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Pillaging Makes A Comeback, Threatens 2009

December 29th, 2008 | 08:54 PM



For any of you that were here during Argentina’s historic economic meltdown in 2001-2002, the word “saqueo” will sound familiar. As a noun, it’s somewhat like a “pillaging, looting, or a ravaging” of something, most likely a food store or supermarket. 

The store was pillaged during the riots,” you could say. In Spanish, saqueo describes something similar. If dozens of people plunder a supermarket in search of food, you could say there had been a saqueo.

Happily, this word hasn’t been used much in recent years. As the economy has boomed, the unemployment rate dropped – and, until mid 2007, poverty declined – fewer people found reason to pillage stores for food. 



Lunfardo Lessions In HD: Coima

December 26th, 2008 | 04:47 PM


Here is the latest installment of the Scooping Argentina lunfardo lessions. This one involves the word “coima,” which is a noun meaning “a bribe.” As a verb, “coimear” means “to bribe.”

This video is in HD, or at least YouTube’s compressed version of it. If you can’t see it, or it takes too long to load on your computer, click here for the  SD version. If you have any technical problems viewing this on your computer, please let me know.

If you want to see the video fullscreen in all its HD glory, click on the video itself. Doing so will take you to YouTube. There, you’ll have to click on the “Watch in HD” link at the bottom right-hand corner of the video. Once you’ve got the HD version, click on the “full-screen” button and it should appear full-screen on your display.


Merry Christmas!

December 24th, 2008 | 06:18 AM



President Cristina Fernandez: Jorge, here’s your Christmas present. It’s a brand new comb – made in Argentina – designed for bald people like yourself. Former Buenos Aires Mayor Jorge Tellerman: Thanks, I’ll never part with it.

CFK: Nestor, what did the big Christmas candle say to the little Christmas candle? Former President Nestor Kirchner: I dunno, Christie, you tell me. CFKI’m going out tonight.

CFK: Oh, Nestor, this has been such a hard year. And next year looks to be even worse, what with the global economic crisis and all. Nestor: Don’t worry, my love, yule be happy.

Commerce Secretary Guillermo Moreno: Christina, I’ve got an idea. To pressure Santa Claus into giving everybody extra big gifts this year, we can stuff letters to him into chimneys across the country, demanding that his gifts be bigger and better than last year. CFK: Stuffing letters into dirty chimneys? I dunno, Guille, but to me that sounds like blackmail.

Moreno: Hey, Christie, do you know why Santa goes down those chimneys every year? CFK: Dale, Guille, why? Moreno: Because it soots him.

CFK: Alright, Guillermo, enough playing around. Get out there and make those toy stores lower their prices. Those Playstation 3’s are way too expensive. Moreno: OK, fine, but just one more: What does Santa suffer from when he gets stuck in the chimney? CFK: Alright, Guille, you’re really starting to break my balls. Tell me. Moreno: Santa Claustrophobia.


from The Argentine Post

May your holiday season be filled with peace and joy.


UPDATE: Argentina’s New Entrance Fee Postponed

December 23rd, 2008 | 05:38 AM



UPDATE: This post has been updated to reflect new policy details available here.

UPDATE: Argentina’s plan to slap a tourist fee on visitors has been postponed indefinitely, according to the U.S. embassy. It seems that officials here realized that imposing the fee on tourists wasn’t such a good idea after all.

To the best of my knowledge, the Argentine government has yet to determine exactly how it will implement its new entrance fee system. A Foreign Ministry official told me yesterday that visitors will have to pay to reenter the country every time they do so if their initial entrance period has expired. “U.S. citizens will have to pay the entrance fee every 90 days because they are allowed to stay for 90 days,” the official said. “It’s simple reciprocity.”

However, this same official suggested I call the Argentine Consulate in New York to double confirm the matter. I did, but a person there said “there’s nothing official” about the new policy, meaning that no decision has been made about how often the fee will be charged. Repeated calls to immigration officials and to the Interior Ministry (which has the final word on all of this) have been unsuccessful at getting more details.

Charging people US $134 every 90 days strikes me as counterproductive. It’s hard to imagine the government would actually do this. But who knows, the government continually surprises. There are countless thousands of Americans (not to mention visitors and part-time residents from other countries) who live in or spend a lot of time in Argentina. Many – if not most – are a constant source of income for Argentine restaurants and other businesses. Giving these people another reason to leave Argentina (and not return) seems unwise.

Meanwhile, if the comments received here (and via email) are any indication, many visitors will not come to Argentina in the first place because of the new entrance fee. How many? It’s impossible to say.

Setting aside the concept of reciprocity and the fee’s fairness motive, it seems imprudent from a purely economic perspective to add another disincentive to visiting the country. As we saw in a previous post, the number of people visiting Argentina is declining and could continue to do so. Moreover, with an unprecedented global recession heading our way, cash-strapped travelers need more reason – not less – to travel.

I’ll post an update as soon as I have more information.

UPDATE: I’m told by customs officials that the visa fee will not be charged until March.


Empire Thai: The No. 1 Vodka Bar In Argentina

December 20th, 2008 | 04:32 PM



Snuggled halfway between Reconquista and San Martin on the two-block, pedestrian alley known as Tres Sargentos lies the greatest vodka bar in all of Argentina: Empire Thai.

“We’ve got 103 different kinds of vodka,” says Empire Thai owner and founder Kevin Rodriguez, a New Jersey native. Rodriguez came to Buenos Aires many years ago as a banker but he soon traded in his suit for an apron and started Empire Thai. He did so in the days before it was hip to do so and before Argentines started opening up their palates to foreign foods and spices.

It was, and is, a success. Empire Thai provides a unique taste of Asian flavor right in the heart of the Micro Centro. As for the vodka – or whatever kind of mixed drink you want – bar master extraordinaire Mona Gallosi will take care of you. Mona, a native of Cipoleti, in the province of Rio Negro, came to Buenos Aires and started working as a server at Empire. She eventually began learning how to mix drinks and had a natural flair for it.

bottles-of-vodka“I studied to become a fashion designer,” says Mona. “And that influences the way I mix drinks. I have a feel for colors and texture that helps me be creative with drinks.”

Mona works with customers to make sure they get the right cocktail the right way. She has been so successful that she’s even had her own radio and TV shows.

So the next time you’re in the mood for something spicy or for a new kind of mixed drink, stop by and try out Empire Thai. And while you’re at it, say hi to Kevin and Mona.

Link: Empire Thai on Guiaoleo


Radiohead, Kraftwerk Reminder

December 20th, 2008 | 08:17 AM



Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke

Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke

This is just a friendly reminder to those of you who want to see Radiohead when they come to town March 24th. You can get tickets for the show, which will be opened by Kraftwerk, here.


The Bird In HD

December 18th, 2008 | 05:37 AM


This is a video of a bird sitting atop my car in the Buenos Aires suburb of Martinez. Oddly, the bird didn’t seem to want to move. Birds typically fly away at even the slightest movement. Did it want to be left alone? Was it injured? There’s reason to believe it needed to poop. Perhaps it was constipated and couldn’t move until it had done its damage? Or did it poop only after becoming so nervous that it lost control of its bowels? Whatever the case, it was cool to see a bird sit still for so long. Do any of you readers out there know enough about birds to say what was going on here?

The following videos are of exactly the same footage. But the first one uses YouTube’s old quality settings while the second uses YouTube’s new HD settings. Let me know if you can see the difference:

YouTube Preview Image

I shot this video in HD (720P) with my new Flip HD video camera. You can see it in HD in a much larger, widescreen version by clicking on the video box. Doing so will take you to YouTube, and there, at the bottom right-hand corner of the video, you can click on “Watch in HD.” Then, voila, you’ll see the video in 720P at a bigger size.

YouTube has been silently upgrading its service to display HD videos, but it’s still not perfectly clear how to best embed HD videos into blogs like this one. 

Let me know if you can view this video alright. I have a whole new series of “Scooping Argentina” videos in HD that I’ll upload as soon as I find a good way of doing so. For now, I’m experimenting with different formats, trying to figure out which is the best, most user-friendly way of displaying video. Any feedback would be appreciated.


Argentine Tourism Declines In October

December 16th, 2008 | 04:34 PM



Tourism took a big hit in October as the number of people visiting Argentina fell 6.5% from the previous year, the national statistics agency, INDEC, said Monday. 

INDEC’s measurement is based on the number of visitors who arrive to the country via Ezeiza, or EZE, the half-ugly, half-modern airport located outside Buenos Aires. About half of the country’s tourists arrive through the airport.  

The drop in tourism is the second in two years and (the other was in April) and seems to confirm concerns that the global financial crisis is crimping travel plans for millions of people around the world.

Perhaps surprisingly, the biggest decline wasn’t from the U.S., the epicenter of the global crisis, but from Chile, which sent 31.7% fewer visitors in October. Chile was followed by other Latin American countries. Tourism from the U.S. and Canada fell only 1.3% and it actually rose 0.1% from Europe and 6.1% from Brazil.

The data for November could be worse. Businesses that cater to tourists say sales are way down from a year ago, even on the upscale Avenida Alvear. Meanwhile, occupancy at hotels is down across the country. A friend of mine who owns a chain of five upscale shoe stores – most of which cater to wealthy travelers – says November sales were down by 80% compared with a year ago. “Things are really bad,” he says.

The global financial crisis, which has morphed into a global economic crisis, has hit tango territory.


20% Of Kids Say It’s Ok To Pay Bribes

December 14th, 2008 | 07:09 PM



Around 20% of Argentine school kids say it’s sometimes or always OK to pay a bribe, according to a new survey by the Education Ministry. Another 30% say it’s OK to avoid paying taxes while 25% say it’s alright to buy stolen goods “because they are cheaper.” Meanwhile, only 35% say “democracy is always the best form of government for our country and the world.”

The survey, which polled 1,000 public school students aged 11-15, also showed that more children (75%) are worried about alcohol and drugs than anything else. After this, kids are most worried about crime and (oddly) AIDS.

You can see the survey here (in Spanish).


Cristina, Obama, Light Bulbs & The New Deal

December 11th, 2008 | 09:02 PM



Mark my words: In the near future, Argentine President Cristina Fernández will say she was the first to do it. And she’ll be right.

A year ago Fernández announced plans to buy millions of low-consumption light bulbs and use them to replace less efficient bulbs in government buildings. The plan aims to cut power consumption and prevent blackouts.

This past Saturday, almost a year later, U.S. President-Elect Barack Obama announced details of a multi-billion-dollar plan to “jolt” the U.S. economy back into shape. Among other things, he said:



Is Argentine Beef Really That Good?

December 10th, 2008 | 08:22 PM


Friends of mine have been in town visiting and exploring some of the city’s great restaurants. As the owners and managers themselves of a successful Vietnamese restaurant in Denver, they’re keenly attuned to food and its many delicious varieties. I was curious to see what do they’d think of the local cuisine. Excellent, they say, but lacking variety and, in some cases, flavor. “The steaks are fantastic,” says my buddy. “But they can start to taste a little bland after a while.” 

All of this got me thinking about how accustomed I’ve become to eating Argentine steak. As good as it is, and there is no doubting the quality of the local cuts, Argentine beef can sometimes seem a bit dull. That’s not to say I don’t love the stuff. I do, especially when it’s cooked the right way. But would it hurt to marinade the meat for a while before serving it? Or how about providing some herbs and spices or sauce options so that people could add whatever additional flavors they like? Is salt really the only viable option? I know sometimes you can get Chimichurri, but it’s not always available and it’s not exactly the most flavorful sauce ever invented.

Local foodies might criticize me for even raising the subject, and I’m sure some of my own family members here will take playful offense, but surely there is no mortal sin involved in thinking that the local beef, as tender as it is, could not be made just a bit better by occasionally adding a little more flavor.


Looking At Just How Bad It is

December 9th, 2008 | 05:38 AM


Click on image to expand

The Daily Kos last week posted this graph showing just how unusually bad the U.S. stock market decline has been so far this year. The blocks are average returns for the year in question. On the right, the golden years. On the left, well, that’s when things weren’t so good. As you see in the graph, this year is looking awful, really awful. The S&P Market Index hasn’t done this poorly since 1931. As the Kos noted:

“On the chart you can see that the decline that began in 1929 didn’t really reach its nadir until 1931, following which there were wild swings bringing a record positive move in 1933 and a second crash in 1937.”

Argentina’s Merval Index, which is dinky and almost irrelevant by comparison, is down 53.3% so far this year. Much of that is attributable to the global financial meltdown that originated in the U.S. But Argentina’s woes are also partly homegrown. The Merval declined 31% in the roughly one-week period in which investors learned – or heard rumors – about Argentina’s plans to nationalize its 14-year-old private pension fund system.

Meanwhile, two domestic events (the March-July farmers strike and the pension fund takeover) sparked a run on bank deposits that forced banks to raise interest rates to 18% in the fist case and 26% in the latter just to keep money in the banks. As a result, rates on loans (even to the country’s most credit-worthy companies) rose to almost 40%. This exacerbated the fallout from the global credit crisis and further weakened Argentina’s ability to deal with it. Things have since gotten a bit better for banks: interest rates are down and deposits seem to have stabilized. But all of this makes it clear that instead of boosting its immunity to external shocks, Argentina basically did the opposite, exposing itself to them at the worst-possible time.

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