Friday, November 23, 2007

Buenos Aires

We arrived in Bs As in early November and spent our first week in a shared apartment with Macarena the Argentinian dancer, Dirk the German exchange student, and Ibrahim the Turk. Our first impression of our new home was coloured by a rancid odor that could not be identified. Further, Ibrahim´s greeting of "you Jew, me Muslim, let´s fight" was a bit of a worry. We also got off on the wrong foot with Dirk when, due to his Bavarian accent, we thought his name was Dork. Luckily his unfamiliarity with Australian accents meant that he thought we were saying Dirk, so nobody was offended.

These first impressions were quickly dispelled when we discovered the origin of the foul odor. It transpires that Macarena moonlights as a cheese trader and keeps the goods stashed under our bed. Ibrahim also turned out to be a pretty good bloke, except for the occasional outburst when he would insist that due to our faith we obviously owned a financial institution.

We quickly settled into our adopted home and began to explore the city and to study Spanish at a nearby academy.

Random Observations
Trading hours and food are one facet of Argentinian life that takes some getting used to. Dinner is eaten around 10pm. Our stomachs still haven´t agreed to this arrangement and we continue to have dinner around 6pm. As a result we are very often the only people in restaurants! That said, we have tried on occasion to tame our hunger and have dinner late. Amazingly, at midnight entire families, including young children, are packing out restaurants eating meat grills. We have now concluded that Fat Cat goes to bed around 8pm in Argentina and then gets up again around midnight.

Another traditional ritual is the sharing of mate, a tea drink. The mate cup is quite special in itself. Normally made from wood and silver, the hollow of the cup is filled to the top with special tea leaves that look like lawn clippings. Boiling water is poured in and the concoction is sipped through a silver straw. It only takes a few sips before you start sucking in the leaves themselves. At this point more hot water is added and for the sociable drinkers, the cup is passed on.

Bars and nightclubs are pumping to 6am in the morning. What is interesting though, is that the porteños (locals of Bs As) spilling out of them are just as sober as when they arrived. However, at 6am the coffee houses are open, waiting to serve them a short black and a medialuna (sweet croissant). Seasoned porteños wear their sunglasses out at night to protect them from the light of the morning, and clubs include breakfast in the entrance fee! We are too old (and our clothes too shloompish) to go clubbing but this certainly does not stop us from sharing in the coffee house culture.

Argentinians are known for their passion but we had thought this was more abstract, like a love of Maradona or Tango. In actual fact this kind of love is more tangible. Perhaps it is because hotel rooms are not affordable but making out in the streets is as natural as seeing a homeless dog peeing on a sign post. It is impossible to walk a block without seeing two young Argentinians swapping saliva or for that matter stepping in fresh dog turd!

New Apartment
In our second week we moved into our own penthouse apartment, complete with a beautiful terrace, a hammock, a fish bath (yes bath!) and two siamese cats. Now we are clearly both lovers of dogs and there is little place in our hearts for cats however these two cuties won us over. Both named after famous artists and about as friendly as cats could be, it turns out they actually didnt belong to our landlord. Although they hung out in our terrace, they belonged to the next door neighbour. Sadly though the neighbour was a bit loco and didn´t feed the cats. Trapped on the top floor of our building we wondered how these cats were fed. Should we buy some cat food for them? The mystery was partially solved when one day we woke up and saw a bowl of cat food next to our front door. The question then became: who put it there? We later found out that the maid comes to our house every day and leaves food out for them. She also feeds the fish and cleans the house. This is how the JeTZ like to be treated!

This place quickly became our sanctuary and provided a great environment to study Spanish and enjoy the hot evenings with a bottle of vino from Mendoza and crappy pasta from a corner store. In our new quiet neighbourhood eating dinner at 6pm was not an option as restaurants only opened at 10pm and made no exceptions for gringos. Here TZ shows how a lazy morning is best spent.

This isn´t the first pussy to be entertained in Jez´s lap, but its certainly the furriest!

One Sunday we went to the San Telmo Feria, a street market that is a favourite with the tourists. We took this photo of some graffiti between buying some trinkets and watching Tango performers dancing in the street. The quality of graffiti in Bs As is very good and far exceeds the tags that can be found at Mirrabooka bus station. Politics inevitabily provides the inspiration.

Another weekend we made a day trip to Tigre. This is a favourite place for porteños to visit on weekends and reminded us a bit of Fremantle. During the train ride we were offered schmutter from traders that walk up and down the aisle, offering a motley bunch of wares, such as socks, mobile phone SIM cards, Jesus bracelets and street directories. We were also treated to the beautiful panpipe music of a busker, and took pity on a disabled man selling textas. We were not quite sure what to do with the textas though and carried them around with us for a week waiting for the opportunity to get rid of them.

In Tigre we visited the local market, and after stuffing our faces with chocolat con churros we took a boat ride up river. Click on the photo below to hear what TZ thought of her first chocolat con churros. Dont forget to click back on your web browser to return to our blog.


Before leaving Bs As, we took a taxi to Caminito street - the most famous street in La Boca. It is truly the most touristy place we´ve been to and offers everything that is considered typically Argentinian.

What the folks in Caminito street weren´t counting on is that we weren´t your average tourists. When we came across this band belting out the old Tango classics we decided this was our golden opportunity to show off some of our hidden talents.

First we topped up our energy levels with a Panqueque con Dulce de Leche. You need not know what that is, the expression on TZ´s face should give away the yumminess factor. At this moment we spied two kids begging from the tourists, and we took the chance to finally off-load the textas we had been carrying wih us since Tigre. Although they were really only interested in cold hard pesos, they were only too happy to take the textas. Later we saw them using the textas to keep track of how much money they had scammed.

A Tango dancing couple arrived at the restaurant in front of our table ready to do their routine but they stank. They had four left feet between them and we were not impressed. Jez intervened and showed them how it was done.

Although schvitzing in hiking bookts and jeans, TZ grabbed a top hat and leapt up onto this amateur.

The next day we were in the mood for something a little more sombre - Recolleta´s famous cemetary. This was literally the last stop for us in Bs As. Not because we died there but because we were leaving the next day. This cemetary is famous not only for the important residents (such as Evita) but also for the grandiose mausoleums. Each grave looked like a building and housed entire families. If you dared to peak through the doors, you could see a stair case leading down to ... more dead people.

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