Sunday, September 30, 2007

Two birthdays and a funeral

I scoured La Plata for the cheapest place to stay, and found the cheapest non-puta joint in the city. I did check out a puta hotel near the train station, but decided that it was worth a few extra bucks not to stay there. I found the Hotel Acuarious that had decent rooms for $25 a night. The price difference between this place a puta establishment was $10, it seemed like a worthwhile investment. After I checked in, I went out for dinner at a local institution called Cerveseria Modelo, where I had a fantastic steak (bife de chorizo) and fries, washed down with a beer for about $10 including tip.

After dinner, I found a cool bar. Since it was early, say 10:30, I was the only one there. I chatted with the student-bartenders for a while, and quickly became friends. I ended up going with one of the bartenders, whose name escapes me, on to some clubs for birthday parties after he was done with his shift. The first club was an electronica joint, with a bunch of people dressed up in costumes. The second birthday party was at an awesome Argentine rock club that had a lot of loud Argentine ska and a lot of character. Both were fun, the second more so. The city is a student hub, so there were tons of people out. We ended back at the first bar, and hung out there till 5am. Argentines do it up late, hence the funeral- my own today, as I slept all day.

Weekly Nazi Hunting Update
In La Plata, I found a German restaurant called Munich. I saw some old guys sitting at a back table, eating especially bloody steaks. Hmmm...I really became suspicious when, as the waiter was taking away an old guy´s plate, he screamed ¨Halt!¨ I will have to stake the place out when I return.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

the internet

I had read in my guide book that there were no cheap places to stay in La Plata, except for the puta places near the train. But I found a cheap place on the internet. Yet when I arrived at the hotel, the price was three times as expensive. If you can´t trust the internet, who can you trust?

Granted mt conceptions of cheap and expensive don´t alway match up to first world standards. And I even checked out the ¨cheap¨ puta places. They weren´t so cheap, and a little shady, even for my lax standards.

The Silver City

I found myself mired in angst, and was very much debating picking up and traveling. I was having issues with the sedentary life. BA was starting to feel claustrophobic, and shallow amid its rampant materialism and consumerism. I decided to head out to La Plata for the weekend to clear my head. Once I hopped on the train, I immediately started feeling better. The train ride was nice, riding past little towns and open fields with cows grazing. The compartment doors were open, and reminded me of the Indian trains that were as open. Something about the swirling wind through the compartment helped sweep away my sedentary angst. Someday I will need to learn to be still, but for now this need for perpetual movement is something I have to constantly satiate.

La Plata (The Silver) is about an hour and a half away from BA. When Buenos Aires (the city/capital district) was disconnected from Buenos Aires (the province), the province needed a new capital, so it founded La Plata in 1882. The name comes from the Rio de la Plata, which it is nestled against. It was Argentina´s first centrally planned city, and is numbered on a grid (See under: Islamabad-Pakistan´s Orwellian Brazilia). It is also crossed with diagonal streets, which gives the city its nickname ¨the city of diagonals.¨

Upon arrival, I grabbed a couple empanadas, a pomelo (grapefruit) soda and a delicious dulce de leche icecream cone, and felt infinitely better. I have been wandering through this grid city, stopping in the little plazas and at the giant neo-Gothic cathedral. The giant Catedral de la Immaculada Concepción is South America´s largest neo-gothic church, and I wandered through its ribbed column interior. Now, back to the grid.

Friday, September 28, 2007

A few grapes

¨And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to real history and know the great fact: when property accumulates in the hands of too few it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed. The great owners ignored the three cries of history. The land fell into fewer hands, the number of dispossesed increased, and every effort of the great owners was directed at repression. The money was spent for arms, for gas to protect the great holdings, and spies sent to catch the murmurings of revolt so that it might be stamped out. The changing economy was ignored, plans for the change ignored, and the only means to destroy revolt were considered, while the causes of revolt went on.¨
-John Steinbeck, ¨The Grapes of Wrath¨

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Uvas de ira

¨Hermanos, nosotros nacimos de la noche
en ella vivimos
y moriremos en ella
pero la luz será mañana para los más,
para todos aquellos que hoy lloran la noche,
para quienes se niega el día.
Para todos la luz,
para todos todo.¨
-El general en jefe del ejercito libertador del sur Emiliano Zapata Manifiesto Zapatista en Nagua-

Perhaps my tone is changing as my reading material is changing. I finished the hysterical ¨Confederacy of Dunces¨ by John Kennedy Toole, and have moved on to the more somber and profound ¨Grapes of Wrath,¨ by John Steinbeck. Reading ¨Grapes¨ I can´t help but see parallels between the Joads and those who lost so much in the 2001 Financial crisis. This faraway force suddenly turns their lives upside down, and they are left reeling. Grapes is a stunningly beautiful yet sad work.

Enough armchair marxism and revolutionary zeal. In other news, I got a job teaching English. Just checking off Maslow´s hierarchy. I met my new boss Kimberlee yesterday in suburb named Heado (not Morón), a sweet women who was here on her Mormon mission, met a nice Argentine and came back. I caught her on a difficult day, and since I didn´t have a cell, she couldn´t get in-touch. It appears I might have to get a cell for work´s sake.

After I got back from the interview, I stopped at the MALBA, Buenos Aires´new modern art musuem. Given my profound love for modern art, I quickly came to the realization that I would have to be, um experienced if I were to appreciate it, and left.

Today, I went with my roomie Miko to her Spanish school and took a placement exam. The school is free, and you pay what you can. From each according to his capacity, to each according to his need, Marx at his best.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

la vida acá

I decided to venture out last night to Palermo SoHo, a swanky neighborhood that is supposed to be fun. It had potential, but being monday, was dead. I managed to miss the last subte (metro) because the old bag who gave me directions sent me the wrong way. I was a little worried cause I was broke and far from home, but luckily I found a bus that dropped me off exactly at my corner.

I was supposed to have an interview today over an english teaching job, but I had to reschedule because the Obama Foreign Policy Network, which I volunteer for, was having a conference call with the big guy. I had a difficult time figuring out how to connect, but caught the last ten minutes. Poor Obama had a cold.

After, I headed up to Retiro and went to the Museo de Bellas Artes, the national art museum. It was nice, with a good collection of the usual suspects. They had a few good Rodins, a nice El Greco, some Monet and Manet, and two great ones from my fav Bougereau. When I lived in Houston, I had a few of his reproductions in my apartment without ever realizing it was from the same artist, I simply loved the style. The museum also had some interesting paintings from Spain and local Argentine works.

After the museum, I went to the center of the city, and wandered into a protest. I didn´t stick around long and went to a place called Cafe Tortini. Cafe Tortini is a stunning art deco/art nouveau coffee house that resembles something out of Vienna. I had a cappuchino and the little amaretto cookies that they give you on the side.

For dinner, I headed down to San Telmo for a local parilla (grill), where I had some great asado de tira (beef ribs), fries and a glass o´vino for $8. I should stop treating myself to such luxuries, but it is too tempting.

I was bringing the leftovers home, but ended up giving them to some homeless folks. That brings me to my next point. While I have been painting a pretty picture of life here, all is not dulce de leche. There are tremendous problems here for the have-nots. At night, you see legions of people picking through the garbage, looking for carboard, metal scraps and bottles to be sold. They carry huge carts of stuff to be sold back, while the garbage ends up strewn in the streets. My friend Sol said it wasn´t like this before the financial crisis in 2001. Meanwhile, on the subways, there is a constant stream of kids passing through the cars, trying to sell little things for change. Outside, you see literally homeless communities living on main streets, with beds, couchs and other assorted stuff. Granted, its not India here, but the situation isn´t good. This place may have European pretenstions, but it has a social structure far more Latin American.

In other news, the subte is striking tomorrow, which means I will have a tricky time getting around.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Morón

After an interesting attempt to make dinner without being able to figure out how to turn on the oven, I punted and made some homemade chicken soup that turned out far better than expected- ie I haven´t started violently throwing-up from salmonella. I also had my first brief rainshower in my apartment, which was kind of cool as I sat getting dripped on in the living room.

I went out last night back to the Gibraltar pub I previously went to. I ran into the hostel peeps that I was hanging out with earlier. Knocked back a few pints and dithered between a pierced swiss girl(32, she said) and a wholesome welsh girl, and ended up with neither. Fueled by liquid courage, I decided I didn´t want to be afraid of my own barrio, so I trudged my way home. As a reward for my courage, when I got back to my block I stopped in for a superpancho, an argentinian hotdog, which I was told was not pork, but am a little incredulous upon sobriety. It wasn´t bad, slathered in chimichuri sauce and assorted salsas. I think a hotdog stand on my corner that is open late is more dangerous than any of the putas and trannies I might encounter.

Today I did my laundry, actually it was done for me at the local chinese landromat. Two loads for 12 pesos ($4), a luxury which I will probably abstain from in the future. One luxury I will not abstain from is the delicious dulce de leche filled pastry with coconut shavings that they sell for 15cents at the bakery on the corner. Meanwhile, I stopped at the local chinese supermarket and chatted them up in Chinese. I´m starting to be recognized in the little bodegas on my block, which is nice. Otherwise, I spent the day looking for work. I have an interview tomorrow for an english teaching job. I found it on Craig´s list, and was a little worried it was a scam when they told me I would have to come out to an area called Morón, but I later saw a bus that goes there and thus believe it is a real place.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Una Semana

So ends my first week in Argentina. It has definately been an interesting one. I spent today the same way I spent my first day, at the San Telmo street fair. Today the weather was warm and fair. I hung out at a corner bar, drinking quilmes with some friends from the hostel I stayed in. We just lazed around in the sun, very pleasant.

Now I´m just listening to the skins game via the internet. Amazing that I can be this far south and still listen in. Not so amazing as I just heard them lose in the most disheartening of fashions. Ugh.

Now its time for what will be a weekly staple of my visit in Argentina: my Nazi hunting update.
Nazi Hunting Update Week 1
As it is essential to be prepared when hunting nazis, even old ones, I have been sharpening my wooden stakes. The only way to really kill a nazi is by driving a sharpened stake through his black heart. I have also lined my apartment with garlic because this is a well-known way of keeping nazis out. I´m also stocking up on holy water (manichewitz) to toss in their beady eyes should I encounter one. While I was out wandering the streets, I found a good location to hunt nazis: the Hospital Allegman (German Hospital). Located in the middle of Palermo, there is a German Hospital. Maybe if I go poking around the senior ward, I can rustle up some old nazis.

I also received a well-placed tip that there is an Oktoberfest celebration in the city of Cordoba. Cordoba was the sight of considerable German immigration in the past, and reportedly the site where many nazi war criminals fled to. I shall have to make a recon visit to Cordoba to scout the place out. Pablo Van Helsing signing off.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Borracho con la carne

or ¨drunk with meat.¨ I broke the fast with my first Argentine steak and it was amazing. I´m still reeling from it. One of the best I have ever had. Steak, french fries and two glasses of vino for 60 pesos, $20. Far too delicious for words.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Nuestro Padre, Nuestro Rey

Spring has sprung upon Buenos Aires, and the days are warm and delicious. I spent the day in the Recoleta area, lounging under statues of generals on horses. There was a little festival going on, and I sat out with the Buenos Aires teen punks and hippies, while a band played some Manu Chao. On my way back to my apartment, I ran into an English bloke named Dave who had been staying at my hostel. He was just getting back from Uruguay. Pretty random in this big city. My trips on the subte (metro) usually involve 3 line changes to get where I need to be. I went back to my apt, changed and headed off to services- again switching 3 times. While I was on the subte, I ran into Dave again. Even more random. I think he might be MI-6 and is following me. The Man will stop at nothing to silence Che Pablo´s message of Jewish Liberation Theology.

I managed to find my way to synagogue. Because it took me so long to get there, I had to eat McDonalds for my pre-fast meal. A McNifica, not too shabby. The synagogue was named Bet Hilel, not connected as I had thought with University Hillel. The services were being held at a JCC type building, and it was packed.

To say that the services were ¨different¨ is an understatement. First off, people were pretty casually dressed, which is a surprise given Argentina´s formal nature. Fine for me since I don´t have formal clothes. The service was a mix between a revival and a broadway musical. Every prayer was sung, to either a keyboard, violin or flute. The rabbi sung, and was backed up by a cantoress dressed in white. The music was loud, to the point that the speakers were breaking. The service was in Spanish and Hebrew, hence the title above- our Father, our King. I thought the services at Micah were musical, but they are Calvinist compared to this far-off broadway production. Now the joys of fasting, as I smell my roommate cook steak and kimchee.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Palermo

I got back last night to my apartment and hung out a bit with the new roomies. They all seem pretty nice. It is actually helpful that the Japanese girls don´t speak English, and there Spanish is spoken slowly. I went out with my friend Sol, who is an Argentine girl I met in Udaipur, India. We met up at an English pub called Gibraltar. The place had the most amazing burgers, they were huge and tasty, and I washed it down with some good ales. She laughed about my location, and noted it wasn´t the best area. She doesn´t speak any English, so I got to practice alot.

Today I hopped the bus to Congresso, to snap pictures of the beautiful Congresso Nacional. It is a bombastic greco-roman building that is full of architectural flair. There was also a ¨Thinker¨ statue, which is fantastic cause I collect thinkers. I have found them in Paris, Philly, San Fransisco, Sao Paulo and Shanghai. BA marks my sixth thinker.

I took the subte (metro) down to Palermo and had a picnic lunch of albondigas (meatballs) and mashed potatoes under the statue of Garibaldi. Palermo is a huge open air museum of parks with big bronze statues. The city itself is really a magestic, bombastic city. Kind of like a mix between Madrid, Vienna and Paris. I wandered around Palermo, down the shopping streets and had a decadent cup of espresso and dulce de leche at the Havana coffee shop. Now I´m off to meet up with the niece of my dad´s partner at his office. Ciao.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

La Republica de La Boca

I awoke to an Argentine blue sky, had a delicious breakfast of toast smothered in butter and dulce de leche and made my way to my new apartment. It is sooo cool. It is on the ground floor, and the living room is literally the middle of the building. There is no roof, it simply is the center. I received an affirmation that the room was truly mine when I noticed a picture of John Lennon on the door, a Klimt picture on the wall and a book of Neruda´s poetry on the book shelf already in my room. I was also told that my neighborhood is filled with prositutes and transvestites, ha!

I went on a walk with Juan, my artist roommate to the neighborhood of La Boca, where he works. La Boca is a supereccentric neighborhood filled with colorful houses made of corrugated iron. The houses are painted bright colors, from the leftover paints that were used to paint the ships of the immigrants who came. The neighboorhood is also home to the Bombanera (chocolate box) where Boca Juniors play. As the legend goes, the Boca Juniors club needed to decide on colors to wear, so they decided to choose the colors of the next ship that came into the harbor. It was a Swedish ship flying a blue and yellow flag, and the rest is history.

The nieghborhood is a little touristy but fun. It has huge botero mannequins hanging from the balconies. I hung out in the neighborhood and sat in the park drinking coffee and watching people tango. I also ate one of the most delicious things ever- a dark chocolate-covered churro filled with dulce de leche. YUM! I also stopped in the Museo de Bellas Artes de Boca, a nice little museum with an excellent view of the city.

After, I hopped a bus back up to the city center, where I had a delicious lunch of 3 empanadas and a pomelo (grapefruit) soda for $2 and wandered around the area. I walked to the giant Obelisk that is a central monument. I also went to the famous Teatro Colon, but it is being redone and is closed until 2008. I passed by the beautiful synagogue, but was not allowed to take pictures. After I just wandered around, past the stunning, florid archecture and have been enjoying the day. Sitting around, drinking coffee and eating marscapone gelato. La Dolce Vida.

BTW: Picture posted online, and now there is a link on my blog to the photos in the lower right sidebar. I´m not sure if the link appears for those using Microsoft internet explorer, so visit: http://picasaweb.google.com/levantine18

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Homeless no mas

I found a great little apartment today. It's in San Telmo, a real bohemian area. The place is in an old, ornate building. I have a room in a flat shared with 4 other people. Two Argentines and two Japanese girls. I met the Argentine guy, his name Juan and he is an artist. The place is really cool, the second I saw it, I was sold. It has an open air courtyard for a living room, with a tiny little kitchen and bathroom. My room is up a flight of circle stairs. Real basic, just a bed and a book case that is already stocked with Pablo Neruda. The price of my palacio- 600 pesos or $200 a month. For the first time in a year and a half, I have my own place. Not a hostel, couch or parent's house.

Meanwhile, on my way back to the hostel, I stumbled upon a street protest. The Frente Izquerda Socialistas were out in the streets in full-force, banging on drums and waving flags. Che Pablo joined his comrades-in-arms and took to the barricades. I was busy educating them on the revolutionary potential of the potato gun to strike at the very heart of the capitalist structure, when the fascists' riot police came in swinging their truncheons. The oligarchs had sent in their iron heel to crush down our workers uprising. Nothing like the sweet smell of teargas to let you know the revolution has begun. The revolution shall be blogged, my dear comrades. (Author's note: due to the exposure to large quantities of tear gas, the author cannot vouch for the authenticity of all that he has described above.)

Paris of the Pampas

I have been having a good time getting my bearings in BA. It is a fantastic, phenomenal city. I feel like I'm in Europe without getting killed by the Euros. I have been doing some apartment hunting and wandering around the city. Yesterday I walked a while through the busy thoroughfare Avenida Florida which was filled with portenos. I walked all the way up to Retiro and the San Martin park, which is peaceful and lovely with its large trees. I later stopped by the Casa Rosada, Argentina's pink white-house. It was where Evita stood on a balcony and addressed the throngs of supporters.

I spent the evening at the hostel, as they were serving free dinner and had a band playing cover tunes of 90s music. I sat with a Canadian and a English guy and we drank and listened to the music. As it got late, a few cute chiliean girls were dancing at the bar to the Beach boys, and we joined in. I went with a whole crew of hostelers from all over to a speakeasy-ish club that had no sign, and simply was found by its red door. We stayed there late dancing and drinking, and I ended up with a cute Brazilera from my hostel named Simone. She was a Paulistana, too cool. Just my luck, she was leaving today back for Sao Paulo.

I woke up tired and with a little resaca (hangover/babalas). The sky was pink and grey, and I thought it would be a good day to go to the Recoleta Cemetery. I hopped on the subte (metro), a cute old system, and trekked my way to the cemetery. The cemetery was amazing. Different mausoleums in different architectural styles were on top of each other. Old neoclassical, art-nouveau and art deco tombs with winged angels and seraphim littering the landscape. I strolled through, with the marriage of figarro dancing in my head. Really very beautiful and made for some great pictures, which I will post shortly. I also saw Evita's tomb there, which is not well-marked because the cemetery didn't want her and Juan Peron had to almost sneak her body in.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Porteños

I spent the afternoon wandering around the city. The Plazo de Mayo (Ma-jo, as they pronounce the double ll and y as a j) was like a mini trafalagar square with pigeons all over. The city was quiet and I walked through beautiful empty streets, as the wind whipped through. I had lunch at a cute cafe with a bunch of old porteños and pajarros. I had a spanish tortilla and a half liter of vino tinto as I watched the futbol match. I met a fellow traveler, an english bloke named Danial who was eating there too. Everyone so far thinks I am an Argentine. I love fitting in. Everyone but the Chinese claim me as their own. Even a few indians thought I was a parsi from Bombay. Can it be that I feel more alive in half a day in BA than half a year in America?

Buen Ayre

My trip down to Argentina was uneventful, save a little traffic to the airport. I arrived in Miami with time to kill. Crossing the Miami terminals was like strolling through Dante´s 4th level. The pale white corridor was dimly lit with flourecent bulbs and paved with throwback carpets from the 70s. The air was drab, stale and smelled of puke, while smooth jazz (the devil´s music) filled the putrid environ. I waited in the terminal, passing the time listening to the sing-song portuguese spoken from the passengers going to Sao Paulo. My flight wasn´t too long, and I slept. There was no one in the seat next to me, so in my world, I was flying first class.

I arrived to a dreary, sleepy Argentine morning. I took the public bus into BA, and it wove through the outlying suburbs. I got off in San Telmo and found my way to the Tango City Hostel. It´s 29 pesos ($10) a night, a little more than I was planning on spending but breakfast is included, as is internet and the frontdesk lady Anna was friendly. They asked how long I was staying, and i replied, ¨Maybe a day, maybe 6 months.¨ I ran into my first problem as I realized that my plugs were not adaptable to Argentina. My computer, which I lugged all the way here, is already dead.

I went wandering off, looking for a hardware store but everything is closed on Sunday. Instead, I found myself wandering through an art fair. Down the cobblestone streets, I listened to the street orchestras. Some cities have street musicians, Buenos Aires has street orchestras. I listened to one that had 3 violinists, a cello, stand-up base, piano and two accordians. Meanwhile, I wandered through markets, taking in the sweet smoke-filled air and listened to the scratchy gramaphones belt out opera. I love Buenos Aires already, and i have only been here 5 minutes. The city has a charm and elegance to it, and the porteños (BA residents) are stunningly beautiful and graceful. Even the bag lady I passed was pretty. Che Pablo may never return.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Starting anew

So ends my American sojourn, a five month stint back in Bethesda. Amazing to think that I spent roughly the same amount of time in the US as I did traveling. Having done so much juxtaposed with doing so little. Somewhat angst-filled but not overwhelmingly so. It also wasn't exactly how I had expected.

I had hoped to find work with the Obama campaign, but that never panned out into any more than some volunteer work on their foreign policy network. I thought I would be at Seeds of Peace, but instead that fell through and I found myself with a trip to Jamaica.

All-and-all, my stint in America was fine. I'm sporting a few more American pounds that I put on since my return. Those will come off as I get back to walking everywhere and not driving.

I finished my Harvard paper for Prof Ma'oz on Pakistani-Israeli relations, and it has been getting good reviews thus far. 45 pages, which I jokingly refer to as "a paper on anytime Israel and Pakistan so much as winked at each other."

I also have applied to grad school at USC for a Masters in Public Diplomacy for Fall 08. It combines a year at the Annenberg School of Communications with a year at the International Relations school. Sounds like it is my type of program.

I think my proudest achievement was in the volunteering I did to teach immigrants their citizenship exams. I always found it a little funny that I was teaching people on how to be an "American." I had at least half-a-dozen students pass their citizenship exams, and become new Americans. I even did some tutoring in Spanish.

Anyway, I'm glad to get moving again. The only real difference between my packing for 6 months of backpacking and for this trip where I am more stationary is that I brought a towel this time. Douglas Addams would approve.

Off to South America, for new adventures and new tales. Journey on.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Two shout outs

A grand Indian welcome to Shane, who should have just landed in India. A little Delhi fun for him. Also a big happy 20th birthday to Minseon who is celebrating it in Kazakhstan and loving it. Both are in respective places based on my suggestion, ha. Enjoy.

The Harvard project is done for moi. I'll see if I can post a link to it on my blog. A paper on behind-the-scenes Israel-Pakistan relations.

Roughly a week till the next adventure. As Red said:

"I think it's the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain."
-Shawshank Redemption