Archive for November, 2009

Taking a Dive and Other Cogitations on the Game of Football, AKA Soccer

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Taking a Dive. Being 43 years old and from the United States means that I was raised without any tradition of watching soccer as a sporting event. American football, basketball, baseball, boxing, skiing, Winter & Summer Olympics…all a yes. Soccer, almost never. (I had heard of Pelé and that was it.)

Perhaps this is why I have such a strong negative reaction to the rampant dive taking that takes place in the sport. Now, I know that a penalty kick can be a game changer, thus there is an incredible incentive to try to induce such a call, but I consider it to be flagrant cheating. Truly, I have a hard time getting past the feeling that they’re acting like a bunch of sissies.

I also am consumed with the question of how a team can tell if one of their compatriots is actually injured, you know, for real? I currently picture players using complicated baseball-like signals, that change every game, to indicate to the coaches whether they are hurt or faking.

Short Games. The length of a soccer match (its compact nature) is to be lauded. The contests last only a few minutes more than regulation — I believe this is something from which American sport could borrow. These days, I feel like watching a baseball game requires an investment of my entire day.

The “Boring” Thing. We were at an end-of-year school dinner the other night and Tom was talking with some Argentine dads. Said fathers were discussing American sporting events that they had attended. In general, they believed baseball to be boring, which we found ironic, since “boring” is the most oft used adjective to describe soccer by Americans. Baseball and soccer actually have a lot in common — they are both competitions that are decided by low scores and require their fan base to have an understanding of the history and the art of the sport to appreciate the game.

We first experienced this phenomenon after taking some English relatives to a pro baseball game, in which we saw a suicide squeeze, an in-the-park home run, and a triple play…ALL IN ONE GAME!! Tom and I were going crazy, but my relatives didn’t get it at all. You just can’t explain…

Marta, Best Female Footballer. I’ve done my fair share of grousing on this blog about the dismal state of women’s soccer in Argentina. In Brazil, it’s like a whole other world. (Golly, you would think it was a different country…) They have a strong professional women’s league in the Portugese-speaking nation, and the female football players get mucho respect from the men. Currently, the world’s top woman player is Marta, from Brazil. She is amazing (we caught her on TV in a Brazilian league match when we were at Iguazu falls). She also plays professionally in the US. Catch a clip of her below. (Be patient, there are some great moments in the video.)

The Berlin Wall of Boca

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The opposing team’s fans at the soccer game we attended on Sunday (Boca vs. Gimnasio) were relegated to two sections on one side of the stadium behind a goal at the very top tier of seating. Hardly a premium location. But, it was packed, and while they were a small group, yowza, they really generated some noise.

We were sitting below them and to the left, and had a great view of what we called “The Berlin Wall,” which marked the separation between the home fans and the visiting fans with iron bars, plexiglass, rolled barbed wire, and multiple policemen.

As you can see in this photo, the game was not a sell out, but still, there was no one rooting for Boca that you could spot anywhere near the Gimnasio fans.

At the end of the game, we foreigners on the various soccer tours had to wait for 20 minutes or so while the stadium was emptied in sections — the opposing team’s group leaving first.

When it was our turn to depart, they whisked us out of the stadium and to our van, parked maybe 40 yards away. We weren’t home free though! Once we had wended our way through the fan-filled tiny streets of Boca onto the freeway, we had a final “intense soccer fan” moment.

Our transport merged onto the autopista behind some beaten down colectivo buses that were being followed by an official police van that had its lights blazing and was stuffed to the gills with officers outfitted in full riot gear. ALL of the policemen were glaring daggers at our van, and we couldn’t figure out why. Finally, as we went to pass the bus/police caravan, our driver had an epiphany about the lawmen’s stink eye — the buses were filled with partying Gimnasio fans (literally hanging out of windows and doors) and we were about to drive by in a van labeled “BOCA EXPERIENCE” with a bunch of clueless foreigners.

Our conductor lunged and tore the sign from the windshield/dash just as we pulled within visual range of partying Gimnasio passengers. Whew.

A far cry from the mellow west coast American fandom to which I’ve grown accustomed.

Clueless Americans at La Bombonera

We went to see the Boca Juniors play on Sunday. We chose Boca for two reasons: 1) The stadium, known as La Bombonera, is small and super intense, with the stands abutting right up to the field; and, 2) Boca has claimed Zoe’s loyalty, at least when it comes to Argentine soccer.

A little video footage for your enjoyment below. Unfortunately, the audio in my camera really doesn’t do justice to the noise level, but you can still tell that it’s loud. Zoe wanted to race home and learn all of the Boca chants, which her Spanish tutor promptly informed her involved a lot of bad language. Naturally, she was undeterred. In fact, she was proud that she was picking out Spanish curse words while attending the game, such as the one shouted very loudly at the end of our video!

Early, Healthy Din Din — You Can Do It!

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As I’ve oft discussed, one of the biggest challenges for us living in Baires with kids is trying to get them to bed on time, which, of course, requires that they eat an early dinner.

But, if you want to dine out sometime before 8:30 pm, while still consuming an edible and healthy meal that does not involve pounds of melted cheese and “Close Encounters of Third Kind” mountains of carbs…well, let’s just say that you have your work cut out for you!

In the spirit of sharing, we thought we’d let you know about two of our favorite light & early dinner options: Natural Deli and Le Blé.

The Natural Deli (there are two) that we frequent is in Las Cañitas. It is a health food store/bakery/restaurant that is open all day and well into the evening, serving interesting sandwiches, homemade breads, pastas, and fruit smoothies. Their sandwich options can be had with yummy greens on the side, and if you opt for papas, they try to make them better for the bod with oven-roasting instead of deep frying! They also carry vegetarian options and do some vegan baking as well.

Another favorite option for a late lunch/early dinner is Le Blé in Colegiales. This is a French bakery/cafe that has amazing salads at lunch and very good sandwiches available during merienda (which they serve with a generous side of fresh greens). I wish we could get the salads during tea time, but we can’t, so instead, we go for the delish sandwiches and turn them into a 5:00/6:00 pm dinner. The portions are HUGE, so feel free to split between kids, or adults that aren’t ravenous.

My favorite tea at Le Blé is a red blend called Pu-er Fresh. Also, at lunch, their breaded chicken strips are tender and delicious as well.

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A note about service — it seems the healthier the food, the more crunchy the service (in other words, the waitstaff can be more laid back than your typical Argentine cafe)! In both of these restaurants, but particularly at Le Blé, we have had to almost throw a body block to get a server’s attention. What we Americans will do to get some salad greens at 5:00 pm!

Doodling in the Margins

I love the feel of ink flowing out on paper as my fountain pen tip glides, meeting just a hint of resistance — a sensation that is unique to this old-fashioned writing implement.

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The Dreaded Gym Physical

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Here in Argentina, if you want to join a gym for any length of time, they make you get a physical from a doctor.

Up until today, we had avoided this by signing up for short stints at the gimnasio, and then moving on to a new workout place every few months (this was easy to do given that we’ve lived in 4 different apartments).

Most recently, we had joined the tennis club where the girls take lessons because they had a gym facility as well. We gave that up after a month though, because the weight lifting and cardio equipment was soooooo bad. (It was too expensive to maintain just for tennis.) Not happy with any of our local options, we decided to return to the Always Club in Palermo, because it presented the best cost to benefit ratio of any of the gyms we have frequented.

That was our fatal mistake. Returning to the same facility we had used before apparently triggered their “take a physical” requirements.

So this Wednesday morning, we went to see the doctor (who was an asshole). What a waste of time. He asked us about 6 questions, took our blood pressure, and then gave us each an ECG — yes, a resting electrocardiogram. Which, as I understand it, is pretty useless. But, he was shocked that neither of us had ever had one for screening purposes. I explained that they generally weren’t used unless a person had heart problems or was experiencing symptoms related to heart disease.

On the bright side, the office for visiting said doctor was upstairs at the gym, so we could pop in before a workout. Still, I found the whole thing to be ridiculous — just a stupid bureaucratic hoop to jump through.

This Is It — A Review

We Went. We Watched. We Enjoyed.

Observations:

  • It is a blend of behind-the-scenes and concert film genres and it worked well.
  • It was riveting to see him, and everyone else, at work…it was clear that Michael was very skilled at the business of entertainment. There were a lot of musician references about how unusual it was to work with a pop singer who knew their stuff! (A sad commentary on the state of the music industry, of course.)
  • He has really big, rather masculine hands. Given how emaciated he was at that point in his life, I expected thin effeminate hands…
  • There is a 24 year old Australian-Greek guitarist who solos with MJ for two songs during the movie and she was really rocking! Her name is Orianthi Panagaris, and she can fly on the strings and smack hard on some chewing gum at the same time. How does she do it?
  • My heart broke for everyone who was in the show and never got to actually perform; and frankly, I feel he let them all down. I’m pleased there was a movie so their hard work can be rewarded and recognized.
  • Costume-makers discussed plans to create clothes for the show that would involve a meld of textile and technology, the likes of which had yet to be made. Unfortunately, we never got to see any of them!
  • The cattle call for the dancers’ auditions was crazy. A blessing to all artists who put themselves out there for rejection time and again.
  • And lastly, I came away saddened that the aspects of his life that made him such a talented entertainer (a pushy and abusive stage father and a childhood spent honing his craft) are the very things that led him to hate himself (evident in his body and facial dysmorphia) and hastened his death. You get the sense that the only place he was truly home was on stage.

MJ Is the Man with Grade Schoolers

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Tom and I have been very surprised at the groundswell of interest in Michael Jackson that has arisen amongst the elementary-aged kids at the Zs’ school since his death. In fact, this Halloween, there were gloved-hand costumes in class.

These newly minted Argentine fans practice a wide array of his dance moves together. They love all of the man’s music: his later work, the Jackson 5 and his early solo stuff. They bring lyrics to school and memorize them, even if they don’t know the tune. They ask questions like, “Which name is cooler, MJ or Michael Jackson?” They look up all of his old videos on You Tube. They invent their own variations on the moonwalk.

To be honest, if Zoe doesn’t stop singing I’ll Be There, well, let’s just say we might have to use some duct tape! And, of course, this obsession means we are going to see This is It! tomorrow. Zoe has heard from her classmates that it’s really great… .

Cooking ‘Merican Style

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When we have a yen for something American in Buenos Aires, here are some of our standbys:

American Breakfast. First, go to a butcher or a deli and ask for panceta, it will cook up reasonably close to what we would consider to be bacon. Next, a trip to the Jumbo is in order so that you can spend an absolute fortune on some real maple syrup. (When Tom purchased it there, the check out clerk scanned it, looked at the price and then studied the bottle closely, trying to figure out why the stupid gringo was willing to pay a zillion dollars for the small bottle of mysterious liquid!) Stop at the frutería and buy some tropical fruit, pictured here we have mango and pineapple! Lastly, cook up some eggs and french toast/pancakes and stuff yourself silly.

Pork Chops and Apple Sauce. You can get Granny Smith Apples throughout the year here. Buy a bunch, peel and core them, and then pop ‘em in a big pot. Since the manzanas are often pretty bland, be willing to throw in some lemon juice, a smidge of sugar, and some cinnamon to liven them up a bit. Pork chops are almost always available at the Avicar chain of butcher shops.

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Chicken Pot Pie and Beef Stew. Comfort food, baby. Pretty much anything you need to make these dishes is available at the grocery store. The weather is getting a tad warm for beef stew, but when it cools off again, keep it in your back pocket. Add some frozen peas for a little green! Also, the cut you want for the stew meat is from the aguja roast. In terms of the pot pie, we’ve found that even without any measuring cups, the biscuit dough is pretty forgiving. Just go for it! (Read a previous post on chicken pot pie.)

Chinese Dumplings. Okay, not exactly American, but we like to make big batches of these from scratch and put a bunch in the freezer for later when we’re craving a little ethnic food for lunch. (These are so amazing when you make them yourself.) You can buy the wrappers, Napa cabbage, and items for the dipping sauce in Barrio Chino. The hurdle here can be finding ground pork. We’ve discovered that many butchers only have one grinder in house, which they generally reserve for carne exclusively. To make your own chicken or pork picada, we recommend buying a small food processor, or an immersion blender with the food processor attachment. (I wrote about how important the blender and attachments have been in our lives here. If you are going to be living in Argentina for a while, buy one!) Pictured above are some pot stickers ready for freezing!

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Chocolate Cream Pie. One of the beautiful features of this yummy dessert is that all of the ingredients are easy to find; in fact, you could probably find them all at a maxikiosco or a chino. The crust for this classic North American confection is literally just mashed Oreos and melted butter. (We put the Oreos in a Ziploc and let the kids beat the crap out of them until they are crumbs.) After that, you only need make a simple chocolate custard. Lastly, whip up a few cups of the delicious heavy cream available in Baires. The total ingredient list is butter, cornstarch, eggs, milk/cream, sugar, chocolate, vanilla, Oreos and a pinch of salt. Also, we were able to find a glass tart (pie) pan at the Coto grocery store.

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Chocolate Cookies. Do you notice a theme here? Dulce de leche reins supreme in Argentina, and it’s good, don’t get me wrong. But, sometimes, we crave rich chocolate, which is harder to find. Aside from the aforementioned incredibly rich chocloate cream pie, we like making these uber chocolate cookies when the mood strikes. (We bought our cocoa powder at the spice and condiment store, El Viejo Molino on Soldado de la Independencia 1193.) You can also get parchment paper at the Coto (you can tell we spend a lot of time there)! The biggest challenge with these gems is not eating them all in one day. (Does it count against you if you just eat cookies and milk but nothing else for a 24 hour period?)

Gatling Guns in Buenos Aires

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My new favorite museum in Buenos Aires is the Museo de Armas de la Nación. The kids adored it. It’s not too big. What’s not to love?

I encourage you to take a walk through this historic building laid out like a rabbit warren, each room containing its own treasures. You will be treated to a mix of very old guns (handguns and shotguns), historic knives and swords, ancient spear replicas, cannons, Gatling guns, suits of armor, a life-size diorama of traditional Japanese warriors, collections of toy soldiers, and, yes, even a gas mask designed for a war horse.

One of the things that struck me while perusing these killing artifacts was the shift in personalization that happened upon the advent of mass production. Older swords and guns were often heavily decorated, and one could tell, treasured by their owners. Their import to survival reflected in their painstakingly beautiful adornments.

Modern weapons, by contrast, seemed cold and plain.

I also wondered about the difference between curved swords and straight swords — what were the advantages and disadvantages of both? From what I can tell, it seems that the curved blades were used by cavalry men and were good for slashing motions. Infantrymen, on the other hand, were issued straight swords so they could impale their enemies with a thrusting motion in hand-to-hand combat.

Apparently impaling is difficult with a curved sword. Who knew?

Pictured above is a Gatling gun that was used in the Revolución del Parque in 1890.