Monday, March 29, 2010

So long, Argentina (or, as they say here, chao chao!)


I promised photos and I intend to deliver. I realize I haven't uploaded any since my weekend in Olavarria, but that is now rectified. Check out my "Summer in Buenos Aires" album at:

**3:30 am note: Photos uploaded hours ago but still not labeled. Will label once in NYC I promise.


It's been an interesting month since I got back from the beach. The weather has been perfect: in the 70s and breezy most days as the fall sweeps in, though not a single leaf has started to change colors yet. Sadly I've been so busy with work that I've mostly been looking at it longingly from my desk.

I've also been shopping. A lot. For myself and others; mostly leather. I had a knee-length leather jacket custom altered and then when I went to pick it up decided I needed a short bomber jacket as well. But, the leather is amazing quality and the prices are 1/4 of what I'd pay in the states, so I figure it's an investment since these jackets will last forever. Now it's just a matter of getting them into my suitcase. I am about 80% packed but it's the last 20% that kills you. I'm trying very hard to not go over the weight allowance and so far have my bigger suitcase packed and weighing in at exactly 23 kilos. We'll see about the other one which has most of the heavy stuff but is smaller.

I'm carrying on my ukulele which has been sorely neglected and I'm hoping that the labor of love of carting it internationally will spark my interest once again. I've also packed most of my jewelry into the uke case, partly because it's saving me 1 lb in my checked baggage and partly because I don't want it to get stolen.


I've been trying to take advantage of as much of the local culture as possible before I go, and although there is always more to do and there are definitely things left on my 'to do' list I think I made a sizeable dent. Here is one part of one of my many lists outlining some of the things I've done in the last month. (Note: this does not include 'places I ate' which is a whole other section of the list. Suffice to say I did a pretty good job hitting all my favorite restaurants one last time and getting to a few new ones as well.)

Things I did:

Aerial silk classes
Went to a polo tournament (free)
Went to the Natural Science museum
Watched a free ballet show by Teatro Colon at the Eva Peron Auditorium in Parque Centenario
Went to a stand-up comedy show on Corrientes (their version of Broadway)
Went to the Recoleta fair and cemetery
Walked Puerto Madero and saw the 2010 bicentenial Regatta boats
Went to the Costanera ecological reserve/ate a bondiola sandwich (delicious street food)
Went to the botanical gardens
Feels like so much more... surely I'm forgetting some things??


I wrote the rest of this blog hours ago with the 'people' section pending poetic descriptions. I have so many wonderful things to share about so many people and right now is not the moment to do it justice. I just had a lovely farewell dinner, it is now 3:36 am and the cab comes in 1 hour 24 minutes. I'm 99% packed and the only two things left on my list are 'upload photos to Picasa' which I have done with the aforementioned caveat, and 'write farewell blog.' This will have to do.

More from the flip side. It's been real, Argentina.

(Taken at my going-away party.)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Love Thy Roommate

It’s one thing to have good friends, which I consistently have had in life. It’s quite another thing to have good roommates, which I consistently and often hilariously have not. I was always convinced I’d never want to live alone, but 4 years and about 10 disastrous roommate situations later I had changed my tune.

I lived alone in Philadelphia for 2 years; I subletted alone in Seattle a few months at a time; and then I lived alone in Chile and Argentina for 10 months. When I got back to Seattle last winter the rental market was obscene and I was suffering from acute loneliness. The opportunity to live with one of the very few successful roommates I had ever had presented itself and I jumped on it.

The trick, I’ve decided, is to start as roommates and become friends from there, not the other way around. I have two examples that this is the best method.

Example 1

In spring of 2005, K responded to an ad for a short-term room I had available in my Madrona rental. She came over and asked the second roommate if the house was always this clean. We were in the kitchen and I was cooking. The roommate replied, totally honestly, “Actually, it’s usually cleaner.”

K moved in the next day and although we only had about 2 months together, it was enough to cement a friendship and for us both to know that we could live together in harmony again even under vastly different circumstances: this time with her partner, her pregnancy, and eventually their baby.

It was so successful that I’m going to join them again when I get back to Seattle, this time in their beautiful, inspiring, newly-remodeled house in what I like to call the “guest suite” as we finish the ground-floor apartment which I plan on staking a semi-permanent claim to.

Example 2

I had to switch housing horses midway through my stay in Buenos Aires and when this random girl I had never met but had been exchanging blog comments with told me she had a spare room, I met her that day. Two weeks later I moved in and now, with just a few days left, I can honestly say that of everything in Argentina, I am most sad about leaving her and the friendship we have forged as roommates.

We glided through the obligatory series of awkward, tense moments in record time. We talked about things that bothered us. We adopted a kitten together after a month! That’s a big step that has ruined many a previously-strong relationship. How much do we feed him, and what brand and type of food? How do we discipline him? Should we get the vaccine shots before or after castration? Et cetera. The possibilities for arguments are endless. We discussed, we occasionally disagreed, but I can’t remember once actually fighting about anything.

We’ve hosted a variety of gatherings and guests, thrown two full-blown, successful parties, and encountered a smattering of otherwise stress-inducing situations without so much as flinching. We borrow each other’s clothes and makeup. I am wearing her sweatpants right now since mine are with my friendly neighborhood laundress. We eat each other’s food without any quibbling and reached an easy agreement to share certain items while leaving others alone, prepare shared meals which mostly include pasta and giant salads – no tomatoes in hers, no cheese in mine.

I have tried not to dwell too much on the complete harmony we have somehow established for fear of disturbing the natural order of things, but as someone who has lived with the worst of them and who has been considered the worst of them, I have never taken it for granted. Confidential to Amy: every shooting star I see will remind me of you. And Ranch dressing.

Exception to the rule

I would be remiss not to mention my longest-running roommate ever, Justin, as an admirable exception to the “don’t live with friends” rule. Justin and I could not be more different yet we lived together for 3 years and were good friends before, during, and after. He was eternally baffled by me but never stopped trying to keep the peace and make me happy, even working within the tight confines of the color-coded ‘chore spreadsheet’ I created for the four of us and posted on the fridge on a bi-monthly basis. (No, seriously. I did that. At age 20. So next time one of you tells me to chill out and I reply that I am much more chill now, there’s some proof for you.)

The countdown has begun

I leave Tuesday morning and have been packing a lot of stuff into the last few weeks, with tons more to come in my remaining 5 days. The next post will be all about what I’ve done with myself as I prepare to leave Argentina (with pictures, I promise).

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Rants and Raves about Argentina

It's a rainy Sunday so I'm catching up on documentation: to-do lists (I have 4), journaling, editing and labeling photos (check Picasa soon!), and of course, blogging.

This is a very random list I have been compiling for months. There is no hierarchy, I just wrote them in the order I thought of them. There are a ton of other things I love and hate about the city and country, but these are just the ones I thought to write down.

Anyone have any to add?



Walking on the sidewalks is like frogger in that you have to avoid the many piles of dog crap as well as guess which tiles will 1) be loose and 2) will have dark murky water hiding under them from rain or that morning's hosedown by a shop owner that, when stepped on, will fill your shoe with filth and send a streak of dirty water shooting up the front or back of your leg.

You also have to avoid the oncoming human traffic. People love to go out of their way to run into you here. Finally, since pedestrians never have the right-of-way - even if there is a 'walk' signal beckoning you across - you have to avoid getting run over by a car at every intersection.

Speaking of sidewalks... trashy

People litter here. A lot. There could be a trash can right under their hands and they'll still throw something into the street. Something that someone happens to pull out of his pocket that could easily be put back into that pocket until getting home and disposing of it there is instead thrown casually to the ground. Also, in a culture of heavy smoking, I especially hate the cigarette butts. I have to stop myself from thinking about just how much water each butt can pollute, or the bird who chews on it or makes her nest with it. So sad! (Don't even get me started on plastic bags.)

Chill out

Argentineans' favorite word to say and my least favorite word to hear is tranquila, or "be calm/chill out." First of all, generally when they say it I am calm but their utterance of the word whips me right out of shape. Second of all, anyone who knows me knows that my normal state of tranquila is, for me, quite chill, but for others not so much. I AM NOT A CALM PERSON, OK??

And what's wrong with being worked up every now and then? It is healthy to express anger and frustration and it does not always need to be shushed or calmed down. I think emotional expression makes locals uncomfortable unless it's boyfriend/girlfriend drama in which case all bets are off.


Inflation is insane here. A cup of coffee that was 6 pesos in October is 9 pesos now. Menus often don't list prices, or have been scratched out or covered with stickers and re-written. They are anticipating another period of hyperinflation soon and I have no idea what the locals will do then. What's an annoyance to me is a desperate situation to many of them.


My constant gripe about Chile holds only too true in Argentina. Attention Southern Cone nations: Stop making out in every cramped public space you can find. It's gross. And rude. Did I mention gross?


Need I say more? I'll trade Seattle's spiders any day for the massive beasts of Buenos Aires (I think they rival New York for quantity and size).


Walking + Transportation

Any city that is flat enough to walk and filled with enough interesting things to keep your walk fascinating is OK in my book. Of course, if you get tired you can jump on any number of buses or subways, or hop in one of the many cabs that circulate for a still-reasonable (though constantly rising, see: inflation) fare.

Urban Living

I could confine myself to 6 square blocks of my apartment and never notice that I was missing anything. Grocery stores, fruit and vegetable stands, butchers, bakeries, locksmiths, cafes and restaurants, pharmacies, movie theaters, and all the shopping I can handle - all within a very short walk. I am so enamored of any dense urban core and constantly lament Seattle's lack of one. I am already thinking about the car I'll need to buy once back, because without it life is much more complicated. Here, life is much more complicated WITH a car. (Same goes for Philadelphia, one of the many reasons I love it there.)


Buenos Aires was modeled after Paris and has countless beautiful buildings adorned with gothic sculpture or art deco details. It truly is a beautiful city, as long as you look up long enough from sidewalk frogger to appreciate it.

Long Distance Buses

They're relatively inexpensive, very comfortable, and come with food and free wine, whiskey, and champagne. I've seen much of Argentina's landscapes, from the red dirt of Misiones in the north to the barren Patagonian pampas in the south, from the comfort of my seat on a double-decker Mercedes bus.

Let's Eat

Although I don't necessarily adore the Argentinean cuisine, I do admire how they go about eating it. Dinner can start as late as 1 am and people will loiter after a meal has finished for hours. None of this eat-and-run 20-minute crap we pull in the states. At 6:00 pm when many American families have finished dinner and are already starting on the dishes, people in Argentina are sitting with friends having cafe con leche at a sidewalk table or drinking yerba mate in a park, not even thinking about dinner yet.

Can't Escape the Beef

I really don't eat a lot of beef in the U.S. but here it's everywhere, and something about their cattle generally being grass-fed makes me feel better for some reason. They also have amazing leather products as a result, and I even bought a pair of earrings carved from cow bone.

I particularly love that the second ingredient in Rex, my favorite cracker brand (they look and taste just like Ritz) is "bovine fat." Awesome. No wonder they're so delicious! Beats transfat any day.


In general I would not consider Buenos Aires a cheap city and certainly not for the people living and working here on pesos. But there are areas where things are remarkably more reasonable than in the U.S. For instance, health care - including the vet - and prescription drugs are, on average, 10% of what they cost in the U.S. TEN PERCENT. You could go to the doctor ten times in Argentina for what you pay in one visit in the states. The 10% rule also holds true for hair cuts, massages, and waxing.

Growing Wild

Some of my favorite houseplants grow wild here, like aloe, the spider plant, Marble Queen philodendron, and Wandering Jew tradescantia. You can go for a walk and see them popping out of the dirt at the base of the large trees that line the streets, thriving even in the city's polluted center.

Storm Central

The thunder and lighting storms here are incredible. Granted, when it rains too hard transit becomes impossible, huge portions of the city flood, and people lose electricity for days, but I just love lightning that wakes me up from behind closed eyes followed immediately by thunder that shakes me out of my bed.


Buenos Aires has the most comprehensive offering off free things to do of any city I've ever been to. My first week living here back in August/September 2008 I went to the International Tango Competition finals, something the U.S. would have charged a pretty penny for; totally free. I've been to movies, concerts, theatrical and art installations, museums, sporting events, and more, all free of charge. What's more, many of these free events will also include free giveaways and/or refreshments. It's just too cool for words.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

100th post (holla!)

It seems strange that I've been writing this blog for more than 2 years yet I'm only just now hitting the 100th post. I feel like I've written so many. But that might just be because each post seems like it should count for 2-3. (Insert "long-winded" joke here.)

I leave Argentina two weeks from today. I plan on keeping the blog going once I'm back in the states because I never really considered this to be specifically a travel blog - it's more like life documentation - so I don't see a good reason to stop writing it. (Some of you will keep reading, right??)

"La vida desconocida" means "the life unknown." One of the best things about life is never knowing what's going to happen next, and I have finally accepted that settling in a city for more than a few months doesn't mean I have to settle into a routine that takes the excitement and adventure out of living.

In some ways keeping a blog inspires me to seek out new and interesting things since I feel semi-accountable to report back on what I've done. Also, by writing about it I'm guaranteed to remember the blogworthy events of my life 50 years from now. So, until further notice. La Vida Desconocida will still be a place to read highly detailed descriptions of the esoteric, the interesting, and often the mundane accounts of my life.

Special thanks to those of you who have made it through all 100 posts with me!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

(Buenos Aires) is not my home

A few months ago I was having a particularly rough day and got into a cab just as this song came on the air, the first time I had ever heard it. At the time I was seriously considering trying to find a flight home as soon as possible and I took the song as a sign. Although I am glad I decided to stick it out a few months, the lyrics pretty accurately sum up my feelings then and now.

Jim Croce, "New York's Not My Home"

Well things were spinnin' round me
And all my thoughts were cloudy
And I had begun to doubt all the things that were me
Been in so many places
You know I've run so many races
And looked into the empty faces of the people of the night
And something is just not right

'Cause I know
That I gotta get out of here
I'm so alone
Don't you know that I gotta get out of here
'Cause (Buenos Aires) is not my home

Though all the streets are crowded
There's somethin' strange about it
I lived there bout a year and I never once felt at home
I thought I'd make the big time
I learned a lot of lessons awful quick and now I'm
Tellin' you that they were not the nice kind
And it's been so long since I have felt fine

That's the reason that I gotta get out of here

It might sound a little harsh but the general message is true: this is just not my home. I will never regret coming back here because then I always would have wondered "what if?" And, I would not trade my experiences in Argentina for anything. I have done amazing things, met fantastic people, made lasting friendships. But, it's time to go home.

There are many things I don't like about living in the U.S. on many different levels. I have a lot of personal history that prevents me from being who I feel like I am now instead of who I was 10 years ago (for instance, I can't get people to stop calling me Beth), whereas when I go somewhere that no one knows me I get to be exactly who I am now, without any of my past influencing people's perceptions or opinions of me.

On a higher level, while it might be bad/lazy/irresponsible, I follow the 'ignorance is bliss' tenant since I find it keeps me relatively calm, but I can't avoid the U.S. news, politics, woes, etc. like I can in Argentina.

But, the U.S. is my home. The older I get the more I realize just how important community is. Like a good garden, a community takes years of nurturing to develop. Without all that personal history I wouldn't have my incredibly supportive family or a group of finely-tuned friends.

Frankly, my community kicks ass and I'm ready to really, finally commit to it. I have some really exciting opporunities waiting for me once I get back, an ideal living situation already settled, and a full month in my favorite second home, Philadephia, followed by a glorious Seattle summer to kick it all off. I'm finally ready to start the next phase of my life and I'm blessed to get to share it with so many of you.

I am lucky enough to have the opportunities to travel and smart enough to take them. So, this is by no means the end of my travel itch. It's just a shift in how I will go about scratching it.

Photo from

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Rest in Peace, Fernet "Traguito" Trago Nacional

I have some sad news to share. As you know, a few months ago we got a cat (Amy's cat, really, I was just the quirky live-in aunt) and we named him after Argentina's favorite booze which is as black as he was: Fernet Trago Nacional, or "Traguito" for short which means "little drink."

Early this morning he was being rambunctious as ever, and somehow lost control and fell off our 6th-story balcony. It was a high enough fall that he died instantly and didn't suffer, which I am grateful for. We knew it was a calculated risk letting him out there but there wasn't really any way around it. The whole house opens onto the balcony, summer in Argentina is a hot, humid affair so keeping the doors shut was not an option, and he just loved being out there.

He had a short but incredibly happy life. He couldn't have asked for a more loving owner and everyone that came over played with him, pet him, and just generally loved him. He really was a fantastic cat and it's incredibly sad that he didn't get to live more of his life, but I'm glad that he was able to live with us during his short life instead of meeting a much slower, sadder end on the street.

Luckily Amy took plenty of pictures for us to remember him by. I stole these from her blog.

Rest in peace, Traguito.