Libby wanted to go skydiving for her birthday, but it wasn’t possible to arrange it, so we took a helicopter flight instead.
I had no idea. It was one of the most amazing things ever, one of those very few things in life that make you dream better. When the helicopter lifted off, it felt exactly how I imagine it would feel to have wings.
(If you plan to be in Buenos Aires any time soon, our pilot was Fernando Rodriguez Alfaro: fralfaros at hotmail dot com. Cellphone: 1551810095. Do it! Do it! You will love it.)
We choose an outside table and order a couple of caipirinhas to battle the heat.
“Towels?” a street vendor holds up a handful of dishtowels for us to consider.
Another visitor moments later,
And so on every few minutes until a drunk man approaches and sways toward us.
“Can I have money for the bus?”
“No. Lo siento.”
My purse is sitting in my lap, and I feel uneasy. When the man leaves, I place it on the ground against the wall. The table and chair legs are substantial enough to block anyone who might reach and run from behind me. We chat for a while until a woman rolls up a large, janitor-style cart filled with small boxes.
“But it smells very good, see?”
“This one? Patchouli?”
She begins to wheel the cart away, and then stops suddenly. She leans in close to my girlfriend and mumbles something incoherent. My friend looks confused.
“What beaaaautiful earrings,” the vendor says. “So beaaaautiful.” She comes even closer to admire them.
My girlfriend and I exchange a look, and she’s on her way.
Oddly, she’s the last visitor we have that evening, though several vendors approach other tables. We finish our cocktails and when the bill arrives, I look down for my purse. Of course, it’s gone.
After some conjecture, we figure that it was most likely the incense woman. It would have been very difficult, if not impossible, for someone to grab it from the sides, so I’m fairly sure there was a child or small person hidden on the bottom of her cart who reached in between our legs from the front of the table and grabbed it. Whoever it was had a bit of difficulty (the purse was really crammed in there), and hence the prolonged and awkward earring admiration.
-About $100 in cash. Ugh.
-My gorgeous green wallet with bright pink interior that was a gift from my father in law.
-My very favorite, silver lamÃ© clutch that I got for $2 at Goodwill. Irreplaceable.
-My notebook. My awesome Moleskine travel notebook filled with Argentina goodness.Ugh.
-The knowledge that, for the first time in about five years, I left the house without my camera. Suck it, incense lady.
-I am impressed enough by the thief’s skill that I didn’t punish myself for too long over stupidly putting my purse on the ground.
-Someone found some of my abandoned wallet contents the next day and emailed me, because most people are goodies.
-After four years of marriage and a child, I finally have the incentive to get a driver’s license and credit cards with my married name on them.
In conclusion, when in doubt, shove your purse up your skirt.
More small differences between Argentina and San Francisco:
People don’t really throw anything out. There are two “vintage” stores in our neighborhood, and pickings are slim. One of the owners told me she goes to New York to get things, because Argentines pass down their clothing or use the fabric to make something new.
Perhaps because of the above, there’s a rich sense of creativity in the way Argentines dress and the things they make. So many of the objects in shops are completely novel to me.
Especially mid-day, about a quarter of restaurants and bars have no music. It’s peaceful.
There’s dog shit everywhere on the sidewalks, presumably because the dog walkers take out six or seven dogs at a time.
The ideal ice cream cone scoop comes to a point on top, because they don’t keep ice cream as cold here. All the giant pictures of idealized ice cream in heladerias have scoops that look like gnome hats.
They open presents on Christmas Eve, and some families light candles and make wishes before blowing them out. Everyone sets off fireworks at midnight, so the city sounds like New Year’s at home with all the explosions and shouting.
Whipped cream is more the consistency of whipped butter.
Lots of shop owners have a high fear of fraud about Internet sales.
“Hypoallergenic” products are often perfumed.
There are little garbage cans next to the toilets so you can throw away your toilet paper instead of flushing it.
Thermoses are everywhere in shops because people need them to keep their matÃª warm.
What nutella is to much of Europe, dulce de leche is to Argentina. It’s caramelized brown sugar, milk, and sweetened evaporated milk, and they put it on bread, pancakes, ice cream, whatever. The texture is unbelievable, like liquid silk.
Bryan is adventurous about most things, and especially food. Wherever we go in the world, he tries the sausage. Good idea in Germany, but Malaysia? Anyway, lately, he’s taken to trying meat of all sorts, which is how we ended up preparing Matambre for Christmas. Turns out it’s a very typical Argentine dish, and you should know how to make it, because it’s awesome.
It all started when Bryan dragged me into the butcher shop around the corner, and then pointed to stuff while I tried to translate. The conversation with the butcher went like this:
Bryan: What is that?
Me: What is that?
Me: What is matambre?
Butcher: Meat and things.
Bryan: I want one of those.
Me: Uh. OK. How do you prepare it?
Butcher: You put it in boiling water for two hours, then freeze it.
Me: In the freezer?
Me: Freeze it?
Butcher: No! You freeze it with the post in the sink.
Me: You make it cold?
Me: OK. Do you cook it in the plastic and everything?
Him: Yes, yes! Then you break it with the sink.
In answer to my utter confusion, the butcher mimed preparation of the meat, which ended with us putting the roast in the sink and whacking it hard with the bottom of the pan.
Apparently, a lot of people serve it cold as an appetizer, though they don’t put it in the freezer to get it that way. It’s crazy tasty, and a lot like corned beef, except the vegetables are already rolled up inside with a couple of boiled eggs for good measure. That’s why it looks sort of like a severed arm when you first open it up. Delicious.