Zesty Mumma's Words

A life lived without passion is a life half lived

Archive for the tag “Fun”

The Argentine Art of Exaggeration and Land Mines!

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My first few days of pounding the pavements of Buenos Aires were fraught with peril. The mean streets of BA, as the residents like to think of their city, definitely hold many dangers for the unsuspecting traveller, but not all are what you might imagine. Yes there is crime and all the usual suspects; pick pockets, bag snatchers and worse. However, in spite of all the poverty and human woe it is surprisingly safe. What I like to term the “Agentinean art of exaggeration” without a doubt can take some responsibility for this belief by the city dwellers. If it wasn’t safe the Argentinean habit of going for dinner after 10.00 pm would have been extinct along time ago. 

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The volume of people moving around the streets of the capital late at night proves that this aspect of their culture is alive and well. One of the most endearing aspects of Buenos Aires, the abundant small cafes and restaurants, with their outdoor seating and twinkling lights, would likewise have closed their doors for good. The public transport buses run for 24 hours a day and while their regularity is questionable in the early morning hours, they do eventually turn up, so you can get home.

 

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Which brings me back to my early days in BA and my steps laden with perilous pitfalls. The culprit; Buenos Aires shocking (truly this is not an exaggeration) footpaths. Consisting essentially of large tiles that often spurt water up your legs when the slightest pressure is exerted on them, made me feel like I was picking my way through a field of land mines. These are not the only land mines pedestrians have to navigate. Those left by the canine inhabitants are everywhere, as well as their pee. So when the tiles spurt water after the rain, it’s not just water that you get hit by. Then there is the holes. The only thing I will say about them is if you have ever seen photos of bombed roadways, pock marked by mortar shells in a war zone, then you have seen many of BA’s footpaths.

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Those early weeks spent wandering the city resulted in many evenings of pain because of the twisting torture my ankles and knees experienced. Then I noticed something remarkable, I leant to walk like an Argentine and this is a very particular skill. Buenos Aireans  through necessity walk great distances to and from public transport, to work, to their homes and anywhere else in the city they need to go. All this walking as I have already explain could be very dangerous for your health without this skill. How do you walk like an Argentine you may ask? Simple, you never fully plant your foot down completely when you take a step, being ready to quickly glide over a tile that shows signs of movement. At the same time your vision is both directed to the distance and directly in front of your path. In this way you are also able to avoid falling into bomb craters.

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You would be right in thinking that the poor condition of the footpaths really limits the type of footwear the women of BA can safely wear and you wouldn’t be wrong. There are more joggers worn here than I have ever seen in my life. Having said that, we all know however, that women have a particular love for shoes and to deprive the female members of Buenos Aires citizenry of heels would be a crime. 

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Now let me introduce you to Frankenboots. This particularly unique Porteno fashion statement answers a need by utilising my old friend, the Buenos Airean “art of exaggeration”. These oversized platforms keep women raised above the the splashing water, while the soft rubbery sole minimises the impact of any smaller holes  they may miss. The sky is the limit with these platforms, just when you think you’ve seen the highest or most outlandish example you notice a version that boggles your mind.

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So while I walk the streets in my low open sandals, squealing inside everytime a splash of putrid water touches my skin, my Buenos Arian sisters glide around their city.

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Peruvian Grannies Selling Flowers In Buenos Aires Are Not To Be Messed With!

I first saw the colourful Peruvian Jasmine sellers at the end of my street. The family were strategically stationed in a prime position to attract passers by as they existed the subway after the daily commute. Grandma, mum, a little girl of about four years and a baby boy around six months of age. The baby had caught my attention on that cool, damp BA evening, wrapped warmly in his vibrant Peruvian blanket. Strands of black hair sneaking out from under the traditional bonnet and a happy little smile on his face, he was just so cute as he sat snuggly in his cardboard box on the sidewalk. I couldn’t help myself, the photo opportunity was too good; but as I pulled my phone out of my bag the grandma reached into box and took the baby out.  

When I saw the same family only a couple of block from my house I was again struck by how cute they were. Different location but exactly the same scene, minus the Granny. The opportunity to get that shot I had so desired a few weeks previous was invigorating, I couldn’t believe it. The sun was shining, the air was clear and life was good. I got the first photo no problem but I new it wasn’t good, so I walked half way across the road preparing for the next. That’s  when granny came barreling around the corner, screaming Peruvian unpleasantries at me. I did attempt to explain, for about ten seconds, but there was no placating her with my limited Spanish. All I could do was turn and walked away, granny still raging.

I have no idea why she objected, it could have been any number of things; fear of the authorities as there has been recent changes to immigration laws, maybe fear that the baby would be considered at risk. Really though it didn’t matter what the reason was or how picture perfect I considered the scene to be. It wasn’t just a photograph op for them, it was their life and that was hard enough without worrying about some foreigner taking photographs of them.

In a land where welfare support is virtually non existent or you aren’t a citizen you do what you have to, it’s all about survival. The number of people estimated to be living below the poverty line is approximately about 20% of the population of Buenos Aires. With another 10 – 20% considered vulnerable should prices increase or the bread winner unable to work. Considering the inflation rate for 2018 was 40% i that could be sooner rather than later

Sellers of every description inhabit the streets, alleyways and metro of Buenos Aires. The Subte (as the BA metro is called) provides the perfect market place for street hawkers. Sometimes they begin in booming voices explaining in detail what circumstances have let him or her to be in the position of needing to sell a product on the train. Other times they weave through the carriage placing their product on your knee. It could be chewing gum, a pair of socks, chocolate, hair ties or any number of other items. After they have covered the carriage they come back to either take the product back or take the money. On some lines you can be approach by three to five sellers in a journey of 15 minutes.

The “Cartoneros” though, take the award for the most original occupation and definitely fall under the banner of “only in Buenos Aires”. Hauling their huge carts around the street they serve the city as recyclers and actually receive a basic retainer. They are also able to sell whatever they find in the huge bell shaped recycling bins placed around the suburbs. There are approximately 5000 government appointed “Cartoneros”, however another 50000 also work the streets illegally but only get money for what they can sell. The dirty, hot and tiring work is not for the faint hearted.

… And what of my Peruvian flower sellers you may ask? Yes I have seen them at the end of my street once again but the baby now has his own pram. So I’m guessing that the main concern of the granny was the baby. I even think that on the very first occasion I noticed them, she had also noticed me and my attempt to get my camera out. Don’t mess with a Peruvian granny I say!

Hip Hip Hooray to International Women Day! But How Far Have We Really Come?

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Let me start this week’s blog by telling a little story….

An immaculately dressed women walks past a mirror and glances quickly at her reflection. As she does her focus zeros in on the aspects of her appearance that she particularly dislikes. She flinches, averting her eyes from the image of herself, as if she were the Hunchback of Notre Dame caught in a spot light. A man walks past the same mirror, his baggy tracksuit pants hang just below his jiggling belly and his ripped Tshirt wears the remains of breakfast. He glances in the mirror and thinks to himself, “looking good”! The point of this story is that women will always look at themselves and think there is something wrong with them; where as men will always see an image of themselves and think they are a chick magnet, no matter how they look.

So lets go back to International Day of Women.

Does it mean we women are suddenly at peace with ourself’…. I doubt it

Does it mean that we are kind to each other…. I doubt it

Does it mean that we like our body…. I seriously doubt it

Does that sound pessimistic? Well it was meant to be. I just despair sometimes that in spite of all the fanfare that goes along with initiatives such as International Women’s Day, women still judge each other harshly and judge themselves even harsher. If we are totally honest there isn’t a woman that hasn’t looked at a photo of some starlet in a magazine, gleefully noticing that tiny bit of cellulite on her butt and rejoiced. Let’s forget the month she may have spent raising awareness for street children in Cambodia, no lets just focus on the cellulite.

I’d like to blame the media for subjecting us to the barrage of images and stories we are exposed to daily, the same images and stories that feed our obsession with beauty over achievement. However I don’t think we can totally dump the blame on the media, I believe the problem starts a little closer to home. It’s a secret passed down from mother to daughter from generation to generation, the signs so seemingly insignificant that most men would never even notice. But we girls know the code don’t we?

It starts very early in life, the little girl watching her mother as she flinches at the glimpse of herself in the mirror, the child takes it all in. Picture a family gathered for dinner, but mum is on a diet so her meal is different from the rest of the family, her daughter sees all. These and the other thousand of unspoken signals women send to their daughters train them where to focus their attention far more successfully than words ever could.

Of course it isn’t all doom and gloom, there are great role models out there; Amal Clooney for one, the brilliant human rights lawyer that represents the likes of Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange. The trouble is the first thing we think of when we see a photo of Amal is that fact that she is stick thin, beautiful and managed to bag the worlds most eligible bachelor, because that’s what we were trained to focus on.

So if focus is the problem, what can we do to change it? Maybe it’s not focus, maybe its just perspective! Do you remember the story I told at the start of this blog? Well by chance I told this story to a group of friends thinking I would get a laugh, which I did. After the laughter and discussion ended a wise male friend gave me his perspective on my little tale. He told me that the real truth of the story was that neither perspective were balanced, they were both extreme. The fact was that while men are never as good looking as they think they are, we women are never as bad as we perceive ourselves to be. In fact most of the time we are pretty darn awesome!

Stepford Wives to Kim Kardashian -The pressure on Young Women

Long ago in the dark ages, the 1950’s that is, poise and the ability to dress attractively were desired attributes for the cultured young woman. These and the ability to clean a home and cook a roast dinner all the while dressed as a Stepford wife.

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You may think that these standards are long since resigned to the depths of history, but let me ask you what is the difference between the pressures on those 1950’s housewives and the images the likes of Kim Kardasian and her ilk are transmitting into the brains of young women today.

Poise was important then and just so today. Think of the skill involved in presenting the perfect selfie to the world. Surely the poses required in those social media posts are a reflection of the type of “poise” desired for the young in society today.

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Ok so the Stepford “pearls and twinset” look has well and truly gone by the wayside but young women today are faced with an equally unattainable standard splashed over the internet and magazines. Thanks to the same Kardasian clan and lesser media starlets it is not good enough for young wives and mothers to be just cute, they have to be sexy as well. Seductively posed pouting in the bathroom mirror or suggestively filmed with breasts partly exposed, while driving their children to school. This is standard fodder for the all powerful social media platforms. So while the unattainable 1950’s and 60’s standards of perfection is thankfully no longer valid, it has been replaced by an equally unattainable standard – pole dancer style.

You might call me a dreamer but in the words that just dropped out of Amy Farrah Fowler, as I write this blog and watch The Big Bang at the same time, “why can’t we go back to the time when brains were sexy.”

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I Love Paris – part 2 – Ooh Lah Lah. – How Could Anyone Complain!

img_1605“Free wine and cheese for happy hour between 5.00 – 7.00pm, every night, really?” I gushed during check in at my exquisite new hotel, followed with ” I love Paris”, and so began the happiest five days of my trip. Honestly there is very little bad you can truly say about Paris, that’s why I have purposely separated last weeks blog from this one and yes I’m going to say it again Paris is amazing!

In contrast, what I’m now about to say may seem a little harsh and at this moment just want to point out I do truly love the Spanish. They are kind, generous and passionate but for the most part if something in Spain is beautiful it is either built by the Romans or Moors or by accident and don’t get me started about their food presentation. However, the French do nothing by accident, it’s all about the beauty and ascetic’s, whether it be architecture, dress or humble food presentation.

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My week in Paris was dominated by clear blue skies, so very perfect for walking, and walking I did. The main tourist paths around the city are for the most part flat and easy to get around by foot, however, if needed the metro is a useful choice with minimal difficulty and should you need help there is always someone to ask. Most French living in Paris have at least a little English and freely admit it is the international language, unlike the Spanish. I know there is a lot written about the attitude of the French but I simply didn’t find it to be true. Ok so they don’t gush all over you and sometimes appear to be growling and love to argue but they treat each other in exactly the same way!

By far my favourite mode of transport was the many bush bikes available for a small fee at docking stations around the city. Having blistered my feet walking hundreds of kilometres while wearing inappropriate shoes, the bikes were a welcomed relief. More importantly I knew I never wanted to be Lucy Jordan, who realised to late “she’d never ride through Paris with the wind blown in her hair” (it’s a Marianne Faithful, song check it out). Really, if I ever had a out of body experience on my trip it was that moment, riding to Galleries Lafayette on one of the hottest days of the year was worth the third degree sunburn I got!

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The only downside about Paris at this time (due to no fault of their own) is the confronting moment you are happily strolling along, turn left into the Rue Du Temple and come face to face with two French soldiers walking toward you with machine guns. Honestly though, even soldiers with guns walking around your neighbourhood becomes ordinary when you see it enough but I can’t imagine what it is like for Parisian’s living with the situation all the time. In spite of this there wasn’t a single point I felt unsafe in my entire week (except of course the climb up the ancient staircase come slippery slide belonging to the Appi Hotel).

Don’t go to the Louvre on a Tuesday it’s closed! A sad fact I discovered too late so ended up at the Musee D’Orsay instead, which as it turned out was the better choice. From the outside the Louvre is extremely impressive and containing such a huge percentage of this worlds history, would be no less inside I’m sure. However, from what I gleaned from others who managed to actually get inside the experience while still amazing was greatly marred by the vast numbers of other tourists they were sharing it with. The beauty of D’Orsay is the fact that there is only a fraction of the crowds compared to the Louvre yet still contains many examples of the worlds most famous works of art. Degas “la Petite Danseuse” , the beautiful bronze of a fourteen year old ballerina is exquisite while Van Gogh’s “Starry Night Over The Rhine” is breathtaking and just some of the amazing pieces on display.

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In fact the forecourt of the Louvre was actually the only place during my stay that I came close to being robbed. The involuntary response all tourist develop when viewing places of beauty, much like a nervous tick, is to drag out whatever photographic device they may have and begin snapping away. This practice can make you a clear target for those of the human race that only see dollars signs ( or in this case Euro’s) painted on your back.

Dragging the iPad out of my for the thousandth time I had barely entered my passcode when a good looking Frenchman with sparkling, broad smile appeared, offering to take a photo of me in front of the Louvre. Instantly alarm bells went off in my brain, I may not have been in Paris long but it was definitely long enough to know that the French never smile at you like that so he obviously wanted something. Thankfully I’d also seen “French kiss” enough times to know that Meg Ryan’s character had her bag stolen from the same type of slimy lothario when she let her guard down. So frowning at him I declined his offer but he tried one more time before taking his beaming smile of insincerity off to target the next hapless victim.

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Yes Paris is full of amazing buildings and museum and of course the Eiffel Tower but the other thing that it has in abundance is parks and those parks are overflowing with masses of brightly coloured flowers and succulent green grass. Having just spent eleven weeks in a baking Spanish oven where the grass (if there was grass at all) resembled dried golden wheat, I just wanted to squish it between my toes and roll around in it. You’ll be happy to know I settled for squishy toes!

Paris is of course a Mecca for travellers from all over the world and rightly so, however for one group of visitors it apparently does not live up to their imagination thus causing such severe disappointment that they suffer a breakdown. The Japanese are the main sufferers of a debilitating illness called Paris Syndrome ( no that isn’t the all consuming fear that Paris Hilton would once again be the constant source of news for the worlds media). This relatively new mental disorder is characterised by a number of psychiatric symptoms such as acute delusional states, hallucinations and feelings of persecution.

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The Japanese often picture Paris as a land of their dreams; the land of beauty, culture and sophistication. However,  thev soon find the dizzy heights of their imagination does not fit with reality. French women aren’t as stick thin as models, they don’t wear high end designer cloths around the street and Paris isn’t as sterilely clean as they imagined . To add insult to injury, the fluctuating rhythm and harsh tones of the French language create the impression that the French are rude, as a result the Japanese government is forced to repatriated a number of their citizens home every year. There is even a hotline set up for suffers so they can get help quickly!

All I can say is no city on earth is perfect but Paris comes as close as you can get!

Tips

  •  When in Paris walk walk walk – breath it in, immerse yourself in it, experience it!
  • Parisian supermarkets sell great salads, sandwiches and readymade meals at good prices

How To Make It To SevilleWithout A Complete Meltdown – A Sangria or Two Helps

 

The air is surprising when I wheel my bags out into the street on my first day in Spain, clear and cool but with the hint of what is to come. Like a tap you turn on that first runs cold but slowly you feel warm water mixing with the cool, till finally all you have is hot.

My 500mtr walk to the metro is not uncomfortable, with the help of a couple of passerby’s, a little English and a bit of sign language, what I already knew was confirmed (the metro was straight down the street). I really didn’t need to ask I think it was more just for reassurance.

Once I had taken the escalator to the first level of the Metro it was another thing, no ticket office, no one to try and speak to, only machines, but thankfully a large map and three really lovely Canadian boys. You really don’t want me to bore you with the details of how I manage to hold on to all my bags, get my money out and pay for my ticket, lets just say it was hard. Getting through the turnstiles was just as difficult but thankfully Spanish men are really helpful as well.

Intercity trains are run by Renfe, which is situated at  Atoche, the largest of Madrid’s stations, the old terminal having been transformed into a tropical covered garden.  It was easy to find the customer service to enquire about tickets, but as it turned out, not quite so to buy one. After being directed to an office and a machine that spat out tickets notifying you of your place in the queue,  I realise in horror that my ticket said A244 when the LED display notifying the next customer to be served was only saying A103. With a single customer service representative working I quickly realised my dream of getting to Seville by lunch time was out the window.

During the next hour and a half I noted with perverse glee the many travellers that walked into the office and looked around in confusion, only to be told by another customer about the machine. Once they’d taken their ticket I waited for the inevitable series of reactions. Firstly a quick glance down at their number, then a corresponding glance at the flashing display for the current ticket to be called, followed by one of two actions when they realised how long the wait would be. The first was horrified disbelief, really entertaining. The best however, were the people that nervously scanned the seated customers with a half smile on their lips, certain that someone was playing a huge joke on them and they were about to “get punked”.

To be honest I’m really not that sure there wasn’t some comedy show being secretly filmed for Spanish television cause here is the rub, when I finally arrived at the glorious moment of my ticket being called, feeling like I had won the lottery, I was told ” sorry but this office is for pre booked tickets, you have to go to another ticket office to purchase tickets for travel today!”

All I want to say is I arrived in Seville at 4.30, took me longer than it should have, cost more than it would if I had booked and paid before I left Australia and it is my own fault. Train travel in Spain is actually brilliant, fast and clean and once you get the hang of it, very easy.

Seville is a seriously beautiful city, particularly the old Jewish quarter, which really is the only place to stay. There are far too many awesome sites to visit that I won’t mention them here, just google images and research them, totally worth it. The train station was relatively close to my hotel according to the map, so once again McDonalds, their black tea and free wi fi was greatly appreciated. I sat down drank my tea, had a wrap and sent a few messages to assure friends and family that I was still alive.  Unfortunately the last message to my son finally depleted my iPad battery and I realised with horror that my phone had died as well. Aargh!

I almost crumbled into pure panic at that moment because I hadn’t written the address of my pension down on paper and had no  idea of the name. However, just before I opened my mouth to scream I realised I had actually printed out the booking form, handing it to a taxi driver I sank with relief into the seat. Again as much as it pains my to say it, without a charged phone to follow google maps, there was no way I would have found the hotel if I had taken the bus. The taxi took me straight there and only cost €8. The narrow rabbit warren of streets and lanes in the old city was too hard to navigate on your own.

I had chosen La Montorena because of the position and price of course but also because of the mosaic lined foyer and roof top terrace and it turned out to be a good one. My single room was a shoe box but the bed was fine and the small bathroom opposite was mainly used by me alone. Again it may only have been €26 a night but the cleanliness was remarkable.

As I mentioned before but my trip to Spain is an extended one, nearly three three months in total then a month in England, so my bags are heavy. The narrow marble staircase up to the first and second floors made it impossible to drag up my huge rolling backpack. I had actually anticipated this and packed everything I thought I might need for the weekend into my  overnight bag, so I store the big one downstairs.

Seville was my first taste of the heat of summer in southern Spain and it is strong, but being dry it is bearable at the same time, not the sticky ever present humidity of the tropics. Walking around the scenic sites is therefore a mostly comfortable experience. Bars are abundant, food is cheap and beverages (alcohol included) is even cheaper so once the heat drains you a little it is easy to recover your strength. Sangria in particular is an effective medicine.

Low cost accommodation can have a bad reputation for many reason, noisy young travellers for one thing. Not that they weren’t present at La Montorena but they weren’t that noisy. These days however, you are just as likely to find older travellers, just like yourself, they love to talk and the roof top terrace was the perfect place meet the other guests.  I met a lovely Danish couple who had just arrived and were making a return visit. There is a definite comoraderie that you don’t get in resorts and upmarket hotels,  maybe a sense of shared experience!

Tips

  • Work out your metro train trip prior to taking it – mine involve taking 3 different train lines to the main station which I do think is weird when I was actually on the airport line to begin with but hey it’s Spain. And write it down – you will not remember!
  • Book and pay for your intercity train ticket before you leave home – you do not want to star in Spanish Candid Camera!
  • Buy a power  converter also before you leave home – we rely so much on technology today you CANNOT be stuck without your device, that is unless you want to have a nervous breakdown!
  • cafe/bars are cheap but even cheaper is grocery stores, the small corner store variety no exception. So if you are really trying to live cheaply  a knife, rice wafers, avocado, tomato and some smoked salmon under a roof top cabana, with a €2.99 2011 bottle of red is fabulous ( just make sure the wafers you buy don’t have some sickly sweet creamy substance inside because you couldn’t read the label otherwise your eating with your fingers)

 

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