Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Opposite of Buenos Aires

The Opposite of Buenos Aires

¡Éxito! (Success!) Yesterday we got the last two bikes at an EcoBici station (see our last posting) not too far from our house and had a nice long ride around the city. 

Ama de Proa B & B
Last week we took the opportunity to get away for two days and a night to the countryside and a much different pace of life. While we have been enjoying Buenos Aires, it is a huge city, noisy, crowded, at times over-stimulating. Last Wednesday, January 14, we took a two-hour bus ride into the pampas to  San Antonio de Areco. We stayed at a lovely B & B whose dueña arranged for us to rent bikes that we kept for the time we were there.

Biking in Buenos Aires
Biking in not Buenos Aires

Parque Criollo y Museo Gauchesco “Ricardo Güiraldes”
Lonely Planet Argentina: “… Areco is one of the prettiest towns in the pampas… dates from the early 18th century and preserves a great deal of criollo (people of pure Spanish descent born in the New World) and gaucho traditions.” The museums of these traditions were fascinating, the riverside parks and town squares were beautiful and tranquil, and mostly we found it to be very relaxing, a nice change of pace from the city.

We took a long bike ride to the neighboring town of Vagues which has an old railway museum.

Today - January 22 - we leave for a ten-day trip to Chile. We are looking forward to seeing and spending two Shabbatot with our friends from our 2008 sabbatical.
Railway Museum at Vagues
One of many plazas, San Antonio de Areco

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Typical Day in Buenos Aires...

… if you’re on vacation.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Last Friday we registered for the city’s free bikeshare program, EcoBici. This is how it works: you pick up a bike and have an hour to ride before getting to any station in the system to renew or return the bike. We went to the station that's three blocks from our apartment (staffed by human beings), gave a copy of our passport, registered in the system, and went for a lovely bike ride across the river to the Reserva Ecologica.

The program doesn't operate on weekends. Today we plan a route that will take us to a string of beautiful parks in the Palermo neighborhoods. The plans include a visit to an ACA office – Argentina’s AAA – to get some maps and advice for the road trip we are going to take when Ari comes to visit in February. We know that the estación EcoBici near our apartment might not have bikes available, so we plot on our map where some others are within walking distance.

Sure enough, our local EcoBici is bikeless. Twenty minutes later we arrive at the next one – we’re in luck! Strangely, they have lots of bikes. We approach. This estación has “no luz” – no power, can’t use the computers to give out bikes. On to a third – no bikes, but along the way we stop to watch tango dancers in a plaza (a common sight) and happen upon a vegetarian buffet with good, healthy, tasty food that is a bargain even by Argentine standards. My kind of place – quotes posted around the eating counters  from philosophers, writers, scientists from antiquity and down the ages on the merits of not killing and eating animals. Yoliz, in San Nicolás, at Suipacha 529, between Lavalle and Tucumán. Write it down.

Third EcoBici estación – no bikes. Fourth – no bikes and no computers. Not no luz this time, but no computers on the premises. We are directed by a friendly staff person to our fifth – this one near the river, on the promenade that goes along the redeveloped piers. On the way we pass by a shaded bench with a back rest and sit for an hour and read novels on our phones – Linda is reading En Busca de Klingsor, by Jorge Volpe, and me Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon. We are gently interrupted by a young troubadour with a guitar who offers to give us a private recital. ¿Porque no? Two lovely songs later we give him 30 pesos (about $3) and he is on his way.

Shortly thereafter we find ourselves at our estación numero cinco – no bikes. We continue along the promenade to the last station – number 6, which is only several blocks from our apartment and, guess what? No bikes! We walk back home through our neighborhood, pick up some fruits and veggies at local verdulería, and discover a dietética – a health food store – a block and a half from our apartment, which has lots of items in bulk that we use regularly. We are happy.

Here’s the thing: we didn’t have to be anywhere at a particular time, we were together, and the EcoBici stands, without our intending them to be so, became stations on a leisurely (5-hour) ramble on a beautiful day in one of the world’s great cities. The songs were a bonus. When we got home I sat down to write this.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Discovering the City

We have been walking, walking, walking, and it has been hot, hot, hot. We have a bit of a respite today, January 13, with cooling rain, but it has put a damper (literally? What IS a damper anyway?) on our explorations.

Walking is our exercise and our main mode of transportation. As we have gone about the business of getting settled in Buenos Aires (until the end of February) we have walked through the city both knowing where we were going (museums, synagogues, markets, etc.) and just to wander. In establishing some basic amenities (getting a phone, finding our apartment, picking up money transfers) we have spent hours getting nowhere (a familiar experience in Latin America) which would be frustrating if we had any commitments to meet. Instead we have just counted the steps toward our daily exercise goal and kept our eyes and ears open for serendipity and inspiration.

Last Tuesday, January 6, on our way to visit the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, as we were walking along Avenida San Juan, I (Linda) saw two little signs placed in a patch of earth along the sidewalk (which I photographed).
They read:
Remo Berardo
detenido desaparecido del barrio
durante (says one) por (says the other)
la dictadura militar
presente en nuestra memoria
Vecinos de San Christobal

My translation:
Remo Berardo
December 10, 1977
Detained “disappeared” from the neighborhood
during (says one) by (says the other)
the military dictatorship
Present in our memory
The Neighbors of San Christobal
March 24, 2004

We have since seen markers similar to these in many places throughout the city. The signs reminded me of the cobblestones I had recently seen in Eastern Europe, with similar epitaphs, in front of homes where Jews had lived before being taken to their deaths during World War II. Small reminders, easily passed by and overlooked in a bustling metropolis, of a darker past and of the sorrow and loss that persist.

Another serendipitous find: on Jan 5, Shira and I (Jonathan) were walking near our first apartment and came across a startling and moving mural painted on the street-level wall of a factory. What first caught my eye was not the painting but the words NES GADÓL HAIÁ SHAM  and UN MILAGRO GRANDE HUBO ALLÍ (Hebrew and Spanish for “a great miracle happened there”) flanked by drawings of a chanukia (Chanukah menorah) on one side and a dreidl on the other. The painting is of nine miners, each wearing a headlamp, which form the lights of the menorah. I thought that it must be a reference to the miners who were rescued from the mine collapse in Chile a few years ago. The date on the mural was 2010, and when I got back I checked on line – the miners were trapped from August to October 2010, so Chanukah that year was just a few weeks later. I was incredibly moved to see this public tribute in such an unexpected place.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

San Telmo
Our apartment is in San Telmo, which Lonely Planet Argentina describes as “one of BA’s most attractive and historically rich barrios [with]… narrow cobbled streets and low-story colonial housing…” Within a few blocks are scores of bars, cafés, café-bars, restaurants, small stores of every kind, galleries, bookstores, and more, with residences at and above street level. There are chinos – small grocery stores – and verdurderías – fruit and vegetable stalls – on just about every block. It’s a mix of working-class, gentrified, run-down, and bohemian. Our apartment is on the outskirts of the neighborhood and relatively inexpensive.

Not far away is the riverside area of Puerto Madero, the river, and beyond that, the Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, a large nature reserve where, one of these days, we will go biking using Eco-Bici, Buenos Aires’ free bike sharing program. Today we located a station just a couple of blocks from our house.

With Shira we have explored other neighborhoods and sampled many cafés and a few bakeries. Mostly we eat meals in our apartment, with provisions from the chino across the street and various neighborhood verdulerías. We have made a couple of trips to Casa China, a large (though not by US standards) Chinese market in Barrio Chino, which has lots of items we use in bulk – dried beans, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, etc.

We spend quite a bit of time each day reading, writing (Jonathan), and scribing/working on artwork (guess who). We have had dinner every evening with Shira, and watch on-line videos together for a while. We give thanks every day – more than once – that we are fortunate to be together, to be spending so much time with Shira (more than we have since she went away to college), to be on sabbatical, and to be in this place.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

Friday January 2, 2015

los trés
Here we are in Buenos Aires at the beginning of the New Year, and finally, really, on sabbatical. We arrived yesterday a.m., over an hour earlier than our publicized arrival time, and quickly sailed through customs, only to discover that, being New Year's Day and not quite 4 a.m., there weren't many taxi drivers on duty. The fellow behind the counter told us it would be a 30-40 minute wait for the next driver; I said to Jonathan as we settled in to wait, "That means it will be at least an hour." But, lo and behold, I wrong. It was only about 20 minutes, and our driver arrived and we were on our way. The problem with all this uncharacteristic promptness, even earliness, is that Shira was operating with the usual assumptions about Latin American timing, and we arrived at our apartment before her. Locked out with our suitcases and no way to reach her. The taxi driver tried calling her cell, no answer. A woman who lives on the 5th floor let us into the building, and invited us to come and wait in her apartment if we didn't find Shira waiting for us in ours. It's all part of the aventura, we told ourselves, I feeling very glad that I was experiencing this with Jonathan, and could therefore take it all in stride, rather than alone and panicking. Just as we were about to take her up on the offer, Shira showed up on her bicycle.
street scene

In  Parque Centenario, near our
first apartment
Thursday (Jan 1) was spent napping, walking back to Shira's apartment, going out to breakfast at a cafe on her street, and then leaving her to rest. We walked back to our place with groceries that Shira had purchased for us in advance because markets would be closed New Year's Day, and then strolled to Centenario Park about 10 blocks away, feeling blessed and lucky to be able to walk in the sunshine along the lake, enjoying the trees and fountains and statues and flowers and a few young musicians, and returned to our place for a shower, a quick Google-hangout with Ruhi, and a nap of our own. After we awoke, Jonathan got on-line to look for apartments for the next several weeks, while I got to work on sketching a new scribal scrap, feeling so lucky that I actually could take out my parchment and compass and rulers and pencils and be able to work on an art piece.

Shira has a new job as a waitress at a "puerta cerrada" restaurant, a place where one eats a single set menu, by advance reservation only: 
Shira translating Maximo's
New Year brindis (toast) at Kensho
She was hired because they were in need of a bilingual waitress, as many of their patrons are ingles-hablantes, and she asked us in advance if we would like to eat there on our first night in Buenos Aires. It is a vegan, local, organic restaurant, owned by a couple Maximo and Claudia. We left our apartment at 8:50 pm (as the meal didn't start until 9:30  pm - dinner is late, by American standards, in Argentina - and 9:30 is actually a bit early here.) We had walking directions from an app "como llego BA" that Shira had directed us to. The restaurant was in a lovely space that had been a private residence, converted to this use, with the tub and shower still in the bathroom. The meal was spectacular, a luxurious array of scents and sabores, surprising combinations of flavors (such as fruit, vodka and cilantro! in the cocktail we were handed upon arrival), artfully arranged on each platter, which were presented course by course in a leisurely fashion so that the entire meal unfolded over several hours and didn't end until after 12:30 a.m. It ended with all the guests ushered together onto the patio, for a final passion-fruit champagne toast to the New Year, with various cookies and the most spectacular vegan chocolate ice-cream balls (made in a secret recipe with ground cashew and coconut). Jonathan and Maximo bonded over a shared love of bread and bread-baking, and discussed the possibility of meeting again to bake together. We also enjoyed the Canadian family from Niagara-on-the-lake, Ontario, who happened to sit at the table next to ours. We left Kensho Concina Organica at 12:50 a.m., walked the deserted streets back to our apartment in about 40 minutes, and were in bed at 2 a.m. Did I mention how blessed and lucky we feel to be able to be doing this?