In the Sierras de Córdoba

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:

Folklore dancers

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.

Doma competitor hangs on

Doma competitor falls off

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.

Hotel Edén
The front entrance to the Hotel Edén, lit up at night

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.

Spectators cheer rally truck

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.

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.

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.

Marooned in Ames

I was headhunting in Ames this week at Iowa State University’s Ag Career Day. Usually when I go to these things its just for PR but this time we are really hiring. It’s like speed dating: most of the students are there between classes trying to hit up as many employers as they can.

I am not an experienced recruiter or even a good one. Recruiting for government jobs has the extra challenge of explaining bureaucratic subtleties and the finicky application process. Even with simpler hiring regime for students, I worry I’ll miss something and they’ll never be considered. When I could, I listened to what some of the other recruiters were saying. Maybe I should just stop worrying and say something peppy like, “You wear a Smokey Bear hat and get paid in sunsets.”

After the career fair ended I was ready to roll, but my van wasn’t. Describing government job applications is easy compared to getting a government vehicle towed. Of course I couldn’t just call AAA. I had to call GSA, the government agency that leases cars to other government agencies. Their automated menu rolled me over to their contractor’s automated menu, which promptly bounced me back to GSA. The second time through the menu, I executed a Rubik’s cube-like maneuver and managed to talk to a man who gave me yet another number for roadside assistance.

The tow truck couldn’t clear the ceiling of the parking deck, so we had to push the van down. The exit on this particular garage was a spiral ramp adjacent to the parking lanes so I could see the tow truck driver coasting our van in descending circles like a vulture. The other tow truck guy and I followed behind on foot. Of course the van had to stop at the gate so I could pay, so we had to push it again to clear the exit lane. The people behind us were so patient.

Anyway, I got the van to the dealership just before they closed and got myself back to the hotel where I checked in for an extra night. I’m not sure which is worse: the stress of getting a car towed in a strange town or the boredom from waiting for it to be fixed. The dealership had to order the part so my boss drove two and half hours to pick me up yesterday and bring me back to work. The van is still in Ames; we’ll have to get it on Monday.

The would-be Samaritan

“What are you doing that you’re always seeing this?” Lore asked me “I’ve never in my life seen a car with the lights left on, but every time we go out you see one.”

“It has nothing to do with me,” I explained. “It’s other people who leave their car lights on.”

Twice when I was in college I came across cars with the lights left on and both times I found them unlocked, so I opened the doors and shut the lights off. The resulting cognitive distortion means whenever I see a car with lights left on, I believe the doors must be unlocked.

Lore said she wouldn’t want somebody opening her car door even if the lights were left on. She understands that the battery could go dead, but she still doesn’t like it. I, however, have at least twice been that guy who left the lights on and came back to find a dead battery.

So I always try to open the door (if the coast is clear) and if it’s locked I always tell the people inside about it. Why don’t I channel this Gandhi-like propensity for action toward to something important, say clothing the naked and feeding the hungry? Is it because I’ve never been naked and hungry (meaning involuntarily and at the same time)? It must mean only that I can relate best to the absent-minded.

Hattiesburg

I drove up to Hattiesburg with a couple of coworkers to pick up two trucks, as we lost two during the storm. They’re kind of shitty trucks. One of the trucks didn’t have any gas in it, or so we thought. The gas gauge must be busted.

I realized when I got there that I hadn’t been up to Hattiesburg since I evacuated ahead of Ivan last year–the trip of the infamous five-hour delay. This trip was no more or less exciting.

Arizona euphoria, Mississippi dystopia

Yesterday morning I was driving across the yellow hills of central Arizona in a Lincoln Town Car owned by the Hertz Rental Car Company listening to music on the satellite radio. I thought, “I don’t want to go back.”

Well, here I am. When I got back to the airport last night the humidity was around 100%. My car wouldn’t start and I had to get it towed. The mechanic hasn’t figured it out yet and I remain without conveyance. On top of this a real shit storm is brewing at work. It doesn’t involve me, but I will have to be very careful to stay out of it.

I had a great time in Arizona, I really did! I made some friends, renewed my sense of purpose for my career, camped and hiked, saw lots of scenery, drank a lot, and visited with my brother and his wife.

Photos from Arizona:

Whoa! This car has three pedals!

I became a man today. I started learning how to drive a manual transmission. Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. My family never had a car with a stick, so I never learned. A friend offered to teach me in his truck. Hitherto, I was often very shy about asking friends to help me, because I don’t want to be like, “Hey, can I ruin your transmission for my betterment?” I’ve also been thinking about buying a piece-of-junk car to practice on. If I can’t, then formal driving lessions are out. Consider an actual conversation with a driving school instructor:

“I’d like to learn how to drive a manual transmission.”

“And I’d love to teach you. Do you have a car with a stick?”

“I don’t.”

“Neither do I! If you can get one I’ll teach you.”

So far, I’ve only been starting, stopping, and stalling (though with less frequency) in first gear; and a little of second. But it’s a start, and I believe in starts (from “The Committments”).