Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"Here I Am Back Home Again..."

I'm back in Buenos Aires, to finish out the trip. Hopped of the bus, checked in, cleaned up and rushed off to the first tango lesson of the week.

It's good to be back.

Having a few days off really helped, I think. It gave some time to let it sink in. The subconscious seems to have done its job, because I felt more comfortable in the class then I had the first week. Not that I'm necessarily any better, I just feel more comfortable.

It's like anything, really. A new subject can be quite hard to learn when studied intensively. The brain needs time to process, create connections, reinforce the old ones, and clean up the useless bits[1]. Then the brain can really start to work on new things.

It's nice to be back to the hostel, as well. A few of the people I met before I left are still here. Nice to see familiar faces and places. I'm sure I've said it before, but this is a really comfortable city. I could easily live here. Yeah, I've said that about a lot of places: Paris, New York, Seattle, San Francisco. Just another one to add to the list of places I really like.

A Brief Note for the Nextel Folks[2]

Get into the Buenos Aires market. Nextel is in like Flynn down here. I haven't seen this much push-to-talk since the great walkie-talkie craze of 1983. Translate that junk into Spanish, open a sales office, and get on it.

Chirp, chirp.

[1] OK, so I probably need months of clean up time to get rid of all the useless bits.

[2] You know who you are.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Harvest Time

Harvest Time
Originally uploaded by pschwarz.
Ripe for the plucking

Not The Brightest...

Mendoza is really close to the Andes Mountains. It's the main reason it's great wine country; the mountains keep it dry, but provide enough ice melt for the irrigation. So I thought to myself, I really should head out to the mountains.

I went to the mountain, Aconcagua.

Aconcagua is the highest mountain outside of the Himalayas. At 6,962 meters, it's pretty damn tall. Everest, in comparison is 8,850 meters. The tallest in the States is Mt. McKinely (Denali) in Alaska at 6,194.

The bus ride out there was three hours, the first of many reasons this turned out to be a less than bright idea. I was dropped of at Puente de Incas, which had this strange natural bridge over the river (used, obviously by the Inca). From there, one has to hike or hitch 2km to get to the park entrance.

The entrance is not at all obvious. There was a little road sign, similar to those you'd find in the states, saying something to the effect of "Mt. Aconcagua Viewing Area." This is a national park. You'd think there'd be some sort of sign to indicate such.

I started my hike at 2,700 meters. The air was already pretty thin, so I spent most of my day with a pretty severe headache. I hiked up to the first base camp, at 3,300 meters[1]. There, climbers spend four or five days to acclimatize to the altitude. Oddly enough, I spent my hour up there acclimatizing to the French couple that I met there. Mostly it was advice about why it's not an issue to be single, that there is plenty of time, and how there is probably "the woman of my life" in any one country that I could go to (all about timing). Strange the sorts of conversations one finds themselves sucked into.

I was getting pretty light-headed so I made my way back down the mountain. Aconcagua is still part of the desert, so it's dry and dusty, with almost no vegetation. The winds were whipping across at about 30 miles an hour. So the decent, while quick, was absolutely painful. I could hardly keep my eyes open from all the dust. I can see now why most climbers use enclosed sunglasses.

I had a couple hours to kill before the bus picked up at nine. I was exhausted from the altitude, the hike, the lack of water - it was recommended that you take two liters of water with you, I only took one. I closed out the one little shop while waiting for the bus, just guzzling water.

Now, it had become pretty cold. I was waiting outside for the bus, figuring that it would be along at any moment. At this point, all I wanted was some sleep (I had had a short night the night before) and a warm place out of the wind. The bus was late. Very late. I had begun to curse the whole idea all together. The only consolation was that the stars up there were amazing. The most absolutely brilliant night sky I have seen in a long time. I was suprised to see Orion, in all his glory, in the Southern Sky. Fantasic sky watching down here.

I promptly passed out on the bus. I only woke a few times during the trip. A bus stop here, a side of the road there was all I saw on the way back from the mountains. About forty-five minutes out of Mendoza I awoke to heavy breaking, a thud and a crunch sound. It was two in the morning, and we had just hit a horse.

That's right, a horse. A nice looking horse. A lovely color of brown, if the headlights were at all telling. The kind of horse that an adolescent girl would name Chocolate, or Brownie, or Betty Crocker. Poor horse.

Finally rolling into Mendoza at about three, I couldn't get a cab to save my life. I had slept enough on the bus that I felt up to walking back to the hostel. It was probably due to the return to higher oxegen levels. Damn, it felt good to breath again.

All in all, an interesting day.

[1] Lots of meter, references, I know. I'm just trying to educate y'all.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Wine Country

Ah, Mendoza. Lovely part of the country. Beautiful weather, mountains...wine.

It's an incredible change of pace. None of the congestion and chaos of Buenos Aires. Out by the wineries I was told not to even worry about locking up. Sounds like small town living.

Mendoza is actually in the middle of a desert, so it's quite dry this time of year. Surprisingly, I did seem to come here on one of the rare weeks where it is cool and rainy. It makes it a bit unusual, but damned comfortable after the heat and humidity of BA.

In an even more surprising lucky accident, it is also harvest festival time The week is filled with evening activities, such as markets, live music,street performers (they like their jugglers here) and, of course, a beauty pagent (what farm-related festival would be with out one).

I hopped a bus out to one of main winery areas and rented a bike for the afternoon. Given that is was cool and breezy, this was the perfect day to tool around in the wine country. I only made it to two different wineries, and this incredibly fancy delicatessen (in the middle of nowhere - with a huge, remote gate). Learned quite a bit about wine making, but not a whole lot of tasting. Still, I don't think there is a better way to tour about a wine making region.

The brilliant thing is that it is harvest time. The grapes are ripe on the vine, ready to be plucked. At the first winery I visited, they were loading truck loads of grapes into the processors to begin pressing. They have enormous pnuematic presses for juicing the grapes - no feet here.

The second winery was basically a private tour. I was able to ask more questions about wine making then I ever thought I could even ask[1]. Go forty-five minutes before close on a Thursday, and it's no wonder that there was no one there. The winery, Tempus, was more of a research vinyard for their full operation. There they were five years into a fifteen year project of breading better Malbec grapes. They had more then 250 varieties of Malbec in the 2 acres of land.

Language Limbo

I've hit this odd stage in my ability to communicate. I starting to feel pretty comfortable with the basics of ordering food, buying tickets, and generally how to get where I want to go. My understanding of Spanish is impressive by my standards, in that I'm getting the drift of most of what's being told to me. The problem is still one of constructing sentences.

Here's the real crux of the problem. If someone startes to speak to me in Spanish, I switch my brain into Spanish mode. It's working overtime trying to peice together the whole concept trying to be conveyed. What happens on numerous occasions is that I fumble trying to respond in Spanish - I just don't have the words.

Now, occasionally, the person I'm talking to realizes that I speak English and will switch. This catches me off guard and, suddenly, I can't speak in either language. Here's where I look and act like a total idiot. I seem to only be able to point and grunt[2], and eventually the financial transaction is completed[3].

I always want to return to those people and try and convince them that I am an intelligent person, if only I could talk...

[1] Ok, so it was probably the wine. I had drank about three glasses of wine at this point. Those of you who know, you'd understand.

[2] Thank you, Logical Positivism.

[3] Now in the case most fresh in my mind I was trying to buy popcorn. I had no idea that in Spanish is Palomitas (according to google translator, that is).

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A Bit Before Leaving

I'm heading over to Mendoza tonight on an over night bus. I've heard that the buses here are really comfortable, like flying first class (in terms of the seats and leg room). Shouldn't be too bad of a twelve hour ride.

Thought I'd toss up one of the few pictures that I've managed to upload in the last few days. I have some more from the weekend, it just took forever to upload all the action shots from the tango of the previous week.

All in good time...

Monday, February 20, 2006

Sabado y Domingo

Saturday night, before going to a milonga, a group of folks from the hostel (great hostel, by the way) went to eat dinner at ten pm. This is the standard dinner time. Although, I think many of the tourists eat the same way as they would at home: a smaller lunch and a large dinner, where the Argentines do things the other way around. It turned out to be the slowest. Meals. Ever. Good company, but, good Lord, it was long. We left around half past midnight.

Straight into a parade for Carnival. There are a number of local neighborhood parades going on right. There were a lot of young kids, eight to twelve, as well as adults with these cans of spray foam. Never really crossed our minds what they were doing with these things. So, of course, wandering through as wide eyed tourist, we became targets.

All of us ended up covered in this spray foam.

Wish I had pictures of that...

A little after one, I figure I should really get over to the milonga. It could be winding down, I thought. I pull up in a cab at half past and the dance is going strong. In fact, there's still a performance in the middle of the dance yet to happen. I spend some time watching (I know, I know) before getting out there (that's right). Good God, it was intimidating. There were some fantastic dancers on the floor. Needless to say, I danced one set, and called it good. I need more lessons.

Of course, I'm comparing myself to people who have been doing this for years. It seems to me though, that one doesn't really go to milongas (at least as a lead) until you've been studying it for a while. There weren't a whole lot of inexperienced dancers on the floor. Although, there was a girl, probably seven or eight, out there dancing quite well.

Leaving the milonga a bit after three, I called it a night. An early night for Buenos Aires.

Markets and Music

Sunday was a relaxed walkabout day. I spent the day walking about the markets in San Telmo and Palermo with frequent stops for cold beverages. Up in Palermo, the market was in a park. It was almost like going to a music festival. There was a number of bands, rock and the like, playing out on the grass. Each properly set up to have a hill between them, in order to minimize the crossfired noise. It was a great way to pass the cool evening.

After the relaxing, but long day well all cabbed it down to the best parilla in all of BA. The best steak I've had since being here, really. Ridiculously cheap as well - under five bucks for tenderloin. Brilliant.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Holy Crap, There's So Much Tango

The following question was presented to me: "so, what's the deal.. there's just tango.. everywhere?"[1] That has a really simple answer.

Yes. Yes, there is.

I had wondered, earlier, if tango is starting to die out. It turns out that there is just so much tango here that the market is close to a saturation point (at least in regards to classes).

I picked up this magazine, El Tangauta, which lists out all the classes, milongas and performances in the month. On any given day of the week there is roughly seventy-five classes. Seventy-five. If one actually wants to just dance, there are ten milongas every night of the week.

Good Lord, that's a lot of tango.

[1] Which really is more of a statement, with a question ending. A bit like in Jeopardy, where someone fucks up answering a question and then just adds the upwards sound ending to make the statement a question.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Minor Disappointments

I was invited to go to a milonga tonight by some of my classmates. Interestingly enough, the foreign tango enthusiasts have something in common. However, it didn't quite go off.

I couldn't find the bloody place.

I mean it just wasn't there. I checked every street, every corner every building. A place called El Nacional shouldn't be that difficult to find. It just sounds grand.

Same goes with another site to see yesterday. Now, it's not one that would make it on everyone's list of must-sees here in BA, but I was going to go to this religious theme park last night. Tierra Santa is this religious theme park where the highlight of the show is that Jesus gets resurrected every half-hour. Kitschy as all hell.

Turns out it was closed, only open on weekends. Ahh...well. I don't think I'll try to go there again, as it's seems to be only place one can visit with the Scottish.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Weekend Wandering

Like I said in my last post, I spent a lot of time wandering around over the weekend. Sunday was great, since there were a number of open air markets in the plazas. They seemed to consist mostly of antiques[1] or art, most of which was tango related.

There were a number of street tango performances, dancing for change, and posing for photos. Some were quite good. One of which explained, at length, and in very rapid Spanish, the history of the dance. Apparently, the gauchos that came to BA walked with the tango stride, as well as rubbed the tops of there shoes on the back of there trouser legs. This was due to several possible reasons. The first was that they had machismo in their strides. As for the shoe-rubbing, it grew out of their use of pant legs as a way to clean off the cow crap[2].


As for the second possibility, the simple did these things because they had new shoes. They would take these long strides that present the foot first, showing of their new kicks. As anyone knows with new shoes, they can hurt. This is where the leg rubbing came from.

I don't know how much fact there was in his history, but it was all entertaining non the less.

The great part about these parts of town is that the tourists mainly seem to bus from place to place. Once you go out onto the streets, you're left with the locals. Mind you, there's certainly streets that you should not wander down.

There's a tiny little section of this neighborhood called La Boca that has these house painted with bright colors. The story behind the paint is that the sailors who lived there were so poor that they stole what ever paint they could from the boats they were on to paint their homes. Granted, I think this history is quite true, given how poor La Boca is.

As For My Tango...

I did get back to classes on Monday. I've had lessons with really small class sizes, to the point that they were almost private lessons. Two teachers for the four to six students in the classes. It leaves me wondering: is Tango a dying art here, or is it merely that there are so many teachers that the class sizes are small. I think going to a milonga will help answer that question.

At least I think I've found the two sets of instructors that I will go to for the week. One for technique and improvisation, the other for various standard moves. Both have been good.

I will say this though: one class a day is probably plenty.

[1] read rubbish.

[2] Oddly enough, some PC's are censored. I wanted to use the word the guy used. Use your imagination.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Street Tango

Bloody nice tango. There was this excellent couple performing tango at the sunday market in San Telmo. The guy spent quite a bit of time explaining the history of the dance in very rapid Spanish. I was glad to have a decent spanish speaker in my company.

I spent a really good weekend just wandering around town, walking through the various neighborhoods. The city is really a joy to walk through. It has marvolous character.

The strange thing was that there really weren't a whole lot of people around on the weekend. They went to the parks and the outdoor markets, but otherwise the streets seemed pretty quiet.

I'm feeling a little bit sunburned at the moment, so I'm enjoying a little be of AC in the Locutorio Internet. Not really in the mood to write too much as a result. Perhaps after a bit to drink and eat.

Hopefully I'll be back in full swing once I start lessons again...

Friday, February 10, 2006

Tossed Right In

Tango Class

I've taken a few Tango lessons in the last two days. One was a beginner class, the other was, well, a non-beginner one.[1] It was at the same hall, but with very different instructors. They did have one thing in common:

They throw the students right in.

The beginner class wasn't that bad, for me at least. I have a little foundation to work with, so I could pick up the steps pretty quickly (in fact, I probably had seen them before, I just never really used them correctly). The difficulty lie in the fact that they would demo the steps once, and then let people at it. I'm always suprised that I have a harder and harder time leading someone who doesn't really understand how to follow. I've become used to the follow telling me that I'm not doing it right...

The intermediate[2] class was a bit different. The instructor probably would have made it more of a formal class, if there were any people with zero knowledge. Instead, it involved everyone simply dancing. The students would either ask questions (like "why am I having such a hard time leading X?") or the instructor would notice something the students weren't doing quite right (as in "hold your arm this way and relax you shoulders...").

The second instructor was much more observent then the first, and did a much better job of explaining things than I have had in the past. Unfortuneately, it was one of those classes where I think I'll only be able to remember and use one of the many things that I learned. If I try to remember more, I'll probably just end up thinking too much.

Bits and Pieces

I enjoyed my first Argentine steak last night. At twelve in the AM. Damn late to be having a steak that big. It was huge, I'm talking Cattle Baron huge, and absolutely brilliant. I think I was drunk of the beef more than the wine.

How I Feel All the Time
I love the graffiti here. There are all of these great stencil tags all over the place. I liked this one in particular, as it reminded me of how I feel most of the time.

[1] Well, I can see that the lack of sleep lately has minced my brain into pudding...

[2] I have no idea if this is the case, it just seemed more difficult to me.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A Few Photo's, At Last...

Ohare Sunset
Originally uploaded by pschwarz.
I've put up just a few photos to start with. There's not much there yet, but I thought I should get some proof of being here.
Most of what I've photographed, so far, has just been random things. I'd like to try and pick up the flavor of the city. We'll see if there's ever anything good...

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

First Impressions

First impressions are important. So far, so good. We seem to like each other, Buenos Aires and me. I haven't had any real issues, not even getting lost.

Well, not really lost. I found myself lost last night after dinner on the way back to my hotel. I stopped at a shop to by something to eat and met an American trying to explain how much more expensive cigarettes are back in the states. In English. I was amused. I also learned a little bit about the popcorn seed business. Interesting the type of people you meet.

As for my Spanish... Yeah, it's pretty rusty. But I can order coffee, and say that I have a reservation, but I do fall very easily into English. Also if there's someone who speaks Spanish more fluently than I do, I'll probably still end up deferring to them. That could get me into trouble, perhaps.

I had dinner with Swiss guy I met on the bus from the airport. Interesting to here the viewpoints from a citizen of a neutral country. Very...neutral. I've noticed that I do a better job meeting people from other countries when they're not in their own country. Weird.

I'm just settling in here, so there isn't really that much to tell, yet. I think the hostel might provide a little more fodder...

One small note, reguarding photos - I haven't taken very many yet, so I haven't uploaded any yet. Soon, my pretties, soon...

Monday, February 06, 2006

More Tango

Originally uploaded by elurew6283.
I thought this was a really nice photo of tango (again, at the Loring Pasta Bar). Wish I could say I took the picture myself.[1]

Here we can see the concentration required by the pair as the navigate their way across the floor. It has an intensity, grace and style. The dance is subtle and beautiful.[2] Watch, as they move through the sea of people...

[1]I will say this: it's from a damned nice camera. I have to get me one of those...

[2] Starting to feel a little like Jacques Cousteau, now.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Not Even in a Backpack, Sam-I-Am

Ok, so I haven't packed yet. Not at all. Not even a little. I finally just grabbed my backpack out of the car.

I've got all day tomorrow. Well, ok, I have until about four PM or so. That's plenty of time. I should be able to get ready with no problem.

It's not like I haven't accomplished anything for packing. I've been to Target at least once a day for the last five, since I've never really been a list person. I mean, who really needs to write things down. It's not like I won't remember (snowglobe) what I need. I've a good memory, damn it.

Now, where was I.

Right. Packing. I pack light. Damn light.

Five t-shirts - check.
Five pair socks - check.
Five pairs of shorts[1] - check.
Two pairs of trousers - check.
One pair shoes - check.
One pack towel - check.
One sleeping bag, ultra-light[2] - check.
Toiletries - check.
Medkit - check.

Packing - done.

Knowing I won't keel over to do excessive weight: priceless.

Although, now that I think about it, I did settle on War and Peace as my travel reading.


[1] Ok, so I really can't allow myself to refer to them as underwear. At least not on paper. Makes me a little uncomfortable. Not really sure why.

[2] But not warm. Stupid ultra-light material.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Prep Work

I should be studying Spanish. I should be looking over my guide book and planning out an loose itinerary. I should be checking over my travel supplies and make sure that I have all my bases covered. What have I been doing with my time to prepare for this trip?

I've been dancing.

Weird, I know, but true. It's good prep work. Gets me thinking about balance, movement, and dancing with a partner (as opposed to dancing by myself, which, as it turns out, is not that useful). If I plan to go done and dance tango, I really need to be as comfortable with it all as I can possibly be. So this is good. I've gone dancing three times this week, I'll go again tomorrow.

The Waltz has lately been one of my favorites. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it has to do with it's elegance and grace. I don't consider myself terribly graceful, even when dancing the waltz. It does get me closer. Of course, it's very hard to dance in a smaller space. It needs breathing room.

Swing is not bad either, mainly because I'm most practiced at it. I think it (it being East Coast Swing) is one of the easiest dances to learn and lead. It has a certain amount of energy, making it both fun to do and watch.

As for Tango, eh, what can I say? It's beautiful..

...when not lead by me...

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Finally Done

I'm out of my apartment. Homeless. Officially a vagabond.

I handed over my keys with little fanfare and lament yesterday. Sure, I'll miss the apartment. It was a damn fine apartment. A little old, a few cracks here and there, but a nice apartment. It was always warm and comfortable. An excellent place to spend time, if one were so inclined.

I really never was.

I'm not, as it turns out, a homebody. I get really antsy if I'm cooped up all day. Which also then proceeds to surprise me how much time I do spend indoors. I do need to get out of the house, but I usually will go and spend that time indoors somewhere else. I seem destined to become one of those people who spend all their waking moments walking around malls for the climate control, or sitting in coffee shops discussing how things used to be better.

Which is odd, the latter prediction, since I do spend an inordinate amount of time discussing how much better things were under the previous administration. All I can say, at least economically, things are bound to get worse regardless of the party in power. We're about to dry up the well of hyperconsumerism sooner than later. Then, who'll be left holding any cash?

Not me, that's for sure. I'll probably blow it all on traveling abroad.

And Now For Something Completely Different...

A note about The People's Temple playing at the Guthrie: it's just not good. I don't consider myself a true devotee of theatre, but I've seen enough to know what I would like or dislike. It was flat, uninteresting, with strange flow and poor production of tension. The cast was likewise flat, their performances inspiring very little interest in the subject matter. The only saving grace was that the performers were allowed to where many different roles as they played each testimonial.

I think it is only playing for another few weeks, but my recommendation is to avoid it.