Thursday, January 28, 2010

Let's get LOST!

I love that pic.  Flannery O'Connor is one of my favorite writers too.  He's reading "Everything Rises Must Converge" a book that discusses the struggle of Good vs. Evil. 

We are under 7 days away from the beginning of the end.  The first episode of the last season is next week and I can hardly contain myself.  The unfortunate thing for me, is that apparently I will be on a week delay down here so please, pretty PLEASE, nobody talk to me about the show.  It might actually kill me not seeing the show in real time so I will exhaust all internet avenues, legal or otherwise to see the shows as the US audience views them. 

For those that don't know, I think a LOT about the show.  When I'm waking, driving, in the shower, making love, it is always on my mind (ok not the last one but you get the gist). I had a dream about where the next season will start and I saw Hurley standing in waist high water on a sand bar in the ocean (this is wrong but it seemed right when I woke up).  I occasionally read internet theories and discuss with other fans.  I love experiencing the show this first time around when things are still unknown and there are multiple theories/interpretations floating around.  As they connect the dots, some theories are deemed silly, others impossible and some right on the money.  You only get this first, last season experience once so enjoy the ride.

Without further adieu, here are some theories I've put together on the show which may be obvious, trivial or even wrong.  Feel free to pull them apart:

If you do a little digging on the internet, it turns out the four toed statue is most likely an Egyptian goddess named Tawaret.  She is known for, among other things, being a goddess of fertility.  I believe her destruction (probably caused by the incident/ Hbomb explosion) is the reason that mothers lose the ability to have children on the island.  We saw the Dharma initiative conceiving kids all over the place but obviously not for the Others decades later (the reason Juliet was brought over). 

I am fairly positive that the Jacob's cabin was not Jacob's at all.  Ben thought so but he was either lying or really didn't know as he never actually spoke to Jacob.  The only words that Locke, not Ben, heard when he was taken there were "Help Me!".  It's possible Jacob used to use it but I think more recently it was a sort of prison for his gray haired Nemesis.  The ash surrounding it was somehow used to locke ;) him in.  When it was broken he was able to escape.  Who broke him out?  Was it accidental or intentional?  I thought Hurley mistakenly might have done it as he was able to see the cabin one time. Maybe I missed the answer to this, but it's still an outstanding question.  While trapped he had a lot of time to figure out the loophole he would later use to finally kill Jacob.  The interesting thing about that cabin is that Christian Shepherd (and later Claire!) were seen there a few times.  It does seem that this Nemesis can impersonate dead people on the island as evidenced by Christian and later John Locke himself. 

This leads to the very interesting question as to whether John Locke as we knew him is dead?  It seems clear that the Nemesis has been puppeteering him around since he came back to the island.  One odd difference between him and Christian is that Locke's body is visible whereas Christian's disappeared from the coffin.  Is this relevant?  As for Locke, it would be a shame if he is dead and gone.  I wonder if a sort of exorcism is possible to get the Nemesis out of him, but would Locke remain or would he just vanish?

As for the loophole, I am still working on this one, but the Nemesis Locke gives a clue when he tells Richard to tell the normal Locke (when he takes the bullet out of his leg while he's jumping through time) he HAS to die in order to bring the Oceanic Six back to the island.  He makes this explicit in his instructions to Alpert.  I find in interesting that the wheel that Ben pushed to move the island was off it's axis.  Did the nemesis do this intentionally as part of his whole plan to kill Jacob?  Christian was down there when Locke went to fix the wheel.  Hmmmmm...   Since the Nemesis can't kill Jacob directly even when he's in someone else's body, he enlisted Ben to do it.  Whether the other person had to be a leader, past or present, of the others probably doesn't matter.  I think it just had to be someone other than him and the Nemesis recognized that Ben could be manipulated to do it based on his history with Jacob (love seeing Ben manipulated for once). It's noteworthy that Ben was following Locke's orders on the back of his encounter with the smoke monster in which Alex, his daughter appears, and tells him to follow whatever Locke says.  Does the Nemesis control the smoke monster too?   Another person besides Locke we are not sure is dead is....

Jacob?  His death was very Obi Wan Kenobi style in the manner he resignedto it.  He could have said a lot of things to Ben to save his skin, but he seemed to only antagonize him more, "What ABOUT you?".  Did he expect to die, knowing he will come back?  Is he a chess step ahead of his Nemesis and figured out the loophole before he did.  Check out this cool Lost trailer for the last season.  It is even set to Radiohead, my favorite band:

Jacob clearly touches a select few of our major pieces who are stuck in Dharma times at different stages of their life.  Jack, Kate, Jin, Sawyer and Hurley (not Juliet or Miles from what we saw nor any other Dharma folk).  Does this give them some sort of immortality to survive the blast?  My guess is that those 5 will be warped back to their "proper" time (i.e. where they should be if they hadn't time traveled at all).  The time of Ben, Evil Locke and Sun.  In this time a war is brewing as Jacob's team carrying Locke's casket has finally caught up to the Others.  What will happen once Evil Locke having just killed Jacob (with Ben's help) emerges in front of them will not be pretty is my guess.

I don't think Jack/Faraday's theory will come to fruition.  For starters, that would be boring if everyone just gets on the flight and doesn't know each other.  Faraday's initial conjecture that one can't change things in the past is the correct one.  I think Miles foreshadows things when he questions Jack and everyone else in saying, "What if the H-bomb IS the incident we are trying to prevent?  Glad you guys thought this one through."  I think the old timeline will progress as we know with the Dharma intiative somehow surviving to finish building the Swan + encase it in concrete with a button that releases the pressure buildup every 108 minutes.  Dr Candle survives to make all the tapes including the one for the swan pushing the button.  Radzinsky survives to push the button until he commits suicide as we learn from Desmond's button mentor (the General who let Sayid go in the Iraqi war).  Even Ben's dad somehow survives to later be killed by Ben with the gas.  I realize it's inconsistent to think the blast destroyed the statue but left these people alive esp since Radzinsky was near the blast site.  Maybe there's hope that Juliet and Miles will survive too.  I have to think more about how to solve this inconsistency but perhaps the blast makes everyone time travel for a fraction of a second to survive the blast but the island itself still physically feels the explosion...

One other question I have is whether there will continue to be flash backs/forwards.  My guess is there will, but primarily for Jacob, his Nemesis (they are the most intriguing characters now) and perhaps Richard Alpert and the new group that is sympathetic to Jacob.  We know next to nothing about any of them so here we go again. 

I can keep going with the questions like when will Claire reappear (she IS coming back, Michael style), what about Desmond (my favorite character still alive), why were the Others stealing children (they may not answer this one), what did Richard Alpert have to give up for immortality, are the Others descendants of the Black Rock ummm....shipwreck (still don't know why the boat is in the middle of the island and how the dynamite didn't blow if it was deposited there violently), was Richard the captain, what's with all the Egyptian symbols, who started Dharma and how did they find the island in the first place, how did a hydrogen bomb find its way on to the island, etc etc. 

I'll stop here and depending on what sort of comments I receive, may have another piece on Lost before the
premiere.  They certainly have a ton of questions to answer and can't wait for them to get started!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

You want a piece of me?

I was just sitting at dinner, taking a break from steak for a night and having a pizza when a fight broke out.  Not a free for all, but a fist fight between to young guys literally in the middle of the street.  One guy was shirtless + pretty buff and the other was taller + didn't look like he was in great shape.  They circled each other for a while, like Popeye and Bluto, dodging the taxis and cars that drove by stupefied.  All the waiters and passer bys stopped to see if it was serious. After a few missed punches and connected kicks everyone saw that indeed, it was, but noone was terribly eager to stop it.    As with most fights, they ended up on the ground wrestling + their friends finally jumped in to stop it.  The shirtless guy who started it and clearly the more angry of the two, lost the fight as he was exhausted afterwards and couldn't stand. 

Of course, the one night I don't take my camera out something interesting happens, or else I'd have footage.  It occurred to me that in the US I would have gotten out of there for fear of a knife or gun.  Argentina is no Canada (they have their share of violent history) but given the reaction of all watching, nobody seemed to be too worried. 

All this violence got me thinking, of course, about Lost.  I cannot contain my excitement + this and various other theories about the show will be the topic for next time...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Wall $t + the Credit Crisis - One Trader's perspective

From left, bank chiefs Lloyd Blankfein, James Dimon, John Mack and Brian Moynihan are sworn in on Capitol Hill earlier this month to testify before the Congressional Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which is investigating the causes of the financial crisis.

Thursday's events in the markets in which the financial stocks plummeted (on the back of Congress calling for yet tighter regulation of banks) got me feeling nostalgic about my old job and the roller coaster it was, especially at the end of my time there.  By now, most of you have probably read articles/books, seen a movie or TV special about the Financial crisis.  In some instances, told by someone who worked within the industry. I think about it a lot as it was my life for 7.5 years.

For those that don't know, there actually was a time when I had a full time job.  I used to wake up every morning around 7am (hard to believe I know) and make a short commute to work.  I was hired as a junior trader out of grad school back in March of 2001 and while my title changed slightly over the years as did the securities I traded, my primary function remained the same: Quantifying and analyzing the risk of any trade that could make the bank $$$.  I don't like discussing the particulars my job much because it wasn't easily explainable even to people that worked in finance in a sentence or two.  It did, however, provide for an excellent front row seat to the tumultuous events of two years ago.

One of the things that immediately struck me my first few weeks on the job was how smart and enthusiastic everyone around me was.  I was lucky enough to go to schools throughout my life where I was surrounded by intelligent and in some cases brilliant minds. Wall st, however, possessed something more.  These people were also incredibly driven which makes for a dangerous combo.  Everyone was extremely competitive (think Nadal in a suit or Michael Jordan only a lot smarter).  Sure there was some goofing off on slow days, but when things heated up, everyone was razor sharp.  The other thing I struggled with initially were the long hours.  In school, aside from going to class, you have the flexibility to manage the rest of your day wherever your interests lie.  You can take breaks, mental or physical (naps I mean) for sometimes hours at a time.  Going from that to a high level of intensity for most of a 10-12 hour day definitely took some getting used to. 

I quickly learned that most of my coworkers were the Type "A" people of the world.  Those that possess that aforementioned lethal combination of smarts and drive.  I remember thinking it was something of a shame that they were working in banking because they were the sorts that would excel in any job they applied themselves to.  They would be excellent teachers, policeman, doctors, etc.  Instead they were devoting all their God give energies + focus to making more money for a bank and thereby making more cash for themselves.  They could be contributing to society and make a real difference in the world.  It seemed a bit selfish and materialistic to me (of course I was sitting right there next to them).  Over time I softened on this stance, as many of them had families and wanted to provide comfortable living for themselves and their children.  I also witnessed a large amount of bankers/traders contribute to numerous charities throughout their careers.  Even though they couldn't give their time (a few still did), many gave back with their wallets.  Which is better?

There are 3 ways to get a job in the front office of a Wall Street firm.  The first is by going to a top notch undergrad or graduate school (a.k.a the "front door").   The second is by knowing someone senior in the industry (the "back door").  When you didn't go to Harvard or have a rich uncle at Goldman Sachs the last way is by working your butt of starting as a clerk or in the back/middle office.  This last way is the toughest as you can work long hours for years before you see any rewards and there are no guarantees.  The benefit however is that one can get their foot in the door and get paid as opposed to shelling out money to a grad school while networking and learning about the business.  In this respect, Wall St is like an exclusive annoying club with velvet ropes.  It's a pain to get in, but once you are inside you feel fortunate and share a small sense of camaraderie with the folks that are also inside. 

One unspoken thought among most experienced traders is that, while you are told by your boss/manager to put on trades that are low risk (and therefore low return usually) you are actually incentivized to do the opposite.  One of three things will happen when you put on a risky trade with or without your manager knowing (there are ways to mask things if you know the systems).

1. The trade does well, making the firm money and you look like a superstar.  You get a big bonus, promoted and can probably retire in 4-5 years.

2. The trade blows up, losing lots of the firms cash (not your own).  You get reprimanded or fired sometimes with severance (so you get paid more for putting on a bad trade).  You find another bank or hedge fund showing them your glowing resume but not that trade and do it all over again. 

3.  The trade goes sideways so you are neither fired nor paid a bunch.  You can take it off and find another one.

Obviously, the key here is that you are trading with someone else's money so if you incur a big loss it will not hit your personal wallet.  As long as you are not being fradulent or breaking the law (another conversation entirely), chances are if you got a job at one bank, you can get one at another.  This was the line of thinking when times were good and had a hand in what caused markets to start to collapse in 2008.

Riskier trades were put on and new structures invented where the risk was not fully understood or quantified.  (CDOs for example).  Once a few negative events started, it turned out much of these assets were more correlated than thought, and the whole thing came crashing down like a house of cards.   Of course the entire system didn't fail otherwise we'd have no banks and would be living in chaos but for a little while it looked like we weren't too far away from that.  There were so many events in 2008 that if they had happened in any other year they would have been the single major financial story of that year (Freddy and Fannie collapse, AIG, Bear Stearns sold for almost nothing to JPM, Lehman bankruptcy, death of pure investment bank, etc).  It really did feel like a roller coaster.

Now that the dust has settled, it's still amazing how quickly everything unraveled.  My old desk barely exists anymore, the head of my desk and CEO have left and the rest were let go.  It's possible the whole NY office won't be around 6 months from now.  The trading floor used to be such a energetic, loud, dynamic and exciting place to be + now it sounds like a library.  It's funny to watch the Office, because my ex job couldn't have been more opposite (I guess nobody's office is exactly like that one)...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Time to talk about time

No, this isn't a blog about time travel or any Lost theories (that will come later I promise).  To mark my 2 week anniversary here I've decided to mix things up and change the format a bit.  This is a summary of my "average" day here thus far.  Let's break it down:

High noon (12:00pm) - I am ashamed to admit it, but this is the average time I've been waking up.  The nightlife goes so late here that this might even be on the early side.  One of the cool gadgets that Dom has in the bedroom portion of his studio, is motorized blinds which are remote controlled by a small box with an alarm on it.  I've only set the alarm once, but waking up to sunlight vs a loud nagging alarm is a no brainer.  This is the way homo sapiens were meant to awaken. 

1pm - After a glass of OJ, head out to play tennis/run errands/sightsee.  While there has been some rain and a few fierce storms here, the weather has been remarkably consistent with summer temps in the 80s, high humidity and lots of sun. 

Well manicured Park with overground subway in the back.

3pm - After an active morning...errr afternoon, it's time to eat.  If a restaurant is open in the afternoon it will have outdoor seating.  My favorite dish here is an appetizer called an empanada.  It's a pastry filled with everything from meat/chicken to ham/cheese/onions.  They are rolled in dough and baked in an oven.  I'm averaging around 2 a day here + their quality varies from restaurant to restaurant with pizza places having surprisingly good ones.  They are not helping my goal of losing weight here but I am powerless to stop them. 

6pm - Head home to grab a swim/shower and take a siesta.  The siesta has not caught on over here quite like it has in Spain, but that doesn't keep me from trying to install it in my culture. 

7pm - Move out to take a tango or yoga lesson depending on the day of the week.  Yoga was something I stumbled upon by accident as I was finishing a tango lesson one day.  Actually, more they stumbled on me as one of my tango lessons was running late and a group pleasant, yet intensely focused women toting mats and good karma busted down the door to let us know our time was up.  I took their card, and decided to sign up for an 8 pack in an effort to improve my terrible flexibility and try to work something new in my life.  My first class felt like boot camp as my arms and legs vibrated in some of the poses.  While most of the women next to me were focused on their breathing, I was just trying not to fall over or onto one of them.  I haven't sweated that much in a while and the next day everything was sore.  I think that means it's working. 

10pm - This is when the majority of people head out for dinner.  At 10:30pm it is impossible to get a table at my favorite CampoBravo so they serve you free champagne while you wait. 

The view from one of the tables around 1030pm.  The people briefly look up from their meal to note that I am the gringo taking a picture of nothing in particular. 

One thing I can't recommend here is sushi.  They put cream cheese in almost every roll and it's a lot more expensive than other cuisines.  It's a shame because having red meat with every meal as well as a few cervezas at night is a sure recipe for getting gout.  I need to find other alternatives. 

 12am (midnight) - Meet friends out for a few Quilmes which is the Budweiser of Argentina.  Midnight is early even for some as many dinners can run past 1am.  As stated in an early blog, the Milongas (ballroom style tango events) really pick up around 1am.   From my observations, most Argentinians go out in pairs or groups and generally don't mix with other groups.  Not surprisingly the drunker a group, the more likely they are to mingle, but it is not the same as clubs in the US where it's common to make new friends in a night. 

3am - 5am - Stumble home +  heat up a empanada in the microwave.  Que rico!

Disclaimer:  Although it is not explicitly mentioned, there is some work being done in the above hours.  Given that the mere mention of work is lame and not fun I have omitted it.  I'm not a complete waste of space. 

Monday, January 18, 2010

Tennis anyone?

Another goal of mine coming down here is to play copious amounts of tennis if possible.  Tennis is one of my few real passions in life + I have my dad to thank for putting a (in those days wooden) racket in my hands when I was 5.  When I was a teenager I spent 5-6 days a week around a tennis court teaching or playing.  When I started at grad school and then in NY it became very hard to play more than once every 2-3 weeks and even though I'm an older man these days I miss the work out and competition of it.  I resolved I would try to play every day if possible down here and although I fell short of that my first week here I did finally get that ball going towards the end of last week. 

I first played with a friend of a friend named Pedro who was in a previous post.  He is a really good soul, generally happy and helpful guy and teaches kids in the am while trying to start a Pilates studio in the afternoon.  He made me get up the earliest by far since I have been here at 8:45am last week (I did say it was a passion) and hit with me for an hour before the kids engulfed him for his clinic.  Once he got my tennis juices flowing I decided to keep the momentum and had a taxi take me to the most famous club here called Club Vilas named after the sometimes hot-headed veteran of the Connors & McEnroe days.  I poked around and they told me they had a summer special of 1,400 Argentinan pesos/month which lets me play during non-peak hours.  This works out to around $370/mo which is more than my club in NY which is more than a little ridiculoso.  I left my name and told them I am an americano in town looking for people to hit with and checked out a few more reasonable clubs that were just down the road.

The next day I got a call from a guy named Ricky who spoke very little English but was quite enthusiastic on the phone to hit at club Vilas.  This is Ricky:

Ricky does some type of importing/exporting I didn't understand, but when I first asked him what he did, that's not what he said.  He told me he is a Bass player in a band.  He's ok at tennis, but he hustles his butt off + I give him an A for effort.  Like everyone else here he has been super kind and has offered to help me with anything I need.  I used to think that the people of Nashville were the nicest of anywhere I've lived but the people here are definitely giving Nasvhillians a run for their money.  I am hitting with Ricky manana + will try to check out his band one of these nights.

After our match he offered check the gym to see if there were any good players for me there.  He explained it was quiet that day and that most of the good players are on vacation in Uruguay or other parts of Argentina.  There was one coach there named Diego who used to be on the ATP tour + was ranked in the top 200 in the world.  Diego was another nice guy who told me his 22 yr old student was coming in 2 hours if I wanted to wait and hit with him.  I hadn't been feeling well the previous two days but wasn't about to pass up this opportunity.  His student's name was Federico:

Despite my mini-illness, all the white blood cells in the world wouldn't have helped me against Federico.  He put so much topspin on the ball that it felt I was hitting everything around my ears.  I hung in there the best I could but in the end he beat me 6-1, 6-4.  It's good to be humbled once in a while.

After my beat down, I was exhausted and decided to sit at the cafe there and watch some of the other players.  As it turns out, there were some much better players there than Federico.  On tour courts next to where I was hitting, Hernan Gumy (ranked 39 in the world in 1996) was playing the current #10 junior in the world.  Next to that the current #7 ranked junior was playing Carlos Berlocq who was ranked #66 in the world in 2007.  Hard to see them but here they are:

For a tennista like me this was a supreme thrill as the quality was high and it was fun to see clay court experts at work on their surface.   The interesting thing is that these guys all got game.  They are fast, strong, athletic, smart, literally world class athletes yet, the chances of them making a living from tennis are slim.  If you are the 100th ranked athlete in football (american or soccer), basketball, or perhaps 100th ranked hedge fund manager or CEO, you are making millions.  In tennis, all it gets you is to the break even point where your expenses (constant travel & lodging, meals, possibly a coach) match your earnings.  Any lower ranking and you are operating at a loss and believe me the 150 or 200th ranked player is amazing!  Of course the lower your ranking is the higher your earnings and fame change exponentially.  All it means is that the odds are very much stacked against you in a sport like tennis so a more realistic goal if you are very good is to get a college scholarship for 4 years and receive a solid education. 

Hopefully I can parlay my Vilas day into more solid matches throughout my time here.  Since the Aussie Open starts tonight I will make a few predictions.  On the women's side I like Clijsters again with Henin as a dark horse (the Belgians are back!).  On the men's I like Roger with Roddick as my dark horse (Murray has a shot too!).  Remember, Love means nothing in tennis...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tango & Cash

Like most American men, I didn't have a whole lot of exposure to dancing while growing up.  I remember dropping my sister off at ballet classes thinking it was very girly while I got to go to taekwondo classes (Don't mess with me, I have the card to prove it).  Over the years I saw a few musicals and thought they were pretty good and saw the movie Billy Elliot and liked that.  For all the countless hours in dance clubs in NYC, South Beach, LA, etc you'd think I'd be better at club dancing (if there is such a thing) but I still look like a dork.  I remember going to my buddy Wayne's wedding years ago and watched him do a choreographed dance with his wife for their 1st dance.  Wayne isn't the smoothest operator, but he pulled it off and looked cool doing so.  With the advent of Dancing with the Stars and its hip, fun, sexy format I decided that it was time to get involved.

The obvious choice now that I'm in Argentina is tango, as it was born here even though it is popular throughout the world with lessons available in almost every major city.  If you're not interested in tango or dancing for that matter go ahead and skip this section.

I took my first lesson in Miami from Diane Castro who is an longtime friend of the family and was nice enough to spend an hour showing me the ropes.  One of the first things I learned is that it is very much in tune to the beat of the music.  Each song has different accordions, violin or piano melodies but underneath each one is a constant cello beat which every good tango dancer identifies and steps to.  Sometimes one can speed things up and take 3 steps between beats or go slow and let a beat or two go by without moving but almost every step made by the man begins and ends to a beat.  As long as this is satisfied, the man has the flexibility to interpret the music however he sees fit which is one thing I like about tango. The woman follows his lead and while she can add some flare to it as well, she must be ready to move when he steps.

Another quality of classic tango is that both partners are expected to be rigid from the waist up.  This means no twirls, dips or dunks.  For this reason, the skill and magic of the dance all happens from the waist down and the way a couple's feet move together sometimes in very tight quarters.  To be honest, I am still on the fence on this aspect as I'd like to make use of my arms but from what I hear, the footwork in tango is so intricate, once it is learned and mastered, all dances seem much easier.  In the two lessons I took from Raul here in BA he taught me some of the basic steps all moving to the sound of the beats.  Even walking has to be unlearned somewhat as a man must learn to lead with his body first then step, which is the opposite of the way most people walk.  I start group lessons on Sunday and will keep everyone abreast with my (hopefully) progress.

To get to some of my lessons I decided to take a chance and hop on the bus.  Taxis have gotten more expensive since I was here 3 years ago when you could get a taxi across the whole city for around $4.  Now a 5 min ride costs that and while it's still cheaper than NYC it is too expensive for most of the population here.  That's where the bus comes in.  For a whopping price of about 32 cents it will take you on it's route for a couple miles (it costs a little more for longer distances).  I am translating the prices from pesos into USD but as my friend Jay would say, it costs air to ride the bus.

Onto picture time....

Dinner of champions.  Half eaten steak with garlic fries, and onion-tomato sauce and a coke.  Mmmmmm....

Valeria (lawyer) and I at CampoBravo, my favorite restaurant

The bar next to the apt has a Grolsch sign but no Grolsch! (or any other good beer on their menu).  Grolsch is my favorite beer in the world.  It's not cool to tease the Americans....

 Pedro my tennis instructor and his buddy having our last beer of the night.

Lastly, my heart goes out to the poor people of Haiti.  Some of the pictures are devastating.  Best wishes to them all. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Back to basics

One of the things that excited me about leaving the US for a bit was unplugging from the digital age we live in.  Receiving texts, emails continuously on a bberry, all the social networking sites and constant stream of info we live in are wonderful, but I think these sometimes get the way of real human interaction (and yes, I realize the irony as I sit here writing a blog).  Even the art of conversation on a telephone has dwindled significantly in the last few years.  If you go out in NYC, Miami, LA or most cities nowadays just about everyone who is lucky enough to afford an Iphone, Bberry or something similar keeps it attached to their hip.  If one is using it for work then it is justifiable esp if a timely response to your boss or coworker is expected.  However, if you go out with your friends to a party or and social event and look around, it never ceases to amaze me how many people have their phones out, messaging someone when the reason you are out is to hang out with the people at the event.  I think for many, it has become a sort of electronic security blanket when things get awkward or uncomfortable or just sheer boredom. 

I certainly felt myself slipping into the above habits.  To that end I decided to turn off my phone and buy the cheapest one down here whose only use is for talking.  I'm also giving up on TV except for NFL games  to see how the season ends and LOST when it starts up again (I can't discuss my excitement about that show rationally).  I'm trying to be the unplugged version of me, but to do that right I probably need to go to Antarctica or something.  I do miss staying in touch with my friends, but that's what emails and this blog are for (and skype which I have just learned)!

One thing that has been suspiciously lacking on here is pictures....  I've dusted off the camera and even though I hate being the turista I've decided to take my camera with me wherever I go.  It weighs about as much as my blackberry so it helps with my digital withdrawal. I've decided to go overboard on this post to make up for my lack of pics thus far. 

A few basic shots to set the scene.  This is the studio I am staying at (yes that's a crib for my buddy's newborn):

              I am 3rd one up to the right.

View from the rooftop pool.  Lots of other people hanging out on a Monday afternoon as you can see.

Yesterday, I took my 2nd tango lesson from el maestro Raul Cabral.  He is a famous instructor who travels the world to teach tango to uncoordinated gringos like myself. He taught me at this studio owned by famous sexy Argentine actress, Jessica Schultz.  She's 50 now but has pictures of all of her theater and TV work from back in the day and still looks great.  She also loves walking around hugging her 2 yr old cat.  This is the studio:

                                                Raul and I after our lesson.

Lastly, I joined Raul at a Milonga last night.  Remember a Milonga is a large hall where people dance tango all nights.  They don't get hopping till around midnight and hit their peak sometime around 2am but many stay past 4am.  They always give Raul one of the best tables and he's like a movie star there as every 10 minutes someone comes up to say hi and wish him well.  I will cover the Milongas and tango dancing in general in a future post but the best way to describe them is a cross between a high school dance and a wedding reception (with a little roller derby thrown in) except everyone can dance really well (except me). All the well dressed people sit and drink around a dance floor and the guys are expected to approach women to dance all night.  The woman can politely decline but most of the time she says yes, even if she came with a guy.   All is done super respectfully, and as you'll see it gets CROWDED!  This is at 1am...

                                             You better be ready to drink here. 

This guy has been at all 3 Milongas I've been to.  I think he's stalking me...........  If I see him at a 4th, it will not end well for him.

Raul and I enjoying some cerveza  +  a 2am show with 2 excellent tango dancers. 

Lastly, apparently 2 esteemed tango dancers had died in the last month.  One young and one old, so they did a video tribute after the show where everyone clapped and paid their respects.  It is a tight knit community:

That's all for this post.  Hasta luego muchachos.  

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Spice of Life

If you ask 100 people to define the Spice of Life you'll probably get 100 different answers.  What is it that inspires one want to get out of bed each and every morning?  Is it playing with your kids, the promise of a new relationship, a party, concert, sporting event, or some other forum to have fun with your friends and family?  In financial realms it might be putting on a new trade or closing a deal that will land your company millions in profit and thereby put $$$ in your pocket. 

To me, the answer lies in experiencing new things, peoples, cultures, basically seeing or trying things that maybe you've heard or read about for the first time.  These infrequent times when you attempt something that is brand new to you, whether you like it or hate it, in my opinion are the stuff that makes life worth living.  I was thinking about this as I went to my 2nd tango Milonga tonight (one day I will remember my camera) watching all the people dance very intensely around the floor.  Everything I experience in there is new, a little daunting, but also exciting.  I may not end up being a very good dancer but the fact that it is something new certainly makes it a worthwhile exercise.  Going outside one's comfort zone is not always easy, especially the older you get, but I find is it always a rewarding experience as you'll end up learning more about life and yourself in those instances than staying "in the box".

One corollary of this line of thinking, for better or for worse, is that the newness is also part of what keeps people from settling down or, in other instances, cheating on their significant others which I've been reading a lot on recently (thanks Tiger!).  Meeting someone interesting, attractive, stimulating on multiple levels can be an exciting experience unto itself.  In this day and age, when the barriers to meeting new people are at an all time low with the internet, all the social sites, texting and the mobility of our culture it's no wonder infidelity and the divorce rates seem to be at an all time high.  This is why marrying for love and no other reason is paramount as always.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Bienvenudo a Buenos Aires

Despite the fact that it is cliche to have one nowadays, I have decided to start a blog.  At the outset it will primarily be a journal of my experiences as I live and travel in South America.  Over time I think it will morph into a forum for ideas and theories I've accumulated throughout my travels.  Without further adieu...

I landed in Buenos Aires 3 days ago and for starters I am happy to report I am alive and happy!  The city has such a relaxed and rich feel to it.  The people have been super friendly despite my broken Spanish and are very patient with me.  I am staying in a young, hip part of the city called Las Canitas at the studio of my ex-KBC coworker Dom.   My many thanks to him for giving me a place to stay while he takes care of his newborn with his fiancee in Rio de Janeiro. 

My goal is to post once a day more or less in an effort to chronicle as much as possible before returning stateside.  I am hoping my writing will improve too as it's been over 10 years since I've written anything on a consistent basis and to any poor soul actually reading this I promise to make it as entertaining as possible. 

To quickly recap the last few days, I arrived on a Tuesday + after being overcharged by the cabbie got situated to Dom's pad where there is baby stuff everywhere.  Little things here and there don't work right, but overall it is very comfortable living here and he has Direct TV which is great because I can follow some of the NFL playoffs.  That's pretty much the only thing I'll watch as one of my goals is to ween myself off of TV whilst here (with LOST the only significant exception of course).  My first night out I ate at Camp Bravo, downstairs on the corner and they make the BEST steak filled raviolis on the planet.  They have multiple sauces they serve it with and at the moment I can eat it each meal so have to have some discipline.  At night I went out had a delicious steak, with garlic fries and large beer for $12.  Any prices I put in my blog are for my American friends who are thinking of visiting.  I'd say, on average, most things are about a third of the price they'd be in they US and 1/4 or 1/5 NYC prices.  For example, a bottle of champagne at a hip club is $25.  Which brings me to my next adventure which is a club called Mute down the street from where I am staying.  While having a few beers to get over my jetlag, a few girls waved me over.  Turned out one was an Argentine lawyer who speaks no English.  In fact, none of them spoke much English so I've been thrown into the fire on the language front which is what I want. 

They were all nice and invited me to join them for dinner at their casa the next day.  Another lawyer cooked the meet + I helped him, while the girls prepared salads and sides.  Afterward, they took me to a spanish dinner club with spanish music and people dancing.  Apparently Diego Maradona frequents the place and his pics are all over the wall, but, much to my chagrin, the loco soccer player was not in attendance.  Afterwards we went to another American style club which was also fun.  One of the big differences here is how late everything is shifted throughout the day.  Dinner starts around 10pm and people don't start going out till around 1am and leave the clubs from 5-7am.  Siestas are normal but not as predominant as in Spain.

It took me most of the following day and traversing much of the city to set up an Arg based cell phone.  That night I met up with a tango instructor who was introduced to me by my friend Diane in Miami.  He had a table at  a "milonga" which is a hall made specifically for dancing.  It looks much like a normal wedding reception with tables surrounding a hardwood floor where couples or people who meet there dance.  I will need to post pics of these events as they are fascinating.  Much of it is an older crowd + men approach women all night long asking them to dance to 1-4 songs.  It's an adult version of a high school dance except that everyone there dances the tango really well.  I will discuss these and the tango in  later posts.  Afterwards, I met up with the lawyer and her friends at a cheezy club called Western, fashioned after a saloon in the wild west.  We danced, had some late night pizza and I retired with the sun starting to come up. 

Today, I decided to check out the pool on the roof of the building.  To my pleasant surprise there were only 3 people up there and they were all chicas speaking spanish.  After a while I found out one is my neighboor who runs a beauty salon out of her apt.  They put up with my spanish, + we cooled off from the 80 degree weather with cervezas and the pool.  I left for my 1st tango lesson with Raul at 5pm and he taught me at a studio owned by a famous sex symbol actress here named Jessica Schultz.  He literally walked me through the basics, making sure my cadence matched the beat of the music.  We went out for some empanadas after I am hopeful this is the start of something good (the dancing I mean).