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Chapter 4

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Mon, 26 May 2003

Dear Vanity-Publishing Victim ... errr... I mean Eager Reader,

Recovered? Digested the last one yet? Here comes another - bigger, better and err... probably more rambling and dilatory than ever before! Most of the feedback I've had has been encouraging (with one notable exception whose name is henceforth and regrettably expunged from the circulation list!) so if you're fed up with all of this, now is the time to speak out - or your inbox will suffer the consequences!

You may recall that at the end of my last missive I was about to embark on some more education - this time of the linguistic sort - in Buenoes Aires. You'll be glad to learn then my travels have since taken me out of BA (actually by further than anticipated!) and, as well as a lovely couple of days in the Argentine "lake district", I have undertaken a nice long boat-trip in the Chilean fjords and returned to Patagonia, this time on the Chilean side and with a more positive reaction, notwithstanding a brush with Augusto Pinochet.

Anyway, to start at the beginning, it was on the Monday after T left that I dragged myself out of the dumps and got on the phone to try to organise a Spanish course at one of the many language schools. The most promising one, called IBL, I contacted at around 10.15am - they told me that the level 1A class began at 11 o'clock. I almost made it and at 11.15 I walked into my first class to meet Jim, Jo, Eran, Debbie and Reynold.

I recognised Jim & Jo, it happened; I had met them before on that trip to the big (Moreno) glacier I mentioned last time where they had entertained me by demonstrating their newly acquired smiling-for-posed-photograhs skills. A recently married couple from Taunton, they soon coalesced into JimYJo, the class's example of plurals of every conjugation: "¿JimYJo, que van hacer?", "Raynold es norteamericano. JimYJo son Inglés.", etc.

Debbie es Inglés tambien, de Coventry. A lovely girl if somewhat challenged gramatically - no idea what an adjective was! What DO they teach them in school these days? She was an Israelophile...

Eran was half of the Israeli Ex-Army Spanish Learning Tag Team; he did "me llamo..., tengo ... años, hablo ...", etc. Udi, who joined a week later, was the other half; he did "voy visiter ..., me gusta ..., quisiera..." etc. Debbie took them both under her wing one way or another.

Raynold (say Ronald as a Spanish word with an American to understand why) was a fireman from Miami, who, one could only hope, was more calm in a 5-bell alarm than he was under cross examination from our teacher, Mica: "¿Reynold, de.. donde.. sos.. vos?"

To which he would reply "Err... de donde sos vos... err... Raynold... err.. de donde Americano... err... sos ... err Raynold... no comprendo ... err ... de donde ... vos... err". After which Mica would rescue him,

"De ...... donde ......" All the more puzzling because when he first arrived he seemed to be near fluent in certain set-pieces.

The classes were presided over by Eli and Mica, a young teacher with an enthusiastic smile which, I couldn't decide, was fixed, unhinged or simply long-suffering. All in all a very friendly class and it was nice to have some friends around in T's absence. But of course I still didn't have anyone to go to posh restaurants with, so it was nice, when we were out at The Gibraltar one saturday night to invite most of them (ex the absent Raynold) to come around to the posh flat in Recoletta for a Sunday roast.

I was hoping to evangelise at least to Eran whose views about English food were yet to be formed. I take every opportunity to contradict those stubborn but widely held (and too rarely challenged!) prejudices about the poverty of English cooking. I was planning a roast of best Argentine beef (which is pretty damn good!) accompanied by veg, crunchy roast potatoes and a crispy light Yorkshire Pudding ... all integrated by a lovely bright gravy. Perhaps it was lucky in the end that only Jim y Jo had the courtesy to come as promised (enduring one of the stickiest hangovers in the whole of the South American continent if mine was any indication!); the beef was tender and delicious, the veg al dente, the spuds cruncheous but Jamie Oliver let me down badly with the gravy, leading me to believe that the blackened scrapings from the bottom of the pan might make a smoky BBQ-style sauce. Sadly, the fact was that it made everything taste as if it had been dropped through the BBQ grill. But Jim y Jo were appreciative, notwithstanding - and of course I was preaching to the converted as regards Sunday roast, though even with the aid of rugby-Jim, we couldn't really dent the (at least) three spare portions available. So the class were treated (like it or not - as you, dear reader, will no doubt sympathise) to Rob's cooking later in the week, a la beef sandwiches with pickled chilis.

During this time, I had the chance to become more familiar, if not a little tired of BA city life. I was living in the candyfloss dog with a diamante collar district of Recoletta and I got somewhat irritated with the need for constant vigilence when walking on the dog-pooped pavements or dodging the epidemic level traffic.

I did, however, have a change to visit one of T & my favorite restaurants once more. A night out at the delicious sticky-spicy pork SE Asian restaurant called Sudestada with Yves from Québec and four of his friends. A rosé-tinted boys night out, we dined in vociferous and opinionated style and Yves, memorably pointing out his predilection for a city in which two policemen will unself-consciously greet each other on the street corner with the traditional Argentine kiss! Afterwards we piled back into one of his friends posh "DINKIE" car for a quick safari of BA most depraved flesh-pot streets, taking in the she-boys and he-girls in their full visual spleandor on the streets of west Palermo. The boys, especially Yves, gleefully giggling and pointing.

Most of my remaining two weeks in BA, however, was pretty low key, laid rather low as I was with a nasty winter cold - and meanwhile hearing reports of a scorching spring in Britain, especially on the cliffs and in the bluebell-splashed woods of Guernsey.

I enjoyed the extensive library in the apartment (it was originally occupied by its current owner's author boyfriend), watched movies on TV, studied guitar with the talented young Juan who inspired me (I hope not too temporarily!) and tried to budget by drinking "Gato Negro" plonk and eating home cooked food.

The nightlife was quiet apart from a couple of obligatory visits to the atypically cool expat "Gibraltar", so called because it's an "outpost of English in a Spanish sea"! Though why not just come right out with it and call it The Port Stanley or something, I thought? Great fish and chips there - and good curries both Indian and Thai. One of these occasions was the visit with Jim Y Jo, followed by a trip to a BA night club. Ultimately cool, one would think - and perhaps one would be right, perhaps too right. Dave Seaman and Sasha both played whilst I was in town, but probably to a dance floor full of sullen cool-monsters standing around sipping their one complementary beer and generally being too hip to enjoy themselves - at least outwardly. Some of us tried to dance but gave up, exhausted by the constant battle for space with teenagers standing around looking at each other. Dr Robert prescribes a nice big dose of Ebenezer Goode! Perhaps time to leave this town, I realised...

It turned out to be almost six weeks all together in BA and the weather was turning distinctly wintery, contrasting with Guernsey's spring. A mad urge to return to the sweet flowered island being exacerbated by my chesty cold and my iminent eviction from the beautiful apartment. The temptation to splash out on that not-so-expensive BA flight direct to Heathrow became almost irrestisible...

First stop after the apartment was the excellent Hostel San Danza as recommended by Jim y Jo. Very friendly - perhaps a little disconcertingly so, in fact. Everyone seemed to know my name within hours of my arrival whereas I was still thinking of them as: friendly reception guy #1, friendly reception guy #2, friendly but homely reception girl, hippy-Mississippi-man, German girl who looks like Eric Idle, etc. I just had to keep calling them "err excuse me" and "oi, whojamaflick". A bit embarrassing.

It eventually took something of a superhuman effort to stir myself from BA. Uprooting oneself after settling in for several weeks is quite hard! The comfort is hard to relinquish in favour of cup-a-soup hostel meals and that old fear of the unknown starts to creep back in. As soon as you're there, on the road, in Kashmir, taking that double black diamond drop, climbing 100m up a cliff, crossing that border, it never seems so bad...

Ah - seems I haven't quite got to all that stuff I mentioned about the lakes, fjords, mountains and ex-military dictators, have I? Sorry about that! Not very professional is it? Can you wait until next time? Promise it's worth it - or at least I hope it is! More travel-show description, redemption in escape from the city, etc.

Just one question I've got for you (really! I would be interested if anyone's got any opinions about this): When you're in a developing country (if my terminology isn't too out-modedly ex-PC) or other place where you're dealing with small amounts of money ALL THE TIME, why do they never have enough change to go around? Even supermarkets at the end of the day have trouble giving you change for the equivalent of a $20 dollar bill when you're spending $6. WHY???? Anyone?

More to follow (probably too rapidly) by next Rob-mail...

Cheers & Love

Rob