Monday, January 28, 2013

A Farewell Message To My Fair Winds Friend

Dear Buenos Aires,

Hola! ¿Cómo estás? Todo bien? Bueno.

It’s been over two months since I left you, and I am still nursing my wounds. Before my memory fails me, I’m gathering my final musings to make sense of our relationship the past year, and to say farewell to you, my fair winds friend.

I thought a good way to kick this off is to go back to when we first met...when a young, hopefully Holly had just arrived in your arms.

After a whirlwind tour of South America, she was optimistic and excited for all the possibilities that lay ahead of her in the city she had heard was one of the greatest in the world. People said you were a utopia where expats lived like kings, cocktails were $1 and all the men were named Nico and Martin and Nacho and they played shirtless polo in the streets (unfortunately, you only delivered on one of these promises). Here are some early snaps of my favorite times with you. And when I still had a mullet.

It took me a few months to realize that the stories that charmed me to finally meet you were second hand and about 10 years old. Instead, I arrived just in time to witness the final countdown to your dazzling economic and political fireworks display (but unfortunately, not the celebratory sort). I saw you inflate three times (not becoming for your gorgeous Latin figure), your countrymen march in rage over your government, and criminal behavior become commonplace on your streets.

But, it’s amusing to me to look back on our first encounters, when we were just getting to know each other. I was so sweet and innocent then. Pobrecita. You were so fun and exciting; God knows you haven't lost that.  

I made a fine effort getting stuck in your expat safe bubble, Palermo Soho, posting up at places like Maggie’s or Oasis, chatting with other foreigners behind your back about the state of affairs- as if we all didn’t live within your city limits ourselves- whilst tucking away bottles of champagne and figuring out how many party favors we needed for the weekend.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I was a happy partaker in your unrivaled nightlife. It was my favorite escape from the daytime follies of your public offices, public transportation and, well, the public in general. Unfortunately, your bottomless mimosas and day raves could only go so far to mask the reality of living in your unrestful, insecure and dangerous embrace. They did a pretty damn good job, though. Some more snaps of my life in your night.

I'm sorry for the cynical tone, mi amor. I guess there’s still a bitter residue leftover from the unfortunate incident that happened to me a month before I left you. You know, the one where two men broke into my house on a Saturday morning, came into my room and forced me to realize exactly what it means to be in survival mode. Certainly, you haven't forgotten that. And, although the whole incident ended in a Home Alone-style chase-out of the boludo bandits and a very lucky Holly, wallet-less but alive, I resent the fact that it tarnished my trust in you. But that's the past and I'm stronger for it. And, you know how indescribably grateful I am to, you know, be breathing and stuff.

Good thing too because, as your name suggests, there are plenty of good aires to inhale.

You gave me a sensational sensory overload in November. My three best friends visited, and though I utterly deflated myself trying to play the "please everyone" hostess,  you helped me slip in a few memorable moments to send me off on a high note. The magical waterfall adventure, my birthday beach bash, midnight milongas, Cabrera carne, polo parties, Kansas cocktails and a thanksgiving feast with my favorite people, at my favorite place. Muchas gracias por todo.

I thought of many sub-topics during my relationship with you that I could have written about, like:

Buenos Aires: The Adult Playground. Party Now, Grow up Later

The Art of Uprooting: How Being an Expat has Made me Insecure and Unstable. But, maybe a little more interesting and worldly?

Expat Ego: Casual Sex And The Big Fish Complex. (That would have been an interesting one)

But there’s no time for that now, I'm moving on. Maybe in another life when I have a book deal to write an expat tell-all. For now, here are a few of my final translations of life in your jungle….

  • Buenos Aires, you are comparable to New York and London….in prices. 
  • But you're a much better lover. 
  • That expat comradery I felt when I first arrived turned out to be more like a fraternity with all the fun quirks frat boys are known for.
  • Living at Club Aguilar, with my Argentine family and the international characters that filled the rooms was probably the best thing that came of my time with you.
  • And then there’s Maggies, my second home and safe haven. And, I sort of fell in love with the Canadian dynasty behind the establishment. Sorry for the infidelity, but thank you for the intro.  
  • Belgrano is your most beautiful neighborhood (but not your safest, as it turns out).
  • Cristina is the asshole everyone says she is.
  • Your men are aggressive, but in a non-aggressive way. Does that make sense?
  • Portenas actually wear the pants in the relationship. They're either floral, striped or hang-crotch.
  • Your asados are quite possible better than our American bbqs.Yeah, I said it.
  • However, I think your carne is over-rated. Said that too.
  • Buying vino blanco is a crime. Actually, buying anything but Malbac should be punishable by death.
  • Dulce de leche is the flavor of the Gods
  • Top 3 reasons to visit you again: Maggies, leather jacket, telo.
  • And your parties. El mejor. Los extraño.
  • The lifers I met are the reason I am a serial expat, and you delivered some pretty solid ones.
  • Thank you for finally helping me improve my Spanish  after turning on the “shit, I’m leaving in two months and my Spanish is embarassing, must learn quickly and take more seriously” swtich. I get to practice my Castillano on my dog now. How useful.

Oh, Buenos Aires. You bi-polar bitch. You tangoed with me, then mugged me. Sipped vino with me and then spit it in my face. Fed me carne and then pushed me in front of the collectivo. Gave me hot Latin love and kicked me out the next morning. We shared laughs, tears and total breakdowns.

I was addicted to you. All the highs and lows and drama and pleasure. And as I go through my BA detox here in sunny but sleepy Florida, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t having serious withdraws. I guess I’ll always be a little addicted to you.

Another chapter closed on my so-called expat life. Until we meet again, I leave you with the opening of Medianeras, the brilliant little indie flick about depression, love and architecture- exactly how I will always remember you.

Adios, mi amor. Te amo.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dodging Missiles and other Boludo Bombs

I’ve recently solved a mystery---or cultural phenomenon perhaps---that I’ve previously identified as the “Argentine Missile Crisis”.  You see, my experience with kissing Argentines (4 times out of 5…which is about as many encounters as I’ve had) can only be described as stepping into a war zone, their missile-like tongue ready to attack before the adversary (in this case my mouth) even reaches enemy lines.

Now, at first I thought I was just having a string of bad luck, or maybe I was just being dramatic. But then I started asking around to my fellow expat ladies, and they had tales of the same missile dodging.  Brilliant! I wasn’t the only one suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Smooch Disorder?): this was/is actually a thing. But the conundrum wasn’t really uncovered until recently when a very cute American friend of mine (which helps validate his extensive market research) was talking about the way Argentine chicas kiss…. describing a tongue-vacuuming, missile-housing type of encounter. ¡Ya está! That’s it! It all makes sense now. Their kissing is a cultural accommodation really only suited  for other compatriots. Unless, of course, our boy Messi over here is getting you all hot and bothered.

This is the part where I usually stamp a stereotype-reducing postscript, but BA has made me a little cynical (see last posts for confirmation) and I just want to make sure other unknowing soldiers are prepared for beso combat. And it’s my blog, damn it!

In other war metaphors…taking a stroll down any BA sidewalk after an evening of downpour is like walking through the Malvines minefields. Sneaky loose tiles collect the muddied rain and wait for just the right moment to explode all over your new canvas Paezs and poor, exposed legs. Deficient government spending strikes again!

And, finally I said I wouldn’t talk about expat sex life. Well now I’m bursting with 8 months (well 7 years, really) of musings and I thought, “Screw it (ha), here I go.” But, then I thought again. Nope. Let future expats figure it out themselves. I will only say this: Do your sexy business as far outside of your friend circle as possible, but if you get lazy and have a tequila-induced oopsi daisy, don’t expect much more than what the Argentines call a “touch and go” and a casual "hey buddy" the next time you see them at Magdalena's Party.  For now, I’ll continue my confessionals offline and save myself from cringing later. 

Buenos Aires: an adult playground complete with hair pulling, game playing and name-calling. It’s dramatic, confusing and often times infuriating. But, as playgrounds tend to be, it’s fucking fun. And so we swing on.

Until next time, Boludos.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Finding Holly’s Box and Other Jungle Behavior

Head outta the gutter---it’s not what you think.

I received a box from the States a few weeks ago containing a pair of shoes, a pair of pants and my hidden 1-year-old Android (lest we run into any electronic import tax shenanigans). Alas, Argy customs were too clever, and when the box arrived at my house (to my thrilled astonishment!) I was told I needed to pay 500 pesos--that’s over $100--more than the value of the contents in the box.

No explanation, just demand. I refused to pay, of course, and when the deliveryman walked away with my belongings I could do nothing but flip the crazy switch I only discovered I possessed since living down here:

“FUCK YOU!” was my very calm, cool and collected response.

It was at that moment I realized that in order to survive in the BA jungle, one must actually become an animal.

When I walked into the house, my roommates were all quite mortified at the whole thing, but tried to calm me. They let me rant for a bit and then gave me the simple, complacent answer I always get:

“That’s just the system here, there’s nothing you can do” 

No no, there’s always something you can do.

I told my English class about the incident, and one of my older students informed me of a good friend at the Correo that would “take care of the situation”. One phone call later, my box was fee-free and is now waiting with my student for me to pick up.


This seems to be a reoccurring theme in my BA struggle with public affairs. I get frustrated, lose my cool and just when I’m about to flip tables…

...some little Argentine guardian angel of sorts steps in to offer their help. It’s because they know that systems are broken here--they’re used to it--so they feel bad for new, foreign species like me trying to survive in their jungle.

Survival. I’m practically a master now.

And I get to continue to hone my skills after taking a pay cut at a time when inflation here is off the charts. I am now living on what I like to call an unlivable salary. Expats, can I get an amen?!

Luckily, I’m crafty, ambitious and I have parents that I’ve tricked into believing in my lofty pursuits.

Dear Mom and Dad,

Living in Buenos Aires as a freelance writer is a far cry from being a crackhead. 

It can always be worse.



Monday, August 13, 2012

Kicking In Cojones and Other BA Survival Tips

It’s been months. Things have happened. Trying to blog them all is impossible now. My best bet is to ramble off highlights, lowlights, observations and wisdoms from the past 5 months in the jungle.

Let’s see…

I’ve been writing for a tech startup website since my last post. This has contributed to both my aversion to leisurely writing and my newfound fascination for the entrepreneurial underworld. It reminds me of the rave scene in Matrix Reloaded except without the beautiful, sweaty people and more glasses with iOS-based banter. I’m kind of into it. So much so that two baby projects of my own have sprung up from the moist, startup earth of Argentina. I’m watering them now. We’ll see how they grow.

The sit-down nature of my job has also caused me severe corporal pain, which has led me to be convinced of the CrossFit advantage (thank you, Hunter...champ). I’ve just come back from my first class. It’s like really rough, really sweaty…yeah, that. In other words, I LOVED IT and I can’t wait for the next steam-blowing session. And, the abs that will inevitably follow, of course. 

I just had five good friends visit for the whole month of July. Pretty decent for a $1500 trip to the end of the earth. I’m still recovering from an overdose of party time and love and a complete lack of sleep. It was awesome. 

We went to Colonia, Uruguay, and stayed at La Casa de Los Limoneros. Magic is the only word that comes close to what we experienced. I will be back. Perhaps my friends will too.

The expat community I’m entangled with is an interesting lot: it’s a constant flow of newbies and despies, bienvenidos and buena suertes. Hook-ups are casual and partying is serious. It’s what I’ve come to expect in the transient lifestyle I’ve signed up for. It’s good, it’s bad, it’s ugly, but it’s always fucking interesting…

...kind of like my love life. Wait, love? No, no. More like British schoolboy affairs with a sprinkling of international flings. The expat sex life is a fascinating one. But, I’ll stop there. I’m no Carrie Bradshaw, and I don’t want to give too much away.

Magdalena’s Party is my jam. It’s where I eat brunch, drink beer and watch Game of Thrones. It’s a place where everybody knows my name and where Sarah Deutch cures my moral hangovers. It’s the down feather pillow in my arroz con mango BA (night)life. And, I have my own personalized margarita glass. So there’s that.

Nightlife? More like early morning life. Sorry, New York—Buenos Aires is truly the city that never sleeps. I wake up from my fiesta siestas around the time most bars in the world are closing, and head out into the big, bad, booze-filled noches of BA, usually till the sun comes up (see last post for more on this activity). It’s a fomo’s paradise and worst nightmare (that’s right, people who have a Fear Of Missing Out…ahem, this guy). I’ve decided not to fight it anymore; my equilibrium has long been adjusted and I can sleep when I’m dead. I hope that’s not any time soon. There's some great parties next week.  

I had my first attempted mugging a few weeks ago. It was 4pm and I was walking in the underpass on a main road (Cabildo, for my BA peeps). Immediately, I was attacked by three little niño thugs for my iPod. In this particular fight or flight situation I figured it was no contest. I screamed in two of their faces; they ran. The hero of the gang continued to paw at my pocket for my Apple toy, and I took his arms, and with a swift kick to his prepubescent cojones, I made sure he wouldn’t be able to have little hooligans of his own someday. I got away with my iPod, but they somehow managed to break it. A clear winner was not crowned that day. (Though, I did walk away unscathed, for that I am grateful).

The collectivo from 9am-10am and 5pm-7pm is a constant wave of pushing and permissos, grazing and groaning (from me, and not the good kind). For someone who has recently experienced the perils of anxiety, this is pretty much the worst- case scenario (that and dealing with the correo, or bank, or co-ghetto, and so on). But, instead of letting the anxiety attack, I have used my daily tasks as therapy. That’s right, the more crowded the bus, the longer the lines or the inevitable “no hays” for most of my requests, the more focused I am at being tranquila. It’s challenging, I’ve cried on occasion, but I’m learning to react in a better way. And, keep my sanity…
…This is always my mantra when living abroad. I’m here to be challenged, to be uncomfortable and to add to my life facets. And, that's mostly true. But sometimes easy, convenient and comfortable are not the worst things in the world. As my friend Laura puts it, “Sometimes you just want to sit in your air conditioned living room and watch Bravo TV all day.” Agreed, L, agreed.

This has taken a bit of a bitter tone and…well…fair enough. Perhaps it’s the change in the air I’ve felt here recently. A slight sense of desperation from a city that is trying to keep up with a bureaucracy they abhor.  Subway strikes, piling garbage on the streets, and the blue market hunt for the USD. Again, subjects I know too little about to discuss but definitely feel on the daily. 

Oh yes, and my friends keep leaving (ojito, Sterling!)

But, that’s the nature of the (being a foreigner far away from your norm) beast---you learn, you grow and you do the best you can.

So let’s round this off on a positive tip—BA has invited me to some of the best parties, and I’ve met some solid people that make this experience worth every minute. My job as a writer and teacher are enriching and interesting (and inspiring!) and I wake up looking forward to going to work. Really.
I also just went to BA Fashion week, VIP style, with my two favorite people, sipped on bubbles and laughed (at everyone).

Dulce de leche also makes me happy.

And my house. It's a magical place.

There’s much to look forward to in the coming months. Winter is fading, sun is shining, and plans are being hatched for another visiting lot of best friends soon—a MUST for expat survival. 

It's taken a while, but life at the moment is very, very good; my Buenos Aires chapter is shaping up nicely.

Hasta luego, gente.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

[Day] Break Dancing and other Self-Realizing Pursuits

Waiting on work to commence (commonly known as unemployment, personally known as funemployment) is tricky business in any city. But in Buenos Aires, it´s another beast altogether.

You know you should lay low, focus and be on your A-game as much of the time as possible in order to maximise your job-obtaining chances and minimize the time it takes to do it.

However, job-searching isolationism coupled with an obligationless tomorrow married by a ferocious social appetite and a city to feed it usually ends in a bitter separation between what you should do and what you actually do. And, in Buenos Aires it means you party. Usually, till the break of dawn. Could be a Tuesday. Could be a Thursday. Like the last few Thursdays at hip-hop club Lost where I watch serious Argentinian break dance competitions whilst dancing with British Gap Yah kids that include heirs to certain sandwich empires and successors to certain British thrones (the details of this story are best expressed in person!).

Needless to say, I´m easily convinced to go out.

Though, going to bed after the sun which is inevitable in a city where parties start at 2am, is not the best way to start a productive day. Consequently, I wake up with a buzz in my head and just enough time to question my existence; this usually doesnt end well for my morale.

Low points have included looking at plane tickets back home and eating dulce de leche out of a tub.

Luckily, this is mearly a by-product of living in a new, foreign city and one I know, with a little bit of time, can properly be managed. Even luckier is the fact that I´ve weaseled my way into a seriously great group of friends here that have helped in making BA more of a home. Albeit, they certainly don´t help in the social curtailment challenge.

Good news-

This week marks the commencment of my English teaching endeavours and a possible full-time writing gig, which will subsequently give me a purpose here and hopefully keep me on the straight and narrow. Or, at least give me a reason to go to bed before the sun. Mostly. Sometimes. I mean, I am a social creature after all.

Everything in moderation and all that...

Weather is getting cooler, and autumn is rolling in. My favorite season, and I get to experience it twice this year. Thank you, Buenos Aires.

Things are definitely on the up and up!

Ciao for now...

Monday, March 12, 2012

New Air

As the dust from two months of South American travel settles, and I exhaustively hang up my backpack, I can finally breathe in the air of the city that charmed me to this region of the world in the first place…

Buenos Aires.

Good Airs.

Fair Winds.

It´s a city securing its membership in the elite ¨Great Cosmopolitan Cities of the World¨ club. New York and London, two ladies that occupy a large portion of my heart, should be thrilled to welcome this new Latin cohort. And, maybe take some notes.

Since arriving here three weeks ago I have naturally covered all emotional ground, tackling daily internal/external dialogue such as:

  • What are you doing here, Holly?! Go home. Get a proper job. Stop mucking about (British Holly, obviously.)
  • Holly, your Spanish is poor, you´re in serious trouble.
  • Oh dear God, they´ve cut my hair into a mullet. Must improve my Spanish immediately!
  • We know the steak and wine and empanadas are delicious and cheap, Holly, but you keep this up and you´ll be a gordita with a drink problem in no time. Oh, no. I just remembered dulce de leche. In everything. I am in serious trouble.
  • Should I get myself an Argentinean boyfriend? Unlikely, if previous indulgences persist.
  • Need a job. English teacher? Probably. Dog walker? Er, no. American voice-over star? Boom!
  • Current social obligations low. Current free time high. Oh, right. I should start a blog.

Thankfully, these fine life details can slowly be smoothed within the comforts of the most important discovery I´ve made here in BA thus home,

Casa B
or Casa Aguilar, not sure what sticks yet

A gorgeous, warm and magical house nestled amongst the mansions and embassies and delicate cafes of Begrano, a neighborhood that would happily share high tea with the Chelseas and Sohos of the transatlantic metropolises to the north. It´s a neighborhood that infuses inspiration with just a short walk down its tree-lined streets; a daily infusion I´m finding myself becoming addicted to.

Beatriz, la mujer de la casa, is a 70-something, widowed, retired Spanish professor that opens up her home to students, young people and anyone who loves her house as much as she does. Currently residing here are, myself, Sam from Texas, Carolina from France (who came as a student 9 years ago and never left…understandably so!), Cara from Brazil, and Raul, Beatriz´s son. (It´s a big house.) Beatriz has become my tutor, my lunch companion, my friend. I´m enjoying long days chatting with B in Spanglish, tasting here dulce de leche surprises, watching the Oscars (Angelina…..que feo!), and generally learning what I can from her. She´s lived in Buenos Aires all her life, knows everyone, and for the past 30 years has created a lovely home that I am happy to now be a part of. Even if just for a short while.

If you´re concerned that I´ll soon be taking up knitting too, don´t worry. I´ve discovered Palermo Soho.

In places like Rio Café, I blissfully sip expensive maracuja caprihans, mingle with expats like Withers and Sterling (note: NOT Lords of 18th Century England, in fact, dudebros from the East Coast) and get a feel for what I call ¨the hustle¨. I´ve met some interesting characters with fascinating accounts of how they ended up here. From food delivery services, to hot sauce creators, to dove hunting resort owners, this city is filled with implants from all over the world who possess a keen entrepreneurial and ambitious spirit unlike I´ve experienced anywhere else; not necessarily competitive or aggressive, it´s more a feeling of collaboration, where everyone has got each other´s back. Ideas and projects that one would never have the prospect or money or even inspiration to develop in a city like, say, New York, can actually be achieved here. I read a great article from from 2006, a time when the economy here was just starting to heal from its 2001 crash, featuring expats who decided to make their meager New York millions stretch exponentially by packing up and heading south-

Sure, as ideas are hatched and businesses are created, competition will grow and the current solidarity felt amongst expats here will likely come undone. And, perhaps I am misinformed. Or, disillusioned. That, I guess, is to be determined.

For now, I am happy to capitalize on this newfound free time and can-do attitude, figure out why I´m here, and join in on the hustle.

Oh, yes. And translate my observations along the way.

Until next time...