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.