Thursday, December 21, 2006

the strange and the familiar


Milanesa
Originally uploaded by elizajanecurtis

En Argentina, hay algunas cosas diferente de los Estados Unidos. It's pretty comfortable for a North American here. Aside from the language thing, Buenos Aires isn't very different from living in the US. I think that the Argentinians have a slightly different relationship with their country's institutional corruption. So far the most apparent evidence of this is the postal service. I haven't received any mail yet, though my mom says she's mailed me 3 envelopes. Anecdotally, everyone I've met has a story about mail that has been opened, pilfered, stolen, lost, held for ransom at the central post office (until the recipient bribes a postal worker to release it), or just disappeared. Aside from the corruption issue, I think this is a symptom of the local economy and the incredibly steep import tariffs on everything.
On the other side, Mike gets health insurance from his job and I GET TO BE ON HIS PLAN TOO! I haven't tried to use it yet, but it is allegedly some of the best health insurance / health care in the world. I can't wait to get sick so I can try it out!
Other things that are strange to me:
-MATE. This tastes like creosote and makes me have to poop, but I keep trying it anyway, because I like the accoutrements. It seems like a really appealing local custom.
-FRESH-SQUEEZED ORANGE JUICE. US$1. everywhere. holy awesome.
-GRAPEFRUIT-FLAVOR EVERYTHING. from soda to gatorade to chewing gum, I like it!
-ICE CREAM. It's pretty different. It's stickier and meltier and creamier and has SO MUCH flavoring it makes your lips pucker and sometimes obscures the delicious creaminess. Usually a cone comes with at least 2 different flavors and a bowl comes with at least 3. My favorite so far is Dulce de Leche with Brownie Chunks.
-DULCE DE LECHE. Argentinians are not afraid of sticky, gooey sweetness. Usually I'm not either, but I'm startled by the ubiquity of this caramelly stuff. You can get Oreos with Dulce de Leche filling or Dulce de Leche flavored schnapps. Any dessert in any restaurant is guaranteed to come with at least one ginormous mouthful of this gloopy sweetness, either displayed proudly on top (with powdered sugar too!) or hidden deep inside to get you when you don't expect it.
-SWEETNESS. aside from the dulce de leche, things here tend to be sweet. such as sushi and sashimi with some kind of sweet glaze? I like lunas con jamon y queso, a ham & cheese croissant with sweet glaze. But sometimes already-sweet desserts are served with crunchy granulated sugar on top. I read about a syrup-drenched Thai dinner that tasted like dessert. And pastries! they are SWEET! i think that's the way pastries should be. maybe not sushi though.
-ARTIFICIAL SWEETNESS. WTF?! this is hard for me to avoid since I am not familiar with the brands and words to avoid. They will put Sucralose in practically EVERYTHING, from soda to yogurt to fruitcake. blech!!!!
-NO SPICINESS!!! they don't do it here. bring your own hot sauce.
-MANTECOL. It's like halvah, but with peanuts instead of sesame seeds. I have considered trying to make a sandwich out of this, because they do not have peanut butter here.
-WINE. MMMMMMMM good.
-JACARANDA BLOSSOMS. every park is full of huge bright purple trees! pretty. they scatter their leaves all over the ground and it's so cute when Emmy frolics in the fields of purple.
-DOGS. I had no idea there was a place in the world where everyone has a dog! They're very well-behaved. They sleep under tables at sidewalk cafes and wander the sidewalks without leashes and sniff each others butts with cool detachment. Everyone is quite used to dogs here. It's nice to take the dogs for a walk without getting undeserved dirty (or terrified) glares from dog-phobic bypassers. There is at least one veterinarian on every block here! You can't spit without hitting a shop that sells dog food, dog toys, and dog beds. There's also this crazy dog-walking scene, where one guy will be trotting down the street holding 40 leashes with 40 dogs trotting along beside him. On the down side, there's dog poo *everywhere* so watch your step.
-TANGO. I don't know anything about Tango, but they love it here! They say that every tango song is about some kind of heartbreak, whether it's horse-racing or ladies. Last night we went to see this "rockstar" tango orchestra in a converted warehouse, with a dozen hairy hipsters playing raucous violin, accordion, bass, piano, etc. I loved it. They sounded like the Dirty Three but even more dramatic and bombastic. People were dancing and they looked like they were floating on air and spinning around without even trying. I had originally thought of Tango as an old-people thing, but it was super fun to see this youth-culture-Tango scene. Also, I realized how much I love accordion music. The more accordions, the better.
-THUNDERSTORMS. The best way to wrap up a 98 degree day is with a hair-raising, apocalyptic thunderstorm. It's very tropical. I have never seen such awesome and terrifying storms with so much lightning, thunder and torrential rain. they last for hours and hours and really scare the dogs.
-KEYS. they all look cool. see picture.
-DESIGN. this is an incredibly beautiful city. architecturally, there's lots of old French style, and fantastic art-nouveau, and lots of very 70's-looking white geometric high-rise towers with varying degrees of kitschy style. Palermo Soho is full of little design shops, lots of young, start-up designers selling hand-sewn goods ranging from incredibly cute to sophisticated. More on this later, I won't go into it all now.
-MULLETS. ladies here are looking good, and they have almost as many "sho-lo" haircuts as in Barcelona. I can't wait for my hair to grow out so I can get one too.
-SEXISM. the international language of leering is easy to understand and hard to avoid. I've heard nasty stories from other women here but it hasn't got under my skin yet. I think the common attitude is that a man's desire is a compliment to a woman, and she ought to enjoy it whether she likes it or not.
-BLACK-FACE PASTRIES. holy crap. this is a very white city, and they don't have the same kind of racial history or taboos as the USA. hence, cookies in EVERY BAKERY decorated like 1920's-era black-face caricatures complete with fat pink lips and bulgy white eyeballs. Also, I have seen the same motif painted in the logo of the "Harlem" bakeshop and delicatessen.
I hear that it is not easy to be black here.

I can't comment too much yet about porteƱos and their habits, because I'm still conversing with the locals at a nursery-school level. Pretty much everyone has been incredibly nice to me considering my handicap. Some people speak a lot of English, but for the most part you need some Spanish to get around here. I've talked most with taxi drivers, who are consistently kind and patient and chatty and willing to endure 20-minute conversations in level-one Spanish!

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