Saturday, January 27, 2018

Three Flights Home...

Only a couple days earlier, this sign in the Buenos Aires barrio of Barracas had pointed me in the opposite direction.
It’s been a week now since I left Buenos Aires, and a busy one as things piled up in my absence, but my 24-hour odyssey from the Argentine capital to my home in California was a memorable one—good in some ways, and not so good in others. Going from mid-summer to mid-winter wasn’t that great a shock—I can’t say I miss the River Plate’s hot, wet and sticky January and the Bay Area’s cool damp climate is nothing like the brutal “bomb cyclone” that hit the eastern US not so long ago. Still, there were ups and downs (figuratively as well as literally) en route.
Aeroparque Jorge Newbery is Buenos Aires's domestic airport, but also has flights to neighboring countries.
For the first time, my return trip started from Aeroparque Jorge Newbery, Buenos Aires’s city airport that’s just a ten-minute taxi ride from our Palermo apartment—as opposed to the more distant Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, in the provincial suburb of Ezeiza. One attraction was the fare: only A$100 (about US$5) door-to-door, while a comparable service to Ezeiza costs A$950 (about US$50). A taxi-bus combination to Ezeiza would have cost about A$350 (US$18), but it would have taken considerably longer.
Argentines and others trying to leave the country at Aeroparque immigration.
That convenience came at a price that I hadn’t quite anticipated, though. I had flown out of Aeroparque before, but never on an international flight. The security line moved pretty well but, once I reached the immigration line, there was a lengthy backup. While the only international flights are to neighboring countries—my first leg was to Santiago de Chile—there simply weren’t enough posts, and enough personnel, to handle everybody expeditiously, at least on a Friday afternoon in high season.

On top of that, there weren’t enough gates for all the flights, so passengers were milling about waiting for the announcements and, then, most of us had to board buses to the planes parked on the tarmac. Eventually, we departed about half an hour late, which caused me some concern as I had a relatively short window for my connecting flight to Lima. I wondered, and still wonder, whether Ezeiza—accustomed to dealing with large crowds and many more planes—would have been a better option.
The secondary security checkpoint at Santiago's international terminal
That said, the LATAM flight over the Andes was comfortable enough, with limited food service that I declined—I’d already eaten a good lunch, so I didn’t feel like a savory medialuna (croissant) with ham and cheese. On landing in Santiago, I was surprised to find a secondary security line in the international terminal that slowed matters down some more, and equally surprised to find that I had to place my daypack and computer bag in trays rather than sending them through as is.
It was indeed the last pisco sour (at least until I return to Chile in March).
That said, I did manage to grab a pisco sour before boarding my flight north. I was disappointed, though, not to see the airport’s new free book exchange, but there simply wasn’t time to walk past every gate. I did notice, however, that Australians are now the only foreign visitors who remain subject to Chile’s “reciprocity fee.”
Only Australians now pay Chile's "reciprocity fee" to visit the country.
From there to Lima, the flight was uneventful, though I was pleased to find that LATAM is now offering Chile’s own emblematic Carménère varietal to accompany meal service, rather than some generic Cabernet. To my mind this was long overdue, even if this particular vintage was not an elite version. Switching planes again at Lima, we went through yet another secondary security line—which I had experienced before here—before continuing to Los Angeles.
Chile's signature varietal is now available on LATAM flights out of Santiago.
The connection was tight, so there was no time for a Peruvian pisco sour, but on board we had a surprisingly good choice of meals, and the first time I ever recall receiving a printed menu in clase económica (coach class). It was also rewarding to see Peruvian touches on the grilled chicken, though the huancaína sauce was far less “spicy” than the English translation might suggest. The only downside to the flight was tropical turbulence that interrupted my hard-earned sleep.
The flight from Lima to LAX offered diverse dinner and breakfast options, even in coach.
The immigration lines at LAX were long, but they moved much faster than those at Aeroparque.
Arriving early at LAX, I breezed through immigration and headed to my rental car—even though it’s only a one-hour flight home, I prefer driving to the indignities of the Transportation Security Administration, and it also helps me unwind. The only downside here was that, given the recent Montecito mudslide, I could not take US 101 to Santa Barbara and, instead, drove north on Interstate 5 until I intersected California SR 46, leading past Cholame—marking the spot where James Dean met his death in 1955—to intersect 101 at Paso Robles.
The memorial to James Dean at Cholame

In recent years, I’ve grown to enjoy Paso Robles as an ideal lunch break between Southern California and the Bay Area, all the more so because it has an appealing central plaza like so many cities south of the Río Grande. At La Cosecha, I ordered a shrimp and scallop ceviche, plus a lemonade squeezed fresh on the spot—almost exactly 24 hours after I boarded the plane at Aeroparque—before continuing home.
Ceviche and chips at La Cosecha, Paso Robles

Monday, January 8, 2018

Smeared by a(n Attempted) Scammer

In nearly four decades of visiting Argentina, I’ve never been victim of a crime, though I experienced some anxious moments during the military dictatorship of 1976-83. In the course of researching and writing guidebooks to the country, though, I’ve always had to address issues of personal security, even though I’d never experienced any attempted attack or robbery—at least until yesterday in Buenos Aires.

In the course of writing multiple editions for a publisher now best left unnamed, I often received reams of reader mail, often touching upon issues of personal security. One common scenario in Argentina’s capital was being told that there were pigeon droppings on your shirt, or the “accidental” spilling of a cup of coffee followed by abject apologies that were, in fact, a distraction for a pickpocketing accomplice.
My boarding station, at Plaza de Mayo, for the train back to Palermo
The Puente de la Mujer, a pedestrian bridge, is an entry point to the Puerto Madero neighborhood. Beyond the bricks and high-rises, Puerto Madero also offers wildlife-rich wetlands and even some small beaches.
These stories were believable and, as I started to walk toward the Plaza de Mayo after a leisurely afternoon in Puerto Madero, I became part of one. On a narrow downtown street, with few other people, I felt some moisture on my back and, then, a middle-aged man animatedly pointed at my trouser leg. I’m not paranoid about personal safety, because I feel comfortable here, but this aroused my suspicion immediately.
When I got home, this is what my shirt looked like...
It’s worth mentioning that I was openly carrying a SLR in my right hand, and also had a wallet and a smartphone in my jeans pockets (though neither was visible), so I probably fit the profile of an easy target. My response to the man, who addressed me in halting English, was the Spanish-language equivalent of “Bugger off!” He didn’t exactly run away, but he didn’t persist either, and I saw no likely accomplice.
and this is what my jeans looked like.

Heading toward the Subte to catch a train home, I seated myself on the steps of a building to put my camera into my daypack, and discovered what appeared to be a creamy substance there and on my shirt as well. On arriving home, I changed clothes and took a shower and, this morning, I took everything to a nearby laundry. In the end, a portion of 120 pesos (about $6.50) was all the incident cost me—I already had a partial load in need of cleaning.

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Messenger and the Movie

A few weeks ago, the day my wife arrived in Buenos Aires, we had the good fortune to catch one of the last local showings of Jayson McNamara’s documentary Messenger on a White Horse, about Robert Cox’s heroic editorship of the Buenos Aires Herald during the so-called “Dirty War” of 1976-83. The movie debuted last April at the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema, but this was our first opportunity to see it.
Given the subject matter, it’s not the sort of film that one “enjoys,” but it was an absorbing account of Argentina’s most brutal dictatorship ever and the pervasive fear that prevailed at the time. As the paper's editor, Cox pursued and publicized the human rights violations that took place after the 1976 military coup and, facing threats to himself and his family, he went into exile in 1979—at a time when the Australian McNamara was not even born. I met McNamara four years ago, in Cox’s Recoleta apartment, at a time when he was working for the then struggling Herald—which was becoming the victim of the now-jailed tax evader and casino magnate Cristóbal López.
Bob Cox and Jayson McNamara at Cox's apartment in Recoleta, 2014
Given McNamara’s youth—I don’t believe he’s even 30 yet—I was impressed with his perspective on this complex country’s history. My wife, who lived through much of the worst in that period, agreed that his usage of historical footage and his interviews (with Cox and others) evinced a genuine skill for thorough and honest storytelling.

Some days later, when my wife and I shared empanadas and a bottle of Malbec with Cox and his wife Maud, both expressed admiration of the filmmaker’s ability to narrate a story he never experienced personally. In my opinion, it’s something that deserves a wider audience and, according to McNamara, “We’re hoping it will soon be available on Netflix or the like.” When it is, I’ll watch it again, and encourage others to tune in. It’s not a commercial film, but it deserves the widest possible audience.

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