Our Highbrow/Lowbrow Day

We are trying hard to relax in Buenos Aires and limit ourselves to one thing a day (I know, poor us) due to the heat and the fact that we ran ourselves ragged in the US.  But we don’t relax well and sometimes there is just too much fun to be had in one day.  And maybe Matt’s and my definitions of “fun” are a bit diverse.

So we started last Monday at El Ateneo, an amazing bookstore situated in a renovated theater. Matt knows me well and it was actually his suggestion.  Books, books and more books, in a beautiful setting.  As much as I read, I don’t buy books for several reasons: I read too many books to afford to buy them all, I’m cheap and hate when I do buy a book for a plane trip or book club that I end up disliking,  I LOVE public libraries and think they are crucial to society and deserve support, and books ultimately add a lot of clutter (how many books do you actually re-read?).  I also HATE e-reading as I think reading without a physical connection to a book is soulless, but given my ex-pat life, I am resigned to checking out e-books from my previously local library (hey, I still pay Wisconsin taxes). But there are exceptions.  I am on a quest to find To Kill A Mockingbird in Spanish.  It is hands down the best American novel ever written (I actually own two copies and a book about the book) and I know it so well that I figure reading it in Spanish will be a good language lesson for me.  But, alas, El Ateneo, despite its splendor, did not have Matar un Ruiseñor.  I resisted the urge to buy another book (remember, I HATE e-reading and don’t have access to a good English print library), but it wasn’t easy.

After lunch in the cafe on the stage at El Ateneo, we commenced the lowbrow portion of our day: the track. Lucky us, we are staying near the Hipódromo Argentino de Palermo, a horse track and casino.  We managed to spend 4 hours at the track and and come away merely $10 poorer from bets and $5 from snacks and the program, fully justified as great entertainment, people watching and a Spanish lesson (“carrera” is “race”, for example).  We then spent an hour in the casino playing my favorite slot machine, Sex and the City, and between the two of us only lost $10. Well worth the day of entertainment and given our frugal Midwestern natures, no real danger of breaking the bank.  The highlight of the track was a race for which I picked horse number 6, who broke away from the gate and came racing down the track, riderless, before the race began.  It reminded me of the time I placed a bet on a Kentucky Derby horse who didn’t make the field. Thank goodness my bet was only $2.

My quest for Matar un Ruiseñor continues and I searched the boulevard of used books.  Like many big box stores, the salesclerk at El Ateneo had no idea what book I was talking about but nicely looked it up on the computer.  At the second hand shops, the proprietors all knew instantly what I wanted, despite my bad Spanish accent, and sadly shook their heads as they told me I was out of luck.

5 Reasons I Love Buenos Aires

From the moment Matt and I arrived in Buenos Aires, we were smitten.  Ten days later our passion hasn’t faded – despite the heat and dog poop, this place is great and has made the list of places we would like to live some day.  Here are my current top 5 reasons this city is fantastic.

1.  Green.  Buenos Aires does parks right.  There are green spaces everywhere, ranging from the large parks and gardens in Palermo to small squares in every neighborhood.  Old, lofty trees line many streets, adding shade and beauty to an urban environment.  There are also numerous plazas that incorporate green spaces as opposed to being just a fountain or statue on a slab of concrete.

2.  Vibe.  Buenos Aires is laid back with coffee shops and bars galore.  While many guide books talk about the congestion and fast pace, we haven’t felt it, possibly because we arrived during a heat wave that forced life to slow down. People here dress casually – it is the first time I have been to a major city outside of the US and could wear shorts without looking like a tourist.  People linger over lunch and hang out at the bars until the wee hours of the morning.  The fact that Matt and I can both pass as locals (due to Italian genes), until we talk, also makes us feel very comfortable here as we are not immediately spotted as tourists.

3.  Food.  With a strong Italian influence and wonderful beef, the food here is amazing.  Items not to be missed include carne asada (grilled meats) , milanese (thin cutlets of beef, chicken or soy [is there a such thing as a soy cutlet?], breaded and pan fried), alfajores (shortbread cookies with dulce de leche filling, sometimes covered in chocolate), empanadas (savory, filled turnovers), pizza and helado (ice cream).  And bread.  I will be writing an entire post devoted to the bread here; it is that good.  The cuisine is not only local – there are plenty of Japanese, Peruvian, Chinese, Indian and other restaurants to choose from.  We went to an Armenian place in the neighborhood that was delicious.

4.  Wine.  What is great food without great wine?  Malbecs rule the roost, but excellent Cabernet Sauvignons, Syrahs, and red blends abound as do several delicious Argentine white wines.  The proximity of the Mendoza region and an apparent lack of sin tax makes wine as affordable as a soda (or at least that is my excuse for drinking at lunch).

Wine tasting

Wine tasting

5.  The weak peso.  I feel a bit guilty writing that as the Argentines’ misfortune is to our benefit, but for once Matt and I are on the right side of the exchange rate.  Despite this being the second largest city in South America, we have been able to enjoy ourselves without breaking the bank, with wonderful dinners with excellent wines costing around $70, far less than similar meals would cost in Milwaukee.  We have offset those dinners by going to more modest restaurants and eating at home – today we bought two servings of a torta (these were similar in look to a quiche, with a pastry crust but a filling that wasn’t eggs – one was ham and cheese and one a minced chicken filling) and some cookies for dinner for less than $8.  The tortas are huge and we have plenty of cookies, so we will get two meals out of our purchase.

While we enjoy living in Cajamarca, the two experiences couldn’t be more different so we plan to make the most of our last two weeks in Buenos Aires.  Or maybe that is just another excuse for drinking a lot of great, inexpensive wines and eating to my heart’s content!

Mission Accomplished!

A mere three days after the discovery of the popenipperain (which, incidentally, I am renaming the popenippering as it has a better, well, ring, to it.  Matt gets credit for the new name), I resumed the original quest for a popener and found success in Caminito, a tourist trap that was surprisingly entertaining.  I will post about Caminito another time, but here are the pictures of the new popeners.  These have handy magnets on the back and while they are not the identical style as the original popeners, I thought my quest was complete.

Popeners

Popeners

Until…

Does Pope Francis have his own beer company?  I’m now torn between continuing to search for every style of popener, popenippering and the like or calling it quits.  I should call it quits, but I might just have to keep my eyes open for another treasure.

If you missed the original post about the quest for the popener, you can find it here:  http://kerryedwyer.com/2014/01/21/the-quest-for-a-popener/

The Quest for a Popener

Twenty-five years ago, when I was a college student living in Italy, my dad and I discovered the holy grail of religious kitsch: the popener a.k.a pope bottle opener.

At the time, Pope John Paul II ruled the Catholic church and we bought a couple of popeners with his image as my mom pretended not to know us.  Shortly after my parents’ return to the US, I received a paternal directive – buy a dozen more popeners and send them home with my friend, Maria, who I would see over Christmas, so my dad could give them to his friends (it is possible that  my mom also saw the beauty of the popener by this time).  So Maria and I embarked on the first popener quest when we went to Saint Peter’s square two days after Christmas. We scoured every kiosk and trinket stand but no popeners.  Eventually I asked a vendor if she had any and after a few furtive glances, she shooed us behind her stand, turned her back to the near-empty square and pulled some out of her pockets.  A chorus of angels possibly wept as we bought her entire stock.

Fast forward to September 2005, a few months after Pope Benedict XVI was inaugurated as pontiff.  Matt and I were on a mission trip to Rome as guests of the Sisters of the Divine Savior, on whose nursing home board I served.  Maria and my siblings were clear – come back with new popeners. While the quest this time did not involve back alley transactions, Matt and I were surreptitious in our purchase for fear of offending the Sisters (who rank among the most impressive and interesting women I have ever met and likely wouldn’t have been offended at all).  Our task was easily accomplished as popeners were abundant.

The current pontiff, Pope Francis, hails from Argentina and is the first South American pope so I was confident it would be easy to find an updated popener in Peru, which is approximately 90% Catholic.  I was  wrong.  I abandoned the Peruvian popener search, but once in Buenos Aires, I renewed the quest.  Matt and I went to the San Telmo street market on Sunday and I rummaged through every tchotchke stand.  There were pope keychains, pope lighters, and pope matchbooks, but no popeners.  Finally, after what seemed like an eternity at the market but was likely only about an hour and a half, I found it.  Not a popener, but possibly better: the three-in-one pope bottle opener, nail clipper, key chain.  Or as I like to call it, the popenipperain (poe-pen-nip-per-ain). These must be a hot commodity because I was only able to find three in the entire market.  But as an added bonus, all three have different images of the pope.  My favorite is the one without the glasses.

I will continue to search for the Francis popener as I prefer the traditional style, but I will also keep my eyes open for more popenipperains as I know they will be in hot demand by my family and friends.

Don’t Cry for Me – I’m in Argentina

After a wonderful 3 1/2 weeks in Wisconsin over Christmas, Matt and I escaped the bitter cold for Buenos Aires, Argentina.  We have literally gone from a low temperature of -17 degrees Fahrenheit to 100 degrees F.  For the first time I understand why people think we are crazy to live through Wisconsin winters – I’ll take the heat over the cold any day.

Our time in Wisconsin was non-stop as we packed every moment with visits with friends and family.  It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I had all but two of our days booked before we even got to Wisconsin!  As an added bonus, the frigid temperatures allowed us to spend those two unplanned days with Shannon and Kieran whose school was closed.  We spent our last weekend in the US with friends in San Antonio, Texas – a good way to ease back into warmer temperatures and a less hectic pace. Here are pictures of some of the fun we had in the US.

And then we were off to Argentina, via a 24-hour layover in Lima. Because we have been to Lima a handful of times, we decided to take it easy and spent a leisurely day walking through some parks and along the coastal cliffs before we headed to the airport for our midnight flight.

IMG_2477

After what seemed like endless travel and waiting (our connection in Chile was delayed), we finally landed in Buenos Aires.  While both Matt and I still have a lot of Spanish to learn, we were proud of how well we navigated Argentine immigration and customs.  Unlike other countries we have entered, the Argentine government took our mug shots and thumbprints.  As Matt pointed out, we have no idea what the US government does for non-citizens, so maybe this is similar treatment.  Our flight had been delayed about two hours so we were relieved when a driver holding a “Matt Geiger” sign was waiting for us.  Franco took us to our apartment in Palermo Hollywood, a very nice, vibrant part of the city, where we met our landlady, Norma.  Norma was headed to Washington DC to stay with her daughter for 6 months and spoke excellent English, which was a bonus for us after a night of little sleep and travel.  As we are in Buenos Aires for 3 1/2 weeks, we opted to get an apartment because it was more economical than a hotel and would give us more space.  We are happy we did so and have settled in nicely to our new digs and neighborhood.

Our apartment is a duplex, which means we have a downstairs living area and narrow staircase up to the second floor.  The second floor has an office niche that we are using as a luggage storage and clothes drying area, an awesome walk-in closet,  bedroom, another patio, and a unique bathroom area – a small, separate toilet area, a nice open area with the sink, a bathtub and a bunch of open shelves and then the shower, which is a narrow 5×2 foot area that has the patio door at the end of it.  While the door is frosted about halfway down, I think I may be flashing the neighbors when I shower! There is also a typical European shower in the downstairs powder room toilet area – a hand held shower and a drain on the floor, but I will stick with flashing the neighbors rather than showering over a toilet in a 3×2 space.  The upstairs is too narrow for photos, but here are pictures of the downstairs.

Buenos Aires is amazing – we love the vibe here and are having a great time despite the heat.  The food and wine are delicious and the dollar is strong.  More to come soon…