Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Beats and Buenos Bgirls

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Thursday night was Hip Hop BsAs en vivo. Breakdance battle, big club, cyphers, and booming systems. BsAs is certainly not known for its hip hop scene but, like the rest of the world, there's a pocket of kids who dream of Biggie and Tupac, breathe sneaker culture, and go to the hair salon to transform their head into a semblance of dread locks. An old friend was in town and in our shared nostalgia for cyphers and classic rap, we headed to Lost Culture Club and The Roxy Club in Palermo Hollywood.
The Roxy Club is a large venue of three floors. The first floor was a big disco club with a welcome wagon of employees in drag. There was a guy in black face, I kid you not.
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The top floor was sponsoring a female breakdance battle. It was the most civilized I've seen of its kind - and the most tame. The girls were talented acrobats - pretty Laker girls. They were really nice to each other and did their best when it was their turn. It was a nice show, not exactly a battle, but entertaining from a dance point of view. It reminded me of a performance I once saw in Budapest circa 1995 with female emcees and dancers - the semblance of hip hop, the appreciation, minus the fire. It was fun to be in the Buenos Aires version of South LA but reminded me of Nas' latest album. It's strange to watch your culture melt into commerce and at the same time, it's cool to share it with the world.
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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Freud was a Taurus

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"What's your sign?" is a question I hear outside of bar banter here in Buenos Aires. Cabbies, shopgirls, teachers, and hardware store clerks want to read me via astrology. They even want to know rising signs, and I have to wonder if I've wandered into an alternate reality constructed by my mother.
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Argentines are not very religious. True, the churches are well attended on Sundays and were overflowing on Easter, but the real religion seems to be a mix of Freud and the stars. They're good at observing with the stars and at delving into issues with a therapist's point of view. Strangers are given deference, conflict is resolved through conversation, and men are given license to cry. It's a culture of open communication and of working through difficulty verbally and with hugs and kisses.
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This week I've been out on the town with two visiting New Yorkers. Seeing the city through the eyes of two New York women has been liberating and instructive. They're bilingual, having grown up in Dominican households, and therefore able to navigate the city and the culture in a way I'm attempting to do. We had a great time hanging out with the locals and getting into discussions of politics and culture. On their last evening we met a Porteno couple sitting next to us at the steakhouse.
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Alejandro and Carola are the same age as I am, he has an MBA in business management and works in finance, she is a psychoanalyst for an international headhunter. He's Bulgarian Jewish and Italian, she's Swiss and Italian. But, like Alejandro said, in Argentina they don't discuss their roots - they're all just Argentine. He wanted to know why people in the US stress their ethnic background. I asked him why he had to question the girls about their national heritage. They're both just Americans but no one here leaves the conversation at that. Everyone wants to know how an American can be brown and speak native Spanish. We continued our discussion of the politics of identity and the girls and I countered their view of last week's Virginia University slaying as anything related to a Korean phenomenon - focussing rather on American cultural isolation and guns.

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As a couple, Alejandro and Carolita were ambiguous. They were obviously on a date but called each other friends. He invited me to a party and she said he hadn't invited her to one of his parties yet. She paid the bill, which to me is a bad sign here. Carola talked about how she wanted to find an English guy and how she loves British culture. I talked about how much I love Argentines and Alejandro talked about how America as a republic is doomed. I countered with examples of pivotal moments in history and of charismatic leaders who've changed a nation with a speech or by example.

We spoke of destiny and national psyches. There was luck, chance, and cultural significations woven into talk of love, politics, race relations, economics, history and the future ramifications of global warming. Our conversation was rich, entertaining, and intense. We laughed, we debated, we admired each other's cultures and critiqued them. It was another night in Buenos Aires.

I emailed Carolita this quote yesterday as a follow up:

A return to first principles in a republic is sometimes caused by the simple virtues of one man. His good example has such an influence that the good men strive to imitate him, and the wicked are ashamed to lead a life so contrary to his example.
-Niccolo Machiavelli

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Floods, Presidents, and $$

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Tuesday night the city flooded. The rain crashed down for hours and the sky broke apart in wave after wave of lightening bolts and sonic boom.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe city cracked - the subte (subway) stopped working and the roads became creeks with hydroplaning cars and wading pedestrians. There'd been a flood in a neighboring city that required the evacuation of 400,000 residents. With visions of Katrina in my head, I went to meet some friends around the corner for a going away dinner and some anglophonic company.
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Jim is an American who'd been living here for some months and he was preparing to go back home to Wyoming. A seasoned traveler, Jim had a great group of friends who'd miss him here and I anticipated good times and good conversation - despite the tempest raging around us. Lobo and I went to Palermo House to meet Jim and our friend Sebastian from "Nueva Zealanda." At the hostel we were treated to an impressive view of the storm - the wall of windows in the loft space showed what the sky was really up to out there. Sebastian told how he'd seen a lightening bolt hit one of the towering buildings nearby - from my LA eyes the windows looked like a widescreen plasma and the thunder was surround sound. Except my galloshes were totally coming in handy and Loby kept shaking himself to get the rain off his coat.
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We splashed a few blocks away to drop off El Lobo and got to Eros - where the steaks are six pesos ($2) and you can watch people practice indoor soccer while you dine under flourescent lighting. We met up with Kurt - another expatriot living here in the capitol, otherwise he lives off of La Brea and Wilshire in LA. Libby came in just after us - it had taken her two hours to get to us, with the subway not running and cabs super scarce. She's from London and has lived in Venezuala and traveled the continent. Normally a vegetarian, she's making concessions for the happy cows here. They are so good - have I told you how good the steak is? Even vegetartians get down in BsAs.
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Our waiter is a fixture at Club Eros and is the cutest man. Jim nicknamed him "El Penguino" because he looks strikingly like the Penguin from Batman. Or because he just looks like a real penguin - puede ser. He lectured me on how "rare" is the same as "raw" and that there's really only two ways to prepare a steak; raw, or cooked. He was passionate about that since I'd ordered it rare and I had to return it cause he'd brought me seared flesh. He came back with a "cooked" steak and managed to get us some ketchup even, for the fries. Jim said it was the first time he'd seen him ever smile and thought I'd had some special effect on him. I figured Jim may not have ever dined at Club Eros with a female who debates with Italian waiters on the regular. El Penguino and I did have a nice moment though.
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With a table of lefty first worlders in the third world, the conversation of course turned to politics. I noted how funny it was that there's a grafitti stencil "Bush Fuera" (out with Bush) asking for his impeachment. Like I wrote you here, I find it striking that a foreign country is concerned with US domestic politics to the level that it's street grafitti here in Buenos Aires. Libby said she'd been to a lecture in Chile or Bolivia, I think, where people called Bush "our president." She learned that many South Americans feel their leaders don't have enough power to make any changes and that the US president dictates enough of their policy wherein he is effectively their leader as well as ours.
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Their attitude makes sense and it's an uncomfortable reality. With media and consumer market domination aligned with policy authority, it's an ambivalent reality being a leftist expatriot in the third world. It's disgusting being the perpetuator of the disease. At the same time, my dollars are making my experience possible and the locals I come in contact with would gladly change places with me and be carriers of the disease. Capitalism is king, regardless of what national is ordained omnipotent.
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Here, families sift through garbage to collect recycling - even in storms - and live in tin and cardboard squats behind the train station. Little kids peddle sundries at sidewalk cafes. Rayon is considered quality fabric and no one ever has change for a $20. There are lines at the bank every morning and the ATMs - that are few and far between - are often out of cash. For a nation in the midst of a depression, Argentines definitely put their best face forward. Maybe it's because they're well fed?
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A former carcel (prison) turned street art.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Argentine reality shows tan impressionantes

Argentine talks shows are amazing. I just watched four overweight teenage girls withstand a panel of shrinks and nutritionists and a studio audience scrutinize them physically and mentally. One girl's thin sister was brought up to the stage out of the audience. The hostess went on about how pretty she was and how much alike they looked and the heavy sister started crying. The camera panned in on her and the panel went on about how she was crying because, of course, she was comparing herself to her sister. Their was no shame in their game and the poor girl just stood there and cried. At the end a huge boy got up and danced with all the girls. It was hard to watch. The highlight was the hostess interrupting the weighing of each girl to see how they did after a week's regimen in order to read an advertisement off the teleprompter. She held up a box of pills to alleviate pms and gave a speil while the girls waited patiently behind her, busting out of their matching white tank tops and mini skirts. She finished and a spanish pop song exploded out of the speakers and everyone broke into line dancing.
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The next show was hectic too - I didn't cry like I did for the fat girl, but it was rough. It's a show for older singles - late 30's to 40's and there were a line of guys and a line of women who got to vote for each other, see if they sync'd up, then go on a date with video camera surveillance for the following day's show. Kind of like the dating game but really candid about their feelings. There was a dude who talked about how he cries at night because he's lonely. Cut to the talk show hostess presenting a live commercial for anti-inflamatory cream.
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Then there's the show that everyone seems to watch and I don't get it. It's their Big Brother - "Gran Hermano" that's amazingly boring. Footage of people sleeping, eating, and sitting around a house with nothing to do. Oh wow, here's a trailer for a show with a guy with tears streaming down his face. They're big on expressing sensitivity along with their machismo.
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I just ate a spinach, cheese and pumpkin torte thing for lunch. They're big on pumpkin - pumpkin soup, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin pie. No wonder I love this place - steak, wine, sensitive dudes with great haircuts, and pumpkin. I'm lucky to be in Buenos Aires.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

When factories become discos

This past week was about dinners with locals and getting the jokes in Argentine Spanish. It was impressive boliches (nightclubs) and meeting boys. Romantic intros in gorgeous spaces and moto rides at sunrise and one packed nightclub after another that go on into the morning.
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Ciudad Konex is the name of what’s known here as a cultural center. It’s not a YMCA. It’s a neighborhood nightclub – grit instead of glamour and plenty of art and personal touches. Music, and sweaty dancers and high ceilings, old buildings, and miles of Argentines. Ciudad Konex is the largest scale cultural center I've seen. It was a factory the first part of the 20th Century and is now a design feat of indoor and outdoor stages and bars where live bands and djs play in a concrete, metal and glass structure with scaffold style walls and courtyards strung with clothesline as d├ęcor. Colorful lighting and brightly painted stairways direct the crowd into the main spaces where a big sound system manages to fill the vacuous factory with dance music.
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Saturday night (Sunday morning) It was a Balkan party – just my kind, where circus horns and accordions accompany big drums and bass for a bouncy dance style – the milleneum’s answer to ska. A nine-piece band on a tall stage got hundreds of Argentines to dance, jump, and bump around into eachother gleefully.
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I went out with my friend Leandro and his friend Pedro. Leandro makes me laugh constantly - Ciara and I met him at a bar in San Telmo a couple weeks ago and I've hung out with him in Palermo since. I convinced him to go to something other than a bar with the promise that we'd meet up with Carla and her girlfriends. Leandro is a bit girl-crazy.Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketPhoto Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
He and Pedro and I went to a Peruvian restaurant near the club to get dinner (at 1am). I was happy to have the option of hot sauce in a country that doesn't include spice in its diet - you have to ask special for pepper.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketPedro tried the littlest taste of salsa on his chicken and he couldn't make it to the club after because his stomach hurt. We got to the club at 3am and the line to get in was two and a half blocks long. We decided to get a drink at a nearby pub and come back. Pedro headed home, we caught a cab back and found the line still pretty long at 4:30am. We cut to the front and they stopped selling tickets to wait for people to leave because it was full.
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We waited about ten minutes and got in and were really happy we hadn't given up. It was a city of fun inside. We couldn't find the girls in the sea of people and when Maxi texted me at 6am to say he'd give me a ride home on his moto I said goodbye to Leandro. Maxi and I rode off into the sunrise.

I'm looking forward to my next adventure at Konex city (sounds a bit like Kotex, no?). There's a dance show, multi-media art shows, and an acrobatic performance before the dance clubs and live music that start at 1am. Later this week there's an all-girl breakdance competition. I can't wait to see pop-locking set to reggaeton and cumbia.
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Chicos en la Ciudad

Another night at Harrods, different bands, and a different boy. Lately, I have a date here almost every day. And each time I go out I see someone I want to ditch my date for. It's a sickness - there are just too many good ones here. Granted, the majority are just regular males, nothing spectacular. But the good ones are good - and so much more accessible. There's a 1950's niavete here; people are plain nice and that includes males in their twenties and thirties - even the hot ones.

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I hope too many foreigners don't ruin the purity of this place. According to the graffiti, some Argentines feel like we are doing just that. I met a pretty girl in the hostel from Pacific Palisades. I came in from dinner with this super nice group of Portenos - we'd had a great time out. It was a Friday night and the girl was in the hostel, at a table full of American boys, telling LA name-dropping stories and critiquing everything and everyone with a snide, jaded tone of voice and sour expression. When the Portenos went into another room and closed the door behind them, she thought they were shutting her clique out and made a remark about them not being cool like she and her friends. They had closed the door because they were smoking and playing loud music but she saw it as some kind of statement.

That kind of poison may disrupt the easy welcome here, but for now, I'm lucky to experience big city hospitality like I've never seen before. To ride a motorcycle to a free concert with a cute boy where decent champagne is cheap and the bands are really good. Where I run into people I know and they're not critical about the fact that I'm with a different date - or about anything. Where people exchange phone numbers and then call you the next day - girls or boys. Where there's always something fun or interesting to do and it is never expensive. And where everyone is nice just because they are - even to Yankees ("shankees").

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Winter in Argentina

Winter is almost here but the mosquitos haven't noticed. There's some kind of infestation in BsAs. I want to tell you so much but I can't today - it'll have to wait. Live music and new friends and motorcycle tours of the city have me off line and taking it all in.

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Is it me, or is the male to female ratio the opposite of NYC? There they are, on the subway looking across the car, on the street in suits with model haircuts, in Palermo on motos, in the supermarket in packs, and next to me - holding my hand. Buenos Aires boys/men are magnetic and like the wine, they have a stronger affect somehow. How will I leave? How do I choose? Oh - I don't have to. I'm just visiting.

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Harrod's of London built a large impressive shop in downtown BsAs and then abandoned it when the peso plummeted in 2001. The space is too grand and expensive for any other business so far so it sits. There are concerts and events thrown in it's chandeliered halls. Last night I saw Juana Molina with my new friend Max.

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Thursday, April 5, 2007

Black Hats and Coca Leaves

Jabad Soho had a passover seder and I sang Dayenu with the cutest Argentine boy I've met so far. Tomer is 5 and he reads Spanish at about the same pace as I do. His mother is Argentine and his father is Israeli and "Where is the adult version of him?" I asked his mom. She said the BsAs jewish community is hard to penetrate and recommended I go to the Macabi club. That sounds suspiciously like LA's JCC and I explained that the Macabi club may not be overflowing with the kind of folks I'd like to meet.


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On Monday, I got a taste of the orthodox scene here in Buenos Aires - not my favorite flavor of yiddle, but at least there was spanish involved. I had a really good time listening to the rabbi in spanish as I mediated between Tomer's Israeli father and a young kosher at the table who was trying to lead us but couldn't really communicate with the family. The father gave me his spiel about how the orthodox in Israel don't support the country but they're glad to live there and benefit. The kosher went on about how Israel shouldn't exist until the Messiah comes. I tried to get them to talk to each other since the topics were so tired for me. The family couldn't understand kosher's yiddish accent in English and he couldn't speak Spanish. My friend Madi and I thought he was really strange - even for a black hat. I guessed closet and she was a bit horrified at the thought of a frum homosexual - with all the challenges implied. She wasn't aware that sexually repressed religious peeps support a whole industry of trannie pornography. Now she is. But when Dovid (that's how he said it so that's how I'm writing it) mentioned he's 17 years old, we understood why he's so awkward.
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Dovid is a lonely teenager who studies torah from 7am to 9pm daily in a foreign country. He misses his eight syblings back in Detroit. He likes his lifestyle because he's never bored, he knows when he has to wake up in the morning and what to do all day - it gives him structure. I figure the most common alternative at his age in the US is video games and weed so who am I to question the military appeal of studying talmud? Tamer's mother called the koshers "insects." I disagree. There are plenty of ignorant people out there in the world - at least these ones aren't destroying the planet at the rate we consumers are. And I have a lot of trouble waking up at a decent hour myself - go Moshiach.

Madi got antsy about three and a half hours in. I'd told her it was a five hour thing minimum. She hadn't believed me and now she'd started texting her Argentine boyfriend under the table to see what the plan was for later. It was 11pm and we weren't even on gefilte fish. Her boyfriend Ernesto is a Peruvian chef and was cooking at a dinner party for friends. We were invited and I had to decide whether to be polite and eschew guilt and stay alone or to leave with Madi who was leaving anyway. I let the food decide for me - Peruvian dinner party or kosher mushpile? I convinced her to stay until the sermons were over when the food was served. The gefilte fish didn't come with horseradish which made it totally pointless - but this country is not big on spice, so no surprise. When they started bringing out flavorless looking brisket, Madi told the waiter not to include us in the count for the main course. Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
The rabbi came over and spent a few English paragraphs chastising us for leaving. He loves speaking English so it was win situation - I was glad I wasn't sneaking out. He told Young Black Hat he needed to get me through three pages of prayer and two glasses of wine. When the rabbi saw my pour he made me fill the glass and pound it. Madi was amused. I like the fake-spanish Hassid rabbi. Earlier, he spent like fifteen minutes on the mitzvah of eating matzah - in spanish. He reminded me of my mother and I liked it. Their first language is always Yiddish - the rest is just a vehicle to prosletize to other jews. In their hearts, these dudes are still in their peasant villages in Eastern Europe. Young Hat told me he can't even read or write decently in English, that's why learning Spanish from books isn't happening for him - he doesn't know English grammar. But he remembered plenty of 16th century rabbinical stories to interject throughout our strange seder at our multi-cult table. I was the only one listening - I thought it was dope to learn that the tribe of Levy (forefathers of the man who brought denim to the masses) was converted to Judaism - or whatever he was talking about in his mumbling, yiddish-inflected monotone. Young Hat was not going to lead me through anything - I actually pulled out some old orthodox hebrew school training and raced through the after dinner prayer my own self. I said goodbye to the cutest Porteno I'd flirted with yet, Tomer, and we got in a cab.
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Out on the street we ran into our friend Shannon, another girl from the Barracas house. That was something extra - she happened to be walking by so she came with us to meet the dinner party. We called Jeanie, their other friend and planned to meet up at a nearby bar after. It was midnight - dinner time in BsAs.

Are coca leaves kosher for passover? We got to the party to learn we'd just missed the whole dinner but we were in time for dessert. Our host, Pedro, had made a recent trip to his native Peru and brought back a $5 bag of hojas de coca - a big bag. Pedro is not the most Peruvian-looking guy. From the looks of his apartment and from a tantrum he'd thrown last week at sushi, my guess was french. Si! Ernesto said, his family is french, originally. The apartment was all velvet and gold lame, oriental rugs and nothing cozy - his grandparents' apartment a la Versailles. There were about ten people there in deep philosophical discussion munching on coca leaves. A guy came over with the bag and instructed Shannon and I how to enjoy the hojas. I felt like the pitcher at a baseball game - cheek full of chew, bitter taste, wanting to spit. I'd taken six or seven small, dry leaves and put them between my right molars. Then I had to take a bite out of a green hard ball of powdered yuck. At first the effect was suspiciously medicinal - like a dental visit. Five or ten minutes later I was enjoying a calm kind of lift. I was quiet and comfortable - if you know me, you know the quiet part really meant there was some kind of drug influence going on. I just sat there with my chew and a smile - it was a good passover.


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Shannon, Madi, Ernesto and I said bye and thanks and walked to an irish pub to meet up with Jeanie and two porteno boys. Jeanie and Madi went to school at the University of Virginia and apparently there were a lot of Argentinian exchange students there. My dad went there so it's a funny coincidence to meet all these Argentines who went to my dad's southern university. One of the guys with Jeanie went there - they were having a sort of reunion. The guy with him was good-looking and about to celebrate his 23rd birthday. Ernesto and his friends are my age but a bit too fond of the hojas de coca and its cousin that they sell in small bags. Jeanie and Madi are fresh out of college. Where is the adult Tomer? We ordered a round - I opted for a 1/2 pint of Guiness. After drinking my baby Guiness I said goodnight to the youth and Ernesto and hopped in a $2 cab home. I'd survived black hats and a Peruvian adventure and I decided I should leave the party early - I used my ever present head cold as an excuse. It was 3:30am.


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Marcela has this great apartment I get to share with her, Lobo and Lichi in Palermo Soho.