Saturday, November 28, 2009

Happy-ish Thanksgiving

I had been looking forward to this Thanksgiving since last Thanksgiving. As is so often the case, I built up this one night in my head so that it never could have lived up to my expectations. Which is not to say it wasn't a successful dinner - for the most part, it was. Let's start with the bad.

First I burned the pumpkin pie crust trying to get the filling to cook. I did everything I could - reduced the temperature a bit, covered just the crust's edges with foil - but the bottom and the sides still got burned and the pie just wasn't as good as the test run last week. Luckily by the time we got to the pie everyone was too stuffed to eat it. But let it be said it was FRESH! Also in the picture is a can of candied yams I happened to find at a grocery store here, which the yam eaters were happy about (we were never a sweet potato family so it's not a tradition of mine).

Second, the mashed potatoes tasted good but had the consistency of glue. I think it had to do with the sour cream substitution I used (since sour cream does not exist here) and then beating them with a hand mixer instead of good old fashioned mashing. Ironically, this was the only dish that did NOT have leftovers. They must have been good under gravy, which luckily did turn out well.

Third, I had originally planned on cooking a 10-11 pound turkey. Sol's boyfriend George took charge of the task of securing said turkey, and told me he reserved a 15.5 pounder. I only found out AFTER dinner that Sol and George kept the truth from me that the turkey was, in fact, nearly 19 pounds, but they decided not to tell me since I was already stressed out about it being too big. Somehow I managed not to give us all food poisoning since there was no helpful pop-out thermometer to tell me it was, in fact, done.

Everyone sung its praises and one American girl told me it was possibly the best she'd ever had, so despite not having American bacon to cover it with (which was still probably the most popular snack food I offered), real maple syrup to baste it with, or fresh sage to season it with, the turkey was a success. Here's the beast with the always-popular bacon cover:

Fourth, almost everyone was late. Ironically the Argentineans were more on time than the Americans. After 10 hours of cooking, two days of prep, and months of planning, I couldn't help feeling sort of disrespected by late arrivals. It's not like it was an early dinner party either, I told people to come at 8. But, I breathed through it, reminded myself that everyone had a good excuse and it wasn't meant as a personal offense against me, drank some wine, and kept basting the enormous turkey. I'd like to point out that the kitchen is miraculously clean for it being so close to dinner time in this self-portrait.

Ok, on to the good. It was a hot day but there was nearly no humidity so the apartment stayed cool and my 10 hours in the kitchen weren't insufferable. The blueberry sauce turned out really well, as did the green bean casserole and the stuffing. And, the gravy - always my biggest stressor! - was quite tasty. I made too much Waldorf salad but that too was delicious. Here is a shot of my meager effort to de-seed the grapes for the salad.

People were grateful to have been invited. The Americans were glad to have a place to celebrate and reveled in the authenticity of the traditional food, while the Argentineans were happy to experience a new holiday and get a delicious meal out of it at the same time.

Overall it was a fine Thanksgiving - no disasters like you see in the movies, nothing caught fire, nothing was inedible - but it lacked the magic of last year's. I appreciated my Mom telling me on the phone later (waaay later, 3 am my time) that she has prepared many a holiday meal that she would have rather thrown at her guests than served to them. The good news is, next year I will have no expectations whatsoever so it will probably be my best Thanksgiving ever!

For now I'm off to heat up the last of the green beans and stuffing, plus some turkey and blueberry sauce for good measure, before heading off to watch my neighborhood's "soccer" aka futbol team play in the local stadium. It seems like a sort of symbolic transition from American traditions to Argentinean ones.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanks and an explanation

Thank you so much to everyone who commented on my last post (after I admittedly badgered you into it). I know I have 40-60 people visiting my blog each day, but I have no idea WHO those people are, and sometimes it makes me a little crazy. So, thank you to those of you who revealed yourselves!

I think there might be a misconception about why comments are so important to me, so I'd like to try to explain myself.

Although I do revel in the thought of strangers reading and enjoying my blog, and it gives me a certain sense of (satisfaction? accomplishment? ego?) seeing increased traffic to my site, that's really not why I write. I certainly have no commerical aspirations; if I did, I'd have to make this blog a lot more concise/interesting/relevant. So, people who don't know me are more than welcome and I love to read their comments as well, but high readership is not my real objective.

I write for two primary reasons. The first is to create a journaled account of a time and space in my life. I'm traditionally a very bad journaler, so having this flexible place dedicated to documenting whatever it is I think might be interesting to me to read in 10, 20, 30 years is great, especially since I can type it out. I'm a much faster typer and as my family and close friends will attest, my handwriting is interesting but often illegible, even to me.

Okay, here's an ugly confession. I'm a very practical person and to keep myself from being sad about not seeing the people I love, I focus on what's present. It might sound harsh, but 95% of the time I don't think about what's outside my current life and location. I do the same when I'm in Seattle, Philadelphia, Buenos Aires, you name it. It's a defense mechanism and it works really well. If it didn't, I couldn't maintain this transient lifestyle. It's not all magic and puppies when you constantly uproot yourself; among the priviledges of experiencing another life and culture are sacrifices and really lonely days. So why do I do it, you might ask? Man, I hate that question! I just don't have a good answer for it. I do it because I am compelled to.

All of this brings us to the second reason I write, which is to maintain a sort of lifeline with the people I care about. I can't belive how cheesy that sounds and I tried to rewrite it several times to make it a little less so but it's the truth.

I try to stay in contact with people individually but there's always the blog to come to if someone is missing me or wanting to know what's going on. At least, I tell myself that people use it that way, and that unto itself is a comfort.

But when a week goes by, two weeks, three weeks, with no comments and not that many people reaching out in other ways, well... it makes me sad, sometimes, because I know as much as I'm willfully trying not to think about people at home to avoid depression, people at home are not thinking about me simply because I'm not present. I'm a very reliable person but the life I've had for the past several years has made me a very unreliable friend in terms of geography. I can't blame people for thinking of me that way, but it does make me insecure. I mean, obviously! There are probably (hopefully??) people reading this right now saying, "can she really be thinking that?" I've had people tell me that they don't reach out since they assume I'm having an amazing time and that there's no way our friendship/relationship could ever be put in jeopardy by a little space, but being so isolated it's hard to remember that sometimes.

So, that's it. My big, dark secret is that yes, I get lonely, yes, I miss everyone, and yes, I crave contact from people in whatever form. Even if you aren't the commenting type, please do know that the smallest gesture, no matter what the form, means a lot.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pumpkin pie from scratch

For the readers who noticed I stopped doing a blog a day in November (did anyone notice??) I would like to say that although I was fully prepared to finish the month out, it seemed like overkill. No one was commenting and it was perhaps just too much information to take in. So, I called it quits. And now on to today's blog.

Thanksgiving is one week from tomorrow. I have a guest list of approximately 13 people and I plan on making 8 dishes. There has been a change of plan and now we are doing Thanksgiving at our apartment, which means using this kitchen:

This will be the third Thanksgiving I have prepared on Thanksgiving day (not to mention 3 others I've done at random times of the year just for the hell of it) and the second from this country, so I'm confident in my ability to pull it off even in a minuscule kitchen and with almost no culinary supplies.

What I wasn't confident about, however, was the pumpkin pie. You see, I've only made two or three pumpkin pies before, always using canned pumpkin, and I don't remember them turning out especially well. Also, canned pumpkin is not available here. Last year Katharine brought a can with her, and although Renée's friend Jen is coming this week, I thought to myself several weeks ago, "Why not try it from scratch?" (What I cannot make from scratch and what Jen will bring because there is simply NO substitute is a can of French's fried onions. Mmmmm, green bean casserole.)

Of course, this wasn't something I could try the day before and have it be a disaster, so last night I set about making my very first pumpkin pie from scratch. (I have to say, it's a much different experience baking a winter pie in a summer dress with 90% humidity making me feel gross and sticky.)

I have my Aunt Kathy's perfect pie crust recipe memorized so that wasn't a problem. I couldn't find a rolling pin at the store where I bought the pie dish so I made do:

Then it was on to the filling itself. I boiled, drained, and pureed about 4 cups of fresh pumpkin. Although I consulted several recipes I didn't follow any one and improvised to my own tastes while accounting for Argentinean ingredients. For instance, condensed milk only comes sweetened down here and I don't like very sweet pies, so I didn't add any sugar. I also really, really like a cinnamony pie so I added about twice as much cinnamon and nutmeg as most recipes called for (I did not have cloves, allspice, or ginger). I used 2 eggs instead of 3 or 4 since I like a nice dense pie, and mixed everything together:

I love that color! The filling looked and tasted delicious and had the right consistency. I even managed to make pretty pie edges which is a constant shortcoming of mine (which might have also influenced why my Halloween empanadas fell short since the concept is the same). It looked good to me, pre-oven:

Of course, then there was the matter of the oven itself. You might recall that since I can't turn the oven on I don't use it, but the pie left me no choice. Sol was on her way out the door but gave me a tutorial on turning the oven on and then turning it back on when it goes off, which it did several times. Every time I was able to turn it back on and I have to admit I was pretty proud of myself. Don't laugh.

Most recipes recommended baking for 15 minutes at 425 farenheit (210 celsius) and then 40-50 minutes at 350, but guess what, folks? Ovens here don't have temperature settings in farenheit OR celsius. It's just a nob with varying sizes of circles indicating 'hot' and 'less hot.' So, I baked for 15 minutes on 'hot' and then a full hour on 'less hot' after checking it several times. When I finally took it out, it looked perfect:
Renée came over for dinner and sangria and, after letting my orange masterpiece cool for several hours, we finally cut into it. The vanilla ice cream came from the heladería next to my apartment and the pie came from heaven itself:

My first bite was so satisfying. It was a perfect, American-style pumpkin pie and my nervous little heart swelled with pride for the second time in one night. I am not much of a baker and I hate using recipes (greatly contributing to my not being a good baker). This will be the first Thanksgiving where I make the dessert so it was sort of like the last Thanksgiving "first" I had to face.

Renée admitted to me that she was sure she'd enjoy it but never expected it to taste so much like the pies her sister makes. "No offense but I thought it would taste more... earthy" she confessed as she took a second slice.

One thing I definitely could have done - a constant issue with my pies and quiches - is make the crust thinner. Limited counterspace, no rolling pin, and a decisive lack of patience all contributed to a thick crust. I also forgot to brush the edges with egg whites but they were still flaky and delicious. For Thanksgiving I'll be sure to remember both of these things.

So, I'm one step closer to being ready for the much anticipated holiday. I would love to hear your Thanksgiving plans and what, if anything, you will be cooking. (Read: a thinly-veiled request for comments. Stop being a lurker and write something if you're a regular reader! Post anonymously if you want! It's painless and gratifying!)

Sooner or later we're going to have to figure out how and where to SEAT 13 people... but there's more than a week for such plans so, fiddle-dee-dee. I'll think about it tomorrow.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Crazy, stormy afternoon

This afternoon as I was in the middle of an extraordinarily productive work day, mother nature decided she had other plans for me and brought forth the largest storm I have witnessed yet here. It rained so hard it leaked through the windows, thunder rattled the building and lightning struck near enough to take out power on my entire block and possibly more. There was no way I was venturing out in that mess so I settled in for a nap, hoping the lights would be on when I awoke. They were not.

Tonight I am going to dinner for the Festival of India sponsored by the Indian embassy. I got ready in the dark and set out in search of internet to wrap up some work things and post a quick blog.

Walking out of my building onto the street I saw that our neighboring kiosk was filled with candles and the ice cream shop next to it had storm lanterns to illuminate the store, but I'm guessing a lot of that ice cream will be lost. Everyone was out and about with candles and flashlights, and you know what? They all still seemed to be in a pretty good mood. I really appreciate that even in less than ideal circumstances like a packed bus on a sweltering day or in the middle of a power outage with no end in sight, Argentineans will still "exchange exasperated smiles" as I heard one person put it instead of getting cranky and violent with each other.

Luckily it stopped raining but the humidity is still at about 90%. Here we go!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Internet Obsession

For someone who spends all day working on my computer, I somehow manage to spend even more hours of the day trolling the internet. It's not healthy I tell you. I obsessively check certain sites and blogs over and over for updates and I'm an active participant on several websites.

One such website is called BAExpats which is a public forum for all of us English-speakers (and even a few Argentineans) to ask questions, post events, vent problems, and generally have an outlet to get in contact with others in similar positions. I recently noted a significant increase in the number of hits to my blog per day and then noticed that BAExpats has been listing my blog under their "Daily URL" section. So, thanks for the shout-out, and welcome expats! Please leave comments and let me know you are reading; anonymous posters welcome. I can't wait to meet a bunch of you this Sunday at Captain Dave's. (Non-expat readers: be jealous of where Captain Dave lives and that you can't attend his amazing events. Photos to come on Sunday or Monday's blog.)

Even with all of these internet outlets I still find time to fill online, so today I started doing something I've meant to do for a long time: re-read my blog. I started from the very first post back in November 2007 and am currently up to March 2008. I'm proud to say that I have found just one grammatical error, the use of "farther" where it should have been "further" (I only very recently learned the rule for that one). Overall I've been entertained by my writing, thus far suffering none of the embarrassment that sometimes is the result of time/perspective. It's been a fun trip down memory lane and I look forward to reading more. I'll let you know if I find anything cringe-worthy past March.

Now I am going to put an end to today's obsessive internet use/too much at-home time and eat sushi with Renée. In the restaurant, not delivery. I should just be ending my first aerial silk class, but what can I say, a convenient excuse came up and I am chicken about starting! Next up is Saturday's class, which I have very, very good intentions of attending.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Photos! High School! Beach House!

As promised, I spent a good portion of the morning uploading and captioning photos from my jaunt to Uruguay. To check them out click on the Picasa link to the right (you might have to scroll down a bit to get to it). Or, just click here. Thanks for your patience, and enjoy.

My high school was and continues to be awesome

Yesterday one of my coworkers sent me this amazing video and I have been busy spreading it around since then. I actually have very fond memories of this era in my life and consider myself lucky to have attended such a cool school. I mean, come on, Weezer played a concert in our cafeteria when I was a freshman.

Anyway, the video is a combination of my all-time favorite "going out song" and the still-impressive artistic endeavors of Shorecrest High School's creative students. "Hey Shorecrest, how do you feel? We feel AWESOME, oh we feel so awesome UH!" I just can't stop smiling at this.

Here's the actual Youtube link. (Side note: although I am totally stoked on this video and love the song, did the administrators fail to listen to the lyrics or research Outkast at all? Or are they really just that much cooler/relaxed than in my day?)

A Month at the beach

In other news, I recently placed a deposit on a beachfront apartment for the month of February. As one porteño put it, being in Buenos Aires in the summer is like having a fat, sweaty man on top of you all the time. Lovely. I have been bracing myself for the inevitable 100 degree days + 95% humidity, and I was mostly resigned to and ready for it. At a certain point I realized, however, that there's no good reason not to escape at least some of it.

I did a lot of asking around (there are a ton of beach destinations in Argentina and picking the right one for your style and needs is very important) before I found the perfect spot for me in Villa Gesell, a relatively chill spot compared to the soul-crushing crowds of Mar del Plata. It's an apartment that is literally on the beach - open the door and step onto sand. It's about 12 blocks from the center, so I can get into town easily but will also be somewhat removed from the crowds. It sleeps 4 so I expect plenty of visitors. Here are some pictures, but they aren't entirely accurate since it's getting a remodel in December.

This is the living room/dining room. The sofa opens into two single beds.

This is the view from the bedroom (all the rooms have beach-facing views).

Elizabeth the acrobat. No, really.

In other, other news, I am starting aerial silk acrobatic classes soon. More information and probably some hilarious/awkward/falling on my head stories as they emerge.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Back in Buenos Aires and final thoughts on Uruguay

(*Note: I am under the gun to publish this by midnight and promise to post photos here and to Picasa tomorrow. Really, truly! Complete with interesting captions!)

I arrived safely back in Capital Federal today. My very friendly 70-year-old cab driver expressed relief that I did not want to go into the center, explaining that due to yet another subte (metro) strike and various protests, it was taking about an hour to go just a few blocks. "Yep," I thought, "I'm back all right." Then we had an amiable conversation about how Argentina's education system needs to improve if the politics are ever going to change. Amen, brother! An educated people is a dangerous one for corrupt politicians. I wonder why the education systems in so many countries with a history of corrupt politics doesn't improve...?

Anyway, my trip to Uruguay was overall very good, very relaxing, and a nice change of pace for a few days. After Punta del Este I was half convinced I could live in Uruguay happily for ever and ever, but Montevideo was a bit of a letdown, largely due to the dominance of rundown 1960s and 70s architecture. Even the historic part of town is filled with these depressing structures, with old-style buildings of character only dotting the landscape.

One thing I will give downtown Montevideo is its abundance of plazas. Within a 10 minute walk you can get to 5 different plazas right in the center of town. Also, during my cab ride to the airport today I was able to observe that their beaches are shockingly nice and sandy and the water surprisingly blue for being so near a city.

U.S. and Uruguay: Kindred Spirits?

I rarely consider myself a 'comparer,' i.e. someone who MUST compare everything to something familiar in order classify and compartmentalize one's experiences without giving anything the benefit of being unique, but I couldn't help but notice some interesting similarities between the U.S. and Uruguay.

First, people in Uruguay are really nice. Really, really nice. Too nice, according to Sol. And, this extends to customer service. Argentina has a lot going for it but customer service is not generally one of those things. And even people on the streets are friendly. People smiled at me without me smiling first. And, although it probably gave my mom a heart attack thinking about me hitchhiking, Uruguay seems like the safest place around, largely due to its relatively booming economy and the general attitude of the inhabitants, i.e. "We're so sweet it gives you a toothache!" kind of nice. (Mom I swear I never hitchhike when alone.)

Second, things are bigger here. Namely, cars and people. I saw some pretty huge cars, which you don't see elsewhere in the Southern Cone, and I also saw some really fat people. I'm not talking a little bit overweight; I'm talking really, truly, Biggest Loser-esque large. I don't think I've ever seen such obesity in Chile or Argentina, though they seemed to have similar diets. (Special note to any Chilean residers, specifically Valparaiso: Uruguay has its own version of chorrillana! Looking at those pictures makes me sick to my stomach, not to mention thinking about how many of them I ate while there... Anyway, it's called revuelto gramajo. I saw someone eating it and couldn't help but laugh.)

Also in the vein of bigger (I'm not sure if this applies everywhere or just to Montevideo), on my way to the airport we passed suburbia. Miles of miles of new, beautiful, huge waterfront properties and behind them block after block of equally lovely homes without any sort of commerical activity. Suburban sprawl is a rareity anywhere outside the U.S. as far as I'm aware, but Montevideo seems to have latched on to this wholly unsustainable concept.

Finally, Uruguay is currently engaged in a fierce anti-tobacco campaign. While Argentina has a 'live and let live (or die from lung cancer, whatever)' policy, Uruguay and its inhabitants are out in full force with a strong campaign against smoking. I saw ads on TV and in newspapers, stickers adhered to every possible surface, and no fewer than 3 stands within a 10-block radius surrounded by groups of 3-5 people handing out information about the dangers of smoking and providing resource options to those who want to quit. Also, smoking in most public places has been officially made illegal, including in taxi cabs. Uruguay, you could do without the suburbs but I salute your anti-smoking efforts!

In general I'm happy to live here and not there, though I'm also happy that it's just a short flight or ferry ride away when I want to spend a relaxing and friendly few days outside Capital Federal (and when I need to renew my visa, of course).

Monday, November 09, 2009

Montevideo, Uruguay

(Warning: I am on a crappy computer set to South America keyboard standards so I don´t promise perfection with this one.)

Here I am in Uruguay´s capital city, Montevideo. This morning Sol and I caught a bus from Punta del Este to Montevideo where she returned to Buenos Aires and I stayed on for a day in this nation´s ¨big city.¨ After taking a quick cab from the bus station to my hostel in Pocitos, I dropped my things and hopped on a bus back into the center to tour Old City, or ciudad vieja. I got off at Plaza Cagancha on the main avenue, 18 de julio, and proceeded to walk toward the water from there. I passed through the main plaza, Plaza Independencia, and continued right along to Plaza Zabala and Mercado del Puerto, a touristy spot near the water to eat lunch (much like Santiago´s or Chile´s Mercado Central). Eat lunch I did! I ordered a glass of white wine which was literally filled to the brim, plus a plate of onions, red pepper and panceta from the grill and mojellas to boot. Turns out I love sweet breads! Covered in lemon juice, yum.

The glass of white wine plus the extremely friendly waiter did me right and I was ready to keep walking. I steered myself toward the nearest rambla, or waterfront avenue, and walked a bit. The problem was I got really bored, really quickly. The guy at the hostel told me it was about and hour and a half´s walk from Pocitos to the center via the waterfront and after 5 minutes I was done. I plan to drink mate later along las ramblas near my hostel but there really wasn´t much to see except buildings in the distance and polluted water up close. Also, all that wine had gone to my bladder and I really needed to find a bathroom. So, I did what any self-respecting solo tourist would do: I found the nearest bar, ordered a drink, and used the facilities.

Without meaning to I ordered a very typical Uruguayan drink called medio y medio (half and half) which is half something delicious and liquor-y and half something... not? I honestly have no idea but for 20 Uruguayan pesos (about one dollar) it seemed like a steal, not to mention they gave me a plate of peanuts to enjoy with it. I was in that perfect ¨The world is amazing and here I am travelling it all by myself and drinking along the way!¨mood and it was the kind of bar I was happy to have found. Of course I couldn´t stay long and expect that feeling to hold so once I took the last sip I headed toward 18 de julio again in search of an artesan´s fair I´d seen earlier but skipped since I didn´t know what kind of timeframe I was looking at.

At the fair I talked to a really nice if not low-brow Uruguayan lady who called me negra (literally ¨blacky¨ but I´m not sure what the implication is here, surely she wasn´t referring to my sunburn??) and told me I was a beautiful tourist while showing me the different types of real and fake leather accoutrement she sold. I ended up buying a magnet for Sol who collects them and was on my way.

By this time I needed to use the facilities again and I thought, why not another medio y medio? This proved harder than the first unintentional one. I went into two bars that didn´t serve it before finding one that said it did. The waitress then brought me a full bottle of wine called, sure enough, medio y medio. I assured her I coudn´t possibly drink a full bottle of wine and told her a little about what I was looking for - sweet, served over ice, about the size of a shot? Finally she got it and I had my drink, twice as big and three times as expensive as the first one.

That pretty much catches you up. I´ve just come from the last bar to this really, really bad internet cafe to write today´s blog. Soon I will get back on a bus, go to the hostel, get my mate makings, and head to the waterfront to watch another sunset. Tomorrow I fly at 1 pm and since the flight is so short and Uruguay is an hour ahead, I land at 12:50. I love time changes like that.

I promise tomorrow´s blog will be filled with interesting photos. I tried to upload some to yesterday´s but blogger wouldn´t let me. Don´t abandon me because I´m so text heavy!

I hope this finds all readers well, and for heaven´s sake, please leave a comment - It makes me feel so popular.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Punta del Este, Uruguay

Yesterday's trip to Uruguay couldn't have been easier. The flight itself was less than 30 minutes long and as soon as we got out of the Montevideo airport there was a bus waiting to take us the 1.5 hours to Punta del Este. We arrived in time to sit on the beach to drink a mate and watch the sunset. Gorgeous but windy.

Then it was off to our hostel further east near the hip spot La Barra which required another bus ride. The driver was very nice and told us where to get off, but thank heavens we were together because the hostel was not exactly one block off the highway as its website suggested it would be. After about 5 blocks of walking down a pitch black sandy road in the middle of nowhere (don't worry, it's really safe here), we finally got to the hostel. It was nice but not nice enough to stay both nights so tonight we transfered to their other hostel in the center of town so that we're a stone's throw from the bus station for tomorrow morning's ride to Montevideo.

We didn't do much last night but still managed to sleep in until almost 11 this morning. We got going pretty quickly and shortly found ourselves walking on the beach on a gorgeous day. Apparently it rained all last week so our timing was perfect. We decided not to walk the 3 km to La Barra where Sol needed to do some reconnaissance work for a potential Wine Tour Urbano here in January (yes, that website and the event is all Sol's doing), so we went back to the highway and, since Uruguay is tiny and safe we decided to hacer dedo aka hitchhike (literally translated as "make finger") into town. Before we knew it a nice German man smoking a cigar had stopped in his huge Toyota truck (what is up with all the Toyotas in Uruguay?) and took us the short distance in style.

It's still low season here so there isn't much going on so far. A lot of places are just getting ready to open for the season. But, in January and February, Punta del Este is the place to see and be seen. It's actually similar to how I imagine Miami. Observe:
I'm really glad to have gotten the chance to know it when it was still empty, because if and when I come back in January to help Sol with WTU it is going to be a sh*tshow.

Once Sol had walked the short distance of La Barra's main strip we sat down to drink a smoothie and have a snack. Then it was back to the beach where we had more mate and dozed in the sun. Good thinking... we're both ridiculously sunburned.

After the burn we checked into our new hostel, bought some sunscreen, and then took some touristy photos by this weird but famous statue of fingers coming out of the sand.

After that we hopped on another bus, this time to CasaPueblo, a house/museum of famous Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró. It reminded us both a lot of Gaudi's La Pedrera in Barcelona, except it was his homage to women and the sun, the former because I guess he loved women and the latter because it is an amazing place to watch the sunset. It was probably the most amazing sunset I've ever seen, and they play music and read a beautiful ode to the sun that he wrote from the house. Of course it was also filled with jerks talking over it whom Sol and I shushed, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.

Once the sunset was over we decided not to walk the 2 km back to the highway just to flag down a bus that might take up to an hour to arrive (all in the dark) so I stuck my thumb out again and a young Brasilian couple stopped this time. They took us all the way to the center of Punta del Este and were super nice. I also learned that Sol speaks Portuguese, go figure. Since then we've been lazing around the hostel, admiring our sunburns and trying to work up the hunger and the desire to go out to eat chivitos, Uruguay's most famous dish. I think the desire is upon us, though! More tomorrow from Montevideo.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Uruguay bound

Sol and I are leaving for Uruguay in just a few minutes so I need to write this blog fast. We went last year with our friend Flor to Colonia, and this time we are hitting up Montevideo and Punta del Este.

It's a fascinating little country and I'm looking forward to a few days of a relaxed pace after 5 weeks in the big, busy city. Fun fact: At just under 4 million residents, Uruguay is, by far, the smallest country to ever compete in and win the World Cup. The next smallest country to have won is Argentina, with 40 million! Uruguay won the first ever World Cup in 1930. They were also the host country that year.

I am going to try very hard to blog each day I'm gone, even if they're short!

Uruguay, here we come.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Scheduling adjustments and a cultural observation

First and foremost, I want to wish a very happy birthday to my dad, the most wonderful father a girl could ask for! Dad, I wish I could be there to celebrate with you.

Ok, on to the scheduling question... one thing that's interesting for me about living in another culture are the scheduling differences. In Argentina (as in many Spanish-speaking countries), everything happens later here. (Everything, that is, except the construction; we were treated to another jackhammer session, this time at 8 am).

I quickly adapted to the local schedule and regularly eat lunch between 2-4, dinner between 9-12, and I find it nearly impossible to go to sleep before 2 am no matter what day of the week. The difference is, locals will go to bed at that time and still wake up at 8 am, whereas I have consistently been rolling out between 10 and 11. This means I generally work until about 7 pm at night, which is perfect since dinner isn’t for a few more hours.

The real killer is when I go out late at night, and by late I don’t mean 2 am. I mean 7 am. U.S. citizens have a reputation of being binge drinkers, getting tanked early in the night so that by the time the bars close at 1:30 in most cities, the maximum amount of liquor possible has been consumed.

It’s not that way in most other countries of the world, and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that nightlife is able to continue into the wee hours of the morning elsewhere. There is no deadline, no time limit, and as a result, absolutely no rush to drink. So, in one full night here, I might have three drinks by the time I stagger out into the daylight six or eight hours later, hungover from exhaustion and not from alcohol. Conversely, in Seattle or Philadelphia, where there is that urgency and also the culture of buying each another drinks (I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had a drink handed to me when it was the last thing I wanted), I might have five or six in two or three hours.

Does anyone else have thoughts on this particular cultural difference and its origins/outcomes, or general observations?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Construction Refugees

As I’ve said before, my apartment is stellar. It's big and modern and cool with a crossbreeze on hot days and I love the location and Sol is a great roommate and I could go on and on. It was recently made even more comfortable by the purchase of a queen-size bed to replace my very cozy but very small single bed. There are, however, two main annoyances.

First, and by far the lesser annoyance, are the mosquitos. These little buggers are a major problem in Argentina. They. Are. Everywhere. The weird thing is, they seem to always come one at a time. Every single night I turn off my light and wait for the inevitable ‘bzzz’ next to my ear. As soon as I hear it I jump out of bed, throw on the light, and smash the holy living hell out of that night’s mosquito, hopefully before he got to me first. But, why only one? Do they eat each other? Or do they have some sort of "one at a time" mosquito code? It's a mystery I'd love to know more about.

Second, and infinitely worse (since I am unable to kill it), there is the unending theme of construction. There are THREE construction projects going on underneath, above, and next to us. One is a new building under construction from 7 or 8 am to 7 or 8 pm, another is the remodel of the apartment above us, and the other is a bank on the ground floor which literally goes on 24 hours a day. For the past three days the new building has been jackhammering from early in the morning to late afternoon, and it shakes the house and us out of bed. It's pretty awful and gives me new sympathy for torture victims (I don't say this snidely; I know that loud and unending noises are used as a method of torture and I really, really can't imagine being unable to escape it).

The good news is, we're in it together. Yesterday morning when Sol walked into the kitchen and asked me if I wanted to kill someone, we both laughed and made a mate. This morning we'd had enough, and Sol called her mom to ask if we could be her refugees for the day. What a pleasant idea! I took a 2 hour nap, awoke to a delicious lunch, and now I'm sitting in the backyard on a warm day with a cool breeze and the smell of jasmine surrounding me. Which leads me to today's observation.

I need to start taking my camera everywhere I go. I always see such interesting things. It would also make the blog a lot more exciting, I think. For instance, right now Sol's mom Lidia is mowing the lawn. Unto itself, this is is not that interesting, but it showed me a fun new fact about Argentina: the lawn mowers here are run on electricity! She has this long power cord going from the outside bathroom to the lawnmower. It's kind of rad, but makes me wonder: how many times have people mowed over the cord?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Random thoughts during NaBloPoMo

Apparently November is blogging month, which is called NaBloPoMo. Despite the ridiculous name, I'm going to try to post a blog a day (although I missed November 1) for the rest of the month. Here's a random compilation of items, just because none of them made a blog unto themselves. Not in my long-winded world, at least.

Eating ñoquis

First and foremost I'd like to share with everyone my favorite monthly tradition here in Argentina, which is the practice of eating handmade gnocchi pasta on the 29th of every month. Why do they do it? No one knows! What I do know is that on October 29th my friend Renée and I both indulged in this practice and were very happy about it. I'm already looking forward to November 29.

Wine is better when it's luxury
Sol works with a lot of people in the wine community and took me with her to a Luxury Wine Fair at a five-star hotel the other night. We got dressed up, got in for free (others paid 150 pesos, yikes!), and were exposed to virtually every winery in Argentina pouring liberal samples of whatever you wanted. There must have been 1,000 wines to choose from. Of course, this was a lot more fun for me since it was all new, whereas Sol knew just about everyone. Side note: the wine industry here is almost entirely composed of men, and almost all of them are good looking. Already looking forward to the next event...

I'm worthless when it comes to local technology

Argentina (all of South America, I think) is run entirely on gas appliances that require a direct use of fire to get them going. Although I can start the stovetop burners myself, I am incapable of starting the oven or turning on our calefont (water heater) if it goes out. So, I don't use the oven and the calefont luckily has not gone out when Sol wasn't here to take care of it for me. However, I couldn't do either of these things when I lived alone last year either, and I actually went 3 days without hot water until I finally asked a neighbor to restart it for me (it was hot so I was taking cold showers, but still). I'd like to think it's a testament to my capacity to do without certain things, but really it's just sort of pathetic.

Baby wipes are amazing

I bought a pack of 80 baby wipes for about U.S. $2 and it was an incredible investment. I wipe down my feet every night before getting into bed (in such a big, dirty city I can't keep them clean even with socks on), I made my grey keyboard white again, and it's an easy way to clean a sink or a toilet. They are also great portable showers when on a trip such as our Inca Trail excursion last year, in which Robyn and Matt wisely packed a ton in and for which I was very, very grateful.


Sol and I are going to Montevideo and Punta del Este in Uruguay this weekend. She has some work to do there and I have nothing better to do than tag along for a fun trip. Will be sure to blog from abroad! (I can call that going abroad from Argentina, right? Blog from abroad, abroad?)

Go Phillies!

You've done 1/3 of what you need to do to win it. Tonight try to make it 2/3.

Either Blogger or my Dell Studio 1555 hates me

Should formatting, copying and pasting, and other basic functions really be so hard? Or am I really that inept?

See you again tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Halloween Highlights

Well, Sol called me out on writing a lot but not saying very much in my last blog. So here are some party highlights in an easy-to-read list form.
  • The pouring rain, thunder, and lightning which gave the party an eerie but cozy feeling. Also, the rad decorations Sol bought and the fun red blinking lights I bought.
  • Having multiple Argentineans comment on how delicious the pumpkin seeds were. (Ironically not one of the yanqui guests even noticed we had them.)
  • Giving people spoonfuls of jello which is always entertaining since it's a crapshoot whether or not it will wobble right off the spoon and onto the floor. (Lowlight: cleaning spilled cherry jello out of the fridge the next day.)
  • At some point getting cajoled into giving a ukulele recital, losing the pick, and having someone hand me a pop top to use instead.
  • Trying to get out of the hammock, getting stuck, and accidentally flopping backwards out of it instead.
  • Dancing. Lots of fun and crazy dancing.
  • Faysal the Mad Hatter spilling red wine on the White Rabbit and me wowing several people in the kitchen when I absorbed it all with salt.
  • Hernan the Pencil making "celery daquiris." Don't think for a minute that they were delicious and refreshing. They were chunky and really, really bad. (Lowlight: cleaning up about 10 cups of full, abandoned celery daquiris the next day.)
  • Being able to tell that everyone there was having an awesome time and that it was a totally successful party.

I'd love to hear anyone else's favorite memories from this year's Halloween!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Halloween 2009: A perfect merging of two cultures

(Note: I tried to add photos to this blog post but for some reason this site or my PC or SOMETHING is absolutely anti copy-and-paste and I literally cannot make this simple function work to integrate uploaded photos from the top of the page into the text, or to even copy and paste text from one place to another. Has anyone else had this problem?? It's very annoying.)

**WARNING: This blog post is irrationally long. If you want to skip it, I totally don't blame you. Just click on the Picasa link for photos captioned with the highlights.**

This was the second year in a row I celebrated Halloween in Buenos Aires. Last year we had a party at Sol's mom's house and then went dancing, and although it was a blast I definitely had to push people into getting dressed up and many of them were less than enthusiastic; this year I'm happy to say everyone willingly and happily participated and it was one of the most fun Halloweens I can remember.

The premise was the same: have the prefunk party at our apartment from 10:00-1:00 or 2:00 and then go out dancing (they do things late here). It was a stormy, rainy day (and has been since, actually; there is constant thunder and lightning outside our windows as I type this) and Sol and I were busy the whole day getting ready. First we went to their version of Costco in that you buy things in large quantities and you have to be a member to shop there. The cool thing is that you can also buy things individually. The less cool thing is that you get this long, detailed receipt and on your way out someone checks every single item in your cart. Since we bought a ton of stuff and most of it was individual items, this took a considerable amount of time. Overall it was a lot of fun and I bought some random stuff because it was just so cheap.

Then we went to Sol's mom's house for more provisions, costume items, and a delicious lunch. From there it was off to a normal grocery store for a few final items, and then we had to unload the bulging car in the pouring rain. Once inside it was already about 3:30 so we did what any party planners would have: we opened a bottle of champagne and set to work cleaning, decorating, cooking, and taking pictures and videos to commemorate the experience. The photos are on Picasa; the video will take me some time but I promise to figure it out soon!

The party was, as the title of this post indicates, a merging of cultures. To eat we had vegetables and bleu cheese dip and at the last minute I decided to cook the pumpkin seeds from the awesome, gnarly green pumpkins that Sol carved (she's more Yanqui than I am!). Both of those are typical American things to serve. But, we also made 75 homemade empanadas, which is possibly the most Argentinean thing to eat at a party. Sol made cheese, mushroom, and tomato empanadas and I prepared two different versions of meat filling, one "suave" (soft) and the other "picante" (spicy). However, I left most of the actual assembly to Sol - for it being my first time making empanadas I did okay (they didn't fall apart in the oven or anything), but I couldn't hold a candle to her deft and rapid fingers (which you will see in the video once I put it together). All the food was a hit and long gone by daybreak.

Continuing down the path of cultural mixing, to drink we had red and white wine and a very typical drink called Fernet which they mix with Coke; but, I also made Jello shots which were wildly popular. I can't remember the last time I made them and it was a little like being in college again. There was some neutrality in our beverages as well: champagne, beer, and something called Dr. Lemon which is their version of Mike's Hard Lemonade. I think I drank a little of everything.

The theme of the party was, theoretically, Alice in Wonderland, based on a conversation we had at a party several weeks ago. I dressed as Alice (not the Disney version) and there was also the Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter. Otherwise people came dressed as all manner of random things and I was impressed by the improvement of costumes from last year to this year. My favorite was a toss-up between a local parody of a rock star (he definitely worked it) and the Pencil, since it took some major cahunas for a dude to show up wearing a pair of brown women's tights. I also loved Sol's costume since we decided on it (Cleopatra) a half hour before the party started and watched an online tutorial on how to make a toga while hosting a two-person dance party and waiting for the first guests to arrive.

Of course, there were some people who showed up sans costume, but Sol was ready for them. Anyone who came in normal clothes was immediately whisked away to the Bag O' Costumes where Sol dressed them up as a princess, Pocahontas, the Karate Kid, Madonna, and some others I can't remember.

Overall there were about 25 people, 7 of whom were from the U.S. (made the party more authentic!) and the rest were Argentinean. It continued storming and everyone was having such a good time that we didn't end up going out after all, and I walked the last guest out at about 5:30 in the morning.

The next day (yesterday) we did the obligatory clean-up and then I went to Renée's house for what should have been lunch but turned into a 10-hour hangover marathon of eating, watching movies, and participating in a photo essay project that her roommates' friend had to turn in on Wednesday. It involved stabbing, fake blood, and having one of my legs sawed off. Good times. I also for some reason decided to take the White Rabbit with me and I think I might make him my signature accessory. No one on the bus or the street even looked twice, because obviously I must have had a good reason for carrying around a stuffed animal.

All in all it was a fantastic weekend and I don't even mind that it's still raining since it's accompanied by so much good thunder. Also, I managed to find a non-rainy window in the day to make it to the post office in order to mail my ballot (thanks Mom for sending it!) but who knows if it'll make it in time to be counted. I think I can track it online so we'll see.

I wrote this blog all day but I'm just now getting around to posting it now that there are PHOTOS available online (check them out here!). I'm sorry it has taken me so long to share pictoral evidence of my first month here in Buenos Aires, and I hope you enjoy them. More to come soon, especially now that the weather is (theoretically) getting warmer.

In the meantime, go Phillies! It's the top of the 8th and you're up 6 to 2. Don't blow it!