Thursday, January 31, 2008

Buenos Aires Field Notes: Staying Connected

If you remember, back on DECEMER 22, I talked about our frustration with trying to get our internet connection worked on. Rob has been going to a local café when he has to (whose internet access is perfect when their electricity is on).

After a getting someone who speaks Spanish to help us (who is an angel), and the technicians somehow always showing up when the restaurant next door is closed, or not getting permission from them to be able to get on the roof, today, finally, they went on the roof and fiddled with the wires for fifteen minutes, and now it seems our connection is stable. Fibertel says it will improve even more if we can get an amplifier box, which will take an untold number of weeks...

Meanwhile, we also have installed DSL as a back-up. However, only two of the four phone jacks in our apartment are active, and unfortunately the one by the desk is not one of them. So if Rob has to switch over to DSL he has to stretch a phone cord and ethernet cable across the living room floor. Of course, to get the other phone jacks active will take several weeks....

Well, at least for now, we have a stable connection (one day and counting), and we have a back-up, which is a HUGE improvement. We can work, consistently, without having to go to a café.

If only we could get services delivered as easily as chinese food. Or ice cream. Or beer. Or meat. Or coffee.

Big Stuff. 72 visits this month!

I had 72 visits to my blog this month from 11 different countries. 56 were new visitors. Thanks, Google Analytics!

(O.K. I realize that some of the 72 visits must be my own. But still- it's more than I imagined.)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Buenos Aires Field Notes: Cultural Isolation

A lot of Argentines are proud about the legacy of their country being a “melting pot” similar to the U.S. in that the people in this city are largely descendants of immigrants- from Spain, Germany, Italy, Ireland, etc. But as Rob pointed out, it seems to be a melting pot that has long since congealed in a culture that is uniquely Porteño.

We were having dinner one night with a couple of guys from D.C. and Toronto who were vacationing here for a couple of weeks. We were at a Porteño restaurant ordering a variety of empanadas to share between us, when our friend from D.C. starts objecting loudly and intently, “No jamón y queso! Anything but jamón y queso! I am sick and tired of the f**king jamón and queso on everything!”

I know what he means. Ham and cheese comes on and in practically everything- the empanadas, pizza, rolled chicken breasts, breaded veal, you name it. The hundreds of local cafes have menus that are virtually identical, with ham and cheese centrally prominent. I suppose I have felt the same sense of frustration driving across the U.S., stopping at diners along the way, growing weary of hamburgers, milkshakes, and pigs in a blanket. But you wouldn’t expect it in the eighth largest city in the world.

I must admit, you can get more creative food here that borders on ethnic (it’s usually some version of “fusion”), if you spend more than twenty pesos per plate. But the popular culture, the local culture, exhibits a homogeneousness I wouldn’t have expected. And it doesn’t end at the lack of ethnic cuisine. There is a definite pressure to conform- most people under 40 all wear the same jeans, the same shoes, and cut their hair the same.

A friend I met from England who is ethnically Lebanese has exotic curly black locks that perfectly compliment her strikingly GORGEOUS face. At an asado (a family barbecue), the porteña women advised her about chemically straightening her hair. It seems that straight hair is in, whether it’s appropriate for you or not.

Buenos Aires may be a big city, but it definitely has become culturally isolated from the rest of the world. Maybe I’m spoiled from Living in Los Angeles and being able to get Ethiopian food if I want. But in California I’ve never been pressured to change my hair to fit the current style, or been stared at for the brand of shoes I wear. Perhaps it has something to do with the lack of products available from overseas due to the policy of high tariffs. Perhaps it’s because BsAs is Geographically isolated as well, and most people here (except the rich) have not traveled much.

Whatever the reason, it’s a unique blend of both the metropolitan and provincial.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Buenos Aires Field Notes: A Night Out

The Living is a little nightclub just a couple of blocks away from our apartment that is essentially a big lounge with couches and easy chairs to relax, talk, and groove to the 80's videos shown on the big screen in front of the lounge. Weekdays are pretty mellow with a 20s-30s crowd, with a mixture of locals and tourists. Everyone loves the 8os here- they regularly play Depeche Mode, early Police, etc.

The weekends become livelier as it turns into more of a dance club late in the evening (or morning, as it were). They also serve dinner (which we haven't tried).

It's a good time, just a couple of blocks away- another hidden gem, since you wouldn't even know that it exists given it has no sign out front, just a doorway and a staircase. We only found it through a tip by a local.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

You know you're in a developing country when...

For all intents and purposes, Buenos Aires is like any other major world city. But there are a few reminders that it lags behind some of the other first-world cities:

1. Your water pressure disappears for no apparent reason. This has happened several times since we have been here. Once in a while, we have to take a cold shower with trickling water. We were worried this was a problem with the building, but yesterday I discovered that the café couldn't make any coffee and the laundry couldn't do any laundry either.

2. Dog poop falls from the sky. I was walking to the laundry when I saw some dog poop fall from the sky into the street. I think someone was sweeping their balcony.

3. Cigarettes can be bought individually. An interesting economic indicator that reminds me that goods are not in abundance here. People have very little money, and goods are sold in smaller portions.

4. Electricity outages are expected..... supposedly, there are occasional blackouts every summer. Haven't experienced one of these yet, but it's still early.