A day of owls

At work this afternoon I spooked a great horned owl out of a pine tree. It flew to the ground and with its massive wings spread did a sort of “dance of intimidation” while it watched me. I thought it might have been sitting on a nest so I gave it some space and left.

Then, this evening at dusk, while riding our bikes back from the grocery store, an owl swooped down out of tree right over Lore’s head. Lore is much less of an owl buff than I am, which is to say she does not like them. I wish it had swooped right over my head.

Iowa City

A child's yellow chalk drawing on pavement depicts a shark eating a boat.
Shark eats boat
The weather is getting better and though it was a little cool and cloudy today, Lore and I took some photos for houses for her to draw. Yet the most memorable sight on our walk was a child’s chalk-on-pavement rendition of “Jaws”.

You can see that Iowa City has some nice houses. You can also see that as I get older I have more and more trouble keeping the camera level. Everything tilts a little to my right.

As always, if you want to help with the architectural description, please leave comments.

A good reminder

The president was in Iowa City today. I hoped against odds that he would come to visit Herbert Hoover’s birthplace while he was in the area. I thought it might be a good reminder that, whether it is his fault or not, if he doesn’t fix the economy then his birthplace would be a sleepy little historic site that politicians like to avoid.

Córdoba in photos

Getting home

We are continuing the obstacle course to home. Everything was smooth to Miami, thought I didn’t sleep well on the plane. It was very hot and dry. Miami International Airport was impossibly cold. The air conditioning was going full tilt even though it was only about 75 degrees out.

My brief love affair with Delta is over after the inscrutable delays at the check-in counter. We cleared customs in Miami at about 6:30 a.m. and hung out with my parents until about 11:00 a.m., then we headed over to the Delta counter for our 1:00 p.m. flight. We got our boarding passes at the self-check in kiosk in about ten minutes and then, bam, we got to the end of a nearly immobile baggage drop queue. Whatever time we saved with the self check-in was lost on this line. We ended up going through the slightly less slow curbside check-in, just to drop off our bags. After a long wait at the security control we got to our gate twenty minutes before departure. A short mechanical delay gave us some breathing space and a bathroom break. Otherwise, the flight to Minneapolis has been okay. It is 36 degrees Fahrenheit in Minneapolis. It was 36 degrees Celsius in Córdoba.

I keep thinking about how lucky we were not to travel through Santiago, Chile, even though that was our preference for a connection and we tried really hard to book a connecting flight there. If we had, our flight might have been canceled or changed after the earthquake there.

One more short flight to Moline, then a hour’s drive to Iowa City. Starting from the time we checked out of the hotel on Monday morning, this will be a 36-hour trip home. We are tired.

Layover in BA

We’re on the plane to Miami from Ezeiza, the international airport in Buenos Aires. Everything has been impossible smooth so far. We got to Aeroparque, the airport in B.A. for domestic flights, early. I believe I’ve never gotten my checked baggage back so quickly. Normally we would take the Manuel Tienda Leon shuttle bus for the crosstown trip between airports, but instead they offered us a minivan, which they let us pack to the absolute limit with our bags and my mom’s wheelchair.

Drivers in B.A. are even scarier than in Córdoba, even at slow speeds in heavy traffic; somehow my mom managed to sleep through most of the thrill ride. I rode in cars and taxis a lot more on this trip than in the past. Though automobile travel can be a little more than harrowing (they often ignore stop signs and the speed limits), I’ve concluded that the drivers here aren’t so much bad as they have a very different idea of how much space should be between their cars and other cars, pedestrians, walls, etc.

We have some pesos left over, which we’ll keep for our next trip. We managed to get through these ten days with enough small bills. Argentina doesn’t print many of its smaller denominations (under Ar$50) and change isn’t always easy to come by, so we made a little game out of small change farming.

Last night we stayed up to watch the Academy Awards. An Argentinian film, El Secreto de Sus Ojos, won the award for best foreign language film. It was all over the news this morning.

Cosas nuestras

After another lunch with her family, Lore and I went shopping to bring home some essential Argentinian goodies:

  • Dulce de leche (milk caramel)
  • Fernet (a strong spirit to be mixed with Coca Cola)
  • Dulce de membrillo (a kind of hard jelly made from quince)
  • Yerba (a South American herbal tea)

And, her grandmother bought a few boxes of alfajores (soft sandwich cookies) for us. Lore’s friends gave us a new glass mate for drinking the yerba, along with tins to store the yerba and the sugar, and a tray to serve them on.

Lore also bought a load of Argentinian music CDs earlier this week; mostly albums (like electronic tango) she can’t find in the U.S.

Lore’s mother gave me some identification guides to Argentinian wildlife. She thought I might like them after a conversation we had about owls. These guides are very cool. I will bring them with me next time.

Santiago gave me a small book, ¡Che Boludo! A Gringo’s Guide to Understanding the Argentines. It’s a glossary of Argentinian slang. I’m looking forward to reading it later. Oddly enough, Lore’s family and friends keep complimenting me on my Spanish. I think they are being polite because conversing with me in Spanish must be like talking with an especially dim-witted caveman.


This afternoon was for more asado at Lore’s family’s house. Miguel and Chucha fired up the asador to cook up some matambre (from the flank of the cow), chorizo (beef sausage), and cabrito (a baby goat). We also had pata (a cow leg) left over from last weekend’s party.

The garage at this home doubles as a patio. Where I grew up, garages aren’t for cars, they are for storing the accumulated crap of American suburban life. There is absolutely nothing in this garage when a car isn’t in it. The rear opens up into the backyard, which is enclosed by a wall. Argentinians seem to like ceramic tiles on the ground, floors, sidewalks, and sometimes even instead of grass. The floor of this garage is therefore very clean and suitable for tables, chairs, and eating outside in warm weather.

This of course was another opportunity for our families to socialize. I think politeness, hospitality, and generosity go a long way toward making these occasions go well. I also realize now that Lore is a very good interpreter. I know it is hard because I occasionally had to interpret when she was not available. There are few good grounds rules for these situations:

  1. Get the people being interpreted to be succinct and to then be patient.
  2. Avoid relaying jokes unless they are really funny.
  3. Don’t translate idioms literally.

An illustration of the third rule: Lore’s parents gave my parents a DVD about Córdoba’s history. My mom said, and I translated word for word, “Thank you. I can’t wait to watch it!” Lore’s sister unwrapped it and went to put it into the DVD player. We had to explain that my mom meant she was looking forward to watching it later.

Jesús Maria

We took a tour van up to the old Jesuit estancias in Jesús Maria and Colonia Caroya, north of the city on the plains east of the sierras. The country there is flat with soybean fields which stretch to the horizons. There was somewhat less corn and one patch of sorghum. Luis, our driver, seemed to dislike the soybean fields. Argentinians don’t eat or otherwise use soybeans. Almost all is exported, most of the rest is used for animal feed.

Jesús Maria and Colonia Caroya are adjacent farm towns; they have a huge food processing plant and an equally big fairgrounds for doma (a rodeo for gauchos). Billboards advertising seeds reminded me of small cities in Iowa.

Estancia Jesús Maria is a formidable compound with thick stone and brick walls. The tour guide there was very very knowledgeable (I can tell when tour guides don’t know what they are talking about). It turns out she’d been working there for over twenty years.

It was an afternoon tour. We were determined to visit an estancia and this was the only available tour today. It was hot (it’s been getting a little hotter each day) and we moved slowly, so we didn’t get to Estancia Colonia Caroya before it closed. We drove around the grounds briefly. It is older and less massive than than Jesús Maria, but in good condition. There are also some remains of the Jesuits’ water mill.

For dinner back in Córdoba, we ate lomitos at El Bosque in Parque Sarmiento. A lomito is a cholesterol sandwich. For example, Lore ordered the lomo completo, which had beef, cheese, ham, egg, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise with french fries on the side. She misses lomitos the way I miss bagels, pizzas, and Snapple from Long Island.

Chucha, chinchulin, and chocolate

Tonight we had asado at the home of Sole and Chucha with Lore’s close friends. The meat is cooked not in a pit or a grill but over hot coals in an asador, an open brick furnace in the patio. The person doing the cooking, in this case Lore’s brother-in-law, is also known as the asador.

Meat is good here. I think Argentinians are correct to dispense with the pretense of trying to make red meat seem healthy; they season it with salt and leave the fat on. It has an actual flavor. The only thing I didn’t like was chinchulin, or intestine.

Vegetables are another matter. Argentinians are much more fond of shredded carrots than I am. We brought some Hershey’s kisses with us from the States, which went down well with Fernet and Coca Cola.

Lore’s friends are very nice. I can understand them when I can get them to speak more slowly. When I met them six years ago, none were married or had kids. Now they almost all are married and there are a lot of kids: eight last night and one more coming.

Villa Giardino

I woke up early and sat on our hotel room balcony. You can really taste the smog in the early morning before the inversion breaks. Some sort of thrush was perched on the roof. I sketched it out in my notebook.

Lore and I took a bus to Villa Giardino, a little resort town in the Punilla Valley where you can expect to see an occasional gaucho on horseback on the city streets. The mountains were cooler and lusher than Córdoba; pastures there have a soft green color.

Because we wouldn’t be able to transport many wedding gifts back home and because it’s not customary to ask for cash, we requested donations of textbooks to the rural school outside Villa Giardino.

We went up to the school–well out of town up in the sierras–a cute little building but a two-room affair. The school had a principal and two teachers plus a cook for kindergarten through sixth grade. One of the classrooms doubles as a lunch room. The younger children were in session in the afternoon while we dropped off the books.

The principal, a lady from Buenos Aires who lived on the Camino de los Artesanos with her her artist husband, showed us the school. The kids wore big white smocks as their uniforms; they sang songs and looked very happy. The principal introduced us to the second and third graders who were at lunch, saying “we lived in a country very far away and had brought books for them as a gift.” One boy shouted, “Gracias!”.

The school, founded in 1918, has a well but now gets its water from a nearby creek, which is polluted. The building has a water treatment plant in a shed but it doesn’t work. There is a flag pole in front. Next to it is a smaller flag pole for the kindergartners to raise and lower a flag.

City tour

Today, after finally getting something like a normal night of sleep, we brought my folks down to Plaza San Martín at the historic center of Córdoba. We didn’t take my mom’s wheelchair with us to Buen Pastor last night, but we did bring it to Plaza San Martín today. The taxi cabs here are small, usually Peugeots, and the wheelchair doesn’t fit in the trunk. We used a piece of rope borrowed from a truck driver to tie down the trunk door.

We took a bus tour of the city, the same tour Lore took me on the first time I visited six years ago. It is a good introduction to Córdoba. The tour bus is an old British open-topped double-decker. You have to be heads up for low branches. The only stop on the tour where we could get off happened to be at Sagrado Corazón, my favorite church. There are not many foreign tourists in Córdoba, but I think they were all on the bus tour. They came from the UK, Germany, Ireland, Brazil, and Chile.

It is summer here, of course, and hot in the afternoon but nice in the shade and pleasant at night. This is a nice time to visit; the high summer with its droughts, power failures, and 120 degree days has passed. I bought sunscreen yesterday in anticipation of the sightseeing I expect we’ll do this week. I was afraid I’d find only SPF 0.5 or lower at the pharmacies in the land of the perpetually bronzed but they do indeed have SPF 15 and above. They were out of 30 so I settled for 45. I likely will not come home from 10 days in Latin America with a tan.

In the evening, we visited with Lore’s grandmother and aunt again. When they started talking about President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner they got very excited and animated. It seems Cristina is very unpopular in the interior (in other words, outside of Buenos Aires). I couldn’t keep track of it all, but none of what they were saying was good. They don’t even like her hair.