Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hello, Estados Unidos

Leaving Buenos Aires was made as easy as possible by a shockingly cooperative real estate agent who didn't even check the apartment and gave me a full refund on my deposit (and also didn't ask for the last two months of internet I technically owed that the landlady cancelled out from under me a half dozen times) as well as by Sol, who graciously drove me to the airport and waited as I checked in and requested my tax-free refund (which randomly was put straight onto my credit card). We both put on good faces but I suspect she cried in the car, as I did in the terminal.

My flight to Santiago was totally uneventful, while my three hours in the Santiago airport was just enough to remind me why I left Chile in the first place (suffice to say I had a less than savory dining experience). The overnight to LA was less pleasant as a very selfish mother had wedged her baby's carrier in the seat behind me in such a way that I could not recline (despite my and the flight attendants' requests that she adjust it), and then did not put the baby in the carrier once during the entire 11 hours. I was very happy to arrive in LA. Customs was a breeze other than the physical force I had to exert to heft my giant suitcases onto the x-ray machines (though by the grace of God I was not charged for an extra bag OR extra weight!) and they even took my bags right back from me so I didn't have to check them in with Alaska.

I was fortunate to arrive in Seattle on Saturday at noon - as did my bags, proving LA customs really did have their sh** together - since several hours later the snow started again and airlines started cancelling flights left and right. Several of my friends were stranded in other parts of the country, and the news showed horror stories at the airport every day and night. I was grateful to walk into the very familiar setting of my parents' house, and then I didn't leave it... for four days straight. It's amazing how snow can shut a city down! Here's my home:
In a way it was a very comfortable way to ease back into American life. I only saw my family; I haven't driven a car yet; I only just left the house yesterday to go to the bank, the grocery store, and to dinner with a few friends; in short, my real life has not yet started up again here. I mentioned to my family that my time back has been like the movie Groundhog Day: every day I wake up and it's the exact same day. I go to bed early since it gets dark at 4 pm instead of 9 like I was used to, and wake up reasonably early. I check my e-mail, eat breakfast (how much delicious food I've rediscovered for breakfast! Waffles and peanutbutter! English muffins and smoked salmon! Hot chocolate with coffee! Homemade sugary breads!) and then spend the rest of the day watching TV and playing Scrabble with my mom and sister (eating all the while, of course). I sometimes break it up by letting the dogs out to frolick in the snow, and very occasionally frolicking with them. I even made a snowman:
Doesn't he look straight out of a Tim Burton movie? His face is rotten apples and his boutonniere is a dead hydrangea. He's also sort of a raindeer hybrid, complete with tail:
My favorite image from the snowscape is by far the little snow-capped apples which you can see in the picture above. You'd think they would have fallen off by now!

A few observations on coming back / differences from what I had gotten used to:
1) I now put all toilet paper directly into the toilet, which still feels a bit strange.
2) Any stranger will talk to you for any reason, as I rediscovered in the grocery store yesterday when no fewer than 3 strangers talked to me in a span of 30 minutes.
3) I can talk freely on my cell phone without getting charged a dollar a minute (well, a peso).
4) Hot water comes out of the tap in public places.
5) It is SILENT at night when I go to sleep.

All in all it feels very normal to be back. I know you'll all have the urge to ask if I was sad to leave and happy to come home, and the answer to both is yes, so now we've gotten that out of the way! I start my real life again on January 5 - my birthday - and I think I'll be ready once I can get a good shopping trip to H&M in (glorious H&M is now in my city!) and if all the snow is gone by then. Otherwise I may be working from home...

On a side note, I would like to give mad props to my mom. Although she claims to kill indoor plants, she not only kept the four plants I left behind alive, but also helped them thrive. It was such a welcome sight to see a very few of my originally giant collection of plants alive and well! I can't wait to visit the jade and the lipstick plant at Adam and Jeremy's, though of course I'm more anxious to see THEM, and all my other friends as well. Extra mad props to Brandi, David, and Evan for coming to dinner last night! Mexican has never tasted so good.

I hope everyone has a very merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, and all that jazz. 2009, here we come!

Friday, December 19, 2008

So Long, Argentina

Well, I didn't exactly get around to those last two blogs but I'll start with this one and maybe I'll do some more writing from the various airports I'll temporarily inhabit during the next 26 hours.

I'll start with a recap of my last few weeks. First, I became friendly with one of my neighbors, which is normal for me: I always find out I have a cool neighbor when I'm on the verge of moving out. Anyway, he very kindly agreed to do all sorts of touristy stuff with me. First, we went to Caminito in the La Boca neighborhood, quite possibly the most overtly touristy thing I did during my entire stay here. I hope to never go back as they practically try to charge you for the air you breathe there. Here we are in one of those photo-ops. The guy charged me double since we took two pictures, I kid you not.
Later that week we went to Costanera Sur, this time on a weekend so we could rent bikes to do the full circuit of the park. We brought mate like true locals and enjoyed a few cups next to the river. From there we walked the 3 kilometers home, which was no small feat in 90 degree weather. We did stop to tour one of the historical boats in Puerto Madero, free that day since they were having mass open to the public. We also walked by a giant parade/protest of sorts, and figured that it was in celebration of the 25-year anniversary of Argentina's (concurrent - they were democratic before the dictatorship madness) democracy.

One day last week I went to the opening day of a tennis match, the Peugeot Cup, with Flor (who got us in for free) and Sol. Per usual, we ate a lot and they talked at inappropriate times. It was the first time I went to a tennis match and probably the last; vaguely interesting, not really my sport. I'm embarrassed to say that in all my 10 months here I never once went to a soccer match. Next time...

Sol also hosted a rad event last week which was a blind dinner. You're led into a pitch-black room by also-blind waiters to a table, where a mystery five-course meal awaits your fingertips. There was also a reallly entertaining show with a beautiful singer (the voice, not the person - how could I tell??) and smells and sounds used to transport the sightless audience to other locations in the world. It was a really fun experience and I can see such a new fad catching on in the U.S. Here's what we found out the meal looked like after the fact:
Kirsten, the only Yanqui I befriended here in BsAs, left two days before I did. On Monday we went to a fancy dinner at Roof in Palermo, and on Tuesday we had her despedida, or good-bye party, at Aca Bar, also in Palermo. I love this spot because of its board games (see previous refernces to Jenga) and we had a good time.
Wednesday night was my own despedida. We started it at a happening 'after office' spot called Opera Town, even more booming than normal due to the end of the year parties most offices are having this week. From there we moved on to the floating casino, where Flor, Nico, and Diego watched, Sol broke even playing blackjack, and I won about 50 pesos ($15) from the original 90 I put in. Finally, we made a last stop by Costanera Sur to eat those devilishly delicious sandwiches. We also got some dancing in.
Thursday I did relatively little (though Thursday night I did fit in a movie with Marcos, the new Guy Ritchie flick, only because the new Bond had already started) after dealing with the frustrating drama of having my flight to Santiago cancelled, changing two reservations, and spending more than I ultimately needed to but not too much and I've made my peace. So today, instead of a 12 hour layover in Santiago in which I was going to trek into the city to see my friends, I'll only have 3 hours before getting on a plane to LA. I land in LA at 6 am and then in Seattle at noon, weather permitting. There have been buckets of snow, very unusual for Seattle, but apparently Saturday is suppose d to be clear. If not, my LA relatives may get an unpleasantly early phone call begging them to pick me up.

By this morning I was all packed and the apartment was semi-cleaned, which technically wasn't necessary but I hate leaving a mess. The real estate agent came at noon, didn't look at a thing (so I got away with the marks I left on the wall from hanging a map with extra-sticky tape), didn't ask about the internet (meaning I also got away with not paying for the internet the landlady tried so hard to cancel out from underneath me, a fair trade), and gave me back my depost in dollars. I'm rich! Until I land and hand it over to my parents, that is.

Now I'm sitting at Sol's kitchen table, full from an incredibly delicious last lunch of homemade, cheese-stuffed gnocchi courtesy of mama Lydia (easily the best gnocchi I ate while here, which if you read the last blog know that that's saying a lot) and a bit exhausted from the stress, physical and emotional, of leaving yet another place. I have another two hours to relax in the sun here before we have to head to the airport and the very long process of arriving stateside begins. Hopefully there's no drama with my having two suitcases in this era of 'only one for free,' or the fact that they're probably both over 50 pounds.

There should be new pictures on Picasa soon, internet connection willing. The next time I write I'll be in a winter wonderland, I hope! Speaking of, the holiday displays here continued to strike me as odd in the hot weather. This was by far the most emblematic, erected next to the famous obelisk (much prettier when lit up at night, though).
Merry Christmas if I don't blog before then! Can't wait to see so many of you, so soon.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

At (Ridiculously) Long Last: The Food Post


I've been promising this particular post since just after I arrived in Argentina nearly four months ago, and have actually been writing it that long as well. Sorry about the delay, but at least it's complete with all my food experiences and not just a few weeks' worth. Not surprisingly, it's ridiculously long.

To start, there aren’t many interesting or unusual ingredients here that are strictly Argentinean. They don't have much spicy food (indeed, even the tiniest spice sends people reeling here) and imported foods are incredibly expensive: a 6 oz jar of peanut butter costs the equivalent of $12 U.S. Suffice to say, the cuisine in Buenos Aires isn't what one might call adventuresome; that said, it's generally very good. Although I often yearn for the ethnic diversity of U.S. cities' eateries, I've been quite content eating my way through the city.

(A note on ethnic foods: it's not that they don't exist here. In fact, Buenos Aires has the best Chinese food of any South American country I've tried (including Chile, Bolivia, and Peru) and the sushi, though dominated by pink salmon, is always fresh and well-made. There is of course tons of Italian and also French, Spanish, and German food to be had, all of which are delicious. The most notable failure of South America in general is, sadly, with Mexican food: I have nothing but disappointment in that department. Otherwise, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Ethiopian and most other ethnic foods are almost completely absent. I have a lot of ethnic catching up to do once I arrive state-side!)


When I first arrived, I noticed that one thing Argentina has in common with Chile is the abundance of empanadas. The difference is that here they are smaller and come in a wider variety. At first I favored the Chilean version, but now I'm a die-hard Argentinean empanada over. My favorites are eggplant, spicy beef, cheesen and onion, and “vegetable” which always means spinach. There is a great place just two blocks from my apartment called La Americana that serves famous empanadas and pizzas, and I always get a spicy empanada and a piece of spinach pizza, which is topped with this amazingly creamy, bubbly cheese. One day my neighbor Fede made homemade empanadas for me and I almost died they were so amazing. He made them 'criolla' style with hunks of tender beef, peas, potatoes, and just the right amount of spiciness, all deep fried in a pot of oil.

Due to a high volume of Italian immigration in the not-so-distant past, the food here is influenced a lot by Italian culture. To that end, they have amazing pasta in Argentina. Fresh pasta is available in little stores on every corner, and every single menu - no matter what kind of restaurant - has at least one pasta dish, which will always be made in-house: store-bought pasta is like blasphemy here. Specifically good is the gnocchi. I have had a lot of mushy gnocchi in my life, which makes me ever hesitant to order it in a restaurant, but this is a country well reared in the art of potato pasta making. I've had gnocchi myriad times at distinct restaurants with varying prices, and all of them have been impressively cooked in creative sauces. My friend Kirsten and I joke about what we'll order when we go to lunch, since almost always at least one of us will order gnocchi and the other will eat off her plate.

Also thanks to the Italians there is a pizza place on every block. The pizza here is as famous as its pasta and tasty too, though they have an odd practice of putting whole green olives on top of every pizza, no matter the toppings. (Olives and hard-boiled eggs go in just about everything, including empanadas.) I know it's low-brow, but I have to admit I often crave a Papa John's pepperoni and pineapple pizza with garlic butter sauce. I eat pasta much more often than pizza, with one notable exception: there is a chain called Ugi's with a store a half block from my apartment. They only sell one thing: cheese pizzas, Italian-style. Hand-tossed dough, simple yet delicious tomato sauce, and fresh slices - not grated! - of parmesan cheese make up these irresistible pies. For 10 pesos (about $3) I get a "large" (aka a U.S. medium) pizza fresh out of the oven, which I will usually eat over the course of two days. They cover it in oregano for you at the store, and when I get home I add my own topping: red pepper flakes, sent by my mom months ago to Chile.

Of course, you can't write about the food in Argentina without mentioning the beef. In the U.S. I don't eat a lot of red meat, and in Chile I didn't either. In fact, even during my first two months here in Buenos Aires I hardly ate any, sticking instead to pasta. However, I have to say that I have probably eaten more red meat in the last two months than in the last two years combined. I blame this on the nice weather, since in Argentina the Sunday asado (barbecue) is an old and beloved tradition, as long as it isn't raining. I know I've written about the asados before so I won't go into too much detail, but it should be noted that the beef here really is freaking amazing. It's also way cheaper than chicken or pork. I'm grateful to have tried every cut of beef and then some. I am also a huge fan of chorizo (beef sausage) morcilla (blood sausage). At first the consistency of the latter threw me but then I learned to spread it on a piece of bread and oh man, is it heavenly. I don't think I'll miss the red meat once I'm back in the states - in fact, I look forward to introducing more vegetarian dishes back into my diet - but I'll definitely forever appreciate the quality of meat I've been able to ingest while here.

One dominant ingredient in the Argentinean cuisine palate is pumpkin, which serves me just fine since 1) I love pumpkin and 2) it’s one of the new ‘superfoods’ and therefore good for you. Interestingly enough, they don't use pumpkin as a sweet ingredient like we do, but rather in savory dishes. A very common use is simple, mashed pumpkin, usually served alongside mashed potatoes. Hunks of pumpkin are included in soups and stews. Also, there is an incredible dish (to which Katharine can testify) of puréed pumpkin and tender pork pieces topped with bubbly cheese that is seriously heaven for the mouth. Pasta is often stuffed with pumpkin or pumpkin is added to the dough itself, in both fresh and store-bought varieties.


Moving on from the salty, sweets are huge in this country. Argentina is famous for its ice cream (again, Italian influence is hard at work), and it’s no exaggeration to say there is an ice cream shop on every corner. The best part is that even the smallest cone includes two flavors, and I have yet to meet a flavor I haven’t liked. My favorites are banana split and dulce de leche, which is NOTHING like the dulce de leche we have in the U.S.

They are also into small baked goods called facturas (which is also randomly the same word for 'receipt.') The most famous is the medialuna, which are delicious little crossaints. and come in two versions: manteca (butter) which are fatter and have a sweet glaze on them, or grasa (fat) which are skinny and savory.

The dulce de leche variations are addictive here. Other than pastries with globs of the stuff filling and topping them (among my favorite facturas!), there’s a soft candy I buy frequently (thanks to Sol) called Vaquita, and I plan on bringing about 100 of them home. There’s also a cookie called an alfajor which is dulce de leche sandwiched between two cake-like cookies and covered in chocolate. These varieties and many more, including delicious cakes and torts and cookies and bread baked fresh hourly, can be found in any bakery, which can also be found on any corner. So, to revisit: every block has a bakery, an ice cream shop and a pizza spot (plus usually a cheap place where they'll do your laundry for you, but that's unrelated).

Another thing they sell in bakeries here - and going back to the salty for a moment - is a very common sandwich called a miga, which is usually ham and cheese and mayo between two pieces of white bread with the crust cut off. Other variations might have salami, tuna, hard-boiled egg, or vegetables. At first I was very anti-miga, but now I enjoy them as an afternoon snack just like the rest of the city's inhabitants. (And, for those of you gasping to yourselves at the thought of me eating mayo, it's true; I'll ingest it, but I still don't like it.)


Like in Chile, fizzy drinks - carbonated water or soda, usually Coke - are the most common with meals. It's also not unusual to have a glass of wine with lunch (or a bottle at dinner) and for good reason - Argentina produces some of the best wines in the world, which are sold at a fraction of the cost in-country compared with the exported prices. It's also much more common at a bar to drink beer than a mixed drink, probably because it's way cheaper, but you can find any mixed drink here that exists in the U.S. In terms of water, people come down on both sides of the bottled debate. I drink from the tap here, though many foreign guidebooks would chastise me for this.

One quintessential drink that is synonymous with Argentina is yerba mate (mah-tey). Mate is as much a community event as it is a reason to ingest a stimulating drink (it has a lot of caffeine but does not produce a jittery effect; also, it dulls hunger). Yerba is the tea itself, which is poured loosely into the mate, generally a specially-prepared gourd but also made of wood, metal, or glass. Then the straw or bombilla is inserted, which is filtered so you don't suck up the mate itself. If desired, sugar is added on top, though most people argue that to drink mate the 'authentic' way it must be amargo, or bitter. Finally, hot water is poured on top and consumed immediately, even if near-boiling - they have very tough mouths here, I've surmised. An entire mate can be consumed in just a few pulls of the straw, and then it is filled with water again and passed to the next person. The leaves can be recycled for several cups' worth before it becomes lavado, or washed, at which point they are changed and it starts over. Even in a large group, everyone shares one mate (and one straw), so it is very much a community experience. I have grown to love and even crave mate, and I always enjoy the experience of sharing it with friends or my neighbors. It's extremely common to take mate to a park or a plaza, and there is a large industry for hot-water thermoses and special leather or cloth bags to hold all the accoutrement.

For other caffeine fixes, the coffee here is typically instant in the home but brewed or, better, pulled fresh from an espresso machine if ordering in a restaurant or cafe. The cafe con leche (coffee with milk) here is excellent, though many U.S. citizens, obviously missing their 32-ounce lattes, complain about the relatively small size of such drinks. For me, they are perfect. Also, they always come with two tiny cookies and a small cup of soda water which I think is a fantastic bonus, because I love free things.

Dining Out

Although I may have dissed on the ethnic options available, it has to be said that Buenos Aires has some of the coolest restaurants I've ever been to. Mostly located in the chic area known as Palermo, this cosmopolitan city certainly knows how to show its people a good meal in a classy setting. One of my favorite elements of said restaurants is that many include outdoor seating, often on elaborately designed and decorated patios and rooftop decks, perfect for enjoying the hot springtime weather of late (though I imagine once summer hits people cling closely to the air conditioning unints). The social atmosphere and importance of restaurants here cannot be understated, and I've done my best to visit a wide cross-section of them while here.

Standards of service are varied. It's most common to enter a restaurant and seat yourself at whichever table sparks your fancy, though if you arrive in the time between breakfast and lunch it's best to sit at a table designated for whichever you want: for breakfast, sit at a table without a tablecloth or place settings; otherwise they will (unnecessarily in my opinion) remove everything from the table if all you want is a coffee and a few medialunas.

Lunch is typically chosen from the daily menu, a price fixe meal that generally includes a drink, an entrée, and a dessert or a coffee. The most common menu includes a milanesa, which is a breaded and fried cut of meat, usually chicken or beef but occasionally fish as well. This is generally served with half mashed potatoes and half mashed pumpkin. On the 29th of each month, every restaurant will offer gnocchi for its lunch menu, eaten to bring good luck in the next month.

Service is typically slow and, as in most Spanish-speaking countries, the bill will never be brought to the table until it is requested. However, the service does not tend to be negligent, waiters are often very friendly, and I usually feel as if the tip (10%) has been earned when I leave it.

Everywhere you go serves bread, no matter what. The cheaper places serve you bread without butter or oil, and seem to recycle the bread that isn’t used to the next customer. This seems to be generally accepted by customers, who always take the first piece of bread they touch and will then set the bread on the table or a plate if provided, but never back into the basket. The nicer places usually serve bread with butter, oil, or some kind of sauce, paté, or topping. One thing that is consistent is the amount: you are guaranteed to get an absurd number of rolls. For instance, at lunch one day I counted that I, a solo diner, was served TWELVE rolls. Twelve? Really? I did appreciate that this particular restaurant seemed to bake their own bread and it was hot out of the oven in three different varieties of white, wheat, and something deliciously orange, but I ate two of them and felt guilty for that.

One thing I do miss is the ability to send something back that I’m unhappy with; although technically I’m able to do so, it’s just not that common here. If something arrives cold, you eat it cold. This especially drives me mad when ordering empanadas or pastry pies, since they are often cold in the middle. Even asking for it ‘extra hot’ doesn’t provide desired results. (One reason La Americana has a leg up on everyone else – their goods are always piping hot!)


I'm sure I'm leaving out a ton of things but it's impossible to describe everything edible in a city as large as this one. I hope I've given you a reasonable overview and that you now know what kinds of food might be awaiting you should you make the trek to Argentina yourself.

Stay tuned for (what I hope are, we'll see if I get them both written) my last two blogs, one on my final days (I'm packing a lot in!) and another on Argentinean customs and differences before I head back to Yanquilandia this Friday.

p.s. This is my 50th blog, which feels like a milestone somehow, so, hooray for the 50th!

p.p.s. For those of you who are dismayed that I wrote an entire post without a single picture of food: there are plenty of examples of empanadas, asados, and other delectable delights posted in my Picasa albums.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Thanksgiving, a visitor, and beyond

My friend Katharine arrived November 23rd - a Sunday afternoon - from Philadelphia via JFK without any complications other than a creepy man on the plane. She certainly chose a good time of year to visit: the spring is filled with colorful flowers, as you can see below.

Her first day we headed to the famous San Telmo antique fair and went out for a fantastic open-air parrilla (grilled meat) dinner with Sol and Kirsten from Buenos Aires and Sarah and Susanna who I met in Puerto Madryn and were in Buenos Aires for a few days. We ate every part of the cow possible, from entrails to brains to blood. I liked it all, but Katharine wasn't down with the brain.

The next day, Monday, Katharine wasn’t feeling so hot so we didn’t do much. On Tuesday we met Sarah and Susanna again for a walking tour of the swanky area of town called Recoleta, and then Wednesday morning we met them again for ANOTHER walking tour of the historical areas of town. It was so hot on Wednesday that many areas of town lost power – us included. From Wednesday night to Thursday afternoon we were without power, and then lost power yet again on Friday. Fun times.

Thursday was Thanksgiving. I’d been preparing for it for several months, and all the pieces came together perfectly. We went to Sol’s house in the afternoon where I made a pie crust from scratch (based on my aunt Kathy’s famous recipe), without measuring, and it turned out deliciously because I used extra butter just in case. Katharine made the pumpkin filling, also from scratch, also without measuring and using odd ingredients (sweetened condensed milk instead of evaporated), but that also turned out really well. I made homemade stuffing with chopped almonds and apples, and green bean casserole with fresh vegetables and fried onions that Katharine smuggled into the country.

I had wanted a 9 kilo turkey - about 20 pounds - to serve what I thought would be 14 people, but a mix-up at the butcher's left us with 5 kilos for 12 people, which was actually more than enough since it was 95 degrees out, and easier to cook to boot. I started the turkey at about 6:30 pm – I made the bacon-covered version again, always a hit! - and had to guess about the temperature since the ovens here don’t have degrees, they have settings from 1 to 9. Luckily it was ready at about 10:30. I also made a fantastic gravy with the drippings and am still salivating over it. So often gravies turn out badly and we didn’t have any jarred back-ups, so that was a relief.

As I said it was really, really hot that day and we set up a gorgeous table outside. The guest list included me and Katharine, Sol, her mom Lydia and her mom’s friend; her sister Cielo and her boyfriend Alan; Kirsten and her two friends who had arrived from the U.S. that day (who brought canned black olives and cranberries, two must-haves), plus two of her friends from Buenos Aires. Kirsten made two delicious pecan pies and a refreshing Waldorf salad. We also made two kinds of mashed potatoes, one with just garlic and the other with garlic and bleu cheese. Definitely a traditional meal and it all turned out really well. Here's a shot of the table just after we brought the turkey out:
We went around the table and all said things we were thankful for. I’m used to this part either not happening or not being taken very seriously, but people got really into it and some of us even cried. (Despite being a crier, I was not among them, but I was definitely emotional. I think I was too hot to cry.) The food was a hit and the rain held off until we were ready for dessert. We quickly moved everything inside when the lightning started and had pie and ice cream and home-made whipped cream inside before everyone took off at around 2 a.m. I left the leftovers behind because those are always my favorite part and I wanted Sol and her family to have the full Thanksgiving experience, though the next day I was definitely craving some cold turkey and pie.

Friday we wandered around Palermo and Saturday was back to Recoleta for the famous cemetery, weekly fair, and the fine arts museum. It started absolutely DUMPING rain and we got stuck hiding in the parking entrance to the Ecuadorian embassy while lightning flashed around us and thunder literally shook the nearby buildings. I love spring storms, but I love them more when I’m watching them from my own house. In Seattle it rains but we rarely get thunder and lightning, while here rain is ALWAYS preceeded by a lightning show, which is great.

Sunday Katharine went back to the antiques fair. Monday we toured one of the coolest buildings I've yet to see, Palacio Barolo, which was built by two Italian brothers back in the day with a Dante's Inferno theme. The building was originaly built to house Dante's ashes but Italy refused to let them out of the country once the palace was complete. Some of its specs: it's 100 meters high to represent the 100 cantos (songs) of the inferno, with 22 stories to represent the 22 strophes I believe, divided into hell (floors 1-4), purgatory (floors 5-14), and paradise (floors 15-22). There are a bunch of other interesting factors that were designed into the building including something having to do with the number pi that I sort of didn't understand but surely had to do with the many mathematical allusions within the Divine Comedy itself. You can read a shaky translation that explains the building's references to Dante here. Here's the building from the outside:
The palace itself reminded me of the Smith tower in Seattle on the inside - they were built around the same time - and at one point it was also the tallest building in South America (the Smith tower was once the tallest building west of the Mississippi). Once we got to the top it reminded me of Philadelphia's city hall since it had an incredible view of the city and looks straight down the Plaza de Congreso much like the Phila view is of the avenue leading to the art museum with Love park and Logan fountain in the middle. Also, I can see Palacio Barolo from my apartment and could see my ugly apartment building quite well from the palace, both things which were also true of my apartment in Phila. All in all one of my favorite experiences so far in the city. Here's the view:
Tuesday was Katharine's last full day and we spent part of it at this awesome park called Costanera Sur that used to be a landfill and was then appropriated for development, but like so much in Argentina development was slow to start and once they were ready it was a green space and people protested construction so now it's a huge park with tons of bird and plant species with a cool view of both the city and the world's widet estuary, Río de le Plata. That evening I put Katharine in a cab with specific instructions to the cabbie about where to go and what the price would be, and the next day she was safe and sound back in Philadelphia.

Since then I've been checking other things off my "to do" list, including a trip to the tiny Chinatown (literally one street), a visit to a nearby town on the Delta called Tigre with Sol and Flor, and multiple celebrations of Sol's birthday including an evening of bowling (a first for me in many, many years) and an all-day party at her house. I have Christmas shopping to do and lots of restaurants left to try, plenty to pack in in my remaining 10 days here.

There are new photos on Picasa with detailed captions as always, though I can't take credit for most of the pictures taken while Katharine was here - she was doing such a thorough job I left my camera at home the whole week. Enjoy, and don't go too far - plenty more to come before I leave the southern hemisphere!

p.s. It finally started raining after two hot, humid days, and there's a double rainbow outside my window as I type. Just thought that was a fun thing to share.

p.p.s. In a horrifying twist to my holiday weekend of over-indulgence (aka non-stop eating [and Monday was the Day of the Virgin for those of you wondering]), after I got up to give an elderly man my seat on the bus last night, he turned to me with a concerned look on his face and said, "But if you're pregnant you should keep the seat!" I didn't realize that things like this actually happened, nor that I appeared so round and motherly, but when I got home my very sweet and very wise neighbor was quick to refute this old man by saying, "don't worry, he was probably mostly blind." And, if he wasn't, please don't be shocked when I come home.