October 28, 2015

Has it been too long ago?

It has been a long, long time, maybe too long to feel familiar with a place I used to call home.

Returning to Buenos Aires after 15 years has left me slightly perplexed: it somehow still looks the same but it does not feel the same anymore. Despite its economic and political difficulties, it has most definately leapt into the 21st century. WIFI is available everywhere and the romantic 1950 post war Southern European vibe that reigned (the Expat) world of the Menem area has turned distinctly international. MacDonalds and Starbucks are overpowering local cafe houses, the best fish in town is now available in Chinatown and the market of San Telmo looks and feels like the one of Montmartre in Paris. Tourists are taken advantage of just like every else in the world.

Don't get me wrong, the Argentineans are still as charming as ever but survival mode has kicked in and though they have not lost their love to communicate with foreigners as their curiosity and forthcomingness remains unique, there is a distinct shift in interests.

I expected to feel more emotional, I was sure I would shed a few tears - and to be honest I did upon my arrival while waiting for my luggage - but other than that it seems our two years we called Buenos Aires home is too far removed to reach.

I have giant flashbacks as I drive or walk past places I forgot existed; how could I not remember the Carrefour I used to shop in every week?!? Obviously was not a priority even back in those days. Buenos Aires Design which used to be the hippest corner of town in our time had completely slipped my mind until I walked passed it sheltering from the pouring rain. I am surprised how little actually has changed in terms of urban construction in the city center as I recognize all our old haunts and familiar commutes. 

However, the old beaten up taxis and microbuses have disappeared to be replaced with more modern versions and there parts of town now called Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood which I still need to explore.

I am happy to see that over a decade and a half later the locals still hang out in the parks sharing their Maté tea on a lovely Sunday spring afternoon but I am missing the city's flavour as I realize I cannot link it to the so familiar smell of the city I used to know.

October 23, 2015

On our way

We are off... I m taking my boy to where he was born 16 years ago to celebrate his birthday.

There are so many memories flowing back I don't know where to start.

In 1998 only three days after we tied the knot my hubby whizzed me off on our first expatriation together, my dream port of Buenos Aires.

Argentina was still flourishing in those days and I like to refer to our time in this lovely part of the world as our two year honeymoon.

Our son was born there and many emotions are tied to this place. So many of them are flooding back now as I sit in the departure lounge telling my son the stories about his time in Argentina which he was too young to remember.

I do not quite know what to expect since the economic situation has changed considerably since we left but one thing I am sure of; the Argentineans will have remained the same. Welcoming, friendly, chatty and above all curious. Curious about your story, curious about your heritage, curious about what the world thinks of Argentina.

Expat boy is keeping his emotions to himself for the time being but I am waiting for the moment we arrive and am wondering when it will hit him because it will hit him. 

He is after all a Porteno at heart...

October 21, 2015

You know you're living in Paris when...

Once in a while I find myself double taking and thinking: only a Parisian does this. Here are some situations that have struck me and I just know I am living in Paris when:

- I jump into the metro and the street musician is playing "La vie en Rose" with his  hand harmonica
- I jog through the streets early in the morning and the beggars are standing in front of their wheelchairs
- I have become an expert at avoiding dog poop along the pavement
- I am walking behind pedestrians and they don't walk straight so I need to zig-zag around them
- the pedestrians behind me cut right in front of me
- I get very blasé about spotting wedding brides because I've seen SOOO many take their pictures under the Eiffel Tower
- people go on strike Friday afternoons and my only reaction is : "Not again!!!"
- I recognize my neighbors' WiFi connection but not the person itself
- I automatically hug my handbag tighter when someone walks up to me asking for directions

October 20, 2015

Secrets of the Marais

Who knew Paris had so many gardens tucked behind its impressive Hausmannien walls? Of course when I came across a tour entitled "Les espaces verts secrets du Marais", I was hardly going to resist, right?!?

I am into my fifth year in Paris, so I can safely say I have uncovered all the "touristy" secrets of this city. Raison pour laquelle I signed up for a French tour. The company tempted me with a guided visit up the Tour de Saint Jacques which is usually closed to the public but unfortunately it was full.

Well, moving on swiftly I choose the next best item in the menu. On our walk through the Marais the guide unveiled some spectacular green areas and I will say I did discover two new spots!

As the story goes, the aristocratic Marais was saved by André Malraux in 1962 who introduced the law on protected sectors. The kings of France had decided the fate of this district: King Charles V by including it into the city walls of Paris and King Henri IV by giving it its pedigree through the construction of Place Royale, now known as the Place des Vosges.

Today, this protected area grants us the opportunity to discover the French elite lifestyles that built its mansions in the narrow streets of the Marais during the fifteenth and eighteenth century.

We criss-crossed from one "hotel particulier" (private residence) to another, all erected around sumptious courtyards and whose gardens are now open to the public allowing to access the architecture, admire the decor and discover the mysteries of the historical heart of the capital.

Square de la Place des Vosges

Indian summer in Paris

Jardin de l’hôtel de Sully 

Facade of Hotel de Sully 

Parisian reality today: a food truck...

... and a clochard

Paroisse Saint-Paul Saint-Louis
Rue de Sévigné

A patisserie long succumbed to modern retail

Facade of the Carnevalet Museum

Jardin du Musée Carnavalet

Intellectual lunch break

Square Georges Cain

Jardins des Rosiers - Joseph Migneret 

Jardin des Archives Nationales

The ultimate secret garden

Teatime at "Le Loir dans la théière"

October 18, 2015

A long day at the Expo 2015

The Universal Exhibition in Milano was reason enough for me to take the kids out of school for a day and travel to Italy hoping we'd enjoy an unforgettable experience. It sure was memorable but not entirely as expected.

Having bought the tickets online a year ago, reserved a place in the parking garage, even booked entry vouchers for the Swiss stand, I felt I was ready to face the humongous site showcasing more than 140 participating countries. Each pavilion was asked to present - through some mind-googling technology at times - a concrete answer to a vital need: being able to guarantee healthy, safe and sufficient food for everyone, while respecting the Planet and its equilibrium.

I might be biased but I do feel the Swiss managed to visually and emotional defend their case. They were by the way, the first country to join the Expo Milano 2015.

Its pavilion was made up of four towers, full of local food products which the visitor could take away. But there was a limit to the resources available, to exceed that limit meant depriving other visitors of the same opportunities.

Thanks to the modularity of the structure, the platform on which the towers stand is lowered as they are emptied, allowing everyone to see for themselves their own habits of consumption. The project, which focuses on the availability and distribution of food resources in the world, invites visitors to reflect on their behavior as consumers.

Apart from curing our home-sickness, however, we had to fight the hoards of visitors. It started at the parking house where we queued to find a place, despite the reservation. We were asked to take the shuttle to the main exhibition entrance, walked across some bridges for another 10 minutes, stood patiently though the security check and when the finally the gates opened in front of us (about 50 minutes after having driven onto the site) we felt like we had entered an International Disney Land!

Where to start? Argentina was Expat boys natural answer, he was born there. 50 minutes of queuing for a very disappointing slide show. Spain's slideshow was slightly more entertaining and only 20 minutes of waiting in line. Guess what? Haiti, Venezuela and Kenya had no queues. We skipped Japan's stunning pavilion, apparently 6 hours of patience was required for that visit. No way!

The US contingency which was trying to sell placemats, mugs and t-shirts was very disappointing, especially since their entrance looked to be the grandest one of all. The kids could not even get excited about the food trucks out the back given we were - after all - in Italy!

Qatar's building tempted us with images of 1001 Nights and after standing in line under the pouring rain for 40 minutes the presentation of a typical local feast made out of some sort of plastic did not live up to our expectations.

So, the message about respecting the planet and its food sustainability did get lost in whirlwind of country-hoping. Tourist promotion would be a more adapt term. The crowds were un-imaginable. Picture Heathrow airport at Christmas then imagine it 10 times worse. The day we visited the Expo we were 4 of 178'000 battling our way through the crowds from 12:00 to 21:00! The next day, the event hit a record number of 272'000 visitors!!!!

The best part in the kids opinion was the food! We enjoyed many different regional delicacies and despite the queues for drink and food, once we found a little spot in the sun, we had a smashing time eating our way through the continents!

It's a challenge!

Going with the flow... 

Argentina's pavilion looked very promising.

Spanish creativity

Guess what? The auditorium is PiNk! 

Casa de Italia: 3 hours of queue. Not happening!

Impressive architecture...

... everywhere you turn.

American Food 2.0 ???

Welcome to Switzerland

It's all about sharing

Quantities are calculated to last for the entire 6 month of the exhibit...
... IF every visitor only helps himself to one portion!?!

The last two cartons of dried apples...

... which are rapidly diminishing!

If I share with my daughter, the portion of apples might last another 52 days. 
Sadly, the apples lasted only additional two days!

Switzerland is rich in natural water thanks to its many mountain springs.

Expat girl was inspired by the Swiss pavillon

Hitting the crowds AGAIN!!!

A well kept secret: Haiti!

Qatar from the outside looked much more promising than...

... from the inside!

The French pavilion was a nice surprise: creative and welcoming. 

The Dutch had no budget for a pavilion so a backstreet food market was mounted
which totally felt like Little Amsterdam: good job!

The tree of life granted a well deserved break from all the chaos.

We ended the day with a well deserved Neapolitan dessert: la sfogliatella!

October 13, 2015

Will she or will she not?

"Will she or will she not?" I am thinking as I rush through the heavy green portal that leads into a freestone courtyard, taping the six-digit code into the side panel and then pushing open the glass door of our building to hurry across the marble tiled floor and into the massive glass and brass elevator.

"Will she or will she not?" I know she doesn't miss a beat. Nobody gets past her door without her noticing. Nobody!

Will she or will she not, open her door to stop me because she has something important to tell me.

Our concierge is the patron of our building, she has been its guardian for 30 years. It must be strange to feel as if the building is yours but never being able to call it your own.

Danielle lives in a tiny little studio with a built-in kitchenette and a bathroom. Her room on the ground floor with one window directly onto the road - which limited view often gets blocked by parked motorbikes - consists of a table covered by a plastified flowery tablecloth, a twin bed, a TV and an ugly yellow ironing board standing in the middle of it.

Her framed glass door onto the inner courtyard has white sheer curtains to keep curious passers by from peaking inside her "loge". I admit I always try to, just to be prepared in case she rushes out. Her little white, stroppy dog is her partner in crime. He knows each and every tenants’ footsteps and will bark from inside the loge only if he hears a stride he does not recognise.

Danielle has keys to every apartment, she knows where the water leaks and when the rats need to be warded off in the cellar. She can tell you which embassies past tenants have worked for and the names of the football players who used to live in the building. In one case, she has even seen a second generation family move in.

Danielle is a convivial lady who likes to complain. She is, without a doubt, part of the building’s history, the problem is she will happily go over this past with you every time she manages to trap you in front of her loge. Unfortunately, nobody has time to spare for her, since nowadays we are always in a rush.

I do, however, miss her dearly, now that she has retired and moved back South to her home town. The cat and mouse game is over, since the position of concierge will not be renewed, but with her, I feel, not only the buildings’ stories but also its loyal, custodian soul has been lost.

October 12, 2015

I love les camions poubelles!

One of the very first lessons you should learn upon your arrival to Paris is never to rent a flat on the first floor... ever. Not only for the obvious reason of traffic noise at all times of the day BUT for a reason you usually don't discover until you have actually lived in Paris! The green garbage trucks! Yes, les camions poubelles de Paris start collecting their 3000 tons of rubbish every day at 6am in the morning!!!!

If you are lucky you have a concierge or a gardienne who will wheel out the garbage cubes every morning. If you are on good terms with her, she will do this quietly BEFORE 6 am, if she decides she has a problem with the behaviour of one of the inhabitants of "HER" building she can do this with an enormous amount of racket!

Over many decades I have always complained about these garbage trucks until the other day they went on strike and suddenly the city's image took a whole different turn. It was a sad sight and the smell was not too appetizing either...

So, I might still get stuck behind a garbage truck once in a while when trying to navigate the city by car but after having seen what a difference they make, I will never, ever complain about them again.

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