Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Simple Life of an Ex-Pat

Let me preface this entry; life would not be simple if we were working to make ends meet.  We are fortunate to be able to take a year or so away with work with not much thought to money.  Sadly, we cannot live this way forever.
We Americans are used to dishwashers, cars and hot water.  Apparently this is not so in Buenos Aires!  We live in one of the most exclusive areas of the city, in an apartment that would be considered luxurious by all but the most privileged Porteno, however, we have no dishwasher, clothes washer, car, etc.  Interestingly, we don't miss any of these possessions.  We wash our clothes that dry easily in the tub, heavy items like jeans we send out for about $4.00 per week.We walk, take the Subte (Subway), Omnibus (Bus) or Taxi wherever we go.  Even though we have no place to be, the day seems to fly by.  Spanish class Monday-Friday at 10:00am, shopping for food, preparing meals, studying Spanish, errands, meeting friends, reading and site seeing seem to take up the day's!  Amazing! How did we ever work, raise a family and have a social life?  
We are "stepping it up" this week!  Tango classes begin tomorrow and we are traveling to Puento Madryn this weekend to see Magellan Penguins, whales, dolphins and sea lions. The coche coma ride (sleeping bus) is 17 hours long, which should be interesting and we are staying at a hostel....a long way from InterContinental Hotels!

Monday, September 22, 2008

We're Having a Baby.....Dove


We have a planter box outside of one of windows which has been inhabited by a mourning dove "couple".  We placed a few cracker crumbs for them to snack on and bits of paper and string as "Mommy" bird appeared to be nesting.  Today she squated out an egg (see small white orb under Mrs. Dove). We are so proud!  
Maybe I've been wrong, maybe I shouldn't shot all these beautiful creatures, perhaps this is a sign.....naaah!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Grief Never Sleeps

When Jack fell ill we he was flown by helicopter to Dell Children's Hospital. We knew it was serious, but not until about 12:00am did we learn how dire.  The doctor on duty told us it was Amoebic Meningitis and it's fatal.  Fatal..fatal...fatal.  Shock set in.  This could not be true, not to our son, no, it's a mistake, this is not possible!  The next day, Saturday, he showed signs of recovery! Hallelujah! He moved his eye's and squeezed our hands. The doctors and nurses were amazed. 
He has a chance. The enthusiasm was short lived.
By the following day things began to go downhill; vital signs, cranial pressure, etc.  The decline worsened as the days progressed until Wednesday, August 15 at 3:33pm when he was pronounced dead.  Our grieving began when Dr. Kerr said that horrible word...fatal, but now it reached a different level.  We left our son in his bed, connected to the respirators so that his organs could be harvested.  In retrospect I don't know how we did that.  I guess by that time we were just following directions, too shaken to make decisions on our own. What else could we do?
Initially the pain is overwhelming.  My thoughts were only of my sons last days, from the time Deidre called to say "Jacks really sick, I think he has meningitis" to 3:33pm on 8/15.  These thoughts ran like a DVD in my mind, all I could see was my boy in his bed with too many IV's to count, a shunt in his head and respirator.  I cried constantly, could not sleep nor eat. Devastated. My only thoughts were of Jack.  Surely I was loosing my mind. Simply put, I didn't believe it could be true.  I could not wake up from this horrific nightmare.  13 months later I still don't believe it actually happened, although I'm gradually accepting it.
The pain began to subside after a month or so,  instead of crying multiple times a day, it became only once or twice a day, I started eating and could hold a conversation without mentioning Jack. 
But the pain was there, barley hidden below the surface.
Grief of this magnitude is akin to open heart surgery without the benefit of anesthesia. It hurts in places you never knew existed, physically or mentally.
Gradually, life becomes almost normal, but not normal like before. It's our "new normal".  It's unrealistic to think that we will ever be free of our feelings and grief and I never want to be!  Currently I go days without the tears and sometimes don't think about the tragedy that befell our family until mid morning, but those days are few and far between.  Other people that have lost a child tell me that one day we will only remember the happy, good times and not dwell on the bad, perhaps this is so, but we're not there yet.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Money Changers

Our new landlady agreed to a very favorable monthly rent with two caveats; one we pay 3 months at a time and 2nd, we pay in $USD. Apparently it behooves Argentino's to hold American dollars, just in case of another bank crash, military coup or general civil unrest. As I mentioned earlier, these folks have been through a lot over the years and they are understandably skeptical of their own currency. They view $USD as a commodity, something to have stashed away for a rainy day!
I have an account with an International bank so I'm able to withdrawal funds via ATM, without any ridiculous service charges. However I can only withdrawal $300.00 pesos or $100.00$USD at a time, supposedly for security reasons, but I can continue to withdrawal funds up to $1,500.00$USD per day....go figure. Also, I cannot withdrawal $USD, only pesos, in other words, I need a shitload of pesos to pay 3 months rent.  Apparently it's common to carry a huge wad of cash in this country.  I'm an  American....I don't' typically large have large amounts of cabbage on me.  I use my debit card to buy a pack of gum! So, I'm riding the bus with a ton of cash in my  "Rick Steves" money belt, I'm such a complete and utter dork!
Now comes the fun part! One must visit a Cambrio de Casa (house of change) in order to convert Pesos to Dollars. Deidre and I visit our neighborhood change house, but find they are short of $USD, they have a boatload of Euros, Australian Dollars and Brazilian Reals,  but no US Dollars. Then we go to another change house, which is disguised as a travel agency, with a long time resident of BA who has befriended us. Initially I get in line with everyone else, but today's limit is $1,000.00. Then our friend comes to our rescue. She speaks rapid fire Spanish to a few of the clerks, speaks on the telephone with the "people upstairs", more heated discussion, a wave at the closed circuit television and then everything is fine, the limit has been temporarily waived.   I give them the remainder of my cash and they promptly exchange for $USD at a very favorable rate. Should any of you visit, bring "extra" money, I'll gladly exchange for pesos!

Send lawyers, guns and money, the shit has hit the fan-Warren Zevon

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I Grow Old, I Grow Old, I'll Wear the Bottoms of My Trousers Rolled-T.S. Eliot

I awoke one morning last week (I make it a point to do this daily) and clicked the CNN tab on my Mac Book Air to see that John McCain had selected Sarah Palin as his running mate. Like most of us, I had never heard of the Honorable Governor of Alaska, so I thought I would read her bio. She's forty f...ing four years old! WTF! Barak Obama is 47! Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates are supposed to old, fossils, like Ronald Reagan and Sen. McCain. I turned 46 in July! I doubt that anyone in pro sports is my age other than golfers and lets be honest, how hard is it to walk around swinging a stick? It's not like they are covering crazy fast wide receivers or hitting 100mph fastballs. In my younger days I thought that by the time I reached this age I would have been more successful, in the traditional sense.
I was admiring the shape of my skull in the elevator mirrors later that morning when I noticed the rest of my reflection in the mirrors....I look like a bag of ass. What's left of my hair is grey, I'm growing moobs, flabby mid section, the whole nine pitiful yards. What the hell happened to me? The last time I thought of comparative age I was young, sort of good looking and full of piss and vinegar. Bulletproof! Pro athletes and politicians were all much older than me. Did I loose focus or quit caring? I'll tell you what happened; I raised a family, worked hard, volunteered, formed lifelong friendships, great times, bad times, suffered a loss that is impossible to describe fully, that's what happened. But I don't mind, no, I don't mind at all not being successful on "paper". Anyone that survives their teenage and young adult years and manages to tread their way through work, marriage, children, etc is probably a little worse for the wear! Sure, the Sarah Palins' of the world are over achievers and God bless them, we need them, but the rest of us should take comfort in the "win's" we can experience everyday. A happy child, a job they enjoy, loyal friends, loving family and a sense of well being. Having a purpose in life is what it's all about! Someone much wiser than I said its the journey, not the destimation that makes all the difference. I'm a step slower and showing my age, but I feel 16 inside. My face may become a map of the world, but my soul will still be at recess, swinging on the monkey bars!

Kickin' It Old School

As mentioned previously, I sprained my ankle in Dallas the day we left for BA and since have re-sprained it no less than 7 times on the mean, crumbling streets of Buenos Aires. I've taped my ankle just to go to dinner,wore my old Chaco hiking boots with an Ace bandage for walks, but still continued to turn my skinny ankle. So, I decided to look for a boot that provides additional support, but was coming up short in the local stores, mostly day hikers. Finally I happened onto this site: http://www.marascoyspeziale.com.ar/outdoor.htm
The older gent in the photos is the owner and his extended family all work the factory/store. The boots I purchased, #1618, red laces, fit like a glove out of the box! These are old school "waffle stompers"! Made in the factory by decedents of the owner. Heavy as hell and built like a Tank!. I'm going backpacking and fly fishing in Patagonia, Chile in February, so I need sold boots. Should I sprain my ankle in these bad boy's I should consider a elegant cane.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

For those of you that had too much fun last night!

http://lifehacker.com/5046071/the-perfect-sunday-morning-bloody-mary

BA: The Good, the Bad and the Ultimate Dog and Pony Show

Note: For a synopsis of travel in South America refer to Lonely Planet or Frommers Travel Guides. These books are much more adept at describing the history, architecture and "do's and dont's" of Buenos Aires.
The Good: As previously mentioned, the exchange rate is favorable, 1 US dollar equals 3 Pesos. For the most part, everyone we've met has been friendly and helpful. The food is fantastic and very affordable, in restaurants and grocery stores. Almost all beef raised in Argentina is grass fed, they have very few feed lots and the beef raised there is for export. As many Porteno's (citizens of BA, people of the port) are of Italian decent, the Pizza and Pasta is simply wonderful. Bakery's are on every street with a wide variety of pastries, breads, sandwiches and foods to go. The wines from Mendoza are first rate and again, very affordable. This is a walking city, most everything a person could need is within walking distance, however should your destination be miles away, taxi's are inexpensive. Public transportation is prolific and inexpensive. The Subte (subway) is good, but the buses are the preferred manner of transport. It is said that Buenos Aires is the Paris of South America. I've never been to Paris, but I've been to NYC and the area I live reminds me of the upper West Side.
The Bad:Lack of books written in English! As Texans, we crave tortilla chips with guacamole, queso, salsa, etc. I prepared great guacamole the other day, but the only chips available were "Doritos, Nacho Cheese Flavor"...disgusting. The older locals have been through a lot living in this city; the dirty war of the late 70's, early 80's. The bank crash of 2001, etc. Many of them are quite pessimistic about life. Before leaving the US I knew the cost of import goods would be high, but I never thought a small container of Skippy peanut butter would cost $8.00 USD. Many of the sidewalks are in terrible condition. I've turned my ankle about 7 times since we arrived and now Deidre does not allow me out of the house without hiking boots and ace bandage. CUSTOMS....see below.
The Ultimate Dog and Pony Show: I mistakenly forgot my cell phone in the States. I didn't need it except for the contact information, MP3, photos, etc. My parents were nice enough to Fed-Ex it to us with a few other items we needed. First, very expensive, $177.00 USD for a 3.6 lbs package. 2nd, I was expecting the package to be delivered to the door. No, no, no...that's not how it works here. The Fed-Ex guy delivers a form for you to sign that allows you to go to the International Airport cargo area to retrieve it. Okay readers, hang on, here we go:
On the suggestion of our Spanish teacher we took the bus to the airport, a bargin at $1.50 pesos, 50 cents. What we didn't know is that the bus has 33 stops and takes one hour and 45 minutes. No one at the airport seemed to know where the cargo area was, so after about 30 minutes of looking we finally found it. Once at the cargo area, you must provide your Passport to recieve a ticket to enter the Customs area. Now that you have a ticket you are allowed through security to Customs, but they are on their lunch break. So one must wait in the corridor outside the offices. I've never visited anyone in the "pen", but I think it would look like this area, but with Shrek II on a continuous loop in Spanish. There are others waiting ahead of us, which is good because it gives us a clue of the procedure. Our turn comes around and we go to office #2 where 4 desks are crowded into a small office, a burly gent looks over my ticket, then the forms from Fed-Ex and then my passport, he types info into his desktop, prints a few documents, then signs a few, ink stamps a few and send me off to office #1. #1 has 2 desks and a nice woman that speaks English....our savior! She looks over our documents, prints something else, then sends us off to #3. She goes in first and has a conversation with one of the 3 residents of this office. OMG, Napoleon has been reincarnated as a Argentine Customs Official....5'3" tall, sweat stained dress shirt and lots of attitude. He looks at our documents, asks me a few question in Spanish, which I kind of understand, then speaks rapid fire Spanish with his office mates. Then it's off to the warehouse so he can look inside our package. Then back to his office, more excited talk with his office mates, then finally 3 very violent ink stamps and a few more signatures. Then to #1, but she sends us to #2 for another signature, then to #1 to pay a "storage fee" for the time our tiny package spent in their care..$27.00 USD, back to #2 for more forms and signatures, then to #3 for more signatures, then finally back to #1 for the last of the signatures. Finally we retrieve our package. Total time spend in customs about 3 hours. We took a taxi home, the best money ever spent. Happy hour started a little early after our experience with Customs.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Why here, why now, why not!

My wife Deidre and I arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina on August 15, 2008.  Not coincidentally, this was the 1 year anniversary of our son, Jack's, death.  Since our dear boy left us last year, we've been understandably "dazed and confused".  Parents should not outlive their children; certainly not 12 year old's.  We decided to take a year off of work to try to find meaning in our lives in whatever way possible.  For some reason I was drawn to Argentina, maybe it's the culture of beef, red wine and tango or maybe it's simply the strong exchange rate of currency, but for whatever reason we decided to move here for a year, possibly longer.

When a person goes through a catastrophic event like the passing of their child, that person takes on a new world view.  Some parts of their life, which they considered important become trivial.  You truly know that life is at best fleeting and one never knows when it will come to an end. With this in mind we decided to move to a city where we know not a soul, with very little with us other than simple clothing and a laptop.  It would have been easier to move to another city in the US, but this is so different and literally foreign that we hope to learn more about ourselves and find a way to (i hate this trite saying) "make a difference".

Ray
AKA Bulldog