Michele’s world

Despite Ted’s best efforts to write the blog on behalf of both of us, Ted’s somewhat “distinctive” voice has been evident in the prior posts.  I have had a few friends ask me to write a blog about my daily life.  So here it goes……

 The first month was really just about getting everything set up and supporting the kids emotionally.  I had to figure out how to buy food, get the kids enrolled in school, find a taxi service to get the kids to/from school, pay bills, find a hairdresser, find tennis lessons, etc.  and do all of those things in Spanish. Muy complicado.

Now I feel as if, the fun stuff has started.  My favorite thing to do is wander the streets in search of the best cup of coffee.  I know, I know, I am still going to Starbucks in the morning, but I am finding that I like a “cortado chico” in the afternoon (espresso with a little bit of foamed milk).  It is always served with just a little sweet too.  I’m not turning that away.

Jake and I waiting at 9:15 am on Sunday for the Starbucks to Open.
Jake and I waiting at 9:15 am on Sunday for the Starbucks to Open.
Chico Cortado....yum
Chico Cortado….yum

I also love to look at the fashion.  Women are really into big platform sneakers and sandals.  It’s actually a good trend for us that are, hmmmm, how shall I say, height challenged.  (Brooke Davi you know what I am talking about).

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I also love all the little specialty shops.  I am finding that if you want the best meats, produce, seafood, cheese, sweets or bread…you need to go to the individual shops.  There are great shops right out our door. Most people send their maids to most of their food shopping or get delivery (every store delivers), but I actually like to go and buy everything myself.  Also let’s face it, if I could order over the phone I would, but my Spanish is not up to speed yet.

My favorite place to buy fish!
My favorite place to buy fish!
Great place to buy vegetables/fruits!
Great place to buy vegetables/fruits!

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Speaking of maids, this is one big difference between Argentina and the US.  Because of the state of the economy, labor is very affordable in Argentina. As a result, it is common among upper middle class Argentines to have full time maids who are paid monthly and work 40-hours a week.  These maids typically have a whole range of household duties including not just cleaning and cooking but also shopping and watching the kids.  After a few false starts, I finally found a great maid named Magaly.

Magaly now comes every weekday from 12 – 8 pm.  She comes from Peru and she has delighted us with some of her local cooking, but it’s not exactly the healthiest food in the world, so I now am teaching her how to make some of our favorite dishes. She doesn’t watch Kate and Jake, but she cleans, does the laundry and cooks.  Having her help has allowed me to spend more time with the kids and more time wondering the streets and trying some new hobbies (tennis, Spanish lessons, meeting new friends, etc.).  Kate is enjoying trying to teach her English too.

Overall, I would say that I am enjoying this journey.  I do have moments of sadness.  I REALLY miss my friends and family and the ease of being at home.  It’s also hard for me to hear the kids complain and feel sad.  However, I just keep reminding myself that we are giving them a gift and this experience will help them grow.

Big hugs to you all!!

Nos acostumbramos (we get acclimated)

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My favorite night of our journey thus far took place this past Friday night.  It wasn’t some spectacular sight or particularly fabulous cultural event.  It was just the four of us eating at La Stampa, our neighborhood trattoria.  The children were happy and well behaved.  Kate was chatting in Spanish (castellano) with our favorite waiter.  Michele was sipping her go to local Chardonnay.  Jake was eating an impossibly large mound of pasta.  It was placid and wonderful.  We are starting to settle in.

Saturday night, after a failed visit to an art gallery, we strolled Avenida Posada in Recoleta and stopped at a beautiful little shop that had traditional Argentine crafts.  The vendor told us he was optimistic about the economy but only because it couldn’t get any worse.  We then had dinner at Piegari.  Our very professional and old school waiter, Hector, took great care of us.  Ted, who prides himself on being able to pick out the “best” dish on the menu got his nose out of joint when he spotted something better than the dish he had ordered.  After some coaxing, Hector admitted it was better and then the older couple who were eating the dish confirmed it, telling us that they have eaten at this restaurant once a week for 20 years and this is the best dish.

On Sunday we attended an intercultural class where we learned about both common issues when moving to a new country and specifically more about the Argentine culture and customs.  Two major themes appeared.  First, our trials and tribulations are totally normal.  It seems obvious, but hearing that others had encountered similar ups and downs made us feel better.  Second, family and friendships are more important to Argentines than in the US where we can rely on better functioning institutions.  The great irony of this lesson was that the person who taught the class turned out to be the SISTER of our relocation guide who recommended the class.   The class was excellent so we didn’t feel the least bit taken advantage of, but it was an interesting discovery.

We also had our first houseguests on Sunday, who came for a bit of swimming and to watch the Boca futbol game.  The kids amused themselves by creating videos

and all had a good time.  We continue to be amazed by how friendly and welcoming the Argentines have been and we feel very fortunate to have made such nice friends.

On Tuesday there was a general strike.  We kept the kids home from school because we couldn’t judge the impact, but it turned out to not have hit our area, though the downtown was very heavily impacted.

Tuesday night we were invited to the Ambassador’s residence to see the Latin American premier of the new season of Game of Thrones.  We were slightly apprehensive about the prospect of a formal gathering at a diplomat’s home to watch the grisly violence and raunchy sex scenes that the show is known for, but they had the model of the iron throne

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that seemed to put everyone in good spirits.  We met some fellow ex-pats along with some locals and even had a nice chat with the ambassador’s mom.  After the show, we were sipping wine and speaking Spanglish with this mixed crowd and it occurred to me, that we were in fact, starting to settle in.

¡Ay que lindo! Salta

There is a terrific Spanish saying ¡Ay que lindo! which means “Oh, how lovely.”  We’ve heard this used innumerable times, but whenever we told anyone that we were going to visit Salta, in the northern area of Buenos Aires, this was invariably said and now we know why

We first flew into Salta, the largest city in the northern area near the border of Bolivia.  There we  rented a 4×4 and headed south to the town of Cafayate, the area’s leading wine city  (what a coincidence).  The ride to Cafayate was perhaps the best part of the whole trip.  After lunch at a questionable restaurant in small town en route, we entered the Quebrada de Conchas a national park with stunning scenery.

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Much to our children’s delight, many of the stops along the way involved rock formations that could be climbed up or in, the most impressive of which was El Garganta del Diablo or The Devil’s Throat

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Kate up high
Kate up high
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Hug it out
Ted searches for serenity
Ted searches for serenity
Jake and the Tower
Jake and the Tower

There were a variety of different other rock features to stop at along the way making for an incredible drive.














We then arrived in Cafayate (not to be confused with El Calafate) where we stayed at the lovely Grace Cafayate hotel.

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The views from the hotel were similarly amazing.  Like Napa but with even more dramatic and severe mountains.We had a great dinner in the town square at Terruño (it’s amazing what a difference good service makes) followed by a nice ice cream treat.  A big day.




The following day began with a horseback ride through the vineyards followed by a lunch at the spectacular Piatelli vineyards.  The wines were great and the views are simply incredible.

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Of course, the most fun thing from the kids’ perspective was that we let them ride in the back of the truck, and just because we were in Cafayate didn’t mean we couldn’t play a little whiffle ball (with a stick).

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Lunch the next day was as the truly fantastic Casa De Empanadas in Cafayate where we feasted on a variety of empanadas and humida, a corn based treat.  The trip back to Salta included a stop along the side of the road where we got a second look at Kate’s lunch and an interesting detour where we realized we had made a wrong turn only after seeing the man with a machete, but we made it back in one piece.

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We learned that a tiny boutique hotel is probably not the best place for two kids, but we turned the liability into an asset with a quick bubble bath.  We then took a quick tour of the main square and proceeded down Balacarte street.  Michele bought some beautiful handcrafted dolls and Jake bought a hat that will either be awesome or extraordinarily shameful once we get back home.  We had a nice meal at the local parilla where Ted continued to disgust everyone by eating the grossest thing on the menu (Llama).  The next day, after yet another unintentional tour of the slums, we made it safely to the airport and back home to Buenos Aires.  We now have three entire weeks without a vacation and we are looking forward to getting into a routine.  Ay que lindo!

(Un)Happy Birthday

Minolta DSC

Today Jake turned 7 and the day began as a total disaster.   Michele had woken up early to make pancakes for Jake’s birthday. Kate then woke up screaming and yelling that she hated school, hated Argentina and wanted to go home.  Jake accompanied his sister by refusing to leave his room, telling us that he was scared of school and didn’t understand why he needed to learn how to read and write.  Kate corrected course after 20 or so minutes of wailing like a banshee, but Jake was not to be deterred.  He complained the entire way to school and then gave Michele a sobbing, tearful goodbye at the school’s entranceway as if he was being marched off to the gulag.

Living abroad has been a wonderful experience for our family and something that, on the whole, we are glad to be doing.  It is not, however, for the faint of heart.  The good days are good, but the tough days can be very tough.  Hoping this evening will be better.

Don Julio

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A parilla is the Argentine equivalent of a steak house.  Last night we feasted at Don Julio our favorite parilla in town.  There is something just magical about the steak here.  Also, like a great steak joint, Don Julio has amazing servers who really understand the food and wine.  Our mozo (waiter) moved me off a better known brand and pointed me to this delicious bottle of Malbec from a house called Malbec De Angeles which sounds cheesy, but tasted amazing.  Also, we had the unusual bolt of common sense to skip the dessert and after dinner drink and call it a night after dinner, which we certainly appreciated the next day.  Round it off with a lively conversation with the cabbie on the way home and we had a perfect evening.

No Lo Mismo (Not the Same)

There are many differences between Argentina and the U.S. but nowwhere was that more apparent than at the Zoo at Lujan, where you can pet the lions:

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Feed the bears:

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play with tiger cubs:

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put a parrot on your head

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or feed an elephant

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Now, this place is not without controversy and there were certain aspects of the zoo that we found difficult to stomach.  The zoo’s operator claims that he is domesticated the animals by letting them grow up with dogs, which is certainly true.  Seeing puppies playing with tiger cubs is probably the cutest thing of all time.

It was a unique experience and a great way to celebrate Jake’s birthday.  On the drive we composed a song the lyrics of which will sound familiar to any parents who have taken their kids on a drive of any length:

Quantos minutos faltan (faltan faltan)
quantos minutos faltan
tengo hambre
tengo sed
necessito mi ipad
Quantos minutos faltan (faltan faltan)
quantos minutos faltan
hace calor
hace frio
necessito usar el baño
Quantos minutos faltan (faltan faltan)
quantos minutos faltan
necessito vomitar: en el coche
necessito vomitar: en su cara
necessito vomitar: en la cancha de River


How much longer?
How much longer?
I am hungry
I am thristy
I need to use my ipad
How much longer?
How much longer?
It is hot
It is cold
I have to go to the bathroom
How much longer?
How much longer?
I need to throw up: in the car
I need to throw up: in your face
I need to throw up: in the stadium of River (our local futbol team’s main rival)

We are preparing our acceptance speech for the grammy awards.

We also were invited to another friend’s house this weekend for an asado.  The live on a little lake where the kids could kayak and generally run amok.  We continue to be amazed by the generosity of the people we have met and hope to become more open and welcoming to new people when we return to the states.2015-04-19 15.55.23

Paso a paso (Step by Step)

‘Paso a paso” in spanish is a phrase used to describe incremental progress.  The phrase was made particularly famous in Argentina by Reinaldo “Mustard” Merlo, who in 2001 as coach of the Racing futbol club, lead the team to its first league title in 35 years using an approach he called “step by step” improvement.  On our adventure,  the phrase has been our motto as well as we try to incrementally improve on our situation.

Last week was a great example of how this approach pays off.  Michele and I found ourselves more skilled with our Spanish and able to navigate slightly more complex situations.  Jake went every day to school without a fuss as he continued to become more familiar with his surroundings and the language.  Kate has begun building genuine friendships and is now being invited over to friends houses after school. She has also continued to improve in her horseback riding and has begun jumping in a canter.

The improvement is not always linear.  There are days where it feels like we can’t understand a word in Spanish, but we do our best to remain focused on the trend line and not any single data point.

In a way, this aspect of our little adventure is a wonderful metaphor for life.  Woody Allen said “80% of success is just showing up” and certainly it’s impossible to have success at something without putting the time into it.  It’s also a good reminder that things that are worth doing are difficult, and, as a result, typically can’t be done quickly.  Kate is continually asking when she will become fluent in Spanish.  The best and most truthful answer is that we can’t tell her for sure, but we know that if she keeps working at it day after day, she will get there.  Paso a paso.


We were all set to go to Bariloche, the Patagonia resort town in the andes, when this happened:

The erruption of the volcano Calbucco for the first time in 42 years covered Bariloche and the surrounding areas with about an inch of ash two days before we were planning to arrive.  A new plan was required and so we quickly shifted gears and planned a get away across the Rio Platte to neighboring Uruguay.

Given the uncertainty around air travel due to the volcanic ash, we took the two hour boat ride on the Buquebus across the river to Motivideo.  The boat was a great experience, very easy and mellow ride.   We got to see the sun rise over the river

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We then drove from the Urguayan capital of Montivideo to the amazing town of Jose Ignacio.  We spent the first three days at the Estancia Vik, a gorgeous estancia about 10km from the beach town.

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The estancia is simply amazing.   Each room is decorated with the art of a local artists and they were truly unique.  Staff was very thoughtful and accommodating.  Also, it was just fun to live among the animals.  There were cows and horses grazing right outside our door and the kids enjoyed running around and chasing them as well as the Ńandú.  The horse back riding was great as was the kayaking along the river. Despite two utterly botched fishing attempts we generally had a great time.

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We then moved to the Playa Vik.  As beautiful as the Estancia Vik property was, Playa Vik was even more spectacular.  Perched right up on the beach, this hotel is itself a work of art.  Simply amazing design.  It also features a number of beautiful works of art both in the main building and the rooms.

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There were, however, a few small setbacks.  First was the weather.  While we got a few nice days at Estancia Vik, by the time we made it to the Playa, the weather had changed to pretty chilly.  We had some fun climbing around on the rocks on the beach, but a beach town in the cold isn’t optimal.  The second (related) problem is that the season had ended.  As a result everything in the small town of Jose Ignacio was closed.  No little shops, no places to get ice cream, no boats to rent etc..This was also true in Punta Del Este, the major beach resort town about 30km away.  Although there were a few open places, it certainly lacked a vitality of a beach town.  We had to resort to a few local spots for lunch,  but  fortunately managed to avoid Mr. Chivito. Had we been escaping our normally busy lives, a week in isolation might have been a welcome change of pace, but given our relatively quiet existence, it was a bit too quiet.

Bearing the cold
Bearing the cold

We were, however, fortunate to go to one amazing restaurant in town called La Huella.  One of the coolest spots we’ve ever seen.  Right on the beach, super chic but modern and understated.  We are looking forward to our return visit.

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So while it wasn’t the perfect vacation, we are certainly glad that the volcano erupted before we arrived in town and we managed to get to know a new place.

5%: Cinqo por ciento

One of the most difficult challenges of parenting is striking the appropriate balance between putting kids in challenging situations and not asking them to do something  they are unable to do.  By definition, learning anything new requires a child to encounter an unfamiliar obstacle and overcome it.  At the same time, we wouldn’t ask a seven year old to understand calculus  as it would just be impossible for him and cause needless frustration.

This problem is particularly acute for us this year in terms of Jake’s learning of Spanish. We want him to learn the language and have sent him to a school where the majority of the curriculum is taught in Spanish and all of the children are native Spanish speakers.  At the same time, we want to be sure that the environment provides him the tools he needs to grasp the language so that we are not assigning him an impossible task.

Adding to the complexity is that we have to rely on Jake to tell us how he’s doing.  Over the past couple of weeks, each time we ask him how much he understands, he tells us “nothing” or “almost nothing.”  Now, we have suspected that this is hyperbole designed to elicit sympathy, but honestly it has nagged at us.  Have we been pushing him too hard?

Last week, I finally sat him down for a heart to heart and asked him, “seriously, how much do you understand?”  He looked me in the eye and said “5%”  I asked again “honestly, so if the teacher says 100 things, you only understand 5?”  “Yes,” he said. To be sure we were communicating clearly, I gave him an example where I said “no” 95 times and then “yes” 5 times to be sure he was expressing the concept correctly.  He responded that maybe 5% was too much and it was more like 4%.  I was devastated.  I’ve always thought that this trip would be so good for the kids, but maybe it’s just too much.  Maybe, I’ve put my own aspirations ahead of my kid’s ability. I felt pretty crappy and resolved to look into this.

Fortunately,two days later, we had a meeting at the school with the principal to get a progress report on the kids.  When I asked the principal the same question as to how much Jake understood she told me “100%”

100%?!  are you certain?”

She replied that there was no doubt.  She said that Jake can follow the entire Spanish curriculum and act as instructed.  While his teachers had previously would help him by speaking English from time to time, he had now reached the level where that was no longer necessary. While Jake has complained about this new situation, the teachers all agree that he is now ready to take this step and it is best for him.

I wanted to both jump for joy and run downstairs and wring his neck.  I wish that there was some brilliant conclusion I could make from this story, but at this time I’m just happy that he is making progress.  The one thing I can say is that it’s vitally important to go to a school where they know your kid.  We have been very pleased with the school in this respect and it was reassuring to have a headmistress who was so intimately familiar with my kid.

La Super Vergüenza (The Super Embarrassment)

Since I am a big sports fan, I thought it would be a fun thing to do to follow a local fútbol team while we lived here.  It’s also a great way to integrate into the community since it’s an easy topic to discuss with virtually anyone.  After consultation with some friends, we picked the Boca Juniors as our team.

Boca is sort of the New York Yankees of the Argentine soccer leagues.  They have the greatest history of all the teams in the country. Boca’s hated rival is River Plate.  Their rivalry is similar to the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry but perhaps more intense since both teams are based in Buenos Aires. For a sense of it, it’s estimated that 70% of Argentines route for one of these two teams.   The Boca vs. River games are known as Super Clássicos and have a storied history involving both intensity and tragedy.

The soccer calendar works a bit differently than professional sports leagues in the States.  Here, each team plays both in tournaments and in regularly scheduled league games in the same time period.  So, for example, during April and May Boca was playing both in the regularly scheduled Argentine Football League games on Sundays and the Copa Libertadores on Thursdays.

The result of all this was  there were 3 superclásicos scheduled in a two week period, two games for the Copa and one regular season game.  This was truly unusual and all of Buenos Aires was buzzing about the games.  I had some very interesting conversations with the taxi drivers and others folks around town about the games.

The first game  was a regular season game which went to Boca 3-0 at Boca’s home stadium.  River returned serve by winning the next game, a Copa game 1-0 at their stadium.   The score of the second game was particularly important because the way that the soccer tournaments play elimination rounds with only two games.   If each team wins one game, the team with the most goals wins and, if the number of goals is tied, goals scored at the opposing team’s stadium count double.  So, going into the final Super Clásico, Boca needed to win the game and, if River scored, to win by two in order to advance.

Unfortunately it was not to be.  After a back a forth first half that left the score tied at zero, something completely crazy happened.  As the River team made its way to the field for the second half, some  Boca “fans” sprayed pepper spray into the tunnel the players use to access the field.  Chaos erupted as the River players poured water on their eyes to try and stop the burning.  As the team and officials huddled trying to figure out what to do, a shouting match broke out between the coach of Boca, who apparently wanted to play on and the President of River, who apparently told the Boca coach “I speak only to circus owners, not to monkeys.”    After an hour of debate, the game was suspended.  The players had to wait for about 30 minutes for the fans to clear out so that they could safely leave the field.  The Boca players then created a mini-controversy by applauding to the small group of their hard core fans who remained.


It’s hard to know what to make of all this, but some basic observations.  First, I was disappointed that a couple of idiots ruined what was going to be a good game.  While their conduct was reprehensible, it certainly doesn’t represent the majority of fans, many of whom took to Twitter to apologize. Second, sadly this does show the sad state of soccer stadium safety.  There are many measures in place, but it seems like the hard core hooligan types have deals with corrupt officials to enable them to sneak all sorts of things into the games.  Third, there was an ugly bout of classism that broke out.  Although Boca is the most popular team in the country, it’s history is that of a working class team and it remains situated in a pretty rough part of town.  After the tragedy, some River fans took to the media to describe the actions as typical of the criminal Boca fans.  Finally, it does reveal a lack of respect for authority that exists throughout the country.  Although the pepper spray incident was unusual, it is absolutely normal to see things thrown on to the field and have fans climbing the walls.   So, as insane as this sounds, it seems as if it was really was just a matter of time.