28 August 2014

26 August 2014

A Simple Start

1 January 2014

The situation will make itself clear through more posts, but 2014 has been the most challenging year of my life. I write that without the slightest hesitation or exaggeration. Once I'm done with the fun and exciting start to the year, I hope to get to the real stuff - the things that have been top of mind and weighing heavily on my heart. It's been tough personally and professionally. (And really, what else is there?) Every now and then, when I take stock of the current state of my life, I think back to the first day of the new year. And I'm reminded of that time I broke a mirror. 

We had a very light agenda for the first day of the new year - attend a Tango show. I went for a walk in the early afternoon looking for a place where I might get more cash. The Internet told me there were four within a five block radius. We should all remember that the Internet lies. Some of the places existed, some did not. None of them were open.

A friendly creepy taxi driver followed me for a few blocks, literally crisscrossing the streets along my walk trying to get me into his cab. I don't know if he thought I was kidnappable or just gullible, but he persisted even after I told him it wasn't going to happen. I lost him by backtracking and turning down a one-way street. Otherwise, it was a great day for a walk.

We spent part of the afternoon by the pool and the day passed without incident. We got ready for the show, mapped our route and headed to the subway. The tiny mirror I kept in my wallet jumped out and smashed itself on the ground. There really is no other explanation for it. I had opened my wallet several times before without incident. But on this once occasion, I somehow lost control and in the process lost my little mirror. I consider myself mildly superstitious. Still, at the time of said mirror breaking, I hadn't yet decided how I felt about having luck, good or bad. Eight months later, I still don't.

We happened upon a love wall.
I don't know if this was an art display. I kind of hope it wasn't. 

We made our way to a very lovely hotel, where we and other tourists gathered in the lobby to await shuttles to Se├▒or Tango, tourist trap to the Tango novices. There was one other woman there who had hurt her toe on some rogue concrete, which I thought was amusing. The shuttle came, took us to the show, and we were seated. It didn't seem very far from where we started, but it was definitely not a place where we would have ventured on our own.

Testing camera settings.
The crowd. 
The Pope.
The show started with Tango through the ages a man riding a horse. I'm sure there was some significance, but it didn't make sense to me that this dance troupe paid for a horse that only had maybe five minutes of stage time. I mean yes, the horse got my attention. But I was already paying attention. 

The start. 
The horse, of course.
We got to what I think was the 19th century before a waiter shut down Ang's photo operation.
She just looked too professional.
The show was dramatic. It was very colorful and probably too over the top for the Tango enthusiasts. But we saw nothing wrong with being over the top. The dancers were magical and since I don't remember exactly what I paid for the ticket / transportation, I dare say it was worth the price. 

There was a very dramatic version of "Don't cry for me Argentina" at the end.
Blue and white streamers fell from the ceiling.

We took the shuttle back to the hotel and a cab back to our apartment. It was probably the least stressful of our days in Argentina and it was lovely. 

Then came the rain.

Getting A Taste of 2014 | South America 2013

31 December 2013

We ate leftovers for a light(er) dinner and got ready for New Year's Eve in Buenos Aires. It was my first international New Year's Eve celebration. When I worked in news, we producers would see the various celebrations around the world and try to fit as many as possible into our newscasts. I wondered for a moment if Buenos Aires would make the 2013 feed... because once a news nerd, always a news nerd.

We met John at 11pm near Puente de la Mujer. We easily got a spot up against the railing, because an hour before midnight is apparently really early.

It's tradition in Argentina (and I've since learned in Brazil as well) to wear white to welcome the new year. Obviously I lamented this opportunity to coordinate with thousands of strangers. I promise I won't make the same mistake twice. 

Happy New Year!
Use John's head as a reference point.
The notice the man with the box.
People started showing up and we wondered where the fireworks would begin. We looked for rooftop displays on both sides of the river, but didn't find anything. Then came the man with the box.

He and his crew showed up around 11:30, hopped the railing and started unspooling wires that we assumed were to be used for detonation. As the show literally unraveled before our eyes, my procedural side wondered if this was even being put on by the city. It could just be that Puente de la Mujer is a place where people come and set up their own displays. I mean there didn't seem to be anything discouraging self expression through pyrotechnics, so who's to say?   

Without a countdown display, we didn't know it was midnight until the fireworks started. But once they did, it was amazeballs

Go time!
My favorite Angie picture.

The show was great. There apparently was some coordination - or at least consideration - because after the show from our side of the river, other shows began. It was the perfect welcome to the new year, a simple celebration made extraordinary by circumstance. When all was said and done, we started 2014 happy and hungry. That devolved quickly once we tried to get home.

We were on the wrong side of town. There was a some sort of traffic nightmare between where we were and where we wanted to be. As a result, taxi drivers wanted to charge us ridiculous amounts of money. Honestly, I probably would have paid it, but John wasn't having it. Eventually we walked until we were out of the fray and caught a regular taxi.

Only we couldn't find our way home.

We gave the driver the cross streets. We got to our neighborhood. We passed our place. By now it was close to 2am and we were hangry. There is probably no greater test of new friends than that kind of false patience.

I'm just now realizing that 2014 had a pretty rough start. Once we found our place and dropped off the camera, we still had to find a place to eat. Some places were closed, others were out of food. We stopped at one place where we were told there was nothing but day-old bread. Yes we tried to order it, but the waiter wouldn't serve it to us. He told us it was so hard, we could use it to rob a bank. He sent us to (where else?) Maleva Restobar and promised to give us the bread if they were out of food.

Hysteria was about to take control.

Between finding a table, finding a waiter, arguing over how much food we should get and lamenting that it was after 3am and there had been exactly no dancing, I'm surprised we made it through the meal. We finished with an entire untouched pizza (because of the argument over what to order) and used it to meet new people traveling from Italy and Florian├│polis. They were lovely. But I wanted to dance!

Ang went home and John & I went to find the party. We found a club (with a cover charge, obviously) that was playing American music. I thought our luck had changed, until we went inside. It was packed to the point that there was no moving, just a steady, sweaty pushing against strangers. John pushed our way to the bar. Then he gave up. He literally handed me cash, yelled "whiskey," and walked to a quiet corner that was on the way to coat check. But the time I made my way through the line, the American songs were over. Still, there was whiskey and some space to wiggle - which is all I ever wanted.

I came across lots of interesting characters. John stayed close, but not too close, as he had his own agenda. Writing "I had a lot of fun" is an understatement. I got to dance. I wasn't groped. The American songs returned and I was happy. John & I agreed it was the perfect time to leave. We walked outside and recoiled like vampires.

Hola 2014!
It was after 7am. The sun had risen and the day had started. I'd had no idea so much time had passed. I was supposed to be back at our place by 7:30, because I needed the security guard to let me into the building. (He leaves after 7:30 and occupants need a key fob. Our key fob was already inside and upstairs with Angie.)

We found a few raging street parties on our walk back home. Each was as baffling to see in full daylight as the next.

I am pleased to report I made it home after 7:30 but before a key fob was necessary. Ang was up worrying, so all was right in the world. I was suddenly exhausted - but content. Life was good.

15 August 2014

Getting Authentic (ii) | South America 2013

31 December 2013

La Boca is the neighborhood at the mouth of a river. When we first checked in to our apartment, our coordinator handed us a map and highlighted neighborhoods that might be of interest to two foreign women. La Boca was on the list of "places you probably shouldn't go."

Bartender Adi told us a trip there after dark was likely to include violence and brutality - with Ang and me as the victims.

I'm sure La Boca is a "bad neighborhood" the same way other neighborhoods are "bad neighborhoods." It's probably full of hard working people who are just as much victims of their surroundings as outsiders who become the victims of crimes. The only difference is that I make it a point not to go those neighborhoods in the United States.

La Boca is known as the birthplace of Tango. It's also known for the Caminito, an extremely colorful pedestrian walk. Ang had to go for the pictures. I had to go with Ang. This is how we ended up in La Boca.

When we arrived, I got the impression that someone was trying too hard. The merriment implied with the bright colors was absent. We bought some souvenirs and more postcards that I would never send. Ang flip-flopped from one side of the street to the next taking pictures. I kept my head on a swivel, eyeballing everyone. No, I don't think it was right for me to go to someone else's neighborhood and treat them with suspicion. At minimum, it was rude of me. The reality is I would probably do it the same way if given a second chance. I was not in a position to gamble with safety.

Ang LOVES these head cut out things. But we would have needed
to pay AND to give her camera to a stranger. So... yeah.

Eventually I did relax. La Boca really was interesting to see. And there was a definite disconnect between the vibrance we were seeing and the energy I was feeling. I wondered if just seeing bright colors every day would be enough to inspire. (I've since painted my living and can tell you the answer is "yes.")

Toasty tree.
I never got an explanation for the post koozies.
But they were cool.
I was also able to relax because there was a heavy police presence surrounding the pedestrian area. Officers were inside the area and also around it. Their silent message being "this is as far as you want to go in this direction."

"Do you want to stop and have a drink?" - Ang / Pollyanna
"No I don't want to have a f-ing drink. I want to get the hell out of here." - Danie
Ang laughed at me and took about 30 pictures as we headed to the taxi stand. (You do NOT hail your own taxi in La Boca.) We ended our tour unscathed.

Next up: putting 2013 to bed.

Getting Authentic | South America 2013

31 December 2013

We were in a groove! We had a set agenda and no obstacles by the time our fourth day in South America dawned. Our plan was to see San Telmo in the daylight and find a Tango show before we left the country. We consulted the Internet and ventured back into the subway, where we successfully transferred from one line to another. If you didn't know, that's basically the ultimate win for international travel. Trust me.

I continued to be fascinated by the subway infrastructure. I can only guess it's because of my dad. Either way, the subway in Buenos Aires has art, television monitors, newspaper kiosks and other subway standards. But you have to buy your tickets with cash. There are fans instead of air conditioners, and weak lightning.

Escalator leaving the subway. 
It's also really cheap to ride. Obviously I'm in no way qualified to run a country or a transportation agency, but a minor fare hike could raise a lot of money for improvements. Granted, it's likely the existing power grid couldn't support air conditioning and additional lighting. But it would make for a vastly different customer experience. Although I admit my customer experience was heightened by taking a wooden escalator. I had never seen / heard of / considered escalators made from wood. But they are real. And the ride was smooth.

San Telmo is a neighborhood for real people, as opposed to tourists. It's not glamorized or even labeled that well for outsiders. To me, its charm is that it exists for the people who live (or who have lived) there.

Let me pause here and tell you that Ang really likes graffiti. This is something I cannot explain. I don't mean pictures painted onto buildings. I mean the tags and scribbles that pop up in the middle of the night. Personally, I'm all about the neat and tidy, so graffiti confuses me. But I don't look at life through a camera lens. So - much like with wooden escalators - I admit there is a lot I don't know.

Also of note: Siesta shutters. I don't know if that's what they're actually called, but I noticed them in all the residential areas. I imagine people pull them down to keep the afternoon sun from disturbing their siestas. We saw some that were painted, but I only thought to get a picture of this very plain display. Let's pretend I was going for authenticity.

We walked to Plaza Dorrego, which was definitely dressed up for tourists. It was the idyllic, open market area that could be the setting for at least two scenes in any romantic comedy. Also, there was a Starbucks.

A man walking in the middle of the street.
A man after Angie's own heart.
We walked down a cobblestone street and found a travel agency that was able to sell us tickets to a Tango performance. It was highly recommended (by the woman selling the tickets) and required us to take a shuttle from a random hotel in Recoleta. Fortunately, we were urban exploration experts and were not intimidated by logistics. We bought our tickets and were on our way.

Then, we traveled to one of the worst neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. Because photography.