home :: placesSat, 24 Mar 2007
Thursday, FridayFlavia and I spent March 15-21 in Buenos Aires. Here's are "trip report."
crossing the Andes
in the new century
less than an ant
on the earth’s surface
& never seeing below
the clouds from 30,000 feet
many, maybe most, seem happy
On the bus from the airport to our hotel we see posters for an International Jazz Festival at Ateneo starting on Sunday. Unfortunately, the two artists I’d want to hear the most, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Eddie Gómez happen on the days after our scheduled return. But I planned to hear Jacques Morelenbaum Cello Zamba Trio on Monday and Terence Blanchard Quintet on Tuesday, but Tango took over.
Flavia’s nephew, Ulises, and his wife, Jorgelina, met us at our hotel (the Columbia Palace) to tell us the hotel lost our reservation. But Ulises and Jorgelina were able to get us a room at their hotel, the Hotel A&B International. The only room available the first night was a real hellhole that smelled of mildew and had a combined shower sink toliet room, a bed and a window to the hallway. The next day we were able to upgrade to a very nice room (number 108) for 185 pesos/night (about $65 US). The owner, Virginia, was very helpful. Ask for her if you stay there. The hotel is located at Montevideo 248 (a block away from Corrientes Avenue, 5 blocks from the obelisk.
We spent Thursday and Friday walking around the city seeing sites and being bitten by mosquitoes. There are 120 cases of dengue in Buenos Aires, ostensibly in people who were bitten by mosquitoes in Uruguay while traveling.
Ulises and Jorgelina introduced us to a great restaurant they discovered: Chiquilin. This place is great! We tried eating other places, but we always ended up back here for dinner. The food and service were just oo good to miss. It was here I discovered chimichurri under Ulises guidance—a sauce that ranks up there with Chileno pebre for me. Criolla is another typical sauce, but I got stuck on chimichurri. (By-the-way, in Argentina, “ll” is pronounced “ss”, so criolla is pronounced CREE-OH-SHA - instead of CREE-OH-YA). Our feasts generally totalled to 220 pesos, or about $70+ bucks - what a deal.
I maybe drink 2 glasses of wine a month at the most, but I drank 3 to 4 glasses of wine each night with dinner (which always started at 11pm) and felt completely fine the next day. Maybe it was the great Argentinian malbec. My favorite was Finca La Linda Malbec. But other malbecs, Nieto Senetinner, Trumpeter, Alamos (Catena Zapata), were also great. I think I have found another wine to drink (besides my standard Rosenblum Zinfandel).
Ulises is completing a Ph.D., in Computer Science at Aberdeen in Scotland, writing his thesis on search, specializing in librarianship and query construction. That got us to talking about hard to understand phrases. He pointed out the Scots phrase “fit fit fits fit fit”—meaning “which shoe fits which foot?” Try getting a computer to parse that with general rules! (For more of these see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_homophonous_phrases.)
On Saturday Puvan, a friend of Ulises and Jorgelina, from Malaysia, living in Aberdeen, met up with us. He, Ulises and I went to El Ateneo bookstore located in the previous “The Grand Spledid” theatre (as much as I love bookstore, it’s a shame this is still not functioning as a theater). An English language teacher with many of her adolescent students approached me in the bookstore to ask if I would speak in English with them, which I did for about 30 minutes. I happened to be sitting on the floor at the time they approached me (to more easily check out the bottom shelves in the poetry section). I stayed on the floor the whole time while they talked down to me. It was a large circle standing around me. Others started joining too, to see what the action was all about—they thought I was someone famous!
I purchased a Spanish language editions of César Vallejo’s Nómina de Huesos y Otros Poemas and Raúl González Tuñón’s Demanda contra el olvido. I “read” these at night in the hotel, remembering reading Clayton Eshleman’s translation of Vallejo as Payroll of Bones.
Later we joined up with Jorgelina and Flavia and went on a bus tour around the city. I would not recommend it since you spend too much time in traffic (maybe on a Sunday - if it runs - but on Sunday you want to be elsewhere—see below).
On the tour the woman guide spoke in Spanish and English. She said “si” continuously like many people use “a” as a filler. When she did the English version of her guiding she said “yes”. It got to be pretty humorous. Less humorous was the many many time she pointed out the Hotel Hilton from all angles - who cares!
When the tour stopped at Plaza de Mayo our guide neglected to mention the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (not unlike the guides at Neruda’s Isla Negra home—now a museum—neglected to mention any connection between his death on September 23, 1973 and the coup in Chile on September 11, 1973).
The best part of the tour was the stop at Caminito in the poor barrio of La Boca. The best artisans I saw while in Argentina were here (I bought a leather purse for my daughter Jasmine). This is the first place I saw dancers dancing tango in the street for tips (like musicians who play for tips).
Our guide was helpful in pointing out that the Rio de la Plata is the most polluted river in the world (it supplies Buenos Aires with its drinking water, which I did drink from the tap at the hotel).
On Satursday night we had great seats ($25 US) for Tanguera at the Teatro Nacional of Buenos Aires—a musical with no words, describes the history tango dancing from its beginning with European immigrants, through brothels to the modern stage. It featured Tango legend Maria Nieves. Very good show except for the canned music. After the show we went to Chiquilin for dinner starting at 11pm.
On Sunday we took a taxi back to Caminito to shop at the artisan booths in la feria and have lunch while watching the tango dancers on the street. At lunch, the first tango couple were fun to watch on the sidewalk while having lunch. They were followed by a cheesey tango singer, Gerardo Peyrano. Flavia purchased on of his CDs for her mom (but her mom, who has taste, did not like it). Worse, while doing the CD transaction he stood at our table, blocking my view of the next couple dancing tango, who, for us, turned out to have the most striking woman dancer we saw while in Argentina.
After Caminito we went to San Telmo where they close one of the street’s on Sunday. It is here that we finally heard live tango music (as well as other music and more street dancers). One of the tango bands, Orquesta Típica Imperial, had a violinist who played left-handed—never saw that before.
The same “walking in the wind” statue people we saw in Valparaiso last year were on the street in San Telmo.
We then went back to our hotel to freshen up before walking to a theater on Corrientes to see the musical Drácula, Jorgelina’s favorite (and in which she sang in 3 different productions in school). I didn’t understand the words, but, with the Spanish speakers help, I was able to get the story. The live orchestra was a pleasure to hear—reminded me of my days in the Pioneer Memorial Theater pit. After the show we tried to eat somewhere else but ended up back at Chiquilin for dinner starting at 11pm.
Monday was a shopping day. At an exchange rate of about 3 pesos to the dollar, you can’t pass it up. In the evening, Puvan and I were going to go see Jacques Morelenbaum at the jazz festival but broken ticket machines had us having dinner with everyone at Cafe Tortoni, the oldest coffee shop in Argentina. Once there we discovered they had two different live tango shows (with live music) going on simultaneously—one in the basement and one in a room to the side of the main floor.
We were able to get tickets for the basement show. It was a variety of comedy, tango, and music performance. The second half of the show after intermission started with two men playing bombos. Next they performed with boleadoras—kind of like tap dancing but with the added rhythm and skill of the sound and site of the bolas.
The live band consisted of acoustic bass, baby grand piano and bandoneón. The bass uses the bow more than pizzacato in this music.
After the show, while people were leaving, I went up to the edge of the stage and, with Flavia’s help, talked to the bass player, to let him know I liked his playing and to ask for the names of good modern jazz clubs. He said he didn’t know but that the piano player was a jazz maestro, and brought him into the chat.
The piano player, Juan Johermida (juanjohermidapianohotmail.com) recommended Notorious. He also said that there used to be more jazz clubs but they have been closing.
He asked if I played and when I said yes he immediately invited me to play a tune with him. He suggested Victor Young’s “Beautiful Love,” which I don’t know, so I countered with Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night In Tunesia.” He didn’t say another word. He just sat down at the piano and started vamping the intro (well and with good time) before the bassist even offered me his bass.
I started playing the great Tunesia bass line but immediately had to adjust - the strings were too high, the endpin too low, and the end of the fingerboard was covered in rosin so my fingers were sticking together. So I implied the bass line. But it sounded good on the bass player’s fat bass.
We made it through the head then he indicated for me to solo. I was only about 16 bars into a solo when the stage manager made us quit so they could start the next show. But it seems I have made a new musician friend. He’s leaving in a few days to play in Alaska. If I come to Argentina again, you can bet I’ll look him up.
After the show we walked back to Chiquilin for another late dinner. We’re regulars now. They treated us great the first time—but now it’s even better, with waiters that served us the night before coming to shake our hands and help, even though we are not in their section.
On Tuesday Jorgelina, Ulises and Puvan checked out. We accompanied them to the bus station to say goodbye as they head to Rosario (Ulises and Jorgelina’s home town) where they will be attending a wedding.
Then Flavia and I took a train to Tigre, a city on the delta of the Paraná river. Once in Tigre we went on a 2 hour rio tur. The leisurely boat cruise was a nice change of pace after hectic Buenos Aires. After the cruise Flavia explored the casino while I walked in the middle of town and had a bite to eat.
We took the train back to Argentina, rested for a hour, then went back to Cafe Tortoni for dinner and a last tango show (with live music).
On Wednesday we got up late, ate then checked out of the hotel. We still had several hours left. At first we split up, me heading to bookstores and Flavia to shoestores. I went to Kel, an English language bookstore. The store was packed—2 long lines, one with numbered tickets to pick up special orders, the other to pay.
I hoped to find contemporary Argentinian writers translated into English (hopefully with facing Spanish). Unfortunately all they had was Borges. I did end up by Latin American Stories edited by Carlos Fuentes and Julio Ortega—a collection of short stories from Spanish authors (and about 4 Argentinos). The little I read so far suggests the translations are hasty (misspelling, incorrect punctuation, awkward feeling). I also spent some time sitting in a plaza, writing a poem and watching the dog walkers.
on our walk the trees
can he land our love
or dull our pain
the way so long
Flavia and I hooked up for lunch at, you guessed it, Chiquilin. After lunch we went to a music instrument store where she played an incredibly inexpensive ($300 US) electric violin while I played an acoustic bass guitar. We ended up buying the violin.
And that was it. A 40 minute ride to the airport. 2.5 hours of airport hassle (and we needed every minute of it), a 2 hour flight to Santiago, a 2 hour drive to Reñaca (via Quilpue to pick up my bass) and our apartment in Cochoa. Exhausted but happy.
Here’s a link to all the pictures we took in Argentina.
The only thing I had hoped to do (besides the jazz clubs and festival) was go to listen and buy some CDs of artists recommended by Ulises. For the record, here are his recommendations (for next time):
Last night, to bed around 1am. Sleep until 10am. Read until noon. "Breakfast" and easing into the day until 1pm. Then leave the apartment at Edificio Los Rocas and walk north, people in the rocks and sand at the beach outside our door.
Past the sea wolf sanctuary that today only has gulls and pelicans. Past the school of the sea with its saint. Past the structure jutting out on the beach that, last April, was a restaurant and is now under construction, to be a disco.
Past Restaurant Pacifico where we ate last year - and our favorite empanada place this year - with the EuroMarina condos above where we stayed the first 2 nights but left since it was too small, too plastic and too cut off from the waves.
Continuing, just past this point, to the mostly undeveloped section (except for some restaurants and squatter's shacks), the best part of the walk, above the cliffs, below the sand dunes.
Today, I see, through the trees, a man at the door of his shack, washing his face, then sitting and combing his hair. I put the camera away for respect. Bringing it out again for the sea wolfs and a backwards shot of the high-rise development.
Past the faces sculpt in the hillside just beyond the man selling his metal sculptures at the sea lion view point.
Cliffs, rocks, sea, foam. Across the Pte Los Piqueros bridge over the chasm. On the mountain side of the bridge I play that game - imagining the 4 foot leap from the cement foundation across the abyss to the rail - so easy one would give it no thought but for the void. The void brings death to mind as do the shrines on the north side of the bridge, just before what I call "Neruda point" for his fish symbol placed on the furthest rock out to the sea. I stop to contemplate and have an aqua mineral gasificado.Mon, 03 Jan 2005
Today I spent the afternoon walking slowly to ConCon and back by myself, probably around 10 miles round trip.
Galaxies like grains of sand, recalled from long ago from this human's perspective - or a moment of pain or pleasure, then ... Not quite ready to accept something from nothing.
Flags flapping in the wind against the summer fog. Ceaseless movement of people along the beach and the pink bus home. Faces gaze out the windows of cars passing by. 1980s Madonna and Phil Collins on the juke box and small napkins - only one for each person.
Mid afternoon sun breaking through the fog not so far from Neruda's house - a long way from the high-rise condominiums rising from the beach. More people filling space and the 3-legged black dog.
Children play in the waves while I nurse bronchitis and a healing heart. Any moment now I'll be one of those galaxies like grains of sand - a speck in the immense void.
So many stray dogs. Cigarette butts litter the sidewalk. Nada mas.