Thursday, December 27, 2007

What the Dickens...?!

The other day, I had the unique experience of attending the Dickens Fair(e) at the Cow Palace with my cousins Amanda and John. "What is the Dickens Faire?" you may be asking. Well, it's pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a fair celebrating the works of Charles Dickens. Except not really. Because really, the Dickens Faire is a renaissance/medieval fair for those who wish they could wear corsets, speak in a strained Cockney accent, and drink mead every day, but can't because of societal constraints. For instance, once inside the Cow Palace, I saw, among others: a rough looking chimney sweep with ash and grease all over his face,* a six year old slutty pirate wench, a constable chasing a drunk, and several singing prostitutes.

Initially, I was confused as to what the point of the Dickens Faire was, but now, well...still kinda confused. I mean, there are "shops" where you can buy such practical items as corsets, wooden boxes, assorted spices, hair garlands, and mystical goddess paraphenalia (which was obviously super popular in the Victorian Age), and there were shows happening on various stages, but there was no main(e) event. I suppose the main event for me was probably ye olde pub, where I ordered a hot cider with rum. Yum.

After my cousin John and I got our drinks and Amanda bought some nuts in a paper cone, we went to look for Amanda's friend from work, a performer at the Faire who was the impetus for Amanda's suggestion that we go in the first place. We found her eventually (she was dressed as a singing whore) and she greeted us. The conversation went like this:

Amanda: Hi!

Singing whore friend: 'Ello, luv!

Amanda: So, um. Are you having fun?

SWF: Great fun, sweet 'eart! I'm just tickled you could come! Why don't you 'ave a seat righ' over there and watch the show?

Amanda: Oh, uh, okay.

That's right -- Amanda's friend didn't break character even when speaking to her friend and work colleague. Now that's commitment. And exceedingly weird.

We took Amanda's friend's advice and sat by the stage and watched a burlesque show unfold, which involved a fat lady with truly scary cleavage singing a song with a cucumber as a prop. Gross. And there were children in the audience! Kids grow up too fast in ye olde England, I think. After the show ended, we took another spin around the shops, gazed longingly at the meat pies being sold in the back, and then left because Amanda's eyes were red and watery. Her Dickens allergy really acts up this time of year.

Anyway, if you want the official line on the Dickens Faire, check out this link:

Judge for yourself. Cheerio!

*Also could have been a modern day homeless person.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Spinning 'round the world

I came to the realization today that I have done indoor cycling in four countries, in three languages. Not to brag or anything, but yeah, I know...pretty big accomplishment. Now ask me how many museums I have been to in various countries. Ummm....

Actually, spinning varies a lot from place to place, I've found. In Brazil, it's all about the bells and whistles. And the techno. The incessant, horrible techno. (* In Argentina, it's about harsh criticism and jutting collarbones. In Chile, it's about getting your ass kicked in a bright room. In the U.S., at least at the Harvard Law gym, it's about old people yelling out stuff and stirring up pointless competition with the other people in the room who also are on bikes that aren't actually going anywhere.

I have sort of a love-hate relationship with my spinning class here. Part of it is in my own fault -- I go to 7:15 AM spinning on Monday, Wednesday, and sometimes Friday. That time slot alone is going to guarantee a healthy percentage of psychos in any given exercise class. But the people who come to my spinning class bring things to an unexpected level of psychosis that is at once deeply pathetic and surprisingly irritating.

The class is made up of a hardcore group of "regulars," five or six of whom are in their mid-30s to late 40s, wear knee braces, give each other high-fives, and wear bandanas. They always sit in the back row of class and save each other bikes, even though that's not really necessary since they all tend to line up outside the spinning room at 6:50 before the instructor comes to unlock it.

At this point, you're probably thinking, "Okay, maybe they're just intense people and this is all they have, Stephanie. Maybe spinning is the bright spot on their otherwise empty and meaningless day and that's why they come to class half an hour early. Stop being such a judgmental b**** about it." Normally I'd probably agree with you -- and in a sense, I do believe that morning spinning is probably the highlight of each of these people's social lives. HOWEVER -- once class starts, whatever shred of empathy I had for them evaporates away, just as soon as the yelling starts.

The yelling? Oh yes -- the regulars are yellers. Sometimes they yell out actual words, like "LOVE IT," which is obviously an awful thing to yell out in any setting, but mostly they just make noises, like "WHOOooooP!" and "OOOweeee!" It's embarrassing. It makes me feel like I'm overhearing something shameful and sad. There's one middle aged lady who wears hoop earrings and chews gum the whole class who shrieks in a particularly grating way. There's another guy who ties a towel around his head and trash talks whatever row of bikes he's not in for the entire 55 minutes of class. ("That's the best you can do, front row? COME ON!")

Maybe the compassionate among you are still thinking, "That's not so bad. Those people are just expressing themselves. You know, the third rule of spinning is FUN, Stephanie. Why are you trying to begrudge them that, you hateful shrew?" My answer to you kind-hearted souls is -- because it's annoying as f***.

You see, when I'm trying to spin, which requires focusing, digging in, trying not to have a cardiac episode during particularly challenging "hills," the last thing I need to hear is "LOVE IT" or "WHOOOPPPP" or "BACK ROW KICKS ASS!" All I want to hear is the music. Oh, also, these people sing along to all the songs played in class, and one of them, the ringleader of the group, routinely requests a bizarre, hip-hop version of "Stayin' Alive" and then freaks out when it comes on.

Are you getting the picture here? At all?

Maybe some of you out there are big yellers and singers and trash talkers in spinning class, too. I know I won't get through to you, because you're insane. But for the rest of you, unless you're like me and can handle some serious, hardcore annoyance with your indoor cycling, don't drop into the 7:15 spin classes at Hemenway. Don't say I didn't warn you.

*Except for the one time my Brazilian spin instructor, Marcelo, played "Namibian Girl" every day for a week or so. That was weird.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


I know this is sort of (really) old news, but can we talk about how disgustingly thin Carson Daly has become? Listen, Carson, it's okay not to be a size zero!

Hollywood puts SO much pressure on men to fit into those skinny jeans. Meanwhile Jennifer Love Hewitt can let herself completely balloon up to a size two and no one says ANYTHING about it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Writing machine.

Hi. I am trying to finish up my last final and it's hard -- not because I am stressed out, but because it's not due till the 19th (the day I leave for Christmas break) and without some sort of evil deadline hanging over my head, I have been content to write approximately 1 sentence per hour for like, two hours a day. Actually, let's be more realistic -- this is how the writing of this final has been progressing:

1. Write one sentence.
2. Stare out window.
3. Go on facebook -- switch off between my 13 active Scrabulous games and general stalking of various people who actually aren't that interesting.
4. Write another sentence.
5. Eat something chocolatey.
6. Go back on facebook.
7. Read Perez Hilton. Quietly mourn the passing of Ike Turner.
8. Back to facebook.
9. Shut down faceook in a burst of willpower.
10. Re-open facebook.
11. Contemplate writing another sentence.
12. Stare out window.
13. Eat something fatty.
14. Make a cup of tea.
15. Read old emails I have written to people and laugh at my own wit.
16. Write another sentence.
17. Turn on TV. Watch re-run of MTV's "Made: I want to be attractive!" Then get sucked into re-run of "Made: I want to be well-liked!"
18. Damn it. Facebook.
19. Cursorily read headlines of New York Times. Inevitably drift to the Style section. Read article about some, yet un-talked about aspect of bipolar disorder. Wonder who chooses what articles go in the Style section.
20. Google "who chooses articles in NYT Style Section."
21. End up on Wikipedia. (*Three hours pass*)
22. Back to facebook.
23. Write another sentence.
24. Notice that all my sentences start with the word "this." Change one to "the."

I'm sure this paper will get done eventually. I just have to do it on my own time. Anyway, gotta go now, it's 7:54 and season finale of America's Next Top Model is coming on, so, you know. Bye.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Fleetwood wack

Some people are men of few words. My dad is a man of few CDs. I am pretty sure his collection consists of the following artists: John Denver, Chicago, and Fleetwood Mac. I am with Dad all the way on the Chicago (not even Boyz II Men can do that band justice), but I will never understand the Fleetwood Mac thing.

First of all, what does Fleetwood Mac even mean? Oh, it's someone's name? Oh... okay, so that mystery's solved, I guess. But I have other, deeper issues with Fleetwood Mac. Like, if you're going to write a song with a big declaratory statement as the chorus, maybe you should make sure that the statement is actually true and not completely false. I am referring, of course, to the song "Dreams," and its insistence that "thunder only happens when it rains." No, it doesn't. Sometimes it thunders when it's not raining, and I resent them trying to tell me otherwise.

Third: if -- speaking hypothetically of course -- your name is Stephanie, why would you go by Stevie? Traitor.

So, as evidenced by the three aforementioned reasons, Fleetwood Mac is awful.

My dad's still cool, though.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Monday, November 26, 2007

Karaoke, cowboy hats, and identity crises

This needs to be blogged about, and the only reason I waited a full two days to do it is because I was on a plane for most of one of those days, and had no internet access. Okay. So here goes.

I went out in San Francisco on the day after Thanksgiving with my dear friend John Y. and his lovely roommate Jon S. We had a delicious dinner at Kan Zeman, followed by some rather frightening (but impressive!) belly dancing by the mysterious Michelle, who was able to balance a sword on her head and spin around without the sword flying off and impaling us diners as we ate our falafel and dolmas. J, J and I speculated over whether Michelle had some sort of sword-supporting ridge in her skull, or whether she had installed a small "hijab krampon" into her head covering to hold that sword aloft. It remains a mystery.

After dinner, ice cream at Ben & Jerry's, and some mild harassment by a tambourine-wielding band of "homeless by choice" gatorade hippies on Haight St., we went to the Mint, a slightly gay karaoke bar. We were enjoying the performances (including a deeply non-ironic rendition of "My Heart Will Go On" by a preppy, chubby guy whose register fell somewhat short of Celine's) when we heard someone singing enthusiastically (and loudly) behind us. We turned around to see an Asian guy in a button-down shirt who had been on stage a few minutes earlier with a creepy, Matthew McConnaghey-esque white guy in a cowboy hat, singing Chattahoochie.

The exchange that followed went exactly like this, except every time the Asian guy talked he used the expletive "mo***r f***ing" every other word or so. So just add that part in your head:

Asian Guy: Where are y'all from?

Me: I'm from Michigan.

AG: I'm from Central Florida. You know what it's called down there? The Redneck Riviera. And let me tell you, I'm the biggest redneck in the world.

Me, John and Jon: *blank stares*

AG: And you know what the funny part is? Down there I'm the (*racial slur*) but up here, I'm the redneck.

Me: That's interesting.

AG: Yeah. Where are you from? (To John)

J: I'm from Texas.

AG: TEXAS! White power, bro.

And he held out his fist.

At this point, the three of us wondered if one of us should gently break the news to this dude that he is, in fact, not white. And, perhaps, that he's in the middle of a gay karaoke bar in San Francisco. Probably not a whole lot of klansmen in the crowd to back him up if things got ugly, you know what I mean? John handled it gracefully by sticking out his hand instead and saying something like, "HEY, handshake!"

After the Asian white power guy got dragged away by his cowboy-hatted friend, my friends and I sat there a bit stunned. Then I was forcefully reminded of the Dave Chappelle sketch about the blind Klansman, Clayton Bigsby. Offensive, be warned:

Man. The world is a weird place.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Turkey Lurkey

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! That includes you teenage boys in Sweden who just googled "Brasilian wax," expecting something else, and ended up here. I hope you're all writing in your Oprah-inspired gratitude journals right now. And, if you aren't, please do so soon, because it's never good to disobey Oprah's orders. I, for one, am sitting on the couch watching the Macy's Thanksgiving parade and considering leaving soon for my annual Thanksgiving run.

It's wonderful being in San Francisco for Thanksgiving -- it's 65 degrees, sunny, and clear. I went out on my parents' back porch this morning and could see the Golden Gate bridge and the ocean sparkling in the sun. What a change from all those frigid Thanksgivings I spent in Michigan, watching the snow swirling around the half-frozen Detroit parade participants on TV. I guess there's something cozy about sitting inside with a big hunk of turkey with snow falling outside. But there's something way better about putting on a pair of shorts and running down to the beach on Thanksgiving and then coming back and watching people being cold somewhere else.

My dad, who is also sitting here watching the parade, is convinced that the Thanksgiving anchor lady who is narrating the parade on TV is chemically enhanced. "She's doped up! Look at her!" he insists. I think he might be right. But who are we to judge? She's just bringing the Thanksgiving cheer to national TV, that's all. Dad just interjected, "This gal is loopty-loop!"

May you all have loopy and delicious Thanksgiving days!

Friday, November 09, 2007

I see you, gay Dumbledore!

I saw this on the Onion today -- tee hee.*

*For those of you who've been living under the one rock where Harry Potter hasn't been translated into the local language, this article is making fun of the fact that J.K. Rowling recently announced that Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts, was gay. That explains those purple robes, right?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The day I realized I was old.

So much has happened since I last wrote.

I went to Miami. I went to DC. I dressed as a (non-slutty but semi-frisky) pirate. I turned 25. I realized I was old.

The day I realized I was old just happened to be the day after my 25th birthday. The "I'm old" epiphany was not necessarily connected to the fact that I had made it 25 times around the sun just one day before; that was just a coincidence.

Here's what happened. I went to New York for my birthday and stayed with the twins. It was all fun and games until Sunday, the day after my birthday, when Julia, Claire, Jake and I were having brunch at the neighborhood diner after a night of Birthdayween revelry. I was drinking a cup of coffee out of a white coffee cup. I took a sip, put my cup down on the saucer, and there it was -- a lipstick mark on the rim of my coffee cup. That's when it hit me -- I'm old. I'm a lady who leaves lipstick marks on coffee cups. That's it. Once that happens, there's no going back. You're old.

I'm surprisingly okay with this realization. Age ain't nothin' but a number, right? I mean, okay, I'm not saying if you come back to me in five years I won't be freaking the F out, but let's cross that bridge when we come to it.

Closing note: I must apologize for being gone from el mundo de blogging for so long, but it was fly-out week (that magical week when the law firms fly us law students to their offices for rounds of callback interviews) and I was jet-setting all over the place. You know how it is. So now I'm back, ensconced in my apartment in Cambridge, back to the grind. So I'll be better about blogging now, seriously.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Viva la polo shirt

Okay, so the fact that Castro is "alive" is old news (since, as you know, I post every article about his public "appearances" on my blog) but this article, describing his latest public outing in Santa Clara, has a little something extra:

The audience in Santa Clara included Cuba’s vice president, Carlos Lage, dressed in a red polo shirt decorated with a Che logo, and Venezuela’s foreign minister, Nicolás Maduro.

Why is this excerpt even remotely interesting? Because my dear friend Suraj and I have had a running joke that we should market Che polo shirts. This joke, by the by, has been repeated ad nauseum by yours truly, even when not funny anymore, whenever any mention of Che t-shirts comes up, which is (not surprisingly) often when you travel in Latin America/frequent hostels/associate with Gatorade hippies.

So, the idea is, instead of having a little polo player or alligator or whatever embroidered on the breast of the polo shirt, we'd have a little version of that iconic picture of Che. See below, since it's highly possible that you've never seen this image before*:

Well, looks like the communists beat us to our genius marketing scheme. As they tend to do. And they have officially killed our clever joke, now that it's become a reality, thanks to Carlos Lage. Dang enterprising Cubans!

Now Suraj and I need to revise our idea and come up with some other obnoxious, yuppie market we can exploit by putting Che's pictures on its products. Perhaps we can start a line of Che cookware sold at Williams Sonoma? Or Che bedclothes available exclusively at Pottery Barn? Then again, patrons of those places might fall outside of our target age demographic. How can we best take advantage of the total and dumbfounding lack of irony among the current Che tee shirt-wearing set? This is a puzzler.

Please post any and all marketing ideas here. Viva la revolución.

*If you live on Mars.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Latent cooking skillz

I just ate a lot of frosting, from a can, and the concentrated sugar/lard mixture that's now rapidly pooling in my arteries has stirred my creativity and inspired me to blog. About food.

The most useful thing I've learned this school year so far is not, as one might think, some dumb legal thing, but something far, far more valuable -- I've learned how to make pancakes. And macaroni and cheese. And several varieties of cookie. Okay, to be accurate, I already "knew" how to do all of this stuff -- that is, I knew how to read from the back of a box. Sort of. I mean, okay, I actually did know how to bake cookies, but I am listing it here as a newfound skill because it adds to my point that I am rapidly becoming really domestic. Seriously domestic. Future husband, take note -- I make BLUEBERRY PANCAKES. That's right. Pancakes. With blueberries. Please see photographic proof below:

Elise and I have been honing our mutual domesticity since moving in together. Part of this stems from the weird, marriage-like relationship we've fallen into, in which somehow, against my will, I have been designated the husband and Elise has designated herself the wife. This is something we need to work out between us, so I won't get into it here. Our marital issues are not for public airing.

So, some of you may be thinking, "Wait, Steph, just because you can open a box of Bisquick and pour some milk into it doesn't make you a cook. Any idiot can do that." And my answer to you people is, Yes, but can any idiot add blueberries? NO. That takes true cooking creativity. That takes zazz.

Also, let us not forget that this summer, the two members of Club Stariella whipped up a lavish feast (with absurdly expensive pine nuts! we must never overlook those pine nuts!) for a bunch of people, and NOTHING came out of a box. Except the pasta. But come on. Making your own pasta is for yuppies. And Italians, I guess.

And did I mention that my gastronomic skills are not limited to the realm of food? That's right, I make drinks too. Look below for a picture of the sangria that Elise and I created for our party at the beginning of the school year. Tell me you don't want to slurp some of that down right now. TELL ME TO MY FACE.

Anyway I hope this post didn't come off as "braggy," what with all the pictures and the bragging, but I think it's important. Back in the olden days, I probably would have been judged harshly on the basis of my ability to make ye olde mac 'n cheese. I bet if you made crappy food back then, you got married off to the village cross-eyed guy. And wasn't poor butter churning grounds for being burnt at the stake as a witch? The point is, culinary finesse is important. Always has been. That's why I am polishing my domestic skills.

Eat your heart out, Donna Reid.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A message to you, Boston

Hey Boston. You're on notice. Remember how I wrote that glowing -- well, almost glowing -- post a little while ago saying about how I'd reconsidered my dislike of Boston and its inhabitants based on some mildly positive experiences I've had this year? Don't make me go back on that, Boston.

Today, while running around Fresh Pond, I was reminded, once again, of how cold and unfriendly certain people can be around here. Maybe this is just a yuppie Cambridge thing, but why, WHY are runners here incapable of smiling back or at least nodding when they pass each other? I noticed this phenomenon when I first visited Harvard back during my senior year of college, when I went running along the Charles and no one returned my little smiles or nods. And, to add (potential) injury to insult, two separate people let their dogs lunge at me. One lady even laughed. Totally evil, right? It was particularly traumatic for a rabies-averse girl like myself. And I know I have moaned about this before, but come on. It takes more muscles to frown, Boston!

During my run today, I started off smiling/nodding and occasionally waving at every runner I passed. Here's the conclusion I reached about halfway around the pond: every woman in Cambridge is a b****. Notice I said "woman." The men were slightly friendlier. Funny how that works. Anyway, the Ma**hole factor was kind of annoying but what really irked me was that every single dog at that damn pond was unleashed. What is it with people here? Do they WANT their dogs to bite people? Is that what it takes to make Cambridge residents smile? Well too bad, because I'm not taking that bullet again.

So there you go, Boston/Cambridge. You've been warned. Don't let me down.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Castro proves he's alive - or a zombie

So Castro appeared on TV today and quoted the price of oil and referenced the strength of the euro against the dollar, which would seem to suggest that he is, in fact, alive. Maybe.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Living the dream

In second grade, we got to make a list of all the things we wished we could do every day -- this meant foods we'd eat, places we'd go, rooms we'd have in our house. I think my list tilted heavily towards horses, ice cream sandwiches, and bouncy castles. I was thinking back recently on the ideal life I imagined for myself a seven year old and realized, suddenly, why children should not be able to make major life decisions or have credit cards. If I were permitted to live my dreams at age seven, which included, among other things, eating Eskimo Pies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and installing a water slide in my parents' house, I would be morbidly obese, toothless, jobless, and probably broke. But dammit, I'd be happy.

As you grow up, you reevaluate what an ideal life entails, of course. I have gradually moved away from the life dreams entailing a diet consisting entirely of Klondike products -- although I haven't let go completely of that one -- towards goals that involve the type of work I want to do, the city I want to live in, the company I want to keep. Big stuff. Adult stuff.

On the other hand, I think that seven-year-old yearning to have my own horse and water slide (and perhaps horse-accessible water slide?) still figures in there somehow. What lies at the core of those seven-year old desires is not the cost or the elaborateness of the stuff, but the fact that going down a slide is fun. Riding a horse is really fun. Eating ice cream till your teeth rot out is perhaps the most fun.

The thing is, the stuff -- that is, the specific items or activities -- that makes you happy when you're seven may change, but that core hankering for finding happiness in simple fun doesn't. When I was seven, I enjoyed spinning around in my mom's office chair till I was so dizzy I fell over. I also liked climbing on my friend's garage roof and jumping off into the bushes. Also fun: riding my bike "no hands" down hills, towards traffic. You know, the simple things. To be fair, I wasn't a completely reckless child. I also enjoyed latch-hooking. Anyway, the point of all this is that 24-year-old Stephanie may not be able to spend hours spinning in a chair without some serious vomit issues arising, but the basic impulse to do goofy things remains.

Being goofy probably gets harder as you get older and consequently have a lot of pressure riding on the choices you make. If you're seven and you knock your teeth out going down your personal water slide, so what? You didn't need those teeth anyway. If you're 24 and you show up to work toothless because you fell down the stairs trying to rig a slip'n'slide from your bedroom to the backyard, you're in trouble. And probably fired.

Beyond that, adults are expected to have more high-minded leisure activities than kids do. That's fair. As an adult, I can appreciate -- and truly enjoy -- things that would have bored me into stupification as a child. However, if you don't have a few fun activities ("fun-tivities") as an adult -- by that, I mean things that you do because they are just FUN, not because they enrich your mind or make you look cool to the dude in the beret you met at that gallery opening -- something is missing. I don't mean this to be an "when I am an old bat, I shall wear red" type post -- may God strike me dead if I ever veer into that territory -- I just don't want us to forget about fun. Remember, fun comes in many forms -- no one's here to judge. Just don't let it pass you by. Go get on that slip'n'slide and live it up!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Change of haaaht

Something occurred to me the other day - I don't hate Boston as much as I used to. I think this is a function of several factors:

1. It has not started snowing yet - my fingers, toes, and mental health remain intact!

2. I spent the summer in a city whose inhabitants make the most hardened Massholes look like Walmart greeters in comparison.

3. I'm kinda warming up to the loud, brash Boston-ite thing.

The first factor will obviously be null and void within the next week or so, when I will most likely rekindle my hatred for the frozen sludgefest that is Cambridge in the fall/winter/spring. But the other two things -- those could stick.

I started to realize that I don't actually despise Boston people the other day when the Comcast guy came over to rectify the completely f-ed up cable and internet situation in our apartment. He was a big guy wearing a baseball cap and looked like he could probably fix anything, ever, with his bare hands and some wire clippers. I felt comforted by his presence as he put a hole in our wall and swore enthusiastically at the crappy quality of the wiring in our apartment. He told me a story about Stah-bucks, and how, upon his only visit there, he refused to call a "laahge f***ing coffee" a "venti" and told the Stah-bucks employees where to stick their fake-o Italian phraseology. Now he just sticks to Dunkin Donuts, where a laahge is just a laahge.

I liked the Comcast guy. He fixed our cable and he hates Starbucks, so he gets some major points on both those counts, and I found his Boston accent and constant use of the f-word comforting and endearing. Then, the other day, as Elise and I were studying in our living room with the windows open, we heard some dudes on the street below yelling congenially at each other in thick Boston accents. One of them was talking about something funny he saw and he said it was "high-larious." High-larious! I loved hearing that pronunciation of hilarious and think I might pronounce it that way from now on. Not sure if that's actually a Boston thing, but I am gonna say it is and chalk another point up to my newfound appreciation for this place.

I think this Boston appreciation has its limits though. Can't foresee myself liking -- or remotely caring about -- the Red Sox. Still don't like people being rude to me in customer service situations -- smiling is not going to kill you, nasty lady behind every single counter in Boston. Oh, and I still actively hate the cab system here - let's not even get into that. And I obviously despise being cold. But, you know, my attitude on Boston is improving little by little. Let's take things slow.

Monday, September 10, 2007

An end to laziness

Hi readers. I must apologize for my recent lack of bloggage. I know, I know, it's NOT okay to post two links in a row and pretend you're actually blogging. Shameful. I should be disbarred from the blar association. That was me trying to combine "bar" with "blog." Blar. ANYWAY. My excuse for not writing is that I just got back to Harvard last week and have been readjusting to the life of a law student. This readjustment process has mainly consisted of daily buying unnecessary items at the drug store (it's good to be back, CVS), drinking beer, and reading Perez Hilton's ongoing, riveting coverage of Britney Spears' flabby performance at the VMA's. (

Unfortunately I don't have any exciting news to report. My life has been busy with stuff that people probably don't care to read about: doling out magnanimous and perhaps dangerous advice to undergrads who want to apply to law school, bidding on law firms for upcoming on-campus interviews, going to class, blah blah blah. I guess I kinda just forced you to read about it despite is non-noteworthiness.

The only cool thing I've done recently is throw a party at the apartment on Saturday with my now-roommate, Elise. The party clearly deserved an entire (would-be-study) day of preparation and an obscene amount of money spent on booze. We made sangria and jello shots, and I think we kept the people happy. The only drawback was the fact that it was approximately the temperature of a sauna (... in the Amazon. . . in hell) in our apartment and people were sweating buckets. The best cure for dehydration is, of course, alcohol, so everyone came out of it okay. Whew. Somehow the night wound up with the remaining guests, most of us with jello chunks stuck in our teeth, trapising into Harvard Square to a bar, and then to IHOP at approximately 4 in the morning. And people say Boston isn't as cool as New York -- yo, big deal that Butter stays open till 4 -- I'd like to see where the Olsen twins are gonna go if they want a spinach omelette at 3:50 AM.

My IHOP omelette was delicious, by the way. What better way to end a night? Oh, this way -- come home to your apartment and eat all the remaining party food while talking about nonsense with your roommate until 6 AM, which is what Elise and I did. I really believe that splitting that bowl of beer nuts helped us both wake up feeling bright and chipper the next morning. Seriously.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

"Conscience of a Conservative"

This article in today's New York Times about Jack Goldsmith is absolutely fascinating.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Is Castro dead?

Rumors are swirling.

Exciting times for Cuba up ahead, gente.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Ready, set, summarize!

Since I promised in my latest post that I would try to give a bit more detail on the last few weeks of my life, I feel like I need to be a woman of my word and belly up to the bar and suck it up and pull myself up by my bootstraps and do the damn thing. Or whatever. If I tried to write about everything that went on since I finished up work on Aug. 3 (almost a month ago!) this post would be so long it'd be Harry Potter 8, so I am going to give you a higlights reel of my last weeks in Argentina.


I finished work and turned in my 26 page research paper (en castellano!) on institutional reform litigation. What a feeling. Then, I ran around the city for a few days tying up loose ends, going to the gym, and sleeping a shedload in an effort to recover from the sickness that I finally contracted after having a subte full of porteños cough in my hair for the last 2 months. On the 8th, Suraj got into town (from Colombia) and Ariella and I threw our last shindig at Club Stariella. It was quite epic - we cooked a Mediterranean themed dinner and had 12 peeps (más o menos) over to eat it. The highlight of the meal, even if no one else noticed it, had to be the absurdly expensive pine nuts in the pasta sauce, which were lovingly purchased from the Arab market across the street by yours truly. In case any of you are interested in pine nut futures, in Buenos Aires, pine nuts (piñones) cost $200 AR(about $70 USD) per kilogram. I am pretty sure you can get cocaine for a cheaper price than that, but pine nuts probably taste better in a tomato sauce. Maybe.

On the 9th, Karen showed up, and S, K and I embarked on a whirlwind tour of Buenos Aires. We walked all over the city one day - we went from my house in Palermo Viejo to the Recoleta cemetery, all through Recoleta to Congreso, then to Plaza de Mayo, then back through San Telmo, and then we took the subte back towards Palermo. Later, Karen looked in a guide book to see what they recommended people do in Buenos Aires, and they suggested the one-day walk we did, spread out over five days. Wimps!! The rest of our time in Buenos was spent eating delicious meals and drinking fantastic wine. Oh, and clubbing like whoa. On Sunday, we packed up the departamento and caught a flight to Cordoba. See below.


We arrived in Cordoba with big plans to do a lot of stuff, but mostly we just slept. And went horseback riding. But mostly slept. Horseback riding was fun - a lady named Belén picked us up in her funky car and drove us to a ranch outside of the city where we went on a ride, and then we came back to an outdoor asado. We also went to a restaurant where Suraj devoured what looked like an entire goat on a plate. Yum.


We rented a car -- more specifically, a Corsa -- in Cordoba and hit the road to Mendoza. On the way we passed through la Valle de los Condores (valley of the condors!) and stopped for almuerzo at an almost abandoned road-side restaurant that looked over a canyon where the condors flew. At least, I think they were condors. Maybe they were vultures. Let's say they were condors. There was also a parrot in a cage. So a very bird-y place, which made Suraj supremely nervous, and for good reason ("they peck your eyes out"). After lunch we continued on the road to Mendoza, stopping in a few towns that had been recommended highly to us, all of which sucked.

Along the way, Suraj taught K and I how to drive a stick shift. This was a huge accomplishment for me, because I was pretty sure I'd drive the car off a cliff and we'd all end up being eaten by "condors." But happily, Karen and I were both natural stick-drivers, and Suraj was a good teacher. I did stall out in the middle of a little town that we drove through, but that was because I felt intimidated by the stoplights and other drivers and stuff. But if anyone ever needs me to drive a stick shift on a flat road with no other cars and/or any other sensory distractions, I am all over it.

We arrived in Mendoza and bunked at a slightly weird hostel called Itaka House, where the front desk guy brought us two sets of sheets and two towels and then said he was "too tired" to bring us the extra set. Hm. The next day, we switched to the Mendoza Inn and decided to go on another driving adventure. We ended up driving from Mendoza City all the way to the border with Chile, which meant we went into the Andes and passed a lot of really astonishing scenery. I have driven through the Andes before -- several times, actually -- in a bus on my way back and forth from Santiago, but to see it first-hand, up-close was a whole otra cosa. On a few occasions, we got out of the car and frolicked in the snow until my appendages started to lose feeling (approx. 30 seconds) and we took a shedload of pictures. One of the coolest things we saw was the Puente del Inca, a really cool looking ice bridge very close to the border with Chile.

After our Andean roadtrip, we embarked on a self-directed wine-tasting adventure. Here's the thing about doing your own wine tour in Mendoza -- don't. We got lost in an approx. 2 square-mile area for close to three hours, seriously, before finding the first winery, which we reached only after following an elaborate (and wildly inaccurate) set of directions provided by a guy in a gas station ("turn right at the Girafa gas station, then make an S. Then go 4 blocks. Then make another S. Then turn right. Then do another S"). Turns out in Mendoza 4 blocks actually means 12 blocks, and "S" actually means "T." Pero bueno. We finally arrived, ravenous, at La Rural, our first winery, and devoured an overpriced, mediocre lunch, only to discover that the winery wasn't doing tastings that day. Awesome. So we packed into the Corsa and drove to the next winery, in which the tasting consisted of one sip each of a crappy Cabernet that we didn't get to choose, in a room that was so frigid we had to wear gloves and hoods. Trying to make the best of it, we bought a bottle of Malbec, and were told that we weren't allowed to drink it in the winery. Huh?! I think the lady took pity on us shivering gringoes and allowed us to each have a glass from the (crappy) bottle we had just bought. Mercifully, after that things improved markedly. We went to two fabulous wineries and tasted a variety of fantastic wines. We felt like big spenders in the last winery, La Cerna, and bought a bottle of artesanal Malbec-Syrah (one of only 1200 bottles)for $80 pesos (less than $30 USD). That night we brought it to a tapas restaurant near out house and paid the $7 peso corkage fee to drink it with our paella and pan de campo. Delicious.

S left Mendoza on Friday morning and Karen and I faced the (scary) prospect of getting new roommates in the hostel. The guy at the front desk told us that there were "dos chicos" from the room next door that would be moving into our room. We feared the worst, since the only people I had seen emerging from the room next door appeared to be aging heroin users/kidnappers, but we lucked out and got two normal roommates, Ryan and Megan. They were down to earth, funny, and not in the kidnapping business, so, pretty much all you can ask for in a hostel roommate.

On Saturday, K and I decided to do something semi-adventurous and go on the hostel's "trekking" and rappelling excursion. Trekking in Argentina actually means hiking, but I guess there is that added element of adventure since the safety standards probably aren't completely what they should be. Example: the guide had us hike up a little mountain covered in ice, which would have been fine, except that our group consisted of a bunch of completely unprepared (and drunk) Europeans, many of whom were wearing shiny Puma sneakers and fitted peacoats -- not exactly the get-up you want to be attacking the foothills of the Andes in, right? Some of the girls showed up with full faces of makeup and one of them was carrying a purse. A PURSE. To go RAPPELLING. Karen and I, in our North Face jackets and ski gloves, looked on in disdain.

We hiked/tripped up the hill and then hiked/slid back down, then we rappelled down three cliffs to get back to where we started. Rappelling was a new experience for me. For those who don't know, it involves walking backwards down a cliff with a rope and a harness. It's pretty easy in the great scheme of things but still freaky enough that I don't feel embarrassed about bragging that I did it. Obviously. The last cliff we descended was about 45 meters, so almost 150 feet. It was fun for about 75 feet. The last 75 I could have done without, to be completely honest. It was like, okay, enough already. Anyhoo, after rappelling down the last cliff, we waited, freezing, at the bottom for all of the boozy Europeans to make their way down, and then finally went to some indoor hot springs. Hot springs have saved me from frostbite in South America twice now. God bless them!

So, that was Mendoza in a nutshell. Karen and I spent the rest of our time there eating, relaxing, and huddling for warmth, since every day in Mendoza seemed to get colder and colder until it was just ludicrously cold and we were both ready to depart for warmer climes. All in all, a great trip -- I think we did almost every type of activity there is to do there (except skiing, but who needs it) and saw every sight there was to see, and more. GO US.

Now, as I mentioned in my last post, I'm in São Paulo. My co-researchers and I just got back from a sushi rodizio dinner, which reminded me of my 9 months of utter sushi gluttony in this city. Those were the days! Alright, I am fast going into sushi coma and must go to bed. Good to be back!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Little by little

This blog entry is like one of those emails you (I) send to your (my) parents just to say that you're alive, since it's been a while and they are picturing you dead on the side of the road with tire tracks on your face.

So HI, I'm alive!

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind. Let me summarize in a really obnoxious, one-paragraph-with-minimal-explanation kind of way: I finished work at my NGO, my friend Suraj came down from the US, Ariella and I threw one last awesome dinner party at Club Stariella, my friend Karen arrived from the US, the three of us drank and ate our way through Buenos Aires for a few days, we flew to Cordoba, we slept (a lot) we went horseback riding, we rented a car and drove from Cordoba to Mendoza, S taught K and I how to drive a stick shift, we got to Mendoza and went on a roadtrip into the Andes and crossed the border into Chile just for the hell of it, we saw an ice bridge, we organized our own wine tasting trip (semi-successful), Suraj left, Karen and I went "trekking" (hiking) with a group of unprepared (and possibly drunk) Europeans, we rappelled down a few cliffs, we froze our asses off and then visited some much-needed hot springs, we chowed down at an asado, no one showered for a few days because the hostel showers were so putrid, K went to the bus station, I went to the airport, I flew to Brazil, I got held up in Guarulhos airport in São Paulo for several hours while attempting to pay the ginormous fine I had racked up from overstaying my visa last year, I arrived at the hotel in São Paulo, I tried to recoup my Portuguese, and here I am, sitting in the hotel lobby in São Paulo, updating my blog.

So, I should probably write more detailed posts about each of the things I mentioned above, and I'll get around to it eventually, but right now I am so exhausted from attempting to think, speak and write in Portuguese all day (after three months of near-immersion en castellano), that I just can't do it. Don't give up on me, though, I'll be back soon.

Tchauzinho e até logo!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Cuba update from the New York Times

Thought I'd share this interesting article my dad sent me from the NY Times re: the political situation in Cuba with the balance of power between Raúl and Fidel.

Enyoy, all you Cubafanaticos like me.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

BOTNIA, Alfonsín and more

This has been a busy week. I saw a paper mill, I went to Uruguay, I met another former President of Argentina, and visited a former clandestine detention center. I will write about the detention center, la ESMA, in a separate post.

On Wednesday, we went to the Río Uruguay (the river that forms a border between Argentina and Uruguay) to look at the giant paper mill that is being completed there on the Uruguayan side of the river. The mill was built by a Finnish company, Botnia, and was the subject of massive protests on the Argentine side of the river, both from the local community of Gualeguaychú and from the provincial government of Entre Rios and even the Argentine national government. Despite all the protests, which included road blockages and several massive demonstrations, the World Bank funded the project and now there is a huge mill in the Uruguayan town of Fray Bentos. For some background info on all of this, see:

We started on the Argentine side, in the town of Gualeguaychú, and spoke to people at the local NGO who had opposed the mill since its inception. Since we have been studying NGO advocacy strategies, it was very interesting to hear these people's perspective on the situation and their ideas about how to proceed now that the mill has been funded and built. Their posture was, simply, that they opposed the mill and the global system that allowed the mill to come into existence, and they refused to negotiate with anyone in that system. Okay, fine, we law students thought when we heard this, but the mill's there. It's going to open in a month or so and is already pumping crazy, cancer-causing chemicals into the river. As an organization opposing this, wouldn't it be useful to think of a legal strategy to gain some ground against Botnia so that they have to make some concessions about using better environmental technologies in the mill?

It's a complicated problem, to be sure, but it seems to me that there are some fairly strong legal arguments that environmental NGOs and the Argentine government could pursue now. For example, Uruguay and Argentina have a bilateral treaty that says that each country must consult the other before taking any action that would negatively affect the Uruguay River. If Uruguay failed to follow procedure and consult the Argentine government before contracting with Botnia, then the mill is in violation of an international treaty and there must be some legal remedies available. But the people at the NGO we talked to seemed pretty stuck on the position that they were anti-"the system." Well, aren't we all. But realistically, you have to work within that system to get anything done, whether you approve of the system itself or not. Morally opposing the idea of socially irresponsible international project finance isn't going to make those practices disappear, but you can work within a legal framework to either give those companies incentives to change or else punish them for not meeting their legal obligations.

After we spoke with the NGO people, we drove to the road block, where we encountered some locals who control what traffic goes through to the bridge. I didn't really understand how the block worked, to be honest, but our professor spoke to the people -- I guess he told them we opposed the mill? -- and they let us through. We drove over the bridge spanning the river and got our first sight of the paper mill on the other side of the bank. The Botnia mill itself is a pretty awful sight. It's a massive, sprawling complex perched on the bank of an otherwise beautiful river (which is situated in an area that used to be devoted mainly to tourism, incidentally). There were clouds of smoke billowing out from a tall chimney, non-stop. Next to the mill were huge piles of wood, waiting to be turned into woodchips. The man who accompanied us over the bridge told us as we stared out over the brown water at the complex that now there is dioxin in the river, since it's a by-product of the mill's processes. Dioxin. The same stuff that ate away the face of that Ukranian politician who was poisoned. In the water. This is not good.

We drove across to Fray Bentos, Uruguay. After a long customs process which involved us walking back and forth a few feet between several desks in an otherwise empty customs office, we took a remis (shady taxi van) into the town and talked to some people on the street. The first person we approached was a lady on a blue moped who, it turns out, happened to work at the mill. She was highly enthusiastic about the papelera (paper mill) and explained that the reason the Argentines opposed it was because they were jealous that Botnia chose to build in Uruguay instead of in Argentina. In other words, the Argentines are just sore that they are missing out on the industry and the job creation and all the talk about contamination and disease is just propaganda. Well, we thought, maybe this lady is just exceptional because she works in the mill. But no. The next few people we talked to all said pretty much the same thing: they were happy about the mill because it will create jobs for Uruguayans and they don't think the contamination is a real threat.

After our mini-field research session, we got back into our van and took a spin around the town, because I wanted to see the Barrio Finlandés (the neighborhood where all the Finnish employees of Botnia live). It was a little, isolated neighborhood of brand-new, pre-fab houses with green lawns and barbecue pits out back. It's weird thinking about Finnish people being in Uruguay. Anyway. Interesting day and a lot to think about.

Now, onto Alfonsín. Raúl Alfonsín was the first democratic president of Argentina after the military dictatorship. Before he became President he was a human rights activist and it was under his administration that the trials of the military leaders began. All good, but he also passed two really controversial laws (which were recently struck down by the Supreme Court) that slowed the trials of the military leaders. The reason for this was because Alfonsín was under a lot of pressure from military and right-wing factions to roll back the trials. Hm.

So, Alf (as I will refer to him for the rest of this post out of sheer laziness) invited us to his apartment to chat with him on Thursday afternoon. He's 80 years old and reminded me of a kindly grandpa. He talked about his grandkids and told us little anecdotes about his trips to the U.S. Cute. We did get to ask him some human rights questions and overall the meeting was interesting. More warm and fuzzy than anything else, since afterwards he showed us pictures of himself with various political figures and let us see his library, and he called all the girls querida. style="font-style:italic;"> Aw, Alf. It was fun meeting him. Pretty f-ing cool that I got to meet two former Presidents of this country in less than three months. Go Harvard.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

God doesn't want us to go to Uruguay

This week's edition of our continuing saga of attempting to take the ferry to Colonia: we didn't miss the boat, but we chose not to go to the port, because when we woke up it was raining, gray and horrible here, and the weather report for Colonia said it was 50 degrees with showers. Gwoss. So, Ariella spent a good while on the phone this morning with a semi-idiotic Buquebus employee attempting to change our tickets to next weekend until it was eventually revealed that we never had tickets to begin with since there was a problem with processing the credit card. Awesome. I am interpreting this second failure to go to Uruguay as a clear sign that it was not meant to be. Yet something tells me we're going to keep trying.

Now we're sitting in Freddo, the chic ice cream/coffee shop in our neighborhood that has big couches, mood lighting, and low fat milk. Ré-Americano, ¿no? Anyway it's shaping up to be one of those habitual Buenos Aires lazy Sundays where I do pretty much nothing besides put caffeine and food into my body and read. Here is a picture of me drinking a cafe con leche today:

Notice how the picture's in black and white? That's because I'm SO bohemian, pictures with color just make me sick.

Umm okay, back to reading an article in the New York Times about juvenile sex offenders. The plan for the rest of the day is to sit around, read, and then Ariella and I are going to go see "La Vie en Rose," a French movie about some French lady or something. It's supposed to be good. It's either that or Ratatouille, and I am trying to be more erudite in my film choices, although Ratatouille did get an absolutely glowing review in the NYT a few weeks ago. I swear!

To be honest, though, seeing kids' movies in Spanish can sort of suck all the fun out of things. Take, for example, last week when John and I decided to dress up as Harry and Hermoine and go to the premiere of Harry Potter y la Orden del Fénix. Not only were we the only ones with wands in the theater, but the movie was terribly complex and I was completely lost, although that might have been a function of the 2 glasses of wine I had before putting on my Gryffyndor scarf. Maybe I shouldn't be publicizing this on the internet. Hmmm. ANYWAY, the point is, now I have to re-see it in English, sober, and probably re-read the book.

The picture above is what it would look like if Harry and Hermoine went to the prom together. And were 24 years old. And slightly drunk.

Well, I think it's safe to say I've said too much. Back to my reading.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Salta 'n Pepa

July 9 (this past Monday) was Argentine Independence Day. Feliz 9 de Julio, guys. I had the day off work, as did everyone else in Argentina, and one of my friends from Harvard, Rozanne, and I decided to take advantage of the long weekend and go to Salta, in the north. Salta is relatively near Argentina’s borders with Chile and Bolivia, and is characterized by deserts with cacti and brightly colored mountains. There are also rivers and dikes and other bodies of water, so it’s got a little bit of everything going on.

On Friday, we took the 2.5 hour flight from Buenos Aires into the city of Salta, which, in comparison to Buenos, seems very quaint and provincial, but apparently is considered “the big city” in the region. It is a city -- it has ice cream shops, banks, internet cafés and several grand, beautiful churches – but it’s certainly no Buenos Aires. Duh. Not surprisingly, the pace of life is a lot slower and things are a bit more worn down – the cars, the houses, the roads, the buses, the plazas, the restaurants – it made Buenos look shiny and new. Although during the day the plazas and shopping streets are full of people – young parents schlepping babies, teenagers in un-tucked school uniforms, old people out for a stroll – at night the streets are deserted. It’s quite disconcerting, actually – come sunset the streets fall dark and silent and even the cars seem to disappear. Thank God Rozanne had her pepper spray! Always prepared, that one.

We stayed at a hostel called Los Cardones, on one of the main drags in Salta. The hostel was cute, simple and quiet (except for its unfortunate location next to an Anglican Church in which, judging by the hymns that woke me up each day, all of the parishioners were both moved by the Holy Spirit AND tone-deaf). The only problem with the hostel was that to get from one’s room to the communal bathroom, one had to walk outside, down an open-air corridor. This would be fine if the hostel were located, you know, somewhere warm. But Salta is cold as balls (pardon my French) at night and going to the bathroom was torture for a cold-hating girl like yours, truly. Life improved significantly once Rozanne and I scored a space heater for our room, because up to that point, we had basically been camping indoors. Brrrrr. Anyway, it felt good to be back in the hostelling world – I missed it so! I met some dudes from Northern Ireland who ended up banging on our door and window for about 30 minutes at 6 am after they came back borrados from a night out at the bars, but I almost enjoyed it because it reminded me of my life of hostelling with rowdy kids last spring. You take the good with the bad at hostels, you know?

Anyway, our main activities for the weekend consisted of eating la comida salteña, going to the boliches on Balcarce street (the one street with a lively nightlife in Salta), horseback riding in the country, taking a bus to a nearby town, and freezing our butts off. To be fair, Friday and Saturday were lovely and warm, but Sunday and Monday were bitterly cold – it all made sense on Monday when we flew back into Buenos and it was snowing in the city for the first time in 89 years. Um, that’s what we call a cold snap.

Saturday was a great day because we went horseback riding in Chacuana, a pueblo about 45 minutes or so from Salta. Our guide was named Miguel and he was a real gaucho – he had the belt and the boots and everything, but the real reason I knew he was legit was because he chewed tobacco and smoked at the same time. That’s hardcore. The highlight for me was galloping (galopando) like a pro. The lowlight was when a bunch of creepy snarling dogs came out of nowhere and started barking and jumping at my horse. Apparently I have some sort of stray-dog radar that only works in South America, because the perros sin dueño always want to bite me on this continent. Freakin’ perros. After a few hours of riding, we came back to the ranch house and had tea and biscuits and dulce de leche. Nice. Later that night, after a bit of rest, we went to dinner at a restaurant with an Argentine reggae band (surprisingly good -- they got the stamp of approval from Rozanne, a real, live Jamaican, so there ya go) and then out to the boliches (also surprisingly good!).

Sunday was a cold day and we woke up too late to go to Purmamarca, which we had been planning on visiting, because it turns out it’s 4 hours away by bus. It looked a lot closer on the map. Since it was too cold to rent bikes and ride around, we took the bus to San Lorenzo, a small town about 30 minutes outside of Salta that has a little market with arts and crafts, a touristy restaurant overlooking the little river, and a big, fancy hotel that looks like a castle. We ate lunch and then walked around the market, where I bought some alpaca gloves (much needed).

Monday was our last day and it was another cold one. As I mentioned, when we got back to Buenos it was snowing and our plane was redirected to the international airport, Ezeiza, and the night ended up turning into a huge quilombo (chaotic, crazy mess). LONG story short, we landed at 5:30 PM and I didn’t get back to my house until 10:15 because the airport was holding all of our luggage captive in the wrong terminal, they wouldn’t give us clearance to reclaim our bags, it was hard to get a cab because of the snow, the cab got lost, etc., etc., etc. Quilombo, punto. But, hey, I got home, and all's well that ends well, right? Right.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday the 13th

Today is Friday, July 13. Spoooooky.

The last Friday the 13th I remember clearly was Friday, August 13, 2004. Why do I remember that date? Well, it was Fidel Castro's 78th birthday, I was in Havana, and Hurricane Charley hit the island. You do the math. Friday the 13th + Fidel's cumple + scary hurricane = OMEN.

I still haven't worked out what it means but I think it has to do with God hating communism.

Today has been a relatively unspooky day, actually. I woke up, went to the lavanderia to pick up my clothes, ate brekky, took the subte to work (trying to avoid being coughed on by gross people with colds), arrived at work, drank some mate, ordered lunch, and here I am. No curses or black cats or natural disasters so far, and if some super weird weather phenomenon occurred, like, for example, snow in Buenos Aires, I don't think anyone would blink an eyeball.

Hope I'm not jinxing myself right now. Hi Fidel.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Bufandas, etc.

This is an email I wrote home last week. There is some overlap with previous posts. Apologies.

This email, which will recount things I have done/experienced since my last email, will be in bullet format because I am in a bullet-y kind of mood. Okay. Here we go.

-I have started drinking mate. Upside: it tastes good and makes my heart beat really fast. Downside: I burnt my lips and they turned black and green. Really, small price to pay for a drink that has 30% more caffeine than coffee, am I right? Or am I right?

-I took a tango class! It was at the community center in my barrio. First, they teach you how to walk, which I was really good at (not to brag), and then they quickly progress into like, dancing and spinning and kicking and stuff. I lasted an hour and 15 minutes and then took off when the class was sufficiently over my cabeza.

- Emily came and visited. Here are things we did: 1) went boot/shoe/elastic-waisted-genie-pant shopping, 2) listened to Uruguayan music, 3) ate Freddo ice cream (word to the wise: don't order mint, it tastes like Listerine/booze), 4) went to my gym and got in a minor altercation with the mean lady behind the desk, 5) bought bufandas, 6) ate steak, 7) drank coke out of glass bottles, 8) took a tango class (see above), 9) attended "French night" at some French bar for like 5 seconds , 10) ate surprisingly tasty Thai food, 11) watched The Office, 12) took the colectivo, 13) did laundry, 14) attended "after work drinks" at Opera Bay.

This last point deserves a bit of explanation. "After work drinks" in Buenos Aires is actually code for "go clubbing on Wednesday." Opera Bay is a big boliche (club) in Puerto Madero, the exterior of which is roughly modeled after the Sydney Opera House, with 4 different dance floors each playing a different type of music -- sounds awesome, right? Yes. So, on Wednesdays, for "after work drinks," you have to be either wearing a suit or female to be let in -- no exceptions. The plus side of Opera Bay is that on one of the dance floors they play fun 80s music -- Thriller! -- but the downside is that you have to wade through a sea of potential date rapists to be able to dance to it. I am not making light of date rape here, I just don't know how else to classify the legions of mulleted, suit-wearing, leering Argentine businessman that attend these events. It's not that they're just creepy and aggressive -- it's that they don't take NO for an answer. The slogan "NO SIGNIFICA NO" apparently never reached Argentina, I've learned. If a girl is walking by, these men grab whatever body part is within reach for them -- arm, butt, stomach, shoulder, back -- and if she says "no me toques," (don't touch me) they interpret that as "please, continue to touch me, rat-tailed stranger who I have never talked to." The last straw for me was when a dude threw his sweater over my head. It's like... why? Just... why? ANYWAY, despite the overabundance of creepiness, we still managed to dance and have a blast. Thank goodness for my sharp little elbows!

- I went to a concert the other night -- it was a Brazilian band called +2, I think. The reason I say "I think" is because each one of their CD's is attributed to a different artist. Let me explain -- in the band there are 3 dudes, Moreno, Kassin, and Domenico, and the band has put out 3 CDs, one by Domenico+2, one by Kassin+2, and one by Moreno+2, each titled something different. Confused? Me too. I guess it doesn't matter what the band is called, but they were great. The music is sort of a combo of traditional bossa nova/samba and experimental, almost electronic music. One of the guys, Moreno, is the son of Caetano Veloso, the famous Brazilian musician, who is also coming to Buenos this summer, incidentally. The concert was fun and got me more enthused about going to Sao Paulo at the end of the summer. Basically, good music and the prospect of eating large quantities of mandioca frita are my main motivating factors.

- Ariella and I attended experimental theater! See my blog. Sorry, don't feel like re-explaining "theater of the blind." If you're too lazy to go to the blog, just use your imagination. Theater + blind.

- I met former President Menem and the President of the Supreme Court of Argentina. Also see blog.

- OH, way more exciting than Menem -- I hung out with Men in Trees/Dumb and Dumberer again but he has since left the country. Coincidentally, I started watching Men in Trees on the WB Channel down here -- EXCELLENT show. I recommend it highly.

Hmmm I can't think of too many other things to report on. Same ol, same ol. I went to some parties, went to work, ate tartas, drank mate, burnt my lips. The usual. Well, email me back soon and let me know you care, (you). <-- very personal message.


Christmas in July

It's snowing. First time in the city of Buenos Aires since 1918. The portenos are freaking out (with joy). I obviously am not.

I hate snow, I hate the cold, and I hate getting frostbite in South America. Again.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Cheap Argentine knockoffs

I have seen a lot of Argentine carbon copies of other people, walking around Buenos, probably each blissfully unaware that he or she is actually an Argentine clone of another person/fictional character. Here are some of the more notable ones I’ve seen:

Argentine Randy Quaid
Argentine my uncle Rich
Argentine Claire Calzonetti
Argentine Jim Halpert
Argentine Sanjaya in 30 years
Argentine K-Fed
Argentine Vincent D’Onofrio
Argentine Ron Weasley
Argentine Eminem
Argentine Michael Ian Black

Claire pointed out that these are called "bizarro" people, like from a bizarro world. That reminds me that there's a bar near my apartment here called Mundo Bizarro. Coincidence? I think not.

Mate: the good, the bad, and the ugly

The other day at work, I learned how to make mate from my coworker, Luciana. This is how you do it:

1. Heat (but not boil) water in a kettle
2. Put yerba (herb) in the mate pot thingy
3. Put bombilla (metal straw) into the yerba
4. Add a bit of sugar near the base of the bombilla if you don’t like your mate bitter
5. Add water, pouring near the straw (thus leaving some of the yerba on the top dry)
6. Enyoy.

Notes: Add more hot water from thermos when level gets low. You know the mate is bad when the yerba starts to float.

Once I found out how to make it, I quickly devolved into a mate fiend, and learned that mate has the added bonus of being loaded with caffeine so it keeps one chipper/wired at work. Awesome.

As I was sipping away at my mate on Friday, another coworker, Gerrardo, explained to me that in Argentina, mate is a social thing – the fun of it is in sharing with your friends. I smiled at him blankly and took another sip. In retrospect, I wonder if he wanted some. Whatever. My mate, my rules. Maybe I’d fit in better in Uruguay, because there, according to Gerrardo, mate is more of an individual thing, where people carry around their own thermoses and sip at their bombillas all day long, non-stop. Today on the subte, incidentally, I saw a guy with a thermos, refilling his mate and drinking it while sending text messages on his phone. Damn Uruguayans.

Note that the title of this entry references the “ugly” part of mate. Leave it to me to find an ugly side of a beautiful cultural ritual, right? Okay, by way of background, I have to tell you: I have this weird metal allergy where I get rashes from necklaces, earrings, rings, even the rivets on my jeans. That’s right, I’m allergic to my own jeans. If you think that stops me from wearing them, you’re wrong -- you gotta suffer for beauty. Anyway, apparently I am allergic to metal straws, too. I learned this the hard way today when, after my second mate, one of my coworkers gave me a strange look and said, “tenés la boca negra.” Slightly concerned that I might have contracted the plague, I went to the mirror to check out my mouth, and sure enough, my lips were blackish-greenish. Um, ew? I had a weird allergic reaction to the bombilla, apparently, and my lips turned black where it had touched them.

I guess this means I need to cut back my consumption of mate. But maybe not. Black lips can be cool. Just ask the Goths.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

M-enemy of the State

Yep, we met Menem the other night. I am talking, of course, about Carlos Saul Menem, ex-Presidente de la Republica Argentina (1989-1999). Please see the most authoritative source on everything, Wikipedia, for more info: Or, you can visit Menem's official website, which I'm sure is very balanced and unbiased:

As I mentioned in a previous post, officials, ex-officials and other bigwigs in Argentina are apparently keen on meeting law students from Harvard and Yale, regardless of the fact that we are all students of human rights and tend to, um, have strong opinions about certain things. Anyway, the Yale kids (who are here on some sort of exchange program with la UBA) had this meeting set up with Menem and we Harvard mooches tagged along.

The meeting took place at el Hotel Presidente, a place which has apparently been stuck in a special, polyester-covered timewarp since 1976 or so. Menem received us in a little meeting room upstairs, and shook all of our hands as we entered the room. The entire encuentro with Menem was fascinating because the guy is such a politician (and a laywer, which also helps). He skillfully dodged or deflected all of the "pressing questions" we asked about human rights, development, economic reform, and so on. Also, he mixed in a healthy dose of unabashed campaign propaganda, since apparently, as I mentioned above, he is gearing up to run for President in the upcoming elections.

The first question, from one of the Yale kids, had to do with Menem's thoughts on why Kirchner (the current president of Argentina) refers to himself as a Peronist, even though Menem (also a Peronist) and Kirchner have such divergent political views. Menem's answer: "Kirchner NO ES un Peronista. Es un populista de la izquierda. NO es un Peronista." In other words, according to Menem, Kirchner is NOT a Peronist and just claims to be one in order to garner political support, while Menem is a TRUE Peronist. He then outlined some of the views of "real" Peronists, all of which revolved around Christianity (ex: anti-abortion, pro-peace, etc.).

When it was my turn to ask a question, I wanted to hear some of Menem's views on human rights, so I asked, "What are the biggest challenges in the field of human rights facing the current administration, compared to when you were President?" His answer, in a nutshell, was, "I believe in human rights for everyone." The end. Even though he completely side-stepped the question, I didn't feel like pressing him on it, and let Jim, our professor, ask about Menem's pardoning of the former military leaders who had tortured, killed, and disappeared people during the Dirty War. His response, as to whether in retrospect the pardons seemed like a good idea, was that he would absolutely do the same thing again, because the country needed peace and he did not want to re-open old wounds by allowing the on-going prosecutions of the military leaders. Of course, all of us human rights kids sat quietly gritting our teeth at this comment, since the idea that "peace" for Argentina couldn't co-exist with a process of justice is clearly untrue.* But Menem was unapologetic and unwavering in his defense of his own policies and decisions while in office.

During the rest of the encuentro, he also spoke about: immigration (he is all for it since his parents were Syrian immigrants), his political colleagues (he name-dropped a lot and referred to Bush I as "el Papa," which for a minute made me think he was talking about the Pope), and the economic crisis of 2001 (he said his administration didn't help usher in the economic crisis, they fulfilled their mandate and actually improved the Argentine economy though their neoliberal opening policy).

Finally, at the end of the meeting came the moment we had all been waiting for, the photo session! Please see below (and forgive my slightly demented facial expression/head tilt, I was just so excited to be standing next to CSM I couldn't help myself):

Check out Menem's dapper pocket square! Love it.

*Incidentally, the pardons that Menem granted to the junta were officially revoked at the end of April of this year.

Monday, June 18, 2007

We missed the boat.

This weekend had fiasco written all over it. Well, sort of. Como se dice "fiasco" en castellano? Oh, fiasco? Okay, yeah.

Actually only part of the weekend was fiasco-esque. Friday night, for example, was pretty normal. Ariella and I ate dinner at El Pobre Luis, which is supposedly Maradona's fave parrilla in Buenos Aires. He should know; the man is huge. We had Uruguayan steak, provoleta (grilled provolone cheese with diced tomatoes on top), salad, malbec, and an "alemendrado" (I think?) for dessert, which is ice cream crusted with almonds and covered with chocolate sauce. Um, yum. Afterwards we went to a party for this top-secret group that Ariella is a part of, Small World, which is a social networking site that is very exclusive, so much so that there was a password to get into the party. The party was held in a bar with an unmarked door in Chinatown ("Puerta 1"), which makes it sound way more top-secret than it actually was. We stayed for a while and then headed to a boliche, El Punto, which reminded me of a typical Sao Paulo night club - smoky and dark with techno music blaring at such a volume that your ears ring for hours after coming home.

El Punto served as an unpleasant reminder of why I was not overly impressed with Argentine guys last time I was in Buenos Aires. One word - grabby. Actually, two words - grabby and gross. They're so creepily aggressive in the clubs, it's off-putting. I, meanwhile, have no patience for being manhandled by strangers, but repeatedly telling these dudes "No me toques" didn't seem to have much of an effect. At around 4:30 in the morning I had had quite enough of the overhanging cloud of smoke, boring techno and date-rapists in training on the dance floor, so I headed home with Ariella, feeling a bit disillusioned. I love Argentina and everything but I really don't see how women here put up with the guys in clubs, yuck. Plus, what's up with the mullets? Honestly.

Saturday, I spent the day shopping in my neighborhood. I got some cheap going-out shirts (since my nice silk shirt that I wore to El Punto now permanently smells like smoker's lung), a pashmina, a bufanda (scarf), and some makeup from a little boutique, since I dropped my compact on the bathroom floor on Friday night and it shattered into a million pieces.

That night, A and I went to an alternative theater production called La Isla Desierta, in the Ciudad Cultural Konex. The space was very interesting (see - it has several rooms for shows, some outdoor artwork and a cafe/bar. We had to wait outside in the frigid cold for a while before we were allowed to enter the room where the show was taking place, because the idea behind La Isla Desierta is that it's "theater of the blind." This means that some of the actors are actually blind, but also that the audience is made to feel blind, because the show takes place in complete darkness.

When I say complete darkness, I'm not talking about the kind of darkness where you pull the blackout curtains and close the door, I'm talking the kind of darkness where you can't tell the difference between when your eyes are shut and when they're open, and your eyes start playing tricks on you, showing you colors that don't exist. It's very weird and discombobulating. To get into the theater, we had to stand in line and hold each other's shoulders while the actors led us into the room and helped us into seats. The show was interesting - it involved smells, sounds (obvz), even water. A and I were unsure of what was happening for the majority of the show but it was still enjoyable and interesting, even the part where we got wet (which I was dreading since A told me she has been to alternative theater productions before where her clothes were completely ruined by glue and other substances -- but having Elmer's thrown on me is not my idea of a nice night out at the theater, ya know?).

The theater ended at around 10:30 and we went to a sushi restaurant in Las Canitas, a neighborhood which reminds me of Jardins in Sao Paulo -- very chic, clean, aesthetically pleasing, perhaps a bit soulless. My kind of place. Sushi here is sort of funny because it's pretty much all salmon, all the time. I wondered why people were studying the menu so intensely ("Hmm, should we have salmon, salmon, salmon, or, wait, how do you feel about salmon? I hear the salmon here is good. Oh, but look, they have salmon, honey, let's get that"). We ordered something involving salmon and some drinks, and Spencer came and met us. After sushi we headed to a party nearby for some girl's birthday and randomly met the granddaughter of Jacobo Timerman.

For our HLS class, our professor gave us Timerman's memoir to read, which is about being held captive and tortured during the military dictatorship. A very powerful and disturbing book, but also quite inspiring. It was interesting to meet his granddaughter, who speaks unaccented American English since she apparently grew up in both Argentina and the US, and now works in human rights here in Buenos Aires.

So, the aforementioned Fiasco unfolded on Sunday, when A, Spencer, his friend John and I decided to go to Colonia, Uruguay for the day. We had tickets for the "fast boat" leaving at 2 pm and were supposed to be at the port at 1 pm. We left our house at around 12:30, and after a slight delay in which Spencer ran back to his house to get his passport, we began to look for a cab to take us to the puerto. Apparently, though, since it was Father's Day and there is a gas shortage in Argentina, cabs were in extremely short supply, and we ended up waiting in vain for almost an hour, then desperately taking a colectivo, attempting the subte, and finally getting into a cab at 1:40, at which point we knew we were too late. We got to the port and were greeted by intractable Argentine guards who told us in no uncertain terms that the gates were closed to the ferry and we would not be getting aboard. Punto. After attempts at negotiation (failed), we decided to sack it off and go eat lunch in Puerto Madero. After being turned away at several restuarants which were full (Father's Day, again), we ate at a place called Sorriento, which specialized in seafood. Guess what I had? SALMON.

After our big lunch, which ended at 5, we went to a big bookstore called El Ateneo, in a converted opera house on Avenida Santa Fe. I bought a book called El Anatomista, a popular novel by a contemporary Argentine author named Federico Andahazi, apparently about the discovery of the clitoris. Yeah, I don't know. Go Argentine literature.

The rest of the evening was spent relaxing at home, and then at around 10:30, going to a milonga, which is an event where people gather to dance tango. This milonga took place at a club called El Beso, which was more of a bar with a dance floor than an old-fashioned tango salon. Ariella dances tango so she was actually there to participate, but I was there to watch. It was really interesting -- lots of older gentleman (some of whom wore ascots, seriously) and ladies of all ages in skirts and special tango heels. The way it works is that the DJ (yeah, there was a DJ spinning Carlos Gardel) will play a song and people will dance, and then when the song is over, the couples chat, perhaps introduce themselves, and then everyone goes and sits down until the next song. The women have to wait for the men to invite them to dance so it's quite ritualized.

While I was watching, the lady sitting next to me struck up a conversation with Spencer and me. She was very sweet and very enthusiastic about the fact that we work in human rights NGO's here. She told us that during the 1970s she worked at the Fiat auto plant and most of her friends from work were disappeared by the government. It's pretty chilling to just talk to normal people in Argentina and realize that almost everyone that lived through the dictatorship has stories like this - as horrifying as the stories are, they're not unusual.

So, fiascos and all, this weekend was good and culturally satisfying. Stay tuned, because today I get to meet Carlos Menem. The adventures keep on coming!

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Paris of South America?

"People" always say that Buenos Aires is the Paris of South America. It's just one of those things that gets repeated, by foreigners and Argentines alike. I've never been to Paris so I can't attest to the veracity of the comparison, but what I can say is that people here really like scarves, and so do the French. People here also like coffee, wine, and cigarettes. So do the French. [Insert joke about how people here bathe, followed by deafening silence re: the French].

I was considering this Paris-Buenos Aires comparison as I rode the subway this morning and did the only thing that one can do when one is pressed like a sardine in a too-tight can against a bunch of strangers, 90% of whom have already smoked two cigarettes and had a cafe cortado before boarding the subte, which is of course to people-watch. Bonaerenses (residents of Bs As) on the D-line in the morning seem to fall into several categories:

1. Old people who probably don't really have anywhere to be at 9:30 in the morning but are participating in the morning commute anyway
2. Teenagers (both male and female) with mullets and Chuck Taylors
3. Businessmen in suits/ties with mullets and scraggly facial hair - apparently in the Argentinian business world it is okay to look homeless from the neck up as long as you are in a suit
4. Very well-turned-out older ladies with their nails and hair done, usually in long coats and heels
5. Americans like me who pretend to be Argentine by wearing scarves and carrying their backpacks on their stomachs instead of on their backs
6. Americans who don't pretend to be Argentine and talk loudly in English with each other
7. Women who appear to be approximately 14 years old with babies
8. Mexicans - seriously, there are Mexican immigrants in Argentina who apparently come here to work (or else just have a supremely bad sense of direction)

As I pondered all of these groups of people, I realized that Buenos Aires does have a certain air of sophistication in some way (see: the large scarf-wearing population), but it's also, in other ways, distinctly un-Parisian and un-cool, which I like. For example, a huge majority of people here have carefully-executed bad hair - not as bad as the hair in Chile but still pretty bad - and I think that makes Buenos Aires more approachable somehow. What I mean is that this city is not some imposing fashion capital where you have to dress like Carrie Bradshaw (that time she went to Paris, remember?) in order to fit in (i.e. you can leave your Manolos and YSL dresses at home in your Manhattan co-op).

I think it's this slightly skewed uncoolness that makes South American cities like Buenos Aires and Santiago seem more friendly to me. Sao Paulo, although I loved it dearly, was a different story because the women there tended to have more money to spend on fabulous (albeit cheaply-made) clothes, incredible shoes, and huge leather bags. Plus Brazilians aren't known for having bad hair, which was not a good thing for me since I only got one haircut the entire 9 months I lived there, which meant I was usually outshined in the cool hair department. It's true, I sometimes felt a bit frumpy when I went out in SP because most of the women there were so immaculately turned out. The worst part? Not wearing heels 24 hours a day is not an option for a true paulistana - they wear them to work, to the mall, to the disco, everywhere. Here, though, I see women wearing grubby sneakers and scuffed boots, which is refreshing. Women here also have thick eyebrows, don't wear a ton of makeup, and have a penchant for bobby-pins and other hair accessories (which is right up my alley). The point of all of this is that Buenos Aires doesn't need to be the new Paris to be attractive, at least not to me. I prefer a little dash of uncool with my big cities.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

La Corte Suprema

This morning I met the President of the Supreme Court of Argentina (like the Chief Justice), Ricardo Lorenzetti. Somehow, by virtue of being Harvard Law students, we get to meet these powerful governmental actors that want to talk to us, even though we don't actually know that much about, you know, the law. But whatever, yay Harvard. Oh yeah, and the Yale Law kids got to come too.

Here's how the morning unfolded. Ariella and I got up and put on our power suits, which also meant that I put my hair into a "conservative" style and forced my feet into my killer pointy-toe stilettos, because I suppose meeting the President of the Supreme Court warrants a little pain on my part. We went to eat breakfast and use the wifi connection at Bar Seis, a chic cafe near our house, because we wanted to look at Lorenzetti's CV before meeting him. It was 52 pages long so I skimmed. We ordered breakfast -- for me, the "desayuno americano," which for about USD $3 included several huge, thick slices of toast with jam, marmelade and creamy cheese, fruit salad (with a minimum of gross melon, bonus), scrambled eggs, and a cafe cortado doble. Ariella got the "desayuno porteno" which also had toast, plus little sandwiches with jamon y queso, cafe con leche, and orange juice. Can I just reiterate that this cost USD $3? Okay.

After breakfast we went to the Corte Suprema and stood around in our suits for a while, waiting for the Ministro to show. He eventually did, and received us in the room where the justices meet with ambassadors and other important visitors, and apparently, rising second year law students from Harvard and Yale. We all sat up very straight and smiled politely, and were given the opportunity to ask Lorenzetti some questions. The first few questions were sort of mild ones about the precedent system in Argentina (a better question -- WHAT precedent system?) and the reform of the Court, and stuff like that, but Ariella asked the Ministro if he could change one thing about the judicial system so that people would have more faith in the Court, what would he do. The Ministro got a little defensive and started talking about how the Argentine people have great respect for the Court, especially in the area of human rights, since the Court had prosecuted the former junta leaders, and after the 2001 crisis, everyone went to the courts, which shows the immense faith people have in the judicial system. Riiight. He didn't mention that many of these people are still waiting for their cases to be processed, and that most people accept that at a minimum, they'll be in court for a decade and will end up empty-handed. Pero bueno.

As students of human rights working at NGOs in Argentina, we all realize that Lorenzetti's view is completely disconnected from the reality of what most people in Argentina really think about the judicial system. The court system is seen as corrupt, bureaucratic and overloaded, and judges who take independent positions or defend human rights in their decisions are frequently removed from their posts. I wonder if Lorenzetti is aware of this reality or whether he's actually insulated from this type of criticism just by virtue of his post as President of the Corte Suprema? Something to ponder.

After the Q&A, we got a little tour of some of the other rooms, all of which were decorated with the obligatory oil portraits of former ministros, and, of course, Christ on the Cross. The actual room where the Ministros sit when announcing their decisions has 9 large wooden chairs (even though there are only 7 judges, and soon to be 5), and a huge crucifix hanging directly overhead. As an American, it's rather shocking to walk into a government building, especially the rooms where the Supreme Court deliberates and announces its decisions, and see Jesus front and center. Welcome to Latin America!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Club Stariella

So, apparently, Ariella and I are living in a boliche (club). Let me explain -- our apartment is this ridiculous, ultra-modern confection of exposed brick walls, red metal staircases, glass sinks with silver fixtures, floor to ceiling windows, and rooftop terrace, and we have decided that it needs to be employed as a club, otherwise it will be wasted. My friend John has appropriately named the boliche/departamento "Club Stariella," and we are planning on having our inaugural Stariella fiesta this weekend for my coworker's birthday party. It's the perfect place to have such a gathering because there are four floors (plus the terrace on the roof), and when you stand in the kitchen and look up, you can see into the bedrooms above since the floors are partially grilled. This is probably making no sense as I describe it, but I will post pictures soon and you'll all finally understand the glory that is Club S.

My coworker Spencer's depto, in contrast, which is only 3 blocks from our place, has no hot water, is decorated with old Kahlua bottles and ceramic puppies, and only has one level (not four). Ariella and I lucked out, apparently.