Celebrating India in Buenos Aires

Indian music in Buenos AIres
Enjoying the traditional music ….

Last weekend, to roughly coincide with Holi, Buenos Aires hosted a ‘celebration of India’. Given how much we love Indian food – and the one Indian restaurant we tried here having been somewhat disappointing – we couldn’t resist heading downtown to see if we could score some decent curry or onion bhajis, or even just some poppadums, and maybe stock up on spices. I just get looked at blankly when I ask for cumin or turmeric (or, god forbid, chilli) in the local stores here.

The event was extremely well attended; the entertainment was well received, and the stalls selling Indian cosmetics and clothes and jewelry seemed to be doing a good trade, but it was way too crowded for us to do anything much more than soak up the atmosphere then retreat to a shady spot.

I counted roughly a hundred people in one queue for food, which goes to show portenos are certainly open to trying different food, but no way was I standing in line for that long, so we quickly skipped that idea and decided to enjoy the cultural offerings (traditional dance, yoga, martial arts and music) up on stage before retreating to a middle eastern place that at least served up humus and baba ganoush alongside the ubiquitous empanadas.

It was a nice event, and in contrast to the Chinese new year celebrations, genuinely did seem to revolve around the Indian community. These events always make me, as a Brit, feel rather sorry not to have a country I can really feel proud of, in the way that certain people seem to be able to feel about their countries or places of origin. All countries have their defects, and British culture has some positives, but it must be nice to be able to feel on balance proud of one’s culture and heritage while recognizing their imperfections.

I wonder what culture, if any, Lauren will identify with when she grows up – so far she seems to join half the world in wanting to be Irish, having stated she wanted to represent Ireland at the Olympics. Oh well, she could do worse – when I posted on an expat forum here asking if there was anywhere to buy custard (we have cravings!) an Irish woman not only offered us her last bit of Birds custard powder, brought from Ireland, but offered to bring it into Buenos Aires for us as she lives out of town! Anyone willing to share their last custard powder with strangers is someone I can be friends with!!!!

The Wacky Walls of Buenos Aires

Grafitti in San Telmo Argentina
Maybe an opticians during the week?

Buenos Aires has some incredibly colourful and wacky art on its walls. Everything from schools, shops, houses and markets are decorated with explosions of colour of varying artistic merit. Most aren’t overtly political, many are quite obscure, and some directly relate to what the building does. It certainly livens up our frequent wanderings around our neighbourhood.

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Our local fish and vegetable market
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School playground
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One of our local schools… 

Graffiti San Telmo Argentina

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Some stunning mosaics too… 

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And this is why you don’t give 9 year olds phones.

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For some reason Lauren decided to take her phone to dance class today. Having the phone is a new thing and one I am ambivalent about but it does allow her to participate in the limited social interaction I approve of and in theory is for exactly this sort of situation, i.e. when for some reason we are separated. She hasn’t taken the phone out with her much and I haven’t encouraged or discouraged her, wanting her to find her own balance and not really knowing myself what’s best.

Today I dropped her off as usual, but only for an hour class now that term has started for Argentinian kids.

I wandered a few blocks and found a cafe to pass the hour in. Pulled out my kindle, ordered a slice of cake and a drink, and settled down to “my time”.

Just as the waitress delivers my order, I get a WhatsApp from Lauren.

It says “Help” and is followed by three exclamation marks.

Knowing 9 year old girls and their dramatics, I’m perturbed but not panicked. The school has excellent security and I dropped her off no more than 10 minutes before. So I type back “What?”.

Then, when I see those two blue ticks and that she is online, but not answering, I ask “is it an emergency?”.

Nothing. Apart from those damn two blue ticks.

Now for the mummy dramatics.

Certain dark thoughts are starting to coalesce…. yes the security is good but is it failsafe? That lovely security guard on the door, how lovely is he really? If she’d hurt herself surely the school would call me…. they have my number and are pretty efficient…. maybe she got stuck in the loo (dodgy locks) but then why is she online but not typing????

WHY IS SHE NOT RESPONDING???

Maybe she dropped the phone down the loo…. or maybe someone has taken it (and her!!!…)….. maybe she is in pain and can’t write….

Or maybe, there is absolutely nothing wrong and she hasn’t learned the rules of using her phone yet…..

I ask again “WHAT?” as if the capitals will make her respond. Half of me is rising in panic to run back to the school, half of me is thinking I’ll rip her in two myself when I see her and it was something or nothing. Another half (yes I know that’s too many halves, but I’m an economist, we can make it work) is saying to myself “this is what happens when you give a 9 year old a phone, its all your fault”.

I try to voice call her – we’ve practiced this at home, she’s spoken to people on whatsapp before, she knows what to do.

No answer.

Only 3 minutes have passed since the initial message but I can’t take it.

Mumbling something to the waitress about mi hija and emergencia and cinco minutos….. I dash outside and start running.

I am stopped almost immediately by traffic and send off another message asking if I should come… it’s a simple yes or no, surely she can manage that? Part of me thinks I’m being ridiculous. Again, two blue ticks, ‘online’ but no response. I speed up …. sending off a final message to say I’m coming.

Then just before I get there I get a blank voice message. 20 seconds I stop to listen to static. No screams, no voices, just 20 seconds of nothing. WTF?!!! She knows how to use voice messages.

I dash up to the school and get stopped at that seemingly solid security while they buzz me in, then struggle to convey my concerns. They catch on quickly enough that I need to see Lauren and one of the staff take me to the classroom of her teacher Vicky (she’s not bloody there!) and then Vicky says she is upstairs, so we race up to the first floor and throw open the door.

When I catch sight of her bright blue headband from behind the door I want to grab her and never let her go while shaking that child so hard (I’ve never hurt her in her life and never would, but I’m sure all parents recognize the feeling of needing to impart physical violence on a child who has terrified you).

Turns out she wanted to be in Vicky’s class and there was a misunderstanding. They thought she wanted to do the singing first, then a later class with Vicky.

So, not exactly life and death then 🙂

I’m extremely proud of my reaction at this point. I told her no problem, we’d sort it out, and she was quickly ushered into Vicky’s classroom. I thanked the director of the school who had been hovering behind me throughout, and left with a cheery “have fun, see you later darling”.

Then I returned to the cafe, where a cake I could no longer face was still sitting at my table, and burst into tears.

And that’s why you don’t give 9 year old’s phones.

It’s a terrible waste of cake.

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Postscript: I wrote this immediately on returning to the cafe, needing something to do to calm the nerves. I recognize my reaction may have been excessive, but living this far from home and our own social norms, we have to make it all up as we go along, and as the parent sometimes that can be exhausting. I planned to have a calm conversation about appropriate use of phone and thinking before hitting send, but as usual Lauren was way ahead of me – when I went to pick her up she was terribly miserable and burst into tears, having realized what she had put me through. No lecture was needed, and I dare say she won’t do it again. She is currently making dinner 🙂

Sunday Afternoon Tango in Buenos Aires

Tango in Dorrego Square, Buenos Aires
Tango in Dorrego Square, Buenos Aires

On our last Sunday afternoon we decided we really should do something ‘typical’ in Buenos Aires. And what could be more typical than tango?

Instead of going to one of the hugely expensive tango shows (where dinner is included and starts at 10pm, after which the show starts), we decided to try something a little more down to earth, and headed to San Telmo district, where we were told there was more informal tango in some of the squares.

After elbowing our way through the crowds that had gathered for the Sunday flea market, which spreads across a vast area of the barrio and has everything from genuine antiques to beautiful crafts and pottery to ‘designer’ gear, we came across a crowd of locals and foreigners alike surrounding a makeshift dance floor in a shady square. The dancers took it in turns to strut their stuff, and there was most definitely a range of abilities, but everyone seemed to be enjoying it, despite the very serious ‘tango faces’ during the actual performances.

We spent a good hour enjoying the show (and doing our best ‘Craig the mean judge from strictly’ impressions) and it was a lovely way to pass a hot and humid Sunday afternoon.

Check out this small clip of our favourites:

Combining Work, School and Trip Planning in Buenos Aires

Balancing work, school, fun and trip planning in Buenos Aires.

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Lauren with her dance teachers and other students at Reina Reech Dance Studios. 

I know I’ve been a bit silent in the last couple of weeks, and in part that’s because  I haven’t had that much to say, and in part because I’ve actually been really busy. Lauren has been focussing on her schoolwork, and was absolutely delighted to receive her next set of books (Thanks Denise!!). While she works her way through french grammar, Roman invasions of Gaul, and electrical currents, I am focussing on customs reform, international trade and local economic development in Africa.

When it all gets too much, we retire to our local cafe (selected after much market research across a broad range of criteria including quality of coffee, selection of ‘good things’, friendliness of staff, strength of wifi…) and pass a pleasant hour or so with our kindles. Lauren is currently obsessed with the David Walliams books.

Lauren has been attending a local dance school three days a week, and we are both working our way through the Spanish duolingo app. We are both very good at saying different people are eating apples or not eating apples in Spanish by now. Not sure how useful that is, but its a start. In the meantime, my portunhol has served me well.

Of course, after a couple of weeks we started getting itchy feet again, and I’ve been putting in the hours in the evenings planning the next stage of our trip.

This will be a road trip from the Patagonian ice fields of the deep south, up through Argentina and Chile to the desert and salt pans of the north. It’s not an easy thing to plan, especially as no one is used to a single mother and child (and some frankly think I’m mad) – I thought I’d got it all sorted and had reserved a campervan when we found out that in Argentina children must travel in the back seat until they are ten (this rule exists in most countries but normally has an exception for vehicles like campervans if they only have front seats).  Even though we will be mainly in Chile, parts of the route will pass through Argentina, and my notorious obsession with actually following the rules means I’ve had to settle for hiring a car with a roof top tent, so that Lauren can be strapped in the back. She’s delighted, but I’m just thinking about those below-freezing patagonian nights and needing a wee at 2am…..

It will definitely be an adventure….

 

 

Chinese New Year in Buenos Aires.

Chinese new year celebrations in Buenos Aires gave us more insights into Argentina than into China….

Chinese teen pop group on stage at the celebrations in Buenos Aires
Chinese teen pop group on stage at the celebrations in Buenos Aires

Last weekend was Chinese New Year, and a big celebration was to be held in one of the parks about 40 minutes’ walk from our place. We decided to go along and check it out. I thought it might be an opportunity to expose Lauren to some Chinese culture.

It was a strange event.

First of all, we struggled to see any Chinese people. I get the impression there were wild celebrations happening somewhere else, and this was just an excuse for the locals to enjoy the sunshine and the city to gain some inclusivity brownie points.

I felt like grabbing one of the very few Chinese people I saw and asking where’s the real party at?

The place was heaving with portenos who’d brought rugs and even camping chairs as well as picnics and flasks of mate and of course their dogs. On stage when we arrived were two very non-chinese-looking singers, singing in Spanish…. Admittedly under a trio of red Chinese lanterns…

We fought our way through the crowds to some of the stalls – I fancied some Chinese food and Lauren was excited to taste something new – but when we could get close enough to see the handwritten menus, they were all empanadas or other local dishes. Much as I love empanadas, I’d been fantasizing about noodles, stir fries and spring rolls. Maybe even something picante.

Finally, the singers on stage were replaced by what was breathlessly introduced as Buenos Aires’s only Chinese teen-pop dance group …. a bunch of young teens dressed up as naughty schoolgirls going through a frankly bizarre pop routine to pounding chinese pop. Let’s be kind and say the performance might have benefitted from a little extra rehearsal time.

In the meantime, we tracked down something genuinely Chinese – a kung fu demo – although all those participating were local. It was quite fun, although I wasn’t quite comfortable with how close the swirling swords and pikes came to Lauren’s face.… health and safety approved this was not.

Buenos Aires Kung Fu demonstration
Those pikes and swords weren’t real but they still came awfully close …

We also found some Argentinian acupuncturists, one of whom explained pressure points and acupuncture to Lauren, who seemed blown away by the fact that mummy had done something as alternative and weird (her word) as acupuncture when going through IVF to conceive her.

We were just about to leave when a dancing dragon took to the stage, and as we stopped to watch I spotted a stand we hadn’t seen before, on the other side, which was selling fortune cookies, next door to a place frying up genuinely greasy Chinese food. Success! Something actually Chinese. We stocked up on cookies and oily balls of fried vegetables in various shapes, and happily munched on them as we finally made our escape from the crowds and wandered through the parks and quiet streets back to our apartment.

Fortune cookie at chinese new year, buenos aires
Lauren’s first fortune cookie…

All in all, I’m glad we went – but I think we learned more about Argentina than about China.

That’s OK, maybe we will just have to include China on our future itinerary  …

Buenos Aires!

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I feel a bit of a fraud writing a blog post about Buenos Aires, as we basically arrived after a 22-hour bus journey, jumped in a taxi and have spent the last few days hardly stirring out of our barrio.

I have some remote work to do (trying to get my head around Mozambican customs reform again after 6 months is a stretch …) and Lauren has a whole new set of exams to prepare for. She is currently making up sentences that use French expressions such as raconter des salades and donner sa langue au chat. Top marks for anyone who can post what they mean in the comments without googling.

We’ve been lucky that the sweltering 40 degree heat and high humidity that all the Portenos were complaining about broke the day before we arrived, and we were greeted with mid-20s temperatures and a cool breeze.

First impressions? This place is huge, and built on an enormous scale.  Wide avenues, sweeping parks full of monuments, enormous roundabouts.  You can definitely see why its called the “Paris of Latin America” – lots of beautiful architecture and wrought iron balconies, all gleaming magnificently in the glorious sunshine. Then you come across something quirky like a lavishly painted mural or a weirdly gynecological sculpture, or a waiter is friendly in a café, and you remember you are not in Paris after all…

A beautifully painted house in Buenos Aires.
One of the many beautifully painted houses in our neighbourhood.
Sculpture, Buenos Aires Museum of Fine Art
Is it just me?

 

Our area is a little less glitzy than the swish Palermo, where we had to venture yesterday to pick up my new debit card, or the chic designerdom of Recoleta. But we love it. It was a good choice for a month of stability. A mixture of residential and commercial, we are only a few blocks from a very busy shopping street, but our actual block is sleepy and quiet, with a great verduraria (vegetables, finally!!!), a bakery and two vets.

Speaking of vets, there seems to be one of almost every street, which is not surprising given the number of pampered dogs we have seen in the city. From tiny little pooches who travel in designer doggy handbags, to great big hounds who plod along carrying their own leads in their mouths, this is definitely a city of dog lovers.

Unfortunately, most owners don’t seem to love the city as much as their dogs, and Lauren has invented the ‘dog poo dance’ as she skips down the pavement avoiding the offerings left by our canine neighbours.

Dog poo dance....
Dog poo dance….

So far we’ve done absolutely no sightseeing. Our days have been pleasantly filled with work, chores and cooking. We get up early and work side by side for the morning – stopping at intervals for cups of tea (me) or cereal (Lauren) and to work on our survey of local cafes. Lauren wants a ‘local café’ but of course, before choosing which one to grace with our regular custom, a certain amount of market research is required…..

Researching local cafes in Argentina
Hard at work researching the local options. …

In the afternoons we shop, cook, and explore the different local streets.

If it sounds idyllic, it pretty much is – although there are the usual frustrations of not knowing what we are doing in a big city. We tried for four days in a row to identify where to get a Sube card – like an oyster card in London, a prepay card you tap to enter buses, metro, local trains etc. Everyone we spoke to and all the online resources said to buy these at ‘any local kiosk’. Yeah, right. Our efforts have been met with closed for the holidays, back in a week to we don’t have them today but definitely tomorrow (they didn’t), to we don’t sell them but they don’t check on the train anyway so just get on….

Anyway, for now we are loving the normality of an apartment, decent internet and a kitchen, and some breathing space to make our plans for Patagonia and beyond 😊