Archive for October, 2008

First Day of School in Argentina

Considering the fact that both of their sweat pants ripped in the crotch while stretching during field day, the first day of school went rather well indeed!

At pick up, Zelda didn’t even mention the fact that her sweat pants had torn. Zoe was a little peeved, but mildly so. Zelda declared the first day to be fabulous. She said that she had made new friends, learned new playground games (color witch–a version of tag) and worked on her Spanish numbers.

Zoe had taught somebody the singing/hand game “say say oh playmate,” and ended up having to play it for an hour! She also did some writing in Spanish and received a nice card from a girl named Vicky in English class saying she wanted to be Zoe’s friend.

After school today, we dragged them to a shoe store to pick up the brown shoes they need for the uniform day tomorrow. We also picked up something for them to use as lunch boxes and got the paper and colored pencils the girls needed. Next, we will have to see if we can have the sweatpants repaired–sigh. Not something we factored into our schedule this week.

So far so good! What a relief.

Desperately Seeking Caesar

When we first arrived and were not eating dinner on an Argentinian schedule (i.e., at midnight), we would often stop in to a cafe to eat our evening meal. Several times, we attempted the Caesar Salad.

This was folly though–thus far, it has not been the salad for which we hoped. Here, it often contains ham, or chicken, or chunks of cheddar cheese, or hunks of an unidentified white cheese, or hard boiled egg…all topped with masses of an artfully arranged heavy mayonnaise dressing.

Still craving a more traditional Caesar salad, we decided to make our own while entertaining guests for the first time last night.

Sounds easy, you don’t need a lot of ingredients, but getting romaine lettuce proved to be both expensive (in cab fare) and time consuming. First I checked at my verduleria (local produce seller)–the lettuce there was so limp, I couldn’t believe that they were trying to sell it. I ran to the Disco (local grocery). Same thing–the entire head would fall over in my hand if I tried to pick it up.

I hopped a cab and rode 20 minutes to an open air market in Belgrano. No luck, it was closed. So I started walking around Belgrano until I found a Carrefour, another supermarket, and bought what seemed like every head of lettuce in the place. (The check-out guy gave me the “crazy foreigner” look.) We stripped off a lot of slimy limp outer leaves and, hooray, discovered some yummy, actually crunchy, bright green romaine lettuce on the inside, just waiting to get out.

I’m happy to say that we were able to serve a decent Caesar salad to our first Argentinian dinner guests (not counting Ian, of course).

Our guests were Sara King, who is here in Argentina from Portland visiting the city for a few months, and Ian’s friends, Dani and Guada. (Guadalupe brought us home-baked alfajores–sort of a butter cookie with dulce de leche in the middle–yummy.)

Vegetarian Restaurant in Argentina

Yes, we did it. We broke down the other night and gave in to our oh-so-American craving for vegetables and trekked on foot, through our neighborhood, to a restaurant called Arte Sano.

(Tom discovered it via guide book.)

It was a good thing that we set out to seek some good-old, crunchy, Portland-style food because on the way, we stumbled upon an expensive, but super yummy, Indian restaurant called (appropriately) Tandoor!

Once settled at Arte Sano (in what is really a lifestyle business–they offer yoga, dancing classes, and some nutrition services, if memory serves), we started our meat-free adventure with a delicious home-made wheat bread (a nice contrast to the wonder bread-style roll that is common here) and a dish of carrot mayonnaise, which was actually a bright orange carrot dipping sauce.

A sign of how much we were craving vegetables? Zelda had three helpings of a simple spinach, arugula and tomato salad drizzled with olive oil and vinegar. I nearly fainted.

Zoe inhaled her wheat-tofu stir fry and tabbouleh salad. We all had delicious fruit smoothies.

If you are in Argentina and need a break from the beef, Arte Sano can be found at Mansilla 2740 in Recoleta.

Photo by Flickr user alex-s used under a Creative Commons license

More on My Favorite Coin Crisis!

The International Herald Tribune has this interesting article on the coin crisis.

A kiosk owner bribes a bank worker with cookies to break bills. Subway workers let commuters ride free because they can’t change their cash. Bus companies resell the coins they collect at a steep black market markup.

Argentinians are increasingly scrambling to get their hands on pocket change for everyday transactions, as soaring inflation makes the copper and aluminum that coins are made of worth more than their face value. Many suspect profit-seeking hoarders are scooping them up to stow away.

The Justice Ministry is meanwhile investigating Buenos Aires currency distributor Maco S.A., for allegedly withholding nearly 5 million pesos in change to resell on the black market. The company denies the allegations.

An anonymous Central Bank hot line has meanwhile received 5,000 complaints about black market coin sales since it opened in February, according to the bank.

There are some cool stats here, but their ultimate link between the coin crisis and recent inflation seems tenuous, at best. The coin crisis has been around for many many years if you talk to Porteños… .

The Girls Start School Monday!

After one week exactly, we have found a school for the girls. It’s a miracle.

They will be attending a school that teaches a half day in English, a half day in Spanish, and also some Italian! The school is mostly Porteño children with a few foreigners besprinkled in, but not many.

The school has a neat “new student” ritual. First, we interviewed with the senior staff while the children were present. Then, the next day, the girls came in during the morning Spanish class, got a little tour of the school, visited their classrooms, and then had a big coca cola and cookie party with their future classmates. The whole thing ended up with a bunch of kids on a sugar rush running around the play area.

After that, we spent the afternoon, and I mean the whole afternoon, buying all things school uniform. (Zoe is pissed that there is a skirt for school and a field hockey skirt.) We still have to go find their shoes. And, we forgot if Monday was the day that they wear their gym clothes or their school uniform.

Hours are a bit crazy–they go to school from 7:50 am to 5:00 pm, but they do have a one-and-a-half hour break from 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm for lunch. The kids can stay at the school to eat and play, or they can go home for lunch.

We’ll see how it goes, but their program looks pretty good. They teach chess as a part of their curriculum, they have a good computer room and a science lab as well as using different teachers for different subjects at the elementary level. Also, they have gym twice a week–one is an extended physical education day in the school and one is at a field off campus.

Cross your fingers for Monday. Poor girls, it’s a lot to absorb.

Grass Fed Beef as Vegetable

Our experience with Argentine cuisine thus far seems to support the notion that if you feed your livestock massive quantities of what they naturally eat, then that meat is chock full of important nutrients that you wouldn’t find in grain-fed or feed-fed animals in the United States, thereby eliminating the need for vegetables all together.

So if your beef is high in CLAs and Omega 3s, and contains higher levels of vitamin E and beta carotene, why the hell should you bother to eat a salad?

Actually, in Argentina, it appears that cheese has replaced salad. Meat and cheese! And if you want some variety, you throw some yummy pastry dough around your meat and call it an empanada! (In which they might include egg, because you don’t want to stint on the protein!)

Now, in all fairness, it is early spring here, which can be a tough time for produce. But, having said that, it is clear that the fruit and the vegetable are second-class citizens to the meat and the cheese when sitting at the table.

There are worse ways to go!

Live and Die by the Guia “T”

The little gem pictured here is the Guia “T,” and if you aren’t agoraphobic, it is the key to living in Buenos Aires.

(Agoraphobes, you need a comprehensive pile of grocery, restaurant and gelato delivery menus–yes, you can get almost anything delivered here).

The Guia “T” is a hand-held miracle guide to the millions of different bus lines and their routes, the subway, and all of the streets in this thriving metropolis.

We have already begun to to think of the geography of Baires in terms of the Guia “T.” In other words, we live on Page 9. (As in, “you live on page 9–nice neighborhood.”) We are looking at schools for the girls on Page 7 to begin with, Page 8 if we have to.

Also, we can time how long it will take us to walk places because each page of the Guia “T” has a grid superimposed over it, and it takes about 10 to 15 minutes to walk across a grid rectangle.

How did we happen upon the Guia “T?” Ian, of course. Once again reinforcing the adage that one shouldn’t move overseas without an Ian. (I kind of think of my younger brother as a Zans…you know, from Dr. Seuss. “At our house, we open cans. We have to open many cans. And that is why we have a Zans. A Zans for cans is very good. Have you a Zans for cans? You should.)

Subway Free Due to Coin Shortage

The subway has been free here in Baires for the last two days because of the coin shortage. So, although you can buy a cash card and swipe it to pay your fare, for the cash riders, there is no change. No change means they can’t charge the cash card users either. Result…FREE SUBWAY RIDES.

What are they doing about it? From what we can determine, they are trying to get more coins into the hands of the subway operators…whatever that means!?!

International Brands Alive and Well

TGI Friday’s. Yes, there is a Friday’s here. Yes, I am ashamed to say that we have eaten there. (We happened upon it after a lot of walking, the kids were starving and began lobbying…well, you get the picture). It was packed with locals. And, for those of you wondering, the Friday’s food here is as bad as it is in the US, the waitstaff does wear crazy hats and buttons, and the music is too loud!

Cheerios. They have a 5 grain Cheerio here that I’m really digging because they are firmer and crunchier than our Cheerios–they don’t dissolve in the milk on the walk from your refrigerator to the table as they seem to in the United States.

Authorized Mac Dealer. Funny, the staff at the Mac dealer we visited here in Baires was about as helpful as the folks at The Mac Store in Portland (you know, the one in the Lloyd district)–in other words, not remotely helpful. The staff here announced that “nowhere in Argentina” could you find the cord we were looking for. Tom traipsed to another Mac dealer and bought it without difficulty. (I’ve never understood why the Apple Stores are so great and the staff so helpful but the authorized Mac/Apple dealers are always so damn snooty and difficult to deal with–hmmmm?)

Starbucks. They recently opened in Argentina and the store is apparently the cool hip place to be for young, upwardly mobile people. (I am happy to say that we haven’t been there!) At least their brand is doing well here; in the US they’ve become the dumpy coffee place in Safeway!

El Primer Beso

(This is one of those rare posts from Tom. Michele thought my Argentine man kissing story needed to be shared. )

A simple handshake doesn’t quite cut it in Argentina.

Greetings are a bit more complicated than that, since they’re all accompanied with a discrete air kiss on the right cheek. It’s not quite as tricky as the right-left cheek kiss of Spain, nor the right-left-right of France. But, the wrinkle here is that the ritual is universal: man greeting woman, woman greeting woman, man greeting man…it doesn’t matter. Every greeting is accompanied with the beso.

We’ve been working with the girls on handling this situation. With visions of Zelda lunging for the wrong cheek and accidentally breaking some new acquaintance’s nose, we’ve particularly stressed that “You always go to the left!” Zoe may be a touch on the shy side, while Zelda has been known to offer an enthusiastic hug and a kiss on the ear as well, but, all in all, the girls are getting the hang of it.

That just leaves me.

Now, I’m not particularly shy about the Argentinian man greeting, but there is a slight feeling of awkwardness that I imagine will only dissipate once I’ve got a few under my belt. My first opportunity came yesterday, but Ian’s friend felt sorry for the “inexperienced American” and let me off with a handshake.

Tonight, Ian and I went to go see an amazing percussion group called La Bomba de Tiempo, and as we’re standing in line for tickets, he introduces me to a couple who are friends of his. Lead to the left, kiss on the woman’s right cheek, smile and say hello…lead to the left, kiss on the man’s right cheek…

…and just like that, I’m one tiny step closer to becoming a true Porteño.