Thursday, December 27, 2007

Paging Mr. Fleeting!

My favorite signs on the voyage.

The View from Seat 17

Vive Via Bariloche

Anyone who knows me IRL knows I've been waxing poetic about coche cama travel for a while now, without having actually been on one! (Anyone who knows me IRL knows I tend to do that, plead fanaticism without the benefit of personal knowledge--it's a charmingly irksome trait.) ANYWAY, I can now put my money where my mouth is (or whatever the fuck that saying is) as my first foray into these luxury long-distance buses (my chosen empresa, Via Bariloche) lived up to (most) expectations.

Check out the photos:

- Seats that recline an advertised 180 degrees, altho equipped with my handy-dandy protractor, I measured a mere 175, but any flatter is arguably worse since it imparts the sensation of having your head lower than your feet (courtesy of The ottoman can be set on decline or flat.

- Cookies & coffee at greeting; cold & hot meals for dinner; breakfast; beverage choice of champagne, wine, sodas, or water.

- Movies in English with Spanish subtitles: Eragon, Transformers, Spiderman 3 (none my taste); also a mostly crapful yet bizarre compilation of late 80s music videos--can you spot the angsty Sinead O'Connor before she went all pope-insane?
On-board entertainment is perhaps your only wild card, since DVD choice will depend on your steward, and speak of the devil...

- A personal steward, who by decree has to be strappingly handsome (in the photo, he was offering candy)

We did coach to Iguazu (approx. U$S60) but opted for first class (approx. U$S80) back. Trust me--worth the splurge. Coach, while more comfortable than the typical airplane seat, felt cramped and of course, was nowhere near a flat bed. Also, your odds of sitting next to a baby with croup and a nose-picking toddler are 10x higher than on first class. (This I did have firsthand experience.) Now I know that roundtrip airfare to Iguazu is not that much more, but I'm a firm believer that travel isn't travel unless done on the ground. And being able to lavishly tour Misiones in all its red-earth glory was worth it.

But back to my first-class busing, the 16 hours just flew by and by. Maybe it had to do with sleeping next to a 4-ft-wide window cocooned in a lulling, rolling vehicle, where I was treated to a spectacular view of unrelenting pine forests, the aforementioned tierra roja, a lago, and assorted crackerjack towns with sunkissed kids waving, replete with lightning at sundown
(see next post for visuals). I'm def sold on this (a modern person's) version of a vision quest.

Too bad the filthy Greyhound can't come close. I'd love to visit all the flyover states thisaway.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Random Shots From Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

Only in South America can you rent a friggin' golf cart and drive it down a major road. God bless South America, I love it so! It was nervewrackin' hilarity to weave around the giant trucks and tour buses blasting our clown horn. (So fun I almost peed myself.) The faint-hearted rent their golf carts downtown, whereas we did it right off the Buquebus and chugged along at 15 mph from the port to the historic district. Haha, are we men or mice?! Men! (albeit stupid ones...)

One mar on an otherwise perfect day: The cannibalistic menu! I'd heard of reverse discrimination but this, quite frankly, is taking it a tad too far...(although it seems to taste like chicken).

My Vacay Officially Begins!

Hello, all you ardent readers. Here's my itinerary for the next 6 weeks, posted because I'm a list whore. If you plan to stalk & kill me, do yourself a favor and look for the Paris Hilton wig and white sunshades, mk?

12/23 - 12/27: Iguazu Falls (hopefully with a peek from the Brazil side)
12/29 - 1/7: Los Angeles, Coto de Caza, San Diego, Poway
1/7 - 1/12: Cruise to Cabo San Lucas and vicinity
1/12 - 1/25: Southern Cal again with side excursions to San Francisco and possibly Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico
1/25 - 2/3: Back to South America for another coche cama trip, either north to
Córdoba or south to Junin de los Andes to visit Elizabeth and her brood.

Now I want me a pretty little rag & bone! (Apropos of nothing, how good is that Argentine beverage ananá fizz?! It's like a boozy Cactus Cooler...)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

EZE Was Anything But!

Last night was one of those zany-in-a-bad-way experiences from airport hell, a cautionary tale for children to tell their parents, less such parents forget the all-important key to the magic kingdom.

It started so well. At 5 PM, spawn and I took a remise to EZE for his solo flight to the US. We made it in under an hour, a work of miracles considering it was afterwork Friday and a holiday weekend. We've become such adroit international travelers, he and I--each racking up more than 12K miles every year--that we practically sleepwalked through the officialism: paid the unaccompanied minor's fee of U$S75 at the AA counter, got his boarding pass, paid the airport tax of U$S18, bought some dollars at the exchange window. As smooth as a baby goose's behind.

Then came the moment of farewell: Spawn and I exchanged a tearful-only-on-my-part goodbye, 'til we meet again in exactly a week. Being a most excellent mom, I harangued him nonstop:* Call or text once you get through security and immigration, call or text before boarding, make sure you get boarded first with elderly people, text when you get to Chicago, text when you board Chicago for LA. Simple, right?

I waited a few minutes after he disappeared from view, then wandered outside the airport building for what seemed like miles to buy my ticket for the Manual Tienda Leon bus heading downtown. I was positively excited by the deed, since it would have marked my first colectivo experience in Argentina. I wanted a leisure bus ride back into town, collecting my thoughts on another semester's end.

So I got my ticket (32 pesos) at the kiosco and began waiting for the 7:30 bus, the saleslady losing patience with me as I bugged her yet again, yo espero aqui? (There was no bus stop sign or line or designation, except in her mind.) She rolled her eyes, si, si! Ten minutes passed, and I was as dubious as ever, until around the corner a giant bus started to turn toward me... but's a call from spawn! He sounded exasperated, "Mom, the immigration guy says I can't go because I'm missing some sorta letter!"

Me: "Wha--? What letter? Show them your unaccompanied minor card!"

Him: "I did! They said I don't have my parents' permission to travel alone!"

Me, the realization of what I'd forgotten settling in: "Oh shit! Meet me where we parted."

I hauled ass back to the airport and saw spawn tearfully coming out of security. He said we needed to go downstairs and talk to the Migraciones people. We had a mere 30 minutes before boarding.

I took one micro-look at the Migraciones lady and knew doomsville. And by golly, if my Spanish vocabulary of 19 words utterly failed me on such an occasion. She had even less English. We were practically miming, with spawn too upset to be helpful in any sense of the word. (Ninety minutes of daily Spanish at school for naught.) Finally, one rueful traveler opined, "You really should go back to the AA office and see if they can sort it out for you" (or lady, you've hogged the window long enough, it's my goddamn turn). And so we hauled more major ass across the diameter of the airport.

The lad at the AA counter started with, "You shouldn't need the letter because you're American citizens.** You're on vacation, right?"

Me: "Not exactly, we're living here."

Lad: "Ahh...that's the problem. You need the letter."

Me, playing dumb: "What letter is this? His father is in the states and he's going there to be with him, so of course he has his permission to travel!"

Lad's manager, newly emerged from the aircon room in the back: "You need the letter. I was in this situation years ago, and my father had to go to the consulate in the United States to get his permission notarized. I'm sorry, [ come the dreaded words] there's nothing we can do." Arrrgh, arrrgh, fuck me!

Here's the thing: I am practically OCD when it comes to this kinda crap. I had my custody papers translated by a certified translator, notarized, Apostilled, and coddled by Silvia, the frighteningly robotic gatekeeper at the Argentine Consulate in Los Angeles. Ditto for every other scraps validating my right to live, and spawn's. (Actually, getting a work visa for Argentina required everything short of being blessed by the Pope, though I had my rez for Italy ready should that've been necessary.) For the past year and a half, I dutifully carried around this dossier of very.important.papers (including the Consent for International Travel of Minor) whenever we traveled, but not once were we ever asked for them. So, on spawn's very first solo exit from Argentina, it slipped my (already vacationing) mind that he'd need them. Looking back, it seems so frankly idiotic this oversight, I feel I need to be taken out back and shot.

The silver lining: I was able to recoup the bus ticket, the unaccompanied minor's fee, the airport tax, though it cost me an extra U$S254 to switch spawn's tickets to my same flight. (There goes the iPod nano I was going to get myself. It is to weep...)

Actually, the real silver lining is that this morning I was able to procure seats for spawn on my coche cama trip to Iguazu tomorrow. I'm totally excited;*** he's somewhat excited. I sincerely hope we travel happily ever after.

The End


* Spawn's traveled as an unaccompanied minor plentiful times with better than no hassles, he was treated like royalty. Thus, this fiasco was orthogonally related to his solo traveling.

** Lad's incorrect: You need the other parent's permission regardless of whether you're residing or vacationing in Argentina.

Though I still feel like a fucktard for last night's debacle.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


At the risk of jinxing myself--knock, knock, knock--my stay in Argentina in general and BA in particular has been pretty damn safe. I've meandered home punch-drunk many a times in the dark of night, with little unease about my own safety, my path from the mitre to home as tranquil as can be. For the past 18 months I witnessed no crime as a matter of fact, short of littering, which sadly is as common as teen couples playing tongue twister in public--do I sound like an old grouch or what? (Get off my goddamn lawn, you stupid brats!) Yes, yes, I realize littering is not a crime here.

All that changed last Sunday when on the way home from DT on the midday tren, I was suddenly jolted out of my seat by a deafeningly cacophonous C-R-A-C-K! A rock the breadth of my fist had come flying through the window and just barely missed my noggin.
The train cops ushered a few of us onto the platform for a head-shakin' good time, and it took no less than 10 minutes to dislodge the splintered glass particles. The window seater next to me was not so lucky and had to be rushed to the hospital to have her scalp examined. On a calamity scale, it seemed like nothing in retrospect, more like the hijinks of a bored street kid--a bored stupid kid, that is. Still, it was terrifying in its own way, if only because for a weentsy split second I was convinced, like a good little American, that it was an act of terrorism.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

You'll Thank Me Later

I'm always on the lookout for new-to-me music that's good. Check out Glide's top 20 albums of 2007, complete with YouTube links. Most of them are too slow and folksy for my taste tho, and I'd only previously heard of 5/20. Outragedly, I ask where's Wilco's "Sky Blue Sky" on that list?! Wholeheartedly, I concur with "Icky Thump." Additionally, I was heartened to see that Battles, Arcade Fire (I LOVED their Funeral album!), Animal Collective, and the Shins got an honorable mention. Happily, I'm off to listen to Andrew Bird.

(My very unscientific thoughts on the top 20: The "Breaker" video by Low is appropriately low-budget funny; the National reminds me of Interpol; "The Underdog" tune is catchy; "Crossing Line" is soothing and um, thanks for the subtitles; I can't stand Eddie Vedder, probably because I saw him back in '91; and lastly, jeepers creepers, the honorable list has way better bands than the top 20.)

The Season to Be Effin Jolly

Despite the title, I've nothing snarky to say, so I'm just going to post these pics showing me in rare form--i.e., happily getting on in social situations. Oh, I'm not the misanthrope I once was--those days are long behind me--though I will still choose my own company over a group one any day. (And I've a solo trip to Iguazu to look forward woohoo.) It's not that I find myself fascinating; I just hate faking interest in other people when I don't feel like it, despite being able to do it well. Grinchdom and sociopathy aside, as of late I've been having fun (with an uppercase F) doing holiday fêteing with my coworkers. Fa la la la la la la.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Name All 3 to Win a Prize!

A girl can dream, right?

N is for Neville, who died of ennui

OMG, when is this writer's strike going to be over? I so need a fresh ep of The Office! Instead, I wasted five minutes of my life creating this.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

And on the 7th day, God created Target...

Much as I like living in Argentina, I really pine for regular conjugal visits from my beloved Target, whose goods are getting more fantastically amalgamated in design-n-practicality all the time. If I had to whine about one expatting experience here, it'd be: I just can't stand the lack of choices in everyday products! I know it's a pansy-ass first-world problem, but hey, why the hell should I censor myself on my own blog? Let's face it, the jumbo Jumbo can't meet barely half my consumer wants. Look what today's perusal turned up: Candles that reek of synthetic fragrance, on par with reject candles you'd find at 99 cent stores in the states, towels that are little more than gauze in their absorbency, mediocre body soaps (except for maybe these new imported Dove cream bars), juice readily sweetened with aspartame (actually, food rants deserve their own post). And forget being able to afford exotic home decor crafted Some Place Else (though if you're hard up, you can always amble over to OKKO where it's marked up a bazillion percent). It's just no fun checking off an everyday shopping list. Yet at mon amour Tarjay, even the commonplace is quality and a good bargain.

I am old enough to recall the days back in the 80s and 90s when Target was as unhip as Walmart and K-Mart (though really, no place can quite rival Walmart for its share of Nascar-shirted sloppers and shelf after shelf of ravaged goods). But thanks to an image makeover and just better, more selective products, Target is now ballparking Old Navy in the clothing department, Ikea in the Office department, and Pier One in the Home department--all under one roof and with a Starbucks in the foyer to boot. During my last T-spree, I found a groovy, 100% cotton, retro floor-length halter dress for like 30 bucks (what would it be here at John L. Cook?), a bejeweled Madras table runner for like 20 bucks, a gorgeous black wallet clutch for like cheapoh bucks, and adorable Swedish-looking desktop caddies for my classroom for like...whatever it was, I was able to afford one for each student. Not too shabby. Functional beauty at a discount. Win/win.

I realize there's more here than meets the eyes. Supply and demand, economics, all fueled by politics. And there are worse things for an Argentine to worry about, like double-digit inflation, than what array of products is available. I wanna shut up about this because I'm privileged enough to be making dollars over pesos. Still, it's human nature to discriminate and differentiate. In fact, on Bloom's Taxonomy, Synthesis (seeing patterns from diverse elements) and Evaluation (with bitching being its evil twin) are all higher-level thinking skills, so I guess you could say I'm just practicing what I teach.

Bitchfest aside, this post is really about my upcoming shopping spree at Target, so grab an hour or two and walk down these virtual aisles with me, k?

[Best finds ever: The Spanish vocabulary shower curtain, $20, and the stainless steel countertop compost pail, $24.99, 4th picture. Other noteworthy stuff: 100% cotton eyelet bed in a bag, webcam with speakers, funky lanterns, poetry cubes, cool pleather bag.]

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Story of My Life

I suppose it's the math geek in me, but graphs like these thrill. How I wish everything in life can be x- and y-plotted with an absolute degree of certainty. I'd swagger about with so much cock and confidence in my manifest destiny. Better yet, let's make everything binary so that my odds of getting it right are half.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Apex of Pleasure

Certain topics predictably litter expat blogs drivers, dog poo, steak, and of course, ice cream. I'm going to raise my odds of being a cliché by waxing poetics about the latter.

I'll put it in the simplest terms possible: The ice cream in this country fucking blows frozen chunks off of other ice cream! (To be fair, while in Italy, I was too busy making love to pasta to take note of their gelato.)

Anyhoo, the flavor I'm currently obsessed with is sambayón granizado, which is like a doozy egg custardy concoction made with port wine or masala wine, not sure which, swirled with chunks of dark chocolate. The effect is stunning, kinda sake-like but with sharp bites of cacao. Different heladerias seem to inject a different amount of vino, and tonight’s version from Sweetie would have been enough to get me arrested back home in my Elantra GT. Really what I should do here is have sambayón while riding in a taxi to nullify the bad driving effect. How’s that for double cliché points?

Saturday, December 08, 2007