Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Buenos Aires 2009 Part 1 - Monday and Tuesday, February 23 and 24, 2009


Dear V,

So much for Air Canada's “direct flight” - instead of 12 hours it took us 24 hours to reach Buenos Aires.  We arrived at midnight on Monday instead of 2:15 p.m. Monday afternoon.  I was dead tired after the ordeal, even though the flight was much better than any flight I’ve had since I was wearing a pair of “compression socks” ($29.99 at Shopper’s) which made sitting still for 12 hours much more comfortable since my legs were not twitching or getting pins and needles every half hour.  I was able to sleep a few hours on the flight, and the service was exceptionally good on the flight to compensate for the good scare we had with the “attempted” failed flight earlier - ahem!  It seemed that everyone got unlimited wine and beer, so we saw lots of people with incredibly red faces.  Nothing like alcohol-fueled “Dutch courage“, I guess!

Lots of entertainment on the flight - about a million movies or shows to choose from.  Unfortunately we weren’t able to access a map of our flight progress despite all this great new fancy technology, the screen always froze when we tried.  Man Yung watched Godfather II and JVCD (the JeanClaude Van Damme movie).  Godfather II was excellent; JVCD was less so (surprised?).  Even though Man Yung watched without sound (he can’t stand the earphones) he gave me a running commentary of everything that was happening in Godfather II.  There was also the guy in the aisle seat who was trying to talk to everyone.  He spoke Spanish very fluently but with a gringo accent.  He tried to strike up a conversation with us - asked me whether I understood Spanish and I said no ;-).  Then he proceeded to talk to us switching from Spanish to English and back - well, he was one of those who took advantage of the free wine - and it was pretty boring, all about his family and son who married the daughter of a Chinese government official, blah blah blah.  The reason for the strange accent?  He is from Uruguay but lived in Canada for most of his life.  Before the plane landed water from the ceiling started to drip on him.  Pretty scary - and the steward said it was “condensation”.  Man Yung said that this… was definitely not normal.

Since we arrived so late at Ezeiza, it was a pretty fast queue at immigration and customs.  The airport was still full of people roaming around, sitting, waiting, but what for I don‘t know, surely there are no flights this late? (compared with Pearson at midnight, which was like a ghost town).  Big crowd waiting for airport taxi.  The price has gone up again.   2007 - 50 pesos.  Last year 75 pesos.  This year, 98 pesos.  Only one guy working to take the customers to the taxi - usually it‘s one guy per customer. This one was disgruntled and took whole groups of non-English speaking customers all at once - and he spoke no English.  There was a mix up and we followed the guy out to the taxi stand on the advice of the taxi agent at the counter - and he was quite pissed off for some reason trying to sort it out.  He kept on trying to explain to us and complaining, and I had no idea what he was saying, but one of the taxi drivers “volunteered” to take us anyway.  I was glad it was the old taxi driver with missing teeth rather than the young burly taxi driver.  Shouldn’t make a difference anyway but I figured that old toothless taxi drivers are kinder, and if anything should happen my “old husband” can certainly take on an “old taxi driver” better than a young one!

Not much cars on the highway into town.  Well, it was pretty late - past 1 a.m. already.  So it was  fast.  The taxi driver said the prices went up in January but now it is “better security”.  Not sure what that means, bullet proof taxis?  We talked to the taxi driver about where we were from and he was quite determined that the cold weather in Canada would “kill” him.  It’s always good to try to talk to the taxi driver - and give a bigger tip than normal.  They are much nicer to you if you do this.  When we got into town Man Yung noticed that there were less people in the street.  He figured it was because of the economy, but the whole mood on the street is a little “depressed”.  Not that we saw any of the people pushing the big carts of cardboard though like the last couple of times.

We thought we might have trouble checking into the hotel so late but no, since we notified Expedia, Expedia notified the Wilton staff and they had both a bellboy and a counter staff ready.  In fact there was another pair of customers checking in at the same time.  Richard at the counter did a double take when he saw us - he recognized us from the previous stays!  We are easily recognizable for some reason, I wonder why?  He didn’t even ask me for my credit card and passport.  However, we couldn’t get a room on the 2nd floor like we asked - it was a room on the 9th floor instead.  We didn’t unpack a lot, since we were going to be moved the day after to a 2nd floor room.  It has been so inconvenient - first the “free hotel” stay courtesy Air Canada (Delta Airport West) in which we had none of our personal toiletries and no change of clothes, and now the first night as nomads “on the run” to another room. 

After a change of clothes and a quick shower, we went out to eat.  Alas, La Madeleine right on the corner was closing, and we thought it was open 24 hours?  We asked ourselves, was it because of the economy?  We asked the guy cleaning the door at La Madeleine where we could get something to eat and he told us to go down Santa Fe “four blocks”. Since Man Yung loves wandering around any strange city on the first night and has no fear we decided to walk.  It took quite a while and we were questioning whether four blocks was really a euphemism for eight blocks.  Anyway, we were half a block from Av. 9 de Julio when we finally reached “1234 Santa Fe”, a Confiteria which was still open (24 hours).  It has a bit of an old world exterior, and patrons were still lingering outside in the sidewalk tables and inside too.  Soccer was playing on the tv, which was a bonus for Man Yung.  We had to move from one table to another though - they were cleaning the floor with a tidal wave of something that smelt rather harsh.  Not that a table close to the other remaining patrons was any better - the tidal wave was swept our way by a sleepy busboy about ten minutes later.

Only one unsmiling and rather disgruntled “no-nonsense” waiter was serving the whole restaurant.  The kitchen was partially closed so we could only order empanadas or pizzas.  We ordered a whole bunch of empanadas (they were really good, better than La Madeleine) and Man Yung also insisted on getting a pizza.  I had a pepsi and Man Yung had a big Quilmes “Bock” beer - the pizza was a bit heavy though with all that cheese, and Man Yung was not impressed with the sour pickled red pepper garnish, even though otherwise the food was very good.  Man Yung jokingly tried to grab an order of olives on the waiter’s tray - and without responding the waiter just quickly whisked his tray away from the grabbing hands.  We did actually order some  olives anyway and finished that off too.  The waiter didn’t smile at all but after we gave him a big tip he did and was actually very friendly by the time we left.

We walked all the way back to the hotel - almost 4 a.m. when we finally got to bed.  The streets were “deserted” along Santa Fe but there were still some individuals running around alone on some mysterious business.  A lone person waiting for the bus.  Some young girl walking alone on the street.  Flower stalls that were still open with all the lights on but no customers anywhere.  A dog with no collar trotting along like it was normal for a dog to be wandering around by itself at 4 a.m.   Man Yung said definitely the street showed signed of economic troubles being so deserted.  I pointed out it wasn’t exactly normal for the street to have people at 4 a.m. even in Buenos Aires.

We only slept 4 hours, our internal clocks were still wacky and in any case we were probably thinking about the free hotel breakfast.  I was dreaming that I was flying, in any case sleeping like I wasn’t in Buenos Aires yet.  I am kind of depressed this trip.  I felt kind of like this the first afternoon in Buenos Aires last year, but this time the feeling is lasting longer.  It’s like, what am I doing here, so far from home?  I feel like it is the “same old, same old” again - the stress of having to deal with all aspects of travel, having to cope with using another language, trying to accommodate Man Yung’s extravagant wishes and trying to just plain understand what it is that he wants me to do! 

And there’s also the very intense “agenda” that we have to deal with.  We were up at 8 a.m. for our free hotel breakfast.  Breakfast at the Wilton is pretty good - you get cold cuts, fruit (fresh and canned) boiled eggs, juice, tea and coffee, pastries and bread, yogurt, cereal.  I was sending you an email right from the breakfast room about our delayed flight.  By the way, exactly the same staff at the Wilton this year doing exactly the same things.  It’s like we never left.  It’s also like no one ever got a promotion since we started coming here! 

Back in the hotel room, it was time to call everyone.  We immediately made plans to see Martha and Manolo at their classes at the Escuela de Tango Argentino at 7:30 p.m. at Santa Fe and Talcahuano - a new location we haven’t been to before.  Then we called Alberto and made plans to see him at noon at his place.  My brain was working - clack clack clack - trying to see what other activities we could fit in before Alberto and between Alberto and M&M.  We also had to factor in moving from our current room to a second floor room.  Anyway, even though it is a traditional for two years now that we go to Comme Il Faut the first thing after we arrive, I had to SACRIFICE that (boo hoo!) because we weren’t going to have enough time to do that AND go to Lacoste and buy Man Yung’s beloved polo shirts. 

After resting in our room a little bit and then repacking everything back into our suitcases, we set off for Alberto’s.  The taxis are a little easier to flag down this year, and the traffic is not so bad - even the air feels a tad more cleaner than usual.  It seemed that we got to Alberto’s pretty quickly - perhaps because we were now familiar with the route?  He was waiting for us outside his building, on the leafy street right next to Abasto.  Of course he was very happy to see us, and us to see him too.  Paulina had to work in the afternoon but she had time to see us so we all sat down to chat.  We were of course most concerned about what happened to Alberto last summer in Europe.  It is a LONG story - he got very sick on the trip and so sick while he was flying back to Argentina he had to be held and stabilized at the airport in Sao Paolo.  Back in Argentina he was in hospital for a whole month while the doctors tested him every day to find out what was wrong with him.  Lyme disease was just a lucky guess and it happened to be the right diagnoses, so he was taking like a million antibiotics just to get rid of that.  His right leg still doesn’t feel the floor normally, and the right part of his face is still stiff from the neurological effects.  He was most afraid he would not be able to dance again, and he doesn’t dance as much as he used to.  It is the worst thing to happen to a dancer.  But he’s at it again - touring and teaching in Europe in April this year, with plans to teach in San Francisco as well.  Man Yung is always worried about him pushing himself too hard and keeps on saying “Don’t go!” to Alberto.

But Tango keeps him going.

We’re going out right now, I’ll continue this long winded account a little later…

Have a good Wednesday,

Irene

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