Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Price of Car Ownership

Dinner for two at a restaurant in Palermo - $100
Bottle of Argentine Malbec - $40
Not having your car stolen - $20

On nearly every city block near any nightspot, be it a restaurant, theatre, bar or club, vehicle protectors operate the streets of Buenos Aires, charging after dark, an average price of 20 pesos.

Cuidacoches, or trapitos (rags) as they are often referred to for the cloth they carry to give your windscreen a wipe while they look after your car, are private citizens who make a public city street their own. Their assumed task is to guide you into a space on the side of the road, and to then insure that your car is safe from thieves while you’re in the restaurant. In return they expect 20 pesos.

And if you don’t pay?

Well, don’t expect your car to be there when you get back.

Some might call it good entrepreneurial thinking, exploiting fear in the market and making a living from it. Successful businessmen have been doing it for years. Others would say it’s pure blackmail. A public citizen charging you cash to leave your car on a public street.

Some trapitos take their profession more seriously than others. Like the gentleman who works a corner near touristy Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo. He dresses in full military combats, complete with a hunting knife in his army belt. But most filling their pockets by guarding your car look like more trouble. And looking like trouble is probably good for business.

How does this illegal practice go unpunished by the authorities?

Official reports say there have only been two complaints so far this year. And the practice, though reaching new heights in prices, has been going on since many can remember. But whereas in past times, the driver chose how much of a tip to leave, now if you don’t pay what is demanded, you will at least be left with a nasty scratch down the side of your vehicle.

Furthermore there is a certain degree of trust in it all. Outside the Lagos de Palermo Golf Club, members even hand over their keys to the guy that runs the streets there. He is often to be seen shouting instructions to his boys to move cars and make extra space, while he holds on to the giant ring with keys to more than twenty five cars hung there. Twenty five cars with a value of US$15,000 – US$30,000; that’s a total of perhaps US$500,000 in his hands.

So it seems porteños prefer to just pay and be done with it. But if possible when they come back to their car, to ensure that the cuidacoche has at least done something for his money.

Dinner for two at a restaurant in Palermo - $100

Bottle of Argentine Malbec - $40

Not having to worry about your car on the street - PRICELESS

Friday, November 13, 2009

Student Life

Hundreds of nervous students flood around a university notice board. They’re searching for their name and for the seat number they’ve been assigned for their exam. Some frantically wrestle with their revision notes, while others sit more calmly, running dates, facts, and figures through their minds. The time is 8:50am and the exam starts at 9.

The scene could be one at any university campus in the United Kingdom. Except it’s not just any morning; this exam starts at 9am on Saturday morning.

Unlike British students, who would probably be sleeping off the previous night before nursing a hangover, on Saturday mornings Argentine students have been up and out of their homes since dawn, have made the commute to uni, and are waiting to put their knowledge to the test.

Why not schedule the exam on a weekday?

There’s no time. A typical Argentine university student is too busy working a nine to six day job from Monday to Friday. Saturday is the only day they can sit their uni exams.

It sounds tough, and it is. Whereas university students in the U.K will go to classes during the day, and maybe do the odd bar shift in the evening to earn a little extra on top of their student loans, students in Argentine do not enjoy such luxury.

After leaving school at 18, a typical student here will start straight off in a company. For the next four to six years, sometimes more, he or she will, in general, get up in time to commute to the office by nine, work until six, leave the office, travel to university, start classes at seven, finish classes at eleven, and finally end the day after commuting home to have dinner and a rest, before repeating everything the next morning. Saturdays are reserved for exams and Sundays are used to study and complete assignments.

Student life in the U.K. starts to sound even more like one big holiday.

The most popular university in the capital city is UBA (University of Buenos Aires). UBA was inaugurated in 1821 and is a public university with over 150,000 students. With fees at the private universities rivalling and sometimes surmounting British tuition fees, it is hardly surprising enrolment in UBA is oversubscribed.

So students suffer the fourteen to sixteen hour days, the Saturday morning exams, and the Sundays spent preparing assignments, with their minds firmly fixed on the final goal and the possibility of a better career.

Not an idea that would find popular support in the UK.

Though one huge advantage of working in a company while still studying is the experience. University graduates enter the job market with six years of real work experience, usually in their field of study. This surely looks far more attractive on their C.V. than three years as a trolley boy in Tesco during summers.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Why Argentine beef is the best in the world

Alejandro, an Argentine friend of mine, was at an international conference in Canada. He was waiting in turn to introduce himself to the group and to say a little something about his home country. Two participants before him was a Uruguayan. He stood and told everyone he was from Montevideo, the capital, and that Uruguay was famous for producing the best beef in the world. Hold on a second thought Alejandro, that’s what I was going to say about Argentina.

Despite their neighbours across the River Plate laying claim to the throne, internationally, Argentines are widely regarded as the Kings of beef. 

What makes it so good? The finest beef and excellent preparation.

The beef’s quality is derived from the grass the cattle feed on. Contrary to other countries, the majority of Argentine cows are not fed on grains in feedlots but are raised eating luscious grass, principally in the humid pampas, the biggest beef producing region of the country where open flat plains dominant the landscape.

Grass has less saturated fats than grains and more of the healthy omega three fatty acids. And although production results of free roaming cows are harder to control than in feedlots, most experts agree that natural conditions, in which the cows don’t consume antibiotics and growth hormones, are a principal factor in the final quality of the beef.

Spanish conquistadors first brought cattle to Argentina in 1536 but soon abandoned the project and left the cattle to run free. In the pampas, covering 289,577 square miles (750,000km²), with its’ mild climate and perfect rainfall, gauchos eventually tamed the cows, and with refrigeration and the introduction of trains in the late nineteenth century, beef production increased rapidly. In that century Aberdeen Angus, Hereford, and Shorthorn breeds were introduced.

13 million head of cattle are now slaughtered per year in Argentina, and beef exports contribute $US 500-700 million per year. The majority of the beef however is consumed within the country, and total revenue is over US$ 5 billion. In fact, Argentina has the highest consumption of beef in the world, a whopping 68kg per capita each year. 

Dinner at a traditional parilla (grill restaurant) demonstrates the country’s fondness for beef. A typical menu will offer around a dozen different cuts of steak, from the leanest and most expensive, lomo (tenderloin), to the fatty flank (vacio) and cuadril (rump). The insides of the cow are also a delicacy and prices are high for small intestines (chinchulines) and thymus glands (molleja).

The preparation of the meat is tried and tested. The cook will usually season it with nothing more than salt. It may sound simple, but grilling the beef well is a skill.

In the home, this skill is put to the test with the family asado, when the man of the house will assume the responsibility. The barbeque, enjoyed traditionally on Sundays in gardens all over the country, will include strips of ribs (tira de asado), the rib cap (tapa de asado), and matambre, a thin cut that comes from just under the skin between the lower part of the ribs and the belly. All grilled over charcoal or wood.

And though some Uruguayans may disagree, Argentines from Patagonia to Jujuy will relax and wash down the world’s best beef with some refreshing Argentine red wine.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

If you need a hand

‘Si necesitas una mano para ganar, que sea la mano de Dios.’ If you need a hand to win, let it be the hand of God.

This is the slogan of a popular lotto scratch-card named Play with Maradona. Proof that in Argentina, they don’t only defend Diego Maradona’s Hand of God goal, they celebrate it.

The infamous goal, which Maradona scored against England in the quarter finals of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, went unpunished by Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nassar, and stands as one of the most controversial goals of all time.

The scene is one etched into the minds of many. The fifty first minute, England Midfielder Steve Hodge’s failed clearance sends the ball looping into the penalty area. Goalkeeper Peter Shilton comes out to punch it away, but the 5ft 5in Maradona jumps above him, reaches out with his hand, and fists the ball into the back of the net. He lands, throws a cheeky glance over his shoulder at the referee, and then runs off in celebration, encouraging his teammates to embrace him before the goal is disallowed.

Although the commentator in Argentina, Victor Hugo Morales, immediately shouted handball, he then energetically screamed goaaaaaaaaaaaaal while English players surrounded the referee in protest. ‘Against England today, a goal with the hand, what do you want me to say!’ he said.

For England fans, this blatantly illegal act made Maradona nothing but a cheat. But in Argentina, the goal is considered a work of art. With the Falklands War (La Guerra de Las Malvinas) lost only four years earlier in 1982, the star player getting one back on the English with a handball, was genius.

Love him or hate him, one undeniable act of brilliance was Maradona’s explanation after the game. ‘A little with the head of Maradona, and a little with the hand of God.’ Admit it was deliberate handball, and he’s a cheat, deny it and he’s a liar. Make it the work of God, and he’s a hero.

Add his second goal, voted the goal of the century in 2002, when he dribbled from his own half passing six English players, and with one game, Maradona became an Argentine legend. (La mano de Dios - Hand of God song in tribute to the goal).

Born on October 30th 1960 in a shantytown in Lanus, a city just south of the capital, Buenos Aires, Diego Maradona started his career with Argentinos Juniors before moving to Boca Juniors. He played for FC Barcelona in Spain and then Napoli in Italy before returning to Argentina.

Despite a constant battle with drugs and numerous personal problems, Maradona remains an icon in Argentina, where even those who dislike his personality, respect his sporting success.

He is renowned for saying exactly what he thinks, and has recently run into problems with the Argentine press over criticism of his leadership as Argentine national coach. Needing to beat Uruguay to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, Maradona revelled in the 1-0 victory last week telling journalists in a live post match broadcast to ‘suck him off and keep sucking him off’.T shirts with the slogan are already on sale.

Some might say his poor managerial skills and consistent problems in public would be too much for the Argentine people to take. But it seems that the man who scored the Hand of God is too iconic to criticise. He's Maradona, and he'll always be the greatest player who ever lived.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sucking down on my first mate

I needed to prepare. The family I was off to visit were materos, and I, an Englishman whose hot beverage customs were limited to a cup of tea, was not initiated in the social ritual of mate. It was my second visit to Argentina however, and I wanted to try.

Mate, pronounced mar-tay, is a hot, bitter beverage drunk extensively throughout Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. It is traditionally a social drink, shared with family or friends, both in the home and in the streets (especially in Uruguay).

It is prepared by taking a recipient (traditionally made from a gourd and also called a mate), and filling it three quarters full with yerba, dry leaves and twigs from the yerba mate plant.

The preparation is important and nearly everyone has their own special tips. Generally, the preparer covers the mate with his palm, turns it upside down and shakes it to force any powdery bits to the top. He then tilts the mate sideways at an angle, and gently pours on a little tepid water.

Hot but never boiling water (80°C is perfect) is then added. The yerba expands and rises slightly. Next, the bombilla is inserted. The bombilla is a metal straw through which the liquid is sucked. The end inserted in the yerba has tiny holes and acts as a sieve to let the liquid through without the herby leaves.

Then the ritual begins. El cebador (the server), drinks the first round to ensure the bombilla is free of any powdery bits, and then refills it and passes it clockwise. Each person makes a loud slurping noise when they have sucked the gourd dry, and it goes back to el cebador and then onto the next drinker.

It may sound unhygienic, five or six people sharing the straw, but I wanted to participate when I went to see the family. A few days before the visit, my yerba training began.

My Argentine friend prepared mate and I sucked on the bombilla for the first time. It was bitter and unbearable, and the hot liquid burnt my tongue. I’d read nobody likes mate the first time. It’s an acquired taste and perseverance is a must if you wish to enjoy it one day. My friend added sugar to ease the bitterness and I persisted.

Over the next few days I learnt to tolerate it, and felt ready to visit the family.

I sat down with them around their table as Marina, the head of the household, heated the water. Though nowadays electronic kettles with a mate setting heat the water to a perfect 80°C, Marina used a stovetop kettle and knew instinctively from the sound when the desired temperature was reached.

She drank the first round and then handed the refilled gourd to me. I could feel everyone’s stares as I held the mate in my hands. I leant forward, put the bombilla in my mouth and sucked. I only grimaced slightly but everyone laughed. I wasn’t keen on sucking until the slurping noise but was encouraged to do so. I passed it back to Marina, remembering not to say thanks. I'd been told the the custom was to only say thanks when you didn’t want to drink another round. I drank three or four more that day.

Now, over two years later, I too am a matero. It is a relaxing ritual and the drink’s stimulant affect always helps on those long afternoons. It was well worth the perseverance.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

One week on

When Mercedes Sosa died on the morning of Sunday 4th October, Argentina went into mourning.

The folklore icon, whose distinguishable and powerful voice charmed the world for more than forty years, had suffered with ongoing respiratory troubles and died in hospital early Sunday morning from problems related to kidney disease.

La Negra (the black one), as she was lovingly known, was born in the north-western city of San Miguel de Tucamán in 1936 on the ninth of July, Argentine Independence Day. She was discovered after winning a competition in her home province aged fifteen; and went on to become one of the most respected Argentine artists of her generation.

During her long career, Mercedes Sosa toured the world, sharing her unique style and voice in venues from the Sistine Chapel, to the Coliseum, to Carnegie Hall.

In the 1970s she lived in exile in both Paris and Madrid, while the political climate in Argentina during the Military dictatorship, and her left wing views, made life at home unsafe. She returned to Argentina in 1982.

When the news of her death was announced, President Cristina Kirchner ordered three days national mourning. Television news programmes broadcasted one hour specials, and radio stations played songs from her forty albums.

‘Argentina and the music world has lost somebody special in their hearts, but we’ll always have her music’ said Viviana, one of the thousands queuing in the streets outside the National Congress in Buenos Aires, to attend Mercedes’ wake.

Argentine rocker Charly Garcia and television host Susanna Giménez joined other stars to say goodbye. Inside musicians played acoustic guitars and the crowds sang in an attempt to keep the mood upbeat.

‘Divine, divine divine,’ is how one of her brothers described her.

And when asked what Mercedes was like at home during a family barbeque, her nephew said, ‘she just wanted to be one of the family at home, not Mercedes Sosa.’

Respected for her tenderness and her desire to sing what she believed, Mercedes Sosa was the voice of the voiceless ones. Her most famous song is Gracias a la vida (Thanks to life)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Planning and Punctuality in Buenos Aires

'Call me Saturday and we’ll arrange something,’ is exactly what you’ll hear if you call an Argentine during the week to make plans for Saturday.

No northern European forward planning, where calling a friend on Monday and agreeing nine p.m. Saturday night at my place means commitment made, nine p.m. at yours it is. In Buenos Aires it’s a different story. Nearly nobody organises with such advanced notice. The social life of a porteño (Buenos Aires City resident) is usually a last minute affair, with no concern about the where and when until they’re out the door and on their way.

Why not make the plans and schedule it in?

Cynics would say it’s because Argentines are always waiting for a better offer. They won’t commit to your invitation so early, because at the last minute something more exciting might come up.

Others argue the lack of advanced planning is a more justifiable trait. ‘It’s fine to plan in Germany and England and those types of places,’ a friend, Miguel told me, ‘there you know everything will be the same five days later. In Argentina we don’t know if the whole system will collapse tomorrow, let alone Saturday. And if everything is okay; okay still means strikes, roadblocks, and who knows what else.’

He has a point. Forward planning is all well and good in a country with stability. But in a volatile place like Argentina, where anything can happen from one day to the next, (and usually does), any planning, be it financial or career, or otherwise, is virtually impossible. Culturally, this has rolled over into social planning, so that most Argentines prefer to just ‘wait and see’.

And if you do manage to get a real commitment the morning of the event? (And not an ‘estaría bueno - it would be good', which is not a promise); the next issue is punctuality.

Argentine life doesn’t operate on a timetable. Buses, trains, underground, and people, simply arrive when they arrive. With unpredictable public transport, and traffic jammed streets, it’s understandably difficult. But combine big city living with a laid back Latino attitude and a relaxed approach to time; and punctuality becomes a very foreign concept.

Nine p.m start doesn’t mean it starts at nine p.m. It’s enough to drive someone with a Germanic nature crazy as he waits the arrival of his dinner guests an hour late.

Understand the culture and plan to start things an hour after the agreed time would be good advice. As Miguel told me once, ‘I was walking to an appointment that started at midday. It was 11.50 and I was about ten minutes away. So I slowed down and stopped for a coffee, otherwise I would’ve arrived early.’

Moving house in Argentina: Update

Further to the article from September 27th 2009, Moving house in Argentina: Is it really worth the risk?

Security on transaction day has got worse. This week two robberies have taken place inside supposedly secure rooms of the banks. The rooms, reserved in advance by calling the bank, are considered to be a safe place to hand over the money. But in one such room this week, a thief dressed as a bank employee entered, and instructed the seller she would deposit his cash. The seller handed her all of his money. She then walked out with US$70,000. The bank denies that any of its' employees were involved.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Commuter trains in Buenos Aires - Downbound or upbound?

Unlike train lines serving the wealthy northern suburbs of Buenos Aires, the Sarmiento line to the west of La Capital is in a poor state.

The train to Zona Oeste, operated by TBA (Trenes de Buenos Aires) leaves from Once de Septiembre Station.

From the outside, characteristic British charm is clear in the design of the station building. Inside is more Argentine. Disorganized chaos and typically long queues at the ticket booths. The train used to run all the way across the Pampas to Mendoza in the west of the country. Now, 1 peso 35 cents buys a ticket to the end of the line, Moreno, a city just 100km from the capital.

There are four platforms, all with Moreno as its destination. Any trains waiting are usually already full. So many passengers choose to wait on packed platforms for the next arrival. The electronic doors open when it pulls in, and bedlam erupts as those trying to barge their way on for a seat push aside those getting off. Men are often seen climbing through a window to get on more quickly than the rest.

Ten or so minutes after departure time, the badly functioning electronic doors beep and then open and close several times, before the train pulls off.

El Sarmiento
(named after former President Domingo Faustino Sarmiento) stops in the neighbourhoods of Caballito, Flores, Floresta and Villa Luro. Crossing General Paz Avenue at Liniers, it leaves the city and enters the province of Buenos Aires.

From there, it bustles on down poorly maintained tracks, originally laid more than a century earlier. A broad gauge of 5ft 6in (1,676mm), and traffic running on the left illustrates British influence. Opposite the station in Haedo, British style terrace houses built for railway workers line the track.

Construction of the Argentine rail network took place primarily from 1870. The British financed the investment and by 1914 it had become the tenth largest system in the world. In 1948, then President Juan Perón nationalised the railway, and the Sarmiento line, formerly operated by British owned Buenos Aires Western Company, became one of six state owned companies managed by Ferrocarrilles Argentinos.

Privatisation during President Carlos Menem’s reforms in 1993, and then the economic crisis in 2001, has seen a great decline in the system. And despite President Nestor Kirchner’s commitment to the railway in 2003, it has never recovered.

Perón signing the nationalisation doc

Some areas have suffered more than others though, and difference in quality of the six commuter lines serving the capital city is noticeable. The Julio Roca line to the south and Sarmiento to the west are underfunded, and widely regarded as the worst. To the south and west of the city are also the city’s poorest suburbs.

The aisles in the train are nearly always full to the brim, even in the bicycle carriage, where dope smokers spread out to smoke their marijuana. Passengers will always offer a seat to someone carrying a small child though; a little piece of chivalry still prevalent in Argentina.

Throughout the journey salespeople enter the packed carriages to flog anything from chocolate, to screwdrivers, to fake CDs. There’s etiquette amongst them, and each respects the other as they take turns to shout their pitch. Raggedly dressed children whale in and out of the crowds. They leave religious cards with messages from Saints on passengers’ knees in the hope of exchanging them for milk and bread money.

Not everyone is so honest though. Stopped at stations, it is common to hear of thieves grabbing a mobile phone and jumping off the train as the electronic doors lock shut. Or petty criminals on platforms, reaching through open windows and stealing a lady’s handbag as the train pulls out.

At Merlo, three stops from the end of the line, half the passengers get off to make the connection to Lobus. They are bunched together as the turn-gates fail to cope. The rest go onto Moreno to complete the one and a quarter hour journey.

El Sarmiento
is an example of a privately run system in which consumers have no choice. Investment by TBA is low and despite constant protests by commuters, quality continues to decline. It is argued that residents in the richer suburbs to the north would simply not tolerate this kind of service, and for now they don’t have to.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Buying a house in Argentina. Is it really worth the risk?

A woman stands on the corner of Reconquista Street, waiting to cross Cordoba Avenue. It’s a busy afternoon in downtown Buenos Aires. A man next to her punches her squarely in the face. She falls down. A second man pulls out a gun. He tells the crowds to stay back while the first man grabs the lady’s handbag from her arm. Two motorbikes pull up alongside. The two men jump on and they speed off.

Buying a house in Argentina can be the biggest investment you ever make, or the day you lose it all. Why? An archaic system in which property transactions are made in cash. On three, you give me the deeds and I give you the money; one, two... three.

The purchase is in two parts. In the first, el boleto (a 20% deposit to start the process), the buyer chooses the location and hands over the cash when the seller arrives. The second stage, when the remaining 80% of the price is transferred, the seller chooses where. In both stages, someone arrives, or leaves, with a bag load of cash. The risk is worth it for most. Unless you’re like the unlucky lady with a handbag stashed full of 100 dollar bills, punched and robbed in the street.

Why the risk?

Stemming from an absolute lack of trust in the banks (post financial meltdown in 2001 when many Argentines lost all the savings they’d deposited); the deal is now done with as little banking involvement possible. Deposit and withdrawal charges totalling 1.2%, astronomical costs for electronic transactions, and charges of up to $US12 per month just to have a current account, means most of the population keep their savings in security boxes within the banks. Money out of the system; or black money as Argentines call it. The big day means transferring black money from one safety box to another. A theoretically safe process, assuming nobody knows you’re in the street with the cash.

Who knows?

At least three parties. The buyer, the seller, and the bank housing the security box. A word from one of them to a band of thieves, like those on the motorbikes who robbed the lady on Cordoba Avenue, and somebody’s cash is not completing the journey. More often than not bank workers are accused of involvement in the robberies, increasing the mistrust in the banking system. Even those who hire a security firm to escort them as they transport the cash are not safe; underpaid security men know you’ve hired them for a reason.

What to do?

Keep the location of the transaction secret until the last moment. Remain vigilant when taking the money from the bank. Perhaps start moving the money in small quantities before transaction day, (though keeping US$100,000 under your mattress is not safe either). But most importantly, trust no one, keep on your toes, and remember; the biggest investment of your life can in a split second, become the day you lose it all.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Un Domingo Perfecto

Diciembre en la provincia de Buenos Aires. Verano, sol, cerveza, el torneo apertura. Toda la semana hemos laburado, esclavos de la plata, sudando sin parar. Hemos esperado este día, hemos esperado el fútbol, el asado, un descanso merecido con la familia y amigos. Y ya está el finde. Sacamos la remera, abrimos la Quilmes, y encendemos el fuego. Dale che, vamos.

A las nueve nos solemos levantar. Alguien va por las facturas. Otro calienta la pava. Nos sentamos a la mesa. Todos peleamos por la crema pastelera. Algunos contentos con las medialunas. El cebador pasa el mate y charlamos unas tonterías mientras que unos vemos la tele, y otros escuchan cumbia. Te toca a vos o me toca mí, nos preguntamos después de haber tomado unos mates.

Por el mediodía no nos aguantamos más. El sol es brillante y el jardín nos llama. Las mujeres siguen con el mate, compartiendo chismes y risas. Los hombres buscamos la cerveza. Alguien abre la botella de Quilmes con una cuchara, y nos ponemos en el sol para hablar del partido.

Luego de dos botellas estamos pensando en la carne. Hay dos bicis en la puerta. La carnicería está cerquita y es lindo día. Tranquilos en las bicis pedaleamos por los caminos del campo. En la carnicería pedimos tapa de asado, asado, matambre, chorizo, morcilla, y a veces, chinchulines. Ponemos todo en las canastas de las bicis, y vamos. Ya tenemos un hambre de la mierda.

De vuelta en el jardín, unos han arrancado con el vino tinto y soda, y otros siguen con la Quilmes. Llevamos la parrilla hasta el suelo, arriba de unos ladrillos. Unos cartones están encendidos con el carbón adentro. Preparamos la carne con sal y un poco de limón. Ya hace calor. Las remeras están quitadas, y los tragos bien fríos nos refrescan.

Mientras que las mujeres están en la cocina, hirviendo papas y preparando una ensalada, quizás una ensalada rusa con papas, los hombres nos encargamos del asado. La carne se cocina despacio, crepitando. El aire caliente se nota en su alrededor.

Una hora y media después, las mujeres desesperadas con hambre y afuera el perfume fuerte llega a las narices. Nos tienta y picamos un poco, bajandola con más cerveza. Pan, carne, y cerveza.

Pongan la mesa chicas, ya está. Cortamos la carne en pedazos y la entregamos. Están como locas observando la mejor carne pare elegir, la ensalada y las papas moviéndose entre ellas hasta los platos. Como costumbre, los hombres suelen comer levantados en el jardín. Usamos envases para abrir más Quilmes y escuchamos la música, que está fuerte.

Media hora después, las mujeres lavando los platos; sacamos las cartas para el truco. Puteamos un poco y suena como que estamos peleando, pero no, es todo amistoso. Hijo de puta grita el que pierde, otra vez el cuatro de copas, sos un boludo. Pero todo bien che, vamos hasta la tele. Dale Boca gritamos. Algunos se arrodillan y rezan. Dale Boca, dale dale Boca. Ojalá ganemos boludo, y sería un domingo perfecto.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Santa Rosa storm arrives punctually in Buenos Aires - Parks are abandoned as the little summer is gone

From 5th September 2009

The skies opened up over Buenos Aires early Monday morning soaking the Argentine capital, and ending a week of scorching temperatures and soaring humidity.

The phenomenon known as La Tormenta de Santa Rosa (the Saint Rosa storm), that legend says unveils its fury thirty days either side of Saint Rosa day on August 30th, arrived right on time and brought winter flooding back to Buenos Aires.

The high summertime temperatures, which reached a maximum of thirty three degrees centigrade on Sunday afternoon, had been a welcome relief from the cold and dreary August winter. During the weekend, parks all over Buenos Aires were filled by capital city residents, known as porteños, as they scrambled to enjoy the sunshine during El veranito de San Juan (the little Saint John summer).

But much to the disdain of those enjoying the outdoors for the first time since winter began, el veranito de San Juan had to end soon and the warm sunshine was finally washed away by the Saint Rosa storm early Monday morning, with untypically Argentine punctuality. For the first time in twenty years, the storm hit on August 30th, Saint Rosa day exactly.

Any storm two weeks earlier and, as in other years, newspapers and television would have typically reported the early showing of the Saint Rosa storm. This year however has left no need for media spin to fill newspaper pages, as thunder and lighting hit at around four in the morning. The downpour continued to cause havoc for commuter traffic until midday on Monday. And though the severe hailstorm predicted by weather forecasters failed to hit the city, the River Plate has now faced an onslaught of wind and rain for five days straight.

Umbrellas are up, and puddles are rife throughout the city streets, as porteños now look forward to September 21st and the beginning of spring, when like last week, they can again sit outside to enjoy their afternoon coffee.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Moving Day

I sit here this morning surrounded by boxes, suitcases and bags. The walls of my flat look tired and bare, with crumbling paint and the odd stain showing through. The worn out kitchen and out of date bathroom are as scrubby now as they have always been. I am not unhappy to be leaving.

During my two years living in Buenos Aires I have always been in this flat, and though it’s dark and dingy, and not in the greatest shape, it has served me well. Firstly, I got it at local rates in Argentine pesos, (vastly cheaper than the usual dollar prices most foreign people pay), and the location has been perfect. In the central neighbourhood known as Tribunales, one block from Corrientes Avenue and all its theatres and restaurants, and only ten blocks or so from my work. Easy enough for me to nip home for lunch, and no commuting underground on the packed subte for twenty minutes each morning and evening.

But its lack of space and light, and my neighbour’s bedroom window almost within arm’s reach of mine, has left me ready to move on. My bags are packed and the removal van is booked. No more hanging my wet towels in the kitchen window to dry, and no more lowering the blinds every time I want to change clothes.

My relationship with this place is nearly over and a bright new life elsewhere in the city, in trendy Palermo Viejo, awaits me with a sunny terrace and a sky view. I feel inspired, and I can see myself now, exercising my fingers as I start this new blog in my new place. The two years of Argentine stories itching to make it into type. Perhaps I’ll even sit outside on that balcony as I write.