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.

Halloween

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.

A young woman dressed as a zombie among others in Halloween costumes.
This is my favorite photo from our Halloween fiesta; my sister-in-law is an excellent zombie.

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.

A woman and man dressed as a saloon girl and bartender at a Halloween party.
The author and his wife dressed as figures from the lejano oeste (Old West).

Second trip to Chicago

A man and a woman reflected with the city skyline behind them.
Adam and Lore and Chicago reflected in the Cloud Gate, Millenium Park

We decided last minute to go to Chicago for the long weekend. The Chicago Jazz festival was underway our first night but we skipped that to frolic at the Cloud Gate (a.k.a. The Bean). If you ever want to feel like a monkey amused by its reflection in something shiny, go see the Cloud Gate.

Two women admire a painting of a man and women in front of their home.
Two women admiring American Gothic by Grant Wood, Art Institute of Chicago

We spent the better part of the next day at the Art Institute of Chicago in the American Modern Art exhibit. As Iowans we were required by law to gaze at American Gothic by Grant Wood. We had company. Visiting American Gothic is a minor league version of Mona Lisa at The Louvre—in the sense that there’s a small crowd that makes it hard to stand and admire it. It was still fun to see in person.

Mosaic decorations in a building lobby include an inscription about books.
Inside the Washington Street Lobby of the Chicago Cultural Center

Near the Art Institute is the Chicago Cultural Center, in the former Chicago Public Library building. This is truly a wonder, not just because you can go in for free and look at exhibits but because of the mind-blowing tile mosaics and dome ceilings. I’m starting to suspect Chicago has something of a second city inferiority complex because everything is so deliberately over the top.

A woman waiting in a graffiti covered restaurant booth.
Lore waiting for Chicago deep dish pizza in Gino’s East

In addition to artery-clogging Chicago art and architecture we ate some unhealthful Chicago food: Italian sausage sandwiches and deep dish pizza. Our pizza dinner was at Gino’s East in River North, a place huge and busy but not crowded inside. The interior was divided by graffiti-covered wooden booths and partitions that preserved some intimacy. We didn’t have a marker to add to the graffiti so I borrowed the waitress’s pen to write our names on the seat cushion.

An illuminated ferris wheel at night.
Ferris wheel at the Navy Pier

We walked off the pizza at the Navy Pier, a schlocky Coney Island-like place but a good long walk. We got rained on pretty hard right at the end of the pier as we learned why Chicago is called the Windy City. It was a long wet walk back.

Jazz and explosions

Nothing like a timely post. :roll: Here are some photos of last weekend’s fireworks at the Old Capitol after the Jazz Festival. As usual Lore and I appreciated the barbecued pork-on-a-stick and chocolate-covered ice cream bars more than the music. They did a nice job with the fireworks this year.

A jazz band peforms at dusk in front of a domed neo-Classical building.
Iowa City Jazz Festival at the Old Capitol.

 

A fireworks show brightens the sky behind the dome of a neo-Classical building.
Fireworks grand finale at the Old Capitol.

Jazz, soccer, and the fourth of July

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.

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.

Jazz

The Iowa City Jazz Festival is this weekend. Sometimes I wish I knew more about jazz so I could comment on it. I will say this: it’s hard to tell when they’re done playing a piece. And don’t even try singing to an instrumental rendition of the national anthem. There’s no way to guess when the guy is going to finish playing the note or where he’s going to go with the next one.

Michael Jackson

Tonight we’re listening to the “Thriller” album. I listened to it a lot when I was a kid and even though I haven’t listened to it in a long time it’s still very familiar. Watching the videos that came with the CD reminds me of the real tragedy: his kookiness overshadowed his talent in recent years. Somewhere beneath that disfigured face and deranged persona was the same genius behind this album.

Batting .500

We drove up to Cedar Rapids on an errand and totally struck out on what we were looking for. Then I wandered to the secondhand bookstore next door. Besides books, they sell movies and music, including records, cassette tapes, and even a few eight-track cassettes. They had a small but good selection cassettes tapes, so I bought a few to replenish my lost collection. We listened to Huey Lewis’ “Sports” and The Rolling Stones’ “Voodoo Lounge” on the way home.