33 posts from December 2009
Our family spent the past week in Buenos Aires. I didn't do much in the way of travel blogging this trip but the Gotham Gal did. If you are planning to visit Buenos Aires anytime soon, you should click on that link and read her posts.
This is our second visit to Buenos Aires and we got to explore the city a lot more this time. It's a very big city and there is a lot of ground to cover. It's fun to walk around the various neighborhoods, but getting between them requires transportation. Fortunately Buenos Aires has a very good taxi cab system. We never had an issue getting a cab, be it early in the morning, mid day, or past midnight. We did stick to the "tourist neighborhoods" of La Boca, San Telmo, Puerto Madero, Recoleta, Retiro, Palermo, and downtown. I suspect getting cabs outside of these areas might be more problematic.
Buenos Aires feels like europe in many ways. The architecture and city planning reminds me of Paris, Madrid, and a few other european cities. However, it is a lot less expensive that europe these days. The US dollar gets you almost 4 pesos. Many things like dinner and taxi cabs can cost you the same amount of pesos that it would cost you in dollars in New York City.
We did not travel outside of the city during our visit but most people do. Common day trips include a boat to Uruguay and a visit to the northern suburbs. From what I've heard, both are worthwhile excursions.
We spent our days sightseeing, shopping, eating, drinking, working on our spanish, and soaking up the culture. Here are my top ten highlights of our visit:
1) San Telmo market on sunday. I wrote an entire post on this yesterday. The neighborhood fills up with people selling their wares and tourists and locals buying them. There's also singing, dancing, eating and drinking going on. It's a lot of fun.
2) Empanadas. We ate a lot of them. The best ones we had were at at La Cupertina in Palermo and El Sanjuanino in Recoleta.
3) Malbec. The red wine of choice in Argentina is Malbec and we drank a fair bit of it. We tried a number of different producers and enjoyed all of them.
4) Restaurants. We had some good dinners and some not so great ones. The Gotham Gal's blog has all the details. I loved the fish at Ovieda and the steak at La Cabrera. But the two hour wait at La Cabrera kind of ruined that dinner for us. We heard there are other steak places in Buenos Aires where the beef is just as good and the lines aren't an issue.
5) Ice cream. We hit up Freddo and Volta and slightly preferred Freddo. But both are great. We all found the Dulce De Leche a bit sweet and rich for our taste but you have to try it when you are here.
6) MALBA. This is the modern art museum of Buenos Aires. Kind of like the MOMA in NYC. It's great. I was not familiar with many of the artists in their permanent collection and enjoyed seeing their work. And the Warhol exhibit they have on right now is excellent.
7) Art shopping. There are galleries all over Buenos Aires. We visited galleries in Palermo, Retiro, and Recoleta. We've heard that the San Telmo and La Boca galleries are a bit more cutting edge but we didn't get there this trip. The art in Buenos Aires is excellent and very affordable. The galleries do a good job of curating, filtering, and representing their artists. If you like to collect art, you should visit Buenos Aires. I posted a few images I saw in galleries to my tumblog yesterday.
8) El Ateneo. This is an old theater converted into a bookstore. You can eat in the cafe which is where the stage used to be. It is beautiful and worth a visit.
9) Palermo. This is the northernmost neighborhood that tourists frequent. It's like Williamsburg in NYC or Marais in Paris in that it's been rediscovered in recent years and is full of fun and edgy stuff to do. We ate there most of the time and did most of our shopping and strolling there too. If our hotel was there (it was not), we might not have left.
10) The Park Hyatt. This is where we stayed. We had some issues with our room which put a somewhat negative taste in my mouth. But the hotel is spectacular, particularly the backyard between the old building (the former palace) and the new building. I would often spend my mornings sitting in the backyard reading while everyone else slept. The service is excellent and I would recommend it (just not our specific room).
11) I forgot about one highlight so I'm adding it after posting (and going over my allotted ten highlights). The cemetery in Recoleta is a must see. It like a tightly stitched together city full of above ground tombs. The Gotham Gal told me at one time the plots in this cemetery were the most expensive land in the world. It's hard to describe and pictures don't really do it justice. Go see it if you come to Buenos Aires.
If you've never been to Buenos Aires, I highly recommend it. It's big, bustling, full of culture and energy, and its very affordable as foreign travel goes for americans these days. And you get to work on your spanish which is always fun. My kids really impressed me with theirs. Mine, on the other hand, is awful.
My friend Rich Caccapolo egged me into doing this. So, Rich this one's for you.
I've spent the past couple weeks going back and reviewing all the music that I got into this decade. I looked at the last.fm data, my top ten posts each year, and re-listened to a lot of it. And here are ten records that define the decade for me, plus another 30ish that I considered for the top ten list.
1) Aha Shake Heartbreak - Kings Of Leon: A friend of mine who has been in the music business for thirty years said to me recently that KOL is the only rock act that broke big this decade. And if that is true, they did it on the strength of their two most recent records. But it is Aha Shake Heartbreak that is their greatest effort and without question in my mind the best rock and roll record of this decade. I penned a piece on this record on Newcritics back in 2007 that explains why I love it so much. Go give that a read and then buy the record if you don't already own it.
5) Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I Am Not, Arctic Monkeys: If Wilco showed you could break a record on the Internet, the Arctic Monkeys showed you could break a band on it. And they did it with the songs that eventually came to be this record. For the better part of a year, these songs were available on MySpace, the music blogs, pretty much all over the web. And even so, when the record came out in January 2006, it became the fastest selling debut record in the UK. The Arctic Monkeys signature sound is blazing dual guitars and Alex Turner's blistering and acerbic lyrics. And as good as their subsequent records have been, it is still best experienced on this one.
6) Funeral - Arcade Fire: This decade brought us a few breakout rock bands and certainly one of them is the Arcade Fire. They've only put out two records in five years and both of them are fantastic. But their debut record, Funeral, is a masterpiece. It builds slowly, beautifully, to the epic Rebellion (Lies) and then ends hauntingly In The Backseat. I love how the vocals interact with all the different instruments being played. The result is, as one Amazon reviewer put it so well "wild, mad, and beautiful".
In no particular order, here are roughly thirty other records that I considered for this list and all of them are excellent and worthy of picking up. You'll note that in the case of some artists, I have listed multiple records. I have not linked to them, but if I find some time later today, I'll try to do that.
Badly Drawn Boy – Born In The UK, Have You Fed The Fisher Catering
The National – Alligator
MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
Okkervil River – Stage Names, Stand Ins
Belle & Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Ben Kweller – Ben Kweller, Sha Sha
Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha
Jamie T – Panic Prevention
Jens Lekman – Oh You’re So Silent Jens, Night Falls Over Kortadela
M Ward – Transistor Radio
Kooks – Inside In/Inside Out
Killers – Hot Fuss
Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Modest Mouse – Good News For People Who Love Bad News
Eels – Grace Kelly Blues, Shootenany
Sufjan Stevens - Illinoise
Shout Out Louds – Howl Howl Gaffe Gaffe
MMJ – It Still Moves
Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
White Stripes – Elephant
Jay-Z – The Black Album, Reasonable Doubt
Green Day – American Idiot
Gillian Welch - Soul Journey
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Stadium Arcadium
Eminem – The Eminem Show
Shins – Wincing The Night Away
Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning
Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It In People
Radiohead – Kid A
1) Merriweather Post Pavilion - Animal Collective: This record came out in January and has been a staple the entire year. After getting completely into Merriweather, I went back into their catalog and also got deeply into Strawberry Jam, Feels, and Sung Tongs. And I also went to see them play live - an experience unlike anything else and not for everyone. Merriweather is probably their most accessible record to date and Animal Collective is making some of the most original and interesting music these days. It really wasn't even a contest for number one this year. Merriweather pretty much blew everything else away in my book.
2) Miike Snow - Miike Snow: Like the Shout Out Louds in 2005, Miike Snow came blasting out of Sweden this year with a record that got played non-stop in our home. Miike Snow is not a person and it is not a band, it is a group of three producers and writers who have worked with dozens of artists over the years. This is the first work they've put out under the Miike Snow name and I sure hope it is not the last. With Miike Snow, you get great beats, slick production, and indie pop perfection. That's a killer mix in my book.
3) Man On The Moon - Kid Cudi: I heard Kid Cudi's song Up, Up, and Away on the hype machine as this record leaked over the summer and I was hooked on Kid's mix of indie and hip hop (a theme for me this year). There are a half dozen great songs on this record that were all candidates for my top tracks of 2009. The whole record is a great listen end to end. I'm sure it is on many best of 2009 lists and may even be headed for a Grammy. I hope Kid Cudi gets one.
4) Humbug - Arctic Monkeys: In 2005, as the Arctic Monkeys were breaking big with their first record, they wrote "In five years time, will it be "Who the fuck's Arctic Monkeys?" Well it's almost five year's later, and they are still putting out great records. I've always liked Alex Turner's crooner side myself and we are getting more and more of it on each successive record. They still rock out, as Crying Lightning shows, but songs like Cornerstone and Secret Door are the tracks that really got me on this record. I saw them live twice this summer and they still have that hyperactive sonic soud.
5) Bitte Orca - Dirty Projectors: Man did I fall hard for this record. From early June to the middle of July, I listened to hardly anything else. I tried to get my friends and family into it but not many bit. The Dirty Projectors are an acquired taste it seems. I love the idiosyncratic nature of Dave Longstreth's music, the quirky guitar riffs, and the harmonies between him and Amber and Angel (pictured on the cover of the record). I hadn't listened to this record in a while as I moved on to other things, but in relistening as I was putting this post together, I was sucked right back into the magic of Bitte Orca. It's certainly one of the best records made this year.
6) XX - XX: Indie bands/records break in the blogs these days and this was the indie debut of the year in the music blogs. The signature sound is the back and forth male and female vocals with a heavy bass beat in the background. This is the kind of record you can put on and listen to it over and over. The XX's sound comes out of London's "dubstep" electronic dance scene but this is not a dance record. It is moody and reminiscent of bands like the Cure and the Smiths. It's the perfect record for a slow weekend morning.
7) Album - Girls: In the opening track, Lust For Life, singer/songwriter Christopher Owens sings "Oh I Wish I Had A Sun Tan. I Wish I Had A Pizza And A Bottle Of Wine, I Wish I Had A Beach House. Then We Could Make A Big Fire Every Night" And that's what this entire record sounds like. You want to go to a beach house, kick back with friends, and sing these songs. This record reminds me of the Rural Alberta Advantage's Hometowns record last year. It is a terrific record start to finish.
8) Middle Cyclone - Neko Case: I've been a fan of Neko's since seeing her sing with the New Pornographers a few years ago. Her voice and striking red hair leaves an indelible impression. But until this record, I'd never gotten into her solo work. Middle Cyclone is a very fine piece of work. I particularly like Magie To The Morning, People Got A Lot of Nerve, and I'm An Animal. When Neko really goes for it with her voice, it's a sound of beauty.
9) The Swelly Express - Chiddy Bang: I'm a sucker for concept records like The Street's A Grand Don't Come For Free and Green Day's American Idiot. Following the story is as much fun as listening to the songs. And that is what The Swelly Express is. If you click on that link, you'll see that The Swelly Express is not available as a commercial release yet. It's a free downloadable mixtape showcasing the talents of Chidera Anamege (Chiddy) who does the raps and Xaphoon Jones who does the beats. Watch out for these guys. I think they have got some serious talent.
10) Monsters Of Folk - Monsters of Folk: When I heard that three of my favorite musicians, Conor Oberst, M Ward, and Jim James were working on a record together, I was super excited. And the result lived up to my expectations. Monsters Of Folk is a collection of wonderful songs sung together by these amazing musicians (including Mike Mogis). The Gotham Gal and I saw them perform live recently at the Beacon Theater in NYC and the live show was just as strong as the record. If you like folk music, you have to get this record.
Hold Time - M Ward: Every record he has made has been excellent and this one is no exception.
Changing Horses - Ben Kweller: Not sure how this didn't make my top ten. It was a tough one.
Three Rounds And A Sound - Blind Pilot: This is an outstanding record.
A few more things:
The Gotham Gal's top ten list is a bit different than mine but since we listen to a lot of music together, it has a bunch of great stuff on it that I enjoyed very much this year.
Bijan's top ten list is also a bit different than mine, but I highly recommend everything on his list. He has the Rural Alberta Advantage record on his 2009 list. It was on my 2008 list so I did not put it on my list this year. It is a great record.
I am going to post my top 25 tracks of 2009 tomorrow (in a streamable playlist) and my top records of the decade on Monday (the list is about 40 long right now, I might cut it down to 25 or increase it to 50).
So lot's of music on AVC right now. I hope you enjoy it.
Merry christmas to everyone!
For those who want to know where the santa-ized avatar came from, I logged into Tumblr today and there it was. Thanks Tumblr team. I love it.
As most Blackberry users know, there was a large failure of the Blackberry network yesterday. I experienced it although it wasn't clear to me at first what was happening. The first sign was that my wife and kids were not responding to my messages on Blackberry messenger (we use it as our family's "batphone"). Then I stopped getting email on my phone. At dinner last night I could not checkin on Foursquare through the mobile web or socialscope. I couldn't get any access to the mobile web on my blackberry.
What this points out, and what this blog post is about, is that Blackberry took down all my data services, not just BBM and email. And I think that is nuts.
Somehow Blackberry took down mobile web access on T-Mobile, ATT, and other networks. I guess that means that Blackberry has some kind of overlay network on these carrier's data networks. I am sure that is well known to mobile phone geeks and has been true for a long while. I just never wrapped my head around it.
I don't think that is smart. In the perfect world, Blackberry makes hardware and software apps like their mail, calendar, contacts, BBM, browser (if only they could make a good one). T-Mobile, ATT, Sprint, Verizon, etc provide the voice and data service. And the two don't impact each other.
During this outage, I took the SIM card out of my Blackberry and put it into a phone I recently got as a gift under the condition that I can't blog about it. So I won't. But I will say that my T-Mobile SIM card with the Blackberry data plan wasn't working in this new phone. I couldn't even place calls on it.
Now the outage is over and the Blackberry network is back up and running, the T-Mobile SIM card works fine in my new phone. I'm not sure what that means or why it happened, but it did.
The point of all of this is the Blackberry approach to providing services via the carrier networks is not ideal. They are playing carrier, software provider, and hardware provider all in one. That's not good.
Readers of this blog know how much I love my Blackberry, but this new phone I can't blog about is very nice and can take a plain vanilla GSM sim card with data services on it. I started thinking a bit harder about that configuration last night.