Uncategorized: apartment cultural divide excuses moving stress transport trust
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I suppose before continuing I should say something about the new apartment. It’s been some time since I’ve written, and the last thing I wrote regarded leaving First Apartment, so for the sake of narrative let’s put the character in an establishing shot.
What can I say about Next Apartment? It was supposed to be a move in the right direction – the right direction being Palermo Viejo. Palermo is the largest barrio in the city, characterized by shops and parks and the sort of culture attracted to those things. The north-looking realestate businesses here had the genius to call one area of Palermo “SOHO” and another “Hollywood”. Palermo SOHO, like it’s namesake in New York, has an unusual frequency of boutiques and women in uncomfortable shoes. Palermo Hollywood, I understand, is where most of the film/television/entertainment business happens. Both “neighborhoods” benefit from exponential rising rent due to the emotional effect their names have on expats-to-be. Palermo Viejo is a different name entirely – I don’t think the same realestate interests were involved – describing a cluster of blocks in Palermo SOHO (if we’re really going to allow the term) with lots of bars, clubs, and the rowdy 5am shrieking culture attracted to those things. Having laid it out like that I’m embarrassed to say my goal was Palermo Viejo, but my thinking at the time was that I should be right there ‘in the thick of it’. If I’m going to do Spanish class for 3 hours and work for 8+ hours daily, that leaves little time to commute between home and Wherever It Is the People Are. So why not live Where the People Are even if it costs a bit more?
It took me some time to find a new place. I had about an hour every day at 11pm to do the search – in between swallowing my dinner and hitting the lights. That’s not enough time. The real estate market in BsAs in late February isn’t easy. A lot of people from the other hemisphere are still here or newly arriving. I arrived with a lot of expectations about what things would cost and it turns out a lot of the information – though offered with the best intentions – was out of date. Rents have doubled in three years and agents have gotten smart. They know what a New Yorker is used to paying. An apartment’s value here has much more to do with who’s asking than any “going rate”. I’m certain some of my neighbors pay 1/10th what I pay. The expat tax has not apparently decreased in the economic “slowdown”. Where does a laid-off New York banker go if not to BsAs? 1600 for an amazing loft in the best neighborhood of Buenos Aires AND the weather’s great? Throw in a wine tour and he’ll pay twice that. So when I spent my 11pms looking for a new apartment, those were the guys I was contending with. I probably held out a little too long for that perfect apartment with the gated balcony and the full kitchen and respectable selection of English language novels because I found myself three days from my move-out date without a new contract. I want to be the kind of person that enjoys that moment – that says to himself “I don’t know where I’m going to wake up three days from now and that’s awesome” – but I kind of freaked out. It may be that I’m getting older. It may be that I feel a massive obligation to my museum to maintain some semblance of a normal, regular schedule – and that obligation makes me unreasonably anxious. Anyway I freaked out and signed myself into the first apartment in my price range that had Internet and that was within walking distance to Palermo Viejo.
It’s a 30 minute walk. It’s small, a studio, with a queen bed filling one half of the room and one of those crappy dining room tables that has one side bolted into the wall (to save on legs and/or prevent theft?). It has the sorts of pots and pans that you buy if you’ve never cooked before. Sad black steel sauce pans that conduct heat so unevenly the hot zone is exactly the size and shape of the burner beneath it. These pans hate food. The french press – which I assume is what they had in mind when they listed “Coffee Maker!” – is broken. Right in half. Two chairs are deceptively incapable of supporting weight. I could go on. The best part was the Internet connection, which I was assured existed and worked perfectly. When I arrived to sign the contract I learned that the previous tenant had stolen the modem. “There is no Internet?” “There is Internet, you can see [holds up the cable]. There is just needs a modem.”
This is one of those One Hand Clapping things isn’t it? How fast is an Internet connection that doesn’t have a modem? The connection exists, arguably. It’s just not actualized…
Because I had no other options I signed the contract – adding a note for all to see that I considered the thing unfulfilled until an Internet connection was installed. I was very clear with my landlord how important it was that the new modem be installed immediately. He assured me it would be done Monday.
On Tuesday I stopped in to find that my Internet connection was still.. conceptual. I reached my landlord, who complained that it was impossible to receive the technician on Monday because I’m the only one with a key to the apartment. Como se dice ‘paucity of foresight’? I met with him to make a spare and in between ridiculous stilted smalltalk I reiterated the supreme importance of establishing an Internet connection. I was now in such a state that when I told him I could be fired from my job for the eminent lapse in connectivity I nearly believed myself.
He rescheduled for Wednesday. On Wednesday by coincidence I had to check out of my old apartment. I worked all day from the old apartment, foreboding enduring troubles. At the last available moment I packed up my computer and took a cab North to the new apartment. I stepped in with my things and looked immediately to the shelf where I hoped to see a little black box with blinking green lights. Where the modem should have been a note was left explaining that the technician had come but that it was “fundamental” that my computer be in the apartment at the time of the setup to configure the modem. In a stroke that indicated he believed he had completed his obligation to me he left an 800 number I should call to reschedule. Suddenly his cellphone refused my calls.
I did try his 800 number – not that it should have been my responsibility to assist the installation of a service I was already paying for – and the Fibertel agent that answered couldn’t help me when I didn’t speak sufficient Spanish. He also didn’t know what to do with me when I asked him if I was fucked.
I spent the next two days getting to know the agency people really well by telephone. Daniel seemed nice enough but didn’t seem to share much with his evening replacement, Gwen, because I had to repeat myself any time I called to remind them that they were all going to die.
I don’t care about the gym. I don’t care about the so called 24 hour security (which from what I can tell is really just a guy that mops the lobby twice weekly at odd hours and says “Buen Día”). I don’t care about the in-house laundry room nor the pool. I don’t really know what a parilla is much less why I should be glad there are a bunch of them on the roof. I need Internet.
The agency, in spite of many discussions about the nature of a “connection” and where certain lines of responsibility are drawn, could not help me. This was a matter between me and the landlord whose cellphone stopped working shortly after I paid. Eventually I learned from the nice couple down the block (that somehow run a business selling 50 centavo phone calls and gum) that my landlord’s cellphone likely just needed credit. He had let his prepaid phone run out of minutes and hadn’t added any more. For two days. Which, in the convoluted Argentine telecom system, means one needs to buy a special card whose sole purpose is to place calls to prepaid cellphones that don’t have credit. Yeah. That card exists. It costs about 30 cents a minute and I would have paid ten bucks because hearing the surprise in that asshole’s voice when he realized I had vaulted over his no-credit prepaid scam was priceless. “Hola… Paul…. Que tal?”
He rescheduled for the following Tuesday.
I skipped class Tuesday to receive the Fibertel man. Like 98 percent of Argentina he didn’t speak a word of English, but we got by on what Spanish I knew and mary mother of christ I got my Internet.
I started writing this thinking I’d say something about how nice it is to have a balcony – a private space outside where you can close your eyes in the sun – but it kind of descended into another needlessly detailed account of the folly of expecting things to work in this country.
The balcony is nice.
Uncategorized: banks cultural divide excuses learning spanish signage
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One great thing about being in a country that doesn’t speak your language is no one expects you to say anything. It can be a luxury. Bear with me.
Standing in line at the bank the other day the woman in front of me turned to share some observation she had just had about our teller. Whatever she said was probably clever and on point and I should have chuckled and responded in kind if I had any idea what it was. But rather than ask her to repeat herself five times while I flipped through my dictionary I had to apologize ‘Perdon no hablo Espanol’. On one hand it’s a shame. I miss out on the rawer interactions. I don’t get to share in the passive aggressive whispers of the city’s working constituency. On the other hand I have an eject button for every situation. How often have you wished you could say “I’m sorry I don’t speak English” rather than fake a half-interested noncommital laugh?
In class today the profesora asked us to discuss a time and place in the past (think ancient Greece, Paris in the ’20s..) and compare it to today. To watch me speak it probably looked like I was struggling with preterite imperfect conjugations. Internally I was struggling to come up with some concrete comparison I could actually stand behind. En esa epoca habia mas libertad de vida.. but was there really much more freedom? What do I know? Weren’t women excluded from government? Wasn’t there a severe class system? Actually I don’t know. What concrete comparison can I make without owning up to a sad, superficial understanding of this very very dead civilization? (The textbook helped me out with a cartoon of the Quintessential Greek: impossibly curly beard, orating freely in very comfortable clothing, a jug of wine levitating in the background. “Habia mas libertad que hoy. Eran mas inteligentes.”)
Sometimes I miss the point.