanksgiving morning. “Here’s to me,” she jokes raising her glass. I try to explain to her how funny it is to hear her say this, because that’s exactly what my ex-girlfriend Jill’s family used to say during their Thanksgiving dinners, everyone raising their glasses at the same time, “here’s to me!” After thirty minutes of trying to explaining this apparent coincidence, today being Thanksgiving and that I don’t know anyone else who says this, she finally understands that it’s not about me lamenting about my ex-girlfriend, but rather its about her saying the exact same thing as Jill, who I also used to call mariposa – butterfly. I’m a real sucker for mariposas.

Finally Samantha comes clean with the truth… “Ahora, quiero estar sola,” which has a couple of different meanings. The obvious one is ‘right now, I want to be single,’ but sola also means alone. “But I know that’s not true… I know that you want a family, that you want to be with a man that loves you, that you have the capacity to give your heart to someone. I´ll always have a place in my heart for you, but now I’m going to leave you in peace,” I tell her. We head to the club around the corner and ironically her friend Jose the guitar player, who is actually extremely talented for only being twenty two years old, is waiting for us outside. We go in without paying and catch the last song. The crowd loves the band but the three of us collectively decide that this version of tango-electronica is nothing special and we split before the crowd walking ten blocks to their bus station. Jose leaves us for a moment sensing the tension and Samantha says, “Well, what are we going to do?” Well… I’m going to leave you in peace and won’t pressure you anymore. “I’m working tomorrow from 3:00 – 5:30PM in Caminito. Do you want to come?” she asks with a gleam of hope in her eyes. I can’t believe her and almost burst out laughing. “You have my number… call me anytime,” I say as she boards the bus. She doesn’t see me standing there, watching her and the bus pull away into the night, practically in shock and numb from all this.

I aimlessly wander down the deserted tree-lined street searching for another bus to take me home. Rounding the corner there’s a guy waiting at a bus stop. I read the sign and there’s one of three buses that stops here that can take me back to Constitucion and from there and I can walk the seven blocks back to the house. “I’ve been waiting for ten minutes but this early in the morning, who knows how long it’ll be before the bus arrives,” he tells me after I ask when the bus will arrive. Now I’m muy cansado (‘tired’, which I find ironically close to casado, which means ‘married’) All I have is time and since I’m broke and can’t afford any of the dozens of empty taxis that are streaming by I sit down and wait. Two more people arrive and have a similar conversation with the guy already waiting for the bus about when the next bus will come. Now he’s been waiting for half an hour. After another ten minutes, they leave and after another twenty minutes he leaves, reassuring me that the bus will come and that it’s only a matter of when. But now I’m solo – alone. And with $6,000 of camera gear in my bag I start to wonder what I should do.

Just then I hear this terribly loud noise coming towards me from down the street. It’s the 151, the bus that’ll take me across town back home. I jump up and flag it down, always necessary or they simply won’t stop, almost missing him as he grinds to a halt. The driver opens the door and informs me that he can’t take me because his bus is broken and won’t make it to Constitución. But I’ve been waiting more than an hour, how do you suggest I get home? You can walk down there a few blocks and catch another bus. Sorry, but I’m not sure which bus to take or from where. Hop on and I’ll give you a lift. We sit at the green light and then a red and then another green light before lurching forward, as if he was demonstrating that the bus was really ‘broken’. At the next bus stop he informs all of the three passengers on the bus that this is the last stop and due to technical difficulties we can go no further but if we want to wait in the back of the bus for maybe another forty-five minutes for the next bus we can. I ponder this for a moment and then exit the bus back out onto the street and into the early morning. Crossing Corrientes I see my bus pass by and run after it missing it by a hair. DAMN! I break down, just like the 151 and flag a ‘tuerto’ taxi, literally ‘one-eyed’ but in this case, one headlamped. The cab whisks me down towards the Obolisco, BA’s central landmark and we pass by the Banco Frances, which is really a bank from Spain and then past some cartoneros, digging through the early morning trash.

Sitting on the toilet back home, trying not to forget all that has transpired (not to be confused with the Spanish word transpiración, which means to sweat), exhausted beyond belief, I’m thankful this Thanksgiving to finally know the truth… for better or for worse, her truth. Ya fue – that’s it... for now. Happy Thanksgiving to all and I leave you with words from Abraham Lincoln (from Wikipidia).

"In the middle of the Civil War, prompted by a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale, the last of which appeared in the September 1863 issue of Godey's Lady's Book, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863:
"The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.<
Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth."
Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln, 3 October 1863. Since 1863, Thanksgiving has been observed annually in the United States.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Random Rants from Down South

November 22, 2005
San Telmo, Buenos Aires

Ojo = Caution
Literally ojo means ‘eye’, but when you put your forefinger to your face below one eye and draw downward, it means CAUTION! Pretty much everyday someone, somewhere in this huge city tells me “OJO, here its VERY dangerous!” If I’m in a taxi I usually try to explain that West Oakland is way more dangerous than any part of Buenos Aires that I’ve been to so far. One time, two men slowed down and paced along side of me in their car. “OJO… aca es muy peligroso!” the passenger shouted. Thanks… I know, I’ll be careful. “NO…” he continued in exalted, rapid Spanish. “You can’t walk here with the camera… PUT IT IN YOUR BAG!” I actually got quite irritated. “I’m a photographer… its part of my job. Thanks for the warning¨." He continued on for a bit trying to tell me to at least not walk past the bridge. “Look… there’s my bus stop, the 152. I’ll be fine… I’m working… I’M A PHOTOGRAPHER!”

Sub-Tropical Heat and Plastic Lawn Chairs
The first time I witnessed this Latin American phenomenon was in Pinotepa Nacional, Mexico, a couple of years back sitting in a small taco bar next to the main plaza in town with Burro, Steele, PTK, and Super Dave. The chico serving us advised me before we sat down, not to sit in the white plastic lawn chairs, very common in cafes throughout Latin America. I switched to a metal chair but Steele did not head the warning. Half way through our meal his chair suddenly buckled and he headed for the floor, barely catching himself on the way down with one arm. We laughed about that one for quite some time. Eating late night burgers just the other night after the Manu Chao concert, the same thing happened. Although this time there was next to no warning and after the slight sense of uh oh… the chair splintered into a million pieces and I hit the floor, hard. I looked at the kid behind the counter as he simply shrugged his shoulders and watching me slowing pick myself up from the ground. Then, a couple nights later I was invited to my first asado (barbeque) in Baldi’s house (Samy’s ex-boyfriend). The succulent meats were SO out of site that I almost didn’t catch myself as the same thing started happening all over again. But this time, I felt the initial buckle of the rear chair leg… and immediately stood up in front of more than twenty-five people… close one.

Tyranny Tours & Transnochar
Literally meaning, ‘to cross the night’, the verb transnochar is foreign to most foreigners. It’s like Tom Waits said, ‘never saw the morning till I stayed up all night.’ Last night, my flat mates and I trekked across the city to Palermo Viejo, the chi-chi part of town where most foreigners choose to live. Danny and Aimee live there. First to Mundo Bizaro and then to my favorite bar in town, Lele de La Troyja, named after Helen of Troy’ Afterwards, we hopped in a taxi and I asked the driver about the ‘best tour in BA,’ according to El Travel Burro – the nighttime tyranny tour. Oh yeah… its just up here, the Red Zone. Danny had been talking about this ever since he first arrived in BA the first time, many months ago. Living up to its legend, there were more than 50 hot transvestites, some nearly naked, all for sale. It’s like a zoo… they hide in the bushes, walk along the lonely street and congregate in groups of three or four along the main park drag. We raced back across the deserted town in the taxi watching random motorists fly past us as we wait at a red light in the middle of the widest street in the world. We all agreed that the city is most alive and most comfortable and most beautiful just before dawn.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Mentira es Verdad

Who you calling crazy?

November 16, 2005
Piso Compartido – San Telmo, Buenos Aires

The Burro and I both agree that next to Tijuana, Buenos Aires has to be the place to see Manu Chao in concert. It’s been a dream of mine ever since I first came across Manu (who was it that introduced me...?) to see him live in concert. Finally Radio Bemba came to Argentina and beneath the full moon rising, we jumped up and down, sweated our asses off and sang and danced and lived the night away.

What really made the show espectacular was the collaboration with Radio Colifata. I hand you over to Time Out for their description of this Crazy Radio.

“From Rush Limbaugh through Howard Stern to Dave Lee ‘Hairy Conrflake’ Travis, radio has always attracted its fair quota of misfits and eccentrics. But BA’s Radio La Colifata (literally, ‘crazy radio’) goes several steps beyond. It claims to be the first radio station in the world run entirely by residents and outpatients at a hospital for the clinically insane….

… Much of the appeal of La Colifata stems from its unpredictability; it has an anarchistic style that owes nothing to the calculated goonery of commercial ‘zoo’ radio. The only regular slot in the Saturday broadcast is that in which listeners’ letters and emails are read out on air. After that anything can happen – a snatch of Willie Dixon courtesy of patient and bluesman Hugo Blues; a rant about the gruesome condition of the hospital’s bathrooms; or perhaps a Chomskyan diatribe on US foreign policy….

… Comments on local and international politicians are almost always defamatory – who’s going to sue? – and usually astute. Which shouldn’t surprise anyone; “I am a neurotic schizophrenic psychopath but I’m not stupid’ is the catchphrase of legendary presenter Garces, also known as the Emperoro of Paranoia. Proof that the musings of the patients are usually no more eccentric than, say, your average cab driver, [which of course I find amusing as I have no idea who an average cab driver is] comes in the form of the La Colifata ‘mock elections’. These ballots are organized in the hospital the week before each Argentinean presidential election, with the patients debating on and then voting for the candidates of their choice. The result usually makes the front pages of the mainstream press. The ‘crazy election’ has accurately prefigured the ‘sane’ vote in the last four presidential contests, a fact from which any number of conclusions can and have been drawn.”

Check them out online at

Friday, November 11, 2005

¨Hi, I´m Frankie

Goyo and I used to live together but now he´s gone to Argentina. One day I´ll make a run for the border too!¨

Blood, Sweat and Tears

November 10, 2005
San Telmo, Buenos Aires

Going out into the street without my camera is always a mistake, especially in Argentina. I walk not even one block from the house and see a group of people standing around looking sort of bewildered, as if something has just happened. As I pass, there’s an old man lying on the ground in a pool of deep red blood coming from his face, which is obviously a mess. I continue on down the street behind two schoolgirls in short green uniformed skirts that both make ugly faces at the same time. After another half a block I turn back to see if there’s anything I can do to help. No… the ambulance is on the way and he’ll be OK.

After looking at another smallish, expensive and out-of-the-way apartment I return to Caminito where Samantha is working. I wait and wait, finally catching her in-between dancing and laughing with her friends.

“What are you doing after work tonight?” I sheepishly ask. “Tonight… nothing,” she shrugs. Wait a minute… maybe she has a free evening, finally? “You can dine with me then, night?” I reply with a hint of hope in my voice. She simply nods. “What time is good for you,” I ask. “Whenever you tell me…”

“OK, how about 6:30PM?”

“I won’t be there, that’s too early.”

“How about 7PM?”

“Nope, won’t be there at 7… I have to go back to my house and change and shower and all that. How about 11PM?”

“But that’s so late.”

“OK, how about 10:30?” OK. At 10:30 I’ll be at the Constitucion train station.

“I’ll meet you at the ticket counter?” Yes, at the ticket counter, at Constitucion... at 10:30PM. Chao...

Walking back from La Boca I pass that same building that I shot the first day I arrived exactly one week ago today, the same day the President Bush arrived, and the anti-Bush graffiti still sprawls across the wall. But this time by foot, I can see inside of the building. It’s totally empty except for a HUGE stenciled picture of Che on the wall in the back. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture of Che that big. A man standing on top of the steps in front of the entrance asks me for a cigarette. “What’s this building,” I ask in exchange for the cigarette. It’s an old bank but now we live here. I want to live here too… not in this bank, but in La Boca, close to the soccer stadium. La Boca es vida.

On the next corner is a brightly painted green and blue hamburger shop. Suddenly I realize how hungry I am. I order a Maxi- burger with fries, one up from super. Not sure what the difference is since they both come with fried egg on top. Four blonde Germans swiftly ride past on matching black bicycles…. damn those German tourists! The kid behind the counter cranks up the music so loud, over modulating the speakers so that I can’t understand any of the words but I know its Bersuit, one of Argentina’s biggest rock bands that Danny turned me onto back in the States. When I glance at him he senses that I might be annoyed with the music and turns it back down to a normal level, normal for Argentina.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Typical BA Park Scene

Lovers are everywhere in this city that rivals Paris for the title of The City of Love.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Media Lunas from Heaven

San Telmo, BA

Back at Bar Britanico across the street from my shared flat... there´s that same guy that Danny and I saw across town on Monday in Palermo that looks like the lead singer from Simply Red, chain smoking and drinking his cappucino. Then, the same old guy that served us before slowly shuffles over to attend to my hunger pains. Double cappucino and a menu. I already know I will have 2 half-moons with ham and cheese - toasted.

The long-haired bearded guy from the kiosk outside the bar is talking up a storm with some other locals. Bar Britanico is on the corner of Parque Lezama in the heart of San Telmo, one of BA´s oldest neighborhoods and the heart of BA tango. Its an interesting mix of tired, sleep-deprived locals and foreigners, but its classic BA at its best.

The old man comes back over with my cappucino which ialwayssy served with at least three packets of sugar. I´ve gone from half a pack to a whole one because it just seems right. That same grey and white cat sits on top of the bar, lazily sleeping away his day. "You only want one media luna?" the old man asks. "Are they big or small," I reply. Before I have a chance tonever mindrmind and order two, he walks away waving his finger in the air, the international symbol for hold on just a minute and goes all the way back to the bar, much slower than a snail would move and returns with the crossiant (sp?) in his hand, saying nothing. They´re actually bigger than I had remembered and I tell him one is fine. After all, I am on a budget and I´m also trying to curb my over-zealous American appetite. A little weak on the toasting part but I wolf it down none the less.

Simply Red keeps glancing back at me like he wants to start up a conversation. He doesn´t realize that I´m looking past him at the television and not at him. The old man sits down and begins to play cards with three other buddies. Now Simply Red is complaining about one of the condiments that came with his food... totall American, never satisfied. The old man has to get back up from his card game to attend to him. Must be tough in a country where the service oriented economy hasn´t evolved to our post-capitalist standards. I hope it stays this way.

A woman enters with a belly t-shirt, tight jeans and a nice ass... and Simply Red simply gawks at her with his mouth wide open inbetween puffs of smoke from his hand-rolled cigarettes. $7 pesos for lunch ($8 with tip = $2.70)... a little expensive but totally worth it. I don´t believe it... Simply Red walks into the Cyber and sits down across from me. I´m outta here...

Monday, November 07, 2005

Samantha in La Boca... the catalyst for my return

Protestors against George W. Bush in Constitución Train Station

Will the Revolution be Televised?

Monday, November 07, 2005
La Boca, Buenos Aires

The question I was asked more than any other the night before I left was, “are you ready to go?” Well… the only two things I have to do in the morning (besides dealing with that outstanding seatbelt ticket) is to buy a bigger roller bag and a pair of Levis, pronounced Levees in most foreign countries. The immediate and easy answer coming from all sides was, go to the Mission.

“DUDE!” yells MT from the other table, “Mervyns is having a big sale TOMORROW on Swiss Army roller bags and 501 Levis!” The next morning Steele was very skeptical about their hours of operation and whether or not they would be open before we had to leave for SFO. When we arrived at Masonic and Geary in SF, not only were we both surprised that they normally open at 8am, but the woman behind the counter says, “Today for the big sale we opened at 7AM!” Got the Levis but the roller bags, even on sale were just too expensive for this budget-minded traveler. But what a goodbye it was, with a great dinner at Capp’s Corner and then drinks at the Crow Bar in North Beach. Its good to know that all of your friends are so supportive… either that or just really glad to see me finally leave, Samantha would later suggest.

We did end up in the Mission eating Chilaquiles and laughing about the night before. I also bought a new roller bag, which busted as soon as I tried to drag it to the ticket counter at the airport. But I made the plane and had an uneventful flight to Dallas and then again to Buenos Aires, albeit without much sleep. Upon arrival, the scene at the airport was incredible. Hundreds of people were running around everywhere. I had forgotten that today, George W. Bush was also arriving at this same airport before heading to the big Congress in Mar del Plata 5 hours outside of BA. Hmmm… wonder what that’s going to be like?

When I finally arrived in La Boca, Samantha seemed genuinely surprised but pleased to see me standing there with a smallish bouquet of white flowers in Caminito at the exact same spot where we first had met more than two months ago. After she finished work we ate some ricotta cake and played foosball with another friend called Christian. So many different people welcome me, most of whom I had met before and I am now known as Samy’s friend the Gringo photographer. After she left to go home, Christian and I played pool in La Boca down the stree from the huge Boca Juniors soccer stadium where Diego Maradona made his name as Argentina’s most famous citizen. When we got to the Constitucion train station a bit later, there were cameramen and news vans everywhere. Maradona was joining the Labor Party leader, many other famous singers and actors, the nephew of Che Gueverra himself and Evo Morales, perhaps the future president of Bolivia to take a ‘Stop Bush’ train to Mar del Plata for the other Congress, where Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was to address more than 40,000 radicals protesting Bush’s visit to South America. The next day, just before the rioting started in Mar del Plata, Chavez would conclude his passionate discourse against Bush with “Que viva Che, CARAJO!” Wow, maybe the revolution will be televised?