Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A kiss is just a kiss

Fading mural across from Boca Jrs. stadium, La Boca, Buenos Aires.

Fluid Motion

I finally stepped outside today for the first time at 7:30PM and the sky was dripping with color. Of course I didn't have my camera with me on the way to the cinema but that's not the point. But that IS the point. I came to Argentina to make photographs and I've ventured or strayed far from that goal. Sure I snap a few frames here and there and yeah, we've done some cool stuff with the trash collectors called Cartoneros but the things I see on a daily basis; the little vinegettes, the street scenes, the people, the light... the life that is Buenos Aires, that's what I'm neglecting.

So caught up with living in a foreign country that I've grown accustomed, tired, complacent and bored with pictures of my daily life. Like the buses... I LOVE the buses here, crowded, confusing and crazy-insane at times. But I don't shoot them from the inside. I'm also starting to believe the hype about how dangerous it is to walk around with my camera... "yeah, better leave it at home today, much safer," I tell myself.

And its carnival en Rio right now, Fashion week here in BA as well as the XII Tango festival and I'm in front of my computer getting pschyo emails from Samantha saying, "Hi, I'm not really Samantha that's been writing to you but a friend of her's blah blah blah..." WHAT?! I mean it's really too much at times.

But tomorrow is a new day and I've cleared all my CF cards to go back out and shoot... something, ANYTHING! Good night good luck (which I saw tonight and was just OK at best. It looked good on the big screen in B&W and all but fell short in the writing and plot. Also its critique of television and its political impact were lackluster at best. Yes it was entertaining but a bit boring as well).

Saturday, February 25, 2006


"I look like a PUTO!" said Arnaud after I sent him downstairs for his makeup for the shoot. That's the thing about makeup, and fashion. They both lie, just like Argentines.

Everybody Loves Arnaud

So many changes in so little time, the biggest being that my friend and roommate Arnaud has now gone back to Europe, first to France and then back to Switzerland to finish his Telecommunication Engineering degree. No more will I be able to walk down the streets of Buenos Aires and here, "Ahh... Club Med, did you know they are a French company?" Or, "Let's go to Carefour supermarket... it's the biggest one in the world and its FRENCH!"Seriously, Arnaud has to be one of if not THE coolest french dude I've met in quite some time. With only 23 very young years, he taught me more about life, my Macintosh and the French way with woman than most. ('The more you pursue women, the less they will follow... the less you pursue, the more they will follow', or something like that.)
Arnaud also boldly stuck his neck out for me and was there on every single one of my photoshoots with the Cartoneros, helping me with everything from posing as my very first model (which included being sent downstairs to the local haircutting salon to be made up something like David Bowie from Ziggy Stardust) to helping scout locations to wrangling Cartoneros to critiquing my composition and lighting. THANKS ARNAUD, seriously. I know our paths will cross again and on behalf of myself and all of your friends here in Buenos Aires, we will miss you. GR

Thursday, February 16, 2006

For the Love of Tango and Good Food

So what ever happened with Samantha? Well... it’s complicated. After the turbulent ups and downs of December and before I left for Punta del Este and then to the north in January, I told her straight up, “Samantha, I will always love you and have a place in my heart for you, but this game of ‘hysteria’ (one of three choices for the national pastime here in Argentina(1) ), I just can not support any longer (thanks for that phrase in Spanish Julia – No lo soporto mas!) I had finally come to the realization that it wasn’t going to work no matter what I did and that maybe I had fallen in love with Tango and Argentina instead of her. She had set a course of irreconcilable differences between the two of us and no matter how hard I pursued her she was always just out of reach. Following her all over town until the wee hours of the morning, sitting and watching her dance the night away all the while becoming more angry and frustrated and loco en la cabeza was taking its toll on me both physically and mentally. And after I finally decided that I wasn’t in love with her anymore and that I was going to put my foot down and be strong she came back with a vengeance. “No, but I really do love you and want to be with you.” But by that time it was simply too late.

And that’s about where we are today. I call her occasionally asking if she would like to get a coffee (even though she won’t drink anything but grapefruit soda) and then have to listen for usually more than an hour about what a liar I am (2) and how I never really loved her in the first place and how I am just like all of her other ex-boyfriends. Ironically when I called her last Friday to apologize for not having called her sooner she yelled and then cried and then invited me to her ex-boyfriends birthday party, which I had to decline. I also find it very hard to believe how she doesn’t understand why I don’t call her too often anymore.

So in the meanwhile I’ve diverted my romantic interests away from the world of Tango and Samantha and have taken up cooking classes, specifically my cooking instructor Marina. The joke between us is that if I want to continue with my French cooking lessons I have to cut the number of girlfriends I have down from fifteen down to five – that’s why 'It’s a JOKE’!

1 My favorite topic of conversation with Argentine cab drivers is women. Once we get past the small talk of where I am from and yes I like Argentina very much and thanks for the compliment but I think I can more communicate in Spanish than speak correctly and I understand how hard their job is because I used to be a cab driver and yes we earned much more in the US than here but its also much more expensive to live there, they always ask or I always volunteer something to the effect of – ‘and the women here, so beautiful.’ They are nothing less than brutal

2 Mentir = To Lie. The best way to explain the Argentine concept of lying is to use the national card game of Truco as an analogy (TBC).

Monday, February 13, 2006

Speaking of Water

It’s a recurring theme in my life here in Buenos Aires – water. First, you must drink a lot of water in order to stay healthy, happy and sane. Some say a liter a day, others two or maybe even more (1). The good news is that you (me, or most all except for the most finicky of foreigners) can drink plain ole Argentine tap water. I’m drinking tap water right now as I write this in fact.

Also there is the concept of hot water to bathe in, something that isn’t as simple as it might sound. In older homes here in Buenos Aires the plumbing is a bit different than we have back in the states or maybe in Europe. Instead of hot water tanks they use hot water heaters, a big medieval sort of device usually on the wall in the kitchen or next to the bathroom. When the hot water handle is turned to the on position flames ignite from below and then it heats the water on demand. But as soon as you turn the cold on, it thinks that you are done with the hot water and turns its self off. In the case of a house with older plumbing, the length of the pipes has more control over the temperature of the water than you do (2).

‘They come for the water’ is another one of my favorite themes. In short (and this is purely speculative at this point for lack of time to do further research) major multinational corporations are buying up all of the land in the arid Chaco desert in the northeast of Argentina, host to the largest reserve of fresh underground water in the world.

And then, for example, there are the shrines of water to La Difunta Correa (3) that you see along side of all major highways here in Argentina. She is ‘almost’ a saint, protecting traveling Argentines and they pay homage to her by leaving full bottles of water for her along side the road. Word has it that applications have been submitted to the Vatican to have her become a full fledged and official saint but I’m really not to sure on how this process works. Apparently they are waiting to see if the miracles that she has performed from her grave come true (4).

1 – Lars from Norway who I met up in Barreal and is a professional mountain climbing guide told me that as you ascend big mountains you must drink one extra liter of water per ever thousands meters. At the top of Mercedario which I had intended to attempt to climb in a mere two weeks that is almost seven liters of water per day, which he then said is almost impossible. Flavoring the water with something like powdered Gatorade is key.

2 - For those of you that don’t know I moved last week from Piso Compartido into a much more modern and more functional apartment with Arnaud, the French guy who now lives in Switzerland. For the same price I now get remote control AC (which most Argentines can’t believe that we don’t have in the states), a double wide balcony, a telephone which allows me to call out to cell phones, a brand new and CLEAN kitchen AND a shower which not only has rock star pressure perfectly controlled HOT water! And to further digress, Lee who still lives in Piso Compartido told us last night during our weekly photo crew dinner that he actually burned his head in the shower last week and then had to stand under the cold water for another five minutes to cool it off. My solution, in case you were wondering how I managed to not burn my head for more than two months was to simply take cold showers. Actually I would jump in as the water temperature was rising to hot and then jump back out as to not completely scald myself and then do the final rinse in cold water.

3 – Named after Dolinda Correa, the story begins to differ from there. My favorite version albeit short is this. Dolinda’s husband way back in Argentina history was sent off to fight against some invading forces (or perhaps amongst internal warring factions) in the northern province of La Rioja and when he didn’t return home after some spell of time, Dolinda and her small baby set out to look for him, carrying as much food and water as she could. Leaving the city of San Juan on foot, she encountered a harsh barren desert and shortly thereafter met her demise. Some days later (some say a few, others up to a month) some renegade gauchos (or some type of undefined cowboys) found her dead (difunta in Spanish) but miraculously the baby boy was still alive, sucking on her breast. Danny Palmerlee’s Lonely Planet description is more accurate and more eloquently written than mine so for more information refer to page 314 of the 5th edition 2005 Lonely Planet Argentina country guide.

4 – Ironically I met the son of the lawyer for the Vatican yesterday on Avenida Santa Fe. Tommy told me ‘that guy’s got a LOT of money!’

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Disjointed Rants

We want your water
Stenciled on the side of one of the yellow concrete benches across the street in Parque Lezama is 'They come for THE WATER' in bright blue paint with a big US tank below. Once we stop fighting and profiting over petroleum in the name of freedom and democracy (and isn't it ironic that amidst soaring gasoline prices state-side, a dirty war in Iraq and an increased US Military presence here in Latin America, Texas-based Exxon announced the highest profit ever by a US corporation - 32 Billion for 2005... read the British account here). After there are no more fossil fuels we'll fight over plain 'ole water, just like Mandrake thought of the Ruskies in Kubrick's 'Dr. Strangelove, or How I Tried to Stop the Bomb and Save the World'.

Now we're cooking
Live better, be happier, EAT healthier. I've been culinarily inspired and have renewed my interest in becoming a good little gourmet foodie like most of those privileged friends of mine that actually take/make the time to shop/cook/eat well. And I've met a few folks down here that are on that same program, independent of budget or resources. My chilaquiles were a hit with the flat (thanks again mew mew and Dave for bringing all of the Trader joy's tortillas). Now I have to make my own corn tortillas from scratch. The guacamole has also been very well received, never lasting more than about 20 minutes in the bowl when set on the table with freshly fried torridly chips. (And to me its funny to come all the way to Argentina and want to cook only Mexican food where you can't get a lot of the basic Mexican ingredients). Finally there is the its-all-you-Marina summer salad - fresh corn, tomtatos, peas, hard boiled eggs and some sauce. Simple, refreshing, healthy and DYN-O-MITE!

Who's your daddy?
No longer do I have the luxury of being called Papa or Papi in reference to my age compared to the rest of the European kids in our Real World flat, minus Lee who is 33 and Australian-American. Now they call me Abu - short for Abuelo which in Spanish means grandfather. But the way I see it is that you have 40 prime years to live full-on and they are between 20 and 60. Before 20 you are still young, innocent, growing. After 60 you move a bit slower perhaps, take it a bit easier, enjoy life with a new perspective. You begin to slow down... or at least most seem to. And at 38 years of age I am just a mere two years shy of my prime mid-life peak. And... "its never too late to have a happy childhood," or at least that's what SDSU Political Science professor Jack Soule once told me after our trip to Nicaragua in 1990.

I want to be President of Argentina!
Incidentally, the top three contenders for next years presidential election is something straight out of central casting.

1. - Nestor Kirchner, the current president, probably the front runner and perhaps Argentina's best hope for staying course, he is a left-of-center moderate with the majority control of the Peronistas labor-based party of fifty years ago.

2. - Carlos Menem, ex-president who is usually seen as the main culprit for the 2001 economic melt-down by most Argentines, he currently lives in a lavish security mega-compound out-fitted with private paved runway long enough to land a 747 in one of the poorest provinces where he was once governer - La Rioja. (Before the demise of his presidency he was reportedly secretly funding the construction of his future hideout with government funds under the guise of 'donations and contributions from foreign private investors).

3. - Eduardo Dualde, another ex-president who currently lives in Lomas de Zamora six train stops from here to the South. Many say that he is the kingpin of the South American drug trade and was attributed to the murder of a local photographer only a few years back. But he also maintains a position in the Argentine political limelight controlling a small and dwindling portion of congress and see by many in the Provinces as a hero for his public works programs.

For more on this there's a decent article in The Economist

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Those spiteful flying rats!?

OK - Buenos Aires has a shitload of pigeons, more than most large cities I would say. But I haven't done any specific research to suggest any support for this. Frankly... I can't stand pigeons. Unless you are a four year old kid enamoured by the fact that a real live bird is actually so very close to you, so close that you can almost catch it but everytime you take another step forward, first walking and then running, they always takes flight just out of your reach, I don't know a lot of people that like pigeons. Here in San Telmo we have 15 missing window panes in our flat and the transient pigeon homesteaders are all but welcome. And like I said, I pretty much loathe pigeons and see nothing of social value in them what-so-ever. That was until today.

I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend this article from SIX0SIX onlilne magazine and will now re-evaluted my hatred for those damn rats with wings.

And while we are on the subject of pigeons, here is a little bit more information for those of you that may find the harnessing of these little critters fascinating.

Homebuilt Homing Pigeons with GPS

And if you really want to get hi tech with these flying rats, hell... give him cameras, cell phones and mini-backpacks and make them do the dirty work!

And for more on the project you can stay abreast on all the pigeon happenings on their blog.

And to further prove that pigeons do use major roadways as navigational aides.

And then there's the organized Pakistani Mafia using pigeons as a kind of flying burro or mule.

Mucho Sangre Please

Our little band of Merry Prankster Piso Compartistas (minus Barbara, the new girl from Belgium) stormed out of our flat and down Defensa onto the famed Des Nivel parrilla here in San Telmo only to have to queue up just outside the front door, all eyes now starring intently on the young grill master working his magic over the many different types of raw meats neatly laid out in shiny metal bowls for the waiting patrons, patiently waiting to be fed. The couple in front of us from Dallas, there on a recommendation of a friend, son and daughter-in-law just back from their honeymoon in Rio. It is Romain's last night in Buenos Aires before shipping back off to Paris and red meat is the consensus.

Des Nivel is the obvious choice as it is a true one of a kind, known throughout BA as one of the best if not THE best parrilla rilla; not only for its choice servings of all types of grilled meats but more for its circus-like atmosphere and minimal decor, not because all the guide books send droves of protein deprived first-worlders here on a regular basis, and not for its top notch waitstaff which are more like but more so because it also receives a slammin' dose of locals; from rock stars to actors to politicos to mafioso-gangstas (which are actually difficult to tell apart from the politicos at times). Once seated the table decision is almost unanimous - Bife de Lomo para TODO (minus Julia, the reigning princess of the house and a stout vegetarian who orders a simple salad). I supplement our order with a couple of plates of grilled provolone cheese, a few chorizo sausages and two heaping plates of perfectly cooked French fries (Dave and Mei - this is where we went meat crazy on your last official day in BA).

But the thing for me that is most impressive about this parrilla is how rare they can serve a steak and now how rare I can eat their red meat. I order my steak 'al punto' which is something like the Argentine equivalent of medium. When I finish a Des Nivel steak cooked 'al punto' my plate is full of bloody beef juice and my brain is swimming in delicious Argentine cow blood. But... this time was different. After we finished our steaks, Romain and Ed just had not had quite enough of the delicious carnivorous flesh. "One more Bife de Lomo?" Ed asks for... "con MUCHO SANGRE!" he adds - with a LOT OF BLOOD which is the correct way to order your steak rare. OK - most of you back home would have a hard time probably even looking at the beautiful piece of steak that shortly thereafter arrived on our table let alone to possible eat it. But let me tell you, I'm quickly learning the ways of the world and how to eat a basically RAW steak! Ed agreed that never in his life had he ever eaten any thing so raw before but ohh what a joy the blood-red meat was, melting like butter in our mouths, savoring every moment of the bloodfest.

Afterwards, we arrived late at La Cigalle on 25 de Mayo, which is a French bar with every Tuesday being French night and Pastisse drinks are only three pesos. Instead of queuing up around the block which would have taken forever to get in, we headed off on a zig zagging path to some Rose of something place nearby and proceeded to dance the night away at one of the most bizarre and surreal bars I've been to so far in BA - old world mafiosos, young cool french kids from Paris, all with their shirt collars turned up, Lee dancing with one of the owners girlfriends and Arnaud ordering rounds of Cointreau; lighting them on fire, pressing them to his palm and then waving them all around with a brazen look of fire in his eyes. It was a good send off for Romain and just one more beautiful and memorable night here in South America.