TIGRE
April 1 - Day Trip to Tigre and About Casinos

I took a train out to Tigre today. It's about an hour by train from the main Buenos Aires core, and sits on a delta in a tangle of streams and rivers. It's a nice town with lots of trees and pretty walkways, though the water looked kinda nasty. I also took a boat ride over to the island Tres Bocas which had a couple of restaurants and a path around some of the locals' homes which look like cute hideaways. I got eaten by the mosquitos.

The Trilenium Casino in Tigre was quite large and full of locals trying to win their millions. They had a craps table, but with an empty table and a minimum bet of 30 pesos I decided to pass. Back in Buenos Aires, I had also tried out the Casino Flotante around Puerto Madero, which had a lower 25 peso limit on the craps table. But playing craps at the casinos around here kinda sucks. The gamblers are totally emotionless whether they win or lose. It definitely takes the fun out of it all. The game of choice in these parts is roulette, with dozens of busy tables.

Anyways Tigre is a nice getaway for the day. You really feel like you're in another town even though you're still technically in Buenos Aires.

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NUMBERS 10.04.01 TIGRE
ATM exchange rate: C$1 = 3.7P
Mitre return train ticket, BA - Tigre: 2.70P
shortchanged at wicket: 10P
lunch, burger & fries: 20P
2 scoop ice cream cone: 8P

LA BOCA
April 3 - Wandering the Caminito

Another tourist hot spot in Buenos Aires is El Caminito in the heart of the sketchy Boca barrio. It's a collection of brashly colourful buildings--pretty much to the point of gaudiness. Restaurants spill onto the streets with lots of tasty looking food and constant tango shows. Souvenir shops are packed to the gills with magnets, mate gourds and t-shirts saying I ♥ Buenos Aires. You can even catch Madonna and Maradona standing side-by-side on the balconies above.

I love this area. You walk past noisy trinket shops and strange murals and you forget about the seriousness in life. I wonder why there are shoes hanging from the power lines?

The stalls here sell some fun stuff. I scored myself a copy of El Principito (The Little Prince) and book of a local comic strip called Mafalda. I don't know anything about her, but apparently she's so famous that there's a life size statue of her somewhere in San Telmo, I'll have to look for that later!

 

 

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NUMBERS 10.04.03 EL CAMINITO
2 empanadas: 10P
Mafalda book: 10P
cab, San Telmo to Caminito: 15P

SAN TELMO
April 6 - Crumbling Sidewalks

To the casual tourist, Buenos Aires really seems like a rich city. Walking along streets with stately architecture, entering marble-floored foyers into grand rooms with 20 foot ceilings, enjoying the decadence of a cafe con leche while nibbling on a ham and cheese sandwich during siesta in the middle of the afternoon.

It's really hard to believe that this country's economic well-being is carefully creeping along the edge of a disasterous cliff. Defaulting nationally on their loans in 2002 left them locked out of the debt market until recently. This poor management has also resulted in high inflation rates, the third highest in the world at 18%--just imagine having to pay almost twenty percent more for everything in just a single year!

As a tourist in San Telmo, once you look past the fancy fašades, you start to see the crumbling sidewalks, the unpatched potholes in the street, and the persistent For Sale signs hanging from every other building. Behind the wooden shutters of stately buildings can lie abandoned rooms full of squatters smoking pot. Every night, as residents put their garbage into the street to be collected, scavengers and cartoneros tear up the garbage bags and rummage for who knows what. It's sad to see a really beautiful area like this slowly crumbling with the passing days.

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BUENOS AIRES
April 8 - Alone in a Big Big World

It's now 3:30am and my friend David, who I've been traveling with for the past month, has finally gone back to the US. So I'm actually alone for the first time since I came to Buenos Aires.

I'm looking forward to being on my own. I'll be forced to speak a lot more Spanish now which is great. I can move out of that tourist mindset and start looking at the city with different eyes. And now I can do the things I normally do when I'm alone in my own place: sing in the shower, walk around half naked, remember my passwords on my computer, drink from the carton. That sort of thing.

But as I walked back to the apartment after dropping David off at the cab, I realized how dark the street really is. And a group looking like young thugs were hanging out at the end of the block. With a slight shiver of cold, I quickened my pace and quickly turned into my apartment block. Tomorrow is another day!

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SAN TELMO
April 11 - Drag Queen Hunting

I caught wind that there would be three drag queens along Calle Defensa handing out tickets to an invite-only party at Alsina. I called Vibeke, my amiga from Norway and we set out on our drag queen hunt.

Every Sunday in San Telmo there's an outdoor market all the way along Calle Defensa--it's packed with locals and tourists. Perusing the masks, jewelery, mate gourds, and knick knacks. Gawking at street artists. Grabbing a chocolate covered churro for a couple of pesos. The street is long and crowded and there´s always something interesting going on.

In the chaos of the crowd, the three drag queens were somehow walking the cobblestones in their 6 inch heels. Vebeke and I finally found them--the drag queens told us that their feet were killing them. Vebeke wanted to ask where they got their fake eyelashes. They gave us a couple of tickets for the "Club One" tea dance at Alsina and sent us on our merry way.

Club One at Alsina is a tea dance, which basically means it starts at "tea time" or during the early evening. We danced a bit to the monotonous beats--where's the diva music? The venue is pretty amazing with a huge screen cascading 5 or 6 stories down the front wall. Advertisements for Speed (BA's version of Red Bull) or some totally random graphic would flash down the screen. The crowd seemed young, like early to mid 20s--and you know the crowd is straight when the guys are decked out in Ed Hardy.

It was a fun day of gits and shiggles.

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LEARNING SPANISH - PART 2 ==> SEE PART 1
April 16 - ¡Celebremos!

Today was the last class of Intermediate 2 and I'll be graduating to Intermediate 3 next week. Spanish is deceptively difficult--there are so many verb tenses. A few of the tenses we don't quite have in English so I have to start thinking about the world in a different way just to understand how to use the tense.

These past three weeks we've been discussing the "subjuntivo" tense which is almost like saying "I would..." something. Except it has all these other uses like emotions and situations of influence. Who knew that it was so complicated? For now, I've just memorized the types of sentences that use this tense. Hopefully, I'll eventually get a natural feel for using it.

We celebrated our graduation with dinner at the Chinese restaurant across the street from my place. The food there is quite good, especially considering how few ethnic restaurants there are in Buenos Aires. The night gave us a chance to speak our Spanglish to eachother and to thank our teacher Leandro (I love his hair!) for all his help.

I think my Spanish has improved significantly since I got to Argentina. I've been trying to use a lot of different ways to learn: watching spanish news online, reading newspapers, reading blogs, chatting with people online, writing emails, going fake shopping at stores, trying to interpret cryptic text messages, talking to cabbies while drunk.

I think I mostly need to work on my limited vocabulary and listening skills so that I can figure out what the heck these Porteños are saying to me.

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UNA HISTORIA CORTA por AKAWESLEY
Cuando llegó la policía, los ladrones ya se habían fugado. Por desgracia, el hombre al que los ladrones habían robado estaba acostado boca abajo en un charco de su propia sangre. Uno de los agentes de policía salió corriendo por la calle para seguir a los ladrones. El otro llamó a la jefatura y dijo, ¨¡Che! Estoy en el lugar del delito y la victima ha perdido mucha sangre. Dudo que sobreviva. Es posible que los ladrones corran por la calle Bartolomé Mitre y se estén escondiendo en la escuela Íbero. Vamos a esperar afuera de la escuela hasta que mande ayuda.¨. Mientras la sirena de una ambulancia se acercaba, la sangre en la vereda ya había oscurecido. El agente regresó a su coche de policía y se puso sus gafas de sol. Con un suspiro, cerró la puerta y empezó a correr por la calle.

 

LEARNING GUITAR - PART 2 ===> SEE PART 1
April 24 - Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, Life Goes On

When I was in elementary school, I remember times when we were told to read silently. Instead of reading, I would lay my head down and start to think of a song that I was listening to on the radio. And then my mind would do an amazing thing.

It would start to pick up ambient sounds from the world--the whizzing of a passing car, the growl of the caretaker's lawnmower, a few kids playing six squares and laughing. Each sound would provide me a note or a beat and my mind would bring them all together and I would actually start to hear the song I was thinking about. No, I really mean I would HEAR the song, like a radio was playing beside me. All the percussions, melody, harmony, everything perfectly recreated beginning to end. I could hear riffs, lyrics and beats that I didn't even notice were in the song before.

Now that I think back about that, it makes me think that I could have been one of those child prodigies in music. I mean, I was a god at the handbells. If my parents had cared about nurturing these things inside me, I could have been really good at music!

Instead, I find myself struggling to learn these damn guitar songs a few decades later. And all I can hear now is a bunch of my off-tune chords loosely strung together to an uneven beat. I've been practicing for about a month now learning chords, strumming and arpeggios. Raul has been a good teacher, guiding me through technique exercises. My fingertips are sore and starting to get calloused--it even feels weird typing. For now, I'm struggling on moving my fingers independently so I can change chords more easily. It's amazing that after living with them all this time, I still don't know exactly where my fingers are.

Here's a video of me playing my first song:

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