Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Thin White Rope in the Land of Christmas Trees

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, January 11, 2009)

Okay folks, we finally get to another Thin White Rope road story. I know I promised our adventures in Lithuania but I just spent this last week catching up on the Golden Globe nominations for Best Foreign Film. Those last three I needed to see were truly remarkable films. There was ‘The Baader-Meinhoff Complex” from Germany,“Waltz with Bashir” from Israel, and “Everlasting Moments” from Sweden. It was that last film that really amazed me and I feel that it may be my favorite movie of 2008 so far. It was also that film that drove me to change my mind on the road story I wanted to tell. There was a scene in the film where a young girl walks out onto the ice of a frozen lake and the ice cracks with menace. This brought to mind an event that happened during one of our several tours of Sweden and for this month, I think I’d rather tell those stories, leaving Lithuania for next time.

Scandinavia was a strange and distant place to me before our agent finally booked a tour there. We had played Copenhagen once before and I had caught a glimpse of the Swedish shore from there. That show in Copenhagen was extremely successful. We played a free show in a park and close to 10,000 people showed up, about twice as many as the promoters ever expected. So we were anxious to try our hand elsewhere in Scandinavia. When we were told we had dates in Sweden, it was pretty exciting.

(We ended up doing three tours of Sweden, I think, although I don’t remember what years they were in and where the shows fell in those tours. We also used Sweden to launch tours of Finland and Norway, since we had to drive through the country to get to both of them. We actually had to take a huge passenger ferry that was like a floating city to get to Finland, which we did twice, but those are stories for another time.)

Our first time in Sweden consisted of only three shows I think. It came after our second show in Copenhagen, our first club show there, at a strange place called Christiana, which is yet another story for a later time. The day after Christiana, we drove to the coast and boarded a ferry for the short trip across the Øresund strait to Sweden. (Now days, there’s a bridge across that strait and the ferry is no longer needed.)The ferry docked in the port town of Malmo (where a good portion of “Everlasting Moments” takes place) and we made a very short drive north to the college town of Lund where we were to play our first show.

I don’t remember much about this show and how it went. But I do remember a few things that happened. On our way to Lund, we all started joking about Swedish names, referring to everyone, and each other, as Swen or Lars. When we arrived at the venue, which was on a beautiful college campus in town, they showed us to our dressing room, which actually was a locker room under the main hall. The first locker we looked at had a name stenciled on it: Swen Swensen. In our giddy and tour exhausted mood, this just struck us as hilarious and we spent quite a while rolling around in laughter.If the next one would have been Lars Larsen, which it wasn’t, it probably would have killed us. I also remember a great dinner provided by the venue that had a main course consisting of potatoes and eggs that we found unusually delicious(although it also started a new round of jokes about Swedish meatballs, which our hosts seemed to think was funny as well, or maybe they were just being polite).

After Lund, we drove way up north to Stockholm. Here we had a show at some shack just outside of the city. It turned out to be a hard-core punk rock place and somehow we had been booked into it. I remember the owner-promoter as being extremely nice and apologetic, and we were very worried that the punks were going to hate us and we’d never get out of Sweden alive. But we needn’t have worried. The show was not packed, but a good amount of people came out and everything went fine. (This show also played into what we called “The Pig Tour of Europe”, which is something else that will have to wait for another time.) We also had a show in a small town outside of Uppsala, but I’ll be damned if I can remember the name of it. It was at another punk club and that’s all I can remember about it.

The drive in and out of Stockholm was a beautiful one, especially at winter, where it looked like a land of Christmas trees. I was obsessed with seeing a wild moose during these drives, something I never saw during any of our trips, although the jokes about my moose obsession returned for each tour. I think it was Roger who said that one of the nights I was driving in the Swedish countryside; I would eventually see a moose as it ran in front of our van. The last thing I would see was a giant moose head crashing through our windshield. Playing out that situation in my mind seemed pretty funny and at least I would have seen a damned moose, which the locals claimed were all over the place.

I believe we also had a show in Oslo this first tour and it was on our way to this show that we ran into a speed trap on the main highway. The highway patrol would post signs saying that the speed limit was a certain speed and then almost immediately post another sign dropping that speed limit. Then they would just sit on the side of the road and pull over car after car to give a speeding ticket to. I talked about this once before in my stories about our infamous Italian driver, Pino, when he almost got arrested for arguing with the cops. But we quieted him down, paid the fine,and headed to Norway.

Norway was the first, and one of the only, countries to actually pull us over and search us and our van at the border. It was a bit scary, but we got out of that after a bit of time and headed to Oslo. Now the reason I’m talking about this in a series of stories about Sweden is because of the opening band. This was a band called Union Carbide Productions and I was very excited to be doing a show with them. They were from Sweden and the industrial town of Gothenburg. Lydia Lunch had told me all about them and I was dying to see what they were all about.

We arrived at the Oslo venue to find that Union Carbide had arrived earlier and were waiting for us so they could do a sound check. They weren’t provided a dressing room and had no food or drink provided by the club. So we invited them into our room and shared what food and drink we could, as we had plenty of it as according to our rider.

As it grew time for the show, the lead singer, Ebbot Lundberg, approached us dressed in a nice suit and tie and asked if he looked okay. We reassured him that he looked great and time was called for them to hit the stage. I went out on the floor to check them out. It was packed with Norwegians who were drinking rather heavily. Union Carbide hit the stage in a blast of noise and before the first song was half over, Ebbot had stripped off all his clothes and did the set completely naked. They were an amazing, energetic, Stooges-inspired rock band,but for whatever reason, the Norwegian crowd wasn’t buying it and heckled the band through their whole set. I was exhausted and extremely excited when they ended, but the crowd just filed back to the bar.

(This show was also notable because my friend, Fredrik Nilsen, of the BPeople, was living in Norway at the time and came down for the show. It was great to see him, of course, and I think he enjoyed the show quite a lot as well.)

Backstage, Ebbot asked if I thought they were okay and I told him I thought they were great, which he seemed pleased with. Thin White Rope went on shortly afterwards and the drunk crowd went wild. By the end of our set, the dance floor looked like it had been carpeted with drunken Norwegian bodies. People were laying everywhere. I was happy for that reception, but I’ve never understood why they hated Union Carbide so much.

Afterwards, as we were getting ready to leave, the Union Carbide guys came up to us to tell us that they had been stranded. It seemed that their soundman had met some guy and taken off with him and their van and they had no idea where he was or how they were going to get home. There wasn’t much we could do for them, so after an exchange of phone numbers and addresses, we headed off to our hotel.

The next tour, a year later, we had a date in Gothenburg and I gave both Ebbot and guitarist Bjorn Olsson a call and invited them to the show. Ebbot never showed,but Bjorn showed up and seemed depressed. He told me that the band had just split up and he didn’t know what to do. Our show that evening was crazy, with some excited fan leaping onto the mixing desk and collapsing it. Our soundman, Eliott, and I were rushing around trying to patch things together while keeping the show going. While it was a great and exciting show, I was glad when it was over. I was going to talk some more to Bjorn, but he had slipped out sometime during the show.

(I later found out that Union Carbide were typically an unstable group of people.They were constantly breaking up and getting back together and when they were together, craziness like that Oslo show was typical. They actually got back together for two more albums after our Gothenburg show and then split up for good. A year or so later, I heard from Bjorn, wondering of he could stay at my house during an upcoming visit to Los Angeles. I said sure and he showed up for what was to be a week’s stay. More than a month later, he was still visiting and just as I was going to mention to him that perhaps it was time for him to leave, he just disappeared. I heard he was in San Francisco, but never heard from him again until years later when he and Ebbot formed Soundtracks of Our Lives, and I think Bjorn is out of that equally amazing band now as well. Whatever. My time with them started an obsession with Swedish rock bands at the time and I started buying albums like mad. Now I can’t remember any of them.)

We had one more notable time in Sweden. During one of our tours, we had a down period of about 4 or 5 days. We couldn’t afford that much time off, so our Swedish booking agent, a guy named Gunter, I believe, invited us to stay at his house in Hultsfred, where he would shelter us from the winter and feed us. It actually turned out to be a nice time, although I wish we could have had a show there. (There was lots of talk of the band coming back for the Hultsfred Festival, one of Sweden’s biggest rock festivals,but it never happened.) We spent most of the days wandering around town and roaming the woods futilely looking for those elusive moose that everyone told us were everywhere.

One night, we were all pretty bored and drunk, so we decided to walk down by the lake. It was very cold and the lake was frozen with a thick coat of mist resting on the surface. It was beautiful under the moonlight and it wasn’t long in our drunken state that we decided we needed to walk out on the ice. So we started playing a game to see who could get the furthest out before chickening out. One, or sometimes several of us would walk out on the ice until we got scared and then would race back to the shore and the next person or group would see if they could go out further. It got to the point where we were going out far enough that we could hear the ice cracking under our feet and we would race back. It was exhilarating, exciting and, in retrospect, extremely foolish, but it wasn’t the first or last foolish thing that one or all of us would do on tour. When we finally got bored, and went back into the house, Gunter was horrified. We always seemed to get away with these things without injury though. It was this event that would inspire Guy to write the song, “On the Floe”, which showed up on the next album, “Sack Full of Silver”.

We ended up doing another show in Stockholm at a proper club that went really well and got us into the center of the city. I remember that show doing well and that I thought that Stockholm was on of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. And that’s about all I can remember about Sweden.

So, that’s it. I still have stories to tell from Norway, Finland and Denmark. Those will hopefully come later this year. I don’t know what I’ll be back with next week, but something will inspire me, I’m sure. Until then, thanks for reading and enjoy yourselves.


PS:By the way, as of this week, I’m now on Facebook. If you want to friend me there, and I would love for you to, visit my site:


(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, January 04, 2009)

Welcome to 2009. Let's hope it's a better year than 2008, although I'm not about to hold my breath waiting. I think this coming year will be a hard one for many people…probably even most people. I've had a few friends ask me how 2009 could be any worse than 2008. Just wait and see. I think the recession/depression is going to get much worse before it gets better, which will probably be a few years away. There are going to be few new jobs and as stores close due to lack of sales, there will be even fewer. That will make more people who can't pay their mortgages, so more people will find themselves homeless. Sorry to rain on the new President's "Hope" parade and I truly hope I'm wrong. We'll see if I'm proved to be mistaken, but I doubt it.

Obama's pissing me off already, but I'm going to try not to criticize him until he actually gets into office and shows his stuff. At the worst, I'm afraid he's going to be another Clinton, but even that will be better than four more years of Bush, which was what McCain offered. I'll be watching Obama with interest over these first six months or so and we'll see if he has it in him to actually get any change done. I hope so, but again, I doubt it.

But enough of this. It's a New Year and I should try to look on the positive side of things. This New Year promises a whole lot of change for Skip and me. Change always excites me, even while it fills me with dread. There are going to be a lot of things different this year, although I'm not prepared to talk about most of those things now. You'll probably here about them as they happen, if they happen. But the big change is our financial situation. We fully expect to run out of money sometime this year and join the ranks of Americans who have lost their homes to unscrupulous banks.

Now, I'm been saying this for a few years and it always seems that we find money someplace every time just as we're about to pack it in. Even this year we've received a few months reprieve due to Skip's auto accident. As I said before, the car was totaled and Skip was pretty banged up, although uninjured except for the bruises. When we first contacted our insurance agent we were told that we would get between $4,000 and $5,000 for it. But now we've received the final assessment and we're actually getting over $10,000 for it, after our deductable! This is really good news as it gives us enough money to fix up our old car so we can take it out of town and it enables us to stay in the house for another couple of months. With any luck, we'll make it into summer and possibly even through it depending on how much of this stuff we have sitting around our house that I can sell on the internet.

I'm not stupid or irresponsible enough to not admit that part of this money problem is our own fault. We travel a lot and we love expensive restaurants. But we look at it this way. We can not go to Argentina and then we'll save about $3000 (which is what a normal vacation costs us). That will allow us to stay in the house another month. So we have the choice of just staying here and losing the house anyways, although a month later, or we go to Argentina, which we won't get a chance to go to again that we know of. You know the choice we made. We both want to live our lives to the fullest while we're alive. I would rather die an early death and travel and eat great food than live a long life sitting in front of the TV and eating McDonalds. I already sit in front of the TV enough in my life. We've made a conscious choice to live the way we do and I don't regret a minute of it, even if we do end up homeless later this year. But like I said, we always seem to find our way to another year and I have faith that we'll do so again.

Of course, it would help if either of us could actually find a job. I mean, I could find a job at Wal-Mart or Home Depot, although I can make as much money doing what I'm doing now, selling things on the internet, so why bother? (The health insurance would help though and that's the one reason that may have me working at one of these soulless places later this year.) And again, we'll see if the government under Obama can help this situation.

In the meantime, we're not going to worry about it. The future will bring what it brings. I'm going to concentrate now on our upcoming visit to Italy in March during our 29th anniversary together. We're also planning a short trip to Arizona to visit my family at the end of this month if we can get our car fixed up enough to make it there. We'll probably spend a few days in Las Vegas as well if we can. I'm dying to eat Bobby Flay's food. After that, we have no concrete plans, which is weird since I usually have most of the year booked up at the beginning of January. But we'll have to wait and see what the situation is later this year. I would love to get to Thailand or even back to Argentina to visit the wine regions.

As for 2008, I usually fill this space with my year-end best of lists. My Top Friends list on my home page is full of things I liked in 2008, so you can check that out.

Every year for as long as I remember I've written a best-of music list. This is the first year I won't have one. The problem is that I didn't really listen to any records this year. I bought only 15 CDs in the last twelve months, which has to be a record for the least I've ever bought since I turned 16 years old. There's no real reason for this except I just didn't feel like buying more. I still hear lots of music I like; I just didn't get around to buying it. Here's what I did buy:

American Music Club – The Golden Age
B-52s – Funplex
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!
Cold War Kids – Loyalty to Loyalty
Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs
Deerhunter – Microcastle/Weird Era Continued The Fall – Imperial Wax Solvent Mark E. Smith (of the Fall) and Ed Blaney – Smith and Blaney Magnetic Morning – EP and A.M.
No Age – Nouns
Conor Orbest – Conor Orbest
Portishead – Third
Spiritualized – Songs in A & E
TV on the Radio – Dear Science
Wire – Object 47

I also picked up a promo-only Real Tuesday Weld retrospective that was released by their American publishing company.

With the exception of the two Fall albums (which are great) and the Wire CD (which I found disappointing on my one listening), I haven't taken the time to listen to any of them. I don't know why. For a whole year, I just haven't felt the need. In the meantime, I still go to lots of live shows and I listen to music on the radio (Indie103.1), TV (late night talk shows and NewNowNext on Logo) and on MySpace. It's because of this that I bought these albums when I heard something I really liked. Then I didn't listen to them. I also got a Zune for my birthday and now it just sits here on my desk. I haven't found the time to download any music into it. This has all got to change this year and I do resolve to make more time for the pursuit of music. Music has always been very important in my life and it still is. It's just that so many other things have become important as well, especially food, drink and travel. Film has also become more important to me, especially animated film. If I was in my teens now, I don't know if I would choose to pursue music any more. I think I may have chosen to go to cooking school or into animation instead. Both obsess me these days.

I can say that there is a lot I love on TV. My favorite TV shows this year were:

Comanche Moon
Pioneers of Television
Breaking Bad
Battlestar Galactica
30 Days
Long Way Down
Mad Men
The Shield
Sons of Anarchy

I also quite like Chuck, Heroes, My Own Worst Enemy, Terminator: the Sarah Conner Chronicles, Samantha Who, Fringe, Top Chef, Top Design, Project Runway, Pushing Daisies, Dirty Sexy Money, Ugly Betty, Survivor, Supernatural, Doctor Who, Desperate Housewives, Lipstick Jungle, Kyle XY, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, Nip/Tuck, Damages, Psyche, Burn Notice, Californication, Medium, Amazing Race, Reaper, and a whole lot more that I just can't remember now. I watch way too much TV and will probably continue to do so through 2009. I think most of these shows are at least as good as movies that showed up in theatres this year.

As for movies, I'll discuss those at the end of February, just before the Academy Awards broadcast. That gives me time to catch up on several movies I still want to see before I set my list in stone.

My favorite meals this year, in no particular order, were at:

Chung King
Destrito (Philadelphia)
Foundry on Melrose
Il Moro
Incanto (San Francisco)
Napa Rose
Osteria Mozza
Palate Food & Wine

And just about every meal in Buenos Aires.

I only had time to read two and a half books this year and since the only new book I read was by my friend Paula Yoo, I have to say that the best book I read this year was her young adult novel "Good Enough". It really was great and it probably would have ended up on a top ten list if I would have read more than ten books. (I bought two other new books this year. "Maps and Legends" by Michael Chabon and "The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America" by David Hajdu. But I haven't had time to read either of them.)

That's about it. I'm just going to sit back and watch as our new year develops. Even in my cynicism I'm hoping for the best. After the last eight years, it would be wonderful if this one would finally be a good one from beginning to end.

Of course, I can't let a new year present itself without a rant. Right now there's something that's particularly bugging me and I should just get it out before it grows and festers.

I'm really bothered by the newest trend in reinterpreting words. This new reinterpretation seems to have flowed from the pro-Proposition 8 crowd and I've just about had enough of it.

First of all, this comes from many of the black voters who voted to pass the proposition. It seems that many of these voters don't think that gay rights falls under the civil rights banner. They seem to think that civil rights means black rights and that's were it ends. I read one voter say something like "Civil rights is about jobs, not about your sexual choices". Others have expressed dismay at gays fighting for their rights being compared to the black struggle. Hey, it's not like gays have ever lost jobs for being who they are. It's not like gays have ever been killed for being who they are. Our struggle is nothing like their struggle.

These people need to grow up and join the real world. There are fundamental differences between the gay rights struggle and the black rights struggle, but at the core, they are both for the same thing. Both struggles are for the right to live as you are born, the same as every other person supposedly has the right to. This denial of gay rights as civil rights reminds me of the whole "blacks can't be racist" arguments that were around a decade or so ago. That argument was stupid and it thankfully died out rapidly. Hopefully this new argument will die out just as rapidly because it's not based on anything except bigotry.

This brings us to the biggest thing bugging the hell out of me. That's the argument that religious people are not bigots just because they are against gay rights. They argue that it's all about religious freedom and not based on bigotry at all. That argument is, of course, bullshit at its finest. The "American Heritage Dictionary" defines a bigot as: "One who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ." Webster's Dictionary defines a bigot as: "a person who is intolerant of opinions which conflict with his own, as in politics or morals; one obstinately and blindly devoted to his own church, party, belief, or opinion". Both of these definitions, and many more I looked up on other dictionaries, all describe these religious people who now claim they aren't bigots at all. Again, they need to join the real world. Religion isn't an excuse. A bigot is a bigot and no amount of crying about religious freedom is going to change that. You can't change the definition just because you don't like that it applies to you.

And that brings me to one positive thing that has come out of the passing of Proposition 8. For years now I've been decrying the passiveness of our so called gay leaders. The Human Rights Campaign and Geoffrey Kors of Equality California have especially pissed me off with their seemingly "let's be nice" attitude towards protest. The passing of Proposition 8 has proved that attitude to be as wrong and ineffectual as I've been saying it was for the better part of the last decade. And now these gay leaders are on the way out, replaced by a slew of young queers who understand how the world really works and are willing to take it on forcefully. These new leaders are also not afraid to reach out to those black and Hispanic voters who are still living in the dark ages, to get them to realize that unless everyone is free, no one will be free. The older guard seemed to fear these people and excluded them from every plan they came up with. This "changing of the guard" is a very positive thing and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for the gay rights struggle with these new people leading the charge.

Okay. That's enough for this week. Next week I plan to finally get to those Thin White Rope in Lithuania stories I've been promising for several months now. I'm going to try to get to road stories more often in the future. Until then, thanks for reading and enjoy your life. Let's keep our fingers crossed for this New Year and hope for the best.

The Year End Note

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, December 28, 2008)

Well folks, Once again I have to let you down. I know I promised you all another Thin White Rope road story and up until a day or so ago, I was planning on writing it all down for you. But I've just been too busy this last week catching up on movies and eating great meals to sit down and write much. The story I wanted to tell, about the band's Lithuanian shows during the Soviet tour in 1988, is just too long of a tale and I don't want to skimp on it at all. I WILL get to it in January. I know its been way too long since I last told a tour story, so maybe I'll even get to a couple of them next month if something else doesn't distract me from them. But I will get to at least the Lithuanian one.

2009 is going to be a year of big changes for Skip and me. I'll get to talking about those sometime next month as well. One of those changes is a small one and pertains to this blog. After today, I'm going to drop the reviews as a regular item. I just don't enjoy writing them much. But I do enjoy turning other people on to things I'm enthusiastic about, so I'll still write an occasional column when I'm really crazy about something. I'll probably end each blog with a few recommendations that will just have the title (movie, TV, music, etc) and some stars after it. Feel free to contact me if you want to know more about something. I'm always happy to discuss things with people and yammer on about something I like.

I'm going to be pretty busy this week as well. We're seeing several more movies ("Last Chance Harvey" with Dustin Hoffman doing a Q&A, "The Changeling", "The Reader" and possibly "I've Loved You So Long") and we're spending New Year's Eve at Disneyland once again with a great meal at our favorite Napa Rose restaurant. Our New Year's Eve is going to be great. I just hope the following New Year will be as well. It remains to be seen. But we'll discuss all that in the near future.

Until then, have a great time this week. Don't get too drunk and if you do, be safe. I'll see you back here next week with some more un-poetic waxing. Take care and HAPPY NEW YEAR'S!!!

The Buenos Aires Chronicles - Part Three

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, December 21, 2008)

There are so many more distractions this week, all of them of the personal nature instead of the political. (Well, except the Rick Warren thing, but I don't fell that's as big of a deal as some people seem to think it is.) The roof of our house decided to spring a whole slew of leaks during our recent rain storm and I awoke to find the kitchen looked like a built-in swimming pool. On the same day, the kitchen sinks backed up and everything smelled like rotting vegetables. Then, that evening, Skip hit a patch of icy water and lost control of the car. He totaled it. He's banged up, but okay. But we can't afford to buy another car, even with the insurance payout (which we expect to be only around $5000). We have a second car, but it's in bad condition and I don't trust driving it anywhere but close by. (When I drove it to pick Skip up, it wouldn't start again once I got there and the tow truck had to give us a jump start.) We'll have to try to fix that piece of crap up. With all these costs, we may have to cancel our trip to Rome, but we'll see how it goes over the next couple of months. This type of thing always seems to happen to us at the end of every year, but this year is so much more…intense…than past years. When it rains, it pours…no pun intended.

So okay folks! Here we go with the final three days of our trip to Buenos Aires. Next week I'll be back with a Thin White Rope tour story. I just have to decide what story to tell, but I think it's going to be a story that took place during our Soviet Union tour in Lithuania, where I was colder than I've ever been in my life. After that, it will be a new year and I have a lot to talk about, including the best of 2008 and what the future holds for 2009. But now, let's return to Argentina, where Skip and I are just waking after a visit to Uruguay the day before.

Check out the other two segments of this report here: and Skip's trip photos here:

On Sunday October 19th, we woke early and were met by a large van outside the hotel. We were packed in with a bunch of other tourists and taken to the square that was just across the street from the Casa Rosado. At that point, we were told that we had half an hour and we were urged to walk down the street where a street fair was going on. There were lots of leather goods for sale cheap, but it really didn't interest us much, so we walked back to the square and after a short wait, we were all herded onto a large bus for the trip to the Pampas. This was a drive that lasted a couple of hours, with one stop at a gas station for a bathroom break and some yummy empanadas for snacks.

We finally arrived at Fiesta Gaucha Don Silvano (, which is a sprawling ranch in the middle of a countryside that reminded me of the Inland Empire region of Southern California (Riverside, San Bernardino). I was really looking forward to riding some horses with the gauchos. I partially grew up on a ranch in Northern California and loved horseback riding. Although I haven't done it in years, I was a pretty good rider and the thought of running through the Argentine countryside on a horse sounded like the best thing in the world to me at that moment.

Unfortunately, we arrived to find a rather touristy, almost theme-park version of a gaucho ranch, although it was a working ranch. The horseback riding consisted of a bunch of tired looking horses that trudged around a large field, looking rather depressed and hungry. I opted out of that. It didn't look fun at all.

When we first arrived, we were shown to a shack where we were handed our choice of empanadas and then led to an area where we were briefed on our afternoon on the ranch. We could ride the depressed horses, shop for cheap leather goods, go visit some of the other dozen or so animals caged in a livestock area, or drink heavily and wander around aimlessly. We choose the later. Eventually, there was to be a huge lunch held in the barn with entertainment that included song and dance. After lunch would be a gaucho demonstration of horse and roping skills. And then we would all head home.

The place was extremely crowded, but it seemed to be mostly local Argentines instead of foreign tourists. We asked about that and we were told that it was Argentina's Mother's Day and families were out in force to celebrate with their matriarchs. We also asked about the lunch and the head gaucho told us that it would be opening in about an hour and that we could head in any time. He stressed that there was no hurry and we should take the time to see the ranch. But we noticed a huge line already forming at the door, so we decided to stay close by.

About a half hour later the doors opened and everyone jammed inside. We waited for awhile to let everything calm down and then walked to the door, only to have our tour guide rush us in, telling us that everyone was waiting. We were led to our table to find everyone already sitting and talking and drinking beer, wine and water. So we joined right in. We were seated across from a Mexican woman and her daughter, who now lived in San Diego, and right next to four loud and crazy Dutch people, who seemed to be having the time of their lives and were noisily letting everyone else know it. After a short period of irritation, we started finding them to be lots of fun though, perhaps because we were catching up to them in inebriation.

As soon as one wine or beer bottle would empty, a full one would replace it. Then the food started arriving and I thought that it would never stop. There were sides of salads and potatoes. There were local chorizo sausages and earthy and wonderful black sausages (that most of the tourists wouldn't touch). There was grilled chicken, beef, pork and mutton. And there was ice cream and dolce de leche for dessert. It was endless and didn't end until we begged the servers to stop.

While this food orgy was going on, a man took the stage with a guitar and introduced himself as that afternoon's master of ceremonies. Before the show, they had asked where everyone came from, and the man now started playing national anthems and theme songs from each of the countries represented. Every now and then, one of the tourists from that country would get up on stage and sing the song with the man. I found it curious that when he got to the United States, he sang, "When the Saints Go Marching In"! It was a strange choice.

After he got done with his musical tour of the world, he introduced a pair of dancers, who took us through the history of Argentine dance, including some beautiful versions of the Tango. It was during this that the dancers decided that they wanted some audience participation. Making a beeline down several aisles and through the crowd, the female dancer went directly to me, and despite protests, managed to drag me out of my seat and up to the front of the stage where several other tourists were trying to learn the dance steps. I was full of meat and woozy with alcohol, but I do remember bouncing around embarrassingly with the dancer for a few minutes before she kissed me on the cheek and allowed me to return to the relative safety of my seat. Thankfully, Skip was also tipsy enough to forget to take pictures of the incident, although I'm sure some tourists somewhere has all the blackmail material they need on a digital camera to keep me in their employ if the need should arise.

The lunch broke up shortly after that and we all headed out to the field to watch some well built cowboys, or gauchos, ride horses, rope inanimate objects and pluck rings from posts that enabled them to requests kisses from various females in the audience. It was actually quite entertaining and despite the touristy aspect of the whole afternoon, Skip and I decided we had really had a great time out there.

We were all packed back on the bus, except the Dutch tourists who decided to spend the night out there, and a few hours later, we found ourselves back in front of our hotel. We only had a few minutes to get ready before we had to leave to walk to the Niceto Club ( where we were slated to see Mudhoney (, a grungy rock band from Seattle. I'm not the biggest Mudhoney fan, but I enjoy them and the chance to see an American band in a setting like this was too much to pass up on. And it was great. It was packed in the typical rock club (they're the same all over) and the kids went crazy, practically swinging from the rafters. The band responded in kind with a blistering set of Stooges inspired rock.

I had introduced myself to the manager of the opening band, Los Natas (, during their set because I was enjoying them. They were the perfect Subpop-like band to open for Mudhoney. He invited me to their after show party, but towards the end of their set, they brought on their lead singer, who was missing for the first two-thirds for some reason. He was horrible, like some bad copy of David Lee Roth. So I passed on the party because I didn't want to face the band and tell them they should dump the idiot. (Although looking at their Myspace page, it looks like the idiot has been dumped.)

Instead, we walked down the street and had some great Argentine pizza and beer at a late-night restaurant called Pekin. It was delicious and after a few more beers, we walked the rest of the way to the hotel and called it a night. After the events of the day, we were exhausted.

We decided that for our last two days, we would take it easy and just see a few things that we hadn't had time to make it to yet. It was Monday the 20th and we woke up and took the subway a few stops and then walked down to Cementerio de la Recoleta ( Along the way, we stopped at a small place called La Juvenil, where we bought a selection of empanadas and dolce de leche for brunch. Recoleta is the cemetery that Eva Peron is buried at, which makes it a must see tourist destination for anyone visiting the city. It was absolutely gorgeous, reminding me of the cemeteries around New Orleans, where all the dead rest in mausoleums above the ground. Here, they were huge and beautiful. Some were classically done. Others were art deco in style. We spent several hours walking around looking at these structures and visiting with the wild cats that made their home there. And we visited Eva Peron's resting place, which had the largest crowd around it, of course.

Our plan was to walk back to the subway and take it out to the Puerto since we were having dinner in the area that evening, but we ran into a wine store on the way and found a couple of bottles and a fake Anvil wine case, that we had to have, so we ended up buying those and taking them back to the hotel. Then we made our way to the Puerto because we wanted to spend some time walking around the marshes that surround the area and were supposed to be an amazing wildlife preserve according to our tourist's books. But when we got there, we found the whole area closed off, so we just walked around the outskirts for awhile and peered in, which allowed us to see a few birds and plants growing nearby. We never did find out why that was closed, although there was a heavy homeless presence there, so we thought that might have something to do with it.

So instead we walked into the Puerto and ended up at a restaurant called Asia de Cuba (, which I believe is a world-wide chain, where we enjoyed more wine and ate some light appetizers that weren't very good. The restaurant we were having dinner at was a ways away, in the San Telmo region, so we left and slowly made our way to the address. We arrived much earlier than we thought we would, so we settled into a bar across the street, Territorio Bar y Provisiones, where we enjoyed even more wine. And when the time came, we walked over to the restaurant, which was very crowded, and after a very short wait, we were taken upstairs and seated next to a party of Argentines who were eating very enthusiastically.

The restaurant, La Brigada ( is considered one of the best parrillas in the city. A parrilla specializes in grilled meats, much like you get in the pampas with the gauchos. As per our other restaurant experiences, this one included tons of meat and great wines. My favorite thing was the short rib roast, which is one of the only cuts of meat in the country that is recommended to be served very rare. I have never had short ribs that weren't cooked like a pot roast, falling off the bone. These were grilled rare and were delicious. Afterwards, there was a whole menu containing nothing but desserts and after a short time to look through the dozens offered, I decide on crepes filled with dolce de leche, which is always a good choice. The place was almost like a big party and everyone was talking and enjoying the company of the tables around them. Our waiter was quite a character and his friendliness, and that of our neighbors, helped make the meal one of our best.

Afterwards, the restaurant called a cab for us and we went back to the hotel. It was our last night there and we made the best of it by sitting up and drinking wine with Rodrigo. Then it was to bed, so we could at least get a little done on our last day.

We woke up and decided that we didn't feel like going anywhere, so we walked over to Oro & Candido for lunch. It was a great lunch of new Andean food and we enjoyed a llama Carpaccio and some yacare on a stick, which is a small alligator found along the rivers in Argentina. We talked at length to the owner this time and discovered he used to live here in Los Angeles, and we talked about the vast differences between the two cities.

But we were running out of time and we wanted to see Nacho again, so we made our goodbyes and left to go to the Lobby Wine Bar. There we gave Nacho an Andrew Murray baseball cap, and took a picture of him in it so we could send it to Andrew. We also enjoyed another bottle of wine. As we made our goodbyes to Nacho and his staff, he presented us with a bottle of wine that he said was one of his favorites. (We drank it once we got home and it was wonderful.) And with that, we were gone, although Skip and I are going to get a bottle of the Andrew Murray Roasted Slope Syrah that Nacho is so obsessed with and send it to him. We wanted to get it to him before Christmas, but still haven't found the exact bottle we want. We'll get it to him soon though and Nacho can finally try it. I suspect he'll love it.

When we got back to the hotel, we found our cab driver waiting there already. Earlier that day, we wanted to take advantage of the return fare discount that was offered to us on our initial cab ride from the airport. So Rodrigo called the company and arranged for the cab to meet us in time to get to the airport with a couple hours to spare. But the guy was about an hour and half early and we didn't want to leave that soon and just sit around the airport. We would rather sit around the hotel and drink and talk to Rodrigo. The cab driver didn't seem to mind and we invited him in for a glass of wine, which he turned down. After a bottle or so of wine, it was time to leave, so we got our luggage and made our goodbyes to the wonderful staff of Che Lulu. And with that, we were gone on our final drive through the city to the airport.

We arrived and gave the driver a giant tip, which I'm sure made his wait really worthwhile and made our way into check-in, where we found out that our suitcase weighed too much and we had to pay about $100 in excess fees. Next time we'll know to bring two suitcases, even if one is empty on the way over. Then we found out we had to pay airport fees and they got us for another $50 or so. But we finally found our way out of there, through customs and on the plane. It was early evening and once again we were flying at night. But this time I had no problem sleeping. A day later, after another short stop in Miami, we were home.

As I said in my initial thoughts, I really loved Buenos Aires. ArgentinaSouth Africa did. It was very foreign, but intriguing and inviting. After Cape Town, I was obsessed with Africa and wanted to go back to every country, something I would still like to do. I feel the same way about South America now. It's strange, but very inviting, society that has a history built on revolutions, dictatorships and strife. I find it all terribly interesting and look forward to experiencing more of it in the future. The more places I travel, the less I feel like I'm strictly an American. With each trip, I feel more like I live in this world and not just in this country. It's a feeling I like and it's a feeling I wish more people had. Perhaps the world wouldn't be filled with so many human problems if they did.

The Buenos Aires Chronicles - Part Two

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, December 14, 2008)

There are so many diversions this week. There's that washed up singer/actor, Pat Boone, stating that gay activists are just like the terrorist Muslims who shot up Mumbai. There is the Reverend Richard Cizik, a top evangelical Christian, who was forced to step down when he stated in an interview that he had reversed his opinion and was now for gay unions. There's the Bush administration, who are wasting no time in their last month in power making it easier for their friends in big business at the expense of the environment (not to mention many other sneaky actions aimed at abortion rights). There're the deaths of Bettie Page, Van Johnson and Forrest Ackerman. And on the bright side, there's Disneyland and its 2008 Christmas celebration that includes a magical "snow" down Main Street USA.

But I promised Buenos Aires and that's what you're gonna get. I'll have to revisit everything else after the first of the year. Again, Skip's pictures of our trip can be found at:

I left off at the end of our second day in the city, when we met an American couple from Oregon who were going to hang around, but suddenly disappeared the next morning. While we enjoyed sitting up most of the night and talking to the pair of them, they had this story about how the were supposed to stay with a friend for five weeks, but when they arrived, they found out that he had been deported to Lebanon, although he was an American, and now they had no place to stay, which was why they were checked into the hotel. Whatever! They disappeared and we never found out exactly what was going on. We were probably better off for it.

That next morning was Thursday October 16. After we woke up and realized the Americans were gone, we decided to have lunch at a local wine bar we had wanted to try out. This bar was about a 15 minute walk away in the Palermo Hollywood section of town. It was called the Lobby ( As with most bars in Buenos Aires, it was also a small restaurant. We sat and enjoyed a couple of great sandwiches and tried several glasses of wine. It was at that point that the owner, a guy named Ignacio Issazadeh, or Nacho for short, introduced himself and sat down to talk with us about wine. He had a great bar there and it was full of the best of the Argentine wineries, but he was curious about American wines. He had seen very few outside of the big names that make it everywhere in the world. We got to talking about the movie "Sideways", which he loved. He told us that his favorite part was when Miles and Maya were talking in her apartment and drinking an Andrew Murray wine. He was dying to try that wine. We told him that we knew Andrew Murray that we would be back later in the week with a present for him.

At that point, Nacho had to go talk with a woman from one of the Mendoza wineries, Barrandica, but he came back a few minutes later with glasses of her wine for us to try. They were all interested in what we thought, and as expected, we thought it was wonderful. That started a conversation about Mendoza and we were told by both Nacho and the lady from the winery that if we ever returned, they could arrange for a place to stay and some insider tours of many of the wineries there. We hope to take them up on it someday soon. (Skip has the lady's card filled away somewhere and I can't find it right now.)

But it was time to leave, so we walked up and around Palermo Hollywood to the Niceto Club, where we bought tickets to the upcoming Mudhoney show and then walked down to the subway station and took a train to downtown. We were eating dinner that night on the Puerto, so decided to spend the time walking around the city and looking at some of its oldest buildings. We spent a few hours hunting these buildings down and finding some beautiful places. Then we made our way to Puerto Madero and dinner at Cabana Las Lilas (, one of the most popular steakhouses in town.

This restaurant is so popular, that even at the early hour of 7:30, when we arrived, it was packed. We didn't have reservations. The hotel had called for us the day before, but we were told that it was completely booked. We thought that if we just showed up, they might find a place for us. At first we were told that we would have an hour or more wait, but after talking to the receptionist for a few minutes, she took a liking to us. Walking us to a prime table, she whisked off the "reserved" sign and told us she hoped we would enjoy ourselves. There was no reason to worry about that as the place was fantastic. We were once again filled with amazing meat and wine and the meal ended with two large bottles, one filled with grappa and the other with lemoncello, placed at our table on the house! We took full advantage of that and left full and extremely happy, thanking the receptionist once again on the way out.

(While we ate meat once again, we were intrigued by the Patagonic Spider Crab entrée that was listed on the menu. We promised ourselves that we would come back and try that, but we never got the chance.)

We decided to walk to the subway and go back to the hotel. Unfortunately, full of food and various alcoholic spirits, we got our bearings mixed up and ended up lost in a dark and lightly populated part of the city. About an hour later, around 10:30, we found our way back to the Obelisco and the subway station, only to find out that the subway closes around 10 PM. I found it to be absolutely ridiculous that the city's subway system would close so early when the city is such a late night place, but some bad logic somewhere dictated the rules and we found ourselves stranded too far to walk with no option but to grab one of the dreaded cabs we had been warned not to take.

I put my hand out and a cab stopped almost immediately. We climbed in to find a driver who spoke no English and could not make heads or tales out of the address we were giving him. So we pulled out our trusty Frommer's guide and found a map, pointing to the place that the hotel was at. He headed right off and took us straight to the hotel. There were no threats, robbery attempts or pretending to drive around the city to force the fare up. The only problem I saw was that people there drive like maniacs and I spent a good portion of the trip white knuckling the seat in front of me while hiding my eyes from the accident that seemed to be about to happen at any time. (Skip seemed to think it was all well, which says something about the way he drives.)

Back at the hotel, we sat up with Rodrigo again, drinking wine and talking until 1 AM or so and then hit the sack for a deep sleep.

On Friday, we awoke to another bright, shiny spring day and took the subway into town so we could have lunch at the Marriott Plaza Hotel's Plaza Grill ( The Plaza Hotel is close to 100 years old and is one of the most expensive and traditional hotels in the city. It's where the rich, famous and powerful stay. The Plaza Grill restaurant in the hotel is a favorite amongst businessmen and is one of the only places in the city to still get that old-style formal experience of dining. It's sort of like their version of the old Hollywood restaurant Musso and Frank's Grill. It's also considered formal dress, but when we showed up in bluejeans and untucked shirts, they seated us among the suited businessmen without batting an eyelid. As expected, it was a beautiful room and a wonderful experience. It's the type of place where the waiters bring out the dishes under silver domes and then pull them away at the same time to expose the food to your view. Once again, our waiters took a liking to us and poured some special wines for us to try on the house. We had a blast and it was a wonderful meal. We left another restaurant full and very happy.

We had to go back to our hotel early as we had booked a guide to take us to a soccer game that night. We wanted to experience soccer in this country as it should be experienced, but we were afraid to try it on our own. We knew the stories about hooligans and crazy fans and considering we couldn't speak the language, we figured it would be safer to pay someone to take care of us. It was also more expensive as we paid over $100 US for the privilege. But everything else we spent money on there was so cheap and we decided it we were better off safe than dead.

Our guide showed up with a bus and about a dozen other tourists he had picked up from other hotels. The drive was a long one into the west side of the city where subways didn't go. It was interesting to see this part of the city that few tourists venture into. We arrived at our stadium to find that streets had been blocked off for two blocks around the place. People could walk in, but driving was not allowed. We got off the bus and followed our guide through the heavy crowd to a stairway on the side of the stadium. We were patted down and sent through a metal detector and then we had to walk up about five flights, where we were led to our seats, which were perched over the field right at the center line. Cokes and suspicious looking hotdogs were offered, but we had eaten our big lunch, so we passed on them. We found out that beer and alcohol had been banned from games several decades ago.

It was about a half hour before the game and everything was already on the verge of pandemonium. The stadium was divided into sections and each section was surrounded by chain link fences topped with barbed wire, and in a few cases, electrical wires. The fanatical home team fans had all been placed at the head of the field. The visiting team fans were crowded into a much smaller space at the other end of the field. In these enclosures with the fans were full groups of musicians and colorful banners were hung over the edges and down the isles of each section. One group of fans would start a chant backed by their musicians. Then the other group would chant louder. The original group would even get louder and it would go back and forth until it sounded like a sonic boom.

We were told that we were rooting for the home team, which was the Argentinos. When the players arrived on the field, they were brought on through an inflatable tunnel onto the middle of the field. That way, opposing fans could not throw debris on them from the seats. As soon as play started, the fans on each side went wild, chanting, singing, and jumping around. It was like a zoo full of crazed apes. The game itself was a thing of beauty. I love soccer and have seen some of the greats play, including the legendary David Beckham, but I have never seen such an aggressive show of choreographed ball control as this one. These players were incredible. It was wonderful to watch and a little bit painful as they had no qualms about taking out a player on the opposing team in any way they could and red and yellow cards were flashed frequently. The fans went apeshit through the whole thing.

It finally ended with our home team winning by three points. While the home fans celebrated in the stands, the visiting team fans were let out. We were told that we had to stay put for 45 minutes or so. The police were making sure all the visiting fans were put on busses and cleared out of the area. They didn't want any fights breaking out. After the police were sure it was safe, we were finally let out of our section and made our way down the stairs to the street and our bus. By this time everything was completely calm.

Then we had a long drive back to the hotel. At one point we passed several police cars that were full of German Shepherds. There were probably about ten dogs in each car and each car was also full of police men. The dogs seemed happy sitting in the officer's laps and hanging out the windows, but it was a strange and somewhat disturbing sight.

We had enjoyed ourselves tremendously, but we were glad we had paid the extra money to our guide to take care of everything. We would have had no idea what we were doing and we easily could have ended up sitting someplace that would have gotten us bashed or worse. I've seen games played in Europe several times and they were exciting as well. But I've never seen anything as on the edge as this game was. I was thrilled.

Back at the hotel, it was about 10:30 and we decided we were hungry. We didn't want to go back to the Mexican restaurant, so we asked Rodrigo for a suggestion and once again he told us we should go to Oro & Candido around the corner. This time we took him up on it and we were glad we did.

Oro & Candido ( is a small restaurant and store that bills itself as serving "new Andean" food. Skip decided to try a pasta from the menu, which were raviolis filled with minced water buffalo meat. I had a special entrée for that evening, a lamb roll that was served on a bed of several types of Andean fingerling potatoes. Both our dishes were wonderful, but my potatoes were something special. There were about six or seven kinds, from a regular looking white potato, the purple potatoes and an amazing green potato that had a peppery bite to it. Dessert was a cake filled with dulce de cayote, or spaghetti squash jam. The menu was full of other weird items, so once again we swore to ourselves that we would return and try some of these other items we would never find here at home.

On Saturday, we woke early as we had to get down to the Buquebus ferry to take the boat over to Colonia Del Sacramento in Uruguay. The ferry ride was an hour (by fast boat – three hours by slow) across the bay to one of the oldest towns in Uruguay. It has been preserved to look like the original town and is one of the top tourists' destinations in the country. The ride over was fine. We just sat in seats and drank wine. To go upstairs and look out of windows cost a first class ticket and we decided we didn't need to splurge for this trip.

Once we got there, we went through customs and entered the city, grabbing maps at a tourist kiosk on the way. It was a nice enough town and we had fun climbing the narrow stairway up to the top of the local lighthouse to see the sights from the sky. After about an hour of sightseeing, we ended up at a small restaurant called Pulperia de los Faroles, where we enjoyed a small lunch. I had fresh palm hearts that had been baked in cheese and then placed on a bed of fresh spinach. I had never had fresh palm hearts before, although I love the canned ones that can be found on grocery shelves in the States. But the fresh ones were creamy and wonderful and the dish turned out to be one of my favorites during this vacation.

After lunch we walked around the city some more, but we quickly got bored and decided to go back to the ferry and try to get on the 6 o'clock ferry back instead of the 8:30 o'clock one we were booked on. Unfortunately we were told that it was completely booked, so we headed back into town trying to figure out how we were going to spend these extra hours.

There, we ran into the Radisson Hotel and Casino and noticed a restaurant inside. When we entered, we were told that they only served guests, but after a short talk with the manager, we got him to agree to let us sit on their patio and drink some wine while the sun set over the water. We ended up drinking two bottles of wine, both of them Uruguayan and both of them wonderful. We had no idea they had such amazing wines there. Just like the Argentines though, the hotel staff got worried about us drinking without food and before we knew they brought us a huge plate of cheeses, meats and fruits on the house! It made for a wonderful time. It's been awhile since I've seen something as lovely as the sun setting over that ocean.

But we finally decided that it was time to make our way back to the ferry and thanking our hosts, we left and calmly walked the 15 minutes to the dock. There we were met with panic. It seemed that there was a time change that afternoon and the ferry was scheduled to leave in five minutes, not the hour we thought we had. (We thought it was 7:25 at the moment, but it was actually 8:25.) No one had bothered to tell us about that time change. I would have thought it would have been mentioned when we bought our tickets. Plus, who schedules a time change in the middle of the afternoon? Whatever. We were rushed through customs and practically thrown on the boat just as the gangplank was being lifted. And we were on our way back to Argentina.

It was on this ferry trip that we ran into the only two assholes we experienced during the whole vacation. These were two guys working at the bar. They decided to give Skip some shit for some reason and wouldn't sell him a drink, claiming the bar was closed, although they kept serving other people. We told them in no uncertain terms what they could do to themselves and that led to security guards watching us closely the rest of the trip, which fortunately was over rather quickly.

After another trip through customs, we were glad to be back in Buenos Aires. We had just enough time to make it to the subway before it closed and before we knew it, we were back at our hotel, where we sat and talked and drank with Rodrigo before hitting the sack earlier than we were used to. We had an early morning date with the Gauchos the next morning.

And that's it for this week. I'll be back next week with the last three days of the trip.

The Buenos Aires Chronicles - Part One

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, December 07, 2008)

Hey folks. Today you're going to get the first part of my report on my recent trip to Buenos Aires. I've been trying to decide how to document this trip. My first thought was to divide it into categories; such as food, wine, culture, sport, etc. But that idea just didn't seem to work very well. So I'm back at the tried-and-true formula of unfolding the trip in day-by-day episodes. That worked fine for Cape Town and I guess it will work fine for Buenos Aires as well.

First of all, you can find all of Skip's pictures of the trip at:

We spent a total of eight days on this trip and I'm realizing that it's going to take me longer to tell you about this trip than I thought it would. This week I'll talk about the first couple of days. Next week I'll talk about more. And we'll continue with that until I wrap up the whole trip. That should take three or four weeks. The week after that, you'll be getting another Thin White Rope road story. That will probably be over New Year's weekend. After that, into 2009, I have plenty I want to write about and it should run every week without interruption until I leave for Rome in March.

This week's reviews will be up and out on Thursday morning. I'm postponing it a day because I'm going to a special Christmas show Wednesday night that features the Pretenders, Bloc Party, CSS and the Black Kids and I want to talk about that. After that show, I have no night time plans except for some movies and a few dinners until next year. I'm actually looking forward to the nothing we have planned. I can finally relax and catch up on TV we have stored on our DVR.

So enjoy this first part of our Argentina Chronicles. (If you haven't read it yet, I posted some opening thoughts on this trip last week.) Have a great week and I'll see you here next week at the same Bat-time, on the same Bat-channel.


We woke early on Monday, October 13th and headed to the airport. Our flight wasn't until 1 PM, but we liked to get to the airport as early as possible to avoid long lines and the confusion that has been a regular event while traveling due to 9/11 and our Homeland Security's incompetence. It was a good thing we did, because things were pretty crazy there. We only had one bag to check between us and we both had small carry-ons, but there was enough meandering craziness going on around us to keep us in lines until just before boarding time. We settled into our too-small seats and after a short battle with another traveler who seemed to think that our footspace was where she got to store her carry-on; we were able to relax and enjoy the trip as much as we possibly could.

There was a time when I used to get extremely excited whenever I knew I was going to fly. Now I just face it with dread. The terrorists have been successful in ruining travel for me. It used to be relaxing and fun. Now it's always a battle against rude and ignorant airport and security personnel, rude and ignorant fellow passengers who seem to think their full-size baggage is small enough to carry on, and a lack of time, space and comfort that I don't remember dealing with on trips I took a decade ago.

Anyways, we had a few hours to Miami, where we had a two hour layover before boarding the plane to Buenos Aires. The layover happened without any major incident and we settled in for the all-night flight. I have trouble sleeping on moving vehicles, so I prepared for this flight by taking a dose of Tylenol PM, a double dose of melatonin and an over-the-counter sleeping pill. They did no good. I couldn't sleep and sat up all night in a drug-daze and read the complete "Don't Try This at Home: Culinary Catastrophes from the World's Greatest Chefs", a book of true stories by famous chefs about the most major cooking disasters each of them had faced in their careers. It was entertaining as hell, especially the stories from Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, Anthony Bourdain, and Mario Batali.

I was disappointed that our flight was at night (as was our return trip in eight days) as I was hoping to catch glimpses of the Amazon and the Brazilian Rainforest and the Andes Mountains from the air. I managed to catch the Andes as we flew along the Peru and Chile/Argentina border in the morning, but that was about all I could see on that flight.

We arrived in Buenos Aires about 9 AM on the 14th. I was in a real daze after our trip, but it wasn't any worse than I'd experienced before on the band tours I'd participated in, where sometimes sleep just wasn't an option. We breezed through passport control and customs with no problems. Now I was faced with finding the easiest and most logical way to get into the city. There were buses, but I'm always wary of trying to figure out those schedules. I had been warned by several guide books that we should stay away from cabs. There were supposedly many bootleg cabbies that had been known to rob, strand or even kill foreign travelers. But once we walked into the central terminal, I saw a kiosk for the National Cab Service. The traveler told the representative where they want to go and was charged a flat fee at the kiosk for the trip. There was no need to deal with money with the driver and so there was no worry about cabs taking a longer route or other rip-off things that cabbies love to do to people not from that particular city. We paid about $30 US, a cabbie was called and met us by the kiosk, where he carried our luggage to the cab and got us all in comfortably. The journey to the hotel ended up being over an hour long, so we felt the price for the service was quite a deal, but a lot of that was because of the difference between dollar and peso, which was about 3 to 1 at that time. We were told that it was standard to tip can drivers with whatever change was left from the transaction, but we gave our driver a 50 peso tip and he was so happy that he gave us a coupon that stated if we called him the day we were going to leave, he would take us back to the airport for about 2/3 of the price it cost us to get there. That was a deal!

We were staying at a hotel called Che Lulu Trendy Hotel ( Check in wasn't until 3 PM and we were there at noon, but we were told that they knew we were coming in early, so they had made sure our room was ready. We were staying in one of the few "private bathroom" rooms, Lulu 1. It was a small, but comfortable, room with a shower and toilet right off the main room. The hotel is located in the Palermo district of town, which is one of the most up and coming areas. There is lots of new construction going on and many of the new, popular restaurants, bars and clubs are located there.

The hotel seemed surprised that we didn't want to take a few hours to sleep off our trip. I was exhausted, but I knew better than to try to sleep. If I slept during the afternoon, I'd have a hell of a time trying to sleep that night and jetlag would be a problem for the rest of the trip. I knew from experience that I should just force myself to stay awake until my normal hour of bedtime. It would be hard, but I was excited to be there and was running on quite a bit of adrenaline. It also helped to keep moving, so we decided to see the city the best way possible, by walking. We planned to walk down through Palermo to the main street of Av. Del Libertador and then walk until we ran out of steam.

We walked for miles. We saw parks and statues and fountains and amazing buildings. It was all a wonder and before we knew it, we were at the Port area, Puerto Madero, and we had been walking for more than six hours. The Puerto is a beautiful section of town and one of the most expensive. There is lots of upscale construction going on there and many big hotels are set to open soon. There are also a lot of great restaurants there. We found that we ended up there a lot on this trip. It's also the place where you'll find the Puente de la Mujer, or Woman's Bridge, a footbridge, dedicated in 2001, that we found stunningly beautiful. (

We decided that it was a good time to stop for a drink, but we noticed that we had actually not seen any bars. So we stopped at a restaurant called Claxxon and asked them if we could just buy a bottle of win and sit on their deck and drink it. They had no problem, but the fact that we didn't want any food seemed to surprise and somewhat disturb them and this was the first time we experienced the Argentines reluctance to drink alcohol without eating.

I should state here again that we ran into very few people who could speak English fluently. Most of the people who worked at out hotel could understand if we spoke slowly and we found people who could speak a few words here and there. But I know from experience that it's possible to communicate with anyone if you really want to. At one point, while trying to find our way to the Puerto, we got a bit lost and a man stopped to help us get our bearings. He didn't speak a word of English and we know little Spanish, especially the strange Spanish that these people spoke. But he still managed to get us going in the right direction and followed us a ways to make sure we didn't stray wrong. People were like this everywhere we went.

So it took us some time to convince the restaurant to let us drink wine on their patio. Once the figured out that we were barbarians and we didn't want any food with our wine, they were fine with it and we enjoyed a great bottle of Pinot Noir from Argentina, the first we had ever had. We didn't even know they made Pinot there.

From there, we decided that we were too tired to walk all the way back. We really didn't have the time anyways. So we made our way into the city center where we were going to try to figure out their subway system. That trip took us past Casa Rosado, where Evita Peron spoke to the Argentine public from the balcony, and the Obelisco, the famous tall, white tower in the middle of the world's widest street, Avenida 9 de Julio. This brought us to our subway station and we quickly figured out the system. ( It's the oldest in the Southern hemisphere (1913) and is shaped liked a fork, which can be inconvenient as you have to travel all the way into downtown and then transfer to one of the six lines to take you back out to where you want to go. We were already downtown, so it was no problem and we found our line to Palermo. We got to the platform to find a huge crowd waiting and when the train came, it was packed. It actually took a couple of trains before we were able to squeeze on, but trains come frequently, so we didn't have to wait long. We found the subway to be like this all day long, rush hour or not.

We arrived at our station in Palermo and walked up the few blocks to our hotel, where we met Rodrigo, the night manager, who would become a good friend during our stay in the city. He spoke English well, as he used to be a flight attendant for American Airlines. We asked him about a place for a quick and quiet dinner and he suggested a restaurant just around the corner called Oro & Candido, but we had seen the place and it didn't look that impressive, so we opted for a Mexican Restaurant right next door called Maria Felix ( The food there was good, but not great. There are few places outside of the Southwest of North America that really know how to make Mexican food, but we like to try their attempts when we can. It came in huge portions though, so it was lucky we were very hungry.

After a few hours and many margaritas, we went back to the hotel and chatted with Rodrigo for awhile over a glass of wine. It was about midnight when we finally hit the sack. After almost 48 hours being awake, I wasted no time in falling into deep sleep.


It was Wednesday, the 15th and we woke up late, around 10 AM. I seldom sleep longer than seven hours, but considering the lack of sleep I had for the two days following, ten hours probably wasn't too much at all. I quickly showered and got ready and while Skip was preparing, I went into the lobby to figure out what we would do for that day.

While I was sitting in the lobby, the lady who worked the morning shift (whose name sadly escapes me and who we found out later was Rodrigo's mother) asked me if there was anything I wanted. I told her that I had read about mate, a tea-like drink that Argentines love, but is supposedly an acquired taste for foreigners. She agreed to make me a cup and showed me how to drink it. The cup was packed with the herb and the hot water was poured down the side, so it wouldn't soak the mixture. The liquid was then sipped up through a silver straw. It was very bitter and I loved it, although she later told me that she had added lots of sugar to it to soften the taste.

(I later found out that not only was asking for mate considered rude, but keeping the whole cup for me was rude as well. One needs to be invited to drink it and then it's a very social event, with everyone sharing the same cup and straw. It's not something for the germ-phobic. By the time I found this out, I had stopped drinking it though. I asked for it again the next morning and asked them to make it with no sugar at all. They were reluctant, but did so and were very surprised when I loved it more than the sugared version. But I found I was making frequent trips to the restroom and then I read that mate was a natural diuretic, which may answer why these people can eat so much and stay so slim. I gave it up, but I have a great mate cup, with Che Guevara on it, and a bag of mate here anytime I want to take it up again.)

By this time, Skip was ready to go. I had picked up a few postcards the day before and wanted to mail them today, so I asked where the post office was. It turned out that it was right across the street from the Botanical Gardens, which was right next to the Zoo, where we had planned to spend the day anyways. So we made our way down to Av. Santa Fe, where we found the post office after a bit of a search, and then stopped in for a delicious ham and cheese sandwich and glass of wine at Al Queso Queso, an amazing little cheese shop on the avenue.

After we ate, we walked along the Botanical Gardens, talking to and petting some of the wild cats that beg passing humans for food on a daily basis. There were hundreds of them. That took us to the zoo. ( I like to visit zoos in foreign countries. There're always a few animals in every zoo that you can't find elsewhere and I also think zoos show a city's personality. This zoo turned out to be a strange one.

The first thing we noticed was that there were several small animals running free amongst the humans. One of these looked sort of like a jackalope without the horns. ( The other looked sort of like a muskrat. ( It had large, orange teeth. Both animals were not shy about begging for food, but I was a bit worried about putting my hand down next to those teeth. They were awfully cute though and were everywhere in the zoo, along with various water birds and turtles, and even more of those wild cats.

The zoo itself was in a bit of disrepair, but it was obvious that the city was doing what it could to spruce up the place and get it ready for summer crowds. (Since Argentina is in the Southern hemisphere, summer was rapidly approaching.) There were lots of animals there that were indigenous to Argentina and Brazil that I hadn't seen before. Spending the whole afternoon there was a fun pleasure.

We then headed back to the hotel for some rest before dinner. Buenos Aires is a late eating city, like many in Southern Europe are, and most restaurants don't even open until 8:30 PM. It turned out that the restaurant we choose for the evening was also in Palermo, just a few blocks from our hotel. La Cabrera is a parrilla, or charcoal grill restaurant, that is very popular and is becoming well known by tourists, much to the concern of locals who love the place. As per most Argentine restaurants, it focuses on meat, and lots of it. With your meal, you get a whole array of appetizers and side dishes that is really a meal in itself. I ordered the rabbit stuffed with ham and cheese. Skip ordered the sweetbreads. When our dishes came, they were such huge portions that despite how delicious they were, we couldn't even come close to finishing them. I basically had a whole stuffed rabbit sitting in front of me. This turned out to be a problem at almost every restaurant we went to and we quickly learned to order one main course to share. But locals were woofing down the meal like it was their last on earth. Their lunches tend to be equally huge and they also enjoy tapas after work. I have no idea how they can pack so much away and stay so fit. Our meal was washed down with an amazing bottle of Argentine Malbec. And for some reason, our waiter kept refilling my glass of champagne I had ordered upon arriving at the restaurant. I must have drunk eight glasses of the wonderful stuff on top of everything else I drank.

(One of the main reasons we went to Argentina was for the wine. We have drunken Malbecs from the country here before, but had remained unimpressed for the most part. We had heard that they keep the real good stuff for themselves and after our visit, we realized how true that was. We had some stellar wines there, both expensive and cheap. Fortunately, the exchange rate allowed us to order the equivalent of $300 bottles of wine for a third of the cost. More on wine next week.)

After dinner, we were walking to the hotel when we passed a bar that was covered with punk rock graffiti. Loud music by the Clash was pouring out the door, so we went it. It was called the Post Street Bar and the bartender was a friendly guy who spoke limited English and gladly made me fernet cokas, a drink combining the bitter Italian Fernet Branca aperitif with Coca-Cola. I had been told by someone at the hotel that the drink was very popular in Buenos Aires and I was eager to try it. Needless to say, I loved it and drank a lot of them in the city when I wasn't drinking wine. I had heard that the Ramones were almost the equivalent of the Rolling Stones in Argentina and it was here that we found out how true that was. Every person we met had a story about how the Ramones saved their lives, even if their favorite music was now New Order or Madonna. The bartender here told us his story and then led us to a private room upstairs. All the bands who had visited the bar had signed spaces on the wall and there were hundreds of them. The Ramones got a whole wall to themselves and the graffiti and art they had left there was a wonder for any Ramones fan to see. (Unfortunately, Skip's pictures didn't turn out.)

After a couple hours of talking, we wobbled back to the hotel where we ran into a couple of American tourists from Portland Oregon who had just checked in. Their names also escape me, but the guy was a 40-something music fan who loved Thin White Rope and was eager to talk to me about the music business once he realized who I was. His girlfriend was in her early 20s and had a whole different viewpoint of the music business than any of us older folks. She quickly grew frustrated because she didn't believe we knew where she was coming from. I think she was too drunk to realize we understood her more than she thought. We sat up for several hours and finished four bottles of wine between the five of us. (Rodrigo was also included.) Plans were made and we made plans to do a bunch of stuff together, including going to an upcoming Mudhoney show at a club near the hotel. We finally turned in around 3 AM, but when we woke up the next morning, they were gone and we never saw them again. We have no idea what their true story was.


And that's it for this week. Next week we'll eat some weird meat, visit an amazing wine bar and see a crazy soccer game. And if I have time and space, we'll go to Uruguay. Until then, thanks for reading. And have fun.

Buenos Aires - An Introduction

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, November 30, 2008)

I promised to finally get to our Buenos Aires trip and I'm going to stick to that promise. But I'm only going to get to an introduction to the city. Next week I'll tackle all the different things we did there. Then, either the week after that, or a week later, I'll write another Thin White Rope road story. It's been way too long since I've done one of those and I still have quite a few tales to tell about touring with them and several other bands.

Next year promises not only a lot of change for all of us politically and socially, but I think it will be a BIG year of change for Skip and me. More on that shortly, after the first of the year.

So, thanks for reading and being so damned patient with me. I'll warn you now that you haven't heard the last of my Proposition 8 rants, but I'm going to try to give it a rest for a month or so. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the first part of my thoughts on Argentina. See you next week.



I first decided that I wanted to visit Argentina when I met singer Juana Molina ( and her husband when they did an instore appearance at the record store I worked at over a decade ago. They were both great people and their descriptions of the capitol city, Buenos Aires, had me adding the city to the top of my list of future must-visit places. I placed it third, right under Paris and Cape Town. These days, Skip and I don't have a lot of money, so when we plan out vacations, we try to do them as cheaply as possible. We managed top spend ten days in Cape Town a couple of years ago for a little less than $3000 for the whole trip. (We always fly on frequent flyer miles we build up through credit card purchases, so we never factor in flight charges.) I had heard that Argentina was similarly cheap for Americans and as I researched the country, I began to see just how cheap it would be. A couple of decades ago, the country's economy dropped into the toilet. The history of the country is very much like many other South American countries in that it has been plagued by revolution and dictatorships. It is only in recent years that the country has begun to pull itself out of its problems and build itself up to a major world force. The economy is getting stronger, but it's doing so slowly.

We found that our dollar was worth about 3 Argentine Pesos, but that one peso spends like one dollar. In other words, if a steak at a restaurant costs 30 pesos, it only cost us $10. We spent eight days there and spent a little over $3000. We probably could have gotten by cheaper, except we did some tourist things there that cost us a good amount of money, such as paying a local to take us to a soccer game, but more on that next week.

The city itself is beautiful and unlike any city I've ever been to before. It's known as "the Paris of South America", but I think that's stretching it a bit. Paris is gorgeous and romantic. It's a shiny, bright city of history and art. Buenos Aires isn't that shiny and bright. The sidewalks are crumbling in many places and covered with dogshit. You really have to be careful while walking around that you don't trip over raised sidewalk tiles or step into a squishy mess that no one seems to care enough about to clean up. Architecture there is a mixed bag. While walking down a street, you'll see one building that looks like it should be in New Orleans, right next to a building straight out of Berlin, right next to another that is a modern structure of steel and glass. Parks are everywhere and they are full of sculptures and fountains, old and modern. The Puerto area has been revamped and is now a modern looking place with skyscrapers, amazing restaurants and one of the most beautiful foot bridges I've ever seen. You can find many pictures of the city here:

The people are friendly and very good looking. People would stop on the streets to help us if we looked like we were lost. Not many of them speak English well, but they do what they can to try to communicate. (A relief after seeing so many "Speak English or go home" signs in Philadelphia.) I've never seen people eat so much and stay so fit though. Their meat heavy meals are huge and eaten late at night. But it was the best tasting meat I've ever eaten.

We decided not to visit any museums while there. We can see art anywhere and with the limited time we had, we wanted to see the city and its surroundings more than the inside of some museum. We packed our days though and seldom stopped to rest once we woke up and got on our way. We visited every part of the main city (except for Boca and I'll talk about that later as well.) We went to a soccer game and took a trip to the Pampas on the outskirts and spent a day with Gauchos, the Argentine cowboys. We took a ferry over to Uruguay. We saw Mudhoney play a wild set. We spent lots of time in wine bars and restaurants and got to eat things we've never eaten before. We went to landmarks like Casa Rosado, the Woman's Bridge, the Obelisco, and Recoleta, the graveyard where Evita Peron is buried. We even went to the zoo and wandered around with strange animals.

In the end, despite its economic and infrastructure problems, I think I felt more at home in Buenos Aires than any foreign city I've been to in a long time. I never felt unsafe and had no problems figuring out how the city worked, including subways, cabs, and asking for and about mate. It's a great place and I hope to be able to go back in the future. Not only to revisit the city, but to visit the rest of the country as well, especially the wine regions of Mendoza and Salta, and Terra del Fuego, the glacier bound area at the bottom of the country.

I'll get to specifics next week. You'll hear all about crazed soccer fans; how we almost got stranded in Colonia del Sacramento; the incident of drunken dancing with a female gaucho, and how we tried to figure out if jackalopes were edible. I'll tell about massive meals of proteins and potatoes; and tales of terror in the backseat of a taxicab. And there's so much more. It was a vacation I'll never forget.