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December 04, 2005

Where the Beef is

Sunday, December 4, 2005

Buenos Aires, Argentina:

Ok, so what the hell am I doing back in Argentina? Wasn't I planning to go all the way around the world? Didn't I originally say I would be spending a substantial amount of time in Asia, perhaps taking the Trans-Siberian railroad across Russia and into Mongolia, before heading down through China, Tibet, Nepal and India? That was the plan. It was a good plan, too, if I may say so, and the idea held a lot of temptation up through the very end. However, the truth is that even if I did go ahead with that planned route, I would still miss out on seeing plenty of other places I've wanted to visit. I doubt I could make a trip like the one above and still have time left to visit countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. I certainly wouldn't be able to make it over to Japan or Korea. Australia and New Zealand would probably be far too costly to get to and time-consuming to properly travel after everything else mentioned. Then there are countless Pacific islands to consider. What I'm trying to say is that the world, which seems very small at times, seems huge when you try to travel around it. After visiting some 22 countries or so over the course of an unbeatable 14 months, tacking another 5 or 10 or 15 counties onto the list --- while sure to be an incredible experience --- would not provide me with some of sort of sated, glutted traveller's experience (as if I could rest easy in the knowledge that I'd been all over the globe and that I hadn't missed a thing). I will never get to see absolutely "everything" or even a significant fraction thereof. You have to pick and choose according to your interest. Not only that, but it also gets tiring to move from place to place to place for that long --- and a trip like this should not seem like work or what's the point of it? I figured that one out somewhere between being nearly-robbed in South Africa and maxing out on anti-malarial pills in Zanzibar, Tanzania. In the end, it is a lot more rewarding to spend a significant amount of time getting comfortably situated in one place, getting to know it in greater depth and appreciate it in ways you might not have on a brief vacation from work. Plus you meet people and learn languages this way. I'll have a lot of photos and memories when I come back, but having friends in the countries I visited --- and the ability to talk with those people in their language (to some extent, at least) is what will make me feel like I did something more than take an extended sight-seeing tour (but let me stop before I sound all preachy and goopy, like Dr. Phil crossed with Rick Steves).

On that latter note, my three months in Italy were incredible and flew by. I was able to get a feel for life in Perugia and was able to take trips all over the north and center of the country (but sadly not to the south or Sardegna, which will wait for the next time around), visiting Naples, Capri, Florence, Turin, Asissi, Elba, Rome, the Cinque Terre (where I got into an Italian cursing-and-shouting match with some cazzo hotel-proprietor) and other locations. I would have happily stayed in Italy longer, even enduring the snow that was starting to fall in Perugia when I left, but there was no practical way around the 90-day limitation short of flying home, applying for a visa and flying back. It is no accident that one of the very first ten words (I kid you not) I looked up in my Italian-English dictionary was burocrazia. Unable to stay in Italy or (because the 90-day period applies to the whole region of participant "Schengen" nations) just about any other country in Western Europe short of England (too expensive) or Switzerland (too neutral), I had to decide where to go from there. I'd actually made up my mind a long time before. I wanted to go back to South America and, in particular, Buenos Aires, Argentina. I can't make a list of reasons why, but I just love the city and the country --- and the whole continent they're on, really. I don't have it all planned out yet, but the next 4 or 5 months before I head home will be spent primarily or entirely in Buenos Aires, where I will rent an apartment (perhaps with a backyard spacious enough to store beef cows). In addition to studying Spanish, I will have little trouble taking a few hours a week of Italian classes as well (a huge percentage of the population, perhaps pushing 40%, claims some Italian heritage; the impact of Italian culture on the capital city is instantly obvious almost anywhere you go). With the rest of my time I can pick just about another activity I would like to learn or improve on (from guitar-playing to swing-dancing to cooking to ice-sculpture carving, just by way of example) and find instruction at excellent prices.

I arrived on Wednesday in spite of the Aerolineas Argentinas strike, which delayed my flight for two days. The airline put me and the other stranded passengers up in a hotel in Rome - Lido, about 30-minutes from the center by train. I took day-trips in and wandered around the fountains, piazzas and monuments, often stopping for coffee or gelato in places like St. Peter's Square, Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Colloseum and (always impressive) the square in front of the Pantheon. Being stranded pissed me off at first; then I wished I had another week to spare. However, my zinc and iron stores were running dangerously low. I had gone months and months on pizza, pasta and panini; prosciutto, pesto and pomodori. Yes, this was all of the highest quality (or at least, most of the time it was), but where was the beef? Where was meat that didn't look and taste like it came from some poor, sorry, starved anorexic animal? Fillet of Jennifer Aniston would be better than the stuff I was served in bugers or in place of what they called "beef" on the menu. I was beginning to go a bit mad from the excess of carbohydrates in Italy. I felt like every meal was a combination of side dishes without any main course. The meat "second" dish was usually a sliver of gray stuff the size and thickness of your typical slice of bologna.

But fear not (and I'm sure you were all worried); the story has a happy ending, assuming you are not a cow (and if you are, you are most welcome to my new apartment just as soon as I get it, my tasty friend). My first meal in Buenos Aires marked my return to the "La Estancia" Parrillada in the Microcenter. It wasn't even necessary to look at the menu, though I did, of course, just to be sure nothing had changed too much. Nothing had except for prices, which had increased by some 10% to 15% (Argentina is having a very bad time economically, despite occasional travel-articles heralding a come-back). From the perspective of an American using dollars (and particularly that of an American coming over from Euro-using Europe), everything was still remarkably affordable. I had an enormous and perfectly (un-) cooked bloody-red steak with sausage, salad, bread, an empanada, beer, and water. I paid about $10 with tip. This restaurant is in one of the most expensive parts of the city on one of the main pedestrian thoroughfares.

On Thursday I ate the same meal for lunch at a steakhouse down near Plaza Dorrego in the San Telmo district. Friday involved a steak and sausage lunch followed by a steak and sausage dinner (the only reason I didn't do this on Wednesday and Thursday was because jet-lag put me to bed too early to pull off a proper Argentinian dinner at the appropriate hour of 11 PM or so). Saturday saw a steak-sandwich lunch chased by a return to La Estancia for a fried (milanesa de lomo) steak dinner. Today is Sunday. I decided to regroup and digest, sticking with chicken. But despite this brief reprieve for the cows, I was secretly plotting and planning my next move, gearing up for the next attack. [Cue uneasy mooing across the Argentine pampas.]

(What have I done? What am I doing, lazy fat bastard that I am becoming? Next up.)

Posted by Joshua on December 4, 2005 09:45 PM
Category: Back in Argentina

You suck.
Leave the cows alone.

Posted by: linda on December 5, 2005 01:10 PM

Typical vegetarian anger.

Posted by: Josh on December 5, 2005 02:42 PM

It's probably more like 3 or 4 months or until the 6th heart attack, but I refuse to lock myself into a definite date. That's what the cows want, you see: A definite withdrawal time-table.

Posted by: Josh on December 5, 2005 02:45 PM

Plaza Dorrego can only mean one thing: Cafe Dorrego!!! And if you have any guilt over all that ingested beef, don't forget that B.A. has one of the largest psychoanalytic communities in the world. When is a blood sausage just a sausage?! Only in B.A. Envious.

Posted by: Espressoman on December 9, 2005 04:25 AM

I've been having plenty of coffee at Dorrego and Cafe Tortoni (check the "galeria" at but have not had any guilt issues with the steak. I really don't expect to.

Posted by: Josh on December 13, 2005 11:57 AM

that Tortoni site is making me drool small little drops of espresso. Any plans for making a run through Jorge Luis Borges?

Posted by: Espressoman on December 15, 2005 10:23 AM
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