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Welcome to World Smart Kids

Last updated: 06.20.2007

November 6, 2006

Buenos Aires, Argentina

If you’ve followed our trip thus far, you know that we are no fans of cities. They are usually crowded (hence the term, “city”), smelly, loud and dirty. Buenos Aires fits these criteria, but we fell in love with this city anyway.

We committed ourselves to a couple weeks in Buenos Aires (BA), the capital of Argentina. Now I’m thinking, “What were we thinking?” We’d heard that BA is a wonderful city, but we’ve heard the same about Chicago, Boston, and Sydney. A city is a city is a city; we generally don’t like cities. They tend to be loud; the people tend to be quick and harsh; there tends to be a lack of open, grassy areas and instead there usually is a large amount of smog, dirt and noise. I guess this is why places like this are called, “cities.”

BA province has a population of 13,827,203 in about 307,571 sq. km. This makes the population density of ~45 people/km sq. Or if you subscribe to BA as a city and not a province, it could be a little under 3 million people in about 207 sq. km, which makes the population density 13,672 people/km sq. Apparently in 1880 the city departed from the province and now is not part of either. Or they’re separate from one another, like distant cousins. Neither includes the other, so the Post Office down there has to work extra hard.

I took a walk around the neighborhood today. If you ignore the trash, the noise, the smells and the exhaust fumes, it’s quite a nice place. The people seemed friendly if they looked you in the eyes and smiled. I was only felt up once and it was by a guy, so I was a little disappointed. I ventured out during daylight so either I was protected by the sunlight or I was so shabbily dressed that nobody thought I had enough money to mug me.

Argentineans are extraordinarily very beautiful people. They have the South American and European mix. Don’t tell my wife this, but I love BA somewhat because all the chicks are really hot! (Nicky’s not reading this, right?)

As an aside, one of our “secrets” to not getting mugged in this capital city is to look like we’re not worth mugging. So our last 6 years of buying stuff at WalMart has paid off—our clothes and accessories are so junky that nobody thinks that we’re worthy of stealing from (can I end that sentence with a preposition?). If we dress like we have nothing of value, then there’s very little incentive to steal from us.

I found out that the real crooks in BA are the banks. When we arrived at the airport we had to get some local currency. It’s the Argentinean peso, which is about 3 to 1 to the US dollar. Great rate for us! But it’s a much worse rate when you go to an ATM ask for $500 pesos and you only receive $410 pesos. One of the $100 peso bills was erroneously substituted with a $10 peso bill. So we were gypped $90 pesos, which is about $30 US, which we really couldn’t do anything about since there was nobody to whom to complain.

I never thought about this before—what if you go to an ATM and ask for some money and you don’t get what you ask? What’s your recourse? To whom do you complain, and how can you prove your case especially if it’s after hours? There’s no proving a negative—you cannot prove that you did not receive your money. Which was our case, and we ate the $30 US and we were happy that it was not more.

The other crooks here are the taxi drivers. We used an airport-approved taxi that took us from the airport to the hotel. We knew it was an airport-approved taxi because he checked into the little hut-dispatcher. He was nice enough and he charged us $100 pesos (a little more than $30 US). Not knowing anything, and not asking the dispatcher for the fare IN ADVANCE (what were we thinking?! NOTE: Ask the dude in the hut what the fare should be IN ADVANCE), we paid. When we asked the hotel staff what the average price to/from the airport should be, they replied about $60 pesos (i.e. $20 US), we knew we got screwed. But it’s a lesson that we should have learned a long time ago, and we’ll know from now on.

But it was a fairly cheap and valuable lesson, eh?

Internet access here is 33 US cents per hour. Yes, that’s not a typo—the average going rate here in BA is 1 peso per hour, which equals to 33 cents per hour, or about ½ cent per minute. Apparently they’re able to get these rates because they share broadband access with neighbors and they steal the computers. Seriously. Computer theft is really big in South America, and it allows the owners of internet café’s to make their margins. And it allows us North Americans to take advantage of their low internet café rates. See, the free market economy works, right?

November 7, 2006

I got in an argument with a lady at the supermarket over beer. Actually it was less than an argument and more of a one-sided conversation in which she was doing all the talking and I was doing all the shoulder-shrugging and hand-waving, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

When you buy beer in Argentina it’s common to buy it in large one liter bottles instead of the US-centric six-pack of 12 ounce bottles. As I quickly learned, these have a returnable property which was what the supermarket lady was trying to tell me.

After I had paid for everything, she asked me for an additional peso (about 30 cents US) so she could secure my returning the bottle so it could be recycled. After about 2 minutes of fast-Spanish-talking and much American-shoulder-shrugging, combined with the good efforts of the several consumers behind me trying, in vain, to translate for me, I finally understood that she needed a one peso deposit on the bottle. She gave me a separate receipt for this and it seemed very legitimate, but since I never returned the empty bottle (the hazards of living in a hotel where they throw away the empties, or maybe grab them and return it themselves) I wonder…

NOTE: there were about 5 people behind me during this exchange. They were all very accommodating, patient and helpful. Most of them tried to help me understand what the cashier was trying to explain to me. This was a good exercise in international cooperation.

BA is a city that is under siege from noise and smell and smog. As far as I can tell, there are no restrictions on smog or smoke or noise. I’m not sure what the answer is—the public transportation is widely used and is very effective. I’m in favor of Steve Martin’s, “Death Penalty for Parking Violations.”

November 8, 2006

We took a tour of BA today. In a bus. It was the touristiest thing that I’ve ever done (Did you know that, “touristiest” is a real word? Microsoft Word tells me so). The tour company actually had people on the bus whose job it was to videotape us and take pictures of us while we were on our tour walking around. These pictures and videos are supposed to be, “The Rousseau’s in Buenos Aires retrospective.” They wanted to sell the DVD to us later so we could capture our BA enjoy our experience in digital format. Quite an inventive idea, but it was a little weird because we weren’t interested in paying $20 for a movie that was less than 10% “Rousseau's”. And paying more than $10 for a DVD that isn’t porn goes against my religion…

After our tour I talked with a Uruguayan dude in the hotel lobby for about 12-15 minutes. Actually he did most of the talking and I did most of the head-nodding and saying, “Si.” “Si” means “yes.” And I actually understood about 5% of what he was saying. But if you keep eye contact, smile, and nod your head a bit and say, “yes”, then you can keep a conversation going for quite a while. We started out better than we finished--let me explain:

After our morning bus tour the girls took an afternoon nap. I thought the restaurant/pub at our hotel would be a good place to practice my banjo while they were enjoying their afternoon slumber. The pub was empty and it is separated from the front lobby of the hotel, and it has a little area that has chairs and couches. So it was a private and a comfortable and an empty area for me to practice. I was playing around for about 30 minutes and then an older guy came by and sat in one of the chairs next to me. After a couple of minutes we started to talk, sporadically, and I told him that I spoke very little Spanish. He understood that and between our fumbling in Spanish/English, we were doing OK for a while. Then he asked me to play more, which I did (hand gestures can be quite expressive; they bridge language barriers).

Then he got mental on me—he went on a 10-15 minute talk about, uh, I don’t know. I heard “tango” and “banjo” and “trabajo” (which I think is “work.” It could also mean travel, trombone or trouble or trabajo. But I’m not really sure…), and very little else. Here’s a small snippet of our conversation as I can best remember:

Him: blah blah blah trabaho (work), blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah rojo (red) blah blah blah blah blah blah el corazón evita (heart bypass) blah blah blah carne de Puerco (pork).

Darren: [playing banjo] Si, ha ha (yes, ha ha) [still playing my banjo]

Him: blah blah blah padrastro (hangnail), blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah aburrimiento (ennui, or boredom) blah blah blah blah blah blah rejuvinated (rejuvinated) blah blah blah

Darren: [THINKING: can I get a drink now? It’s only 4pm, maybe there’s someone that’s tending the bar. Where can I look for help? It’s just me, my banjo, and this Uruguayan dude relaxing in the pub. Maybe I’ll just keep nodding my head and saying, “Si” and we’ll keep international relations at an all-time high with the Uruguayans] Si, ha ha. Muy bien (Yes, ha ha, very good).

I ended up doing a lot of nodding, saying a lot of, “Si,” and periodically glancing at the TV at the bar. I noticed the TV show featured the female tennis player Gabriella Sabatini (remember her?). Surprisingly, she’s from Buenos Aires, and she was being interviewed about her tennis legacy and I thought, “She is really pretty.” And she IS really pretty, and it was difficult to appreciate her prettiness because of my Uruguayan friend and his Uruguayan loquaciousness.

NOTE: I used a form of the word “loquacious” in a real sentence (it means talkative). I’m very happy about this. It’s not a goal of mine, but I wanted to use it in a sentence for many years and not make it seemed forced. I think it fits here nicely. Thank you in advance for your accolades. English teachers, please take note.

The owner of the hotel came by about 30 minutes after my Uruguayan friend and I started “talking.” Gary is the owner of the hotel and he’s a great guy from NY originally, and recently Florida. He came to BA about 2 years ago and bought the hotel and has been renovating the place since. He gave me a lot of suggestions on what to do with the girls in BA and he insisted that I play, “Dueling Banjos” for him (the famous tune from the movie, “Deliverance”). Fortunately I know this tune and he’s a pretty easy audience so our time together went well. Plus we were able to scare away any campers that might have wanted to stay at our hotel, which is probably in antithesis to his business goals…

The hotel in which we’re staying has these new water-saving toilet bowls. The one in our room holds a water-saving 6 liters (or 1.6 gallons) per flush. I’ve found out that these low-water toilets actually work quite well if you flush them three or four times. And I feel good about the fact that I’m saving water…

November 9, 2006

We took a taxi today and I got a really good feeling for driving in BA. The painted lines that depict driving lanes are more of a decoration than anything. Most of the cars put their left tire about a foot over the line—I’m not sure why this is, but the hugging the left line is pretty much a constant. I think it might be due to some eye deficiency. But driving in BA is like a NASCAR race but at much slower speeds—if you can fit a car into some empty space, they’ll do it.

BA Traffic

It’s not as scary as Bangkok, but more strategic. I found myself being part of the driving experience. I tried to anticipate the traffic patterns and possible openings in which we could fit. But I was fairly bad at this. I chalk it up to the fact that we were in the Southern Hemisphere and huge bodies of water rotate differently down here…

The taxis will make a right-hand turn from the left-hand lane. It’s amazing. And nobody hits their horn. I get a feeling that this sort of thing is expected. They seem to have no worries about obstructing the drivers behind them, and the drivers behind them don’t seem to mind very much. Perhaps it is part of the laid back attitude that the South Americans have; perhaps they’re all drunk or high. Either way, people seem to be very calm and relaxed even while driving in this crazy place.

To date we’ve been walking quite a bit in downtown Buenos Aires. Of course, we walk on the sidewalks, which is quite the athletic event. There are so many people and the sidewalks are uneven and gum and trash-ridden. Because of the unevenness of the sidewalks and the high population of people, it’s a bit of sport to not run into people. So it’s like an obstacle course with people that you have to dodge. Because most of these people are very good-looking people, it’s like playing dodge ball with beautiful people and I’m the ball.

Not a bad game, eh?...

BA Street

November 10, 2006

Today we did an Estancia tour (a landed estate or a cattle ranch). This tour has Gauchos (a native cowboy of the South American pampas) that oversee the cattle (bovine animals, esp. domesticated members of the genus Bos.). Thus ends my Webster imitation.

We got on a bus with lots of other people and did a touristy stop at a touristy knick-knack shop, and then we proceeded to the touristy Estancia. An Estancia tour starts with a welcome committee that gives you a libation of either apple juice or wine. Once you enter the farm you’re welcome to just hang out and enjoy the day with free drinks, or walk among some of the historic buildings, or enjoy a horse ride or wagon ride.

All this stuff is supposed to get you to enjoy the surroundings of the farm and get you engaged in the farm atmosphere, which is a farm that’s designed to simulate a real farm, which is designed to entertain real tourists. Since this day was an awesome 70F (21.1 C) degree day, we were happy just to enjoy the outdoors and the atmosphere. But aren’t we always happier to enjoy the outdoors and the atmosphere with beer…

The Estancia had some authentic South American guitar players that were quite talented, and I enjoyed their playing as the wine/beer was freely flowing.

Lunch was a TON of meat cooked over natural coals.

Guacho Farm Meat

Guacho Farm Meat

It was beautiful. I loved it because of the beauty of so much well-raised, hormone-free, antibiotic-free meat cooked on natural charcoal; cooked to satisfy the hunger of one, Darren Rousseau, (plus others). I not only appreciated their attempt at old-world authenticity, but of the new-world big-guy hunger for smoky meat. God bless these well-meaning Gauchos…

Our lunch was a long table affair which means that we ate with people family style--at a huge table with shared drinks and food. We were at a table with our bus-mates, about whom we didn’t know anything. We were sitting with a grandparent couple on one side and a group of 5 twenty-something guys on the other side.

Our younger group was surprisingly great with our kids (we’re not used to 20-somethings being good with kids; South Americans are wonderful with kids, despite the age) and taught me how to drink bad wine with coca cola. Apparently coke and wine is the poor man’s drink in Latin America and Spain. The recipe: take wine, preferably cheap wine and mix it 50-50 with a Coke or cola product. They had a really cool Spanish name for this drink which meant, “cheap fun drink” which is literally, “bebida divertida barata.” But this isn’t the name they gave it. It was more like, “liberte mierda” which I think means really, really cheap drinks that taste really, really bad. After taking a sip of it I suggested one of the following:

--Recommended to change the name of the drink from, “really, really cheap drinks that taste really, really bad,” to, “this is medically dangerous—you need to see your doctor.” --Offered to pay for their drinks in order to get them away from this hell-hole of libation. I quickly realized that all drinks were pre-paid, so my offer was both immediately appreciated and dismissed. Thank God for the former—I only had about $7 in my pocket and I really didn’t care if they destroyed their oh-so-tender-young livers.

Once I remembered that I wasn’t liable for anyone’s tab, I volunteered to buy them filet mignon and Absolute-brand martinis. They appreciated my generosity; at heart I’m just a giving guy…

After lunch (lunch consisting of never-ending meat that was really overcooked and tango dancing that was fairly poor), we were treated to some “authentic gaucho horsemanship.

Gauchos are Argentinean Cowboys, so these guys practice cowboy-like skills all the time like calf roping, horse riding, hay baling, chain smoking, beer drinking, womanizing, and generally looking-cool-while-I-chew-a-blade-of-straw-while-wearing-my-cowboy-hat. These are very important skills, at which our Gauchos excelled. Plus the, “pen-through-the-washer-game.” See below.

Guacho

After our meat-centered lunch (they offered us blood-sausage! They should have included Exlax pills after all that meat…) we were encouraged to enjoy the Gaucho Skills Demonstration. Picture this: a small washer (as in a piece of metal that’s about the size of an American quarter that has a hole in it) attached to a string that allows it to hang about 7-8 feet in the air. These washers are hung over a track on which the Gauchos, on their horses, will run.

The “skills-based competition” entails each Gaucho will take something about the size of a pen (like a BIC pen), galloping at full-speed, and endeavor to get the “pen” into the hole in the “washer,” or “spear” the washer. This was quite fun, albeit antithetical to the Gaucho lifestyle (which consisted of rustling sheep and cattle; I’m not so sure how spearing a washer at 20 mph with a pen will better your skills at roping cattle) and overall theme of the day. But it was entertaining and we were quickly engrossed into raving for our gaucho of choice.

So either we didn’t drink enough to buy into the Gaucho Skills Contest, or we drank too much to be impressed with anything.

November 11, 2006

Things start late in South America. The younger guys that we met during the estancia tour (see above) told me that they would go out to clubs around 11pm – midnight.

11pm – midnight is when their night would START! Are you kidding me?!?

As a father of two children, I haven’t seen midnight that often. Mostly because I’m afraid of vampires and werewolves; but also because the kids wake up around 6-7am. The kids wake up around 6–7am regardless of what time I go to bed. If you’re any kind of intelligent being, you’ll learn your lesson very quickly.

We thought that we’d enjoy walking around a weekly craft show today. It was supposed to start around noon, which we quickly found out that noon means about 4pm in BA time. Man, these guys start late for everything. I guess this explains why there are no BA drivers in NASCAR.

So after our attempt to enjoy the early morning weather and crafts, we had an early return to our hotel where I saw my first bullfight today. It was on TV, broadcast from Argentina TV. Talk about getting PETA in an uproar—that was the most gruesome and horrific thing I’ve ever seen done to any animal.

Prior to this show, I always thought that bullfighting was less of a sport and more of a show, like American wrestling (i.e. WWE). But I was quick to learn that this is a life-and-death struggle for the bull. In this instance, the bull was drugged, stabbed, teased, scolded, then stabbed some more, then teased again, and then ultimately killed. He was probably ridiculed and demeaned during the entire process as well. He really never had any chance at all, which leads me to wonder about the whole, “bull-fighting” aspect—the bull really never had a chance to fight back, so where’s the fight?

I wonder how/why the crowd got excited—I never saw any excitement in the denigration of a magnificent animal faced with outrageous odds to save his life.

November 12, 2006

The hotel at which we’re staying is a Best Western brand, owned by our now-US friend Gary. Yes, I hear the groans. We, too, are not big fans of the American chains of hotels. But at least they adhere to the BA philosophy of wax paper for napkins.

Huh? What is this you say? Wax paper for napkins? It’s like parchment paper. Verily, this is so. When you dine in BA, many of the restaurants use these wax paper tissues about 3” X 4” (about the size of your hand, only smaller). All the restaurants in BA have these 3” x 4” wax paper-like things for tissues/napkins. To this day, I’m not sure what purpose these pieces of parchment are supposed to be used for—are they supplements to our placemats? Are they supplements for our plates? Are they simply table decorations? There is NO way they can be used as any kind of human, “wipe the detritus from my person” kind of thing (i.e. I’m not sure they can humanly be used to wipe anything from anything).

Believe me, if you had a booger hanging, one of these sheets would be the last thing that you’d look for. To solidify my point, if I may, let me give you a small artificial conversation that is appropriate between an American male and an Argentinean female:

American Male: Excuse me; I am hampered by my crippled rhinitis, or nasal inflammation.

Argentinean Woman: If we were in a restaurant in anywhere else in the world, I would offer you a napkin or some other water/mucus soaking-linen. But because we’re in BA, we only have very small sheet of wax paper that are used for, uh, I’m not sure what.

American Male: Yes, I understand. I, too, tried to find a use for these pieces of parchment. I find them useful to enhance my carburetor performance, but not useful for anything having to do with restaurants or food.

So my point today is to get a groundswell of support from the millions of Argentinean individuals to rebel against the ridiculousness of the 3 x 5 inch wax paper napkins. Surely, this is a travesty of mucus and drool-endearing people; it is an egregious offence against those of us with normal and more-than-normal-human-drippage.

November 13, 2006

I think I mentioned that we are staying at the Best Western in BA. Yes, this is an oxymoron to any educated person (i.e. we’re in the heart of BA staying at a large American chain hotel), but it worked for us because we met the owner, thanks to my mediocre banjo-playing.

Because the owner (Gary) witnessed my banjo practice in the lobby and asked me to play, “Dueling Banjos,” we enjoyed some good conversations. Gary is a great guy and he customized his breakfast menu for our kids and gave us tours of the hotel and, today, took us to dinner.

He’s been dating an Argentinean dermatologist. She’s older than he is. But she has a thriving practice.

This means that she’s an older hot Argentinean woman. Argentinean women are hot women despite their age; so an Argentinean dermatologist is the mother load of hot Argentinean women. So Gary is dating an older lady that looks like a younger lady, and at either age is a really hot lady. Gary is a lucky dude.

This woman was intelligent, funny, and looked about 20 years younger than her age. She bought all our food and drinks, so there’s no reason why we wouldn’t love her.

But this experience was a turning point for me. Previously I chalked up any city as a city and therefore it was bad. But now, because of the friendliness and hospitality that we experienced, I’m open to more city-living; only if it entails beautiful women buying me dinner and hotel owners giving us special favors.

Hey, I’m easy to please…

November 14, 2006

We got an in-depth tour of the Best Western Hotel in which we’re staying today from Gary, the owner. This was really cool, and I appreciated him taking the time to share his renovation efforts with us. The upkeep and reconstruction project is really amazing—they even had to redo the track on which the elevator worked. The vision and the efforts that Gary has to endure are amazing. If you add to the cost of renovation the cost of graft and corruption, it’s expensive to do business here…

Prior to the tour I went across the street and paid about $.75US (that’s 75 cents) to get a workout at the local gym. They had a pretty good aerobics area, and a decent free weight area, albeit you had to scrounge for weights and spotters were few. But the workout was a deal at $.75 US. Plus you had to endure the scrutiny of the ultra-hot Argentinean chick at the check-in desk. I didn’t mind them looking at my booty, but I got tired of being treated like a piece of meat. Actually I got tired of being treated like hamburger—I would have preferred being treated like a filet mignon or at least a ribeye or NY strip. Ouch!

November 15, 2006

Today was a day of futility. We tried to experience the Buenos Aires Children’s Museum, but during the hours of American children wake cycles.

A pity. Apparently the BA Museum operates during children’s naps, and adult naps as well.

November 16, 2006

We tried to be creative today and buy presents for our other half. It was a pretty good idea to split up the family and let each half tour the city. Dominique and I tried to find a present for both Nicky and Annette, and they tied to find a present for both Dominique and Darren. It’s unfortunate that I can’t bring her into porn shops in which I can get Nicky an appropriate gift. However we were able to get Annette a good set of princess shoes and get Nicky the South American version of the popular card game, “UNO.”

I’m sure that we can adapt this game to a more adult form (i.e. strip UNO) with little effort. Hey, what can I say?—Nicky’s been jonesing to see me naked for a while…

November 17, 2006

I took the kids to the Children’s Museum this afternoon. Nicky took them to this place yesterday and she said that it was really good, and I concur. This is quite an amazing place.

McDonalds_Girls

I’m saddened to say that we traveled over 22,000 miles so our children could spend time in a re-created McDonald’s kitchen in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This brings tears to my eyes for several and varied reasons, none of which are pride or heart-swelling reasons.

But this museum taught our children many and varied skills, like how to change refuel a car:

Car Fuel

How to pilot an airplane:

Fly Airplane

How to drive a vintage Formula 1 car:

formula 1

And how to fill out the myriad of medical forms:

Annette Medical form

This was a world-class children’s museum and, if I had a cavity, I would be proud to let the little ones give me a filling.

Annette cavity

Uh, maybe if my tooth was 12 inches in diameter, and I was really, really drunk…

OK, maybe I’d let them fill up my car with petrol. Maybe not…

November 18, 2006

Today we had a sad goodbye to our favorite corner restaurant. To date, we’ve been able to feed the family on well less than $20 US per meal, which includes 2 world-class cuts of perfectly cooked sirloin steaks, with side dishes, and with dishes for the kids.

I’m sure we did something else today that should warrant mention in my portion of the story; I fear that I’m so distraught because this is the last time that I will taste the sweetness of the non-anti-biotic, non-hormone-injected, sweet-smokiness that is the Argentinean beef from my favorite corner restaurant. Even though the beef and I had a broken English/Spanish language translation, I was able to form a bond that is more lasting than mere chicken or seafood can ever attempt. This is the bond of perfectly-cooked, smoked beef; a bond that is lasting and heartfelt by every man.

The fact that this bond is separated now is the only reason that I am able to write this story. The separation deserves its own story; it deserves its own legacy. Please forgive me while I take some time for myself…

November 19, 2006

We visited the San Telmo antique market again today. I wanted to see the street performers again. I thought these guys were really cool. Some were expected, like the magicians that were selling the “hide the silk scarf” trick. Some were pedantic, like the puppet guy. But I really wanted to see these guys that I thought were original, funny, and enthusiastic:

Video: Street Performer

Note: if you can not see the video, download QuickTime and view the movie with it.

quicktime logo (4K)

These guys were fun, and funny, and entertaining. And the entire street was packed with people. Oh, and the George Bush’s daughter was on the same street as we were, and the same time, and her handbag got stolen:

First Daughter Barbara Robbed in Argentina

I find it funny that the President of the US’s daughter, surrounded by Secret Service agents, has her purse and cell phone stolen in the exact same place and time that we were there. We were protected by 4yr old and 6yr old girls. Perhaps the US Secret Service might want to make a change in its staffing?...


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