You are currently browsing the archives for May, 2010.

Hitting Stage Two

May 27th 2010: New Work, Travel

Germany is not a very big country, but makes up for that by being about as densely populated as a mall on Black Friday. It’s half the size of Texas with four times as many people. You have to put up some serious effort if you want to get lost. Walk 20 minutes in any direction and you are bound to find a path, a road, or a town. Because of the short distances and the limited space, the roads are narrow and the cars small and efficient. As a result, many Europeans living in the US become obsessed with the American road of life. The seemingly endless stretches of highways and landscapes between places. The diversity between the American cultures at both coasts and the country in between. The true bear and wolf wildernesses. And the big cars with their massive engines. I’m one of those Europeans.

Inspired both by my own desires and by the example of photographic heroes like Stephen Shore and Robert Frank, I will be driving across the US to see and experience *everything*. A two and a half months trip covering 12,000+ miles, split into three legs. A journey
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The King is Dead, Long Live the King

May 24th 2010: Thoughts, Travel

A long plane ride will not only transport you from one world to another physically, but also mentally. By the time you arrive at your destination you have shed your old self in anticipation of the new environment, the new you. As you soak up your new experiences the old ones fade very quickly, feeling strangely far away. Once again in my old stomping ground, city by bay, city of light and fog, San Francisco, it is hard to believe I just spent the last three months in Buenos Aires. In Argentina. In South America. How quickly time passes. It both felt long and short. Being in a well known place I am both pleased to, for once, have familiar surroundings, but I also admit to missing the excitement of the foreign. So, looking back, what is the conclusion of this trip?
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Quilmes, etc.

May 21st 2010: Travel

(final chapter of the Guilty Pleasure Tales)

Compared to the other Argentinean vices, their smoking, their caffeine dependency, and their sweet tooth, this last one, alcohol, is the one they seem to indulge the least in. Or at least they don’t drive it to an extreme the way they seem to push the other ones. Sure, just like in the rest of the world, alcohol is everywhere and happily consumed. But unlike the inhabitants of other countries I have visited, Argentineans don’t seem to like the feeling of losing control, getting way too drunk to find your way home. Instead they prefer to rely on yet more caffeine to make sure the party goes on until sunrise. As a result, beer and wine and cocktails are consumed in more or less “healthy” moderations.

The local wine is cheap and excellent. I grew particularly fond of Malbec, a local red wine grape similar to Merlot that turned out to be just right, not too sweet, not too dry. Most of the Argentinean wine
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Sweetness

May 20th 2010: Travel

(third chapter of the Guilty Pleasure Tales)

In Argentina some flavors are hard to find while others come in overwhelming abundance. Like sugar and anything sweet. Not only are Argentineans running on coffee and mate, but they also appear to be on a constant sugar high. Everything that’s not savory tends to be overly sweet. In Patagonia I had a hot chocolate that was so incredibly sweet, to an almost disgusting degree, that you could barely drink it. And it was served with several (!) additional packs of sugar on the side, in case I found it too bland. This is not a rare example. The movie theatre popcorn is sweet, the morning croisants are all sugar glazed like donuts, plenty of sugar goes into your mate, and because they are made with real sugar and not with corn sirup, sodas are also fairly popular, while their diet (or light) versions seem to just be available for show (or for us dumb foreigners). The epiphany of the Argentinean sweet tooth, however, is Dulce de Leche, a milk caramel sauce made, according to wikipedia, essentially from condensed, sweet milk. It’s as ubiquitous as your standard chocolate flavor: anything you can imagine getting in chocolate exists down here soaked in Dulce de Leche (ice cream, Oreos, etc). It is another one of those national Argentinean staples you will not be able to escape.

I just found out that, due to international trade issues, sugar has become a rare commodity over the last few weeks with many stores either not selling it at all or limiting sales to one pack per family. I wonder what that will do to the local cuisine. And to the business of the hordes of dentists that must be making a killing down here.

Coffee, Mate

May 15th 2010: Travel

(second chapter of the Guilty Pleasure Tales)

No, no. The comma in the title is on purpose, not a typo. I don’t want to talk about that artificial creamer office managers buy in bulk and that, because barely anyone uses it, fills up cabinets over cabinets in the shared kitchen. And yes, we are still in Argentina, not Australia. After dealing with smoking, I want to dive into the much more pleasurable Argentinean vices centered around caffeine. There are two you should really be familiar with, that you will be exposed to within the first few hours after entering Buenos Aires: Coffee and Mate.

Coffee

Argentineans have a wonderful coffee culture. There are cafes at every street corner. I heard a number quoted somewhere: 8,000 cafes in Capital Federal, the heart of Buenos Aires, alone. These cafes are open at all hours of the day, especially on Fridays and Saturdays. And not only do they serve coffee,
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Patagonia

May 13th 2010: Travel

When thinking of Patagonia I used to think of it as the end of the world, lots of ice, and overwhelmingly beauty. This kind of hype always sets the bar high and is pretty much asking for disappointment. Just think of the movies. Geek or not, I doubt there was a single person not feeling cheated by the “new” Star Wars trilogy. George Lucas basically just took your lunch money. And then there are those other cases when the hype turns out to be justified. Yosemite surprised like that. I mean how beautiful can that place really be? Going there on a snowy March morning was just breath taking, liking walking through a winter fairy tale.

When setting out for a trip to Patagonia with some close friends of mine, I was fearful of being let down again. And I was. And I was not.
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Light Up!

May 1st 2010: Travel

(first chapter of the Guilty Pleasure Tales)

Remember those times when you went out to a pub or a bar or a club and then you came home, late at night, after having a grand old time, you crash in your bed, barely able to get out of your clothing and sleep so deep and well, like a log, or like a German style rock? And the next morning you wake up bright and early and relaxed and still a tad hung-over. And then you smell your hair and that favorite shirt you wore the night before. And the gag reflex kicks in and you are more likely to throw up now from that nasty stench than you were the night before from the Tequila shots? Remember those days? Obviously I am talking about the time before smoking was banned in these … entertainment facilities. And when that ban came, at first you were surprised, didn’t see the point, reluctant to change, until that first time you went out after the ban had been instated and then, the next morning, you realized you smell like a fresh spring flower in an untouched forest near the snow covered mountains with Unicorns joyously trotting by. Basically what the snuggle bear must smell like. OK, maybe you didn’t smell quite like that, but you know what I mean. Well, Buenos Aires is going through that transition right now… and very slowly. At this point it is still smoker heaven with some minor annoyances, while as a non-smoker you are in partial hell. As occasional smoker you might just get by.
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The Bug

May 1st 2010: Travel

(update from: So Very Hot)

I just went to see a Tango show. It was fantastic. It was the Carlos Gardel show in Abasto, Buenos Aires. Dinner was great and then the show started. When it ended, an hour and a half later I was so disappointed. I could have watched for another hour or so. It was really well done, with a lot of variety. BUT I also have to say that watching those guys perform amazing Tango on stage only reaffirmed my understanding of the dance: it’s not a spectator sport. I want to be there, move with the music, as bad of a dancer as I still am, instead of watching them, no matter how amazing they are. Tango is so hot.