Tuesday, November 28, 2006

National Parks Passport

After our Thanksgiving break in Palm Springs, K and I visited Joshua Tree National Park. I am generally not a huge fan of the desert, but certain desert landscapes have managed to enchant me over the years: the plentiful saguaro cacti at Saguaro National Park in Arizona, the red rocks outside of Santa Fe, and now the joshua trees and massive rockpiles at Joshua Tree.

We didn't spend too much time at the park since we got there as the day was fast losing light. (Did I mention I hate daylight savings time?) We did have the chance to hike the Hidden Valley trail loop and check out Keys View:

After that, we headed back to Highway 10 to return to L.A. However, earlier in the day, we stopped by the Joshua Tree Visitors Center, where I was able to complete my part of a chain that has been going on for awhile.
I have a National Parks Passport, which lists all of the National Parks and has designated pages for you to get a stamp at each visitor center. It's pretty fun, and while I doubt I'll ever collect every stamp, it's cool to see the stamps from each park you've visited. Anyway, I don't know where this started, but if you have one already and you visit a park with someone who doesn't, then you have to buy one for them. I got mine from my ex, who in turn got his from my friend, and this trip, I was able to buy one for Kip. Obviously, you can always just buy one, but it's much more fun this way.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


While I love going to cemetaries during the day for the serenity, you'd be hard-pressed to get me to go to one alone after nightfall for obvious reasons...decomposing bodies just six feet below, too many screenings of Night of the Living Dead, etc. At Recoleta Cemetary, I would think that it would be even more creepy, because it resembles a housing tract for the dead, where a zombie could just open the door of its fabulous crypt, without having to dig its way through compacted dirt. Add to that the multitude of gorgeous-during-the-day, but eerie-at-night statues that decorate many of the masoleums:

I can just imagine any one of these statues coming to life with a turn of the head in a not so charming Pygmalion kind of way. To be honest, though, while I was actually walking through the grounds (with the full strength of the sun), all I could do was take in the beauty around me.

Amidst the dead stone, there were wonderful little signs of life moving on:

And there were unexpected things, like a faucet that became much more:

Recoleta Cemetary was one of the highs of my trip. I was anticipating an overhyped tourist trap, and I'm glad I decided to visit anyway, because it truly is a special place. And to cap off my postings on it, I'd like to share my favorite tomb embellishment:

Her lips are sealed, indeed. Though, to me, it looks as if she's concealing an oh-so-sweet secret. Perhaps a different kind of death...

For the full set of my Recoleta Cemetary photos, click here.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


The exteriors at Recoleta Cemetary can be quite grand, and if you take a closer look, you can find some exquisite detailing. Stained glass, for example:

The luminosity of stained glass makes it one of my favorite architectural details and is probably one of the reasons why I love religious architecture. The stained glass in this skylight cast an ethereal blue glow over the sculpture below that you could see from a far distance:

I wish I could have been able to see the inside of this more modern one:

The downside to using glass:

Still, it's gorgeous in a Miss Havisham riches in ruin kind of way.

And, perhaps, my favorite shot:

Perfect symmetry in all things is what I strive for.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Cemetario de Recoleta: Death of Humility

(This is a family crypt...not a church!!!)

Recoleta is Buenos Aires' ritziest barrio for both the living and the dead, as evidenced by its cemetary, which displays the most extreme version of keeping up with the Joneses (or Los Garcia, if you will) ever. As the city's top tourist attraction, the Cemetario de Recoleta is packed with gorgeously overwrought crypts and mausoleums and is a photographer's (and necrophile's) dream location. I spent about an hour and a half there, taking more than 50 photos and wishing I had more time and room on my memory card. It is definitely one of those places where you could take snapshots blindfolded and come up with something interesting and possibly beautiful.

However, despite the wealth of photo opps, most visitors come to the cemetary to shoot one thing...

the grave of the most famous portena, Eva Peron:

Evita's remains rest inside the Duarte (her maiden name) family crypt,

which is very modest when compared with these amazing shrines:

I suppose that if you're going to spend eternity in one place, you should probably pour all the money you can into it. Still, I don't know about you, but I think I'd like a little bit more space around me. The last thing I want to do is end up in a McCrypt development...

A patch of green grass might be nice...

or a shady spot under a tree...

(Note: These were the only graves I could find that were somewhat low-key)

More to come...

Monday, November 13, 2006

Los Angeles Blues

I returned from lovely Buenos Aires on Sunday morning and have since tried not to be too down about having to leave. Initially, because I didn't stay in the touristy areas, the city was just another big jumble of hustle and bustle to me, not unlike New York or Madrid. But as I got to know it better and really get underneath the gritty surface, it started to grow on me and its rhythms suddenly became my own. And I fell in love with it, hard.

As my airport taxi pulled away from my apartment building and was driving through fadedly elegant Buenos Aires, I couldn't help it as the tears rolled down my face. Buenos Aires is an incredibly nostalgic and sentimental place, and I'm very much the same. Endings are always sweetly sad for me and I felt as if this wasn't just then end of a trip for me. I started this trip by turning 30, so in a way, this signified the end of so many things. I am trying not to think about it that way, though. This trip was the first major adventure of my 30s and the rest of my life. And that's the positive way to look at it... it was such a deliciously stimulating journey and in many ways, I learned so much about what is truly important to me.

I learned that true richness and depth of experience were absolutely more valuable than a fancy stay at a posh hotel. That being on foot was much more satisfying that sitting in a taxi. That green leafy trees and a blue sky produced more serene happiness than shopping for trendy clothes. That sleeping in and missing some sights was not a major catastrophe. That eating at home resulted in the best meals. In short, I learned that so many things that I thought were so important really aren't.

Since I've been back, I was pretty bummed to be back in Los Angeles. Kip calls this the Los Angeles Blues. After experiencing so many wonderful things, returning home to the mundane can be so depressing. For me, it has always been this way. I remember returning home from the Philippines fifteen years ago and just being so disappointed at the blandness of L.A.'s suburbian streets. I've lived in Los Angeles for most of my life and love so many aspects of it, but I must admit that it's just not stimulating for me anymore. And to go from Buenos Aires to Los Angeles is such a major let down.

Last night, I slept well and it definitely felt good to be in my own bed. I woke up feeling so much better, but then as I was flipping through the latest issue of Lucky magazine, there was a feature on Buenos Aires shopping with descriptions of the major barrios...and now, I'm really heartsick for my Buenos Aires. I miss speaking and thinking in my broken Castellano. I miss crossing the street without waiting for the "Walk" light. I miss walking through my barrio, Villa Crespo, to get to school and then filling up my self-service basket at my panaderia with loads of facturas. I miss taking the Subte, then the Collectivo and then walking through sleepy Colegiales to get to my morning tango lessons. I miss losing myself in the tango. I miss getting into taxis and giving them directions (usually "Estadio de Israel, entre Loyola y Castillo" or "Amenabar en la esquina de Cespedes") I miss concentrating hard in my Spanish class. I miss meeting so many well-traveled and anecdote-rich people from other parts of the world. I miss so much.

I know I'll return someday, but until then, it's a beautiful memory.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Four years ago when I wanted to learn how to swing dance, I took as many classes as I possibly could and went out dancing 3 to 4 times a week (that was when there were that many good venues). It took awhile, but eventually, I became so comfortable with the dance that I didn´t even have to think about what my feet were doing. (Recently, I tried to demonstrate a Lindy Whip to Kip and I actually had to think about how to break it down.) Anyway, the point is that I completely immersed myself in the swing dance scene to learn well and fast. In general, I believe that is the best way to gain fluency in anything, especially a language.

I´ve only been in Buenos Aires for less than 2 weeks, but because I´ve completely immersed myself in the culture and city, my Spanish has rapidly improved. I must admit that the first couple of days it was a bit difficult to understand everyone, mainly because of the Argentine accent: in Mexico and Spain, you would pronounce pollo as poyo, but here it´s pozho. After the first week, though, it definitely became much easier to understand what was being said to me. It´s still a struggle to speak, but it´s much easier than 2 weeks ago.

It also helps that I´ve been taking Spanish classes in Spanish for 4 hours everyday. My Spanish school here in Buenos Aires is considered one of the best (and expensive) in the city. I´m studying at the Daniela Wasser Spanish School in Palermo and I really like it. All of my teachers have been excellent (Pablo totally rocks!) and are very good at teaching Spanish with almost no English translation at all. I have to admit, I originally picked the school because I liked the Web site (I´m such a design nut) and it seemed like the most organized school I found. And from what I hear from the other students, I chose well. I guess I was very lucky.

The students here come from all over the world...there are students of all ages from the US, France, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, etc. And each one of them has an interesting story. I´ve been out to dinner with a few of them, and I always enjoy listening to their travelling anecdotes. Most of them are here for a few months, which makes me a little jealous because their Spanish is totally going to rock by the end of their stay.

When I get home, I´m actually going to continue my studies as much as I possibly can, because I don´t want to lose my momentum. Same thing with tango...it´s been so nice to be able to study and practice everyday and I want to find the right teacher in Los Angeles that won´t ruin everything I´ve learned here. I suppose Spanish and tango are just more passions to add to my ever growing pile.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Computer Down

Unfortunately, a couple of days ago, my computer crashed and I do not think I will be able to do anything about it until I return. What that means is that my posts will be fewer and I will have to add the photos later since I have to use the computers at my school.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Doing the touristy thing

I reserved this weekend to do the unabashedly touristy things. So today, I hit Recoleta Cemetary (final resting place of Evita), the Museo de Bellas Artes, the Museo de Arte Decorativo (not to be confused with Art Deco), and the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (or MALBA). I'm going to write about the Recoleta Cemetary in another post, since I took more than 50 photos there and could have stayed longer than the one and a half hours I gave myself. Needless to say, I did visit Evita's grave, but no, I did not sing "Don't Cry for Me Argentina."

The three museums I went to today were nice, but I must admit that after going to some of the best museums in the world, I was a little underwhelmed. My friend, Dani, and I talked about this once...we were at the Met in NY and she said that after being in Paris and going to Louvre, D'Orsay and Versailles, every museum she has visited since has been a disappointment. I haven't been to Paris yet, but I'm starting to agree with her. My favorite museum in the world is still the Frick in New York, though I really liked the Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid and have a couple of favorites in Los Angeles (Getty, of course, Norton Simon, Jurassic Technology) Of the three museums, I liked MALBA most, because the museum was well-organized and art was all done by Latin American artists. Being from L.A., I do get a healthy dose of Latin American art, but this museum really showcased it well. There was actually one painting, in particular, that I really liked: "George, Gershwin, An American In Paris" by Miguel Covarrubias Maybe it's because I'm a big Gershwin fan, but I wished that they had a postcard or print that I could have bought. Unfortunately, they had none.

When I go to museums, I love buying museum-branded merchandise, whether it be mugs, T-shirts, notebooks or pens. Today was no exception: I bought a mug from Bellas Artes, a yerba mate mug from Arte Decorativo, and from MALBA, I bought 2 t-shirts (one MALBA-branded for me and a futbol one for Kip), 2 MALBA-branded teas (as recommended by my Wallpaper* City Guide) and a MALBA notebook. Because I'm a graphic designer, I just eat up well-branded merchandise. And MALBA is a well-branded museum. They also have a film series there that I might go to tomorrow night. They're showing Tropical Malady, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes. It's a Thai film about 2 men in a passionate gay relationship. It might be strange and hard to follow a film in Thai with Spanish subtitles, but perhaps it will be really good practice for me. Anyway, here's a photo of MALBA's exterior:
I also liked the Museo de Arte Decorativo, which is pretty much a grand old mansion, with a temple-front, filled with museum-quality furniture. I really liked the ballroom, which had an amazing parquet floor and an intricate carved-wood spiral staircase leading up to a mezzanine. Unfortunately, beyond that, there wasn't much else to see. I kept thinking I was missing a section, but alas, no. I would have taken pictures inside, but I was not allowed. I managed to sneak in a picture of this marble staircase, though:
And here's the temple-front:
Now, I could take photos inside the Museo de Bellas Artes, but only a few things caught my attention there:
I really liked this impressionist portrait and the kicker was that the museum guard looked exactly like the subject!

And to file under Weird:It's a bit hard to see, but this is a KISS concert diorama. It was out in the lobby with a sign asking for donations so that this exhibit could become part of the permanent collection. I kept looking around to see if there was a little plaque that said, "Just Kidding!"

To end this post, here's one that is just so exquisite:I just love her expression! I wouldn't mind happening upon that scene in the forest!


Today I wrapped up my first week of tango lessons, which included a private 1 hour lesson everyday and a group lesson on Mondays and Wednesdays. My teachers, Humberto and Carolina of Estudio Callas, are really good teachers, and I've had many dance instructors, so I know what I'm talking about. During my private lessons, I usually get one or the other: Humberto teaches me following skills and new moves, while Carolina cleans up my technique. I didn't tell them that I'm a swing dancer until yesterday, when I told Carolina. She said that explains why I'm a very fast learner and a good follower with good frame. But she said it also explains why my pivots are too fast and why I swing my hips. Tango is a very controlled and deliberate dance. For the woman, it requires complete submission to the man and perfect technique and balance. Swing dancing is a whole lot more forgiving, though I must admit that my balance has always been a problem. In any event, after two weeks of tango training, I'll definitely have a strong foundation to build upon and I think my swing dancing will also improve.

One of the things that made a huge difference in my tango was actually buying tango shoes. On Tuesday, I went to Artesenal in the Abasto barrio and bought these awesome shoes:
Carolina advised me to go with a shorter heel, but Humberto prefers a higher heel. I decided to get a shorter heel to start with and I had them chromed for more control. (For the non-swing geeks, that means that I had them put suede on the bottom) There was red and black pair that I almost bought with a higher heel, but I didn't want to hang out there and deliberate too much since they had 4 or 5 Persian cats hanging around the shop. (I'm allergic) I didn't even take my backpack off to try the shoes on because I didn't want it to collect cat hair. In any event, I'll probably go back to buy the other shoes as well (it's only about U$30-45 a pair for handcrafted leather shoes).

One of the coolest things about buying tango shoes is that you can either take them away in a box or a red(!) carrying sack:
For non-dancers: the nice thing about the sack is that you can carry your dance shoes around town without having to wear them and ruin the sole. That is, of course, unless you're going to the Derby in LA, where they have a policy against bagged shoes.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Chivalry is not dead!

Buenos Aires has a reputation for being a very macho town. I haven't experienced any male aggression walking the streets alone or going about my general business, but what I have experienced is a forgotten by-product of machismo: chivalry. The men here are very protective of and courteous to women, and it feels pretty nice. Riding the subte or the collectivo (bus), I've seen numerous men give up their seats for pregnant women, women with babies or elderly women. One elderly man almost woke up a sleeping man to persuade him to give up his seat for a woman and her baby, but another seat opened in the nick of time. And all of my encounters with Argentine men have been very warm and never overbearing. (knocking on wood) Of course, I'm not trying to build a career here...I'm just visiting, but it is refreshing to see men show their gender's best traits.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Keys to the past

I didn't post yesterday, because I was in the worst part of my cold and needed some rest. Last night, I popped two Tylenol PMs (Vanilla-flavored) and slept for about 11 hours. I think that was exactly what I needed to fight whatever virus had taken hold in me.

I've also been very busy...between Spanish and tango classes and running errands, I haven't had a chance to do much else in the last two days. The good thing is that I've really been able to experience what it's like to live in this city and not just be a tourist. The bad thing is that there are times when I feel like I want to be a dumb tourist with no responsibilities, living in luxury. However, not being a tourist does have its advantages:

Instead of those plastic hotel keycards, I get these:When my host gave me these keys, they reminded me of the kind of keys that we don't use anymore, except maybe as props in Pirates of the Caribbean (with the exception of the power tool key) They seem a bit antiquated and it's not as if I'm staying in an old building...my apartment building in Koreatown is easily 30 years older than my building in B. Aires. And everywhere I go in this city I see these keys dangling from people's fingers. I don't know how secure they are, but I wish I had keys like this. I just really like what they say about this city...for all of it's modernity, B. Aires is firmly rooted in it's past and traditions. Why change things that work just fine? And why erase the past when it was so elegant and grand?