Friday, March 07, 2008

All the world is a brightly lit neon slum

Let me tell you a little something that is not even remotely true.

In my wake I left the Sierras and their snow-capped mountains. All the while I contemplated returning home. Optimism is generally in pretty short supply for me when I'm heading some place where I don't particularly want to be. I have recently resigned myself to feeling shitty for a few weeks that will be sandwiched by what is likely to be 2 amazing Australian trips.

I am honestly aghast at how many people have asked me how chili is. Like the Mexican beef stew. It's warm and beefy, just a bit spicy, and also Mexican. Chile was actually rather pleasant. Santiago is wedged in between the Andes and the ocean, and while Chileans are often thought of as the least cultured of the South American countries (I heard this many times over from both Brazilians and Argentineans who, let's be honest here, have very little room to criticize) I found them to be really great.

The last time that I was down here (in 2005) the tour was routed exactly opposite of how this one is. We began in Rio, then went to Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, and finally Santiago. It allowed me to experience a gradual increase in scenic beauty coupled with a gradual decrease in the likelihood that someone (most often a police officer) would stick a gun in my face and rob me of any cash or valuables. This time it is all down hill, and drastically so. Don't think that it hasn't crossed my mind.

There was a show in Santiago. It wasn't without its difficulties, usually revolving around a language barrier which, like most things on this tour, was to get exponentially worse with each new place that we traveled to. I think that everything turned out alright, although I can't honestly remember. Looks alright to me.

In the kingdom of the confused, the man who can make sense of foreign currency reigns supreme. I mean there is a 2 peso bill and a 100 peso coin. I just want to know how much this pack of gum, 2 spear guns, and four adult diapers costs.

I did, in fact, make it into Argentina. After landing in Santiago I spent the rest of my day stuck in traffic trying to find a place that took passport photos so that I could secure a visa. Having not eaten or slept in quite some time I can't say that I made the best impression on my Argentinean hosts. Such is life. Buenos Aires is a pretty happening place. I had a good time in spite of the fact that I spent very little time outside of the musty, old theatre where the show was, and that time was spent in awe of what could only have been explained as some sort of garbage strike on the streets of the city. I thought that this photo of a tourist bending over was a fairly accurate representation. If only I could have reached the sign with a sharpie.

When we got in we assembled a small group (which I usually hate doing) and, after waiting for a solid, angry hour for some folks who never turned up (which is precisely why I hate it) wandered around the town.

We managed a pretty amazing dinner as well. Most people went for steak, being the local specialty, or some sort of organ platter which was, as advertised, a big plate of baked and fried innards. I had the rabbit ravioli which was pretty great. I was pretty grateful that they didn't serve it to me as they traditionally do, with a pair of big, floppy ears garnishing the plate. After a massive dinner and two decent bottles of the second most expensive wine on the menu the bill came to just under $150 for five people.

Ahhh Brazil. The last time I was here James, Jamie and I were accosted on the beach in Rio by some cops who thought they could take us for some money. $1,000 to be exact. After pointing guns in our faces for what seemed like an hour or so they got bored and just wandered off. Still, I have very little affection for this country, oddly enough. I don't want this all to be awash in negativity, but it really is the most challenging place in the world for me to be. I have even been using my phone to translate random things like 'please don't kill me' or 'I am the ambassador to Cuba' when I should really be using it for what it was designed for.

This was honestly the sign on the dinner table at the hotel restaurant in Sao Paulo. I feel like maybe I'm complaining here. Not many people make it to Brazil in their lifetime. Sometimes other things get in the way. Yet here I am bemoaning the fact that I am here for the second time in 3 years. Sorry. I am still taken down a notch when the hotel recommends that you don't leave your personal belongings at your table while you go to the salad bar ten feet away because there's a pretty good chance that you will be robbed blind by an errant waiter.

Today I managed to find a little Japanese restaurant down a side street in Sao Paulo. Let me preface this story by saying that I am exhausted by the process of trying to express my basic human needs to everyone. I'm not laying blame here, just saying that it is a bit trying at the moment. So, at the Japanese place the menu was in some bastardized version of both Portuguese and Japanese, the horrendous union of which produced something like Italian if you tried to sound it out. I decided to order what looked to be a chef's lunch special. Since I couldn't work anything else out it seemed like a safe bet. In Santiago I had sushi and realized straight away that my Japanese is much better than my Spanish, at least where cultural cuisine is concerned (although Shumai was described as Japanese empanadas there). The Chef's special began as a pair of spring rolls, a pair of dumplings, and a shrimp tempura hand roll. I picked at it here and there deciding that that was already more than I cared to eat at 1 in the afternoon when it was about 85-degrees outside. Shortly thereafter a pair of hand rolls arrived that looked like 2 Olympic torches side by side, glazed in tuna. I started to feel bad, thinking that I could never begin to eat all of this food, and I hated to waste it. Just then a tray arrived with literally enough food to serve eleven hungry people. The plate contained something in the order of 16 pieces of Salmon, 8 pieces of Tuna, three types of rolls and 10 pieces of sushi. Absolute madness. I tried to convince Ally, who was party to this whole disaster, that right now would be a great time to renounce his vegetarianism at least enough to allow a little fish into his diet. No dice. After eating more food than I have ever wanted to out of sheer guilt, and then hiding a good deal under napkins, garnish and pools of soy sauce, we paid the bill and left. If only it could have been this easy.

Later seahorse.