Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Argentina... how I miss thee

     So I am glad to be home, back in the swing of life here again, but I can't help thinking how much good fun I've had down in Argentina.

     I truly miss the place, especially Buenos Aires. I felt it to be a second home for me, one where, given the financial backing, I would move to and live in for at least 6 months, maybe even longer. I love the live music scene there, which is absolutely bangin' right now. Tango, jazz, folklore, fusion, electronica, and  more are an every night occasion, given that there's really no reason to stay indoors on any night of the week. The nightlife is part of the city's magic or charm or whatever you'd call it. It is easy to find yourself out and about through to sunrise, especially if you're a club person, that which I am not. I did find myself out until sunrise a couple times, once soon after arriving in BsAs. after a long discussion with a couple locals, and another after, you guessed it, my first club experience, the final Friday before departure. Otherwise, 2 or 3 or 4am were not uncommon sleep times.
     The food was such a great thing that I wished I had cooked more of. I enjoyed a slew of new flavors and new foods, but now that I look back on it, it would have been much more financially practical to eat in most of the nights. I think that if I get an apartment and settle in, it would be extremely easy to cook all the time. After all, the grocer is usually only a few shops down from a baker, which is in turn not far from a butcher. I did frequent bakeries when possible, as each confection (facturas) are only 1 peso, or 26¢. And the beef! Oh my doG, super-delicious. I have now had the luxury of gorging myself on the world's best cuts of cow. After returning here to the States and eating various types of sirloin, steaks, and ground beef products, I've really noticed the lack of flavor compared with Argentine beef. Also, it's all grass-fed and dirt-cheap at the Argentine grocer, so it's basically like spending $3 on a pound of organic, top-notch beef, which in the States probably reaches $10/pound or some ridiculous price. 
It should be CHEAP to eat healthily and locally; only in America is it something that is much more a luxury than an expectation. That really pisses me off, considering how much genetically-modified and genetically-engineered and chemically-enhanced and chemically-preserved foods are for sale to the unknowing public. With "convenience" the reason for fast-food chains and WalMart and other capitalist ventures that destroy the local stores, you would think it couldn't get much better to be American. But convenience? C'mon man, I'll tell you what is convenient. Walking out of your apartment, down about 4 shops to a grocer or a fruit shop or a baker or even a café for some GOOD QUALITY, LOCALLY GROWN FOOD. That is Argentina vs. the U.S. And to a degree, this is plausible in U.S. East Coast cities such as New York or Boston or whatever else is found on that side of America, when the cities were developed without cars in mind. But as for West Coast, unless you're in the microcentro of Seattle or San Francisco, good luck. Oh, and also, keep in mind that while you can probably cook a lot more in those well-planned cities, it's also going to cost a pretty penny, especially buying organic. This is more for those of you who may be interested. Now back to the normal, unbiased writings.
So, I occasionally get to see some photos from Argentina of sights that I've seen or participated in, and it brings back the great memories. I have not thought too much about what I did during my stay, unless a song or a photo triggers it. At times I wish I could walk down the street for an empanada, but then I remember where I am. I guess there are a few Argentine cuisine restaurants in San Diego, should give those a whirl. I would also like to see some familiar faces of people I met down there, hang out in a cafe for a chat.

So HERE is my trip, outlined on a map for you to look over.

And in case that one is hard to read, here is a close-up:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My final few days in B.A.

So I wrapped up my final time down in lovely Buenos Aires by going out with a few friends, making a few more, and enjoying the nightlife. The Buenos Aires International Jazz Festival 2009 conveniently occurred from the 3rd through the 8th of December, giving me the opportunity to indulge in Argentine and internationally known jazz artists of all sorts.
     I relocated hostel areas, moving back to where I first started out in the city - Palermo Hollywood. I went back to the same hostel, Casa Mi Bulin, where the nice owner Maria offered me a place to stay that weekend. This was after calling tons of places, since I guess AC/DC decided to play that same weekend, filling all hostels with locals and foreigners of all types. I forgot how nice it is to have your own key to the place, coming and going with total free will. Also, I ran into the same British guy, Alex, who had been staying in that hostel since I had met him 5.5 weeks prior. I met his other British friend Leo, a musician and character. So we went to the local market and bought some bife de lomo and another top cut of prime beef, whose name escapes me. It is so cheap to simply cook yourself, as opposed to eating out the whole time. I wish I had cooked far more often than I did, now looking back on it. It only ran 12 pesos for 3 slabs of the same meat that you normally pay 30 pesos for in a restaurant. Following some rice, a tomato, red bell pepper, and some fresh baked bread rolls, we had all that was necessary to keep me happy. I gorged myself, and was not over-full.

     From here, we headed out to the Centro Cultural Recoleta, in Recoleta, which was conveniently near the awesome and famous Recoleta Cemetary, whose site I will visit the next time I'm in Buenos Aires. There were three jazz acts going on, starting at 17:00 and going through till 21:00. The first act was a trio of old people, only which the bassist seemed to dominate. I guess he was also the bass player for Al DiMeola, which is pretty cool. They played good tunes, but I didn't think they were anything spectacular. Especially considering the next band that followed, which was amazing. They are a local band from the city of Cordoba, and they specialized in jazz of the 1920's! This is awesome, since they had ridiculously happy music, with the percussionist going to town on plastic blocks, a splash cymbal, snare drum, and washboard. They had a couple horns, stand up bass player, pianist, and a banjo, making the crowd go nuts. A bunch of people formed a swing dance area, where couples and a few weird singles were showing off their awesome moves. For those of you familiar with the fact I own a novelty ragtime xylophone CD, you could see how I would love the novelty, mass-murderer-happy music that this band divulged unto us. The band proceeding them we skipped, as their were jazz acts happening at several times at different centers and venues throughout the city. Leo and I hopped in a cab across town to San Telmo, to check out a crazy experimental jazz-tango band, with a lot of art dancers swaying with the music. It was more like ambient noise at times, than music, but they obviously saved the best songs for last, since the remaining five or so were incredible and passion-filled. Sometimes I think that experimental music is only for musicians, as it is technically challenging and a kind of "statement" if you will, more so than an audience pleaser. My opinion, anyway.
     Following this band, we were gonna head to some local's place; see, Leo had met a porten~o here, whose apartment he was considering renting out. Anyway, that guy was having a party at said place in San Telmo, so we were already nearby. Next thing was to grab a bite to eat prior to heading there. We wandered the cobblestone streets until we settled on Plaza Dorrego, where several cafes and restaurants lined the corners. We checked out a place called Neferetti, lined with Egyptian art and decorations all over the small, cozy-feeling restaurant. We ordered a ham, cheese, and green olive pizza, and a couple chopp beers (draught in a pint glass), and luckily caught a bossa nova, jazz and blues trio playing several covers and a couple originals. It was nice to fill that Saturday night full of music of all types.
     We walked some 20 blocks more than I anticipated, finally arriving at this guy's house with a gift of wine. He had a bunch of friends from Patagonia staying at his place for the weekend, as they all came here for AC/DC. It was truly interesting hanging out with all these people, as I nursed a glass of Fernet mixed with Coca Cola (very Argentine drink), passing the time away into drunk land. There was a stereo system covering many bands of music, and I soon took over the computer to DJ the playlist a little more. This was either because I wanted to hear more familiar bands, or to please the crowd. Probably a little of both. By 3 o'clock, it was time to hit the hay. The locals were all going to hit a club in Palermo, which I aptly turned down for a bed instead. We taxied our way back to Casa Mi Bulin and crashed for the night.
     Come Sunday, I just hung out at the hostel pretty much all day, since it was raining out and I had nowhere to be. I headed to the concerts again in the Cultural Center, this time traveling solo. Before entering, I perused the local feria that was occurring right next to the place. All the usual crafts, like belts, jewelry, instruments, more leather, clothing, textiles, etc. I bought a t-shirt from one of the stands, since I wanted another medium shirt to add to my limited medium shirt collection back home. After high school, I dropped to the fit weight of 160, therefore dismissing all of my large t-shirts so common to me back then. The problem is now I have tons of large-sized and band logo t-shirts, that I don't yet know what to do with. But again I've gotten off-track. I headed into the Center and caught 20 minutes of an octet, which was pretty good. From here, I headed out to another nearby center for music, called Teatro Sarmiento, right outside the Jardin Zoologico. That act had overfilled the seats, so a group of eager people, including me, had to wait outside in the bitter cold. I don't know where all this cold weather nighttime had come from, as Saturday night was frigid as well. This time I had decked myself out in cold weather gear, so I was faring better than on Saturday. The following act was an experimental quartet, one that I actually disliked but a few songs. Oh well, I had no idea what to expect. From here, I was already only 15 blocks away from my hostel in Palermo, so I decided to stop by a restaurant, stuff my face with empanadas, and then walk around Palermo. I did just that, visiting Plaza Serrano again, where I met Graeme and those two Argentine girls, the very first night I got here. Walking back to my hostel from here made me connect dots as to where I was first dropped off by the taxi from the airport. I feel like I could easily find my way around BsAs, given maybe a month or two more. I reflected on all the good times I had in Palermo that first few days of being here, and lamented on how I'd miss the place dearly.
      Monday, I headed back to Calle Murillo and its Centro del Cuero, to buy that delicious veal jacket.  I wonder what that young calf tasted like prior to donating his skin to me. I shelled out a discounted 400 pesos for it, and went to another shop down the way and got my dad a carpincho belt for wearing. After my large spending, I caught the Subte back to the Microcentro, where I hit up Calle Florida and Calle Lavalle, both pedestrian-only streets that are lined with shops and shopping malls (which are tucked away into hallways that branch off from the main walkways). I got a couple postcards, and managed to literally spend all the money I had withdrawn from the bank that day. I kept the 40 pesos necessary for the shuttle bus to the airport, and 20 for the cab ride to the shuttle location in Retiro. I took an amazing one and a half hours to pack my bags for the airport journey, and followed through with the cab and bus shuttle rides. At the airport, I caught the on-time plane for Miami, crossing again over beautiful Cuba, which I awoke to see, with the dark twilight on the horizon making for some great brain photos. It was a spectacular strip of dark red and black and a darkened spectrum, bordering the Caribbean sea horizon. The flight was 9.5 hours to Miami, and another 5.75 hours from Miami to Los Angeles. Couple this with the 3 hours of waiting, and by the time I reached Los Angeles, I was pretty tired and happy to make it back alive. There was snow on the mountains around Los Angeles, which was pretty unusual, I thought.
     I met up with my dad at the airport, and he informed me of a huge storm that had just raped Southern California only one day prior to me arriving. It dumped snow in L.A., heavy winds throughout the coast, and a record 2.5 inches of rain on San Diego. I guess if I had arrived on Monday instead of Tuesday, there would have been delays of all sorts, that I thankfully didn't have to deal with.
     It truly is good to be home, but a few things hit me hard. First off, it's bloody COLD here, especially because I was bathing in Spring back in Argentina. Second, there is literally nothing going on here, given that it's winter. And third, I realized I don't have a terribly happy bank account right now, so I got to get back to the rigors of job searching, money-making, and figuring out where to move. That is also a challenge, since I don't know what schools will accept me for film yet, so I need to wait until this SPRING to find out what I'm doing next Fall time. Back to the grind.

Will post more on thoughts of Argentina as they arise, maybe how it has affected me in day-to-day living, etc. Also, will keep you all informed of spectacular Oddwood performances and any local traveling worth noting. All for now, more for later! Until then, this is Drew Peters.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

After my search for leather: Tigre and camera theft

     So since I last posted, a lot has happened. The day after posting that blog, my plan was to meet up with Graeme, that Irish guy from the first day of Buenos Aires exploring. He lives in a Palermo apartment across town from where I was staying, which was the Microcentro (downtown area). I packed all my stuff, albeit barely fitting it all into the packs. With now probably 50 pounds in my large backpack, and another 15 in my daypack, I am a beast of burden. I hate moving around so much with all this stuff. I had my camera in the  usual belt case on my left side, the huge pack on my back, and the smaller daypack worn on my front side. I had to catch Subte Linea D to Bulnes, and from there it was some blocks walk to Graeme's place.
     On the subte, it was super packed with people on their usual weekday commute around the city. It was extremely stuffy and humid and uncomfortable whilst riding, as I stood grabbing the railing for support. I guess in that five minute timespan onboard, some asshole decided to take advantage of my general inattention to them, and make off with a priceless piece of memory technology. I am usually ALWAYS vigilant around this city, and every time I go on the subte I keep a close eye on my stuff. I even know you should NEVER have your camera accessible whilst relocating areas with all your stuff, since you are practically immobile. I guess it was my fault to not plan ahead before I reached the subte. So yeah, that was about 1,000 photos from 5 weeks of travel, lost forever due to the thief reformatting the chip or simply giving all my travel pictures and camera to someone else for a hell of a price. It was also my fault for NOT backing the photos up on anything, be it in e-mails or on a flash drive, a smart practice which also would have protected me had I dropped or wetted the camera. At this point, I am still saddened by this act, but will now learn from it. That feeling of helplessness is just devastating on the soul.
     I found out right as I reached Graeme's pad, and immediately was disinterested in carrying out the trip to Tigre for two days. After much persuading on his part, we headed off for my planned destination, a subtropical Venice right on the city's doorstep. With nothing to lose, we took the subte again to the Retiro train station, bought the incredibly cheap ticket to our destination, which is only 50 minutes by train. It literally ran U.S. cents on the dollar, at AR$1.30.
     Tigre definitely feels like a holiday, touristy place upon immediate sight - the brown river flowing along the main waterway, which was lined up and down with tons of transport and cruise boats. It has the look of Florida, with all this lush greenery standing above the buildings, and we would soon see a totally other side to this town.
     We walked up the Avenida Sarmiento, which is lined with small cafès and restaurants, on the other side of that main river. Upon reaching the grand marble structure housing of the Museo de Arte Tigre, it was completely necessary to check out the artwork inside. On the ground floor there were only a few really decent artists, since most of them were doing that contemporary, easily-done-as-an-eight-year-old style. In other words, it's the type of art that would make you say, "I could easily do that!", or "How the Hell could this belong in a museum", or "This is art?!¿?!" Well, it is art indeed, but there were a couple of these Latin American artists, such as Marcos Acosta, Fernando X. González, Cesareo Bernaldo de Quirós, Epaminonda Chiama, et al., that really appealed to my taste.
     When we walked outside onto the museum walkway, the sky was a brilliant yellow, with super low clouds shaping around this building. The museum looks like a magic castle from the outside, especially with the crazy weather. From here we could also see the several river boats, jet skis, and barges passing along the river next to the museum. It was pretty cool.
      Going out for a beer later that night, Graeme and I started up a conversation with a nearby table of Tigreans, joining them and drinking more beers. They were all pretty cool, and my Castellano fared well enough to have interesting conversations. Eventually the night turned from the bar to a nearby casino, Trelenium (the name, I think). Changing 20 pesos into two 10 peso chips, I hit the blackjack table. My luck rollercoastered, eventually scoring 100 pesos, but in the long run, as we all so well know, the casino always wins, and I was down 30. It was surely fun, and definitely FAR less expensive than any casino in California or Nevada, fact. I had to make the money back for a new camera, but I am joking.
     Next day, we searched all over town to find a place for renting kayaks, passing through the local market, Puerto de Frutas, which has tons of wicker baskets and furniture. Tigre`s economy comes from lumber and wicker products, since there is so much of both to be had. Eventually, after asking so many unknowning people, we stopped into one of the several rowing clubs that lined the avenue we walked the day prior. Low and behold, we got a two seater kayak and headed out for a three hour adventure.
     Heading out into the river delta is truly like an adventure into Huckleberry Finn. There were houses on stilts, lush subtropical trees lining both sides of the river, aquatic plants hiding both shores, and a general sense of the Amazon. Completely worth the trip. Later on, headed to a tendedor libre, and stuffed my face full of delicious beef and more delicious beef, in all its delicious forms. Next day saw a wandering around Tigre, and a plan to head back to Buenos Aires. I caught the 5pm train back, and had a hell of a time trying to find an open hostel, that which there were none of. After at least 15 calls, I settled on an open hotel for the night, located again in Microcentro. I met up with two British girls whom I had met on my trip in Valparaiso, ordering for myself an entire large pizza with Roquefort cheese, mozzarella, palmitos, and green olives (another super=Argentine dish), and consuming all but 2 slices. And I burned the roof of my mouth. Oh well.

Anyways, Im pretty tired, so I will try to post another time about the jazz festival I went to here, and what Ive done this weekend. All for now, more for later.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

BAck in BA

I've seemed to have let a lot of things not come to fruition, such as my trip to Rosario, or Colón, or Parque Nacional El Palmar. As you all so dearly know now, I can be indecisive and quick to switch gears. I am Chaotic Neutral in personality (if you understand, we should play D&D). I've so far found plenty of things to keep me in B.A./BsAs/Buenos Aires these past few days, and I could easily stay here indefinitely. This city is so incredibly excellent, I would live here, if I could find work or some large supply of British Pounds. Who knows, maybe I'll hold up a bank?
     Anyway, I have gone out every single night so far for live music ventures. My two top picks for live music have been Sanata Bar, reached by the Subte Linea B to Carlos Gardel stop-off. Usually the music there doesn't commence until 12 or 12:30 in the a.m., which is fine, since people start shuffling in at about 11:30, filling the bar and eventually overflowing out into the streets. This bar is where I first came to see live tango music, the first few days into my journey. I don't remember if I mentioned this place, but it is definitely a great spot to hear bands every night. The other place is Peña del Colorado, owned by Claudia, whom I met that first night I went to Sanata Bar about a month ago. She has put on great acts almost every night at this brick and stucco, cozy-feeling restaurant. Also, the food is spectacular, with many native dishes of Northwest Argentina, such as locro (a stew with corn, tripe, vegetables, spice, and awesome), or a dessert with a super unusual, bouncy and delicious texture, called ambrosia.  They also have the typical parrilla beef fare, such as morcilla, bife de lomo, and various mouth-watering cuts of meat. Oh yeah, did I mention the music is usually of the folklóre variety? This includes rhythmically interesting genres such as chacarera, gato, zamba, escondido, and a few others. These originate from Northern Argentina as well, which means, for my next trip to AR, I will be exploring the North.
     During the day, I wandered down to the port at Puerto Madero, with several large brick buildings and cranes that have probably been there since the late 1800's/early 1900´s, when Buenos Aires was extraordinarily booming. I had myself an ice cream cone, with the excellent flavors of dulce de leche (in some exotic variety), and chocolate suiso (Swiss). I stopped into a tall ship/floating museum, named Uruguay-something. It was a scientific research vessel that frequented Antarctica in the late 1800´s! A bunch of original stuff was on display, rotting and rusting away into the infinitessimal reaches of time. I hope I spelled that right. There was even a super rusted revolver, which is pretty metal. Literally.
     I wandered into the next tall ship, the 80-meter-long Fragata Sarmiento. It served as the Argentine navy´s flagship, and sailed at least 40 times around the world, between 1898 (I think) and the 1930's. It was also used to train navy cadets, thousands of whom passed through the halls over 100 years ago. The inside stank of some weird odor, and there was the ship's mascot dog, lying peacefully within a glass case, stuffed into a relaxed pose. There were extensive details about each of the frigate's journeys, and some interesting ancient photographs accompanying the posters.
     The day prior to this (Sunday), I headed out to Recoleta for the first time, to visit the weekend feria artenesal , but since it was raining pretty harshly, I guess a lot of the stands had packed up, so I decided it was not worth the trouble to meander through the rain here. I instead taxi'ed my way Northwest to the local zoo, Jardín Zoológico. Walking through the gate, you immediately come across several species of duck or mallard-type birds, waddling around in their usual awkward fashion. They are next to these marsupial-type, rabbit-like creatures, who are only hanging around for the food. And next to those animals was a weird semi-aquatic rodent, which normally should be in a cage, but was consuming the fresh, water strewn grass, only within a foot of me. I held out my hand, and it came up to me, with it's huge outside teeth a reddish hue. Totally friendly, but this put a hop in my step to see the other zoo creatures. As usual, there were snakes, including the deadly pit viper I may have encountered had I gone to Colón, named the yayará. These were all in small glass cages, as usual, and I again felt bad for them. Next were the bears, the polar bear sitting in the rain, bored as hell, and the other bear which I knew not the name of, was circling round his territory. Then came the large cats, such as the puma, Siberian tiger, and eventually my favorite, the jaguar. I stared into its pair of green eyes, and it stared back with such an evil stare that only carnivores can show. I literally got the chills a few times. I came across the carpincho, or capybara, the world's largest rodent, and I wanted to much to kill one right there and skin it. The leather made from its hide is not only exclusively Argentine, but is incredibly expensive. Instead of spending excess amounts on a carpincho jacket, I could hack one out myself, if I can kill enough capybaras. I think one person said you need about 40 or 50 hides. Well, for my next trip to the North, where they live, I will be sure to come prepared. They're so cute and cuddly, and are apparently very delicious, being eaten more in the North. I can't wait.
     Aside from this, there were the usual alpacas, African deer, elephants, a llama, ostrich, yaks, and quite a scary collection of Amazon insects and arachnids. Some of those spiders are so big and skinny that it would absolutely cause me a heart attack seeing one alive in the wild, or even worse, on me. There were a couple MASSIVE stick insects, one being thicker than a thick drumstick, with wings that look just like leaves. There were beetles, tons of butterflies, and various little critters, all of which I would have the pleasure of stepping on if I ventured into the jungle. Maybe some day.
     Just today I visited the Centro del Cuero, a large collection of leather stores and warehouses that are just jam-packed with all things leather, stretched across three city blocks. I started at about 1pm, and finally got done with my browsing and trying at about 6:30! I would walk out of one store filled with jackets, only to immediately enter the next one a door down to see even more leather jackets. There were handmade shoes (of excellent quality, to boot), gloves (of which a pair I bought, lined with abejo, or sheep fur), wallets by the dozen, belts of every size and design (one store had excellently designed carpincho leather belts), leather jackets and blazers and duster coats, some fur clothing, and various handmade trinkets and purses in cow leather. I was seriously overleathered from all the shopping, and I only visited 20 stores, on ONE side of the 3 blocks. I think I am gonna buy a jacket for only 430 pesos (something like US $120), but it is of becerro (baby calf leather), and henceforth is super sexy on Drew, and super cheap compared to America or (gag) Europe. I also bought a really cool and unusual fur belt, that looks more like a tarantuala leg than a belt.

ANYWAY, plans for tomorrow: I am gonna take a day and a half trip, 20km North of BsAs to Tigre, with that Irish dude Graeme whom I went out and partied my first night here. Tigre is a town right on the outskirts of the Paraná Delta, a subtropical, Amazon-like tribuatry filled with lush grasses, trees, and stilted houses, and mud brown rivers, of course. It would be equivalent to having the Everglades just outside of New York, or something to that effect. The place has been called the South American Venice. Cool, can't wait to kayak around, and this time I won't be alone! I have the benefit of staying at Graeme's apartment and leaving my stuff there, so I can save a few bucks.

Will write when I return to Buenos Aires, and post photos either later tonight or when I return as well, for the zoo and live music and tall ships and leather. All for now, more for later. Until then, this is Drew Peters.