Sunday, January 28, 2007

Day 8: Bye Bye Buenos Blog

January 20

I’ve finally solved the secret of the shower. The showers have been very good. Liz raves about the water pressure. Being in suburbia, I always get good water pressure. But I’ve been having a hard time regulating the temperature. There’s basically a choice between really hot or skin blistering hot. Or is there? The trick is to turn on the hot water just a tiny bit. The water should barely be coming out. Then turn on the cold water to the maximum level. It only took me 8 days to get this right.

The plan from last night was for all of us to meet in the lobby at around 12. We’d get a late check out since our flight isn’t until around 10 or something. We’ll walk around the area, go out and do some more shopping, then head to the airport. That was the plan before everyone went out after the tango show. At 5:30 this morning, Susannah and I got text messages from Topher saying he wanted to delay meeting in the lobby. Now that’s a good producer. He stumbles back to his room close to sunrise and still manages to get out an e-mail to us.

Susannah and I meet in the lobby at 11 for breakfast. She’s already been out running (yeah, she’s one of those) and told me about an area where some kind of street fair/flea market was being set up. The odd thing was that some of the booths were open while some weren’t even set up yet. We decide to check it out after we eat. They’ve gotta be set up by 11:30, right?

Wrong. We walk over there and they’re still in the same state of disarray as before. We walk around anyway and then head over to Dead Fish River. There’s a Havanna store there that sells the most amazing chocolate things. Michelle brought some back from her trip and I sucked down two of these things pretty quickly. Susannah wants to bring some back.

How to explain these things? They’re sort of like Mallowmars but with dulce de leche instead of marshmallow. Actually, they’re more like Moon Pies but the cookie is much flakier. I talked about these in yesterday’s blog but now we’re in the real place. There’s more of a variety than we thought so after awhile, we decide to try a couple of individual ones.

Now I’ve known Susannah for a little while now. I know her to be a very professional, very buttoned-up woman. But I’ve never seen her like this. She can’t stop raving about these things. And the sugar is definitely hitting her. We were told that we could customize our own box of Havannas as well. Well this makes the purchasing easier and we buy up a bunch. We also buy some water because we really need some after eating these.

We run into Wanda back at the hotel. She recounts a bit of news from the previous night, the highlight being that they lost Julietta. Or Julietta lost them. Whichever. But they looked for her and couldn’t find her. Apparently, there was a brief moment earlier on when some guy tried talking to Julietta and she brushed him off and looked angry. Did she end up going off with this man? No one knows. Well, she’s supposed to meet us here at 1 so we’ll find out soon.

It turns out that the place was just huge and Julietta got separated from everyone. At least that’s the story she tells. Anyway, she’s fine. We check out and I see Liz. Liz is in bad shape. Topher looks fine but he always does somehow. Topher also has footage of Liz speaking fluent Spanish. This from a woman who said she doesn't speak Spanish. Alcohol is an amazing thing. So we get in Sergio’s van and head for Palermo SoHo to eat and do some more shopping. There’s some street fair going on there today so I’ll be able to find stuff that isn’t as upscale as the stuff in the shops. I’m hoping to find the t-shirt I saw in San Telmo on our first night. It’s a picture of Gary Coleman saying “whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?” but in Spanish. I try to talk to Liz on the way there but she doesn’t really seem interested, at least until she gets some Advil inside her.

I think I’m going to buy some asphalt and sell it down here at a profit. Many of the roads are really bumpy and I’m having a hard time doing my crossword puzzle.

We have lunch at Bar 6. Potatoes come with many of the meats. One thing they offer is rustic potatoes, which, according to the menu, are baked and have a clumsy texture. I don’t know what this means but I order a rib eye with the clumsy potatoes anyway. Whatever. The menu also offers “spatial” salads. At least they have English translations.

Okay, it’s 3 pm and there’s no sign of our lunch. We’ve already noticed that things are slower down here than in NY and that’s okay. But Susannah is missing out on valuable shopping time and is starting to get stressed. Wanda has already been warned that today’s shopping will be decidedly quicker than the shopping she did in La Boca. Sure she’s the client but shopping is shopping.

This is the best steak I have ever had. And the potatoes are great, even if they’re clumsy. Susannah eats and leaves with Wanda before the check comes.

Okay, we’re starting to run low on time. We need to get back to the hotel to get our stuff. We also need to figure out a way to get all of our new purchases into our already-packed luggage. This includes the many bottles of wine we bought. Topher and Susannah are a little worried about the time but it should be okay. But then Wanda decides that she really needs to get these testicle-looking things that her husband requested. We saw at least 4 of them yesterday but they were too ugly. So we stop at Florida Street at 6:45 so she can run out a buy them. Then Liz steps out to find a purse she saw the other day. I go to get some ice cream but I can’t understand the choices and I don’t want any ham ice cream so I go back to the van. But Topher and Susannah are gone. Eventually Liz comes running back sans purse. The store was closed. Wanda and Julietta come back with Wanda’s purchase. Then we’re all together and heading back to the hotel. We scramble to repack and we’re off.

The airport looks crowded but it’s only because there are a lot of lines and no one knows where to stand. One you get into the lines, things move better. We had no idea there would be this many steps to the check-in process.

1) Presecurity. Some guy checks our papers and asks us some questions.
2) Check In. We get boarding passes and leave our luggage. My luggage is really overweight and I should be charged but I joke with the agent and she waives it. Yeah, I’m quite the charmer.
3) Airport tax. There’s a long line to pay this fee because there’s only one window open. They really need to automate this part of the process.
4) Security. Metal detectors, shoes, the whole megillah.
5) Customs. This is a really long line.

Now it’s 9:05. The flight is at 9:40 but boarding started at 8:55. No big deal. We should still have a couple of minutes to hit the duty free shop and get some water at the very least. We’re all really thirsty. But when we check the departure screen, our flight is showing “final call”. So we skip duty free and encounter more lines at the gate.

6) Presecurity. Same questions about having our bags with us at all times.
7) Bag check. It’s a little like the bag check at a stadium or something. We go to a long table manned by several people and they ask questions about my bag and even go through it.
8) Boarding.

Only 5,307 miles to go…

Day 7, Part 2: Livin' La Vida Boca

January 19

With an exhausting 6-hour workday in the sun behind me, we head off to La Boca in the southeast corner of Buenos Aires for an afternoon of food, shopping and…photography? (I couldn’t think of a third thing to write.) Known as the birthplace of the tango, this one-time shipyard has a famous walkway, the Caminito, where tango dancers perform and artists exhibit their work. One of the first things we see is La Bombanera, the stadium for the Boca Junior soccer team. Or futbol. Or whatever they call it down here. It’s huge and Liz wants to get a picture for her soccer-crazed husband. We mention this to Julietta but something gets lost in the translation and we end up stopping right outside one of the gates. So much for photography. Fortunately, we’re also right outside a shop for the elusive soccer scarf, also for Liz’s soccer-crazed husband. They have scarves for every team around. Buenos Aires alone has a ton of them. Liz needs to get a scarf from Boca Junior and River Plate.

This is easy enough to do but not advised. Soccer loyalties run deep in this town, as well as in every town that is not in the United States. The rivalries are taken very seriously and no two teams are hated rivals as much as Boca Junior and River Plate. Julietta explains that it goes well beyond the field. It’s about the fans themselves. Boca Junior is from La Boca. Right on the water. Cobblestone streets. Immigrants. Blue collar. Hardworking families. River Plate is the opposite, including it’s location on the opposite end of Buenos Aires. It’s sort of like the rivalry between the Yankees and the Mets, but the rivalry here rarely goes beyond a war of usually stupid words. Even the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry doesn’t get violent. But you just can’t like Boca Junior and River Plate. It doesn’t make sense, like being a compassionate conservative (the preceding statement concludes the political part of the blog). We decide to buy the stuff anyway, partially because we’ve spent a week looking for the right scarves and partially because we look too touristy to know any better. I purchase a scarf for MPC which supports a team whose mascot is an undertaker. Must be a lot of fun at supermarket openings.

The scarves have a musty smell. To Liz, they smell like some kind of reheated food. Either way, the smell is not as bad as the area where we have now parked. It’s not me, I swear. I know I haven’t bathed or done anything very hygienic today but it’s not me. The smell dissipates a bit after we walk around. Or maybe we’re just used to it. So we find a place for lunch.

Today’s lunch is brought to you by La Perla. We sit outside under some umbrellas. I drink a Quilmes, which is one of the local beers. Looking around this week, you’d think it was the only local beer. The name seems to be on every outdoor item: umbrellas, chairs, coasters, etc. It’s a pretty decent beer but I’m not an expert. I’m just a tourist who is also a magnet for every street urchin around. At one point, a kid walks up to the table and asks something. I wave him off and say no (which means “no” in English) because I assumed he was asking for money. Julietta is giggling. She tells me that the kid wants to know if I want a picture of myself with hair. Is offending your potential donor a good way to get money? Not in this case. After the fact, I decide that it actually was pretty funny and I actually see the kid a few more times during the day (it’s not a huge area) but I don’t get up the nerve to ask him for the picture.

Even after a week here, I’m still reluctant to ask questions. It’s pretty stupid of me, considering no one expects me to know anything about anything down here. But still, I muster on. For lunch, I order what seems to be a steak sandwich. I can get the regular one or I can get it “completo”. I assume that “completo” means “complete” and therefore either means it’s bigger or it comes with fries or something. Like ordering a burger in a diner and getting “deluxe”. Well we all know the old cliché about what happens when you “assume”. I was correct in my thinking that it comes with more stuff. No fries, but lettuce and tomato. And cheese. And ham. I sort of understand the cheese thing but when did ham become a condiment? I’m sure this wouldn’t pass Robert’s condiment test. Now this all could have been avoided if I had bothered to ask what “completo” meant. I also should have remembered Michelle’s stories about Buenos Aires being ham-crazed. Instead, I have to send it back. And the thing about sending stuff back is that everyone else at the table starts offering their food. It’s very nice of them but I’d rather sulk in my Quilmes.

Tonight is dinner and a tango night. We dine at Far+cia (pronounced “far-mas-cia…see what they did with the “+”?) which, apparently, used to be a pharmacy. It’s in the San Telmo section of Buenos Aires, where we were on our first night here. I don’t know if we’re in a gay part of town or if this is a gay restaurant or what but all the maps and brochures in the lobby area are all gay-themed. No matter. The food is good, even thought the menu is weird. It seems as if we all got different menus. Or maybe Wanda is the only one missing some pages. It’s basically a stack of laminated index cards with English translations on the back and all held together with a ring. Liz tried something which, to her, tasted like wet dog. Or feet. I forget which. She has a way with words, that one does. I do like the music a lot and I notice it more when, for the second time this week, I hear a jazzy, lounge version of “Boys Don’t Cry”. After some dialogue and research, I find an album on iTunes called Jazz and 80s. I highly recommend it.

We’ve also decided that there is a big difference between the Topher we see at work and the Topher the rest of Manhattan sees on the weekend. He’s “Topher” from Monday through Friday afternoon and “Chris” on the weekends. Or maybe it’s “Criss”.

Dinner takes forever and we need to get to the tango show. It’s right around the corner at a place called Bar Sur. It turns out they’re celebrating their 40th anniversary this year. The show started at 10 and we’re pretty late so we’re ushered into a dark, tiny room with tables crammed in and some performers at the front. It’s like something out of “Cabaret”. The performers are really eclectic and strange and they all take turns coming out of some room small room behind them. I don’t know how they all fit in there. But the show is great. I thought it would be all tango dancing but it’s actually a mixture of dancing and some music and some singers. The first thing we see when we sit down is a sad, drunken French woman singing along with her elderly, hunchback pianist. I don’t know what she’s singing but you get the sense from the way she’s performing that it’s something sad.

Up next is an old man who looks a lot like a bald Ian McKellan. He has a great baritone voice and he mixes his singing with comments to the “crowd” (there can’t be more than 20 people in here and that’s too many). I have no idea what he’s saying but other people are laughing so I smile politely. He comes out for a second time and does the inevitable thing where he asks questions to the crowd. He comes to us and Julietta and Wanda are silent. Bad timing considering they are our only Spanish speakers. We tell the guy that we’re from New York and he starts vamping a bit of “New York, New York.”

This is followed by a woman who may be American. She’s singing in English and this proves to be a bit of a letdown. I mention to Susannah that, in comparison to the other singers, English is a pretty ugly language. I mention this to Liz as well and she disagrees. This actually is a bit of a running theme called, “Liz and Susannah Could Never In A Million Years Be Roommates.”

Up next is a strange trio of musicians playing tango music. One man sits in a chair and plays an accordion. It looks kind of small for an accordion, but kind of big to be the kind of squeezebox sailors play in Rogers and Hammerstein musicals. And then the dancers come out. I really love the dancing. Tango is such an amazing, precise dance. I notice that the woman seems to do all the work. The man just walks back and forth in a fancy manner. Sure he has to lead but how hard can that be? Part of it must be the look. Although one of the dancers looked really young and had a nose that would have fit in really well at my Bar Mitzvah.

After the dancing, the dancers look for volunteers from the room. Wanda went up there twice. She looked good up there and moved pretty well for someone who doesn’t know how to tango. We tell her this and she says she doesn’t know how to dance. Only salsa and samba. This is like saying you can’t sing except for opera. I watch another woman from the crowd dancing. She’s wearing what Liz calls “mom jeans”. The woman dances really well and I mention to Susannah that, with the right partner, any woman can probably dance well. She agrees. I mention it to Liz and she disagrees. Figures.

I was thinking that if the woman dancer asked me up there, I’d actually go. I was drunk enough at the time. But she never asked. None of the woman did. They all danced with the same guy, who looked like a regular who also knows tango. The one time a guy from the room got up to dance, he turned out to be one of the loud Americans with a goofy laugh and equally goofy comments to his dance partner. He ruined it for everyone else.

Julietta headed for the ladies room during one of the breaks. The restrooms are right behind where the performers are...performing. So when the next set starts, she's basically stuck back there. It's actually funny to see her step out of the ladies room and stand there, unable to move until the song ends.

So after a few hours, it’s time to go. It’s between sets and some of the performers are sitting at a table enjoying some wine. It’s impossible to leave unnoticed and the Ian McKellen guy comes over to thank us for coming. I say “us” but it’s really me because everyone else has walked out already. I shake his hand and give him hug and a kiss on the cheek. I don’t know why but it seemed like the thing to do.

Outside of Bar Sur, we try to decide what to do next. There’s something on Susannah’s face. She goes to wipe it off and it turns out it was a mosquito. So now she has a streak of blood on her face and the potential for a nice welt on her cheek. She and I decide to head back to the hotel while Liz, Topher, Wanda and Julietta decide to go out. Susannah and I get in a cab with a driver who sort of knows English. I tell him the name of the hotel several times. I’m sure he was told the name of the hotel before he got back in the cab. He drives around the block once, I guess thinking that we wouldn’t know any better. At one light, he turns around and tries to sell me his watch. It was actually a nice watch but I decline. We approach the hotel and the driver points to it and says, “oh, Hotel Madero!” as if it’s the first time he’s heard the name. And when we get out, he seems to have lost his ability to speak English. We ask for a receipt. A piece of paper. A pen. Anything. I was going to go into the hotel to get some help but leaving Susannah with this guy didn’t seem like a good idea. As if I could have protected her or something. We eventually give up. Susannah pays for the cab and we move on.

I watch some more American TV with Spanish subtitles. New words (if I can read my own handwriting): Que medo (it’s scary), cuata con eso (you got it), dejala ir (let her go), es libre de nuevo (you’re free of the carbonite). Oh, I’m watching Return of the Jedi. Han can’t believe that Luke is a Caballeros de Jedi (Jedi Knight).

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Day 7, part 1: The Shoot!

January 19.

6:20 am. I wake up, still face down on my bed. I don’t know what woke me up. I mean the alarm was never turned on. I never requested a wake-up call. Maybe it’s that little internal clock everyone has which just knows when it’s time to get up, like when you have to go to the bathroom or when the bed is on fire or when YOU ONLY HAVE 10 MINUTES TO GET DOWNSTAIRS FOR THE SHOOT!!!!!

This is the other tradition I was talking about at the end of day 6. There’s some kind of psychological barrier in me, which wants me to sabotage shoot days or something. I think this is the third time that something like this has happened to me. On the positive side, three times is not so bad in an entire career. Well whether the glass is half empty or half full, I’ve gotta get my ass downstairs in 10 minutes. There’s no way I have time to shower. Bring on the deodorant.

And it turns out I have one day of deodorant left. That’s good because I only have one day left in Buenos Aires. It’s just that as I was applying the stuff, the remains broke apart and crumbled all over the bathroom counter. But I got the job done. And oh yeah, the spare right lens is holding up just fine. Brushed my teeth, got dressed, put on a hat and made it downstairs with a minute to spare. Not that they would have left without me, right?

Uh fellahs? You wouldn’t have left without me, right?

Here’s the big surprise: Julietta approaches me with my missing lens. Apparently Sergio found it when he was cleaning out the van. Ah, Sergio. He’s been our driver for the three consecutive days now. The lens is dried up and hard but I run upstairs to drop it in saline anyway. I’m trying to work out a way to thank him so much not only for finding the lens, but for making the effort in the first place. But all I manage to do is shake his hand and say, “muchos muchos gracias.” Stupid American…

It’s actually a bit chilly outside so at this point; the no shower thing may be a non-issue. It’s not even 7 yet and this could change but I’m staying positive for now. And for the sake of those around me.

I forgot to mention the stray dogs around here. Fans of the Romania blogs remember that the country was littered (see what I did there?) with them and they were fairly aggressive. Friendly, but aggressive. The dogs here have taken on more of the Mexican stereotype of just lying around, taking a siesta. Some walk around, of course, but I think it’s just to go from one napping spot to another. No need to mock throwing a rock unless you want to see the dog yawn. It's very easy to follow the old cliche about letting sleeping dogs lie in Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires, at least what I’ve seen of it, also lacks streets with simple names. Everything here is named for a historical figure or a date. But it’s not like Washington Street being named for George Washington. They use full names down here, as well as specific dates. Where we may have an Independence Drive, they have Avenue 9 de Julio, commemorating the founding of the city. There’s also a road called Estados Unidos, which is nice, but probably filled with Taco Bells and Sunglass Huts. The exception up here is Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. But I’ve heard of him. I haven’t heard of any of these guys. Then again, I haven’t heard of Harry Van Arsdale Jr. either and he’s got a boulevard in Queens!

I’ve mentioned several times how Susannah is a target for these invisible mosquitoes but it’s getting pretty bad. We’re actually seeing them land on her. I thought I heard one of them licking their lips. She’s sprayed herself down with Wanda’s Off. I also spotted a stash of the stuff in a truck on the location. I’m truly thankful for Susannah being here because she’s a great colleague, a wonderful friend and she seems to have kept the mosquitoes away from me just with her presence.

So we’re shooting outdoors, which is the primary reason for us having to be so far south. We’ve cordoned off a hole on a golf course. I’m not sure how we pulled that off. I can see golfers on the other hole and am waiting for an errant drive to come sailing in and knock some kid on the melon. And how are they playing around us? Are they going out to shoot a quick 17? Maybe repeating a hole? I don’t really care. I’m just wondering.

Funny: Suzanne the Australian producer has taught the kids to say “g’day mate.” It’s amongst the only English phrases they know.

I’m starting to question the whole ethnic diversity thing, not as a social concept but as something we always strive for in our commercials. I totally get the reason for it but sometimes it comes across as forced. We got a great black kid named Herbert to be in the spot. The thing is, the other 3 white kids don’t seem to want anything to do with him. I know I’m reading in to stuff but I see Herbert running around the Twister dots by himself and the other three kids running around with each other. There are times when the kids are supposed to fight over a dot. But fight in the same way you’d fight over the last chair in musical chairs. Nothing violent. Just some good-natured activity. So this big girl pushes Herbert and he falls to the ground. It actually happens a couple of times. Wanda thought it happened 3 times but she was watching a playback of the previous scene during the “3rd time.” To be fair, the girl is bigger than Herbert. But still, it’s enough to make my mind wander. As I mentioned a few days ago, there really don’t seem to be a lot of blacks down here. So maybe the kids don’t like them. I don’t know.

I saw an article a few weeks ago on one of those “the world hates us Jews” websites. The breaking news was that a Brazilian paper was abolishing the verb “to Jew” as in, “What to do when daylight-savings time ‘Jews’ body and soul.” This quote is from the Jornal do Brasil. It’s just hard to believe that in 2007, there is still so much intolerance for people different from us.

According to the article, the Portuguese verb “juidar” means “to mistreat, to spoil, to mock.” Funny, I thought it meant, “to steal” as in “the company wants to jew me out of an extra day off.”


I need to address the cookie I just ate. The Craft services table here isn’t much better than Romania but it is better. I just ate a small cookie. It’s about the size of a half dollar, flaky, with dolche de leche inside. It’s too small and flaky to take a bite (although Susannah tried and ended up making a mess) so I pop the whole thing in my mouth. Remember that powder called “alum” which Sylvester the cat would accidentally ingest and it would shrink his mouth rendering it impossible to eat Tweety? I always thought it was some silly Acme product. Well this is sort of what this cookie did to me. I was chewing, yet the cookie seemed to be getting larger. The flaky crust turned to some kind of paste and it was getting harder and harder to chew. What was this diabolical cookie, which seemed bent on my destruction? Well after a few more chews and some gymnastic tongue motions (easy now…), I freed my jaws from the clutches of this treat.

And then I had another.

The sun is out but it’s actually a bit cold today. There’s a weather observer on the location. Hasbro bought weather insurance and apparently, an observer must be on location for the duration of the shoot in order to verify any inclement weather. She’s getting $250 US to sit in a lawn chair and take notes. Nice work if you can get it. On the ground next to her is some scientific-looking piece of meteorological equipment designed to measure wind speed or humidity or seismic activity. Or all three.

Why is it that the product shot takes the longest to do? Nothing’s moving. There are no actors. And yet this tedious exercise takes forever!! But 1:15 comes and we wrap for the day. Yep. We’re done. And we’re planning on heading to La Boca, a section in the southeastern corner of Buenos Aires. I game even though I haven’t showered yet. But I’m not gamey because it’s been cool.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Day 6: Uruguay

January 18

Today is forecast to be the hottest of the days. We’re determined to enjoy it because tomorrow’s forecast keeps varying between 0% chance of precipitation and 20%. To me, 20% is the same as 0% but I was really bad at math. I don’t think Topher sees the distinction. He’s in that “quietly seething” mode I see him in every once in awhile. But he’ll be fine because today we’re off to Uruguay!

No sign of the crazy American tourist lady. Has she left?

It’s odd to me to just hop over to another country but then again, I haven’t really traveled through Europe where it’s easy to drive or rail it to another place. We take a high-speed ferry across the very brown Rio de la Plata. It’s basically the equivalent of driving to the Jersey Shore. I wonder if people come to the US to shoot and go to Delaware on their down days. It’s also odd that Uruguay is an hour ahead of Buenos Aires and they have a completely different exchange rate. This oughta be good.

We get a ride to the dock and it’s actually a crowded departure terminal with lots of lines and windows for ticket purchasing and stuff. It’s kind of like a small airline terminal. Topher and Julietta go off to check in while the rest of us stand around looking clueless. After waiting around, we go tickets in hand to another line. There’s more confusion as the guy behind the counter keeps looking at my ticket and then shakes his head and hands the ticket back. Apparently, the ticket says Mike but my passport says Michael. In fact, all of our tickets have nicknames instead of official names. So Topher and Julietta go off to clear this up and Liz, Susannah, Wanda and I try to amuse ourselves.

I forgot to mention that Wanda speaks Spanish so things are clearer to her than to everyone else. She doesn’t always share her information with us but in fairness, we don’t always ask. This dynamic hasn’t been explored yet. But it’s nice to see Wanda and Julietta hitting it off. I think she was tired of translating menus for us.

Liz spots a pregnant woman on line. She asks if we think the woman speaks any English. It’s kind of an odd question except for the bag she’s carrying, which comes from a store called “Sex Devil.” So let’s reset: a pregnant woman with a bag that reads “Sex Devil.” What, the Whoremporium was closed?

Okay, the ticket thing has been cleared up and now we’re trying to get to the boat. But this is a lot like trying to get on a plane. There’s security and metal detectors and passport checks. At least we’re getting some cool stamps on the passports. After awhile, we walk outside and board a bus, which will take us to the boat. The bus ride is about as long as the amount of time it will take you to read this paragraph. It’s really kind of strange but maybe they just don’t want slow walkers holding up the boarding process.

On board, it’s a lot like a plane. A plane on the water. Usually this means you’ve crashed, but this isn’t the case. Yet. There’s even a first class cabin up the stairs. The seats are pretty comfortable and have tray tables and everything. Who knows, maybe this boat was built using parts from some defunct airline like Pan Am or TWA. Or Allegheny. We just started moving and we’ve already received snacks and a beverage. I asked for orange juice and was handed an apple juice. Man, my Spanish sucks. I need to stop mumbling.

Just over an hour later, we dock in Colonia. Its full name is Colonia del Sacramento but its friends call just call it Colonia. We walk a few blocks through a city which seems deserted and head for the Old City. It’s hard to imagine sometimes being older than where we’re walking right now but I guess there’s a difference between “old” and “dilapidated”. But before going through the opening of the wall which separates the old city from this dump we find ourselves in now, we have to lotion ourselves up with some suntan lotion and spray ourselves down with bug spray. Liz’s problems with mosquitoes have already been documented but Susannah is in a battle for Mosquito Bite Queen. She’s catching up but this may be because Liz has very little unattacked skin surface remaining. The five of us lathering and spraying look like some kind of medical triage.

So we wander through and see some old stuff that dates back to the mid 17th century. This is a far cry from something I saw with Julietta on Florida Street. She told me it dates back to the beginning of the century. So it’s 7 years old? I laugh at this and so does she but I really think it’s just a pity laugh. Anyway, there is a store here in the old city called Christ. It’s a shop specializing in German leather fashions since 1954. I can’t begin to list the number of things that are creepy about this.

Lunchtime. Up until now we’ve had a relatively easy time finding vegetarian options for Liz. But this is proving to be a challenge. Wanda goes into a clothing store and uses her Spanish speaking talents to get some dining advice. I wasn’t present for this exchange of information but from what I understand, we can go to a good place or a really really good place. We end up at El Porton, the really really good place. It’s probably owned by some relative of the woman who sent us here.

We get to sit out on what appears to be Main Street. It doesn’t have the same charm as the part of the city closer to the water and I’m not even sure we’re still in the old city. Julietta is not with us today so we rely on Wanda to get us through the menu but she doesn’t know a lot of food words. After about 10 minutes of struggling and guessing and skimming dictionaries, the waiter brings us some menus in English.

Talking to Susannah is getting more and more difficult because she is forgetting English words like “moat” and “gate”. This would be fine if she spoke Spanish but she doesn’t. The part of her brain that processes language is momentarily failing. It’s actually quite amusing, mostly because it’s not happening to me.

And I’ve also realized that Topher refuses to speak the language. We’re all trying and going as far as ordering in Spanish. Topher speaks English and is damn proud of it. At some other place, Julietta translated something as mashed potatoes. So even when the waiter asked for our orders, Topher kept asking the guy, “is that the mashed potatoes”?

And speaking of potatoes, whatever Topher ordered for lunch came with something that could best be described as tater tots (pretty funny considering the tater tot incident in Romania) but they are round. Wanda wanted to try some of Topher’s potato balls and asked him. So we all laughed even though we’re adults. But come on, she asked to try his potato balls. That’s funny!

Being the big spender I am, I offer to pay for lunch. Usually there’s some kind of debate over who pays and Topher is much faster with the credit card than anyone else. But no one argues this time. It turns out that no one wants to deal with a third currency (the Uruguayan peso) on their expense report.

Walking back to the water towards the lighthouse, I realize that I haven’t seen one traffic light since I’ve been here. No wonder it’s so quiet. Just the occasional car and some scooters. It’s actually pretty charming. So is the lighthouse, which costs us 2 pesos to enter. Now that I’m writing this, I realize that I paid for the five of us in Argentinean pesos. Did I get ripped off? Whatever. We climb the steep steps after the ticket taker warns us of something in Spanish. We have no idea what he’s saying but Susannah figures out that it has something to do with watching your head. She figures this out after she bangs her head on a doorway. The sound of skull on metal echoes through the stairway. Again, I find this amusing because it didn’t happen to me.

We’re starting to run low on time and decide to head to a hotel which was recommended to us because of the bar. We follow Topher’s map but after walking for a while, something seems wrong. So he asks a local and we are fortunate to find a woman who knows where it is and speaks English! The bad news is that we’re still 3 km away. None of us know the exact conversion for that but we all agree that it’s more than a mile. So Topher’s map sucks.

We eventually find a cab and the five of us cram into a hatchback. Liz is less than thrilled because none of us are at our freshest. The cab driver recommends going to a Sheraton instead of the hotel we wanted. We agree mostly because we’re thirsty. But we figure that it’s probably farther away so he gets a bigger fare. Also, I notice the bellboy give the driver a thumbs up when we’re dropped off so I guess the guy works on commission or something.

The hotel is nice but decidedly far away from anything at all. We find the pool bar and order some frozen daiquiris. But even after the bartender (a woman. A bartendress?) used a blender, all we were served were daiquiris over ice. Okay, no big deal. Liz, Topher and I order mojitos for the second round. These drinks are unbelievably strong. This is a good thing because the same cab driver picks us up to bring us back to the boat. And we’re all packed in again. But I’m in the front seat so I don’t care as much as last time.

Back in town, we have dinner in a different section of Buenos Aires called Recoleta. Rubbing my eyes in the van on the way has brought back what may be becoming a horrible tradition for me: the missing contact lens. It was there before I started rubbing my eyes. Now the right one is gone. I’m not really stressed as I actually brought a spare pair with me this time. But jeez, what the hell? I look around the van, I quadruple check my clothes. Nothing.

The restaurant is called Milion. It’s loud. It’s crowded. There were street urchins following us around. The food is mediocre. Later on, the waitress won’t let us leave until our car has arrived. Ironically, this is the most attention she has paid to us all night. At least this is how I remember it. I’ve hit another wall or someone slipped a Mickey into my Malbec but I am wiped. I’ve reverted back into college form where I not only doze off in front of people, but I make it worse by trying to fight it. I actually think I’m pretty successful. Later on, I’m told I’m not. Liz can’t believe I could fall asleep so many times. People who now me from college probably can.

Back at the hotel, Topher tells us that he was speaking French to the driver. So he’s embracing the fact that people don’t speak English. He’s just embracing the wrong language. And I go to my room and collapse face first on the bed, which leads to another disturbing tradition…

Buenos Blog, Day 5

January 17th

Today’s crazy American tourist lady sighting occurred in the lobby. She’s wearing a top with horizontal red and white stripes and white pants. Same big white sunglasses, same big white earrings, same quiet, Fred Mertz-looking husband. In fairness to the husband, he really looks nothing like Fred Mertz and lacks the loud personality. But there’s something Fred Mertz about him which I just can’t place. The lady leaves and I figure that Liz missed her. But she informs us that the woman was spotted up by the pool, wearing the same outfit. Whew.

Wanda and Susannah have arrived for this morning’s prepro. It really should be a no-brainer, with the only big issue being the music. We could have discussed this earlier but I really prefer to discuss these things in person as opposed to over the phone. The meeting is being held at the director (Tina) and producer’s (Suzanne) hotel because of yesterday’s horrible conference call. I neglected to mention the issue with the phones.

The conference call was held at Hotel Madero despite the fact that Tina and Suzanne are staying somewhere else. Apparently, Hotel Madero has some kick-ass phones. So we go to the assigned room. There are 5 of us but there is enough food and bottled water for many more. You can never really have enough snacks. That’s just a fact. But what about the phone? Apparently it’s not available. Is there really just one speakerphone? This becomes a subject of debate but times awastin’ so we decide to call individually. I don’t have my phone with me so I use Topher’s and Liz uses her own. The echo is really odd. If Liz is talking, I need to hold the phone away from my ear because there’s a slight delay, which makes listening really difficult.

Meanwhile, I still haven’t been able to access the Internet. This is why I’ve been so far behind in posting these blogs. I just got an Ethernet cable from the front desk. Wireless is available in the lobby to everyone except me, it seems. So I keep trying to download the casting but no dice. We’re discussing casting over the phone but not looking at it so we’re mostly going from memory. The whole thing is pretty annoying so in protest, we steal all the water and a bunch of croissants. That’ll learn ‘em!

Today’s call went much better despite one odd comment from the client, which I won’t go into here. There food selection is also good, including these mini molten chocolate cakes. The only problem with them is that they’re small enough that they don’t require any biting. I’m popping them in my mouth.

And now it’s time for lunch. We go to El Mirasol, not far from the hotel and very close the Cabaña Las Lilas (the steakhouse from day 3). I had the goat for no reason other than it’s there. I can’t say that it tastes like chicken because it doesn’t. It’s pretty tough but I don’t know if it’s been overcooked or if goal is naturally tough. Either way, it’s not baaaaaaaaad (come on, none of you saw that coming?).

Susannah and I are sitting next to each other and facing the nice, brown water. But interrupting our view is a table of four older women. One woman is having a bit of a wardrobe problem, which prompts Susannah to say, “I’m sorry but that woman needs to put her boobs away.” I may have this put on a t-shirt. I’m usually pretty open-minded when it comes to free-floating boobs but Susannah’s right. They need to be stowed. We also catch some guy begging for money while playing the accordian. You gotta give him credit. That's a heavy instrument. Kids around here ask for money as well but only after performing. See, that's an interesting thing. You wanna ask for money? Fine. But first, dance for me, monkey! The kids here stand at traffic lights and juggle.

I wonder how many people I just pissed off.

Speaking of t-shirt slogans, every restaurant here, and everywhere outside of the US, offers water with bubbles (con gas) or without (sin gas). I want to make a t-shirt that simply says, “SIN GAS”. The meaning in the US would be lost on everyone so it would just be one of those non-sequitor-type of things.

I finally had some helados (ice cream) today. Like the beef, it’s supposed to be the best in the world. It was very good, but best in the world? This is truly a nation not shy about tooting their own horns.

We’re back on Florida Street, this time for the benefit of Susannah and Wanda. Liz wisely suggests splitting up so no one feels like they have to wait for someone else. We did this once before but I got Julietta. Now I’m on my own and feeling a bit out of place. I can’t imagine why. I’m 5300 miles from home and I don’t speak the language. So I wander into some kind of sporting goods store and get a soccer shirt for Aaron. This after some guy tries to help me but doesn’t speak any English. So I go to pay and I’m asked for my ID. Some part of me figured that my New Jersey driver’s license would suffice, especially because I don’t know why they need ID. It seems to be customary when confused-looking Americans pay with a credit card. Eventually, three different people are arguing with each other and with me about needing a passport and why don’t I carry it around with me and why haven’t I memorized the number? I’m too flustered to just make up a number so they’ll leave me alone. Exhaustion sets in on everyone’s part and I’m given the shirt without the extra ID. Crazy foreigners…

The phone rings and it’s Topher wondering why I’m not in the lobby to go out to dinner. I’ve hit the wall and I’m just too tired so I apologize and fall asleep again. According to everyone else, some of them ordered salmon and after a half hour, one dinner was brought out along with apologies that this is the only salmon they had left. Also, 7 making out couples were spotted. One of them was a bit creepy. A really old guy and a much younger female. I guess money can buy you love.

More Spanish learned from American TV: Claro (sure), basta (stop), callate (shut up), nos vamos (I’ll see ya).

Friday, January 19, 2007

Blogos Aires Day 4

During the call with the client yesterday, Wanda asked about mosquitoes. Not the tropical minty drink (ha! See what I did there?) but the blood sucking insects. We assured her that, despite the heat, there were no mosquitoes as far as we could tell. That night, Liz started scratching a bit and joked that it was probably payback for saying there were no mosquitoes.

Cut to this morning. Liz’s leg looks diseased. A picture of it looks like it belongs in a medical journal with a caption under it. So we sent out a quick e-mail to Wanda warning her about the infestation. All we need is a client angry about a bunch of mosquito bites.

I think I’m being gassed. I’m sitting in the lobby and all of a sudden, I get a strong whiff of men’s cologne. But there’s no one around me. No one just walked by me. The only people in the lobby right now are the two security guards who seem to think they work for the Secret Service or something.

I forgot to mention another sighting of the crazy-looking lady…or lack thereof. The one time I’m the last one at the sign of the cow, Topher and Liz tell me that she swept through the lobby wearing some dress with a meshy top over it. This morning, Liz was able to snap a photo of her by pretending she was taking a picture of me but focusing on our tourist friend instead.

I also forgot to mention the security at the restaurant last night. I guess purse snatching is reaching the popularity of an Olympic sport down here. Since we’re sitting outside and right along the river, all women have their bags locked to their chairs with these plastic cable ties to deter people running by and grabbing the purse off the back of the chair. Ingenious!

Back to today. Our new driver is Carlos Eduardo Xavier. I think. You know those hack licenses in NYC cabs where you can’t tell which is the first name and which is the last? That’s what we have here. It turns out he’s from Jersey City. Regardless, I still can’t understand a word he says.

Topher is sunburned. He already has white teeth and ice-blue eyes but these are augmented by his newly red face. It’s not a really even burn either. His legs are a bit blotchy. Liz and I? Still bright white.

Today is wardrobe day, which, for a copywriter, can be dull to begin with. But Liz has an amazing sense of style. I wear jeans all the time. So I’d always defer to her judgment when it comes to this stuff. I’m tired and it’s pretty hot in here so I find myself dozing off. The benefit of being a writer while Liz is wardrobing is that I can catch up on some z’s. A bit later on, the Playtex crew whooshes in. Suddenly our quiet little session turns into the Ziegfield Follies (look it up). We hear about their day and they insult our shopping location. They’ve also all brought guests from the States.

Liz is tired, too, and she gets some Coke Light for a quick caffeine jolt. She said she was willing to risk the gas baby for it. This is a reference to the bloated feeling everyone got from chugging too much Coke Light. I never got it. I don’t think Robert did either. Must be a girl thing. The tiredness (?) is making us punchy and making the odd comment Topher just made about corporate mergers even more odd. He noticed a billboard for BankBoston, which he knew was bought by Fleet and then by Bank of America. So why is there a BankBoston down here? We come up with some theories about the billboard being old and all of a sudden, we see a BankBoston branch! Weird! Or maybe we have the power to conjure up images merely by speaking about them. More on that in a moment.

So why would there be a BankBoston way down here in Buenos Aires when the brand no longer exists? I come up with some crackpot theory of not wanting to have a Bank of America in Argentina because maybe they hate America. Topher says that Boston is just as American and I accuse him of changing the subject. Liz says it would also be weird to see an HSBC. No sooner does she say that when we see an HSBC out the window. This is nuts! There was a third thing, too, but I forgot to write it down.

After dinner, we crack ourselves up over a restaurant we see. It’s called “Kansas” and Liz wonders aloud if it was named for the state or the band (she was kidding, or so she wants us to believe). This, at the time, was a riot. I tried to imagine a bunch of entrepreneurs down here deciding to open up a real American restaurant and naming it after some hot American band. But they don’t realize they’re 30 years behind the times. So they sell Carry On Wayward Sonion Rings and stuff. This leads us to believe that BankBoston was founded by the band Boston.

It was funny at the time.

More useful Spanish from American TV: Es genial (that's cool), Lo jure (I swear), en serio (really).

Today’s make out count: 1 ½ (there was a couple squeezing each other’s asses so we counted that as ½).

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Blogos Aires, Day 3

Day 3: January 15
It’s Martin Luther King Day but you’d never know it from walking around down here. Maybe that’s because there are no blacks down here. At least no one’s calling them African Americans. We’ve gotten so PC that whenever we go to Toronto or even Bucharest, someone mentions finding African Americans for our cast. They’re only African Americans in the US and then only if Al Sharpton is in the room.

I’ve been watching a crazy amount of television since I’ve gotten down here. Despite the lack of anything in English, I’ve managed to find stuff to watch. The other day, I watched Los Padrinos Magicos (Fairly Odd Parents) and La Pantera Rosa (The Pink Panther). I’ve seen every Fairly Odd Parents so I was able to follow the storyline without a problem. And The Pink Panther never really had any dialogue. Then I watched a little of Los Angeles de Charlie. I should probably try to get out more.

We’ve decided that whenever we have to meet in the lobby, we’re going to meet under the Sign of the Cow. It’s a huge painting of dozens of heads of cattle. While waiting for breakfast in the lobby, Liz spotted the quintessential American tourist. This lady belongs on a cruise ship, not in a hotel lobby. She has these huge classes and giant Chanel earrings. Her pants are white with lots of colorful stripes. She looks a little like Carrie Donovan from the old Old Navy commercials. Her husband seems normal or, at least, tolerant. This lady is quite a character.

So breakfast in the lobby consists of a huge buffet with their versions of standard favorites. There were bagels but if you refer back to a previous blog in which I wrote about the ins and outs of bagels, you know that this was really just some bread with a hole. There were pancakes with something called syrup that was really too thick to be syrup. The French toast was a roll cut in half and dipped in egg.

And now we’re headed out to casting. We’re in our third van already. In Romania we had one car with one driver the whole time. That’s okay…we still have Julietta. We’ve noticed that the younger people around here like to pack themselves into small cars or, as Liz put it, “they love to pack people into cars down here, don’t they?” We’ve noticed that the older you are, the less likely you are to be wearing a shirt. This rule only applies to overweight, hairy men. It took us forever to get there. The driver got lost a few times. We did get to see one of the huge soccer stadiums down here. But thanks to our blind driver, we got to see it three times. And casting went well. I doubt we were there for more than an hour. So now it’s time to shop.

Palermo SoHo is an area of Palermo called that because the shops remind people of NYC’s SoHo. Which means I won’t find anything to buy. But we have a good lunch at Bartok. Another all-Spanish menu. Dios bless Julietta.

So we have time to kill because they don’t eat dinner until 9 pm. Back at the hotel, Liz and I decide to have a drink while Topher said he needs to “work on the prepro book.” We’re convinced this is a euphemism for something else. Anyway, this place is home to the Blue Sky Bar, right on the rooftop, 9 stories up. So Liz and I head there because that’s what cool people do. Of course, cool people also would have known the hours. After wandering the rooftop wondering where everyone was, we went back down and were told that it’s only open from Wednesday to Sunday from 10 am to 7 pm. Why not Monday and Tuesday? Because “the girl is off those days.” So they can’t get another person up there? Is it a private franchise owned by this mysterious girl who only works 5 days a week? It’s a mystery.

Also on the roof is the pool. I once entertained going into said pool but changed my mind after seeing the hard bodies and skimpy bikinis populating the area. My body type wouldn’t be allowed up there.

Oh, I’ve discovered a couple of TV stations that play undubbed American shows with Spanish subtitles. I’m actually starting to pick up some terms. Lo siento (I’m sorry), disculpe (excuse me), que mas? (what’s up?). Good stuff, TV.

Quick call with the client. We asked for a speakerphone but it’s not available. I’m having a hard time with that one. This hotel has one speakerphone or something? So we end up having a conference call by all of us calling in individually on our cell phones. When the meeting ended, we swiped all the water and took some croissants. That’ll learn ‘em!

We’re having dinner tonight with some other Grey folks who are down here for another shoot, among them being James from the Romanian excursion. Topher and I were pretty sure we knew where to go, sure enough that we blew of the directions given to us by the concierge. We figured that whatever she was telling us that seemed wrong; it must have been a language barrier. So after wandering around for a bit, we had to accept that we were lost. Liz’s shoes weren’t made for this much walking around. Topher’s actually going up to anyone sitting still and asking if they know where the restaurant is. Well we finally get some directions and realize that we probably should have taken a cab. The highlight of this really long walk is the bridge we’re supposed to cross. It’s only for pedestrians and it looks very cool at night. We also get our count of making out couples much higher. Before this walk, we were stuck at one or two.

We finally arrive at Cabaña Las Lilas, one of Puerto Madero’s finest steakhouses. That’s what Lulu tells us, anyway. But then she tells Liz the Vegetarian that she really doesn’t eat a lot of meat. So I’m taking meat advice from a woman who shuns the stuff. I had something called a Club Steak. I asked the waiter to tell me about it and he says that it’s very good. Then he proceeds to produce a photo of the steak from his wallet. It’s big if nothing else (the steak, not the photo). I was underwhelmed. And Topher’s filet was undercooked. But we did have these soufflé fries. It’s as if someone cook up some steak fries and scooped out the potato. Very airy and really good.

After the meat fest, the three of us get in a cab and head over to La Faena. It’s an upscale hotel, which is priced way out of our budget. But other Grey employees have stayed there. Michelle couldn’t stop raving about how beautiful it was. To me, it was one of the freakiest places I’d ever been in. If Dracula ever decided to stop hanging around Transylvania and go into the hotel business, this is the kind of place he’d open. Kubrick could have shot “Eyes Wide Shut” here. It’s very dark and everyone is wearing long, black coats. There are a few rooms to the right side and each one is done up completely differently. One room is all white and has unicorn heads on the wall. We eventually find our way to the pool. Very beautiful. More couples making out. Topher had some Skollar-type frozen drink, which was amazing. Liz ordered a Mai Tai. Every once in awhile, Liz channels 63-year old women.

We hear a splash and some man has stripped down to his Speedo and started doing laps. It’s 1:30 am. And older man in a business suit is watching him with interest. We figured that this might be some sex game they play. “I’ll be Greg Louganis and you be the strict Olympic coach.” Something like that. The guy eventually gets out of the pool, dries off and puts his business suit back on. Crazy.

Number of couples making out: 12.

Suburbia del Sud: Buenos Blog, Day 2

Day 2: January 14
I deplane and head for customs. But I could wait for Topher and Liz at baggage claim or on the customs line. So I opt for customs. I get off the line and wait. And the line grows rapidly. No sign of Liz and Topher. The line now passes the gate. There is some confusion between the deplaning passengers staying in Buenos Aires and the ones heading for Montevideo (capital of Uruguay. Read a book!). But Topher and Liz show up and now we get to exchange plane stories. Here we go: Topher slept the whole time. Liz slept most of the time.

Once we get downstairs, the huge customs line moves along nicely. Argentinean residents zip through, probably because there are less than them. Or maybe it’s some government program to get people to move to Buenos Aires for the quick customs lines. Anyway, we see a sign, which lists the various things you cannot bring into the country. Biological things are forbidden, including semen. Semen? Is there a huge semen smuggling ring down here? I think that if a customs agent asks if you have anything illegal to bring in and you have the balls (pun intended, of course) to say “actually, I have some semen in my bag”, (no pun intended) then you should be allowed to bring it in on bravado alone.

Liz brings up an interesting question. When Angelina Jolie was married of Billy Bob Thornton, she used to wear a vial of his blood around her neck. Would she have been allowed into the country? Hmmm…

Customs ends up being very low key. No questions at all. Canada customs is an oppressive regime compared to this place.

You know how it is when you ride a ride at Disney World? After the ride, you have to pass through the gift shop before exiting onto the street. The airport is like that as well. We get through customs and are blinded by the fluorescent lights of a huge duty-free shop, complete with loud club music. I don’t have any Argentinean pesos yet. But I do have around 400 Uruguayan pesos courtesy of Poker Chick, a friend who was just down here. I exchange them and get around 42 Argentinean pesos.

The weather is great. A nice breeze. Very sunny and warm. Being south of the equator will do that for a climate. We meet up with Julietta, our chaperone/translator/aspiring film director.

Hotel Madero is nice in a post-modern kind of way. It lies in the relatively-revitalized Puerto Madero district of Buenos Aires. Very minimalist with earthy, new age music playing (the hotel, not the area of Buenos Aires). Lots of people dressed in black. The rooms aren’t ready when we arrive so we head out to this river walk-kind of area. It used to be an active port, which was abandoned about 30 years ago and was revitalized about 10 years ago. We cross over a river, which is a few shades of brown. Liz and Topher notice schools of dead fish floating on the surface. We will call this place Dead Fish River. Not as stinky as it could be, so we've got that going for us.

Veronica from the production company shakes around hands but tells us that the customary greeting is a kiss on the cheek. So I start kissing everyone I meet. I must be doing it wrong because I keep getting my ass kicked.

While we’ve seen 2 nose pickers so far today, we see significantly more couples making out. Necking. Pitching woo. Whatever the kids are calling it these days. They’re on benches, at tables or couches in restaurants, in cars, on street corners. It must be that customary cheek kissing which leads to this. Or that Latin blood. Except no one down here speaks Latin.

So we have lunch at a place where the menu is in Spanish but has English translations. Very handy.

Apparently people don’t eat dinner around here until 9. So we walk around some more. We’re driven to this area called Santelmo or San Telmo or Sant Elmo (or maybe none of those) where the street is closed every Sunday for a huge flea market/antique fair. Except when we get there, everyone’s packing up. We basically crashed at the hotel and slept through this fair. No worries, it’s just the usual collection of crap. There were some interesting, odd things, however, including a strangely large number of creepy dolls. Liz is totally freaked.

And then I get my first taste of the tango. There’s this large, outdoor area where tango music is being played and the courtyard is filled with people doing the tango. It’s definitely not what I expected. I always pictured the tango as everyone sees it in the movies. You need lots of space. You need a rose. And women need long legs and a skirt with a very high slit. But these are just your basic people dancing. It’s as precise as the tango I envisioned but it’s a lot more compact. I’m transfixed. There was something about it that I couldn’t stop watching. It seems to be this national dance that everyone has to know to live down here, like that weird dance Baron Von Trapp danced with Maria in “Sound of Music”. It would be cool to learn this but it’s not exactly a solo dance.

So we have dinner at Lele Troya or something. Julietta has this Spanish accent that everyone down here seems to have so I think this is what she said. Every room is done up in some primary color. We get the blue room. The blue includes everything: the walls, ceiling, chairs, tables, even the clothes our waitress is wearing. Unlike lunch, we get menus that are all in Spanish. Poor Julietta has to translate everything. This got more complicated when dessert came around. Liz asked about something with turned out to be cheesecake with, as Julietta translated it, ginger ale. A quick reality check determined that she was trying to explain ginger, the spice. We all agreed that it must have a gingerbread flavor. This sounded good enough to overlook the grape sauce topping, whatever that was. Liz gets it. You know that sensation you get when you eat something and you’re expecting a completely different flavor? Well it turns out that the ginger was actually the ginger that comes with sushi. Gross, right? Liz ate it anyway, deciding that once you get over the shock, it really isn’t that bad.

We’ve also discovered the wonders of Malbec. I’ve never had a red wine like it. I’ve been drinking a lot of it. I hope to bring some home if there’s any left by the time I’m done with it. Very smooth, unlike many other red wines I’ve had. It must be fate because there was a whole article about Argentinean Malbecs in the USA Today I read on the plane on the way down here.

We’ve been keeping track of the number of couples making out. They have to be making out. There are many couples who may have been making out before we saw them but that doesn’t count. Today’s count: between 11 and 15.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Buenos Blog, Day One

Welcome to the Buenos Blog (thanks, Crimestopper!) or Blogos Aires (thanks, Liz!). For the next few days, the staff at Greetings From Suburbia will be on a business trip in Buenos Aires so we’ll be returning to a travelogue-style of writing. Fans of the July ’06 postings from Romania remember the hijinx of Liz, Topher, myself and a cast of thousands as we toured post-Communist Bucharest. Well the three of us are back, this time in South America as we shoot a commercial for Twister Scram, new in the Twister Outdoor line from Hasbro.

Day 1: January 13
Now I know why I don’t do a lot of international traveling. I used to think it was because I don’t have any money. But the truth is that I tend to end up at the 3rd world airport known as JFK. I think it’s the only airport where the name and the official code ar
e the same. Can anyone confirm or deny this? Anyway, I’m not in the swanky new International Terminal I got to use when I went to Romania. No, I’m in the terminal that time forgot. Vintage crap. Stained carpeting. Holes in the ceiling. And that’s just the gift shop!

Badum dum.

Of course, I got here way too early. So now I have 3 hours to kill. And the difference between Romania’s business class and this class that American Airlines calls “economy” are becoming obvious. It’s pretty hot here. That may be American trying to acclimate us to Buenos Aires weather. It may also be American turning on the heat in November and leaving it on.

So it’s the same crew as Romania, minus Robert. Kind of a drag because he’s always good at finding something funny in everything. Now it’ll be up to me and Liz. Topher’s a really good guy with a dry sense of humor but no one’s lining up to call him Shecky if you know what I mean.

Going through security isn’t so bad. First we had to dodge the elderly couple arguing with each other about identification. The husband says she needs picture ID. His shrew wife (“don’t you hate Perry’s wife?” Anyone? Anyone?) keeps saying “photo ID or passport?” The whole thing could be solved by telling her it’s the same thing but that solution seems to be eluding the poor schmuck.

And then I get scolded for putting my sneakers on top of my computer. I’m actually told to “never do that again.” I offered to run the stuff through again and she said it was too late. Too late? Viva Homeland Security.

We should be boarding any time now. I know this because they’ve just announced that only first an
d business class are boarding and everyone else should wait. But everyone got up and rushed the door. And now that I’m boarding, the indignity of economy is magnified by having to walk through first and business. The sad looks. The way they avert their eyes when you look at them. And then the space diminishes and the walls start closing in. Economy starts at row 20. I’m in row 23 so I can still see that happy people with their leg room and their foot rests and their metal flatware. I got an aisle, so that’s nice. For a moment, I was seated next to an old man who resembled Menachem Begin if he were alive today. But he not only doesn’t speak English, he can’t read either. He’s supposed to be in 23F, not 23D. The woman who belongs in 23D also speaks no English but is easier on the eyes. She is carrying a printer but doesn’t even try to put it overhead. So she puts it on the floor in front of her feet. It won’t fit under the seat. So she puts her feet on the box and then covers herself with a blanket to hide it.

This being a red eye, there’s very little to say about the flight. I read. I did a puzzle. I watched “The Queen” (Helen Mirren was great, the story was ho hum). I slept for 5 of the 10 ½ hours. Topher and Liz are many rows behind me so I have no one to exchange funny looks with.

And then we land.

Monday, January 08, 2007

What's In A Name?

While some may see the proliferation of variety a huge benefit of life in suburbia, it does have drawbacks which lead to many questions.

For years, dating back to my suburban life on Long Island, I saw the plain bagel develop colors and flavors that just don't seem right on a bagel. I get trying to bring in the Gentile market but still, shouldn't a bagel be a bagel?

What makes a bagel a bagel? I'm sitting at a Panera on Bloomfield Avenue in West Caldwell, NJ (birthplace of President Grover Cleveland) and eating my favorite Panera item: a cinnamon crunch bagel. But was it really a bagel? There was no hole in it so it looked more like a roll than a bagel. And if it were truly in the bagel family, it would be more of a bialy than a bagel. But bagels come in many varieties while I have only seen one type of bialy in my life. You would never see a cinnamon raisin bialy.

A bialy also doesn't have a hole. It has a dent in the middle. So is it the hole that makes it a bagel? Well if that were the case, wouldn't a donut be a bagel? Of course not. A donut is more like a cake while a bagel is more like bread. So right there is a clear designation: cake vs. bread. Okay, a donut is not a bagel.

At what point does a bagel become a tasty roll? This cinnamon crunch thing on my napkin is pretty close. It doesn't have the texture or the consistancy of a bagel. You also wouldn't put plain old butter or cream cheese on it. Once you start getting into the flavored spreads, you're out of the realm of bagels as far as I'm concerned.

A fellow blogger has some thoughts on this very important subject. For one thing, a bagel should not be toasted. I don't really agree with this one but she's a city dweller and doesn't know from suburbia. In suburbia, it's very common to buy more bagels than you need. Sometimes a bagel needs to be toasted, or at least nuked, in order to make it edible again. But getting a bagel right from the store? No toasting.

Weird flavors are forbidden. And that's where the cinnamon crunch thing falls. Bagels are plain or poppy or sesame or garlic or egg or salt or everything or pumpernickel. I guess whole wheat is acceptable. Some will include cinnamon raisin but not me. Once the bagel starts tatsing sweet, it's a roll. Or a muffin. Cinnamon crunch, asiago cheese, french toast and the like are not bagels. They're rolls.

I still love the cinnamon crunch bagel. I love Panera. And I will continue to seek out my favorite Panera food at least until I go on Weight Watchers again. But I will not order it as a bagel. "Gimme two cinnamon crunch" and leave it at that.