Alfajors: A Transcendent Experience in Dulcitude

Imagine biting into a thin, soft, chocolately shell that surrounds three alternating layers of chocolate mouse and dulce de leche. That, my friends, is an alfajor. When I first heard Emily express her love for these little wonders of joy, I was intrigued, but it still took me three weeks until I finally fed my curiosity. On a cold, rainy, poosley, Thursday afternoon, I was heading home from castellano class and decided to stop into one of the 25-hour convenient stores to get some kind of chocolate. I was shopping for a small chocolate bar, maybe Milka? Dulce-de-leche-filled this time? When suddenly, a whole section of alfajors caught my eye. There were many different flavors and sizes: oreo, chocolate chip cookie, classic, dark chocolate, quadruple chocolate, dulce de leche, vanilla, and countless others. I settled for a normal-sized classic aflajor, payed my A$4, and continued on my way. Before I began to descend toward the subte, I stopped against the side of a building and opened up my alfajor. I was in heaven. That first melt-in-your-mouth savor was all I needed to forget about my worries and the poosley weather. Needless to say, I definitely found my new special-occasion comfort food.

Traveling to Argentina? Better be sure to put alfajors on your bucket-list; I guarantee you won’t regret it!

Fun Facts:
– pronounced “alpha-whore”
– “Alfajor” is derived from an arabic word meaning “luxury,” or “exquisite”
– These lovelies came over to South America from Spain
– The original alfajors contain flour, honey, almonds, cinnamon, and other spices. Due to the lack of ingredients, South American alfajors are made totally differently, but most contain dulce de leche
– Argentina is the world’s largest consumer of alfajors in total numbers and in per capita calculations; it’s apparently the #1 snack for children and adults.

More Info

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Huelga de Subtes

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One arm was stretched-out to the fullest, gripping the three inches of free space on the yellow bar above my head; the other hand clutched the canvas straps of my bag with a deathgrip against my chest. I tried to adjust my footing as to better anchor myself for the   tumultuous twists and turns of the colectivo. I desperately needed to blow my nose, but there was not enough room for me to move my arms to unzip my bag. It’s hard to recall who stood next to me on the bus. There must have been about fifty of us. Not even kidding. Like sardines in a can, we were packed tight into any available crevice in the bus. It was a lot closer than I would’ve ever liked to get to complete strangers. I’m pretty sure some man behind me was touching my butt on purpose. Or maybe it was a woman. Regardless who it was, he/she was behind me and something was definitely touching my butt. The faces that I could see were apathetic. Some looked out the window, others stared into space, trying not to awkwardly, indirectly stare at a stranger.. But that was hard to do. Whenever the bus stopped there’d be a chorus of “permiso” “¿bajás?” “disculpame” as people attempted to simultaneously get on and off. There were times on my journey that the bus was so crowded that it wouldn’t even bother to stop at it’s designated places. As we approached I noticed the relieved faces of the porteños standing by the stop, and then how quickly those expressions changed to faces of disillusion and frustration. There was a slightly-bald, grey-haired man of about 60 years who actually chased after our colectivo when it was stopped at a red light, desperately hoping to be granted admission. The driver refused to acknowledge him, but instead stared straight ahead and engaged the gas once the light turned green. At the end of his rope, the old man burst into a fit of expletives and kicked the bus as it continued it’s route.

Instances like this have been standard these past 8 days. Tomorrow marks the 9th day in a row that the subtes have been abandoned. This strike, or the “huelga de subtes” as it’s referred to in Buenos Aires, began at 9pm on Friday 3 August, 2012. Since then, the 1.2 million subte commuters have had no other choice but to find alternative means of transportation. The streets have been jam-packed with cars, buses and cabs advancing at a slow, bumper-to-bumper pace. According to La Nacion, a local conservative newspaper, daily bike rentals have nearly doubled their business over the past few days. Most citizens, however, fled toward the hundreds of colectivos that circulate the city. These buses go hand-in-hand with the subte as the porteños’ main sources of daily transportation. Now that the colectivos are catering to the transportation needs of the majority of the city, their reputation of being timely and reliable is beginning to fall through the cracks. Everyday, there are crowds of people on the sidewalks, waiting for the bus to come. Often, there’s not enough room for everyone to make it on that bus, and they’re forced to wait until the next one comes around. The atmosphere within the colectivo is hot and stuffy – a claustrophobe’s worst nightmare. Because there are so many more commuters, the frequency of the buses has also been dramatically sower. The other day, I was waiting for the 111 to show up to take me to my castellano class. 30 minutes passed without any sightings. With only an hour left to get to class, I decided to throw down A$45 on a radio taxi. What normally would have taken me 15 minutes on the subte took the whole hour; I got to class 5 minutes late. The rest of the week, I decided to walk to class. It’s about an hour’s walk, just about the same time it would take on a colectivo or cab for that matter, plus it’s a hell of a lot cheaper. It’s also been a nice excuse to get exercise and see more of the city (maybe it’s a blessing in disguise after all?)

So how long will this strike be? Roberto Pianelli, the secretary general of the Association of Subte Workers originally said it would only last the weekend. But here we are, still in a standstill one whole week later… What’s the deal?

Main actors:
La Asociación Gremial de Trabajadores de Subterráneos y Premetro (AGTSyP) (The Association of Subte and Premetro Workers)
Roberto Pianelli, Secretary General of the Association of Subte Workers
Mauricio Macri, the Head of Government of la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires
Cristina Kirchner, La Presidenta de Argentina

Main problems:
Subte workers demand a 20% increase in wages
Subte workers demand better working conditions and subte upkeep

On paper, these two problems seem like they could logically be discussed and worked out. However, the over-arching problem, and ultimate reason for this record-breaking strike, is more political than administrative.

Historically there has always been a political divide in Argentina. Today, the main adversing parties are The PROs vs. The Judicialists. PROs stands for “Propuesta Republicana,” or the Republican Proposal, and is the political-right-wing party of Mauricio Macri. The Judicialist party is a Peronist political party led by la presidenta Cristina Kirchner. It sits more in the center of the political spectrum, but Kirchner leans a tad bit to the left.

These two opposing parties contrast very similarly to the Republicans and Democrats back in the states. Needless to say, it’s created many feuds between City and Nation, this strike being a very obvious example.

Although Macri is responsible for meeting the demands for wage-increase, it’s Kirchner who would be technically be responsible for the conditions and upkeep of the subtes (it was the Nation that had given the subtes to Buenos Aires years ago, but they were of mal repair to begin with). Even though the Nation should be responsible, Kirchner has been refusing to claim responsibility for this problem.

So basically, this clusterfuck is all due to a long-running hissyfit between these two political powers. No progress can be made until Kirchner and Macri come to a compromise, and the longer their stubbornness remains, the longer the citizens of Buenos Aires will reap the consequences.

That being said, I think it’s amazing to note some of the cultural differences we have here. Never in the United States would there ever be a strike such as this. I’m almost positive that it’s illegal in New York City to stop public transportation. It’s something about the legal rights that the transportation unions have beneath national law.. But that’s just a guess. In Buenos Aires, there are many associations like AGTSyP that do not have laws to secure their rights. For this reason there are countless demonstrations in public spaces each day, and often strikes. It’s been fascinating to live in the midst of such passion and political fervor, but it’s also saddening to understand why it exists. The people of Argentina are so politically active because they have to be.

Who’s to say how long this strike will continue? The subte workers are fighting for their rights to better pay and working conditions, and will continue to do so until their needs are met. How long will Macri and Kirchner let their people suffer the consequences of their petty differences? Only time will tell.

Here’s to making history.

El Comienzo

Chau Baltimore! At last, the time has come to leave the mid-atlantic heat for the frosty streets of the BA winter.

July 22, 2012. Looking back on this experience as a whole, I won’t be surprised if the most stressful part of the trip remains the hours leading up to departure. What should I pack? How should I pack it? Is it worth paying the extra $70 for another suitcase? How small does my carry-on have to be? Do I really need written and signed prescriptions for my medicine? The exchange rate is what? Why do I need multiple front-and-back photocopies of every single item in my wallet? More and more questions, one after the other, continued to race through my mind as the 10pm JFK departure grew closer. It’s amazing how trivial matters can create such stress and concern. All these little details aside, I came to realize: Huh.. This time tomorrow, I’ll be in Buenos Aires. Although I had been saying it all year, the thought of me living in the large, cosmopolitan “Paris of the Southern Hemisphere” for five months finally began to dawn on me as a figment of reality. To my [pleasant] surprise, I felt neither fearful nor nervous. Instead from the pit of my stomach grew a feeling that was more comforting than anything else; it was the same feeling I had the night before Freshman Orientation. An anxious feeling, yes, but of more excitement than anything else. Both experiences mark the beginning of a new chapter in my life. This trip is bound to bring about new experiences that will surely shape me in a number of small, indescribable ways. So hasta luego, Baltimore, y buen día Buenos Aires!

Packing for Buenos Aires

You get one suitcase, one carry on, and one personal item. Obviously that’s all you need for five months and three seasons, right? WRONG. As a 20-year-old woman who has taken on the challenge of blending in as a porteña, let me just say that it is well worth the extra $70 to pack another suitcase. TRUST ME. Just make sure you leave some extra room for the trip back. The airlines now have size and weight restrictions for luggage, and anything that surpasses said restrictions will cost you some extra Benjamins.

Since I’ve been in Buenos Aires for a couple weeks now, I’ve began reflecting on my packing choices. As a clueless gringa who had never been to Argentina, let alone South America, I really didn’t know what I should bring. I knew it was technically winter here, but weather.com said that it’s in the high 50’s – low 60’s during the day! That’s not so bad at all! It’s basically fall weather where I come from.

Silly, gringa…

Here in Buenos Aires it is so humid, that the outside air feels several degrees colder than it actually is. That chill, damp air can seep through thin layers of clothing and send chills through your entire body – even if it’s only 50 degrees! My 70-year-old host mom, Magda, and I actually got into a few sassy arguments in my first few days here. Her face was full of bewilderment when she saw what I was wearing that first day, and insisted that I go change into my warmest clothes. After learning that I was indeed wearing my warmest clothes, she attempted to get me into her sherpa-lined, leather jacket that was about three sizes too big. After (what I had hoped to be) my polite decline of her generous offer, she began incessantly demanding that I go out and purchase a winter coat, or at least a sweater. She would say over and over again how all of the girls who had come through her house would always get sick because they would never wear warm enough clothing. I nodded my head.. “si.. dale.. claro, Magda,”… But then I learned.

Oh. Silly, gringa…

After six days of sitting and listening, exploring, playing, raging, and not very much sleep: I got sick. What I had hoped to be only a chest cold evolved into the most disgusting sinus infection one could imagine. Even after one week, it’s still hanging around, minding it’s own business in my sinuses.

The moral of the story is this: pack warm clothes when traveling in the midst of argentine winter, and remember that host [grand]mothers always knows best.

Helpful Tips for Packing:

Porteños wear a lot of black and neutrals. I’ve noticed that some statement colors are popular in the spring/summer, but for winter, stock up on dark-tone layers that go hand-in-hand with black.

For women, jeans are an everyday go-to. Skirts/Shorts and tights are also popular and a fun way to express your style. Casual, body-hugging dresses that can be layered are also popular here in a variety of colors and prints.

BOOTS. Bring them. Tall, small, brown, black, leather, suede. Bring them and you will wear them everyday. Don’t have any cute boots? Don’t stress it; it’s so much better to buy them here! (same thing with peacoats and small purses!)

Heels? Tall girls, beware. If you don’t mind stares and cat-calls from strange men on the street when you’re walking to a restaurant/bar/boliche, be my guest and wear them. Most porteña’s are on the shorter side, so they don’t stick out as much when wearing heels.

Designer Items. It’s not wise to wear clothes that scream high class. Why? You will get robbed. There’s a girl in my program who got robbed five times in one week. She’s blonde, beautiful, dresses incredibly well, wears nice jewelry, and carries a longchamp bag. As soon as this girl opens her mouth to speak english on the subte, she becomes a target. She might not even have to speak english for the expert thieves to pick her out of a crowd as the perfect economical target. Just at first glance, one can tell she carries herself at a higher standard. I’m not suggesting one should completely morph one’s style in order to live safely in Buenos Aires. The truth of the matter is that there is a significant amount of discrimination against foreigners in Buenos Aires, and we are the easiest targets for common theft. In order to lessen the chances, simply try not to stick out as the archetypal American. Ie) wear a peacoat or (p)leather jacket instead of a ski coat or a north face.

Here’s one of my favorite blogs on porteño street style:
OCT – BUENOS AIRES STREET STYLE

Don’t worry about laundry – it’s super cheap and the people who work in the lavanderías do it all for you! No detergent or dryer sheets necessary!

Exercise clothes? Do it! There are plenty of gyms that offer monthly memberships and the parks are perfect for running outdoors. I’ve definitely seen a number of people running on the city streets too, just be sure to only venture out during the day.

Accessories. Scarves are immensely popular. If you have them, bring them. If not, buy them here; they’re everywhere! Funky jewelry is also popular, but take caution about bringing expensive items.

Sweatpants aren’t really a thing here. Living in Buenos Aires requires you to get dressed everyday like a real person… sorry I’m not sorry. At least you can wear jeans!

Toiletries. Bring carry-on toiletries, but nothing more. They take up valuable space and weight in your suitcase and you can find most of the same products here. Leave hairdryers, straighteners, and curling irons at home too; they’re too powerful to work with the adaptors, so you’re better off just buying them once you’re all moved in.

Medicine. Make sure you bring your prescription notes in case you get any trouble with customs. It’s not common, but it could happen. Call your insurance before hand to make sure you have a long-enough-lasting supply to bring with you (it’s a bit trickier to fill prescriptions here). Sudafed, tums, ibuprofen – all handy to bring with you, but there are also equivalents sold in the 24-hr pharmacies here.

REMEMBER a gift for your host family! It doesn’t need to be anything too special. It should be something useful that reflects where you’re from. Maybe a certain non-perishable food item from a local company, a postcard from your state, a mug, etc.

Photocopies. Probably the most important things you could bring. Photocopy casi todo! It’s very possible that your wallet will get stolen, so you’ll need a photocopy of all your credit and identification cards, as well as the bank phone numbers (remember to call them before you leave so they don’t put a hold on your account!). You’ll also need several copies of the front page of your passport. Trust me, you’ll need it. Whether it’s to carry in your wallet or purse during the day, or to give to your program to have on file, it’s nice to have some extra copies kept safe in your suitcase. For residencia purposes, they’ll also ask that you give them a front-to-back copy of your passport, blank pages included… But you can always do that at one of the many librerías scattered around the city. It seems like there are at least two on every block!

No need to bring your starbucks card… It doesn’t work here.

Money
DO. NOT. EXCHANGE. AT. THE. AIRPORT. Entiendes? The exchange rate right now is somewhere around USD $1 for A $4.5. If you exchange at the airport, you will get your money; however, they will charge you a significant fee. The ATMs in Buenos Aires are the same way. Not only will the Argentine ATMs charge a fee, but your bank at home will charge you too. Some helpful tips to get the most bang for your buck: try to find Argentine Pesos at home. I think my mom ordered USD $500 worth of pesos before I left. I also brought a significant amount of USD with me to Argentina, which I have been exchanging for pesos in the Black Market at about USD $1 for A $6.15. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

Other than that, there’s nothing too terribly important to note.
Huzzah, my first post! ‘twas a hefty one, but long overdue.