Monday, September 28, 2009

La Boca

At 'the mouth' ('la boca') of the Riacheulo River, is a brightly colored neighborhood, whose history began in the 16th century. Juan de Garay, from the Basque Country of Spain, sailed to the South American continent on a number of exploratory expeditions and founded cities along the way, including the 'second' foundation of Buenos Aires in 1580. (I'm not entirely clear how you can found a city for a 'second' time, but so the history websites say...)
The area of this second founding was primarily a port that sustained a neighborhood of humble houses and grocery stores. When ship trade increased in the 1800s, the neighborhood expanded with immigrants, who asked the shipyards for leftover paint to color the exterior walls of their houses and businesses.

The colorful neighborhood became famous, and, as with all interesting poor areas of town, it soon attracted artists and bohemians. By the end of the 1900s, La Boca had shifted to a tourist attraction with a rich history, although the hints of poverty are still visible, and the locals still recommend only visiting La Boca during daylight hours.

If the building had a fresh coat of paint and served cafe con leche or sold souveniers, we assumed it was part of the tourism industry. If the building was older with chipping paint and was only accessible through the narrow alleyways, we assumed it was a remnant of the immigrant/bohemian neighborhood.

The buildings with creepy plaster figures hanging out the window we avoided. This particular creeper is a prostitue, commemorating the brothels that used to be (perhaps still are?) a part of La Boca.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

La Recoleta Cemetery

Rather than a field of grass with tombstones, La Recoleta cemetery is filled with rows side-by-side small stone houses, each with a door and a name plate of the family, an altar, decorations, coffins for one or two of the family members, and a basement to hold the rest of the family members. Apparently there's no rule or tradition about who gets to be in the top floor coffins and who gets sent down to the basement.

Most of the altars had crucifixes, vases (some with flowers, some without), and candle holders, but a few had little toys and memorabilia. It seemed like the living family was supposed to come by (with their keys to the tomb-houses) to put in flowers, dust, and clear out the cobwebs. Obviously, some were better kept up than others.

Now, there were plenty of odd people like me who would wander around just to see what people put in their tomb-houses (that's my word for the funny looking graves), but the real tourism draw is Evita's tomb-house.

Evita was the wife of President Peron, who was both elected three times as president and took control of the government through military coup. Since Eva was his third wife, she only remained in the lime light from 1946 till her death in 1952. She was loved by the Argentine people for her charity works, feminist philosophy, and support of women's suffrage. No surprise that hers was definitely the most decorated tomb-house.

Here are more pictures of La Recoleta Cemetery.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Argentine Steak

Before we left the States, everyone told us that the Argentines are famous for their steaks. I sat next to a Buenos Aires native (called a "porteno") on the plane, and when I asked what the food is like in Buenos Aires, he laughed and said, "Meat, meat, meat! We eat steak for every meal." Since Chad and I are from Texas, we do pride ourselves on knowing a thing or two about meat, so we felt like testing out Buenos Aires' best steak should be our first goal.

I arrived in Buenos Aires on Chad's 25th birthday. Since I know nothing of the city, he said he would reserve a place for us to eat dinner. Chad had tried steak several times already, but never at high dollar restaurants, so he was still unimpressed with the steak but reserving judgment. With a special occasion to celebrate, we headed to the Fodor recommended steakhouse called "La Cabrera Norte." The original restaurant, "La Cabrera," was so popular that they built a second building, a block North.

The menu listed quite a few cuts of beef, including the equivalents of prime rib, tenderloin, flank steak, rump roast, skirt steak, and intestines. We asked the waiter for his opinion on the best steak in the house, and he resoundedly told us to order the Kobe beef steak. Chad said, "Kobe bife? Las vacas estan de Japon, si?" The waiter assured us that the cows are born and raised in Argentina and that they produce the best steaks in the country. So, we ordered Kobe beef steaks (including side dishes) for just about US$17, not bad. We were greatly delighted when they brought out two sizzling steaks, flanked by small bowls of side dishes, plus another platter of side dishes.

Below the two steaks are bowls of hummus, pureed olives, and spicy lima beans. Above the steaks are bowls of pine nuts, mushrooms, and some other sort of bean. On the circular platter of bowls (beginning with the '6:00-ish' position and moving clockwise) is mashed potatoes, olives, roasted garlic, apple/pear sauce, more olives, pears marinated in something tangy, and (in the middle) pureed squash.

The judgment: The steaks had excellent flavor and a hint of crispy char on each side, with just the right amount of dark pink in the center, but the meat just wasn't as tender or juicy as steaks we've had in the States. I hate to say it, but these Argentine Kobe steaks didn't win the MacDonald award. For the sides, we liked the pureed potatoes, roasted garlic, apple/pear sauce, pears, and pureed squash. We thought the lima beans and pine nuts were interesting, but the rest, we could have done without.

After they cleared our plates, we turned down the offer of a desert menu and awaited our check. To our left, we saw a waiter bring a tree of lollipops to a table of middle-aged British men, and I nearly laughed out loud when one of grey-haired Brits smiled widely and exclaimed, "It's a lolly tree!" Our waiter brought us a lolly tree of our own, although we couldn't top our neighbor's excitement.

All-in-all, it was a very good dinner and lovely Argentine (/British) experience. We'll still be on the look-out for more Argentine steaks to try over the next few months.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Two ladies starting out on a journey

A rolling bag, a backpack, and a messenger bag for the two of us girls, I'm sure we'll never travel this light again. At 2pm Central, we're off to Buenos Aires, via Miami, and Chad will be waiting at the airport at 6:15am local time (one hour East of the Eastern time zone). He's already made all our living arrangements, and he even prepped the apartment for my arrival. He bought hangers for my clothing, picked up snacks for my frequent hunger, and asked the maid service to come a day early so I could sleep Friday afternoon. I could adjust to this sort of traveling. Hostels are entirely overrated.

Well, I'm off, and the next update will be from Buenos Aires. Adios!
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Monday, September 14, 2009

A series of updates

1. We're having a girl!

Well, this sonogram photo doesn't exactly distinguish her gender or her from any other baby's sonogram, but you can take my word for it.

2. We've moved to a duplex.

Living on the 10th story of an apartment building was doable for two years, but I didn't much like the idea of hauling baby and groceries through a parking lot and up an elevator or hauling baby and laundry down an elevator to the laundry room. Now our cars are parked three feet from our back door, and we have our own washer/dryer. We're kinda like real adults now.

3. I have a Masters degree in Sociology from Vanderbilt.

This also means I'm on the hunt for online employment, preferably editing or writing. I'm applying to a variety of places, but nothing yet. I'll probably do some travel writing while in Buenos Aires and see if I can get something accepted. Clearly, the masters in sociology may not pay off in the immediate future. It's not helping me find a job, and it will only screw up the way I raise a little girl.

4. Chad has a job in New York.

Chad will start at the firm "sometime" in 2011. That could be January 2011 ooor October 2011. We'll likely stay in Nashville until a few months before the TBA start date, but once we move to New York, we might be there as long as five years.

5. Chad's in Buenos Aires now, and my flight leaves this Thursday. I'll do my best to blog a bit while I'm there and post some pictures. Man, life changes quickly. Or, I should say, rapidamente.