Archive for November, 2008

Uber Frustrating Temper Tantrum Day

I begin this post with a *monster sigh*

We didn’t think that finding a temporary furnished apartment somewhere convenient to the girls’ school would be too hard, especially with a start date in February — hardly high season. And indeed, we found the perfect place, had multiple communications with the agent, who assured us it was available and that the owner was ready to rumble. We were negotiating terms…blah blah blah.

Then, all of a sudden, today, the agent informs us that the owner of the apartment doesn’t actually rent it out during the school year because she lives in it, so it’s not available.

I felt like I had run into a brick wall. It was all I could do to restrain myself from writing, “You f***ing liar!” (See, I am growing and maturing.)

Anyway, our experiences with temporary rental real estate agents here have been less than savory when trying to locate a property and determine if it is available. Sadly, they all seem willing to tell you that they have checked with the owner, that they are in constant communication with the owner, that they represent the owner’s negotiating position, when really, they haven’t talked to the owner at all.

Between having to find the tiki lounge (as we refer to our new apartment) and trying to locate an apartment to come back to in February (after our travels), I feel that I’ve spent every waking moment of the last 3 weeks apartment hunting and getting my ass handed to me.

Needless to say, NOT HAPPY about covers my mood. Time to eat another bon bon.

What about Second Breakfast?

Tom’s Spanish teacher, Lorena, described the Argentinian diet as consisting of the following four meals a day.

FIRST MEAL: Coffee (the most important component of the first meal) and some sort of sweet pastry.

SECOND MEAL: This would be analogous to our lunch and is generally empanadas (meat stuffed pastry dough) and/or pizza (bread and lots and lots of cheese). Possibly a sandwich could be substituted here.

THIRD MEAL: Third meal is taken at around 5:00 pm and consists of coffee (the only thing that gets you through until dinner) and a small cookie/pastry. If you are hungry, you might eat a tostada (bread, thin slice of cheese, thin slice of meat, toasted).

FOURTH MEAL: This is the big meal of the day and is generally some combination of meat and potatoes with whatever else you may choose to eat (perhaps a salad). This meal is eaten at 9:30 or 10:00 pm. Lorena said that people go to bed directly after eating dinner during the week. (Mind you, on the weekend, it is common to eat much later.)

Lorena asked Tom what our eating schedule was in the States. He told her, with kids, that we generally tended to eat at 6:30 pm or 7:00 pm and then we would go to bed around 10:30 pm to 11:00 pm. She couldn’t believe that there was such a big gap between when we ate dinner and when we went to bed, during which she claimed she would starve.

This knowledge led us to conclude that the big steak at the end of the day in Argentina is really just a time-saver because it acts as your undigested breakfast for the next morning!!

Guess How Much These Babies Cost?

Look out! Here’s another rare post from Tom…

While prices in general have risen quite a bit in the past several years in Buenos Aires, food prices are still dramatically less than what we’re used to in the States. Let’s take a recent example, in which I decided to cook up some steaks on the stovetop.

My selection was the Bife de Chorizo, which is the equivalent of a NY Strip steak. (Argentine cuts of beef can be quite a bit different than US cuts, but the bife de chorizo maps pretty exactly.)

Four thick steaks equals about four pounds of beef.

Total cost: $10 US dollars, or about $2.50 per 1 lb. steak.

Checking the New Seasons Market web site (where we shopped in Portland) shows that back home, the NY Strip steak would be about $15/lb. Can’t complain about that!

Please note that the above is a pre-cooking photo. While I like beef on the rare side, this would be a bit excessive…

The Ghost of Argentina…

…What Happens when Countries Go Bankrupt?

There is a very interesting article in Spiegel Online from November 4th that I didn’t notice until today. It talks about the myriad challenges that bankrupt nations now face and uses the 2001 crisis in Argentina as an example of what happens when a country goes bankrupt.

They also discuss Argentina’s current economic prospects:

“And the sound of pots and pans being banged together is back. President Cristina Fernandez, who succeeded her husband Nestor Kirchner in 2007, increasingly resembles the hapless de la Rúa. Last week, she presented her version of the “Corralito” — the term used to describe the freezing of bank accounts in 2001 — when she ordered the nationalization of private pension funds, allegedly to prevent the funds from going bankrupt.

But economic experts believed that Fernandez’s true objective in nationalizing the private deposits, which are worth $30 billion (€24 billion), is to avert a government bankruptcy. Columnist Mario Grondona criticized the president, likening her to “a captain trying to save a sinking ship by bailing it out with a bowl from the kitchen.

Interesting and relevant reading no matter where you are.

Baires Expats, Wanna Make a C Note?

Are you single…without kids…able to attend lots of cultural events? Do you have a ton of valuable experience to relate to your fellow expats?

Okay, aside from being envious (*smile*), I thought you should know that you can now turn your intellectual pursuits and on-the-ground knowledge into cold hard cash from BA Expats. Every month, they will award $100.00 US to the most popular post in one of the following two forums: 1) reviews of cultural events in their Culture Forum; or, 2) general guides to any aspect of expat life in Buenos Aires in their Articles Forum.

Please check out the details here.

Bamboo Decompression Chamber

It’s time to talk about our new apartment…our new very retro apartment. This bad boy was state of the art — in 1969!!

Each floor of this building has two apartments, an A and a B side. Each side has it’s own elevator, which opens into a sort of private entry chamber that leads to the front door of your apartment. (It is essentially a private elevator that opens directly outside your front door.) We have dubbed our entry area the “Bamboo Decompression Chamber” because the tiny little room has a low ceiling, and is outfitted floor and ceiling with a bamboo print wallpaper, which you can see below.

Lest you think that having an elevator opening into your pad is kind of cool, I will have to continue my story. Today, Ian and I were trapped in the apartment because the elevator wasn’t functioning and the one set of back door keys (which leads to the stairs) were across the city with Tom. (To get in and out of all doors you MUST use multiple keys from the inside. If this place goes up in a fire, we are in trouble!)

To further give you a sense of the retro-ness of our apartment, I have taken a picture of the upholstered walls and ceiling of the master bedroom for your viewing enjoyment. Please do enlarge the photo so that you can get a real feel for it!

Perhaps my favorite feature of the upholstered walls and ceiling (there are so many features, it’s very difficult to resist listing them all), is the fact that every surface manages to hold a generation’s worth of strange odors!

Having said all of that, the living and dining room are quite spacious, the WIFI coverage is great, and the move was easy because it is located in the building next door to our last apartment (the one with the dishwasher we are mourning)!

Renting a temporary apartment, with little lead time, during high season, is a bitch!

The “Florida Factor” in Argentina

When I worked for an aerospace corporation in Fort Walton Beach, FL, there were many transplants from the NE United States working there. Said transplants were constantly complaining about how long it took to get things done in NW Florida, which has much more in common with its Southern neighbors than with Miami. (Me, I didn’t complain at all. I was just happy that they gave me my first real job out of college and that I had my own office!)

My uptight co-workers estimated that it took 3 times longer to close out projects than they felt it should, and dubbed this delaying effect the “Florida Factor.”

Well, Tom and I are encountered the Florida Factor here in that it takes us about 3 times longer to complete any task than the amount of time we initially allot for that task. *Sigh*

For instance, we went out to find a temporary gym the other day, and were going to “grab” a bite at a cafe. The “grab” took nearly two hours, start to finish. I love that, as a people, the Argentines take the time to enjoy their dining experiences, whether they are taking a cup of coffee or a whole meal.

But, in this instance, it meant that we looked at one gym (the one by the cafe) and had to blow off the rest to go pick up Zelda!

Grocery shopping is another good example. The lines are horrendous, so if you shop at the wrong time and compound that error by picking the wrong line, which we have an uncanny knack for doing, it takes about 5 times longer to check out than it does to shop.

Suffice to say, we are not a well oiled machine at this point!! But, we bury our sorrows in massive amounts of gelato and move on…tomorrow is a new day.

Un Pago?

Our experiences with store credit illustrate that context is king when it comes to language comprehension.

For instance, Tom and I were buying a USB cable for around $15-$20 US when the store clerks asked us something that I didn’t understand. After a big group discussion, with nearly everyone in the store participating, we finally realized that they were asking us if we wanted to use store credit to buy the cables on a payment plan.

Without the context of knowing that a payment plan was available for such a small purchase, it made it hard to understand what they were proposing!

Shortly after the USB cable incident, we were at the Disco buying groceries, obviously not that many because we have to carry them, and the check out guy asked, “Un pago?” I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about…it turns out that you can buy your groceries on a payment plan. Who knew?

I’ve got to get the hang of this store credit thing!!! I figure that the next time I buy empanadas on the street, they’ll ask if I want them on a payment plan and I’ll be as unprepared as ever. *sigh*

Navigating Cell Phones

Trying to obtain a cell phone here as a foreigner without a DNI (national ID number) is a bit farcical. (As you read this, remember, I was figuring all of this out with my imperfect Spanish.)

Sin abono” is the crux phrase. That means, “without a plan.” If you do not have a DNI, you must purchase a pay-as-you-go cell phone. This also translates to, “you pay a fortune for your telephone calls.”

We were okay with that, we figured we wouldn’t be making that many calls anyway.

Now, many people who go sin abono buy an unlocked phone, in other words, a phone that can be used with any of the three cell phone carriers in Buenos Aires. Translation: you not only pay a fortune for your calls, but you get the additional pleasure of paying a fortune for the telephone itself.

(There is a thriving grey market where unlocked telephones — probably stolen — are sold at a discount price.)

Anyway, we didn’t feel like paying a fortune for a cell phone, so we bought a subsidized telephone, sin abono, which means that we are locked into one carrier from which we must purchase our telephone cards to recharge our telephone account. It also means that we have the cheapest phone ever (pictured above).

We thought obtaining our phones would be the hard part, but we still had a few lessons remaining.

It turns out, in Baires, it is the initiator of the call who pays. And, if you call from a cell phone to a land line, that call is billed at an astronomical charge…I used up about $7.50 US making three telephone calls to land lines in the space of 15 or 20 minutes. (Oopsy!)

I am now going native and use text whenever possible (much cheaper), happily answer my phone (no charge) and am loathe to call people back!

And, don’t think that we’re totally home free. Tom needs to overcome his language barrier and set up his phone (he has a totally disco ring tone that had Ian and I on the floor laughing). And, Tom’s voice mail doesn’t work either. We’ve been depending upon the big guns (that would be Ian’s Spanish) to try and correct the problem…to no avail thus far.

Granite Countertop Rant

I am afraid that I can no longer suppress my strong feelings about granite.

Why in God’s name does everyone use this as a kitchen surface?

I hadn’t had any experience with granite until we moved into our rented condo last year. We had black granite tile on the counter surfaces. It was impossible to clean and showed every streak, drip, or speck of dust. And, tile as a kitchen surface??? What were they thinking — every grout line becomes a sinkhole for detritus!?!

Here in our temporary rental apartment in Buenos Aires, we have a solid slab of granite in the pattern shown above. This counter is still impossible to keep clean, and with the busy pattern, it’s infeasible to determine if it is wet or dry, sullied or unsullied, etc.

And, in relation to our aforementioned recurring ant problem, we can’t spot those little bastards on the counter to save our life. The buggers basically need to be engaged in the equivalent of a manifest destiny ant migration before we can locate them for the paper towel kill.

I hate granite. I’ll stick with boring old Formica (it will become retro chic any day now).