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. ´