During our visit to Argentina this winter I took some photos in my in-laws’ home, which decorated with a lot of rustic or antique items.
On our return trip from Argentina, we had a long layover in Santiago, Chile. We’ve connected through that airport several times before but I had never actually been into the city, leaving Chile out of my reach beyond the windows of the international departures terminal. On this trip Lorena suggested we visit the city.
We only had time for a quick jaunt into the city center. It’s probably not fair for me to compare it with Argentina. The only comparable city there is Buenos Aires, where I spent an equally brief layover nine years ago on my very first visit to South America. That being said, what I saw of Santiago was surprisingly orderly (and a bit militarized). I did not fear for my life or the lives of pedestrians while riding in the taxis. Perhaps the Chileans have a touch of laid-back Pacific Coast attitude.
Speaking of pedestrians, some of the downtown pedestrian signals are whimsically animated.
So Santiago is not so mysterious to me anymore. Unfortunately we were really, really tired at the end of a long trip. We did see the Plaza de Armas, the Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago, the Palacio de la Moneda, and Cerro Santa Lucia.
Oh yeah, and the girls are prettier in Argentina. Sorry, chilenas.
There was still ice on the ground in Iowa from December’s snowstorm but it was about 90 °F when I landed in Córdoba almost two weeks ago. Fortunately, Lore was staying with her parents in Villa Giardino up in the Sierras de Córdoba, rugged green hills filled with horses. The weather there was pleasant and dry with some cool nights, good for a walk along the Camino de los Artesanos (a country road with art galleries) or to the diquecito (a small dam), a dip in the pool, a horseback ride, or a cook-out in the quincho (an outdoor patio with an asador for grilling meat).
On Thursday, Lore’s parents drove us to Jesús María, a city in the farmlands down on the pampas for the Festival Nacional e Internacional de la Doma y Folklore (or La Doma), which is sort of national rodeo and folk music festival. It’s a big national event. People from all over the country come to it. It’s the sort of event where gauchos don’t just compete but are part of the audience, so there were gauchos everywhere with their hats and knives and silver-studded belts. In between rounds of doma there were musical performances. On the night we went the music was less folklore than domestic rock and roll. This video is an example of folklore:
Doma is a horse-breaking competition, like bronco-riding, where the jinetes, or horsemen, have to ride on a bucking horse for ten seconds, and are scored by a jury. The jineteadas (individual attempts at doma) are narrated by a relator and are accompanied by a live folklore band which plays along to the action. Between jineteadas, a payador entertains the crowd with an improvised rhyming song about what just happened. It is amazing. The following two videos might give you an idea of it.
The next day Lore and I spent the day in La Cumbre, a cute little town higher up the Punilla Valley above Villa Giardino. We rented mountain bikes and pedaled up the dirt road into the hills to Estancia El Rosario, an alfajor (a type of cookie) factory in an old estancia or ranch. We also rode up to Dique San Geronimo, a reservoir with hiking trails and waterfalls. On the way back we stopped at a fruit orchard to see if they had some fresh berries, but it was too late in the season. Back down in the valley we visited a lavender plantation, where the flowers are distilled for perfumes.
La Falda, the larger town down valley from Villa Giardino, is home to the Hotel Edén, a partially restored grand hotel that, along with the railroad, got the Punilla Valley started as a resort area. The hotel has a really interesting history. It was built by Germans who had some unfortunate affinities for Adolf Hitler. The night we went only the ghost tour was available, which was more for amusement than education. They did a pretty good job of scaring the bejeezus out of everybody.
Lore’s family— brothers, sisters, and cousins— converged on her parents’ home for the weekend. Her brother-in-law Emiliano is something of a master griller, so on Saturday evening he parked himself in the quincho and grilled up some pork and beef (and cheese, believe it or not). As someone who actually knows how to cook pork, he could be very popular in Iowa.
Sunday was the big get-together. There were no meats grilled on the quincho, but lots of homemade empanadas. The pool and the foosball table (called metegol) were popular, and were followed by a game of tejo, like lawn bowling played with wooden discs.
As if all that wasn’t enough local color, the Dakar Rally came to town on Monday. I don’t think we were along the actual route of the race but some cars, trucks, motorcycles, and ATVs were passing through on their way to the next stage. The rally is a big deal in the sierras (they already had their own major competition, the Rally de Argentina, before the Dakar relocated to South America) and the people gathered along Ruta 38 to wave to the competitors, who honk back.
I always enjoy my visits to Argentina but this trip was particularly pleasant. Maybe that’s because I was full of empanadas, or maybe because I got to conocer mejor las sierras, to better know the hills, of which my wife and her family are very fond.
The Iowa City Public Library, for all its awesomeness, lacks a good collection of Latin American histories. They acquired upon my request “Argentina 1516-1987: From Spanish Colonization to Alfonsín” by David Rock. Rock’s history tears through almost 500 years of history in about 400 pages. It’s heavy on Argentina’s economic and political history with an emphasis on the 20th century. It’s a bit light on the social history or any kind of regional context. But it’s also a solid account of Argentina’s ups and downs, supported by balanced arguments and loads of economic data. In his introduction, Rock asks:
The central, compelling question about Argentina is simply, What went wrong? Why has Argentina failed to realize its promise?
He hypothesizes that Argentina never fully overcame its colonial past. Even after independence from Spain, the country still suffered from the predatory behaviors of elite classes of landowners and merchants, dependence on British capital and markets, and the unbalanced authority of Buenos Aires over the interior. Argentina got off to a slow start after independence, as less a nation-state than a fragmentary confederation dominated by provincial warlords. After the national government in Buenos Aires asserted its authority, Argentina had a pretty good run in the late 19th and early 20th century. It was a fairly prosperous mid-sized country but very dependent on agricultural exports. Participatory democracy struggled but made some progress by the 1920s. Attempts by the nationalist leader Juan Perón in the 1940s and 1950s to radically reorder the country’s class and trade relationships may have done as much harm as good. A dismal forty-year stretch of indebtedness, inflation, and instability followed Perón’s controversial decade in power. This dark period reached its nadir in the 1970s with a particularly nasty police regime in which capped off years of violent repression and economic stagnation with a military disaster in the Falklands. The book ends with a short summary of restored democracy and important political reforms in the 1980s.
The question, what went wrong? can seem a little foreign to Americans used to reading our own history and asking, how did we get so great? How awesome was it that we beat the Nazis and put men on the moon? And then we faced down the Bolsheviks. Yet we’ve had our share of corrupt political elites, regional divisions, economic inequalities, civil war, genocides, discrimination, exploitation, and so on. The differences between Argentina and the United States are not that great, but are perhaps magnified by each country’s peculiar circumstances. In fact, now might be a good time for Americans to turn off the History Channel and turn down the jingoism. The Nazis have been gone for more than half a century and who knows if those footprints are even still on the moon. Communism might be dead but Communists have stayed in business by owning our debt and selling us shoddy, dangerous crap. If we don’t soon cure our insular, fearful obsessions with security and materialism, our own dismal decades may just be beginning.
Lore says Halloween celebrations are uncommon in Argentina but everybody seemed to know what to do at our party last Saturday. There was plenty of Halloween cotillon (party stuff like costumes and decorations) in various shops. Everybody came in costume. There were even a handful of trick-or-treaters. It was the typical all-night Argentinian affair. Nobody hurries through a fiesta. We got to bed by five o’clock. We were still sick but made it through and had a lot of fun.
The seasonal themes of common holidays feel a bit off in Argentina. Halloween occurs in the spring, so pumpkins don’t make a lot of sense, but jack-o’-lanterns are still part of the program.
I have a teenaged brother-in-law. He and two of his friends were the party DJs. They hooked up his laptop to a sound and light system borrowed from another friend. They happen to have excellent taste in music, though I had to request “Monster Mash” which nobody had ever heard of. It was a little out of place on the playlist of electronica and cuarteto but it seemed to go down well.
We’ve been bringing American candies with us on these holiday trips. For Halloween, we selected Hershey Kisses, Brach’s Candy Corn, and Smarties. I think we’ll bring just chocolates in the future. The Smarties weren’t terribly popular, though I can’t imagine Halloween without them.
My trips to Argentina have been usually confined to the city of Córdoba and its environs. I’ve wanted to see a little more of the country and so we took a side trip to Mendoza, the city at the heart of Argentina’s wine country.
Mendoza is a little smaller than Córdoba and without the big universities the population isn’t quite as youthful. It doesn’t have the elegant churches that you practically trip over in Córdoba. Mendoza does have rather deep open stone-lined gutters—more like trenches—along both sides of each street; you really have to watch where you step so you don’t fall in. The arid region has an extensive irrigation system that supports its agriculture and at first I assumed these ditches were a relic of this old system. I realized later that they are still being used for agriculture: Mendoza’s famously shady streets are lined with London plane trees which grow at orderly intervals out of the ditches.
In addition to shade trees, Mendoza’s centro (downtown) is filled with tidy plazas, including the massive Plaza Independencia and the spectacularly tiled Plaza España. West of downtown is Parque General San Martín, a massive Central Park-like place we wandered around in common cold-induced stupor during our second day in the city. The park has some quiet sunny meadows which, when you’re sick and checked out of your hotel room and have eleven hours to wait for your flight out of town, are excellent for time-wasting naps.
But while still healthy on our first day in Mendoza, we took a city bus just out of town to Maipú, home to a number of wineries and olive oil factories. In Maipú you can rent a bicycle and tour the various bodegas (wine cellars). The terrain is very flat and the town even has a ciclovia (bicycle lane) through the main part of town. South of town the ciclovia disappeared but the scenery was delightful: a shady rural road that passed by vineyards and olive groves. The irrigation ditches flowed with water. We rode out to the edge of town (about 12 kilometers) to Laur, an olivicola (olive plantation and factory).
A tour of the facilities included a visit to the trees, the factory, and a museum with a collection of antique presses. The tour was in Spanish, but the guide spoke very clearly so I was able to practice listening. With great concentration I can understand Spanish well enough; my main challenge was tuning out a small group of Americans in which one of the women was providing an English translation.
I learned that olive trees live for a thousand years but these lazy plants only produce olives for about four hundred years. Each tree produces about twelve liters of oil each year. If I had to guess I’d say that Lore and I go through no more than two to three liters per year, earning us a small minority share of one dusty green olive tree on a farm like this somewhere.
After sampling some finger foods prepared with the house aceite de oliva (olive oil), we crossed the street to Carinae, the neighboring constellation-themed winery. We found a couple of Americans from the olive oil tour ready to begin a tasting. The guide spoke excellent English; more impressive was her command of wine jargon which is like its own little dialect.
Before we began the tasting, the guide asked us where we were from, a classic tour guide ice-breaker I have come to dislike and have discarded from own professional methods. It’s never a simple answer with us, Lore is from Córdoba and I am from New York but I prefer to just say that we live in Iowa whereas Lore prefers to relate our respective origins.
One of the American women said, “But you are not from Iowa. I can tell you are from New York.” Back home I make a regular practice of ignoring as many of my compatriots as is practical, and I would have been pleased to continue that routine 9,000 miles away from home. But the guide was surprised and intrigued and wondered how the lady had known that even though I had barely said anything. I didn’t comment (and didn’t care to, though I later suggested to Lore it probably was because I was wearing a rain jacket in the desert—”New Yorkers always come prepared,” an amusement park clown in Florida told my raincoat-clad family while making small talk with us on another vacation twenty years ago). The American lady, who was from San Diego, and had probably seen slicker-wearing New Yorkers jostling their way across her own rainless homeland, added that I probably stood out in Iowa too. I replied that I didn’t think so. This lady was the second person I’ve met on a trip abroad who was both from San Diego and intent on needless gum-flapping (the other was a blowhard in a London bed-and-breakfast about ten years ago who informed me about post-September 11 conditions in New York City).
Anyway, we tasted a couple of Malbecs, a Torrontés, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Syrah. I’m not a discerning wine-drinker; they were all very good. The guide then took us on a short tour of the bodega, switching to Spanish for my educational benefit since the Americans skipped the tour. They label each bottle by using a little hand-operated machine.
We wound up the afternoon with a pleasant ride back to the bike rental. The sky was still overcast and cool but the sun came out enough to make the shady country road appealing.
I’ve always maintained that the human brain is not meant for modern international travel. On Monday morning, for example, at about eleven o’clock I was shopping with my wife and sister-in-law in sultry Córdoba, Argentina. Twenty-four hours later, my wife and I were 9,000 miles away at home in our apartment in freezing Iowa. The abrupt change in scenery made two weeks in South America seem like a receding dream.
In between we were sealed up in jet planes and airports. Sometimes I wonder if the we ever leave the ground. Maybe it’s elaborate hoax, like a machine blows some fake clouds around the plane while some people shake it for nine hours. Then they let us out and tell us we’re in another airport. Meanwhile, they rearrange the signs and shops in the airport, and re-cast the local population with new actors.
Actually, they don’t have to rearrange much in the airport. We had layovers in Santiago, Chile, and even though we were quarter of a world away from home, we could still eat at Dunkin Donuts, Ruby Tuesday, or Starbucks. Yuck. I mean, what a waste to fly all that way to eat food I could eat at the Coralville Mall.
Speaking of wasting money: during our return layover in Santiago we were sitting across from a young American woman in an Oregon State sweatshirt complaining to a stranger about her trip to Chile. She couldn’t understand why Chileans were so proud of their polluted, impoverished country. She couldn’t understand why they couldn’t just pull themselves together and clean up the trash in their city. She couldn’t understand why they didn’t think being like us would be better.
She wasted her money on that trip. Is it really that hard to imagine that other people don’t share your exact same outlook? Is it just as hard to find what we have in common with people in other countries? What’s the point of traveling all that way if you don’t want to learn something?
Ugly Americans aside, our flights and layovers went smoothly without delays or incident. Mostly. The descent into Córdoba was rocky, like I thought the plane was going to shake apart. I nearly got sick—well, I was sick but I didn’t throw up. I haven’t been so sick on a plane in a long time.
Which reminded me: on trans-Andean flights, the safety orientations should include tips on survival cannibalism in case the plane crashes on a mountainside. Like which parts are the richest in fat and protein and not just empty carbs.
Córdoba’s airport is small for such a big city, and it was overwhelmed with Christmas travelers. Besides the long line at the passport control, there was barely enough room for all the people in the international baggage claim waiting to bring their stuff through customs. About a dozen people from our flight were missing bags; an equal number of unclaimed bags waited by the conveyor belt.
We lucked out and recovered all of our bags filled with Christmas gifts. Because we brought Christmas stockings, we also brought hooked weights to hang them on. The customs agent was intrigued and asked Lore a lot of questions. I didn’t pay much attention, for a couple of reasons. I was having trouble following the conversation in Spanish. And for a women who spends much of her day bending over looking through people’s luggage she sure was showing a lot of cleavage. We had arrived in Argentina.
On the way home, the airline agents wouldn’t let us gate-check our carry-on luggage for the flight back to Santiago. It was a small plane and our carry-ons are at the upper end of the size limit. On the way to Argentina they were fine but flying back the to United States we couldn’t gate check them. Which defeats the purpose of bring a carry-on, right? That pretty much settles it: I’m going back to using my little L.L. Bean rucksack as a carry-on. As I’m fond of reminding Lore, I once traveled to the U.K. for a week with only what I could fit in that little bag. But those were simpler days.
Christmas in Argentina is celebrated on December 24, but things don’t really get started until late at night. Christmas stockings are not traditional here, so for fun Lore and I brought some for her family. We hung them from the counter in the dining room.
At midnight the adults all brought the gifts to the tabletop tree. Then we brought Lore’s five-year old nephew in and told him that Papa Noel (Santa Claus) had come. Lore’s youngest sister even dressed up as Papa Noel and pretended to be caught leaving the house. Oddly, even in the subtropical summer heat he still dresses for the North Pole. For a nineteen year old girl my sister-in-law made a pretty good Papa Noel.
After midnight we exchanged gifts. Outside the entire city erupted in fireworks—another benefit of summertime Christmas. Argentina doesn’t bother with the exercise of outlawing or discouraging fireworks in the name of safety, and they are everywhere. Some people lit globos, paper hot-air balloons that sail glowing overhead.
Driving Lore’s grandmother and aunt home, we passed a club where some celebrating was to happen. It was still empty, as it was only around 2 a.m. and much too early to start partying. Lore’s younger siblings went out later but we took a pass on the all-night dancing this time.
Saturday, December 25 was more of a take-it-easy day. We actually swam in a backyard swimming pool on Christmas. It was a hot day, but the pool was pleasant in the late afternoon. We shared mate in the shade afterward. Taking mate is a nice, easy-going ritual of conversation and passing around tea that we sip from a common straw.
All this swimming and hanging out in the yard reminds me that Argentina is not “Chrismassy” from an American point of view. Of course the weather is not Christmas-like, but the decorations are pretty minimal and the gift-giving is modest. I think Argentina’s Christmas lacks the excess I’ve come to despise, and that is okay with me.
It was hot. The dryness made the heat tolerable, especially indoors, but the heat sort of crept up on us and wore us down. I think humidity, for all the discomfort it causes, is a gift in the sense that it alerts you to unpleasantly hot weather sooner rather than later.
We’d wait for it to cool off before going downtown. On Sunday we went to the Paseo de los Artesanos—also known locally as “los hippies”—a popular weekly street fair. The vendors aren’t so much hippies as independent designers and crafters. In the U.S. these fairs are common enough that it’s hard to find the good stuff among all the junk, but this fair was pretty good. Lore says the same is happening with this fair, though; it has outgrown the plaza and many vendors have opened permanent shops on the adjacent streets.
The cool Sunday evening was also an occasion for asado (barbecue) with Lore’s friends. We brought bags of surplus Halloween candy to share. American candy goes down well here, though Lore’s friends didn’t quite know what to make of Tootsie Rolls.
The heat wave intensified on Monday to over 100 degrees Fahrenheir, and the local news announced a “heat alert”. I knew it got hot in Argentina but that was hottest I had experienced in my several trips there. The news announcer said to stay home and take a nap in the afternoon, and we obeyed.
After it cooled off, we walked across town to visit Lore’s grandmother and aunt. On the way we walked through the National University campus. In front of the business school there was a big mess, like an elephant had thrown up on the walk. Lore pointed and said, “That’s what happens when you get your degree.” As if that wasn’t enough of an eyebrow-raising thought, just then a young woman walked past wearing only her underwear, but covered from head to foot in multicolored mess. Lore explained that when you graduate, your friends cut off your clothes and douse you with food, paint, confetti, or whatever they can bring from home. “You have to make sure you wear nice underwear and bring something to sit on so your car doesn’t get dirty,” she said.
The next day the the heat wave broke. We went to a downtown bookstore to buy a Spanish dictionary. I mean a real one, with definitions in Spanish, not a Spanish to English dictionary. My Spanish was very, very rusty on this trip and the dictionary will help with that (and with Scrabble too).
Lore tried to explain peanut butter to her mother. Descriptions of peanut butter always get the same reaction from non-Americans and I could never understand why. It’s so simple and mundane that it hardly merits a mention, but some people find it as exotic as I might find fried grasshoppers. It also turns out our use of fruit as part of any meal (like breakfast) is a bit odd. Fruit, to Argentinians, is thought of as an after-lunch dessert. So my breakfast of fresh fruit and a cup of yogurt stood out as a little bizarre.
For all that, Argentina has never been very shocking to me. I’m always struck by how similar it is to the U.S. And there are I times I can’t tell the difference. We went shopping at Patio Olmos, a downtown shopping mall, and ate lunch in the food court. When I squinted and blurred out the Spanish menus I felt like I could have been anywhere. Lore related to her family my comment that I didn’t think Argentina was a Third World country (more like a Second World country, as I like to joke). That was worth a couple of days of discussion over tea.
At the end of the year the shops were open during the day, but waiters and cab drivers seemed grouchy and in a hurry to go home. We passed New Year’s Eve with a nice chicken dinner with Lore’s family on their patio. They don’t watch television—there is no ball drop like in Times Square—but as expected all hell broke loose at the appointed moment.
The fireworks in the neighborhood were even more intense than on Christmas. The most spectacular thing about these fireworks was their ubiquitousness. Since they go off in all directions you have to pay attention, so as not miss anything but also for your safety.
On New Year’s Day Lore’s mom and stepfather took us up the scenic route to Villa Giardino. We went first through Córdoba’s suburban towns and then by a new highway over the sierras. The sierras were cool and covered in lush green pastures full of horses and cows. The paved highway isn’t complete, so we took a bumpy dirt road that wound its way down the other side of the hills to La Falda, where my mother-in-law grew up. La Falda is a cute summer town but most of the cafes were closed for the holiday.
At night, back in Córdoba, we were looking for something to do. After the rain stopped, we went to Paseo del Buen Pastor for a lomito (like a Philly cheese steak but with much more cholesterol). We also strolled through the Plaza España to see the Christmas decorations. The concrete monuments were wrapped up like giant gift boxes and a tall tree of Christmas lights rose from its center of the plaza.
In our down time, Lore and I flipped through her mom’s old magazines. One biweekly, Caras, is a bit like an Argentinian version of People. I was struck by how many celebrities Argentina has for a country with a medium-sized population; the percentage of whom appear in this magazine seems extremely high. Pretty much anybody wealthy, prominent, or successful who wants their picture taken is a celebrity. My mother-in-law calls them figureti: those who stick their heads into other people’s photos. They are sort of like an volunteer army of Kim Kardashians and Paris Hiltons, who fill the gaps in the endless celebrity news cycle.
This was not much of a sight-seeing trip, so I don’t have many good photos to share. It was more of a visiting, celebrating, and shopping trip and I was glad to put the camera away for most of it.
Our interest in the World Cup plummeted after the quarterfinals so Lore has returned her attention to another staple of Argentinian entertainment: “Showmatch”. It’s a long-running television show which in its current incarnation is sort of like “Dancing With the Stars” but with fewer clothes. It’s also a brilliant example of the law of comparative advantage, as Argentina mobilizes one of its primary resources–vast reserves of beautiful women willing to dance in thongs on television.
Another Independence Day weekend, another Iowa City Jazz Festival. I’ve written here before about my difficulty appreciating jazz. It’s like wine: I know when I like something but I can’t explain why I like it. I don’t have any understanding of the subtleties.
Speaking of things I don’t understand the subtleties of: the World Cup. Argentina got pounded yesterday by Germany, so I have a lot of sad in-laws. Then Paraguay lost a close game to Spain, which means their hottest underwear model won’t get naked in public as promised. It was a bad day for the Americas.
This so-called World Cup is really a Eurotrash festival. Europe started out by sending their thirteen (thirteen!) best teams to the tournament–including “England”, which is like letting California have its own team. Germany, Spain, and Netherlands all made it to the semifinals. Uruguay is our only hope.
So, though I struck out with these two things–one typically American (jazz) and another of more international appeal (soccer), I’m tackling something a little more familiar to me this weekend to celebrate the independence of our declining nation. I’m reading a new book about the founders: “Revolutionaries” by Jack Rakove. I’m only about two-thirds of the way through, but so far it’s pretty good. The author attends to some of the less celebrated revolutionary figures (George Mason, Robert Morris, and Henry Laurens) and events (the framing of the first state constitutions, the peace negotiations with Great Britain).
I don’t know why I like reading about the founders so much. Maybe it’s because our present political leaders are such duds. I had a history professor at college who insisted that all historical figures were simply the products of their times. In that case, maybe we’re the duds. Happy Fourth.
Now that I’m married to a South American, it’s easy to get excited by World Cup soccer. The always amazing Iowa City Public Library showed the U.S.-Ghana match live in one of its meeting rooms. Most of the people there were rooting for the U.S. There were a few Ghanaians, too, rooting for their team, and then a couple of people I can only assume were not from Ghana but rooting for Ghana anyway. Probably just your friendly neighborhood America-haters who happen to be enjoying our free and public library.
The Ghanaian players were aggressive, fast runners and won the game by outrunning the Americans. One thing I like about soccer is that the games keep moving without much interruption. The clock keeps running even during down time, but extra minutes are added to make up for. These extra minutes are a secret well-kept by the officials, so the game continues at full speed until someone blows a whistle.
Today Lore and I watched the Argentina-Mexico game. The Latin American players keep the ball and themselves in motion, and take a lot of shots on goal. They are a little more exciting to watch. The neighborhood bar where we watched the game emptied its lunch crowd by the second half, so we were watching alone. Lore said that in Argentina everybody was watching this game.
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.
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:
- Get the people being interpreted to be succinct and to then be patient.
- Avoid relaying jokes unless they are really funny.
- 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.
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.
Today was a shopping day. I bought a wallet and belt of Argentinian leather. The belt is not of cow leather but of carpincho, or capybara, leather. That’s right, capybara. Look it up; it’s the world’s largest living rodent.
We also ate Salta-style empandas, at a restaurant downtown. Salta is a province in the north of Argentina.
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.
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.