Archive for September 21st, 2010

21st September
2010
written by Ilana

I know, I know.  I haven’t written in ages.  This is true.  But I have my reasons.  I will now list them:

  1. Buenos Aires was all about relaxing and doing basically nothing other than consuming steaks and loitering all over the city.  I will write a bit about it below, but I will warn you that there aren’t any really captivating tales, it was just a generally chilled out time.
  2. We have been in Australia since August 26th.  This may seem like the perfect place to catch up on blogging, but the thing is, we have been busy with errands and family time and yuntif.  Also, since I have been back in suburbia the whole travel thing has sort of left my mind and all I want to do is hang out at the mall.  Not the best tone to set for a travel blog.
  3. Do you really want to read about my arguments with Buffy, the Bloom family dog or my love of bowling?  I didn’t think so.

Ok, so I’ve made enough excuses, now I will actually try to write something just to get back into the swing of things, and because I started writing something about Buenos Aires ages ago I figured it should get posted eventually, so, like the editors of the Torah, I will redact it all together into one not so cohesive text.  (No offense meant to the Torah here, just when I think of the word “redact” I automatically think of the word “Torah”)

Alright, so let’s start with Buenos Aires.  First of all, a ginormous thanks to Jessica O who hooked us up with tons of information about BA and a website that lets you search different vacation apartment rentals.  We found an apartment and were told by Jessica and Feiber that this apartment was indeed in THE hip neighborhood (did I just become un-hip by calling a neighborhood hip??), and it was even a bit cheaper than the local hostels, so we rented an apartment for our 6 days in BA.  We were off to an amazing start even before we arrived.  Just knowing that we would be in an apartment of our own brought tears of relief to my travel weary eyes (not literally—but I’m trying to work on my travel writer sappiness here).

TRAVELING TO BUENOS AIRES

To get to Buenos Aires we took another long bus ride.  This time it was 19 hours.  Like our previous bus, it had two levels, and this time we opted to sit in the front row on the top floor, so that even if it was a miserable ride, we would still have a good view of the surrounding area.

Enjoying the fancy bus

When we got on the bus, we already noticed the difference between this bus and the 23 hour bus from hell.  On this bus, the seats moved almost all the way back, and there were nice pillows and blankets on every seat.  A few minutes into the ride, a man offered us drinks and little cakes.  Awesome!  We then watched “Evan Almighty” in Spanish.

Something I didn’t mention about our 23 hour crazy bus was that at around hour 16 they finally put on a movie.  Bloom and I were pretty psyched about this, and waited with bated breath to see what it would be.   The first sign of bad news was when the name flashed on the screen:  “Bad Lieutenant: New Orleans.”  Oh dear.  I had absolutely no interest in this at all.  Whatever, if it was in English I would give it a try.  The movie begins, and we see Nicholas Cage and some other people talking to each other.  In English.  Hooray!  Sadly, my happiness only lasted a millisecond, since approximately one millisecond after the English speaking began, a loud man yelled over the movie in Russian.   For some bizarre reason, this movie was not dubbed over in Russian or in Spanish, but was actually the full English movie with a Russian man reading the screenplay over the actors’ voices.  It was awful and it was very loud, which made little sense since I am almost positive that not one person on that bus was a Russian speaker, so no one was being helped by the loud Russian man reading Nicholas Cage’s parts.  The Russian didn’t appear to be trying.  There was no emotion in his reading, only screaming, and he read all of the male parts.  A Russian woman yelled all of the female roles, just to make it more realistic I guess.

The Russian yelling was so loud that when I tried to listen to my ipod to drown them out, all I could hear was 20% Lady Gaga but still 80% screaming Russians reading a screenplay (yes, I was listening to Lady Gaga and I am not ashamed).  When my Russian hell ended, they put on the movie “Old Dogs,” which was actually in English, but was played so quietly so we could not hear a word Robin Williams was yelling.  I do not think of this as a loss, since this appeared to be one of the worst movies ever made.

Right, so back to our Buenos Aires bus, it was awesome, and featured all kinds of delicacies like movies at a normal volume, blankets, cakes, beverages, nice views, fully reclining chairs, and a vh1 special of top 80’s music videos.  Amazing.

BUENOS AIRES

We got to Buenos Aires, and went straight to our apartment.

View of the sunset from the balcony of our BA apartment

The apartment was in fact in a great neighborhood near all sorts of shops and grocery stores, and it had a balcony with a view of the whole city.  For some reason, this was cheaper than any of the hostels in the neighborhood, which made me feel happy as someone who feels guilty spending money.

We admired the apartment, and then went straight to a kosher sushi restaurant for lunch.   While I had not really missed eating meat in Peru and Bolivia, I had missed my weekly sushi fix.  Before I moved to NY, I had never been so into sushi, I thought it was very little food for very much money, but then I discovered sushi lunch specials and my life was changed.  This kosher sushi place was very upscale, and had all sort of fancy sushi rolls, which were delicious, but cost more than a week’s accommodation in La Paz.

For six weeks we backpacked, and on the seventh week was a week of rest.

After having spent six weeks traveling around from attraction to attraction, hostel to hostel, we decided that in Buenos Aires we would just chill out, and treat it like a real vacation instead of backpacking.  We spent the next few days loitering in the streets of Buenos Aires, walking everywhere and enjoying the fact that we had nothing planned other than eating and wandering the city.

Regretting Kosher McDonalds

The abundance of amazing kosher food after weeks of nothing but pasta and rice and occasional food poisoning, was heaven.  There was kosher gelato, kosher steaks, and kosher McDonalds.   Although, Bloom now thinks we need to give tons of tzedakah to some environmental group to offset the carbon footprint and general guilt of eating at McDonalds.  Maybe he’s right, but come on, when there’s a kosher McDonalds outside of Israel you eat in it, and that’s that.

Our first day in Buenos Aires, after wandering through the famous cemetery and the main square, we made our way to the Jewish neighborhood.  All of a sudden every man had a black velvet kippah and every woman a few babies and a shaitel.  When we got there, we realized it was time for dinner, so we went to a restaurant that basically served us an entire cow.  I was so excited to finally eat meat, but sadly, I was like a starving refugee whose stomach is nowhere near ready for meat.  I ate a few bites of steak, and thought I would die, so I left Bloom with the task of eating an entire cow, which he managed to accomplish (over two days), since he may look like a starving refugee, but surprisingly can eat a whole cow, or multiple loaves of bread.  Watching Bloom eat is like watching a magic show.  But I digress…

SHABBAT IN BA

It turned out there was a chabad (one of many in BA) ten minutes away from our apartment.  We went there Friday morning and spoke to the rabbi who invited us for dinner that night.  Perfect.  Hooray for another non-backpacker infested chabad.  We showed up for shul , but for some reason it didn’t start for an hour after  we got there, so I read the parsha.  Ki Teitze.  Oyvey—the worst!  I read all my least favorite parts of the Torah, and started going into existential crisis mode again.  What is my role as a Jewish feminist woman?  Who am I?  What do I do with texts that I find traumatically disturbing?  How can I read something that says (summarized here) that if an engaged girl is raped in a city, she and the man are both stoned to death, she because she didn’t cry out and he because he violated another man’s wife (property).  Look, I know that it’s more complicated than it seems, that it’s a particular time period, that the Talmud changes things, etc. etc.  But I still can’t help feeling like I’ve been slapped in the face every time I read that pasuk.  I am obviously modernizing and personalizing the pasuk, but I can’t help it, because I feel like rape is so prevalent in the world today, and one of the main issues is that victims are afraid to “cry out” during and after the attack.   It’s weird because I thought I had answered those questions years ago in seminary and then again in Pardes, and maybe even again at Hartman,  but I’ve realized that all of my religious questions never really go away, they just cycle through my life every few years looking for new answers.

Oh dear.  This is meant to be a light hearted travel blog and I just went off about the Torah, feminism and rape.  Typical me.  Ok, I will try to get back on track and if you want to hear more rants from me about the above, you can email me privately.

SO…After sitting for an hour thinking about the question “Am I a Feminist Jew, or a Jewish Feminist? (similar to the most annoying question on earth—Am I a Jewish American or an American Jew?), and “How can I STILL be frustrated over this?” and generally driving myself insane, davening finally started.  The few women who were there were sitting silently, as the men sang Yedid Nefesh.  I will not sit silently!  I will cry out!  I sang Yedid Nefesh very loudly, trying to remind myself that I do have a voice.  It was a strange experience.  I looked at the insanely tall mechitzah and listened to the men who sang and then later danced together while the few women sat there staring straight ahead.  Ugh, now I remember why being an Orthodox woman can be super lame and feel like you’re watching a really fun TV show that you are not a part of.  A few years ago this would’ve driven me to a very long rant, but I calmed down pretty quickly remembering that I am a traveler, a visitor, and this is not my community.  I have a community (sort of) and it is not this.  I am here to watch and be respectful.

So I thought I was being respectful, but the next day when I showed up to shul in a T-shirt (I was thrilled that it was finally warm enough to wear a T-shirt!), I was immediately chastised by an elderly lady.  I sat down next to her and she said a bunch of things to me in Spanish.  “What?”  I said.  She motioned to my elbows and shook her head.  “No no,” She said.  Luckily I had brought a hoodie, so I put that on, but was shocked about not being able to wear short sleeves.  Where was I, the Academy post 1999?  What was weird to me was that there were women wearing pants at this chabad, but that was deemed acceptable here.  Not my community, I am a guest, I kept repeating to myself.

After shul there was a Kiddush.  I stood on the side talking to Bloom about the T-shirt scandal, while men set up tables.  Hmm…the mechitzah is still up, that’s interesting.  I watched people put tables on separate sides of the mechitzah and set up a separate seating Kiddush/lunch.  Whaaaat.  This was especially strange since the average age of the women in shul was probably 67, so I’m not sure there would have been inappropriate mingling between the sexes.  I started panicking.  Who would I sit with??  The old lady who yelled at me about the t-shirt?  At least Bloom had a bunch of buchurim on his side of the mechitzah.  A woman came up to me and said “I speak English, I will sit with you,” and then sat me down next to a few 80 year olds.  The next time I saw my alleged English speaking friend, she was passing out tiny shot glasses of wine for Kiddush.  She, on the other hand, had a large cup of wine.  “I’m going to get drunk,” she said to me, and I did not see her again.

Abandoned by my friend, I looked at the pensioners and smiled.  They did not speak English.  Eventually the Rabbi’s daughter told me to come sit with her and her high school friend (the only people other than us who were under 60), since they spoke Hebrew.  She asked me what the lady said to me when I walked in, and I told her about the t-shirt.  I asked if it was really unacceptable to wear short-sleeves here.  She said “it is not respectful, but also she should not have said anything to you.”  Interesting approach.

As soon as I scarfed down a bowl of chulent, I got Bloom’s attention and high-tailed it out of there.  We went for a walk through a bunch of the public parks and past the zoo, which was a perfect shabbos activity.

Loitering in BA

We spent the next few days loitering and one day we went to a free tango lesson.  We were awful tango dancers, but it was a really fun time, even when the dance teacher insisted that I stood like an ape and repeatedly demanded I fix my posture.  I hope that Bloom will learn from this that dancing can be fun, but he treated it more like the army, counting out steps and making sure we learned it well.

What else happened?  Well, I ate the best steak of my life (see picture in Bloom’s post), so that was eventful.  If you are ever in Buenos Aires, go to the kosher restaurant Asian, and order the steak with the pineapple/soy sauce marinade.  It was so good, I was actually speechless, a rare event in history.

I hate to admit this, but one of the happiest moments of BA was when I found a Starbucks and ordered a skim latte.  The smell of Starbucks is the smell of NY, and I am admittedly homesick from time to time, so smelling that Starbucks smell and knowing exactly what to order, and knowing I would get what I ordered, was an amazing feeling.  This does not mean I am having a bad time.  I think all long-term travelers are excited when they see something that reminds them of home, I’m just putting it out there.

So that’s it for BA.  We have been in Australia for almost 4 weeks now.  We spent a lot of the first week celebrating Bloom’s grandmother’s 90th birthday and spending time with her, which was really fun, especially since she tells me lots of random things about her life, which I find fascinating.  I am not sure if she gets that I love when she tells me things, since it is pretty clear that she finds my accent and high-paced talking incomprehensible.  But still, I really enjoyed hearing stories from a European Holocaust survivor who is not Polish.  She made it very clear that she is entirely different from the Poles (of which I am one), and that she is liberal and democratic.  I am also liberal and democratic, I think, so this should work out.

Bloom has been spending a lot of time watching and talking about Aussie rules football, since his team is playing in the Grand Final (their Super Bowl) on Saturday.  I find this kind of boring, but luckily I have a computer to loiter on, and future trips to plan.

We also spent 5 days up north in Queensland where we snorkeled at the Great Barrier Reef and explored the rainforest up there.  I will attempt to write a post about this tomorrow.

And readers, I appreciate your loyalty, and I LOVE when people tell me they like the blog, or even that they read it.  So if you like what you’re reading, let me know.

And I promise things will get more interesting when we’re back on the road October 3rd to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia before heading to Indonesia.  Believe me, it will be good.