Tag Archives: South America

El finale: Home is where you hang your head and sigh

Okay. I have been told — and I fully realize — that I may be lingering far too long in the land of steak, wine, and dulce de leche. It’s a little self-indulgent, perhaps, and I get it! I totally do. While this armchair travel experience has been both hilariously entertaining and culturally educational for my readers, you are eager to get back to our dear homeland, where the grass is asphalt and the steak is hot dogs. Unfortunately, I wasn’t. Still amn’t. But I need to face facts and admit that we’ve actually been back in New York for the past month and a half, and no matter how hard I shut my eyes and hope against hope, the Fine Living Network isn’t calling to ask me to do an extended, intensive investigation of Argentina’s Ten Most Flamboyant and Revoltingly Luxurious Hotels.

As my grandmother used to say, here we are, so that’s where we’ll be. But before we got here, we were there: among the only hotel guests of a sprawling vineyard and resort in San Rafael, in the Mendoza (read: wine) region of Argentina. Our last three days of honeymoon bliss read like one of those ridiculous Celebrity Cruise lines commercials: we indulged in an outdoor cooking class with the hotel’s chef, I received an olive oil massage out on a patio overlooking the pool, we were given a complementary, 3-hour private wine-tasting class, and oh yeah, we had our own golf cart with which to freely explore the sprawling farm and untamed brush.

Pretty darn pretty

It was pretty perfect, in all, though the experience wasn’t without some valuable life lessons. For instance, while it may seem like too good an opportunity to pass up, one oughtn’t eat two consecutive meals featuring provoleta, chorizo, and half a bottle of wine (among other things). For if one does, one will wind up with a wretched case of “food poisoning” the day one is forced to wait 3 hours in a tiny airport and then make the 12-hour journey back to New York. And by food poisoning, I mean self-inflicted overdose, much like what would happen to a dog if you left the entire bag of kibble within reach. On the bright side, sun poisoning + food poisoning = honeymoon bingo! I win!

These plates represent the number of chorizo-topped grilled cheese blobs I consumed in a 12-hour period.

I also learned that after a 3-hour wine tasting, if one chooses to then consume half a bottle of rose poolside, one probably ought to wait a little while before jumping in and “swimming.” Didn’t my mother and camp counselors warn me about this when I was little? As it turns out, wine + pool = something of a mess, and I think I wound up consuming an equal amount of chlorinated water as I did alcohol. It was super fun, mostly because I didn’t actually drown to death!

You can't tell, but in all likelihood this book is actually upside-down.

Those sterling nuggets (ew) of wisdom aside, there was one exercise we just couldn’t master. We’d heard about how late people eat dinner in Argentina. And we tried to assimilate, tried to adjust our internal clocks and do as they did. But no matter how much effort we put into making late reservations, no matter how many times we were sure we’d gotten it right, we just kept winding up alone in restaurants. Fancy restaurants, trendy restaurants, wildly popular restaurants. We were always, always completely alone. We just could not figure it out. We’d show up at 10pm and leave at 11:30, never seeing another diner. We’d show up at 10:45pm and leave after midnight, and maybe catch a glimpse of an honest-to-god Argentinean couple sauntering in with a bright-eyed toddler in tow. At first, it was kind of nice. Two newlyweds, oblivious to others around us, absorbed in each other and our food and wine. No obnoxious table-neighbors drowning out our conversation, no competition for the water guy. But after the first couple of evenings like that, we both realized how awkward and uncomfortable it felt to be sitting in a big, empty establishment, with one guy waiting on us and the rest of the waiters milling around. Or worse, all of them serving us at once — sometimes we’d have a bread guy, a wine pourer, a water-glass-filler AND a crumber, all in addition to our server. Occasionally, there would be another family or couple seated, and we would perk up. Perhaps we’d cracked the code and been tacitly welcomed into the Forbidden City! But inevitably, within minutes their loud, American voices would reverberate across the room, serving as a sharp and shameful reminder of our lame tourist status, broadcasting our loserdom in our own heads. We are those travelers who really like to think we’re cooler and smarter and more sophisticated than your average Ugly American. I mean, we’re worldly, we’re from New York, we dig the restaurant scene, we’ve even been known to hang out at a hip bar or two. But throughout the entire country of Argentina, we may as well have been clipping coupons out of The Pennysaver for the early bird special. As silly as it sounds, it was humbling, but more than that it was just sort of frustrating. It was like all the Argentinians had conspired together to stay hidden until we were safely on the way back to our hotel. If only I’d looked in that urn by the bathroom.

Here’s the thing of it: Matt and I loved being on vacation together. We hardly fought, we typically wanted to do all the same things, got hungry around the same time, even our sleep cycles managed to sync up. But even traveling as a team, as closely knit as they come, being in a foreign country can feel very lonely. And when it seems like everyone is somewhere you will never find, it only heightens your sense of being an outsider. I’m aware that many people would pay for the privilege of emptying out a beautiful restaurant. But if I’m out in the world, I want the other residents to show their faces and be there with me.

So that brings us, inexorably, to the island of Manhattan. I’m back to spending my days elbow to elbow with far too many people. They cram onto the subway platforms, angling for a straight shot at the doors with no intention of letting people out of the car first; they dodge and weave aggressively around one another on the sidewalks; they groan and sigh loudly when a tourist takes too long making a decision at Cosi; they’re rude to customer service professionals and fiercely territorial at restaurants and bars. They’re loud, mean, impatient, entitled, and competitive, and they’re everywhere, all the time.

I guess it’s sort of nice to be home, jerks.

Fine Living Network, I work cheap.

Backblogging: Soy en el luna de miel

I’ve been attempting to spend the last two weeks reliving our honeymoon in Argentina, though between the frigid cold, having to do that work thing every day, Manhattan apartment hunting (more on that later), and my charming fellow New Yorkers, it hasn’t been easy. But I shall persevere, no matter how tenuous my relationship with reality becomes.

The title of this post should give you all a sense of how well I was able to communicate in Spanish. It’s not that I didn’t try — I really did. In fact, I get outraged when I hear Americans hollering in English in foreign countries. (A favorite cringe-worthy moment was in a Buenos Aires restaurant when I overheard a very audibly Midwestern woman at a table nearby shout at her waiter of her leftovers, “Will you bring this home to your PERRO?”). So I really did want to try and speak the native language. It’s just that it’s hard enough to remember the French I spent 12 years studying, and somehow every time I made an attempt at Spanish, it wound up coming out as some unintelligible Franco-Spanglish hybrid. Occasionally, I’d be able to ask a one-word question of a taxi driver or bartender and then realize that I’d cornered myself into a lengthy response during which I’d nod enthusiastically and smile big until they noticed that I was a complete doofus. Then they’d do their best to repeat it in English, or they’d just give up on me entirely. And somehow this never deterred me from attempting with the next person I’d encounter. Matt, on the other hand, took an entirely different approach which involved saying nothing at all for fear of saying the wrong thing, or asking a question, then pretending to understand the answer and refusing to admit to the speaker that no, in fact, we have absolutely no idea what you just offered to do and are clueless as to how to properly receive whatever it is we just paid you for. Needless to say, it took us a few days to hit our stride.

Luckily, you don't need to speak Spanish to find yourself a glass of wine in BA.

Traveling abroad together revealed another significant difference in our personalities (not that we really need much help there). I guess this isn’t particularly surprising, but as it turns out Matt and I have extremely disparate reactions to luxury. It became immediately apparent when we checked into our first stop, the Four Seasons in Buenos Aires.

You know that scene in Annie when Little Orphan Annie arrives at Daddy Warbucks’s mansion? She’s disheveled, filthy and disoriented, but the instant she steps out of that limousine, she’s swept off her little orphan feet by an army of butlers, window washers, gardeners, chefs, waiters, handmaidens, court jesters, swamis and sommeliers. They dance and sing and scrub her all pretty, feed her and tuck her into 1,000 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets. One soft-shoe through the cool marble foyer and all memories of Miss Hannigan and the orphanage are gone in the cloud of dust that shakes out of her threadbare smock.

That’s pretty much exactly what it’s like to arrive at the Four Seasons Hotel, except that we, the weary travelers, were the orphans, and Miss Hannigan is that nasty flight attendant who was definitely whacking my elbow on purpose. From the moment we entered, I became acutely aware that every single need I’d ever had would be fulfilled as long as I never left. For god sakes, they organized my toiletries and lined my shoes up in the closet! The walk-in closet! I was awash in feelings of peace, relaxation, and thorough entitlement. It just felt right. Like I was finally home. Bring on the champagne and strawberries! Yes, I DO deserve a massage and some complementary alfajores. Now, where’s my next present? Of course I’d like to take advantage of the personal concierge services. Keep it coming, those rose petals aren’t going to scatter themselves! Matt, naturally, was immediately and immensely uncomfortable. For the first 36 hours, he refused every offer to carry our luggage or open a door. He took guilty bites of our complementary petits fours as I giddily tucked in with abandon. He efficiently ate a restrained bowl of cereal each morning, as I was up and down at the buffet attempting to find every conceivable application for dulce de leche. He would have turned down the guest services manager’s offer of a drink and some restaurant advice had I not bullied…er, talked…him into it. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a brat. But it took me about six seconds to embrace the idea that this is how these people do their jobs, and to refuse them is pointless at best and insulting at worst. Don’t worry, they wore him down with my help, and before long he was as ready to move in as I.

Bring it on, baby.

Excessive pampering aside, we really enjoyed our time in Buenos Aires. We ate wonderfully, for starters. La Brigada, a classic steakhouse that’s actually equally popular with locals as with tourists, served us a 16-inch thick steak that was practically still bleating. The waiter literally cut it with a spoon. We were introduced to provoleta, which is an ingenious dish that consists of a big chunk of grilled provolone cheese and is best served hot and bubbling with a fat, juicy piece of chorizo. I tried authentic empanadas and seven different kinds of alfajores, the popular dulce de leche-filled cookie. We discovered that the trendy restaurants there all seem to subscribe to the theory that diners both love and deserve multiple surprise amuse-bouche. They are correct.

Alfajores numbers four and five. Note I was tackling this challenge alone. I feel all the more accomplished and empowered having succeeded.

I've got a secret, and it involves a forkful of chorizo and melted cheese.

We spent most of our days hoofing it around the city, checking out the neighborhoods and taking in the scenery. I was obliged to purchase TWO pairs of emergency relief shoes. It was really, really, effing hot. The people make Manhattanites look like a bunch of fat losers. We took an overnight trip to the beach at La Barra in Uruguay, where the Brazillionaires roam free and I found myself glaring enviously and mumbling “slut” at the kids who, at twelve or thirteen, are tanner, thinner, and hotter than I can ever hope to look in my life.

An interesting phenomenon in La Barra: EVERYTHING is sponsored. Try and guess what this establishment actually is. I'll give you a hint. It is neither a bar nor a Honda dealership, nor a tanning salon.

Another funny La Barra fact: the shoreline is littered with giant, dead beetles. We took to calling it the Omaha Beach for bugs.

On our return to BA from Uruguay, we arrived at our hotel to find the driveway gated shut. The first bellhop we asked told us that a rock group was staying there, and he couldn’t reveal their name but said with a wink that “they are very METALLIC.” We stared at him blankly. “It’s Metallica,” he said, grinning. I felt my jaw clench. I have held a grudge against Lars Ulrich ever since he led the charge against Napster and cut off my college supply of endlessly streaming free songs. Not to mention I’ve never been a particular fan of his personal brand of music. But now he was tangentially in my life again, and I knew that nothing good could come of it. Sure enough, for the rest of our stay there was an ever-present group of metalheads loitering around the entrance, and the gates created a backlog at the taxi line each night. Our last evening, I was forced to walk — WALK! — to dinner in my high heels up hilly, cracked sidewalks in some seriously frizzy weather. “Lars!” I shouted ruefully, my fist swiping the air. I fantasized about running into him at breakfast so I could air my grievances. Lucky for him, we never met (though we did encounter several of his extremely intimidating-looking roadies), but I know our paths shall cross again. And when they do, I’ll be ready.

Moo.

On that creepy note, I’ll wrap up here. Clearly I can’t fit our entire two-week honeymoon into one post, especially when I find it important to recount stories like the one above. In our next installment, we’ll visit Bariloche, where you’ll hear of our close encounters with death-by-stick-shift and our new stray dog, Kevin. Until then, I wish you a lovely jamon y queso.