Thursday, December 31, 2009

Bach on a Bandoneon

Today, the day of New Years Eve, was a day of transportation adventures. I needed to take a long subway ride to a major bus terminal to purchase a ticket to Paraguay (more about that later).

When I arrived, there were, like, almost 200 bus ticket offices! It was the friggin' O'Hara of bus terminals ... I've never seen anything like it. It made me aware of how buses are how most people in South America travel.

I booked something called a "cama suite" and supposedly the seat reclines into a bed. With enough sedatives (luckily have some left over from my dental work), I should be able to get some sleep. It's an 18 hour trip but my friend in Asuncion assures me I will be comfortable.

Wanted to fly, but I waited too long to book and reasonably priced tickets were all sold out ... my usual modus operandi.

On the way home I had a mostly charming experience. A dread-locked man in the subway tunnel was playing the most exquisite Bach on a bandoneon, an instrument I've only heard played in tango music. I was utterly delighted.

While waiting for the train a man dressed as a santa came ambling through ... wrong holiday, tattered suit, and a truly repulsive rubber mask. And then, of course, he had to sit next to me. I called him "Creepy Claus," in my mind.

But when the train arrived, I stepped into another era. I was on the famous "A Line."
Built in 1913, the wooden cars rattled and the lights cast a vintage glow from their old fashioned fixtures. It reminded me of the little antique steamship the plys Lake Minnetonka back home.

Ah, home. A new year, a new country, a new life.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The New Detroit?

Dear Readers,

I will write again when I recover my equilibrium. I feel like the proverbial Mack truck has run over me as multiple events conspired to make Christmas a most challenging and emotional one.

The worst was when two nights before Christmas my 19-year-old son and his friend were robbed at gunpoint in my neighborhood. He only lost his inexpensive watch but he could have lost his life.

It seems as if guns have now entered Buenos Aires .... it did not seem so the last time I was here three years ago. The worst then? A pickpocket or purse taken from a chair.

Locals have told me there is corruption in the police force ... that there are those who not only turn the other way but actively participate in some of the crime. It's hard to believe. I used to be an editor on an American police enforcement magazine and I've always thought of cops as the good guys.

But despite a strong police presence on the street, thugs are using stronger methods to rob. Good people are angry.

How is Buenos Aires going to respond?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Porteno Street Life

As I walk around this city I'm assailed by sights and sounds that both repel and seduce ....

Yesterday I walked by the street lady who sits at her usually stoop on busy Santa Fe. I've walked by her three times now, and am always affected by her wrinkly old doll face topped by curls and her little dog who never takes his eyes off her. I didn't realize she was a beggar until now. There's a bowl beside her but I can't figure out if it's for money or do I see water in there for the dog? Instead, I press a five peso note into her hand and she smiles and the dog lets me give him a pet.

Dogs are everywhere ... yesterday there was even a dog down in the subway, seemingly waiting for a train. Everytime one whooshed up and stopped, he started barking madly ... running up and down to each door, looking for someone. It was concerning. Did he follow his master to the trains without the owner knowing. Or did this occur everyday ... the dog sneaking through the turnstile to greet his master's return at a certain hour?

The other night a derelict man hovered on a step in a dark door way. He had a sandwich and was gnawing on it like an animal. He couldn't sit upright. It touched me deeply ... I'm not a religious person but in his humanity I saw God.

The people who collect cardboard from the garbage--and there are thousands combing every neighborhood--are hardworking souls. They sell the cardboard to recyclers and I'm sure they earn just enough to eat. They hand-pull huge carts piled high with the stuff and sometimes the families have their babies with them. How awful to have to go through garbage while people walk by ignoring you.

I suppose I should end with something pleasant ... maybe the fun of petting the cats in the Botanical Gardens? All sizes, all shapes, all colors, family tableaus of cat families with mom and dad grooming their kittens. Cats on benches, cats on statues, cats sleeping under exotic fauna. Which one would I choose to take home if I could?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Random Musings

So, today was the day I steeled myself to get a root canal. Ah, nothing instills confidence like a dentist who says, "Root canal? I do na no theese word." My health insurance rep ASSURED me there would be English speaking dentists at the clinic.

I had written out some phases in English to the effect that I needed an English speaking doctor and also a sedative. No way was I going to open my mouth until I got both. Dentists make me cry even before I get into the chair. As a child I had a sadistic dentist who didn't use Novacain, had a slow drill and hated children.

The matter got squared away when another dentist came into the room and said I would need a specialist and he would help me arrange an appointment. As for the sedative? Most dentists are not able to write prescriptions, that being a matter for a medical doctor. So another appointment must be made.

I must say I was relieved to forgo the root canal and instead took a taxi to Recoletta. I've never been there and I wanted to see the neighborhood that the guidebooks said " ... is just like Paris!"

My taxi driver didn't have change for 100 pesos I should have known this could happen ... I've been kicked out of cabs for not having smaller bills and a few weeks ago I had to break a $100 peso bill at a magazine stand while the driver waited. To get change, I bought a "futbol" magazine and gave it to the driver, so today is the second futbol magazine I've given to a cabbie. I imagine in the cabbie underground I'm known as a great pick up.

I wandered around Recoletta Cemetery, looking for Eva Peron's grave. Two South African airline pilots, here on a layover, led me to it, where fresh flowers and a small crowd marked the location.

Afterwards I shopped a bit, buying real polo shirts in a shop owned by a real polo player. I bought two--one for my son and one for his friend. Both arrive next Sunday to spend two weeks with me.

For myself I splurged and bought a little Italian style espresso maker--a good one. I live for my morning espresso and the cheap one I bought spews coffee all over the stove every morning because it doesn't screw together properly, plus I melted the handle.

The language still alludes me ... but I'm learning what not to say. For example a few weeks ago a taxi driver said to me, "Calor," which, because it sounds like "cooler," I assumed meant did I want the air conditioner on? "Si," I replied. "Caliente." Apparently, my Spanish teacher told me, in Latin America this means I'm feeling sexually hot.

Ah, well. Perhaps I am.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Letter to My Tango Teacher

Hi Lois and David,

Hope you had a safe and semi-bearable trip home.

David, thanks for the homemade Baileys ... it was well worth the lugging, though I did grab a taxi eventually and I finally got an honest driver! But before I did I starting walking home and with the champagne buzz I went in the wrong direction and ended up in Palaremo Hollywood. At a park with dogs (and you know about me and dogs).

I sat down to pet a Great Dane, whose name was Luna. Luna expressed great interest in the steaks you gave me, which were in my bag. Luna's owner--a middle-aged man with a kind face--and I started talking in pidgeon English. I told my new acquaintance about David's homemade Bailey's and his eyes lit up. So I showed him my bottle and he had a taste.

"Ahhh, muy, muy bien!"

My new friend and I sat and watched the little green parrots flying about. It was early evening and Palermo Hollywood has a little bit of a suburban (in a good way)feel, the air fresher and with more trees and grass.

My new friend started philosophizing out loud in Spanglish ... something about there being one woman for each man (I think). And the universe being all one, and we are a part of the universe ... He did a lot of sighing and petting of Luna.

My cell phone rang and broke the reverie ... who could be calling me now that you're gone?

It was someone I had contacted about working on my computer notebook. I needed to go. Walking to a parked cab, I woke up the driver who was sleeping behind the wheel. As the taxi pulled away I waved out the back window to Luna and her owner. A little moment in time, neither one to be seen again.



Thursday, December 3, 2009

Crime and Policia

There was a scene outside my house today--a neighbor four doors down came up to me waving her arms, obviously upset, and showered me with a torrent of Spanish. What could be wrong? Was she upset that I, too, had started feeding the feral cats? And perhaps I'm feeding them better because I put tuna fish oil on my catfood and the cats have started to prefer me?

I apologized with, "No Espanol," and continued down the block.

When I returned the policia were there and now it became apparent that the car parked in front of my house had been broken into, the glove compartment open and glass lying on the sidewalk and inside the car's interior.

The police didn't ask me any questions which quite disappointed me. Not that I would have heard anything. I have a bullet-proof thick front door and I was playing some music on the CD player in another room. And it's not like we would have understood each other ... though I've had my 5th Spanish lesson I still rely heavily on shameless pantomine and play acting listening to music would have looked just plain stupid.

The policia didn't fill out any report forms like American cops would. Instead, they jumped into their squad and sped around the corner, as if in hot pursuit, which is pretty funny because they were about 30 minutes behind the thief. I think they did it just to get out of the paperwork.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

I Wig Out

Before I left the States I bought a fetching blond wig .... human hair, good quality, nice bob cut. Why, dear reader? I have nada hair--hair that's not only fine but not much of it and curly, like a baby's first head of hair.

I was going to reinvent myself in Argentina, a place where no one knew me in my sparse hair condition. I would see if my hair fantasies were true--that nice hair would turn heads, get me more tango dances, make me feel sexy.

So last night I wore it to a milonga (tango dance), with a blood red silk rose attached. I felt much bolder than my normal self. I did the "eye thing" where, for those of you uninitiated into tango lexicon, is where you look around the room, catch a man's eyes, and if he nods, he's your next partner.

Well .... a man with the body of a cat and dark curly hair claimed me. He was a very sensual dancer, with dramatic pauses and Spanish words whispered into my ear. And then he did it. He tenderly cupped the back of my neck and grasped my hair gently, (or rather the hair of someone from India).

I froze. Well, in my mind I froze. Please God, make him take his hand off my neck.

I began to plan what I would do if my wig fell off in the middle of the dance floor. There was only one sensible course of action: If the wig lands on the floor, I'm out the door. But do I stop and pick it up before I run out? After all, I did pay $800 for it.

If I reach up and remove his hand, will he walk away and leave me alone on the floor, in tango pergatory? Will this song never end?

Luckily, dear reader, the clasp, combs and elastic kept the bob in place. I didn't have to deal with a shameful unveiling of my follicularly challenged real hair. It would have looked really super bad too, wig hair being the equivelant of hat hair, only worse.

But to prevent a repeat performance, I never locked eyes with Mr. Hands-on-My-Neck the rest of the night.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Dentistry Fun South American Style

There's nothing quite like have an abscessed tooth in a foreign country on Thanksgiving.

I had guests, both American and Argentine, coming for dinner, so I put off seeing a dentist that day and as the pain and pressure increased I gobbled Tylenol Extra Strength and gulped, not sipped, Champagne in an effort to stave off the throbbing.

In spite of the tooth, it was a fine feast. My tango teacher and her boyfriend were there to help me prepare food ... she had thought to throw in cans of cranberry sauce and pumpkin into her suitcase. The turkey was replaced by roast chicken but there was the infamous Minnesota green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, gravy, all served on my patio in the subtropical night air.

When I woke up on Friday, not only was I in more pain, but I had a hangover as well. There was someone with a jackhammer across the street and the sound reminded me of the dentist drill I would soon be facing.

Heating up some espresso, I turned on the laptop to search for an English speaking dentist. I lucked out--I was pumped--I found one and they were going to fit me in!

Look at me, taking care of myself in a foreign city. Yes, who needs Spanish when you're as resourceful as me. The taxi dropped me off at the address from the Internet, and the doorman let me in reluctantly. I pointed at my tooth, showed him the floor number and the name of the dentist, which I had cleverly written on a piece of paper for such occasions. He kept pointing at his watch.

I took the elevator to the 12th floor which looked suspiciously like a floor of apartments. No one answered at number 12G. Hmmm, the doorman must have meant they were gone for lunch. No problem. I'll just go shopping for an hour. It was unfortunate I'd taken that sedative in preparation for the visit, but no matter, it should still be in effect by the time I'm in the chair.

One hour and two unneeded purchases later I returned to "Office" 12G. I rang the bell and was greeted by a lambast of Spanish and a door that remained closed. I slipped my piece of paper under the door where it was slipped back to me. But the guy next door, the one leaving with his bicycle, said this was a dentist office!

I broke down and pulled out my Buenos Aires cell phone, which I greatly fear. Not only do I dislike cell phones in general, but this one gives me incomprehensible messages in Spanish everytime I try to use it.

And then a miracle happened. Not only did I manage to redial the correct number, but a voice answered, and the voice spoke English. The dental office had changed locations.

Upon arriving at the right office I was greeted by a very handsome young man with perfect white teeth and impeccible English. He gave me another sedative, drilled me, drained the abscess, gave me a script for antibiotics and painkillers and sent me off with a kiss on the cheek. Only in Argentina will you get a kiss on the cheek from your dentist.

I took the subway home where a middle-aged man stared at me. And stared at me. He either had a staring-sort-of-tic, or else he couldn't take his eyes off the dichotomy of my facial affect--the left side being frozen and the right being rather relaxed from copious sedatives (I make no apologies for those sedatives. Dentists terrify me). Or perhaps he found me attractive in my no make-up, eyes glazed and frozen jaw state.

I topped off a stellar day by using my ATM card and forgetting in my fog to remove it, which the machine promptly ate. Now, that ATM card makes a difference in whether I eat in Argentina. The guard, in Spanish, insisted I return Monday to deal with it, which I wasn't going to buy. No, no guard was going to keep me from my card .... I knew I'd never see it Monday. I pointed to my tooth and burst into tears, a language universally understood by everyone, including stubborn bank guards. I got my card.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Champagne Just Because It's Sunday

Hola all my nonexistent followers,

Victory this week: I've got a house! Here's the It's a darling little house on a little block of pastel colored stucco homes. I've been here about 48 hours.

Things I've learned this week in Buenos Aires: Don't lean your face over a bidet to experiment with how it works. A curiously refreshing facial results.

Also, don't wear anything but stable flat shoes on the uneven, potholed sidewalks of BA. Only Argentine women can navigate the pavement in three inch heels.

And don't look around to admire the stunning colonial buildings. I ended up on my face yesterday doing that, luckily, not in dog poop.

It's really unfortunate about the dog poop and the uneven sidewalks ... all this wonderful architecture and you can't even look around to enjoy it. I heard an American say yesterday, "Looking down you get a two-fer ... you avoid dog poop and cracked sidewalks."

I said perhaps I should wear knee pads and wrist protectors while walking here, and my companion added, "and a helmet."

Also, the taxi drivers are out for blood. Pedestrians must constantly be dodging and running, even in marked crosswalks. My method is to try to cross with a woman with a small child or a pregnant woman to improve my odds. Old people aren't as safe a bet.

Pluses of being here: Excellent $5 bottles of Argentine champagne, gelato in exotic tropical fruit flavors with whiskey and rum added. Cheap cabs. Being able to buy flowers everyday if I wanted to ... parilla chicken and chimmichurri sauce.

On Sunday I went for a steak dinner in a local restaurant that doesn't even have a sign. My landlords, a very nice Argentine couple had introduced me to it when I came to see the house. I went by myself and there were several tables of people eating and drinking champagne. "It must be some kind of celebration," I thought. Someone sent me over a glass and all the tables lifted their glasses to me.

An older man came over to me (he was the only English speaker) and I asked was it a birthday, anniversary? "No, it's Sunday," he answered. Gotta love a city that drinks champagne just because it's Sunday.

And the restaurant had a framed photo of John Gotti on the wall with his birth and death dates ... like he was a movie star!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Meat for a Week

If you order a "parilla" in Buenos Aires you get a platter of every piece of the cow and it's been grilled and heaped into a mountain of carne. I call it "Meat for a Week."

It's been an interesting week ... I looked at a little house in a good neighborhood with it's own patio and "parilla" which is an Argentine outdoor grill.

The owners of the house took me out for lunch at a little restaurant with a proprietor right out of central casting ... a portly Argentine with a big mustache and the master of his universe, which is his hole-in-the-wall parilla restaurant. But oh the food, the grilled chicken was the best meal I've had here, and the Malbec wine? It makes you forget you have no place to live.

Buenos Aires smells like this: woodsmoke from the parillas, dog piss and exhaust fumes.

It's spring here and the Jacuranda trees are in bloom, a fushia profusion in the midst of the city cement.

Miz Boom Boom

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Miz Boom Boom Gets Her Ass Kicked

Day 9 in Buenos Aires.

Finding an apartment is an exercise in corruption, inconvenience and obtaining cold hard cash ... lots of it.

I went to an agency where a handsome man spoke fluent English. My BA friend, Marlene, accompanied me. The agent showed me a wonderful, light-filled loft but when we returned to his office to do the paperwork he wanted $450 for the agency fee, two months rent, and 21percent tax: all in cash.

When Mr. Smooth started talking with his coworker in Spanish, he forgot Marlene could understand everything he said. He was intending to skim from both the apartment owner and me!

I left, it was just getting too impossible. The agency wouldn't take a debit card, credit card, Paypal, or check. They wanted me to wire money into the owner's bank account. I found out later about the skimming. It's politically incorrect to say so, but I'm going to say it: Argentina is third world when it comes to doing business.

I have to find a place soon. My son, Elliot, and his friend are coming for Christmas. They can't spend Christmas in a tango house. I promised them a tree and everything.

I want to upack my suitcases, cook in a kitchen and have my own bathroom and decent coffee in the morning.

Seriously thought about packing it in and returning to Minnesota with my tail between my legs, my ass well kicked by this decaying but beautiful whore of a city.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

In Minnesota everything I own is now sausaged into a storage unit.

And me? I´m on my third day in Buenos Aires and the culture shock is staggering. I have had difficulty exchanging money (banks won't do it) and as a consequence have been eating once a day at restaurants that take Visa. I try to stuff in as much protein as possible because the hassle of finding a restaurant that takes Visa is just not worth it. How can a world class city be so difficult to exchange money in?

I take the cheap city cabs only when necessary. I find it easier to walk than to figure out if I'm being taken on a gringo ride by the driver. But if I get really lost I take a cab back to my tango house, like I did tonight. It amazes me how turned around I was, in spite of a map and directions.

The next day I met up with my South American daughter ¨Marlene¨who flew in from Paraguay to help me find an apartment. We met on my trip here three years ago. She´s so sweet and we walk arm in arm in the South American way and it´s so good to have someone translate for me.

We went for a meal and then manicures, followed by mate at her mother´s home. Mate is rather magical for restoring energy and is the national drink of Argentina. Marlene is married to a handsome Paraguay professional soccer player, though he´s not paid even close to the league of a David Beckum. His professional life will probably end in four years when he turns 30. ´

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Packing Brief

I have met my nemisis and thy name is packing tape.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Eat, Drink, Tango and Clean up Cat Puke

The wonderful thing about a blog is you are anonymous. No one I know has the knowledge to access it. I know I'm a little whiney but it's my blog and I'll whine if I want to...

A hard day. I became very overwhelmed by the task of packing for next Wednesday's move. I can't believe all this stuff will be gone and I won't be able to make my cafe au lait, sit in my favorite chair and read first thing in the morning. I won't be able to watch the birds at my feeder. I won't be able to sit in front of the fire with the cat.

A friend came over to help and I literally cried on her shoulder.

I took an afternoon break to go to a tai chi class, which I usually find very calming. It also helps my focus, which at this point is as acattered as the leaves on my front lawn.

Spent an hour cancelling utilities and realized my ex husband's name was still on my energy bill.

"Mam, we've taken his name off the account ... is there anything else I can do for you today?"

"Yea, can you also take him out of my life?"

I really did say that.

When I called the telephone company representative she was eager to set me up with service in my new residence.

"Ummm, I'm moving out of the country."

"Oh, where to?"


"Wow, did you ever read that book, 'Eat, Love, Pray;"

"Yes, but I intend to Eat, Drink and Tango."

The day had a smashing ending with the cat puking all over my computer monitor, which I'm afraid fried it. This is not the first time. Best Buy thought it was hilarious the last time it happened and I went in to buy a new one. Hopefully it might dry out overnight and work in the morning? Wishful thinking. Luckily I'm able to commandeer my son's computer since he's off at college.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Momento Mori

It snowed today in the Twin Cities. In the morning I went outside to take a photo of my home. Perhaps I'll post it if I have time. It's sort of a momento mori for my beloved house. My house is nothing fancy ... it has a big front yard and mature trees and it looks quite lovely in the snow.

I'm in heavy duty move mode--I've been packing up boxes and soon I'll be starting on the essentials. I'm a little freaked out and a little excited and a lot sad.

My son and his best friend are going to come down to Buenos Aires for Christmas to stay with me for two weeks. I'm buying their quite expensive tickets. Imagine two 18 year olds on the loose in a big world class city.

Miz Boom Boom

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Sex, Sim Cards and a Bit of Escrow

Dear Reader,

My giggle for the week was some parting advice from an elderly girlfriend who had me over for a vodka tonic.

"Remember, if you meet some guy down there, and he wants to get married, he's only after your money."

"Mickey, I'm never getting married again."

"And if he wants to have sex,don't forget to use protection."

"Mickey, what's sex?"

I've spent the week trying to decipher whether the $500 on my mortgage escrow account was something I owed, or something I got back, and how the hell does escrow work, anyway? I decided if it's something I got back, the money was mine and if it's something I owe, the ex can go half-sies with me.

And the mysteries of how cell phone companies operate internationally. You have to buy a cell phone and then get it "unlocked" by the phone company that has you indentured ... then, upon reaching Buenos Aires, you remove the "sim" card and buy a "go" card at the local bodega and then you punch in the card's numbers to obtain your minutes.

And apparently I have to learn the joys of texting because that's cheaper than calling. Arggg,gimme my land line.

Miz Boom Boom

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dreams and Views

Fourth day of rain here. I need to make room in my garage to get the car in so I can load boxes in comfort.

Last night, trying to get to sleep, my mind kept repeating,"I'm going to a new country! They all speak Spanish!" ... which didn't help much to quiet my mind. After all, I've been in a new country the last two years--the land of the single. The divorce, after 20 years of marriage, was not my idea. Leaving my beloved home of 20 years, well, that wasn't my idea either. This new country has not been a kind one.

The idea of home has always been so important to me. When I doodle I draw houses. I've had a reocurring bad dream, one I've had for 15 years, in which I decide to move from my home to another house I think will be better. It's in a whole new neighborhood and when I move in I realize that I want my old home back desperately. But I can't. New people have moved in. Now the dream is coming true. My relator says she's going to hire some mystic sort to come over and do some juju to break my connection with my home.

I've been feeding the birds again now that it's fall. It's one of the things I love most about looking out my kitchen window. They flit in, crossing ariel paths, knocking out seed that falls to a furry frenzy of chipmunks and squirrels. In the next few weeks it's going to an Old Country Buffet of seed in my backyard. The view out my kitchen window is the one that appears in my dreams.

Miz Boom Boom

Monday, October 5, 2009

Like a (Blog) Virgin, Typed for the Very First Time

My very first post, ever!

Dear Reader,

Come journey with me as I--a divorced, laid off, empty nesting, middle-aged broad prepares to depart for Buenos Aires.

Share with me the anxieties of packing, handing off my car to my 18-year-old son, selling my house and reinventing myself for a life in Argentina. It's going to be "Eat, Drink and Tango" for this old girl.

I mean, what's there to lose? No job, no husband, no house, no son at home (and soon no home, come to think about it).

Dear reader, will I survive the sorting and organizing , the schleping of boxes ... the tears?


Miz Boom Boom (a note about the moniker: I'm a baby boomer)