Tim McCarver drinking game

I don’t drink much and never played drinking games (except that one time we played a Star Wars drinking game— the “drink every time Luke whines” rule alone will quickly get you hammered).

But here’s a Tim McCarver drinking game. Drink each time McCarver:

  1. Proclaims a Universal Law of Baseball (attempts to use an inconsequential play or minor occurrence to reveal some larger truth about cause and effect in the sport). Drink again if that Universal Law of Baseball conflicts with a previous Universal Law of Baseball.
  2. After gushing about a hot player and making him seem infallible, finally notes that player’s faults or weakness once it becomes self-evident. I admit this is as much a Joe Buck defect as a McCarver one.
  3. Speaks when the television screen depicts an action upon which no words could possibly improve.

Feel free to suggest more rules.

 

Adam Smith

We spent the weekend in the picturesque river towns of Van Buren County. I went for a class— Beginning Blacksmithing, if you can believe it. We stayed in Keosauqua, while the training was at a blacksmith shop in Bentonsport, two picturesque towns along the Des Moines River. The area markets itself as the “Villages of Van Buren County,” though it wasn’t terribly busy with tourists. What visitors were in Keosauqua seemed to be there for boating the river and fishing. Bentonsport, where I attended class, is a tiny little place, cute with a lot of old preserved buildings converted into shops and bed-and-breakfasts. There’s an old wrought iron bridge across the Des Moines in Bentonsport that you can walk across. We found a couple of nice places to eat in Keosauqua and Bonaparte, but bring your own vegetables if you ever go and want something green.

The blacksmithing class was a hoot. I was actually there for work (we have a blacksmith shop in the park). It’s sort of a like shop class for kids in that we make some things we get to bring home, and I had a lot of help from the teacher. What I produced probably falls into the “primitive tools” category anyway, just above hammerstones and obsidian flakes. Creating something with your own hands, some tools, and fire is empowering, but can also be a little frustrating. I am not the least bit handy and forging even simple items feels like fighting against a particularly stubborn foe who doesn’t always lose. My arms were fatigued and my hands were swollen at the end of each day; I could barely hold a glass in my hand to drink. I can’t imagine having to do it for a living. Full-time blacksmiths probably know how to make each blow count.

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.

Garum

Since tomato sauce and pasta post-date the Roman Empire, I’ve often wondered what ancient Romans ate. One staple of their cuisine was garum, a fermented fish sauce. Some researchers on a PBS show were trying out a batch of homemade.

I have a book a about the rise of sugar as a commodity and its role in colonialism and modern European empires, especially the British. In it the author notes that the British consume much more sugar per head than the French. “It is not necessarily naughty to suggest,” he writes, that if their food tasted better the British wouldn’t have incorporated so much sugar into their diets.

I reason that the same probably goes for garum. If it was any good perhaps the Italians would not have bothered with spaghetti and marinara.

Notes on Thanksgiving

From my always interesting apartment window this morning I spotted a bald eagle flying by. I couldn’t help but think how lucky eagles are that we don’t eat them for Thanksgiving. I cannot think of anything more graciously patriotic than supping on our majestic national carrion bird.

Our menu last night was similar to the last time we hosted Thanksgiving (turkey but no bald eagle), but I substituted cornbread stuffing for the couscous stuffing. It was hardly worth the extra effort of baking up the cornbread. A tip about internet recipes: unlike recipes in a cookbook, they have no editor or profit motive to make them logical or precise. I would exercise extreme caution, especially with any cornbread stuffing recipe that calls for two sticks of butter, a quart of buttermilk, and ten eggs. No wonder this country leads the world in 400-pounders. The recipe might have simply said, “Tilt refrigerator and empty contents in to pot. Cook until done, stirring occasionally.”  I spent most of Wednesday evening scraping the overflowed, burnt-on butter out of my oven. If I ever try that again, a simple polenta with vegetables mixed in ought to do the trick.

On another note: I don’t often use celery, but it amuses me how chopped cross-sections of the stalk look like inchworms.

Furthermore: I see a little uptick in website traffic, probably from friends and family reading the Thanksgiving poem.

Sneaky bitter berries

We have a small package of fresh blueberries in the fridge. Except upon closer inspection they are not blueberries. Nowhere on the label does it say “blueberries.” Turns out they are “aronia berries,” a fancy name for chokecherries, fruit from a wild shrub. Some clever local native fruit farm grows and sells them. The berries are inedible raw (they make your mouth dry sort of like persimmons). We’ll try to throw them into some pancakes this weekend and hope the pancakes are not worse off because of them.