More Change

Apr 11th 2010: Travel

(update to: Looking for Change, part of Food)

Looks like McDonald’s smelled the beef and is introducing their own beef and bacon stacked burger line. I’m hoping they’ll try to top each other in size. I vow to eat a 10 paddy burger should they come out with one. And no, In’n Out does not count.

On a related note about McDonald’s creative menu in Germany: the following article was posted on the New York Times website today In Germany, a Taste of New York, via McDonald’s.


Apr 10th 2010: Travel

Well documented in every guidebook, one of the first things you learn about life in Buenos Aires is its night-owl party schedule: The Argentine party goer takes a so called disco nap after work, around 8/9pm, goes out for dinner at 11pm, starts hitting the dance clubs at around 2 or 3am, has breakfast at 7am, and then goes straight back to work. Coming from San Francisco where you get the evil eye at 1:30am and the boot at 2am, where going to sleep at 4am constitutes an all-nighter for all practical purposes, where public transportation, especially into the East Bay, seizes to exist at around midnight, this all-night schedule seems unreal. Surely the guidebooks are exaggerating, trying to sell the place… No?

During my first week friends and I ended up at a Brazilian dance club at 1am and the place was absolutely deserted. It looked pretty sad in fact. As we hung out, bridging the time with various shots, the place started filling up and long and behold at 3am it was jam packed, with the Brazilian locals busting out some crazy, choreographed looking moves. Note to self: do visit Rio or Sao Paolo during Carnival. And this was a weeknight nevertheless, Wednesday I think. After stumbling back at around 6am I had to admit to myself that a) Buenos Aires does indeed have an insane nightlife and b) I had fun.

Without a “proper” job, without a fixed schedule, and with my apartment being conveniently located only two blocks from Plaza Serrano, one of the beating centers of this pulsating Metropolis, filled with bars, clubs, and upscale restaurants, I have since come to truly appreciate the night.
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On a Roll

Apr 6th 2010: New Work, Thoughts

(or: unforeseen challenges of a novice artist)

Yesterday morning I had one of those holy-sh*t moments. One of those that catch you by surprise, early in the morning, just after you wake up, when you are too lazy to get out of bed and, because you are still a bit sleepy, you let your mind wonder to all sorts of random thoughts. Who am I? Why do I only count nine toes on my feet? Why is that kid upstairs crying again? Probably hungry. Why won’t they feed it? And what did they mean by the line “I used my imagination” in the movie last night? What do I need to do today? Wait, what day is it? It’s Sunday. Again? Already? How many Sundays have I had? Holy Sh*t! (<– there it is) It’s already the second Sunday since I started taking photos and the sixth Sunday since I got here. Really? Wow, it’s been six weeks in Buenos Aires and two working fulltime. Holy Sh*t! (<– there it is again) Have I actually accomplished anything? Time to do a progress review:

The last two weeks have been both rewarding and frustrating. The biggest challenge was the switch to doing nothing but photo related work. I am used to set schedules, clear deadlines, and tangible progress. And now, all of a sudden, there is none except for the little man with the top hat in the left (right?) half of my brain telling me: “you are here only for a few months, don’t waste this opportunity. You better have something solid at the end of the trip.” But what? I decided to commit myself fulltime so I can put together one or more bodies of work. But what those were about I had not determined. I figured I would come here and let myself be inspired. Well, turns out you cannot force inspiration. There is no way to say “I’ll be working creatively from 9-12, have lunch, and at around 1pm I will have a great epiphany guiding me for the rest of the week.” I had not thought this through.
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Looking for Change

Mar 29th 2010: Travel

(updated in More Change, part of Food)

As mentioned before, the quality of the food in Buenos Aires is very good, but it does lack variety. Coming up to the end of my fifth week here, I do crave something different every once in a while. My basic cooking skills do provide some alternatives to the local cuisine, mostly because my kitchen experiments keep going horribly wrong. You would be surprised in how many ways you can screw up pasta. Seeking something new to entertain my palate I recently ended up at Burger King. It was not what I expected. Fast food abroad is usually more interesting than in the States. In Germany for instance the McDonalds have “theme weeks” to spice up the menu. One week there would be “Caribbean Week” with optional pineapple slices on the burgers and Pina Colada milkshakes. Other weeks they would offer burgers with BBQ sauce calling it the “Texas Week.” In Korea you can get Kimchi burgers on buns from rice and Bulgogi (spareribs) burgers at the local Lotterias, a Koreanized version of McD.

When I entered the Burger King in Buenos Aires I hoped to find some interesting, localized burger variants. And I did. But it was not what I anticipated.
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Futbol: Superclásico

Mar 26th 2010: Travel

One of the biggest, if not the biggest, rivalries between Argentine soccer teams is the one between Boca Juniors and River Plate. Both teams are based in Buenos Aires and originally even from the same Bario (neighborhood). When these two teams meet, the fans go crazy and everyone leaves work early to catch the game that is broadcasted on every television set in the city. The game between these two teams is so important, so charged, so exciting that it has its own name: Superclásico. And a dedicated wikipedia article about it:ásico. Ticket prizes go up to $400 per person. Yes, that is four hundred US Dollars. Not Pesos. And we are talking seats, not boxes with Champagne and caviar. This past Sunday a friend of mine got three tickets for the game at a fraction of the price, though still not cheap, by knowing someone who knows someone! An opportunity not to be missed.
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Shifting Focus

Mar 23rd 2010: New Work, Travel

(This is a Tweener Post: not much content, just filling space between more important posts, filled with some general background information and public service announcements. Enjoy)

It’s odd. I feel like I am doing less, but the days pass by faster. Has it really been four days already since the last post? I’ve been meaning to continue posting about 2-3 posts per week. Now I am glad if I get one done. It’s not that I feel bad about it. It’s just that there is simply less to post about right now: as mentioned in the last post, I have now settled and with the departure of some friends I have started to focus on what I came here for, my work. Over the last five or so days I’ve been shooting 4-5 rolls per day, which is now my target as I cannot process more than that on the chemical side. My days are spent with developing images, making (bad) contact sheets of the just developed ones (see sample below) and then going out shooting more. This leaves surprisingly little in-between time, which is spent on meeting people (only a few times per week), making coffee, running errands, a Tango class here and there, and just generally staring at photos. It is a real shift in focus. I didn’t realize how much I missed taking photos. It feels sooooo good to just go out and wander with the camera, music blasting, rolls of film in my pocket, the wind in my beard, walking into the sunset while waiting for the artificial lights to go on. And doing it all day every day is still somewhat unreal. Really? I don’t have to do anything else? So expect less travel focused posts and more art and photo focused posts.

I would like you to also note that I have added a new section to the right sidebar of this blog called “TRAVEL PHOTOS” which has links to my different photo galleries of photos of Buenos Aires. Like an album about my neat new apartment that I’ve been talking so much about. And one with photos of all the graffiti art that is literally everywhere and quite good. And I’ll keep adding more so keep an eye on that box and revisit those galleries every once in a while.

The Arrival

Mar 19th 2010: Travel

“What brought you to Buenos Aires?”

A common question, but I find I don’t actually know how to answer it. I don’t really know why I am here. I mean, I know I am here to take photos. I know I am here to change the pace in my life for a little while. But why Buenos Aires and not, say, Chicago, Berlin, or Shanghai? I could rationalize it with “Well, it’s summer there” or “South America is one of the two last (enjoyable) continent I have not been to”, but in the end I have to admit the decision was arbitrary. Pretty much as arbitrary as throwing a dart at a map.

For someone whose job it used to be to handle and manage change on a daily basis, I can be surprisingly resistant to change in my personal life. So it has always taken me a little time to adjust to a new place. I hated the first few days after vacations when returning to boarding school or college. This natural tendency of mine combined with the big questing captured in the little word “why?” made for an unnerving first few weeks. What was I thinking visiting a country I know nothing of and don’t speak the language? But then you wake up one Friday morning and you become fascinated with the fact that you have already been here for four weeks. Four weeks that passed by very fast and very slow at the same time.

And you reflect.

When the like-minded of your new acquaintances have become your friends, when you keep getting invited to different parties, when you meet someone special and you become close friends in only four days because for those four days you spend almost every waking hour together, when you get excited that people show up to your St. Patrick’s day themed house warming party and when you get annoyed by others flaking on you for the same, when your spirit drops at a new won friend’s going-away party but you help him pack and move anyway, when you walk into an old-school record store and end up chatting it up with the young owner and he later hooks you up with a set of cheap, but awesome speakers because your new place has no stereo, when you buy a coffeemaker and go grocery shopping because you would rather cook at home than eat out again,… that’s when you realize that you are no longer traveling, that you are no longer visiting here, but that you have arrived and are now living here. And even though you still don’t know why, you know that at this point in time you are supposed to be here and you know that right now you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. And that you should really get started on shooting your photos.

When the End is in Sight

Mar 10th 2010: Travel

(continuation of Spanglish Matters)

The concept of “sink or swim” is fundamentally flawed. Suitable only for the kindergarten pool session it forces a harsh decision on the delicate shades of gray which make life so much more interesting. Would you like your steak plain raw or thoroughly through? 120-hour work week or unemployed? Binges or abstinence? Black or yellow? In the end we tend to grab for that big straw that allows us to breath and float underneath the surface without being dragged to the bottom.

By spending several hours a day on top of the regular Spanish classes on homework and brute force flash card memorization of the vocabulary of a three year old, I managed to significantly move up in the world. No longer am I the sad owner of the title of the worst student in class by far! but I am now proud to call myself one of the worst students in class. A hard earned honor. Blessed with the rather useless gift of being able to often finish grammar exercises faster than anyone else, faster even than the 15 year old, trilingual wiz kid, I am still left stammering when trying to explain how I spent the previous afternoon – a painful ritual at the beginning of every class. It is especially tragic since, unlike my peers who have spent their afternoons doing exciting touristy things (and are able to convey them), I spend my time the same way every day: first a two hour private class, then an hour commute home in an overly crowded, and I am talking nasty sweaty skin-on-skin crowded, hot and moist subway car. I then relax a little, go out for a longer dinner, the most exciting part of my day, after which I spend the rest of the cozy evening with my new friends, the indirect objects and the reflexive verbs. We really have a grand time together.
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Talking about Ice Cream

Mar 8th 2010: Travel

Just wanted to share this amazing ice cream I had this weekend. It was funtastic. I might not be leaving this place….

Cows on Crack

Mar 4th 2010: Travel

A first attempt at a food post. I will skip over the famous arsado as I have not yet had any. However, as this recent NYT article proves, I don’t have to feel guilty about it. Which I probably wouldn’t anyway. (Palermo Hollywood is only two blocks away, btw.) Nevertheless, asado is on my ridiculously long list of treats I will reward myself with once I have survived my Spanish Intensive, capital I. Other top contenders are doing absolutely nothing, moving in and decorating my new apartment, and watching sweaty tourists passing by either from the convenience of my own balcony or from the cafe downstairs. And some Tango classes.

The one-word impression is that the food here is great. As long as you are not too picky in diversity. Buenos Aires is not only central European in looks but also in taste. The local Parrilla, which is pronounced in an (im)proper Castellano fashion “parisha” and is typically the small Argentine hole-in-the-wall BBQ restaurant, alternates with Italian style pizza places, pastry shops, bars, and cafes. You have to really go out of your way to find the one visionary who in a grand dillusion decided to open the one unvisitied Chinese or Indian or Mexican restaurant. The U.S. attitude of “I can’t eat Chinese for dinner because I’ve had it for lunch already” will leave you starving on the side of the road on day one.

What Buenos Aires lacks in ethnic diversity, and I am not just talking about the food, it makes up in quality of what it does provide. The vegetables are fresh and tasty, the bread crunchy and hearty, and the cows here must not just be happy but totally high on crack. What has amazed me from the beginning, when I could barely say my name and was still overcoming the recovering from the 22 hour flight, is how amazing the cheese is. Yes, the cheese. It’s awesome. It turned the, by BA standards, decent pizza into a feast. And I have not been disappointed since. Friends have had similar ecstatic experiences with yogurt and butter, items that will be added to my personal food chain once I own a fridge.

Currently I am making a point of trying something new everyday by visiting different cafes or restaurants for dinner, getting the Spanish menu (my “hola” has gotten quite convincing) and ordering something completely unknown and foreign to me. It does help to be an indiscriminate omnivore.  The results have been mostly positive with the notable exception of the ever common grilled cheese sandwich, or tostada. As great as the cheese is, by itself on grilled toast just makes for a unexciting dinner. At least in a restaurant. My absolute cheese favorite, however, was a desert I ordered on a whim, instead of the usual espresso, called Queso y dulce (“cheese and fruit paste” – this is why, when it comes to food, we need to stick with names in languages we don’t understand). It’s literally a slice of soft cheese with a slice of fruit paste, in my case made from sweet potato, covered with a little bit of caramel sauce. Indescribably fantastic! For me, it is high up there together with my other sweet tooth pleaser, ice cream (like Bi-Rite’s). If you know me, you know this is quite a compliment. By googling the term I found that some Argentine restaurants in the U.S. also offer it. I’ll just hope it’s as good as it is here.

Other, non-(or-less)-cheese highlights included last night’s Champion risotto, a strange seafood salad, wok-fried “Zen healthy” spaghettis, and a carne sandwich, which joined the other entres on the English menu with its unromantically translated name “beef sandwich”. I guess the name is accurate, but really lacks the ooomph of the experience. Slightly marinated, grilled beef arrived in a big lump of slices in between two tiny halves of a mini baguette held together by a toothpick and an olive. Identified as a foreigner, I also got a small basket full of ketchup and generic yellow mustard condiments. Just in case I’d like to insult the country by having my hot dog and eating it too. It didn’t need condiments. It didn’t need even need the bread: the beef on its own was so tasty, I almost skipped the bread.

Price-wise my dinners rarely exceed the $10 mark (~40 pesos) and that also includes beer, tip and tax, the warm weather, being able to sit outside, and the fact that you won’t be hassled if you take a two hour dinner. A few photos are below. I have not been great about taking food photos though and it’s hard to capture the food well at night. Since this is an ongoing project, at least until I find my omg-I-will-never-eat-anywhere-else place, expect more food posts.