Sunday, August 29, 2004

Well, we're seven months on in our "latin quest" and this will surely be our last entry from Buenos Aires. Although this will likely spell relief to all of you out there (who are "commenting" with less and less frequency) -- as we will probably write more from the road -- our ongoing goodbye in this wonderfull city has been tough to say the least.

In the last week we've been tying together a lot of loose ends. Apart from watching extesive coverage of Argentinas triumph in basketball (and soccer) at the olyimpics, we've been running around like mad. Raegan was treated to a surprise goodbye party on her last day of school on Thursday. She came home with dried tears and a huge bag of hand-drawn thank you letters. Unfortunately, the letters wont make it in our backpacks during our month or so in brasil, but her memories will surely last much longer. My Thursday was electric (take note of the sarcasm) writing the finishing touches on a grant to research failures in the regulation of Argentinas (now privatized) public utilities. The office bought a cake and some cola prior to my farwell. It was great closure to a wonderfull experience, but somewhere short of scores of hugs and letters from adoring children.

That night we saw a Tango concert. We'd wanted to see the band for some time, and the concert left nothing to be desired. Our entrance, table, wine, and apetizers only set us back about $15, and would have been worth every penny without the music. There were ten members in the band: 4 accordianists, 4 violinists, a bassist, a cellist, and a pianist. They played fairly traditional Tango, but did not look the part. The members bobbed their dreaded heads and had cigarrettes hanging from their pierced lips as they jammed out one song after the next. The lead singer freakishly sprang on the stage with polysester pants and a tight, powder-blue addidas warm-up and stunned the croud first with his drug and sex-referenced jokes and second with his amaizing voice.

Last night we went to the ballet at the famous Teatro Colon. It's, without a doubt the nicest theatre we've ever seen, and has the best acoustics, and great dancers, sets, and costumes, but ballet doesn't really do it for us.... or, at least this ballet. We had fairly good seats which only set us back $2 each. We're glad we went, but we didn't regret leaving at the intermission.

Today we had a patented 5 hour lunch at the house of our first and best Argentinian friends, Ceci and Christian. Ceci said goodbye to us on the night of Raegan's birthday and the night before she headed to the countryside to work in a hospital for a few months, so today it was Christians turn. His hospitality didn't disapoint. We had a wonderful meal, tons of cheese and dried chorizo, followed by pasta, with a soundtrack with many of our favorite Argentinian bands. The icing on our Argentinian experience was his ordering delivered ice cream, something we'd always wanted to do. After a little mate, and five bottles of wine down, we said our sentimental goodbyes.

We will miss this place. These last weeks we've been preocuppied with ensuring we have good closure to this chapter of our lives and trip -- we've said goodbyes to new friends and visited many favorite spots. We've also been thinking about the same silly things we thought about before we left our home in the states like buying batteries and toothpaste, as if we're falling off the face of the earth. But we know we're not. Todays goodbye was tough, but as this week has progressed we've gotten more and more excited to turn the page. On tuesday we'll be taking a 20 hour bus-ride to the most impressive waterfalls in the world. There, and across the border in Brasil, we'll still have the great fortune to be able to see new things and meet new people far from home. We couldn't be more excited.

Though this will likely be less interesting than past contributions, as they are very people-dominated, we have added some new pictures. Enjoy.

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Monday, August 23, 2004

It is hard to believe that three months is almost up! A week from tomorrow we are leaving Buenos Aires. Wow! Time has flown. I keep having these urges to take photos of the guy who works at our video store, the baker, the pasta guy, the man who runs the internet cafe, the woman who works in our favorite cafe and the one who works at our favorite bar. But I am a lazy photographer so it probably won't happen. It has been really wonderful to get to know a place enough that we see familiar faces and have developed a few "favorites".

I did take my camera to school today so you will be able to see pictures of the small people. The other day I laughed so hard when a class of 3rd graders sang "ha ha ha Stay in the Lights" instead of Stayin' Alive. I feel incredibly lucky to have stumbled upon this job. My last day is Thursday and I am going to be sad to say goodbye to the kids and teachers. It has been wonderful working there. Jacob has volunteered all month at an agency that works to improve transparency in goverment. He is almost done writing a grant for them requesting money from a foundation in the U.S.

It has really hit me lately how much possibility there is in the kind of trip we are doing. I don't think I grasped this before we left. But we have had such a valuable opportunity to try new things and patch together a multi-layered experience. From staying in this huge city to our anticipated volunteer stint in the D.R. and even all the trekking we did in the first couple of months, something fairly new to us. I think we are really opening our eyes to what other opportunities may lay ahead.

So now we are busily trying to re-visit much loved places, eat as much as we can, and see all the unvisited spots left for the last minute. On top of all that I am a knitting fool trying to finish this sweater I started way back when with our friend Violeta as my teacher. I've done about 2/3rds of it in the past week so I have hopes that it will be done just in time to mail home but it is a race to the finish. (I think maybe I need to put those knitting needles away too, I am getting a little obsessed)

We are having a hard time imagining being backpackers again but also excited to move on and see what the road into Brazil holds for us. First stop will be the largest waterfalls in the world and then Hello Beach!

Before ending I have to acknowledge the ever courageous Katie Heit who came to visit us for a week! It was great to see someone from home. She was incredibly resiliant walking the streets alone without any Spanish while I was at work. And she even made me a birthday cake. It was really fun to share our trip with an old friend. Thank you Katie!

Hope you are all well and enjoying the winding down of summer.

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Thursday, August 05, 2004

Before I revert back to tales of our social lives, I'd like to add a few tidbits related to Raegan's previous health care-related entry:

--Our (soon-to-be) doctor friend, Ceci, has told us that Chileans frequently cross the border into Argentina to recieve medical care (and an education). I find this really interesting in light of the fact many have described Chile's growth in recent years as an "economic miracle." We should remember this lesson (in the USA) that personal income and GNP are not the only measures of a nations' strength or the quality of life of its citizens. Strong health care and educational systems are important indicators too, and are worth the money.
--One thing not included in Argentina's health care system is sex change operations, they are illegal in Argentina... as is changing your name.

--On a lighter note... I passed by a tuxedo tailor yesterday. The name of the buisness: "SNOB"
--Our friend and Oakland native, Jonathan, was bitterly disapointed to see that he has not yet been mentioned by name on this page. We met him up north and have had a lot of fun with him in Cordoba and on many occations in Buenos Aires, and plan to see him again in Rio. We truly regret this oversight.
--Also, we had a chance encounter with another Oakland native, Celina, in Colonia, Uruguay. Celina was once a baby-sitter to Jordan and me and I was a pal and classmate of her younger brother, Carlos. We shared a lot of great meals here in BA and had fun cathcing up.
--My cousin Kevin and his wife, Terra, just gave birth to a healthy boy. Thaddeus, welcome. Thats one down and three to go in the Schultz fam.
--Back to the friend front: one of the pitfalls of staying in BA for so long is that we've been able to formulate great friendships which make goodbyes tough. That happened last week when our pal Mafi headed back home to Bogota. We miss her already.
--In other news: I'm no longer a houseboy on M,W,& Fri afternoons. I got a gig helping an organization here (ACIJ) write a grant... in english. Also, Raegan and I have settled our plans to work on a coffee farm in the alps of the Domincan Republic for the month of November. More on that later.

Now on to our fabulous weekend in the hometown of our friends Christian and Cecilia, Chivilcoy:
On friday evening while Raegan dashed from work I brought the backpack cross town to our rendevouz point, Once Station. After two months in BA we still had not properly explored this neighborhood, especially the area around the station. While the neighborhood is known for its large Jewish population, when we arrived in the station we felt like we'd returned to latin america. BA has many faces, but nearly none resemble the rest of latin america so this was a surprise. The station itself was loud and disorderly, and the trains seemed a secondary attraction to the vendors and hustlers hawking goods (or just hanging out looking suspicious).

We caught the commuter train shortly after arriving at the station and passed the 3hr ride watching the city slowly (very slowly as BA is huge) turn into open fields. We chatted about the weekend to come and sipped mate, but really we had no idea what was in store. Christian indicated that all we'd be doing is hang-out and/or sip mate with family, which is partially true, but doesn't paint an acurate picture.

It was much colder in Chivilcoy than in BA and that night we met Cristian's parents and niece. After rounds of kisses we sat down at the tabble with big hot bowls of Carbonara, a soup not too different from Minnestroni (but with a healthy ammount of beef), bread, and tall glasses of coca-cola placed before us. It all went down really well. Throughout the meal and after we watched boxing on the TV. Conversation started slowly at first, but eventually we talked about whether women should box, and how the french don't like to bathe. Why else would they have the best perfume? As was true for the remainder of the weekend, the topic of conversation was frequently less interesting than the manner in which we spoke: explainations were accentuated with swinging hand gestures and sing-song inflections in tone, and the audience frequently chimmed in with comments and questions not to interupt, but to keep the story flowing. Chivilcoy was origionally populated by Italian immigrants and it showed.

The next morning Christian gave us a tour of the town. We stopped by the vinoteca to buy a half-dozen bottles on the way back to his house. There we were given our choice of matambre or costillas, two cuts of meat (not to be found at your local butcher), for the afternoons asado. In the backyard we sipped wine (after the mate) and played with the german sheppard (the omnipresent breed in Argentina) as the wood fire slowly burned down. The matambre was placed on the grill and Christian and his father took turns shoveling teeny portions of the coals under the meat. This is the way it's done: long and slow, a labor of love. Raegan and I thought it came out great, but Christian's parents were confinced that the butcher sold them meat from an old cow. The debate began as to whether to change butchers after so many years. We took our leave to Christian's brothers house to take a tour and sit in the kitchen sipping mate for the duration of a movie about an active volcanoe destroying Los Angeles. The TV was mostly ignored, but proved a nice distraction from time to time. As with everyone else that weekend, Christian's brother, wife, and children were as friendly and hosbitable as can be.

That night Cecilia's parents took us to the local club for a benefit dinner. The place could have been a shriners club in New Jersey. There were 450 diners packed into the huge rec room on long common tables. We were likely the first Americans (pronounced: zhankees) ever to set foot in the place. Everyone remotely close to our table took it upon themselves to ensure that we were never in need of food, wine, or conversation. Watching the Mike Tyson fight the night before served us well. Cecilia's parents were hilarious, and the conversation always kept flowing in the manner previously described. Being in the bible, my name is easy to pronounce, but since Raegan's is not she was dubbed "Cookie" by Cecilia's father. The name stuck for the remainder of the weekend.

After the first course Raegan, or Cookie, was one of the winners in the rafle. It is unlikely that we could ever forget this night, but now we have a hand made pink flower vase just in case. After the rafle the band began, and we had little choice but to dance. The band played cumbia, a latinized polka, and we twirled with the best of them. We arrived that night knowing the 6 people we came with, but when we left the goodbye kisses took 15 minutes.

The next morning we returned to Cecilia's house for yet another asado. The asado the day before was a warm-up, this was the main event. Grandmothers, nieces, cousins, parents, friends and kids all got hungry in the backyard as the fire burned down. The 14 of us sat around as the 10 kilos (22lbs) of lamb, beef, and chorizo slowly sizzled. There was concern that this was not enough, but the salads and deserts managed to supplimented the meager meat rations. Midway through my meal I was summoned outside to sit with the men by the asado. We drank more wine, ate chorizo with our knives, and talked about the fight, scuba diving, and motocross while the women sat inside doing who knows what.

After a few more hours of consuming wine, mate, coffee, fruit, and colblers, we left for the train station with our backpack and a bag of fruit from the backyard. We passed the first few hours of the ride sipping mate, then the rest passed out in a nice food coma. No need for dinner that night.

Any minute now, Katie will be getting off her plane from Chicago. She'll be our first visitor since Peru, and author of our second guest-blog.

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