Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The iPad Saga, part III: the Descent into Hell

Remember how the last time I wrote about the increasingly absurd iPad fiasco, the idea of having to hire an Argentine lawyer to extricate it from customs appeared to be the zenith of ridiculousness? Well, allow me to draw a historical analogy. Apparently the first day of the Titanic voyage, there was a lot of rough water and some passengers got seasick. Then the seas calmed, and the passengers were all like, “Well, that was no fun, but at least the worst is over!”

Yeah. You get where I’m going with this.

So. Monday dawned bright and clear, and I woke with a sense of excitement, for I was scheduled to meet a driver at noon and head over to Ezeiza (the international Bs As airport, as opposed to Jorge Newbery, which is the domestic one; its international abbreviation is EZE, which reminds me of Eazy-E, the old-skool NWA rapper who died of the AIDS).

The lawyer my colleague had engaged sent an email clearly and simply explaining that he had arranged everything so that I needed only go to Ezeiza with my passport, head to the Customs Desk, and pick up my iPad. Good to have friends in high places, eh? So the driver rang me up early and I headed down. First sign that this was not going to be the easy day that was promised: The driver's name was Dante. Yes, as in the inferno, and you’ll recall that in the Divine Comedy, Dante descends into hell, in case the foreshadowing was not already brow-beatingly obvious.

So. Dante turns out to be a cool guy who likes Boca Jrs and speaks not a lick of English, which is clearly ideal since it forces me to practice understanding Spanish (and in particular the kind of street-slangy Bs As Spanish that is really difficult for me to follow). We chat, effortfully, on the way over, and I tell him the whole story. At Ezeiza, we show ID to get through a few gates, then park at the customs area of the airport, and wander toward a building elaborately named División Resguardo de la Dirección General de Aduanas (DGA).

We visit a few buildings in the complex, explaining where we’re headed (the people who work there listen to the long-ass name and then roll their eyes, and are somewhat concerningly like “Right, customs”), and we’re directed first to one building, and then by the people there to go around this building, up a staircase and down a hallway.

Oh, right: and during our trip to the airport, I called my Argentine colleague and she directed me to talk to someone named “Sr Rinaldi.” Apparently her lawyer friend had spoken with Sr Rinaldi, and he would be the one who would happily and in a friendly manner help us get the iPad. Finally, after much stair-climbing and hall-getting-lost-in (during which I learned the Spanish word “labirinto”), we found Sr Rinaldi located in an office behind one of those bulletproof-looking plexiglassesque windows (this detail added to explain why I did not attempt to shoot him later in the day--would have been a big waste though I was sorely tempted).

I explained, choppily, why I was there, and he gave me a look that was not unlike what you’d give a stranger who started imitating bodily noises in a crowded elevator. Rinaldi insisted that he’d never heard of us, and that the only person who could help us was his employee, the mellifluously named Viviana Constanza, who was located in another building.

So, we went to find Sra Viviana in the main customs building, as instructed. Inside the main customs building was a small hallway with three rooms and a gaggle of Argentines with the haggard aspect of people who are deep in the miasma of a time-sucking, soul-crushing, line-waiting, rationality-defying rassle with a government agency. Salient stock characters: the morbidly obese man who literally cannot stand in line, because he can’t stand much at all; the crying woman who constantly and without success seeks to make eye contact with you so you can see how much she’s suffering.

We enter the customs building, and bypass the line. My thinking is that I’m an American, and I don’t have to wait for squat like these sad-sack locals. I figure that the mysterious lawyer has probably given direct instructions to Sra Viviana, and that when I show up she’ll greet me with a smile and much deference. No one says jack as I slip into Room 2 (where Sra Viviana works), and when she sees us, I immediately recall my interaction with Sr Rinaldi with fondness for its comparative warmth.

We’re told to wait outside, I think just because it made Sra V feel happy to be mean to us, and after about 15min are summoned back inside (ahead of the line, happily), where we’re told that without something called a "Guía Aerea" (airmail bill) from DHL, she can’t (or won't?) help us.

OK. This was clearly not going as breezily promised by local counsel, but now the order of operations was clear: get the GA from DHL, give it to Sra Viviana, get the iPad. So Dante (who at this point is more devoted to the task than I am) and I head further into the industrial bowels of the airport, through a maze of hangars and forklifts, and arrive at the DHL headquarters, where a guard tells us that we’ll have to wait for a DHL worker to come out and help us. After a wait (obvs), a DHL employee came out and took my passport to write up the GA. We then fell to talking with the guard as well as a Colombian girl who happened to show up, and it became clear that getting this simple slip of paper confirming my ownership of the package's contents was going to cost $72. American. Which I did not have on my person.

So I gestured at Dante and we had a sidebar. At this point, I suspected that we were being defrauded, and that we should contact my colleague here in Bs As to make sure this was all on the up and up. So we told the DHL guy to forget about the GA, and we cruised on out of there, frustrated and annoyed at the hour-long fiasco that had gotten me no closer at all to extricating the iPad from customs.

On the way out of the airport (and, at that point, all the way back to the Recoleta), I talked to my colleague, who shared my outrage at the disaster that had transpired. She said the lawyer had planned to talk to Rinaldi directly, but couldn’t because someone had had a heart attack (or something—-I remember there being a heart attack involved but can’t recall exactly to whom or in what way), and so when he was free he’d call Rinaldi directly and straighten everything out.

So at this point Dante and I were leaving the airport, and I proposed to him that we wait just a little bit to see if the various lawyers on the case (yes, at this point multiple lawyers had been engaged to address the situation) could get some info. Dante kindly agreed to wait, and we drove a few minutes away from the airport to a little village where drivers hang out when they’re waiting for clients, or perhaps also for teams of lawyers to confer re iPad customs delays. We went to a café that was called (no joke, and look it up if you don’t get the reference) the “Chingales” café, operated by some girls Dante knew.

Despite my original concern that we were going to pass the fifteen-or-so minute wait a low-end brothel, given the establishment’s name, this was in fact merely a café qua café with a (surprisingly and unnecessarily) lewd appellation, and when we arrived I was pleased to see Marcelo, the driver who had taken me from Ezeiza into Bs As centro when I first arrived. I was floored to see Marcelo, and he seemed to remember me quite well, and we all had an amusing reunion when I recounted why we were there. Their ladyfriends made us some coffee and poked fun at Dante’s referring to me (in truly heinous English) as “my friend David.” Soon everyone in the “Chingales” was laughing uproariously and calling each other “my friend” in equally hideous broken English.

It occurred to me as I was laughing with them that this was the most fun I’d had in
Bs As, and for that moment I forgot all about the iPad tragedy.
But then reality reasserted itself. Dante got a call from someone related to the case, and I tried to ring up my assistant in the US to get the confirmation number of the DHL shipment (NB: no luck! It was Memorial Day! I was well and truly cursed!).

But the news was apparently good from Dante’s end: the lawyer had spoken to Sr. Rinaldi, straightened him out, and now, this time, for real, no foolin', if we went back and talked to him everything would work out. So we said goodbye to the girls and Marcelo, paid for the coffee, and went back for what promised to be the quick, efficient (I thought, with what is obviously in retrospect simply incomprehensible naivete) final chapter of the increasingly Kafkaesque iPad saga.

To be continued. Very very continued.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Enormous news warranting your immediate attention

Ladies and gentlemen, can I please have your attention. I've just been handed an urgent and horrifying news story. I need all of you, to stop what you're doing and listen.

I ate a steak.

Are you still with me? Have you suffered a myocardial infarction and/or shat your drawers due to the sheer shock of the revelation? Well, get out the defibro paddles and/or a new set of Depends, and then keep reading.

Thing is, there's nothing particularly new about me eating a steak. I've been known to eat some steakses in my lifetime. Hell, once I even bit the hell out of a Black Angus steer while it was still alive (diagnosis: delicious!). But in Argentina, the steak is supposed to be transcendently awesome at a level that belies the ability of human language to express. In some parts of Patagonia, attempting to describe the deliciousness of the steak using human language is regarded as a criminal offense against the sanctity of steak, and is punishable by five years in prison or a fine of $1000 Argie pesos (NB: the latter amounts to like three bucks, so opt for the fine).

Some background on this steak that I ate. Given that this was my inaugural Bs As steak, I thought I'd go someplace nice, and wandered over to a place called "Cafe de Lector" by the Biblioteca Nacional (obv.). This was also apt for me since I was planning on reading during dinner, as I tend to do when wandering solo-style through these foreign lands, and so the name was rather apt. Plus, the restaurant is in the middle of a really nice park with statues and old-style lamps etc., so there is a picturesqueness as well.

Interlude re DF's language anxiety. So far I've been doing OK in Spanish. I'd rate my performance emphatically good-not-great. When I have a chance to get into a nice longer convo with someone, it all starts working, but random bitlets of chat here and there present much bigger problems, often because these require idiomatic short phrases that I'm not so adept with.

So when I'm approached by a waitstaffperson as I was tonight, I'm often antsy to make sure it all goes well, because I don't want some random Argentine person to go away thinking "That guy's Spanish is sub-par." What greater tragedy could ever befall me than that? It would be so heinous.

Anyway: This waitress was lovely in many ways, including that she spoke slowly and clearly so that I could understand her, and also tolerated with Mom Teresa-like patience my various inane questions about unfamiliar words (e.g., "What's a 'borron'?" (A: it's a small bottle)).

But let's focus on the steak! It was a lomo con champinones, which I took to be steak with mushrooms, and had a cream sauce on it. She asked me how I wanted it cooked, and I went for medium because to be honest I'm not sure how to say "medium rare" en espanol, and anyway in foreign countries they tend to cook steak one iteration rarer than they do in the US, so medium sounded about right.

And the verdict... This steak? Was excellent. Cooked a bit on the rare side (so "medium", or "en punto", was totally the right call), but flavorful and filling and just what I needed after several days of eating bread + cheese here in the depto (yes, I haven't been that adventurous food-wise, and yes that's lame, and yes I promise it will change). Only drawback: there was a cream sauce with it that I could have done without. Totally detracted from the steak's deliciousness. But it's a small quibble in comparison to the overall excellence of the experienhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifce. Cafe de Lector, I am a fan of you. And I will be back to visit you sometime soon.

Nor was this steak particularly expensive. I got out of there for under US$20, agua con gas y propina incluidos. The experience got DF's highest accolade: immediately afterward, I returned to the depto and found myself in such a state of satiety that I immediately undertook to siesta. True, this has led to much insomnia, but hey--twas worth it.

Pictured: lomo con champignones. NB: No, the pictured steak is not the selfsame steak I ate earlier tonight. Rather, it is a stock-footage steak, because I STILL DO NOT HAVE MY IPAD WITH THE PICTURE-TAKING CAPABILITY AND WHATNOT. Sadly.

PS Check what I found when I was looking for the introductory video link. Dutch techno x Anchorman = who knew?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Perdido en cyberspace: the mysterious Argentine internet outage of 2011

"The internet?" asked Homer in an ep of The Simpsons that aired some years ago, "Is that thing still around?" The joke, of course, is that the internet has become central enough to life that it's hard to imagine life itself without it. This is all the more true when, for example, one is in a foreign country and the internet provides a much-needed lifeline to friends and work.

So what would happen if the internet were to mysteriously and inexplicably die, or at least slow to a pace that pretty much moots its use, throughout aforementioned foreign country?

Welcome, dear readers, to my world, at least for the past 24hrs. Indeed, twas upon returning to my depto (abbreviation for "departamento," which is the way Argentinians say "apartamento," which is the way other Spanish-speaking folks say "apartment") and thinking to myself "How great it is to have a slick and fast internet connection! With it on my side, I'm connected to the world," that I found aforementioned connection worryingly slow. Things worsened to the point where, this AM, I could not access work email or law blogs. By this afternoon, no Facebook. Twitter? Kaput.

I had an image of the scene in Tom Sawyer where Tom and Becky are stuck in the cave, and they're running out of candles, and the light slowly and predictably flickers to a point where it's all snuffed out. Of course, in that scenario the two of them faced near-certain death, while I simply face a presumably temporary communication inconvenience, so in that sense I'm clearly better off than Tom Sawyer was. But on the other hand, upon escaping the cave, Tom found a stash of treasure that made him independently wealthy, so in a way I'm worse off than he was. And yet on still another hand (apparently at this point we're dealing with some kind of hideous, three-handed freak of a creature), the amount Tom found would have amounted to a mere pittance by today's standards, so perhaps it's really all a trivial point.

Ahem. Enough digressive rumination. Point being, my communication was cut out from under me, and it was a real drag. And just when I was writing a script in my head for how to explain and discuss the situation with some random Argie computer technician, I got a call from my Argentine colleague who explained that there was an internet outage throughout the country, or at least throughout Bs As. Strangely,this felt reassuring as now this problem is not mine but is something nation- or city-wide that is out of my hands. The scale of the crisis is somehow freeing.

Final strange note: this nationwide internet outage continues, yet I am currently blogging. How is this the case? I can't explain why this is true, but here's an intriguing fact. Almost all sites are down, even ones that aren't particularly rich in video or anything. But Gmail and Blogger are working like a charm (Blogger is a google-based site). What could this mean? Additional evidence that Google really is taking over the world, or at least the internet? I can't explain, but this does at least mean that until (and unless!) the situation is fixed, I'll be Gmailing and Bloggering like a mo-fo.

The DF iPad saga: part II

Well, broad readership, the DF iPad saga finally came to a happy end. The simple solution of having the iPad sent to me here in Argentina from LA avoided all the difficulties I'd been having, and now the iPad is here and it's been ever so fun and useful. The lesson is that exercising a little patience is always the best way to--

So were you buying that? Sounded nice, didn't it? And a few days ago, I naively thought that it would be how things actually turned out. That was when I had, for some reason, forgotten that acquiring this particular iPad was the star-crossed, Bad News Bears, ghost-ship-in-the-Bermuda-Triangle, tragicomic ongoing unmitigated disaster it was destined to be.

Am I exaggerating? You decide!

So early yesterday morn, I check the DHL tracking info to find that the iPad actually arrived in Arg yesterday (Aha! Things looking up!), and since then has been subject to a customs delay. Well, that's only fair. Customs moves slowly. Delays are understandable. And anyway, I felt sure the delay would be unsnafued by the promised delivery date of Thurs. So I emailed my Argentine point of contact and told her about the iPad's status, figuring she'd confirm that all was well.

I figured horribly, tragically, naively and exactly wrong. It turns out that "customs delay" is the worst news I could have received about the iPad's whereabouts, short of "permanently impounded with no recourse" or "confiscated and given to DHL worker's nephew." This particular customs delay apparently was due to the fact that the local authorities construed the shipment not as me sending the iPad to myself in order to use it here and bring it home to me, but rather as me illegally importing the iPad down to Bs As in order to (presumably) re-sell it.

Yes, apparently the Argentine officials think DF is the world's least strategic illegal importer, so incompetent that I'd buy a full-price iPad in the US, and then have it shipped for almost half the cost of the iPad itself (true, that) down here, in order to re-sell it to someone who would pay me a 150% markup rather than just buying a damned iPad in Argentina for the going, much cheaper, rate. I was almost as insulted at their low opinion of my illegal-importing abilities as I was frustrated by the delays.

But I assumed this would be easily straightened-out. I'd just go to the relevant office, explain the situation, and they'd turn over my iPad, right?

Oh, DF. Please refer to above paragraph, wherein you yourself explained that nothing related to the arrival of this iPad is going to be anything less than the most absurd, expensive, and unfathomably frustrating outcome possibly imaginable.

So of course, of course, it became necessary to hire a lawyer to extract the iPad from customs. Yes, that's right, broad readership, the iPad disaster has become so em-effing ridiculous that LEGAL COUNSEL HAS HAD TO BECOME INVOLVED. And yes, I realize all-caps equals shouting, but that's exactly what I wanted. Shouting was an appropriate expression of the rage I am feeling.

Ahem. Now calmer, but that was not a joke. In fact, through my very kind and patient Argentine friend, we have engaged a local lawyer, who is now working diligently to get the local customs folks to unhand my iPad. Of course, I'll have to pay this lawyer for their services, and with that and the not-cheap shipping costs down here, I'll end up paying well more to get the iPad in Argentina than it would have cost to simply purchase an iPad in the first place.

Yes. Marvelous. Outstanding. It's moments like this, at max-peak frustration, that I'm reminded of one of my fave phrases: amor fati. No, it does not mean "love of fatties," as some of you might rudely think. Rather, it means "love of fate," and expresses the quasi-Zen proposition that total acceptance of even those things that are negative and frustrating and ugly is rather freeing. This is, of course, easier said than done (and also seems pretty problematic insofar as it suggests acceptance of anything--"Genocide? No worries! Amor fati!"). In this case, though, I am resigned to amor-fati this iPad situation, and use it as an object lesson in appreciating the absurd complications that can dog the seemingly simplest tasks, and also as a way to appreciate the nonobvious awesomeness of how most such simple tasks get done with a minimum of fuss.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

I've got the runs

No, not those runs, you sickos. I mean that yesterday I took advantage of a break in the rain (because it is, after all, winter in the old Southern Hemisphere), and went on a run to take advantage of the gorgeous weather.

The venue for aforementioned run: the various parques surrounding the National Museum of Fine Arts. The route traces a long quadrangle up Av. Presidente Figueroa Alcorta, back down Av. del Libertador, and back again. Aside from the Museo de Bellas Artes, the parks are dotted with sculptures and otherwise very picturesque. You know what I'm talking about.

The appeal of this route it that it's relatively untrafficked and requires little in the way of street-crossing. That said, street crossing in Bs As is by far more efficient and much more dangerous than in the US (and esp LA, where what few pedestrians there are tend to defer graciously to traffic). This is a jaywalking kinda town, where peds simply dodge out in the street whenever they can, heedless of walk/don't walk signs. This suits me just fine, and added more than a small frisson of excitement to my run.

I kind of expected to be the only runner out there. I supposed I thought of Argentines as the kind of people who would roll their sensualist eyes at strenuous American attempts at exercise. "Running?" I imagined the typical porteno saying, "The only running I do is when I am running out of the cigarettes and need to run to the tienda to get more! [Robust laughter.]" In my imagination, the speaker looks exactly like the dude in the Dos Equis commercials (e.g., "The Most Interesting Man in the World").

In fact, there were quite a few other runners on the park with me. None of them seemed exactly marathon-grade, but then again neither is DF (yet!). One dude, in true Latin-macho style, made a big show of passing me at high speed, and then amusingly (to me, anyway), became gassed and was sucking wind a half-kilo later when I passed him at my same, steady pace. I did not taunt him, save by internal dialogue.

While on this run, I noticed that traffic along Av. F. Alcorta was backed up horrifically, and when I got to the far corner of the quadrangle, I realized why: the was an enormous demonstration. Political unrest? Revolution!?!? No. Fans of the football team River Plate had, for reasons unclear to me, gathered in the street and were chanting various slogans while waving club banners and jumping around. (NB to foreigners in Bs As: the two main football teams and rivals are Boca Jrs and River Plate, identifiable by the respective abbreviations/colors CABJ/Blue and CARP/Red). It may have had something to do with it being May 25, which is more or less the Argentine equivalent of the Fourth of July, and later led to some fireworks overhead that I could hear but not see from my apt balcony.

I ran for almost an hour, and rated the experience a nearly unqualified success (esp b/c now I won't have to go about getting a gym membership, as I'd suspected I would need to, so further money saved). Only drawback: Running along two major arteries in downtown Bs As may not be as healthful as I'd hoped. All the while along these two traffic-choked avenidas, cars and trucks belch exhaust (it appears that Argentina's emissions control is not as robust as that in the good old USA).

Small point, anyway. I look forward to future runs, and hope to beat my first-day record of five times around the parque. And as for runs of the other sort, I'll have you know that my GI has been rock-solid since coming to Argentina, despite my enthusiastic consumption of the local comida. Milagros, as the man says, pasan.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Great Argentine Kosher-sushi Non-fraud of 2011

At the risk of sounding redundant, everyone knows that if there's one thing you simply have to try when you visit Buenos Aires, it's the kosher sushi. But if there's one thing better than enjoying kosher sushi in Bs As, it's enjoying kosher sushi while also engaging in the international intrigue of laundering counterfeit money. Don't believe? Listen!

So, thanks to jetlag and the relentless oonta-oonta of the club downstairs from me that operates its truly impressive sound system until the early hours of morning, I've not exactly slept like a champ since arriving in Bs As (btw, this is my preferred abbreviation of choice for "Buenos Aires", though that will likely change over time). Yesterday (and today) I got out of bed at 11am, having slept like five fitful hours, and proceeded to do lots of emailing, blog-post-writing, and various other activities that make one feel productive but really are kind of wastes of time.

Then it occurred to me that despite the rain, staying in my cozy apt was really not the best way to experience the grand South American city in which I am fortunate to be spending the summer. (Wait--maybe it is? No, it's totally not.)

So I braved the rain and decided to walk around the various sights and destinations of the Recoleta, and on my way to the National Library, stopped by a cafe for an espresso. It was hot as hell in this cafe, and with my walking and wearing a puffy coat and all, I was far from unsweaty by the time they brought me my coffee. I gave them a fifty, and then a testy discussion ensued between the two employees about the bill. They looked at it and held it up to light, and then gave it back to me, which was enormously confusing and did not exactly reduce my sweatiness levels.

Diagnosis: counterfeit! Or, more accurately, possibly counterfeit, and I understood the lady to say that if there was any doubt, they didn't want to take the bill because then passing it along would get them in trouble. (Or she could have said, "I bore Diego Maradona's love child," given my shaky understanding of porteno espanol.) So instead, I paid with a different bill and moved along, concerned that on only my second day here, I'd inadvertently become a courier for illegal pesos.

I stopped off at the National Library, which is on the site of the old presidential palace, and hence is said to be haunted by the ghost of Eva Peron. I didn't see Evita's ghost, but I did see a group of three people who immediately struck me as American. Hence, my asking them loudly, "Hey, are you American?" and boom--they were, in fact. We chatted for a bit--they were GWU MBA students on a pre-summer tour of S America--and they expressed surprise that I was American, interestingly. To compound the whole, fascinating phenomenon of somehow fitting in as a local, a guard came over while we were speaking very loudly (b/c we're American, obv.) in English, and said to me in Spanish, "You speak Spanish, right?" I agreed, and he explained that I couldn't sit on the railing I was sitting on, etc., but the interesting thing is that despite my having a hi-decibel conversation in US-English with the GWMBA folks, he still seemed to think I was a local. This is flattering, but also problematic, because people totally do not dumb down their Espanol for me as I need, but instead machine-gun me in their native tongue, which I still cannot comprehend at high-speed.

Anyway, the fraud: At this point it was later aft and I was hungry as hell. I headed back to the main square of the Recoleta along a really nice park with sculptures by the national art museum, and found myself at a place a colleague had pointed out the other night. Strangely enough, this place specializes in kosher sushi (apparently at one point in the 20th century, Argentina had the fourth-largest Jewish population of any country in the world, but I don't think that's still the case).

I popped in and took a seat, ordered with relative competence and ease, and eventually had some really good sushi (only critique--too much cream cheese!) while reading a New Yorker. Life was, as the man says, good. Then the bill came, and while I initially was going to pay w/Amex, I decided to opt for cash instead, and without thinking very carefully about it, handed the waiter the same $50 that had been rejected in the cafe earlier.

Then, the following thing happened: nothing. I got my change, left a tip, and vamoosed. It was only quite a bit later, as I was going back to my apt, that I realized I may have passed along counterfeit pesos to my kosher-sushi friends. This could mean that I committed some type of Argentine crime within 48 hours of arrival. But even more concerning, it could also mean that I would no longer be welcome in the kosher-sushi joint that I'd liked so much and that I planned to be a regular at.

A call to a local Bs As-based amiga sorted it all out: The reason that the cafe rejected the bill appeared to have been bogus (she explained to me in detail that I will not relate here, as it's not that interesting), and anyway they didn't say the bill was fake, but only that there was some doubt about it. More importantly, though, I was apprised that if the bill had really been fake, there's no way a fancy upscale place like the kosher-sushi joint would not have noticed and rejected it. So far from my defrauding the sushi place, I'd actually done the service of getting a second, better opinion about the bill's legality that confirmed that the cafe's doubts were all false. Whew.

And that is why I am no longer worried that I am being sought by the porteno police in connection with an international scheme to launder counterfeit pesos at a kosher-sushi restaurant here in the Recoleta. So if you see my face on Interpol "Wanted" posters, I assure you it's all just a big misunderstanding. Seriously.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Llegada en Buenos Aires: where I'm writing from

After navigating the humorously unwieldy customs experience at Ezeiza, the rest of the logistics unfolded quite smoothly, as karma would dictate. I wandered around the crush of people outside the customs gate til I found the short dude in a suit holding a sign with my name (not as easy as it might sound, since all these guys stand together in a big mob and you have to walk past them all, sloooowly, looking for the dude with your name as they all hopefully look back (because how crappy would it be if your job were to stand there in a suit waiting for the one person of thousands whose name you happened to be holding?).

But found the guy, got in the cab, chatted up a storm en espanol with the driver, found my apt here in the Recoleta, and there I was in the antipodean spot I'd be calling home for the next month and a half. International travel is miraculous. Has that already been said? If so, whoever said it was totally right and a genius.

So where is this place that I am? Some facts: it is the Recoleta, a barrio of Buenos Aires (and, NB, when I use this term it does not have the negative connotations that "barrio" sometimes does in the US, but simply means "neighborhood") that takes its name from the monastery and cemetery, each called "Recoleta" that have been here for some centuries. Evita Peron is interred in this cemetery, and it's located a half-block from my apt bldg. I can see the above-ground tombs quite clearly off to the left of my balcony.

The Recoleta, I've been told and can sort of perceive, is on the upscale side, and has no shortage of nightlife. The latter became clear to me last night as I slept (or attempted to sleep) to the oonta-oonta beat of various nightclubs in the area. As the cabbie was dropping me off, he kept pointing out bars and clubs, which is great because now that I know where they are I can easily make sure to stay as far away from them as possible. The Recoleta's noisiness doesn't bother me that much, really--it's akin to staying in New York City, where part of the package you have to expect is a constant din of citified noise. Plus, I'm on the sixth floor, so it's not terribly deafening.

That said, the rhythm of life in BA is much, much later than I'm used to and generally prefer. A colleague invited me to dinner with her friends last night, and explained that they'd be meeting at 9.30pm, with dinner scheduled for sometime after 10pm--Monday night. This was more than my poor jet-lagged bod could handle, so I convinced her to meet up with me earlier, and we went to dinner around 8pm at a totally deserted restaurant, where the waiter looked at me as though I were insane when I ordered a meal (apparently 8pm is the Argentine equivalent of the Denny's old-person early-bird special hour).

Earlier in the day, in my attempts to stave off jet lag, I'd done a few walk-arounds here in the Recoleta to acclimate myself with the environs. I'm emphatically not a tourist this summer; I'm a temporary resident with an apartment and a job, etc., much more like a longer-term Let's Go stint (e.g., Melbourne '98, Amsterdam '01) than being an itinerant traveler (e.g., Central Europe '05). Hence my first move was to find a store and get food, which was, if I may, a huge success, at least given my justifiably low standards for success.

To wit, I looked at a map of the area, found something that seemed to approximate a store, and wandered in that direction. On the way, I stopped in at a cafe, asked for an ordered an espresso to go with no real difficulty, and then, heartened by my language success, asked the cafe dude where a supermarket was, and basically understood his explanation of the whole direction business, and the fact that the place was called the "supermercado chino" thanks to its having Chinese proprietors. I followed the directions, found the place, and boom--Chinese proprietors indeed. I wanted to hug them when I realized I had correctly understood the cafe guy's dialogue, but resisted because that would have been unbelievably weird and awkward.

A final note, embedded in the above exchange: Everyone here seems to assume that I'm a fully fluent Spanish-speaking Argentine. This started when I got on the plane, and the flight attendants spoke to me in Spanish. Part of it is that Argentina, and Buenos Aires in particular, is so Euro-influenced that the folks don't look that different than what you might find in a Latin European country, hence DF is pretty much par for the course. But it's also that for some reason I've shed an obvious-American vibe, the same one that caused people in Deutschweitz for the past few summers to immediately clock me as the presumptive US-ian. And while no one is more intensely into being American than DF, I like that I can opt to blend in, at least until I begin chanting "U S A" in public at random times for no apparent reason.

Pictured: Cementerio Recoleta.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Llegada en Buenos Aires: la cola interminable

Since I am clearly not loath to bore the Broad Readership with even the most mundane details of my voyage, it will likely come as a welcome surprise that I am not going to recount the trip down to Argentina in excruciating detail. But I will pass along some highlights, to the extent that a tedious overnight international flight can have highlights:

Upon boarding the plane, it soon became evident that due to light passenger carriage, I would have all to myself a two-person row along the right side of the plane. This aided the travel process immensely, meaning that the experience was merely very uncomfortable, as opposed to a ten-hour psychodrama of unfathomable discomfort.

During the voyage I read "Rawhide Down," a book about the Reagan assassination (factually informative but not really illuminating beyond basic narrative); watched Woody Allen's movie "Whatever Works" (watchable but not particularly interesting, and I say this as a fan of Allen's films generally, so it's not exactly praise); and read 1/3 of Sebastian Junger's "War" (gripping and fantastically written).

There was also some sleeping, of the immensely-uncomfortable sort where you are waking up every five minutes to see if there's some way to move your body so it's not poked by a metal outcropping or configured so that circulation is not immediately cut off.

Arrival initially appeared quite painless, though I was surprised to learn that Argentina charges US visitors $140 to enter the country, and slightly more surprised that they do this only because we charge Argentinians an equivalent amount to enter our country.

The whole trip seemed to be going quite smoothly, almost suspiciously smoothly, and then, of course, at last any suspicions of smoothness blew up when I got my bags and turned to find a line for the final customs bag x-ray that was so comically long I literally could not see where it either began or ended.

This line--in which one had to stand in order to have any shot of exiting the airport--snaked through the entire, large customs room and then back and forth through the baggage claim area (which created obvious logistical fiascoes when people getting their baggage wanted to break through the line to do it). The line had the looping physical appearance of a Disneyland queue on the most crowded day of the year, except that instead of getting to look forward to a fun ride at its terminus, the treat one gets is to have one's bag X-rayed, which it sort of goes without saying, is not nearly as fun as, say, the Dumbo ride or Captain EO.

The line was so mind-boggling that people in it kept looking around, as if trying to find the hidden camera and the dude who was going to leap out and say "Ha! Tricked you! It's all an gag to gauge your reaction to an absurd situation!" (Or however one says all that in Spanish--I haven't a clue.) At one point, a few people tried to cut the line and were met with the South American equivalent of shaming--loud whistles and shouts of increasing intensity--so that the would-be line-cutters scuttled to the rear.

The line was really less a line than a reasonably well-organized miasma of humanity. At times, people seemed to drift in ahead of their place, and at times, as the line doubled back on itself, I was pretty sure my linemates and I were drifting in front of others' rightful places, and I suspect this all canceled out in the end. And while no one exactly savored having to end their international arrival with a forty-five-min trudge through an elephantine queue, it was really a pretty great example of group organization and focality. Without any apparent help from authorities, we all managed to figure out the best way to distribute the line through space that was not designed for it, deterred attempted defectors through group-shame sanctions, and waited with grumbly but basically good humor until we were finally expectorated into the throng of waiting attendants in the main hall of Aeropuerto Ezeiza.

I can certainly imagine that none of the above is particularly interesting, or at least interesting only to me. So the sheer unlikelihood that anyone is still reading this post makes me feel freer to end on a loonified note possibly inspired by my current battle contra el jet-lag. It's this:

International travel is a little miracle. You pay a nontrivial but not utterly impossible sum, show up at the airport, and after an uncomfortable but not torturous day, find yourself whisked away to a place as far from your home as any place can be on this earth. Early yesterday I was in beloved Los Angeles, and now I'm in a slick apartment in the Recoleta, about a block from where they buried that chick Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote a song about, and everyone is speaking a different language that I struggle to understand, and I'm constantly beset with that mix of exhilaration and confusion that I remember with fondness from travels past.

Wait, did I say that international travel is a little miracle? Screw that, it's just a miracle.

I am in Houston & full of ribs

Actually, this blog title doesn’t really need any additional articulation, does it? It’s sort of the blogospheric equivalent of “Snakes on a Plane.” But since you’re reading already, and presumably gripped, allow me to at least explain how these ribs got into me.

Answer: I ate them. Again, this may be rather anticlimactic (unless, of course, you were thinking that the ribs of which I was speaking were the selfsame ribs I was born with, though that assumption would be really quite unreasonable because “full” so obviously refers to ingested food, and not musculature).

And as you can also likely infer, this entry was written during my current several-hour layover in Houston on the way from LA to Buenos Aires. I arrived, having slept most of the way to Houston, to my immense disappointment (disappointment because sleep on first leg diminished odds of sleep on second leg), then with three hours to kill, thought it would be wise to eat something that would not be available to me for the entirety of my time in Arg: good old Texas BBQ ribs. And now I am full of those ribs. Now, to be fair, given the history of my poor volatile overstressed GI system, eating a mountain of saucy ribs and an ocean of iced tea may not have been the wisest move immediately before getting on a ten-hour plane flight, but what’s done is done.

And as for the intestinal aftermath that will be suffered by me upon my transhemispheric flight, I’ll be sure to update you, O broad readership. Lucky, lucky broad readership.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The DF iPad saga: part I

I have long resisted the epidemic of Apple-product-lust that appears to be gripping the world. I walk past the Apple Store near my home regularly, and keep my eyes fixed firmly on the ground. I change the channel when TV commercials taunt me with visions of unfathomably hip technological gadgets of unclear but nonetheless impressive utility. And I remain faithful to my efficient yet un-fun BlackBerry, despite Verizon's recently making it so very tempting to switch over to the iPhone.

And yet, a couple months ago, temptation beckoned in a way I could not resist. I agreed to do an extracurricular project for a colleague, and was offered as part of my compensation a brand-new, delicious and gleaming iPad 2. This proved to be a highly efficacious incentive, as I finished my required work product apace, and soon after notified my employer that I was now entitled to aforementioned iPad.

This was, btw, early April. I figured that with shipping and processing, I'd have my hands on the iPad in two or three weeks, tops. Doesn't that seem reasonable? After all, it was then six weeks until my departure, and certainly I'd have the iPad before that. [Please note: The foregoing was "foreshadowing," wherein an author makes a statement pregnant with import to gesture at a forthcoming disaster. Truly, it is a sign of high-class literature.]

A few weeks later, I got an email from aforementioned employer (hereinafter, AE) explaining that there was a backlog of orders for the iPad 2, and so the process would take a bit longer. The arrival date was sometime earlier in May.

Oh. So, to be clear, at this point I'd given myself over completely to Apple lust, and in particular lust for the forthcoming iPad. It was as though all my abstemiousness had made the desire for the iPad that much more powerful, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on the slim, new model that I'd been coveting. So the delay was disappointing, but not devastating--after all, it's just a material object, and not a strictly necessary one at that. I'm a grownup. I can wait.

Then, more news: A firm date was set. Arrival of iPad would occur on May 23. Yes, May 23: the day just after I was scheduled to leave for Argentina. Deep breath. Patience. Now clearly at this point I was growing ever more irritated, and in my mild defense, it's not just that I thought it would be fun to have the iPad, but I had also planned my trip around it to some extent. E.g., since for complex reasons I won't be able to use my BlackBerry while in Buenos Aires, I am planning to use the iPad for photo-taking, and hence for adorning this blog with apt images (I'm told there is an archaic instrument called a "camera" that can also perform this function, but I own no such device).

But there appeared to be an easy solution: nice AE set up expedited shipping, so that the iPad 2 would arrive just before my departure--May 19, to be exact. Marvelous. So the morning of May 19 dawned, and I awoke in gleeful anticipation of finally finally getting my hands on my beloved iPad. And just to be safe, I checked the UPS tracking link AE had sent me, to find that my iPad had arrived safely in ... Changdu, China.

Wait-- Changdu? China?

Ahem. Yes: Changdu. China. [At this point a blue streak of swearing ensued that was so ribald and, frankly, kinda impressive that if I tried to recreate it in print I'd probably be banned from Blogger, and it would also take me hours so moot point anyway.]

I called UPS and they were pretty clear that there's no way the iPad would get from Changdu, China, wherever the hell that is, to LA before next week, when I'd already be southern-hemispheric.

But wait: I came up with a clever solution! Why, there's an Apple Store just a few blocks from my home. I suggested to AE that I could merely go to that store, buy an iPad, and send them the receipt. AE agreed that this was a good and efficient way to go. And bright the next AM, I popped on over to the Apple Store right when it opened at 10am, bypassed a line of bedraggled-looking folks standing by the entrance, and cheerfully said to one of the dudes wearing blue, "One iPad 2, please."

This Apple employee looked at me as if I'd suggested that he sing the score of the "HMS Pinafore" in a falsetto. "There's a line for buying iPads, sir," he finally uttered when his shock and withering contempt wore off a bit. "If you want an iPad, you have to stand in line."


So I stood in line, figuring that the wait would only increase the delirious joy I'd feel when I finally got my hands on the iPad I'd been waiting for for such a long, long time. And twenty minutes later, I got to the front of the line, was matched up with the selfsame Apple employee who'd told me to wait in it, and again gave my order, "One iPad 2, please!" He asked me for specs, but this was not an issue. I had them, and rattled them off with practiced ease. Came the chilling reply: "We're all out of those." (And, it turned out, similar models. And also out of these models are pretty much every Apple Store in the greater LA area.)

So apparently I was wrong to think that one should be able to go to a store and purchase their flagship product with relative ease, especially on a weekday morning, when it's not a holiday season, and some months after the product's initial release.

This is generally true, of course, but not so much with the iPad 2. Apple, through an apparently fortunate combination of consumer demand, low supply of component parts, and (I suspect) a desire to stock product languorously in order to prime aforementioned demand, has created a shortage so intense that people are literally lining up outside their stores constantly even on weekday mornings to get their hands on one of these babies.

I went back home, frustrated but wiser, and frantically told AE NOT to cancel the shipment as we'd discussed. Much logistical kerfuffling ensued, as I discovered via UPS that the iPad had arrived from China and was in the US ... in Anchorage effing Alaska. I then learned that UPS will not re-route shipments out of the country (e.g., to Buenos Aires), so I accepted that I will not have the iPad for the flight down, and instead will simply have someone at work send it to me when it arrives in LA next week.

Sigh. All in, this is really not a big deal. I don't need an iPad, after all, I just really grew to want one. And I'll have it next week, barring some kind of logistical snafu (which, after these past few days, I'm totally not ruling out). So at the end of it all, what really bugs me is not so much all this marginal inconvenience, but that Apple finally got to me. I'd been so good about staying coolly above the consumer frenzy created whenever a new iSomething is released, and always reminded myself that in the absence of real necessity, such purchases tend to be regrettable wastes.

But when I finally gave myself over to iPad lust, I became one of those people who go embarrassingly ape-crap over the prospect of arguably necessary technological novelties. For years, I'd passed the Apple store like an AA person (presumably) passes a bar--with a twinge of temptation, but firm conviction that passing by is the best move. And then, when the smarmy Apple Store guy told me they were sold out (and acted as though not knowing about the iPad's historic scarcity made me contemptibly ignorant), it took all my strength not to knee him in the crotch, and I had become like the AA person who finally enters the bar and goes on a bender of world-class proportions.

So, I'm deeply disappointed in myself and my lack of technological dignity and self-control. And I am also still unfathomably, lustfully excited about the prospect of imminent (though by no means certain) iPad arrival. Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bienvenidos, y de nada

It's me again, dear beloved broad readership. Yes, it's DF, the ever-itinerant wanderlusting soul who has brought so much joy in the past with blogs such as DF in Mitteleuropa, DF in Deuschland: World Cup 2006, and DF Revisits Mitteleuropa.

This year of Our Lord 2011, DF will be changing up the Germanic theme of previous travelblogs, and heading due-ass south, to glorious Argentina, land of the Pampas and Peron, of Malbec and Maradona, of Tango and Cash.

The occasion: I'll be co-teaching a course on international copyright for a law school summer study-abroad program. I will be saying virtually nothing about this, as this blog is to be devoted almost entirely to the classic DF travel experience, and not the workaday details that will sustain (and bankroll) my visit to the antipodes.

Departure for the six-week sojourn will happen soon, amigos: Sunday, May 22, and no I'm far from ready to leave. I've been so swamped with work &c that I've hardly had a chance to sort out the most basic travel details that are necessary for the trip. In the more distant past, I've prepared somewhat more intensely for such trips, but have recently found it's better to just throw stuff in a bag and get on the road. There's an apartment and a big city waiting for me down in Buenos Aires, and these things are more fun on the fly, anyhow.

So strap in, readers, for what will inevitably be a journey full of joy and merriment, replete with hilarious attempts to make myself understood in my still-not-great-after-so-many-damn-years-of-working-on-it Spanish, animated conversations about international soccer, self-electrocutions thanks to dodgy international power outlets, unfettered US-nationalism, reports on haute-cuisine-induced nausea, and all the high-quality entertainment you've come to expect from a classic DF travelblog.

Oh, and what's that, you say? You're overwhelmed with gratitude that I would, at no charge, provide a magical window onto yet another summer of DF abroad-going? Well, say nothing of it, broad readership. If there's one thing DF loves, it's Twinkies slathered with a hearty helping of umami-rich vegemite. But besides that, if there's anything else DF loves, it's watching reruns of ALF until three-thirty in the damned AM. But besides both of those things, if there's anything else DF still loves, it's bringing joy to others via the written word. So while it may be hard to believe, this blog will bring me almost as much pleasure as it will bring you to read it. So, you're welcome, readers. Que comence la nueva aventura!