Saturday, September 25, 2010

Argentine Food

One of the great things about being in Argentina (there are many), is the exchange rate.  Usually our trips go like this:  fly into some city in Europe, change money, lose half, grumble.  Here however, the dollar is four times stronger than the peso.  Cha-ching!

I've been pleasantly reminded many times in the past few weeks of that infamous day (June 18, 1997), when I was instantly transformed from a 23-year-old broke college graduate with no job, into a 23-year-old rich American King, presiding over the ancient hillside village of Pyrgos, in Santorini, with mountains of drachmas at my disposal!  

And I guess it's kind of like that here, because the direct and delicious result of this wonderful exchange rate is that we can eat at really nice restaurants for next to nothing, so we do...a lot.

The Pacu at our favorite restaurant - Jangada.
Jangada is a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that specializes in grilled river fish.  All the fish they serve is caught by local fishermen in the Parana River (the second-longest river in South America).  Jangada has extremely knowledgeable chefs who prepare each fish by grilling it on it's side, then de-boning it in the traditional manner that has been used by the locals in the jungles surrounding the river for centuries.  The whole fish is presented filleted, and is served with salad, baked potatoes, fried onion rings, and grilled vegetables.  We dine here a few times a week and have tried the Pacu, the Dorado, the Boga, and the White Salmon.  Our friend Lucas runs the place, and always brings us some sort of dulce de leche dessert and a digestif before we go.

Mushrooms Philippe!!

Is that a Dulce de Leche Quesadilla?  So confusing, but sooooo good!  Lucas let me blow-torch the sugar on top.

Ridiculously decadent - Mandi is shaking her head in disbelief.

Mandi's co-worker Andre came to Bonus Aires this past week to attend some meetings with her - he lives in Sao Paulo.  We had breakfast at his hotel a few mornings, and let me tell you, breakfast is completely over-the-top! 

There were all different kinds of breads and muffins, served with jams, salted butter, dark chocolate spread (better than Nutella), dulce de leche spread (of course), fruit salad, whipped yogurt, a large shot glass filled with scrambled eggs with pancetta, whipped cream cheese with chives, delicious espresso, and little shots of nectarine juice, mint juice, and campari with orange juice.  Well, I'll be Bonus Dias-ed!

Andre is on the phone with a local vet to help us with the language barrier.  He speaks four languages (of course).   I can say ashtray in four languages.

Drinks with Andre at his hotel before dinner.  
Working hard.
A few nights ago, we went to a great place called La Cabrera with some friends.  La Cabrera is a famous parrilla, or Argentine steak house.  It is estimated that the average Argentine consumes 150 pounds of beef a year. And I can see why.

When you order the meat, the portion size is huge, and it comes with lots of little side items!  This plate of food (supposedly for one person) costs US $13. 

Are you kidding me?

French fries with lightly scrambled eggs, grilled onions, and cheese?
Shut the f*%k up!

To the left.

To the right.
Check out the bathroom!

All this razzle dazzle - I had to look around to make sure I was in the men's bathroom!
I can only imagine what the ladies room looked like!

Parting shot - it's the fries with the eggs again.
Whoever came up with this one is a bloody legend!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rap Crap?

We found this great website ( dedicated to "foreigners" living in Bonus Aires.  It has been a big help and has answered many of our questions, such as:  How much do we tip taxi drivers, where's the Indian grocery, are there any bars that show American football, and why doesn't anyone speak English?

The other day, I was forced to become a member of the site, because some grumpy old jerks were complaining about Lady Gaga, and going on about how she's destroying music, and how she doesn't have any talent, and blah, blah, blah...  It gets so old listening to people criticize music.  Music is art.  It is subjective.  Some of it's good, and some of it's bad.  Some people say Britney Spears has no talent, but they are wrong.  She was singing and dancing on the Disney Channel when she was 11.  She must have some talent in there somewhere.

Anyway, so I was looking through the baexpats site the other day and reading about how Lady Gaga is ruining music, when I came upon a post by some guy named Ghost, who made the bold statement that he no longer has faith in the future of the world, because rap music is for people who are stupid.  You can call rappers a lot of things, but stupid isn't one of them.

So, I had to become a member of the site so I could respond.  Aaron Lucas-style.

POST BY GHOST:  If Lady Gaga concerns you.......try watching and listening to some "RAP" crap. I used to have some faith in the future until I found out that this noise is the most popular "music" in the market. [I guess it's the market for those with IQs under 75]

RESPONSE BY JOHN:  While not being a huge fan of rap music myself, I think it is important to give it a fair listen or at least make a stab at understanding it before jumping to conclusions, because you’re right, IT IS the most popular and best-selling music in today’s market.

Hip-hop music gets a bad “rap” (sorry, I couldn’t resist) because of the lyrics and actions of a select few “gangsta rappers,” who reply heavily on shock value to sell records.  Sadly, this method is apparently working quite well (Lady Gaga is a prime example).  This small section of hip-hop artists and rappers (or performance artists like Miss Gaga) dominate our mainstream media coverage because of their outlandish antics, arrests, and drug problems.

Contrary to what we read in the papers, most rap songs are positive in tone or cleverly worded documentaries of today’s hard times.  The lyrics are quick, smart, and thought provoking (and leagues above lyrics written by current rock, pop, and country artists). Most rappers feel the need to influence their fans in a positive manner, and to use the power of their forum to inspire kids who are living in the ghettos from which they themselves were spawned – even if they do so wearing baggy pants and gold chains.

In fact, it is because of their intelligent, relevant, and thoughtful lyrics, that rap stars now find themselves (like it or not) with a largely middle-class audience, deriving from numerous races, countries, and age groups.  They are rapping about the everyday problems of the common man, and people are listening.  This is very similar to how some of our greatest songwriters got their start - Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, and Willie Nelson come to mind.  They came from nothing, and wrote songs about what they knew and what they believed in, and it earned them respect.  And I’d suspect that Bruce and Willie have a great respect for many of today’s rappers.  Interestingly enough, Johnny Cash chose Rick Rubin to produce his critically acclaimed final album, and Rubin was instrumental in bringing rap music to the mainstream in the early ‘80s with controversial acts (at the time) like Run DMC and The Beastie Boys. 

Just because you don’t like the sound of a song, or the look of an artist, doesn’t mean that the music is meant for people with low IQs.  Sometimes it’s worth digging a little deeper before rushing to judgment, because you run the risk of sounding like a closed-minded curmudgeon… 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

9.15.09 (Haha...that was last year)

Good thing it's not September 15, 2009, because one year ago today we were in Greece.  And that day sucked for two reasons.

1.  Because I got stabbed in the face with a fork by a Serb.
2.  Because Louis fell off Phil's roof and broke his leg.  

Today, however, has been a great day (thank you Argentina).  Mandi, Louis, and I walked around town, had coffee, and visited lots of fun shops.  Louis had no problems with his leg, and we are going to have Indian for dinner tonight, which means I will not have to use a fork.  

Since I have successfully avoided forks all day today (and feel pretty good about that), going forward I will observe a "no fork" rule every September 15. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hey Washer/Dryer/Whatever...It's F*#king On!

OK, so my bad for making fun of this two-in-one, confused, worthless bastard of a machine that we have in our kitchen.  It must've been listening, and it must've gotten pissed, because it held me hostage yesterday for more than 24 hours.

Also, my bad (which I was reminded of many times in my 24-hour imprisonment, thank you) for only bringing one pair of pants with me when I left the country for two months.  No, I didn't pack any pants in my suitcase, what I did was bring the pair of jeans I had on.  And for the record, the reason I did that was because all my other jeans are riddled with holes, so I thought I'd wear my one working pair on the plane (they do have two holes in them, but both are in the same knee).  That way, I wouldn't embarrass myself or anyone in my party in front of all the other sophisticated international travelers (who cares), and...I figured I'd just buy a funky new pair of jeans down here for like $7 or something. Which I will do.  So, my bad.  I take it. 

Anyway, how was I to know, number one, that such a strange, evil, and confused machine even existed here (we're not in Greece), and number two, how was I to know that on the coldest and rainiest day of the week, when Mandi had the most work to do, that it would decide to fuck with me, and abduct my only pair of pants, and in doing so, abduct me - for more than 24 hours!  

This is what happened. First off, this is what we're dealing with:

The Devil Incarnate (El Delmonio case it's listening). 

We put in a load of wash on Sunday night before bed, because this jerk takes HOURS to finish a cycle.  Sorry, not a load, a few fits like three things.  There's actually a button you can push to make it do a nine hour cycle.  WTF!?  Included in this "load" was my one pair of pants, in for their weekly wash.  

So...we wake up yesterday morning (9am) expecting to find clean dry clothes - how incredibly convenient to be able to wash AND dry overnight (right)?  So, sure enough, when we check, it is finished, but everything is soaking wet.  So what do we try to do?  We try to turn on ONLY THE DRYER for 60 minutes.  Should be easy, right?  It's a convenient two-in-one machine (devil) that can act as a washer OR a dryer.  It saves space and everything!  Well, please refer the the photograph above which clearly shows the controls of El Delmonio Encarnado.  Eeeeasy peeeeasy.

Mandi has the manual and Louis is trying to summon his Chinese heritage.

So, we find the manual, which actually has an English section (a trick?), and quickly figure out how to turn on ONLY THE DRYER.  Mandi's a scientist, Louis is Chinese, and I'm a guy, so this really shouldn't be that hard. Together, we press the appropriate buttons that go along with the pictures of dry clothes, and after 10 minutes or so, we realize that El Delmonico Encarnado is filling with water again!  And somehow (black magic), it has set itself on the nine hour cycle!  AND...once it starts, you can't stop it!  There's no cancel button and the door is locked!!  Noooooo!!!

Now it's 10am, and like I said, it's raining, and freezing, and Mandi has a really busy work day, and since I can't do anything except stand in the kitchen in my underwear and scream, she has to do all the errands - go to the store, return the movies, buy minutes for my phone, and walk Louis (who won't do his business because it's raining...way to help out man) - in between conference calls. Happy Mandi.  

So the day drags on, I'm reminded hourly that I should've brought another pair of pants (yes, now I know that), we can't go out for coffee, it gets dark, we can't go out for dinner, Mandi has to walk Louis again, he won't do his business again because he doesn't like being wet and he gets nervous...blah, blah, blah...AND THEN, I notice this little sign on the controls that says "Time 4 You."  
Are you fucking kidding me?

Time for me?  TIME FOR ME!  You smug little prick.  If they had baseball bats in Argentina, I would've had my jeans back that second.

Bit of a digression, sorry, anyway...around 11pm, Senior El Delmonica Encarnado graciously decides the time is right to release my jeans...hmmm...Iran decided to make a release yesterday as well - I guess that confirms this machine was in cahoots with evil.  

So...the grand finale...after waiting 13 hours in the house for the gates of hell to open and release my jeans, they came out soaking wet!  Drenched in fact!  Much more so than they were at 10am!  I think the pictures can tell the rest of the story.

Super is not amused.  Louis is wondering if Chinese Water Torture will work on the Devil.

11:30pm:  Still in my underwear.

12am:  Desperate times call for desperate measures.

And that's it.  I wrung out my jeans, blow-dryed them, and went to bed.  On the up side, I took a picture of Louis running down the stairs this morning and he looks like a bat.

That's a legend right there kids.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pictures From Week 1

Our living room...notice the place mats taped to the stairs so Louis can use them.  It drives me CRAZY that the mirrors go crooked when you lean on them.

Looking into the kitchen (there's that washer/dryer/whatever again).
Our bedroom and improvised bedside table.

It's nice to have an elevator again.  Louis likes it too.

We're going ooout Mandi!

I lost my beanie (of course) and my head is cold.

Mandi...please stop shopping for shoes.  Please Mandi.

No, he will not grow anymore.  He's four.

Welcome to Bonus Aires! <--- PHILosophy

We arrived in Bonus Aires last Sunday, and have basically taken this past week to get settled - well, and Mandi went to Lima for a few days (I have no idea how she does it).  We bought things for the house at the Jumbo (kind of like a Lowe's), and learned how to use a washer/dryer machine.  That can get complicated. Apparently, this crazy apparatus washes your clothes, then magically turns itself into a dryer and dries them?  We have yet to see that cycle completed as our clothes have come out damp and clammy each time.  I've always been wary of things that can't make up their minds - like restaurants that serve sushi and steak, and like Chinese take-out joints that serve pizza and subs, and now, like washer/dryer machines.

That's Louis sitting in the middle of the mess he made in front of the washer/dryer/whatever machine.  What a little jerk.

Speaking of Louis, he is probably the first Pug to set paw in Argentina, because people cannot contain themselves when they see him.  I've never heard Spanish spoken mas rapido than when they pass us on the street - which also means that I am learning how to understand and speak Spanish muy rapido. The first and always most confusing question is:  "Will he grow more?"  And when I say no, he's four, they shriek with delight and fire off about six more questions in 10 seconds, at which point I mention in my eloquent Spanish that I don't speak their language very well, which makes them shriek with delight again - they think it's hilarious.  And I'm not talking about little schoolgirls...this happens with everybody!  Louis almost caused a fender bender the other day as a 50-year-old fat cabbie couldn't keep his eyes off him!  Mandi, of course, thinks they (at present, the Argentinians) are going to try to steal him, and in this country, I think she actually may be on to something.  

We also found a bar named Shoeless Joe's El Alamo Bar that shows NFL games on Sundays!  That's a real treat, as we have spent the first half of football season in Greece for the past three years.  Sooo...yesterday, we went to El Alamo for the first Sunday of the season and watched the Eagles lose (hahaha), then came home and watched the Redskins kick the Cowboys' ass on ESPN Desportes!  They show the Sunday night and Monday night games apparently.
Mandi ordered a vodka/Red Bull at El Alamo and got a vodka/vodka/vodka/Red Bull.

What else - I bought a guitar a few days ago - a Martin XC1T Ellipse.  My plan was to show up empty-handed, buy a really great Argentine guitar to write with here, then bring it home.  There's a section of Bonus Aires where all the music shops are located, and after visiting about 30 guitar shops and playing hundreds of guitars, I was confused to say the least, because no one seemed to have anything that was any good.  And, no one speaks English here (at all), so I couldn't ask what was going on.

Every Argentine guitar I played either had a bend in the neck, or was built from cheap wood, or basically just wasn't a quality instrument.  This was something that I never imagined I would find here, especially with the kind of music they're known for - tango, salsa, etc - I would've thought they'd make incredible acoustic instruments.  

So finally, I met a guy in one of the shops who spoke English and was convinced I was in a famous American band (shot him down real quick by playing him my songs from my website...haha buddy...not in Pearl Jam am I!).  And after a lengthy discussion, it turns out that American acoustic guitars were being so heavily imported here (because they're good), that the Argentine guitar makers got together and lobbied the government to place a ban on said importation to give themselves a chance at staying in business.  Well, unfortunately for me, the ban went into effect a few years ago.'s really hard to find a good acoustic guitar here - the local ones are a joke, and whatever imports are still left from a few years ago are hideously overpriced.  Ahhhhh...what luck!  I just wanted a cool local guitar!

So instead, I bought a Mexican-made Martin - blasphemous as it may be, I did it.  And I love it!  Traditionally, it is preferable to buy American-made Fenders, Martins, etc... These huge guitar companies usually make cheaper versions of their instruments in Mexico, or in rare cases, they'll do a line of Especial Editiones (that's mine). And since my Martin was made in Mexico (who cares), that's why they have it down here.  

All that aside, I absolutely LOVE the guitar!  I loved it from the second I picked it up, went home, though about it, went to sleep and woke up in the middle of the night thinking about it, went back to the shop, played it again, loved it even more, and bought it.

Helloo (From America, Hecho en Mexico, Bought in Argentina) Guitar.