Me Embracing the World

Me Embracing the World

Friday, March 23, 2007

Buenos Aires, Hugo Chavez, and Beaches (Florianopolis, Brasil)

Yay! I´m back! After a long 3 week period of silence, it was brought to my attention that I´ve pretty much dropped off the face of the earth... well no more I say.

So what have I been doing? Where am I? Where am I going?

In Short, I´ve been lazying around Buenos Aires for the past three weeks, meeting up with friends, playing some music, dancing a bit, and just living the life of the porteño (someone from Buenos Aires). After all my time in patagonia, I was eager to get to a big city, somewhere with culture, music, dancing, people, food... I was eager to get back in touch with people after having spent so much time getting in touch with nature. I was eager for all these things, and Buenos Aires did not disapoint.

First, a word about the flight. On my trip, I had traveled all the way from Lima, Peru to Ushuaia, Argentina soley by bus. So it was quite a strange thing to pack up my bags and head off to the airport in Ushuaia. It was rathere spotaneous that I bought the ticket, but it was there, it was available, it cost roughly the same as a bus would, and the 3 hour flight meant I could avoid a 50 hour bus ride. So on a lot of levels it made sense. Then again, there are some things about flying that I had forgotten in my months of buses, like checkin, security, and after all that your plane is 3 hours late getting out of the Ushuaia airport. But its okay, because it provided me the opportunity to meet Ruben (40 something porteño on the way home to see his family) and Monica (20 something Dutch girl). I had the pleasure of acting as a translator between the two of the them and enabling us all to have a good time passing the time waiting for our plane.

We arrived into BA at 2óclock, said goodbye to Ruben and headed off to our hostel in the upscale neighborhood of Belgrano(Monica had no hostel so I found her a spot in the one I was staying at). The first thing I noticed was the weather. The day that I left Ushuaia, it snowed covering all the mountain tops with a thick blanket of white. Three hours later, I found myself disembarking from the plane into a muggy thick hot humidity, at 2 in the morning.

We came in at nighttime, and what a surprise to wake up the morning, look out the window and see that I was now in the middle of a huge city. Monica and I hung out for the first few days, getting all the tourisim bugs out of our system. We walked around the historic center, Plaza de Mayo, Congresso, took a coffee in Cafe Tortorini, the hangout of the likes of Borges and others. You know, touristy stuff. One nice experience I wasn´t expecting was when we walked up to the Congress building, we stopped into a cafe along the side of the ´mothers of the disappeared´ or something along those lines. Inside was not only a café, but also an organization center for this very active group that stages protests every week demanding truth and reconciliation about the tens of thousands of people that were ´disappeared´during the military occupation from 1976-1983. Not only that, but it was also a library, the only library I´ve ever seen where the section titles read like ´Communisim, Socialism, Anarchy...´. The mothers are still very active, and for those of you who were paying attention when Bush came down to Uruguay, they were the ones that hosted Hugo Chavez in Buenos Aires at a counter rally... but more on that later.

Belgrano is a 30 min Subte(Subway) ride out from center, so I moved to Hostel Ostinatto, located in the Bohemian and touristy district of San Telmo. I stayed there for weeks more or less. What I really spent most of my time doing was meeting up with friends, both those from California and those who I had met along the way. I spent a lot of time hanging out with Rebecca, who I met all the way back in Arequipa, Peru. I helped her move into her apartment, which was a few blocks from the hostel. She moved to BA to teach english and had a pretty busy schedule each day of students (mostly tour guides). We passed the time playing guitar, and just hanging out.

I also got to see Jose Luis, my traveling companion in Bolivia who I just met crossing the border. Jose was born in Bolivia, and he really helped me have a different experience of Bolivia. Even though he´s of Bolivian descent, he´s really a Porteño at heart, having lived almost all his life in the city. When we went different ways in La Paz, we knew that we would meet up again in Buenos Aires, and after many failed tries, we finally did. He lives about an hour train ride outside of Capital Federal (the center) in a district called Merlo. After coming back from Colombia, Jose found himself to be a huge salsa fan, so we spent a couple nights dancing it up at the local salsa club ´Azucar´. One of the things I´m most proud of is that I introuced Rebecca and Jose to eachother because they really seemed a perfect match to be great friends. They both LOVE salsa, are super nice, and even Rebecca teaches english and Jose is trying to learn english. I felt really happy that after a couple nights hanging out in the salsa clubs together, they both came to me and said, ´you know, that Rebecca/Jose is a really cool person´. Jose also gave a slice of porteño life, having me over with his family friends for an asado (barbecue), and my last two nights I spent out in his family´s place in Merlo, a nice quite suburb away from a lot of the madness of the center.

But what about the people I already knew from California? Well, when I started this whole trip, I wasn´t alone, nay, the only way I got off my lazy northern california butt and started traveling was hitching on to the trip of Ben Lawson. Ben and I travelled together in Ecuador and Cuzco, but split up when I decided to stay in Peru as he flew to Santiago on his way to Buenos Aires. Well, in the two months I was slowly working my way down through Chile and Argentina, Ben was studying spanish in Buenos Aires. When we met up, for me it was a little like the completion of a cycle, the end of one stage of my journey. We passed a good day, trying to go to a Boca Juiors futbol game but not having tickets, walking around the 4 blocks of Boca that are not rundown and dangerous, but actually übertouristy, with brightly coloured buildings and tango in the streets. We walked through the sunday fair in San Telmo, checking out antiques, icecream, and yet more tango in the streets. Ben´s spanish has really improved and when I talked to him, his plans had become more ambigious with time, not sure if he wanted to stay in Buenos Aires or move on to some other country like Spain. From what I hear, the Lawson clan are on their way down right now to visit him in Buenos Aires.

A big surprise was getting a facebook message from my Physics buddy Jamie Tolan that he was going to be passing through the city. Coming off of a month of glacier and peak climbing in southern Chile, it was great to meet up with him for the three days he was there and do my inept job of showing him all the city had to offer (seeing as I had only been there for a week). One paticular friday, it seemed like the world conspired to give me too many things to do. There was a South American Music Conference all day that tempted me with its workshops working on new music production programs like Ableton Live, which I had been doing all summer before the trip. But I opted to skip that to hang out with Jamie, Monica, and Esteban and Julia, two folks I met in the hostel. Esteban is mexican american and studies moss in San Luis Obispo, and might actually come to berkeley next year. A great guy, never in my life have I met anyone so excited about moss and algae. We headed out to the Hipodromo (racetrack) and got a taste of the highlife, sitting out on the green, watching the races pass by, actually quite tranquil in comparison to the city. I lost 7 pesos (2bucks) betting on a horse, but Julia won 50 pesos(~$15).

Now, I had been reading the newspapers the day before all about Bush´s journey to the south. Irronically, Bush is really easy to understand when he´s translated to spanish because he speaks so simply :). All the accounts and stories ranged from protest and outrage to a mild nonplused. But I also saw that Hugo Chavez was coming into BA to meet with Kirchner (Argentinan President) the same day that Bush would be in Montevideo, as a counterprotest. I really wanted to go, and after the race track, I convinced the group to take the subway out to the end to go see him. What we found was really quite impressive. Crossing the traintracks we came up to the soccer stadium (Cancha) which was filled with 20,000 people, all armed with a variety of huge banners and samba drums. The seats were packed, and on the field people were mulling about. You couldn´t see the stage from most positions because of all the banners in the way, but you could hear the voices roaring over the loud speaker as the crowd responded, with shouts, cheers, and above all, banging on those drums. Some people were intently focused on the speaker, others seemed to just be walking around, and some seemed more interested in their drums than actually hearing what the speaker had to say. When we entered, a woman was shouting out on the loudspeakers in a shill tone. We worked our way across the stadium and up into the bleachers on the side where we could get a better veiw of everything. When the woman finished, Hugo took the stage, but you couldn´t tell it from the tone of his voice. He spoke in a very soft and controlled tone, talking about the need for South American independence from foriegn dependence, South America for South America and the like. His tone gradually increased and increased in volume, talking about solidarity with Cuba (which got a huge cheer) and Bush. He never mentioned Bush by name, prefering to call him ´El caballito del norte´ (The little cowboy from the north), saying basically ´No hace falta´ (We don´t need him). In terms of oration, he was really one of the better speakers I´ve ever seen in my life, with great control of his voice and the crowd. He also talked for a LONG time, in the end, I had to leave after an hour, but aparently he went on for a few more.The experience was really interesting although I have to say that I did feel just a bit out of place, I just feel for Jamie, who I dragged along and then left there, not speaking any spanish really. But he got back alright, and really was happy to have gone too. I would have stayed with him but I had to leave because I was late to go record.

Record? Oh, yes I haven´t mentioned that yet. What I did more in Buenos Aires than anything else was to help Renee, from I-house, to record an album of hers. She had been living in the city for 6 months and over that time had found herself in 4 reggae bands and knowing a bunch of producers. She took advantage of the situation to decide to go ahead and record a full length album of her songs. She got 4 reggae tracks down on record before the producer lied to her and tried to mess with the project. So, when I entered the situation I found her with a new producer, picking up where she left off and without the cadre of musicians that she previously had. In total, I probably spent 7 or so days working on her tracks in the home studio of Carlos, her new producer. I tackled the task of coming up with guitar parts that would support her songs and bring out the feel she was going for. For the songs I was working on, that mostly meant Rock. It was great to get back into a studio situation, feel the thrill (and the agony) of recording, and get to play ELECTRIC GUITAR! Oh... how I had missed it. My guitar of choice for the recordings was Carlos´s custom Fender Strat, American made, with a Floyd Rose whammy bar and fine tuners in the bridge, 9 gauge strings. A great guitar with lots of good bluesy sounds, but also a humbucker pickup at the bridge to get the crunch when I needed it. We recorded straight into the computer, using GuitarRig2 software (top of the line, what I have at home) to emulate guitar amps in the computer itself. Not quite as good as the real thing, but suprisingly close some times. If any of this means anything to you, great, but if not, just apreciate that I got to play around with a bunch of tools that I haven´t seen in a long time and it made me happy, and eager to get home and get rocking with my own home studio. Now all I need is some good monitors... and a decent midicontroller... and some pro headfones.... if only I hadn´t spent all my money traveling :).

I really enjoyed the time I spent with Renee, and in BA in general. I got the change of pace that I had been looking for, but after 2 weeks or so, I found that... I was tired of it! All the loud noises, you had to shout on the street all the time just to someone next to you. All the pollution, apparently the buses haven´t heard of smog checks. All the people, all the filth, it was just too much... I needed a break!

And with that, I finally got my act together, bought a bus ticket to Brasil and goodbye city, hello Beaches!

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