Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Local politics and miscellany

I had an interesting lunchtime conversation today with the old man sitting next to me (who didn’t think he was too old to ask me out for tomorrow, but that’s beside the point). Some background: Recently, Argentina’s president Christina Kirchner – wife of the last president if that rings any bells – announced her intent to take the equivalent of $23 billion from PRIVATE pension funds to pay off government debt, which is virtually 100% of said pensions. This announcement sparked the drop of the peso to its lowest worth in 6 years, hovering between 3.36-3.44 pesos to U.S. $1 (normal is around 3.10 to 1). Living next to the congress building I am privy to each and every protest, and yesterday there was a huge demonstration against what would be an essential robbery of private funds.

Anyway, this very knowledgeable man and I started talking politics, and if ever I thought the U.S. had cornered the corruption market, now I think we’re just taking a page from Argentina’s well-greased systematic trickery. (It isn’t just this conversation that has me feeling this way; virtually every Argentinean I’ve spoken with thinks their country is crooked, things move slowly because people are too busy figuring out how to rob or cheat the system than make it work, and in general consider their compatriots lazy, liars, or both.)

So, according to my lunchtime compañero, the majority of the people I saw yesterday and see in all the protests are paid to be there by opposition forces, often within the government itself. Disheartening if true! I was always so moved by the latino willingness to protest.

We then got onto the subject of Kirchner herself, who is rapidly becoming a very unpopular pick. Not that she was every popular, according to Ricardo – there was widespread fraud to get her elected. For instance, some 15,000 illegal immigrants were given Argentinean residency (and the documents to prove it) so they would vote for her. Can you imagine if someone tried to pull that in the U.S.? Also, paper ballots are routinely robbed or tampered with, but they refuse to switch to the electronic system for fear of even more extensive voter fraud. I explained with some irony that we’re fighting FOR a paper trail to avoid the very same. He was talking fast and I forget a few other points he made (something about promising specific regions specific things if a certain percentage voted for Christina and even giving bribes like electronics and cars to buy votes, etc.) but all in all it sounds like there are some shady dealings here in my temporary adoptive country. Someone pointed out to me that it’s taken 6+ years to build two additional stops on a particular subway line because those working on the project can’t be bothered to actually work, and those administering the funds can’t be bothered to monitor the work since they’re so busy covering their embezzlement. Paranoid and cynical, perhaps, but it seems there’s some truth to their pessimism.

In other, happier Argentina-related news, I’ve officially booked my trip north to the world’s largest waterfalls, Iguazú. They sit on the border of four countries and are supposed to be incredible! I’ll be there from November 10-14 which includes a full moon, something I planned intentionally so I can catch a nighttime riverboat trip only offered the two days before and during a full moon. Marcos booked my fancy "executive suite bed" bus seat since he gets a discount; apparently the busses here are very lux and include hot meals and booze. Good thing since it's 16 hours each way, but the scenery is supposed to be incredible. I’m also in the process of planning one or possibly two trips to the south and am having a hard time deciding what to do. I’ve had to accept that there are some places I thought I’d see that now I won’t, such as Chiloe and the south in general in Chile. I’d like to go to Puerto Madryn to see penguins and whales and other marine life, El Calafate to see the world's largest glacier, and Ushuaia to say I've been really, really far south and toured the Beagle channel, but time and funds are limited. I’m waiting to hear back from a travel agent to see what kind of airfare he found for me… details to follow as I know them.

This Friday as you all know is Halloween. I've been forcing the idea down my friends' throats here and I hope they've taken me seriously enough that they have thought about costumes and are prepared to go to one of the few, trendy parties (it's sort of a new concept to celebrate Halloween here, done mostly among North Americans living abroad and very hip locals). I plan on going as Snow to celebrate my year of eternal winter, somewhat ironic since it will be my first hot Halloween ever: they're forecasting 81 degrees (88 for Saturday).

In a last "it's two a.m. and this post is already random" subject, I decided to change my hair color for the first time in 6 years, mostly because they don't sell "Very Rich Auburn" down here. So, I opted for "Copper Blonde" and this was the result:

Keep in mind that blonde here means light brown and up, and when put on top of my already dark hair, the result was... Very Rich Auburn. Luckily I stuck with it so long because it's a color I like!

Off to bed, but before I go, I'd like to officially recognize and celebrate the fantastic Phillies victory tonight in the World Series of baseball. I watched the first 6 innings from a bar on Monday and the last 3 from my home tonight (bless international cable) and couldn't be more thrilled for the team, the fans, and the city in general. It's been a long time since Philly had a winning sports team and I think they needed something to bring them together during what's been sort of a rough patch. I hope they dress William Penn in a giant jersey tomorrow. Go Phillies! Now if only the Eagles could pull it together... not to mention the Seahawks for that matter.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Postcard Frenzy 2008

One month ago, after seven months of strictly e-mail-based (written) communication, I decided it was time to go back to the 20th century. These last few weeks I have undertaken what I like to call “Postcard Frenzy 2008.” I sent 46 cards to the U.S. and one each to Ghana, Spain, England, China, and Chile. This is a jump from "Postcard Frenzy 2002" when I sent about 30 postcards from Sevilla, Spain, to the U.S. only. I've become much more international since then, and apparently, more verbose.

It only cost 50 centavos more to make it to non-U.S. countries (except for neighboring Chile) and each stamp was about U.S. $1.50. I bought 5 postcards at a time because I got a discount that way, but they were still about 75 cents each. I didn't realize what a pricey venture it was until I added it all up at the end, but it was money well spent. People got mail which has that "warm fuzzy" effect, and I had hours of entertainment trying to make postcards fun and original. As anyone who has travelled or spent large quantities of time alone will know, it's important to occupy oneself when out in public such as at a restaurant or in a park, which is where I wrote the majority of them.

My favorite interaction regarding the frenzy was at a café and went something like this (translated for your convenience):

Waiter: Where are you from? (How I've grown to despise this question!)
Me: Africa. (I like to give creative answers so this daily inquiry isn't so dull.)
Waiter: No, really.
Me: (sigh) I live here, but I’m from the U.S.
Waiter: That’s a lot of postcards (I had just bought 10)
Me: Yeah, I’ve been in South America for eight months and I figured it was time to send a few.
Waiter: Why don’t you use e-mail?
Me: ...I do. Everyone loves real mail, though.
Waiter: Well, welcome to Argentina!
Me: Um, thanks. I've been living here for two months.
Waiter: What hotel are you staying at?
Me: Well, I live here, so I have an apartment.
Waiter: Enjoy your stay.

Sometimes not all the conversation engines are firing during these quaint little exchanges…

I never sent the same postcard twice, which became tricky toward the end. Also, I either geared the writing specifically toward the sendee, related a unique anectode, or shared a bit of history or information I found particularly interesting; at any rate, I used nothing resembling standard "It's amazing, wish you were here!" language: each one was totally different. I dare you to compare!

I sent the postcards in four "waves," building up a dozen or so before braving the post office. That means that the date I wrote on the card and the send date are probably not the same. (I'd be interested in knowing the postmarks, though, since cards sent in the same wave tended to arrive as much as a week apart.) This is wave 2 and part of wave 3:

Post offices are like the DMV here; there aren't that many (though there is one only 2 blocks from my house) and they are always crowded. You have to take a number when you arrive, and it can take up to an hour for your turn. (I would usually take a number and then go shopping or for coffee before returning.) Once at the counter, they print out these mammoth sticker stamps and do not let you place them yourself. I would always stand there wincing as the disgruntled worker would slap the stamps any and everywhere, including over text I had written (even though I always left space for the stamp) and one time, over the address itself! Sometimes they would wrap the stamp over to the photo side of the card, which in the worst case covered the face of a tango dancer on an otherwise blank canvas (sorry about that one, Philly office).

Side note about the post office: yesterday I went to send a single piece of mail, my absentee ballot. It cost $4 to mail a simple envelope and yes, I waited an hour to send it. This was technically my third ballot: I completed an emergency write-in at the embassy two weeks ago; an absenee ballot was sent to my parents' house; and one was sent to my address here, with instructions to discard the one that had already been sent to my permanent address (you're on that, right, Mom?). In theory, my emergency ballot should be disqualified once this one arrives. It took me several hours to wade through the voter's guide but I like to make informed choices (my Dad was thrilled when I told him that a few of my local picks were actually Republicans [though not for president, governor, or any congress/senate seats]). I made my choices at a restaurant, and the waiter (after asking where I was from and what I was doing) commended me on being an informed voter: here it's the law to vote, and he mentioned something about how people are actually paid to vote which I have yet to verify, but he said no one pays attention to what they vote for. I'd like to think that's not universally true...

On another yet more related side note, if you were wondering why your postcard said EEUU, that's the Spanish abbreviation for “Estados Unidos.” EU is used for European Union, hence the doubling of the letters, I think.

In conclusion, if you did not receive a postcard, there are several logical explanations:

1) I sent you a one but it hasn’t arrived yet or was lost in the mail (I've already heard one instance of a lost postcard, though he admits he might have just thrown it out with his junk - thanks a lot, John!)
2) I sent one to your parents’ house to represent the whole family (or to the office)
3) I don’t know you, or I didn't think we were at the postcard-sending stage of our friendship
4) Sending you a postcard somehow complicated my life (for specific examples please inquire directly)
5) Soy boluda (I'm an idiot) and forgot to send you one

If you think there has been any oversight with your particular postcard, please let me know (include your address) so I can correct the grievance as quickly as possible! Otherwise, I hope you enjoyed hearing from me in a non-digital way. And remember, there are less than two months left until I can see (most of) you in a real, live setting. Huzzah!

p.s. I called Angelica today but she was out. I will try again tomorrow - stay tuned.

p.p.s. A third cockroach appeared in my apartment the other day. After staring at it for half an hour, squealing every time it moved, searching for different weapons with which to kill it, and in general trying to work up the nerve to do so, I finally went next door and begged my neighbor to do it for me. First he laughed, then when he saw it he exclaimed, "Holy crap, that's a big one!" He told me "not to look," killed it with his own shoe, then picked it up by its dead little legs and carried it to the common trash in the hall.

p.p.p.s. I passed the 2,000 mark for visitors to the blog (w00t), but today the counter on the bottom of the page regressed to 1,700 something. Any thoughts on why this might be??

Sunday, October 19, 2008

An unlikely friend

Today felt like a special day: I arrived in Buenos Aires exactly two months ago, on August 19, and I leave in exactly two more, on December 19. This made me yet again introspective. It's also Argentina's mother's day, and the country "sprang ahead" last night while I was at a karaoke birthday party (soon I will be six hours in front of Seattle instead of four). As a means of reflecting on the various meanings of today, I went to Plaza de Congreso to enjoy the extended daylight and write a particularly personal (if not rare - the last date in the book was from August) journal entry about the benefits of sharing one's life and whether or not I was biding or enjoying my time in South America.

As I walked home, I saw an older woman, short and round with a flowing dress and straight, cropped white hair, leaning on a building for support as she advanced unsteadily. My first instinct was to offer assistance, and as I smiled she called to me: "Young lady, will you help me to the cinema?" It being a mere 20 steps away I of course offered my arm and took slow, sure steps next to her until we made it through the glass doors. The single elevator would not come to the ground floor until the last movie ended, so we stood chatting downstairs while she and three others, also waiting, knowingly cursed the Argentinian beaurocracy for not providing more than one elevator - apparently it is a government-sponsored theater. In a few short moments I learned that she was a psychologist, age 90, with a sharp mind and shaky legs. "Take care of your knees," she wisely advised me. Apart from that, she could have been twenty years younger - keen eyes, smooth skin, no stammer or slowness in her speech, seemingly perfect hearing. "Often, the body and mind deteriorate at the same time," she told me, making an exaggerated bend and imitating the use of a cane, unknowingly mimicking my own departed grandmother who suffered from osteoperosis, "but it's only my body that's old."

She offered me her phone number "so we could chat again" and instead of taking it thinking I would never call, I took it thinking, what day might we have lunch? The elevator finally came and I took the stairs to meet her on the next level. She seemed intent on getting to a particular row, so I patiently walked next to her, holding her bags as she guided herself using the handrail. During this interval she told me I must have a handsome boyfriend - it was a statement, not a question - because it was obvious to her I had certain qualities you don't find every day. It was both painful and welcome to hear such words from this magical woman. Once arrived she slowly settled in to her seat, and as I promised to call her in a few days, she smiled and said, "What fun to have a young North American friend!" I kissed her on the cheek and wished her a happy mother's day. Oddly, she wished me the same.

On the way home, charmed by what had just happened, I stopped to pick out some flowers. Everyone I passed was carrying a bouquet as well, though I suspect I was the only one who bought them for myself. As I stood in my kitchen arranging snap dragons and ferns into a glass pitcher as twilight settled in outside my windows, I couldn't help but think that the experience had been rather etheral, coming on a day - and indeed, at the exact moment - when I needed a certain reassurance that all life is not random and that loneliness can be combatted in many ways. It didn't escape me that of all the names in the world, hers was Angelica.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Less Talking, More Doing

After writing my last post I felt like a real whiner. Yes, it's all well and good to reflect on one's place in life, but when that someone is living in one of the coolest cities in the world, reflection should be backburnered. So, I tried to think about what was ailing me and how I could fix it. Two things came to mind: first, I am still not very well ubicated in the city, so I bought a large map, hung it on my wall, and started studying it. I am also paying closer attention to surrounding streets and numbers. I get out of sorts and life seems sort of surreal when I don't really know where I am, so I think a new commitment to Buenos Aires' geogaphy will help. Second, I realized I'd been pretty cooped up due to weather and various health bugs, and that the actual bugs in my apartment were freaking me out. (Although my friend Sol assured me that the chirping noise I was hearing at night was not cockroaches [and, moreover, that it isn't normal for them to come inside so the two that are dead may be the only two] but, in fact, bats, which I think is cool, since bats are amazing.) So, I resolved to get out more.

After the lightning storm on Saturday night, the weather on Sunday was a perfect combination of spring breezes and humidity, so I put on my walking shoes - leather flats I bought from a local artisan - and plotted a vague course for Recoleta, one of the poshest and greenest neighborhoods in the city, which starts about 15 blocks from where I live.

To get to Recoleta I walked down Rodriguez Peña in order to pass the football bar to check the schedules. Then I continued on my walk through various parks, plazas, ferias (where I found a woman who makes the most beautiful belts), drum bands, and a crazy white-haired lady who screamed at me for taking a picture (all apologizing and attempts to explain that she was not in the picture were, sadly, rejected). The good news is, for once I finally remembered my camera, so if you click on my Picassa link you too can enjoy that day's walk.

Recoleta is lovely. All the streets are filled with trees that are either blooming, about to bloom, or covered in new leaves. The people are good looking and very fashionable; there's a park or a plaza every other block; leather furniture and fancy household goods grace the windowfronts; street performers draw afternoon crowds between shopping destinations or on their way to or from the nicest movie theater in town. Many streets provide a view of the cemetery statues and the big stone wall keeping the dead and the cats in. I stopped at an outdoor cafe and had tea (which always comes with cookies) and wrote a few postcards while watching a lady feed the felines.

By the time the sun was going down, I grew tired of watching three admittedly entertaining young fellows perform a combination of slapstick comedy and choreographed "dance fighting." So, I headed back to Casa Bar to check on the birds. I think I'm bad luck since as soon as I arrived the Seahawks took a turn for the worse and ultimately lost, although the Eagles pulled out a win so it wasn't all bad. (I also noticed the Phillies are kicking ass and taking names, and I'm definitely rooting for them even though I haven't followed baseball at all this year. Philadelphia could use a winning team! Have they dressed Penn yet??)

Sunday night Sol and Paula came over since Monday was a holiday (día de la Raza). We had snacks and wine and then went to a fun bar that has a variety of board games to choose from. We were all Jenga pros and reached some impressive heights. Having declared myself la campeona before even starting, I was relieved at the end that I had, in fact, lost the fewest games (which they both contested). Then it was off to Crobar, a night club that is seriously straight out of a movie. Multiple levels of beautiful people with blank stares moving to the electronic beats of a famous DJ while a talented VJ mixed live video to the music and complicated light patterns strobed the audience. I enjoyed the experience and now I have a new theory about why Argentinians don't drink to get drunk; in fact, why they don't drink at all, at least not at clubs. Everyone is broke and the drinks are expensive. However, this doesn't decrease the value of a crowd with motor skills still intact. (Note that, unlike in the U.S. where we are also all broke, Argentinian club-goers are not generally in posession of a credit card to defer any drinking debts.)

This week is pretty full with plans so I'm hoping my antisocial slump is behind me. I promise to finish the long-alluded-to food post soon. Until then, I hope you are all doing well and enjoying election season! Speaking of, I meant to mention in an earlier post that I went to the biggest vice presidential debate watch party in the world (according to the Democratic National Committee) along with some 400+ people, and was then interviewed on local TV! I also got to cast a Federal Emergency Write-In Ballot at the U.S. Embassy last week, which was interesting. I would guess that 500-700 people showed up, more than they seemed to anticipate, but it still went fairly smoothly. They also served free snacks: Starbucks coffee and McDonald's sandwiches. I partook of neither, but was sad to miss out on the giant American flag cake. There was a four piece brass band and the ambassador to Argentina spoke.

I still hope my absentee ballot shows up here since I'd like to vote for local issues, and they assured us that it was ok to submit said ballot even after casting our "emergency" votes. It's an interesting political system for international citizens to navegate. I have to say that Democrats Abroad is incredibly well organized (the campaign even has a full-time employee living here in BsAs and running the Central and South American effort), yet there seems to be no real Republican presence abroad, at least not in Latin America. I guess they don't see expatriots as their target audience? Anyway, I'm sure you'll all be thrilled for the ads and saturated coverage to end, but don't forget to do your civic duty. In Argentina it's the law; citizens who don't vote can be fined and even go to jail. Let's show the rest of the world that we take our elections just as seriously.

Hasta la proxima, queridos.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Insects, internet, and introspection


The other day I stepped on the fringes of a dying cockroach in my bare feet. After a full minute of high-pitched girly squealing from atop a chair as I watched the little beast squirm, I reached down to grab my cell phone and frantically called Marcos. This cockroach was easily two inches long. That's good, he assured me: the big ones are mothers looking for a place that doesn't already have cockroaches so they can start their own family. If she's dead, I'm in the clear. This calmed me somewhat until he cracked a joke about feeling cockroach pus between my toes, which got me screaming and him laughing. When I related the story to Paula she too laughed at me, saying once she felt one on her face while sleeping. Cockroaches are just a normal part of life here, and when I saw another one yesterday afternoon - this time half the size - I calmly handed Marcos a shoe and asked him to kill it, and only squealed a little bit at the crunching noise. I've always had issues with smashing larger insects because of the crunch-and-ooze, but I know the next time I see one I'll have to kill it myself since I am alone 95% of the time. (To all you insectatarians who would urge me to let it live, Paula's story has made such a scenario all but impossible.) Interestingly enough, by law every building has to be fumigated monthly, though my building has decided to skip October... the one month I would welcome pesticide in my house is the one month it won't be provided.


After a mere week with internet access, my connection inexplicably gave out. The modem said it was working and network diagnostics gave me the helpful hint that perhaps I had typed the web address wrong. I finally got a techie to help me today, and there was an administrative block on my account. Translation: the landlady found out I had added internet, was not pleased, and blocked it without telling me. In an equally passive aggressive move, I was able to get said techie to change me to the administrator. Now I am once again connected and plan to work through the long weekend (Monday is Día de la Raza here, formerly Columbus day).


Perhaps it's the changing of the season, the myriad public transportations I use, or the bad air quality that is supressing my otherwise effective immune system, but I am once again sick with cold #2. A friend of mine speculated that perhaps it's due to my relative inactivity here in Buenos Aires. For the first time since I was 15, I've had basically nothing to do: I work for Apex a few hours a day, but otherwise I'm on my own to fill my time as I please. I have varying reactions to this freedom. Sometimes I think of it as a well-deserved extended vacation that I should take full advantage of while I am able; on these days, I'm thrilled to wander the streets aimlessly, sitting in cafés and parks reading or writing postcards. Other times I'm bored and submit to hours of television watching, which I justify by reading the subtitles on English programs and calling it "enhancing my Spanish," usually followed by excessively long naps. I wouldn't say that on these days I'm depressed; rather, I'm lacking a specific direction or purpose that has always been present before.

This week, possibly because I've been unable to work, I've felt this lack of purpose strongly. In Seattle and Philadelphia, I always kept busy at work, in the kitchen, and volunteering with one organization or another. Here, I barely work, barely cook (oh how I miss Trader Joe's and farmer's markets and ovens that heat from the top), and don't volunteer. Someone pointed out to me that not every day has to have meaning, or that perhaps I'm missing the larger or more elusive meanings to my life abroad. It's true I've been very introspective and been able to reflect a lot on myself as a person, where I'd like to go in life and who I'd like to become. I've been able to work on a few character flaws, I think, but until I get back into my "normal" life I won't be sure how much I've really changed.

Some days I fantasize about life in Seattle; other days I'm near tears thinking about having to leave Buenos Aires. I never got very emotional when coming and going between Seattle and Philly, because I always knew I'd soon be back to whichever place I was leaving. The same is not true with my life here, and every friend I make I know I will leave; every restaurant I discover I know I will only enjoy a few more times; every new local word or phrase I learn will only serve me for so long. Although I will be thrilled to trade the cockroaches of Argentina for the spiders of Washington, there are other, less tangible elements that are difficult to pinpoint but will make it hard to leave nonetheless.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Apartment, politics, and bacteria, in no particular order

I’ve been in the new apartment for two weeks now and so far, so good. It’s pretty big for one person and has great views of the cupolas in the city. The major drawbacks are 1) it’s next to a parking lot (which they call ‘playas’ or beaches here, totally random) that has this obnoxious bell that goes off day and night when a car or a person crosses the threshold, and 2) at night the cell phone towers blink into my bedroom, which really isn’t a big deal since if I don’t close the blinds the beating sun wakes me up at 6 am. Otherwise it’s very comfortable and I love the location!

Let me take you on a virtual tour. The pictures manage to make it look smaller than it is, but you get the idea. It's set up along one long hallway with the rooms jutting to the left. When you open the front door, you look into the kitchen. The oven is new which is nice, but in no way heavy or secured to anything, so every time I light a burner I have to also hold it in place so it doesn't move. What can I say, it's a lightweight. There's also no microwave which has been less complicated than I originally thought (although I am already worrying about Thanksgiving logistics, for many reasons, and hope to borrow the essentials from my neighbor).

Next in line is the living/dining room. This room is pretty big. The chair is actually a single sofabed, and very comfortable! Now that the modem is set up the way it is (see below re: internet), I'm thinking about rearranging to avoid so much cord interference. I'm also working on a way to fully open the metal shades - they are an engineering failure and are partially kept open by bungee cords.

Check out the rad blue fixtures in my all-blue bathroom! I also like the two-tone tiles on the floor and the blue floral motif flower tiles on the walls. No, I don't use the bidet.

The shower is flat, and if you look in the corner you can see a squeege on a stick I use to shuffle the water to the drain after each shower. It's actually sort of fun.

Here's my bedroom through the mirror. It's funny, a lot of people ask me what the most important thing I brought with me is, and I've never opened up about the true answer, so what better place than a public blog? I admit, I am most grateful to have decided on the last-minute inclusion of my teddy bear. It's amazing what a little stuffed company can do when I'm feeling lonely, and he's an excellent snuggler that I can squish any which way.

Here's the bedroom again. The windows are original and very cool, but their large size and ancient levers make them tricky to operate, and a wind hazard once opened. The bed and the pillows are NEW, which is a rareity here in South America. You can't see the sheets, but they have boat paddles on them in a green and blue pattern.

Although the view is pretty cool, it doesn't photograph very well, so I'm going to wait to take view pictures until a nice sunset or sunrise can highlight it. And, this officially concludes our virtual tour.

Back to the internet: I was unable to find a neighbor with wifi to share, but had I realized just how simple it was to set up my own account I wouldn’t have wasted two weeks in the begging process. One phone call in which all I had to give was my name and document number – I still use my Chilean ID – and two days later, I’m all hooked up. I didn’t have to give bank or credit card information. I didn’t have to pay a deposit. I didn’t have to sign a contract. I didn’t have to supply my own modem. And all at the amazingly reasonable cost of $44 pesos a month, or about $15. So easy! My appointment was for between 2 and 6, so imagine my surprise when the dude showed up at noon. I’ve never heard of such a service coming early! Good thing I was home (though not quite dressed yet), otherwise I wouldn’t have been so marvelously connected all day. It’ll be nice not having to lug the laptop to wifi spots to get work done and I should be able to stay in better contact – and blog more frequently – now that I can roll out of bed and on to the internet.

In other news, I’ve done absolutely nothing worthy of talking about in the last week because I have yet again been laid up with what I suspect is e coli. Although now that I’ve had it three times in a 12-month period it could be some other recurring form of gastroenteritis – fun times! Either way, I’ve gotten very close to my blue-tiled bathroom and watched a disgusting amount of television. Luckily it’s been nothing but grey skies and showers since I fell ill so I’m not really missing the nice part of the spring, and my main going-out friend Paula has been studying for a big test, so my social calendar was pretty clear too.

The one time I went out in the last week was on Sunday to watch the Eagles (yet another disappointing game) and I regretted that decision – there’s nothing that makes me not want to return to the U.S. like a bar full of drunk Americans doing what they do best (fill in your own version of what that may be here). One refreshing thing about Argentina's culture is that, even though people go out all night, they don’t drink to get drunk. In fact, I don’t think they could party as long or as hard as they do if they hit the sauce like the average U.S. partier on a Saturday night. It’s quite normal to leave a club here at 8 or 9 a.m. and be surrounded by reasonably sober people, whereas back home you’re lucky to leave a bar at 2 a.m. and not see someone getting sick. I’ve often been annoyed by the pressure to drink in the states and have, on more than one occasion, had a lot more than I would have preferred because at a certain point it’s easier to just take the shot than have it shoved in your face for five minutes with someone screaming, “Drink it! Drink it! DRIIIIIINK IIIIIIIT!”

Today I feel better and the sun is out for the first time in a week (coincidence? I think not), so I'm going to head to the Japanese gardens for a stroll and some sushi before checking out the VP debates tonight at the Democrats Abroad event. The organization is really well run and each event draws hundreds of people, as well as local news crews and cameras. On October 8 I get to go to the U.S. embassy to either submit my absentee ballot or cast an emergency ballot if the normal one doesn't show up in the mail. It's a whole event and they even provide "fun American treats."

Despite the high volume of television watching, I’ve managed to steer entirely clear of the news and people wanting to talk about the news, but I know that both center around the U.S. financial crisis because I sometimes have to flip past those channels to get to the good stuff, and even with a week in bed I’ve had to venture out for potato chips and limes (oral rehydration solution, you are my savior). The doorman and the cafe guy across the street both literally stopped me in my tracks to ask me what I thought about it. Fortunately I’m too broke to own stock and my 401k is entirely divided among European banks so, other than the sentimental distress of Washington Mutual collapsing under its own weight (though I never approved of the switch to just WaMu) I’m relatively unscathed. Unfortunately I have neither the vocabulary nor the desire to communicate this to my Argentinian comrades, so I mostly say something along the lines of “yep, everyone’s freaking out” and scurry away as fast as I can. I know it’s an avoidist policy, and I feel good about it. There isn’t a whole lot I can do from down here, or from up there even, so although I feel terrible for people affected and anxious about what might happen next, I try not to dwell on it too much.

I’d like to end on a happier note, so let me take this opportunity to give some birthday shout-outs. First, my dear brother Eric is turning the big 3-0 today! Happy birthday, bro. (Until I turn 27 in January my siblings and I are all exactly 4 years apart. I'm always messing things up...) Also today is my local friend Marcos's 34th birthday, which he is spending like he spends every other day, working his butt off. I promised to celebrate for him. And tomorrow, Casey Rogers will be celebrating his 27th in Africa. Anyone else want to jump on the birthday bandwagon? Leave a comment!