Tuesday, March 15, 2011

El Ateneo Bookstore

So, I've noticed that Porteños really, really love their books. Argentina boasts nearly 100% literacy rates, and some of the best universities in the Spanish-speaking world. Bookstores here are as thick as I remember bookstores being back at home when I was a kid -- even more, maybe. And most of them are hole-in-the-wall mom-and-pop joints. There's only one huge chain here, with the improbable name of "Yenny's" that's in all the malls and airports, that's no better than, say, a Border's.

But the indie bookstores, here, tend to be arty, trendy, themed, and just over-all awesome. They are in neighborhoods, on busy streets, next to cafes. Books are a big deal here.

So, imagine my delight, living in the land of indie bookstores going the way-of-the-dinosaur Amazonosaurus Rex, that when a majestic old theater couldn't make it selling seats for operas, the owners decided to convert it into a frack-tastic bookstore. Talk about your highest and best use!

I don't have anything especially deep to say about it all-- just enjoy how lovely it is. Going way beyond clean and well-lighted...
There's a cafe where the backstage used to be-- if you're a big, breathless opera geek as I am, it's a *huge* thrill to go backstage and see all the gear and workings.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Feliz cumpleaños a mí/On having a body

This may not be the best-written of all my posts ever, because the things I want to say are difficult, and, as a result, aren't flowing through me naturally. They get stuck, and that's when language breaks down for me.

I wanted to write about the gratitude I feel at getting older, because I recognize that it is a privilege-- not everyone gets to. The fact that I live with relative health and wealth makes me one of the luckiest people alive.

But I do have a body, and growing older is hard on it. This 43rd birthday has had a special significance for me. Turning 43 has always had the (random, arbitrary) designation of true middle-age for me. As in: "I'm not middle-aged!! 40 is the new 30." And, "At 41, I'm still closer to 40 than I am to 45!!)

Well, all that's done now. I am mathematically closer to 45 than 40--numbers don't lie. I am officially middle-aged, I really can't be in denial about it any longer.

This birthday has been a time for me to reflect on middle-age-dom, and what it means to lose all vestiges and pretensions and vanities of youth.


The first thing I would comment on is, as I've grown older, I have experienced a true mind-body diversion. My mind, once the source of so much anguish and self hatred, has grown so very, very quiet and gentle in the past decade or so. The hate radio that was my mental background noise up through my mid-30's has gone all but silent now. I occasionally kick myself more than I need to, but I am blessed to say, I don't dwell on why I shouldn't be taking up precious space on the planet in the way that I used to-- I don't loathe absolutely every single thing abut myself anymore.

What's "funny", for want of a better term for it, maybe "ironic," maybe "a big cosmic joke" is that what I spent hating more than anything else all that time when I was younger was my body, my face, my whole physical manifestation. Hil-a-rious, when I look back on it now!! All that time wishing I were different, better, more beautiful.

And now, as I can no longer make any claim to any of the God-given glories of youth, I accept the way I look more than ever. I look like me now, no one else. There is really no one else like me. And I've grown into really liking that.

But then there's the other half-- having a body. And that is fraught. Because as my mind has come to befriend me, I can see all the ways my body is slowly, inexorably, leaving me. When you're young, you think you'll always be young, because you've never known anything else. You think your body, which was planted on the earth at it's peak, will never fade. And when it finally does, it grows more alien.

The aches that linger, the slowing down, the first wrinkles that seem to sprout more wrinkles-- what the hell? Where will it end?

I love the Pema Chodren line about the outrage we experience as our body declines-- the hubris, the arrogance: How silly to think that, while aging happens to everyone else, it's not going to happen to my body. That will never happen to me.

Ah, but it does, but it does.

In the past few weeks, I've witnessed so much suffering in those around me because we have bodies, because we age. An email from a friend having a major birthday in terrible anguish, hating so much how she looks, but just as terrified of the pain of having a face-lift, and the thought that she'd look worse off than when she started.

A dear friend losing her beloved grandfather after a short, steep onset of cancer.

My own husband, 26 years older than me, working so hard to remain fit and limber, when stretching and exercising are systematically painful in all of his joints, and living with an aching in his hands that no amount of activity is going to alleviate.

My beautiful friends, grappling with their middle-aged metabolisms and their faces telling them different stories than the ones they are used to when looking in the mirror.

I love all of these people so much-- I hold them with such complete and utter tenderness- I can't imagine why they would hate themselves so much for growing older. I'm so delighted to wake up every day and learn yet still more of who they are becoming. But I recognize that turned-inward violence of self-hatred, those feelings of being defeated by the fact of having a body that isn't what it once was. It's so hard to see in others-- I want so much to rush in to fix those feelings, to reassure.

Our bodies betray us, and it's incredibly painful to know that.

Barring a violent accident, the cause that will bring about the end of my life is most likely some part of me-- either something will fail, or one of the toxins I have inadvertently or deliberately exposed myself throughout my life will set a process into motion that will finish me. I'm my own ticking time bomb.

For some reason, today, I don't fear that. It is as it should be. I don't plan to live forever (and if I did, I'd most likely be disappointed.)

What I'm more focused on is the death-grip on youth, on fixating on how-things-used-to-be, rather than just simply enjoying what is.

I know that in my future, I will lose more-- mobility, comfort, acuity. I'm reminded of the classic Elizabeth Bishop poem: "Practice losing harder/ Losing faster:/ Places, names and where it was you meant/ To travel. None of these things will bring disaster.../ The art of losing isn't hard to master."

Well, she was using the power of understatement (bordering on snark) to prove the point that it is not easy, not easy at all to lose these things.

I suppose one of the things we don't do well as a culture, especially one that is so youth-obsessed, is grieve what we lose. To actually say to ourselves: What I had once is now gone, and it's not coming back. No amount of hoping, or being a good person, or working out at the gym is going to return to me what I had before. This is the new reality-- I need to abandon that hope, grieve what I've lost, and accept what is.

So much easier said than done.

I suppose I write all of this to remark on the fact that for what I have lost so far in this life, I have gained almost everything I have ever wanted. It has been so much, much more than a fair trade. But I am eyeing the future reckoning.

I'm turning 43, but I read about a huge study conducted in dozens of countries throughout the world that there, for some reason, seems to be a global trend that life begins at 46. 46? you say. How does that work?

For some reason, this cuts across geographies and cultures: People start off as young adults liking themselves and feeling good about their lives, and they undergo a steady slide until age 46. Then, for whatever reason, they do a u-turn. They start to like themselves more, feel better about their lives. They focus on what's truly important. They let go of empty patterns or behaviors that don't work for them. Expectations and realities come into better alignment. The teenagers move out. (!!!) And they start to lighten up, and live more. Love more. Feel better.

I love this idea that we sink into ourselves as a species, that one of the great trade-offs of losing youth is gaining self-acceptance. It seems to be what we do as folks. Yet another reason to kiss the ground if we are given the gift of age.


I don't have anything particularly pithy or succinct or witty to say to sum all this up. I'm holding this feeling of tender compassion and prayer for self-acceptance very, very gently, because who knows how long it will last.

It's an incredible gift for the advent of turning 43, though.

I'll be posting automatically for the next few days, so I won't be responding to comments right away-- The Other Nostril and I are off to Iguazú to go see the waterfalls there-- I want to celebrate watching jungle rivers hurl themselves off cliffs and fill the air with Amazonian ions!!

And just because this image is so...cracking...weird, I leave you with this image: this was an ad for a high-end spa in one of the fancy hotels here. This photo is of the doctor that performs all of the botox shots, spider vein removal, and other sub-surgical beauty treatments in the spa. The copy reads: "Human perfection exists, and I did it..."

I think the "Om" symbol is a nice touch, don't you?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Abuelas de los Desaparecidos trial

It brings me no pleasure to write this post, let's start with that.

The Buenos Aires Herald reports that last Monday the very first trial of anyone involved in the systematic kidnapping, relocation, and disappearances of some 500 newborns during the 1970's "Dirty War" has begun here in Buenos Aires.

The Abuelas & Madres de los Desaparecidos are women who have tirelessly and fearlessly petitioned the Argentinian government for more than 30 years to learn what happened to their sons and daughters who were disappeared during that dreadful time. These women wear white kerchiefs as a symbol of their movement-- they represent the blindfolds put over the faces of their loved ones when they were kidnapped and executed. Now they wear them on their heads to represent their grief and righteous anger.
I originally thought that the Abuelas referred to the grandmothers of disappeared adults. It turns out I was not fully informed: the Abuelas formed a sister group to shame the government into revealing what happened to the babies born to young women while they were held in detention.

A whole generation of young people from that time, often whose crimes consisted of attending university, and/or having ties to unions and socialist groups, would be picked up off the streets or seized from their homes without warning and held in detention camps, where they would be raped, brutalized, tortured, and sometimes killed.

But perhaps most dehumanizing of all, if a woman was picked up by government thugs and she was pregnant, she would be kept to give birth under these dreadful circumstances. Then her newborn baby would be confiscated.

It is believed that many of the 500+ children born in detention camps were simply killed outright. However, there have been reports that sometimes officers in the military would bring the babies home to raise them as their own. And perhaps most bizarrely, several of these children were put up for adoption and adopted by completely unwitting families. Only through the work of the Abuelas, years later, was it determined who the original parents of the adopted children were and the story of the circumstances how these children came to be put up for adoption.

I find this poster especially moving: her tee-shirt reads "Who Am I?"
The copy reads: "Among all of us, we are looking for you." The Abuelas' campaign highlights the fact that these missing children, adults now, could be anywhere, living amongst ordinary Argentines.

It's worth mentioning that the Abuelas keep a running tally of the children they have identified. Last count was 102.

For an entire generation of Argentines, the legacy from these years remains as a living cloud of doubt and guilt, violence and rupture. For the gentlemen I see in their 50's and 60's, their youth may well have been marred by terror, torture, and paranoia. Or perhaps they were the perpetrators-- are they racked by memories of their guilty deeds? For young people in their 30's, for many of them there must be this eerie question: Where did I come from? Who were my real parents, and where are they now?

Watching what's happening in the Middle East, another part of the word where one part of the population was empowered by the state to terrorize and brutalize the rest of their fellow citizens, I'm struck where Argentina is in the process of reconciliation with these events of a past that is growing ever more distant, but whose participants have not yet fully died out. The Dirty War is not yet a full generation behind us. And because of the policy of confiscating children, there is yet another generation living with this legacy of disruption, dehumanization, and violence.

Of the eight men brought to trial on Monday for the "taking, retaining, hiding, and changing the identities" of 34 children, the two big names, General Vedela and General Bignone, two military dictators of the junta during those years, both are now in their mid-80's. Both are already serving life sentences for their role in issuing the orders to execute and kidnap people during their reign. Also, much to the outrage of the Abuelas, Vedela fell asleep during the court proceedings, resting his head on Bignone's shoulder while he snored.

Justice is sometimes served not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Why no pictures of people?

By now, Gentle Reader, if you've spent any time at all looking over this blog, you may be saying to yourself, Rita, I am thoroughly convinced that Buenos Aires is a place of culture, deep intrigue, and true beauty, but hey? Isn't this supposed to be a city? So, where are all the people?

Well, you would be right, so ever, ever, right, and my only defense is that I have no gift for taking photographs of people. I'm not terribly comfortable with it-- I don't like having a camera stuck in my face, and therefore I don't like doing it to other people. So I'm always shooting on the run, trying to do it in such a way that they don't notice I'm snapping them.

But even if I could get over that social prohibition, the simple fact is, I suck at the art of the action shot. I am so, so very much better at taking photos of stuff that stands perfectly still. Like doors. And statues. And graffiti. And boxes of fruit. You get the idea...

That notwithstanding, I've made a vow to myself to try to capture a few candid shots of the beautiful, cosmopolitan Porteños to make this blog complete.

For now, here are a few shots of folks, just to give you a glimmer of an idea that people actually do live in this town.
Action shot!
Soldiers on their way to changing of the guard down by the presidential palace. With random girl.
Night shot of our favorite café, Liber.
I can't really even nail a shot of two people who clearly want to have their picture taken. What's wrong with me?!?!
Um, you can say that this is a picture of a girl, but we all know what I was really getting at here...
My one true good shot of street life here in BsAs, how many hundreds of photos later?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Toodling through Gay San Telmo

It's nowhere near a done deal yet--- we haven't even put an offer in. But The Other Nostril and I are thinking about buying a loft here in BsAs.

The how and the why and the wherefore could take so much typing to unpack my hands would fall off-- we haven't yet decided, but we also haven't yet decided that we have to decide. (Get that?)

Soon we will have to decide-- we're leaving for home in just about two weeks now.

But the upshot is, we've found a ~dreamy~ little loft in San Telmo, one of the oldest parts of town, once inhabited by the swells, and then abandoned back in the 1860's (¿I think?) because of an outbreak of yellow fever in that section of the city.

They all packed up and moved to Recoleta, and in many ways, San Telmo has never completely recovered.

It does have a reputation of being the heart and soul of the city's tango culture, although I believe that's just the part that the tourists have ready access to. It also has a reputation for dirt, grit, trash, and crime.

But with its cobblestone streets and mostly original architecture, it is a charming part of the city. It's got good "bones."

My only real knock against it is San Telmo missed out on the urban greening project the city planners doubled down on in so many other parts of town. Bazr and I joke that if we do buy there, we'll have to spearhead the San Telmo "Friends of the Urban Forest" League. Not many parks, not many street trees. It makes it a whole lot hotter to walk around on a high summer day.

But San Telmo feels like NYC Soho/Chelsea thirty years ago, or the Meatpacking District twenty years ago. An area ripe for intrepid urban pioneers to come into cheap, beautiful spaces. What is the progression of gentrification? First the artists, then the gays, and then the yuppies-- it's a natural fact.

San Telmo has had the reputation of having cheap artist squats for years, and lo, the gays are coming! The pictures prove it! And Bazr and I look at one another and ask ourselves, if you know how this story goes, why wouldn't you buy into it now?

But Buenos Aires, while it's a lot of things, isn't New York. And there are a thousand other factors we are discussing. I'll blog more about it some other time.

For now, enjoy the rainbow streets of San Telmo.
The Pride Cafe, where the tours of Gay San Telmo start
Balthazar, where you can buy lots and lots of beautifully tasteful men's boxers, beautifully tastefully displayed, if you need them
I saw these graffiti four years ago-- I'm delighted to see them still here-- a bit faded from the sun, but unblemished. "Lesbians are your mothers, daughters and sisters." And "Kiss who you want." Wise words!
This is the Babel Hotel, next door to a sweet vegetarian restaurant. There's at least one other gay hotel in the neighborhood-- the Axel. They have sister hotels in Barcelona, New York, and Berlin, with a swimming pool on the roof you can lounge under, and watch the boys swim over your head. (Sorry-- no photos today.)
I am particularly delighted by the creative use of the "at" symbol to simultaneously capture the masculine and feminine endings on Spanish words. We don't have such an elegant (and modern-feeling) solution to our gendered language in English. Like a lot of people, I just can't get behind the trans movement's attempt to bring pronouns such as "ze" and "hir" into the language.
I love the way "Chic@" looks-- my only question: How do you pronounce it?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Well, it had to happen sometime...

The endless, endless elevator ride from the ground floor to our 19th floor apartment startled me when it landed so seemingly quickly at our floor. (This is the same elevator that I've clocked as taking a full 50 seconds to travel the 20 floors. Not that I'm counting...)

So in some real sense, I have fully "arrived" today, or at least made my peace with a very specific feature of our foreign surroundings.

On the other hand, right on time, I finally got a twinge of missing San Francisco today. Just a brief missing of the early morning air.

Finally feeling like I'm fully here, and just now getting ready, on some level, to return home.

Huh. Funny feeling.

I have always felt blessed that, for the most part, I am delighted to leave home, and happy to return to it. I rarely suffer from being either bored or homesick.

Don't quite have the image to capture all that, so I guess I'll just post a couple of pix of some of my favorite tiles I've found around town.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Cyndi Lauper puts on a great show in BsAs!

So, here’s a piece of advice I hope everyone out there reading will follow: If, while in BsAs, you ever get the chance to go see Cyndi Lauper at the Teatro Gran Rex, by all means, go.

Now, I know what you’re thinking—Isn’t Cyndi Lauper sort of a one-shot 80’s fashion-nerd pop princess, the one who came out with the killer debut album She’s So Unusual that sold a gazillion copies, with, what, four or five Top Ten hits, and then she kinda never did anything ever again? Goofy, helium-voiced, Bronxy blond-in-a-bottle bubblehead?

Why, oh, why would one of my low low-culture tolerances and advanced station in life want to attend such an event?

Well, there are a few reasons. The first and by far the most important one, is that watching my (shhhhh—very quiet here—whispering) tone-deaf /rhythm –challenged husband rock out to anything is one of the very great pleasures of my marrying him. He loves the music that he loves, and I love to watch him enjoy it so much. And he loves Cyndi L with a fierce lollipop passion that will not be quenched by snickers and rolled eyeballs no matter who does the snickering and the eye-rolling. (Even me.)

Another reason to go see Cyndi is that, while she’s no longer producing hit pop records, what she has become is somewhat….unusual, as you might well expect. I don’t know if this is a second act, unversed in the twists and turns of her career in the intervening 25+ years since her monster album, or if she’s gone through other iterations. But now, with a massively talented band behind her, she has become a more-than-credible Delta Blues singer. For, like, realsies. If you remember her voice, she relied a lot on a baby-talk delivery along with nasal intonations and the occasional breathy barely-making-it high-pitched “Bop!” as main staples of her vocal repertoire.

Fast forward to now: she lacks the gravel and the lower register that gives so many blues singers gravitas and knowing sexuality. But when she locates her voice in her chest rather than from her nose and throat, she has a surprisingly supple soprano, sure and open; strong, long, with perfect pitch and dynamite timing. And when she puts her mind to the blues, it turns out it’s well worth listening to.

So it turns out Cyndi’s day job is working as a white blues singer. Who knew? I, for one, did not know. My Other Nostril showed me a clip from a recent Grammy’s performance (click here to see it-- I just don't seem to be smart enough to embed the YouTube videos directly into my blog... Boo!) where she was wailing it out with Buddy Guy and Mavis Staples singing the Howling Wolf/ Koko Taylor classic Wang Dang Doodle. (Holding her own up there with Miss Mavis Staples? Stealing the show, actually? Well, ex-cuse me!)

But what the crowd came for, in droves, was Cyndi Classic. More on that in a minute…


As it turns out, there are other reasons to be interested in what Sister Cyndi is up to—she’s become quite the gay icon, and she, like Lady Gaga, works hard for the fans that worship her. She and Our Lady G are the faces of the MAC Glam campaign that, among other goals, works to educate young women about protecting themselves from HIV/AIDS and other STDs. And she’s started the True Colors Foundation to help keep LGBT homeless kids off the street. She's performed for the Gay Games up in Vancouver and in Chicago. I saw her kick the Vancouver games off with an inspired version of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun with a veritable army of drag queens as back-up singers and dancers. Cyndi, along with Bette Midler, Megan Mullally, and Kathy Griffin, seems to be taking up the time-honored Elizabeth Taylor mantle of being those gals who are sorta-mostly-straight best-friends-of-the-gays broads, doing a lot of good work and having a lot of fun doing it.

But the last, and, for me, perhaps the most interesting reason for me to go see her was the phenomenon I’m still marveling over all these many years of traveling the wider world, which is the indestructible life and nearly universal “love,” if that’s the word, of American pop music. I mean seriously. American music is the cockroach of all human artistic endeavor—it will just forever survive. As sure you can safely count on being able to find a pizza anyplace a backpacker has ever hoofed to on this earth. Nothing—not language barriers, not anti-American sentiment, and certainly not the boundaries of good taste can kill this stuff. Pop music, and by that I mean made in the good ole’ U. S. of A., is in every cab, every café, and every club you walk into all over the world. As an example, I have never quite gotten over the huge play that Lionel Ritchie gets, in all places, Cambodian buses.

I mean, South America is the proud cradle of some of the world’s highest dance music forms: samba, mamba, salsa, tango. And really what cabdrivers wanna listen to as they toodle around town is Total Eclipse of the Heart? I can’t figure it.

So I wanted to see who was going to show up for this espectaculo, and how they would react to her performance.

I’ll get to the crowd right quick, but let me take a brief moment and describe the teatro, which was really something to see—a ~dreamy~ deco classic, clearly based on Radio City Music Hall. Much smaller of course, but beautifully proportioned with a huge high arch framing the stage, all done in a smooth cocoa wood, and just a handful of spare, tasteful carved finials. (I downloaded this image, it doesn't give you a sense of how lovely the stage opening is...)

The crowd was… well, surprisingly young, to my eyes. I’m much more used to the relatively new, and somewhat mortifying phenomenon of classic “rock” concerts, where all of the headline performers and 85% of the crowds are comfortably in their “middle” years (this is how I’m nicely saying 55+.)

(Do I sound like a horrible ageist snob, I, who am about to turn 43 next week, I, who am solidly set in middle agedom, making snark about such things? Well, yes, yes I am. I happen to believe that rock is by and for the young. It is meant to be a big “f*ck you” to all that came before it, and clinging to that signifier of radical revolution while worrying more and more about your 401(k)’s performance and how long you can put off getting a new knee is a bit foolish to my eyes. Let it go. Youth is for the young.)

Ok about all that, and never mind. We are all here to see Miss Cyndi, and the crowd is younger. Maybe thirty-two is the median age, with a handful of kids under ten and a few heads of white hair. The crowd is certainly gayer and more fashion-forward than the average Porteño on the street, and that’s always super fun to see.

Our tickets say the show starts at 9:30. We get there at 9:15, and the warm-up act is on stage. I think their name was “La Carita.” I wish I could remember the band’s name, because then I could warn you to never, ever go see them. Their set was painfully bad, destructively loud, and blessedly short. At 9:20, after several horrible, generic garage rock songs, they thanked the crowd, and took leave of the stage. The crowd applauded graciously to see them go.

The curtain closed, and then opened again, right at 9:30, to reveal the stage tricked out with several snazzy drum sets, an elaborate keyboard station, and all the rest, ready for Cyndi’s band. The crowd stood and roared. Then nobody came out, and after a while, everyone sat down again. Let’s say it was now 9:32.

Here’s where it got interesting. I was struck many times through the night by the active participation of the Porteño audience, and this was the first sign of it. Just about every two minutes after 9:30 as we all waited for the show to begin, the crowd would start clapping and chanting, often invoking the tune of the classic soccer taunt, “O-lééé/ Olé, olé, olé/ O-lééé, o-léééé,” except using her name: “Cyn-dííí/ Cyndí, Cyndí, Cyndí/ Cyn-dííí, Cyn-díííí.”

I have to tell you: I loved this. I think the whole rock-and-roll f*ck-the-crowd my-show-starts-45-minutes late routine is one word, and that is rude.

Well BsAs wasn’t gonna sit on their hands and take her lateness quietly. The tickets said the show starts at 9:30, and that’s what they were expecting. Two words: Right on.

Ok, so this goes on for about 20 minutes—The Other Nostril and I were laying small bets about whether the crowd was going to turn ugly—either riot or walk out-- or just keep chanting. Bazr proclaimed that for all the fussing the second the show started all would be forgiven, and turns out, as in most things, he was right.

Because the second Cyndi took to the stage at about 9:50, the crowd was on its feet, and it was with her. They absolutely loved her, and, for her part, she put on a hell of a show.


I’ll talk more about that in a minute, but there was more crowd action that warrants reporting.

So, when I say the crowd was on its feet, that’s just what I meant—When she came out on stage, everyone stood and cheered—no surprise there, considering how much the crowd adored her. But then, because a good third of the crowd was either filming or taking pictures of the concert, they remained standing, with their video camera or cell phones over their heads, flashing and snapping and filming away the entire time. If you were sitting behind someone who had decided they were going to film the whole two hours of music to treasure this night forever, well too bad for you!!! It was beyond obnoxious. It was beyond beyond!!

We were about 14 rows back, and on the aisle, and so thankfully for most of the concert, most of our view was unblocked. This was also a function of the fact that the group in front of us, after the first 10 minutes of the show, chose to remain seated. Not so for the one big guy in front of them, who, no matter how many times the usher came by to ask him to sit down, refused, and remained standing throughout the entire show. You could tell the folks in front of us were aggravated by his unwillingness to do the polite thing and let them have their sitting view. Raucous exchanges at the breaks between songs with the folks further back hollering and gesticulating at the folks standing up in front, and the folks in front, when they deigned to turn around at all, basically telling the others fongool, seemed to my untrained eye a most…Italian social exchange.

I realize I’m getting old and crotchety, and one should always be wary of sentences that start, “It used to be…”, but here I go.

It used to be that there was a contract implicit in buying a ticket for a seat at a performance. It's quite a different thing when you just pay to get in the door, and then if you want to see- not just hear—the show, it is incumbent upon you to stake out space on the floor, to navigate the taller heads in front of you, and to tolerate assaults on your personal space in the spirit of becoming one with a music-besotted crowd. When you pay to go see someone in a theater, the unstated arrangement was you have paid for a seat, and you have also paid for the privilege of enjoying the show from that seat.

Well, not at this particular show. It was like one of those shady real estate deals where you’ve paid for the land rights, but nobody mentioned anything about those pesky air rights, and we’re just gonna land planes right over your head night and day and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Let me moan a few seconds longer about the breakdown of fun in the implications of this new development. As I said before, the reason so many people were standing wasn’t just to see the show—obviously, if everyone sat, everyone could see—that’s how a theater is designed. People were standing so they could record the show. Folks felt they needed a standing-arms-held-up-over-the-head view so they could get a clean shot from their hand-held phone to the stage, so they could capture the evening for all time.

I was reminded of the classic François Truffaut line about the best way to see the impact that a movie has is to go all the way to the first row of a movie theater, turn around, and to experience the film through watching the crowd’s faces. I was thinking of this in reverse: go to the back of the theater and look out over the hundreds and hundreds of little lit-up screens and imagine how the concert was going to look on YouTube.

It raised this perverse contradiction in my mind: It used to be (“It used to be…” Oh, please explain, Grandma!!!) the whole appeal of going to hear a live band is you didn’t have an electronic device between you and the music. There was no separation—you had a direct connection to the performers. Now the experience has become not about actually being there and experiencing it in the moment, but watching the show through their damned cellphone cameras. Go fracking figure…


Ok. I’ll calm down now.

So because everyone was working so hard to steal a little piece of this show's soul, fortunately, you did not need to be in BsAs to see it-- there are multiple versions of the entire setlist up on YouTube. Just type in "Cyndi", "Buenos Aires," and "2011," and you can watch the spectacle all you want.

At least from the YouTubes you can get a sense of her wicked band—The tattooed, bare-footed “Bam-Bam” from Brazil—she tore up the bongos. And for several songs Cyndi had a local Argentine bandoneon player—“Mintcho” Garrammone from Bulnes. I did not know that the accordion could be used as a blues instrument, but my mind has been expanded now. It was a hoot! (See here.)

And you can check out her look for yourself. Not to be mean, but her “fashion” sense hasn’t changed. (By this, I mean improved.) I think her outfit can be most succinctly summarized as “Leather Daddy-Baby Momma as Conceived by Stevie Nicks.” It was…witchy. And leathery. Both. And bulky. All three. Interesting choice.


Ok, ok, Rita!! But what about the show?

The show itself, I may have mentioned, was ~*fabulous*~.

Most of the two hour set was the blues, interspersed with her classic hits. It made for an interesting set, the juxtaposition of all this blues music—one definition of the blues is music about feeling sad that makes you feel good-- and all of her classic hits. The songs that have stuck with people are either party tunes: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, She Bop! Or they are songs about true-love-friendship. About loving a person over time and through all the highs and lows, about forever loyalty: Time After Time, True Colors, All Through the Night. (Mercifully, she left out the crass, braying Money Changes Everything. Maybe it’s got staying power in the public consciousness, but even she’s gotta admit that song is obnoxious.)

Her patter was her trademark ditsy New Yawk squawk—she mangled her Spanish salutations beyond all comprehension, and, at one point, when someone shouted something to her, she replied, “Don’t worry. I don’t understand English either.” (¿?) And she didn’t have to introduce her song Don’t Cry No More as Don’t Cry No More, Argentina, but she did. Everyone forgave her…

The crowd was happy enough when she was singing stuff from her new album, Memphis Blues. But when she started up a Cyndi standard, the crowd had fits. Several times streams of people stormed the aisles, hundreds of folks rushing to the stage trying to get close to her. The ushers bravely fought the hordes back, but it was not easy—the people wanted their Cyndi.

The theater had side balconies that started at the stage that ran along either wall that rose all the way to the side corners of the first balconies—late in the show she climbed up one side all the way to the corner side seats, and then the other. You could see folks in the balconies rushing to down to the front corners to get close to her—it was completely unnerving sitting underneath all this, because it seemed like someone in their excitement might just pitch right over the balcony to the orchestra seats below.

But no. It was not a night for tragedy. It was a night for triumph.

And I’ll tell you what. You would have to be pretty hard-hearted not to be moved from the emotion that the crowd put into singing every single word along with for Time After Time:

"If you fall/ I will catch you/ I’ll be waiting/ Time after time.”

You would have to be pretty dedicated to not wanting to have any fun at all to not feel the raucous joy that ran through the crowds, all the girls and boys and everyone in between jumping up and down in time when she fired up Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. (My Other Nostril was rocking hard to this one.)

And when she sang her final song of the night, True Colors, singing out to each and every one of us:

I see your true colors

Shining through

I see your true colors

And that’s why I love you

So don’t be afraid

To let them show

Your true colors

True colors are beautiful

Like a rainbow

... the Cyndi Lauper Love Bubble was expanding to fill everywhere, all at once.

Dynamite show, Cyndi, and thank you. You’ve more than earned all the love you get.


The Buenos Aires Herald reports that Cyndi was delayed at the BsAs airport getting out of town, and that she led an impromptu sing-a-long with the crowds there while everyone was waiting for the plane.

How cool is that?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Back in the blog

Howdy, all!

Well, we’ve had several weeks of ~*~delightful~*~ guests from the Northern Hemisphere (Waving at you, Karin & Jay through the Interwebs!!—You were thoroughly enjoyed and are much missed!)

A bit unfortunately for me, those two separate heavenly weeks sandwiched a 10-day stretch of a ferocious backache. Those of you dear readers who know me well know that I live with a couple of errant vertebrae, and when they flare up, I can’t sit for more than a few minutes without shooting pains in my shoulders, neck, and, if it gets really bad, forearms and hands.

So it’s been a while where I could sit long enough each day to do much more than answer a few emails, and for a few days there, even that was too painful. So the blah-blah blogging was out.

*Hopefully*, all that’s subsided for good, and I’ll be able to get back into a much more engaged blog presence—Thanks to all that have dropped by in the past few weeks—I’m sorry I’ve been unable to engage!

Please enjoy beautiful pix of lovely veggies from one of the tiendas on the street!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Internet blues

I've only got a few minutes today, but I wanted to thank everyone who has dropped by and left comments over the past week or so-- It looks like I'm posting everyday, but I'm not!!

I set up a few postings to post automatically late last week...and haven't been able to log on reliably since!! I keep getting glimpses of the blog-- and-- not inconsequentially, your sweet, sweet comments, but haven't been able to stay on for more than five minutes to reply to anyone. (>.<)

We got some assistance today, and our techie problems are *hopefully* ironed out, so I'll be back in full force later in the week.

Besos to everyone... You'll be hearing from me...

Friday, February 4, 2011

¡Mama's got new dancing shoes!

So, along with being 6" taller and 30 pounds heavier than 90% of your average Porteñas, your intrepid reporter strains the outer reaches of one of the major blood sports here in BsAs: designer shoes. Not only do I wear a European 39-40 (US 8-81/2), but I am blessed with patas de pato--what I call "duck feet"-- width C-D. It makes shoe shopping a bit of a challenge.

My 5' 8" frame is freakishly large here (I went into a US-based name-brand store you would have heard of here, and I asked to try something on. The SA asked delicately, "Are you a size...6?" When I said yes, she made a frowny-face, shook her head, and looked sad for me.)

Even worse, you're lucky to find nursing shoes in size 40 here-- now I know what my lovely friends with size 9+ feet experience back at home. I am Yeti-Girl here-- it's a little bruising on the ego.

So imagine my delight when Bazr and I stumbled upon this little artisanal tango specialty shoe shop:
1951 Buenos Aires
And they had all kinds of tango shoes...in all kinds of sizes...
I had dozens of handmade shoes to choose from, all ancho-- wide, which meant I could fit into a 39, which is really a better true fit.
I cannot believe what a cliché these shoes are!! But, ¡Bailmos-- lista!
And if you ever had any doubt that tango is a serious sport here, the shoes come with their own travel bag...
...that makes like it's own little backpack. You can wear your sneaks to the milanga, then slip into your tango heels to dance the night away...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Barrio Chino

Sunday night will be the social event of the season: we're having a dinner party for some of the young lovelies we've met here, along with our friend, Jay, visiting from San Francisco.

Porteños, for all their sophistication and while sharing the continent with some of the spiciest, most flavorful food traditions, have the palates of newborn babes. Emilio, an Argentine who will be dining with us on Sunday, has been known to cry if there's too much black pepper on his food.

So, of course, I'm cooking Mexican!! But good luck trying to find authentic ingredients here. Sheesh!

I looked everywhere to piece together the ingredients. Here and there, you can get Ortega's canned stuff-- if you can stand the fact that they use too much salt and not enough spice. (>.<)

But I cook Mexi-fresh, and after scouring every little tienda in the downtown in a fruitless search to find chipotle powder and fresh jalapeños, I realized trying to find anything with even a mini-kick was hopeless.

My only hope was to head to BsAs's tee-neh, tah-neh Chinatown. All two blocks of it-- whoo-hoo!
If you were going to solve for fresh Jalapeños as a logic problem, the solution would look like this:
Buenos Aires--> Chinatown --> Japanese Supermarket= Best Mexican Produce
So go figure.

Fun to walk through the aisles working at a double disadvantage-- not know what stuff was in Spanish and Chinese.

And then when you could read the English, it was often terrifying:
How about a gallon of "Champion Vegetable Barbecue Sauce"-- packaged in a paint can!
(I recognize it's sophomoric to snark at weird Chinenglish, but I just can't help myself...)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Right place, right time

With the Midwest buried...
Northern Australia blowing....
and the Middle East burning...
...I wake up every morning and kiss the ground to be here.
I found the photo of the Cairo street here.