31 March 2009

Real Brownies, Bottled Water + Prices Hikes

Today, I realized that LB + I play a game with ourselves in Buenos Aires: we hope, despite all incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, that all of the rampant, spontaneous inflation taking place in Argentina will somehow magically skip our favorite places, and just increase the prices at other restaurants + cafes we don't like very much. And delusions run out of sidewalk eventually. Today, for example we went to Mark's Deli in Palermo Soho--that little hipster paradise mentioned in every Lonely Planet printed after 1980--to eat one of their fantastic brownies. A real brownie, not a Porteño brownie, I mean (i.e., glorified cake). And like we have so many other times, we had the same conversation, only with different things + prices:

--That little bottle of water is seven pesos, she says, shaking her head.
--Wait, seriously?
--We could have a bought a 6 liter bottle of water at Coto for that price.
--This sucks.
--And the brownie is more too.
--How much?
--It's ten pesos now.
--How much was it before?
--Eight pesos.
--And the tea used to be seven pesos, but now it's ten pesos.

It's hard not to feel cheated when this happens, and this conversation has happened repeatedly to us in the past six months, at almost every place we adopted in our routine. Out of the blue, prices just go up 25%. One day, a smoothie at our former favorite café was eleven pesos, and suddenly it costs seventeen; not to mention, they've concocted a fee to heat up a fucking tostada. NB: if you don't heat up bread + cheese, then it's just a sandwich, albeit, a really sad one. That's like charging customers to heat up water so it becomes "tea." Is this what it's come down to, charging people for the properties of food?

In a related note, last weeked, after LB + I came home, we realized that Aide, our cleaning lady, drank half of our bottled water. I'm not talking a glassful, which would have been fine, I'm talking two-three glasses. We both like Aide, but we're on a tight budget right since our translation projects have slowed down to a few drops, we're trying to save our money for our trip to Europe in two weeks, and we just can't afford to subsidize her water right now. Shit, we can barely afford a fucking brownie. So what did we have to today? God, this is embarassing: we hid our water. I'm serious. We hid both bottles in the closet with my button-down shirts. I won't get into other things that deserve their own entry, like how I also now move my electric razor into our bedroom when she comes to clean because she dropped it more than once on the floor, almost completely breaking it (never mentioning it either). And I won't get into how I now move my DS Lite into the bedroom shelves too, since Aide dropped that too on the floor once. I've got nothing against her at all. Actually, I'm very fond of her and I think she does a rad job. And to be honest, she's more than welcome to a glass of bottled water too. But I can't afford to buy another electric razor, a new DSL, more bottled water for her, or as I learned today, even a brownie from Mark's deli. At least not more than one a week.

If there's one thing I've learned here, it's that (near) poverty makes you do strange things, creative things, things that only make sense when you're always on the verge of running out of money. With the flash inflation in Buenos Aires, that could be sooner than you think.

16 March 2009

Humdrum Riots + Sears Towers Controversy

As Erika and I were walking Zoe tonight, we saw a bunch of carteros protesting in the street in their blue mamelucos and reflective stripes, walking in traffic and slapping the outside of car doors. The drivers looked completely bewildered. There were forty police cars, their blue lights twirling hypnotically. And then, suddenly, in the span of forty seconds, they all dispersed. Party's over. Just another protest in Buenos Aires.


I found out today that the Willis Group, which now owns a majority of the building, is trying rename the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Willis tower, which sounds not only fucking ridiculous but also means absolutely nothing to the city of Chicago. It's bad enough that they renamed Chicago Stadium the United Center. Then Comiskey Park was relabeled US Cellular Park, which really rolls of the tongue, let me tell you. But this is where I draw the line. The Sears Tower is iconic, the very symbol of architectural ingenuity in Chicago. It's not just a building anymore, it's an cultrual landscape painted with placenames that both create and evoke a collective memory. When you try to take that away, you destroy a set of bundled experiences around a specific place, and induce amnesia in the people that shared it.

For so many ethical, nostalgic and cultural reasons, it's just wrong. Furthermore, mnemonically speaking, it's completely destructive.

Anyway, here's my letter of protest that I wrote to the fucking Willis Group today:

Dear Willis Group Holdings, Ltd.:

I'm writing to ask you to reconsider your renaming of the Sears Tower. Personally, I think it's an advertising gimmick that will backfire on you. Chicagoans will absolutely refuse to refer to your newly-named building as the Willis Tower because this name has no local signification or historical resonance, nor is this name part of the own cultural identity of Chicago. Further, most Chicagoans will boycott your company in a sign of solidarity. And when tourists, or transplants arrive in our city, the first thing we will do is sit them down and make them swear to always call it the Sears Tower. We are proud of our landmarks, in part because we have so few in our city. There is incredible power in a name. Can you imagine if Big Ben was changed to Macy's Clock Tower? Or if Trafalgar Square were altered to Dow Chemical Park? It would be an absolute travesty. There has to be a point after which companies begin respecting the place names of a city--which are the building blocks of our collective memory--and stop investing in permanent adverts. To the brilliant minds in your publicity department, renaming the Sears Tower probably seems like the ultimate meme. To those of us in Chicago who have spent our lives here, it is not only a rejection of our city's culture (which is bad enough), but the ultimate defiling of our urban character.

Do the right thing, and keep your hands off our landmarks please.

Yours Sincerely,

--Jackson Bliss

07 March 2009

Entrevista en La Nacion

LB y Yo recién fuimos parte de una entrevista en Puerto Madero con otra gente para La Nación, el diario argentino. La mayoría de las cosas buenas que dijimos en la entrevista no fue incluida (es la naturaleza del proceso de redacción, yo sé), pero creo que todavía es interesante. Para lectores que les interesan leer un articulo que se trata del fenómeno de los blogs de expatriados que viven en Capital Federal de Argentina, echen un vistazo en:

01 March 2009

Chacarita Cemetery :: Cementerio de la Chacarita

The Chacararita Cemetery is the people's cemetery. The Recoleta Cementery is for the elite--wealthy patricians, famous politicians, minor fútbal stars--but Chacarita is for el pueblo. It's a huge, expansive cemetery in the West Side of Buenos Aires that seems to continue forever, filled with eclectic mausoleums, French + Spanish Relief Societies, one drab building that looks like a parking structure, a house of deceased orphans, a separate English subplot, and so much more that is timeless, eerie and heart-breaking.

Here are several things I noticed:

1. Unlike the Recoleta Cemetery, quite a few of the mausoleums have glass doors that you can look into. It's even creepier than it sounds. Sometimes a family will have a library of caskets that start in the basement leading all the way up to the door

2. Some of the mausoleums weren't locked. Not only that, several of the doors were half open, like a ghost has just walked through there to pay a visit. And the interior of some of these places was just downright scary. It was straight out of Turn of the Screw: dust-covered coffins, broken windows, cracked floor boards, downcast statues of angels holding massive swords in their hands, tormented crucifixes, silver candelebra with red wax spilling over the handle, dead flowers on the mantle, old wooden coffins slowly rotting

3. Fotos. Some people put pictures of their deceased daughters or husbands next to their name, instantly humanizing them. And some Porteños died at such a tragically early age, it's just unbelievable

4. LB and I realized there was a separate cemetery annex that almost looked like a garden from a distance. The graves were very simple, some had hand-painted tombstones. After walking around for awhile, I realized every person in that particular lot had died in 2001. It's crazy to think about it this way, but the Economic Crisis literally broke people's hearts. A lot of people died that year because they lost everything they had. It's an insane correlation, but it makes sense, if not a bit astonishing.

5. There was a sign warning cemetery visitors not to leave still water due to concerns over yellow fever. Again, though quite rare now in Greater Buenos Aires, this was another peak into what BsAs was like forty years ago, before mosquito control

6. A few of the mausoleums had been completely abandoned, vandalized, used as storage or a makeshift bedroom, or the family placard has been ripped off. And I'd never seen litter, soda cans, cigarette butts or broken bricks, inside a house of the dead before. Something about it just felt so completely wrong to me

7. After LB told me this story about how her mom and she got locked into a cemetery once while she was taking pictures in a cemetery on a gloomy Halloween day for her photography class, we walked to the front gate and realized the same thing had happened to us. We got locked in