Christmas and New Year in Argentina

A colorful row of Christmas stockins hang from the edge of counter.
Lore found some colorful Christmas stockings to hang.

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.

A man and two women on a street stage beat drums with their hands.
A band of hippie drummers performed at the craft fair.

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.

Meat cooks over hot coals in a brick barbecue pit.
Meat cooks over hot coals in the asador.

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.

Pastures on rolling green hills under a stormy gray sky.
The sierras were stormy and a little chilly but still green and pretty.

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.

A tree of lights rises above two massive gift boxes.
Plaza España was somewhat improved by the cheerful Christmas decorations.

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.

H.A. Baldwin Beach

A line of tall palm trees along a beach with a cloud-topped mountain beyond.
A line of tall palm trees along a beach with a cloud-topped mountain beyond.
We tried another beach, H.A. Baldwin Beach State Park, on the other side of Pa’ia. This is more of a stereotypical beach, long and sandy with clear water and lifeguards. It’s supposed to be good for body surfing (which growing up I called “riding waves”) but not so much today.

This beach is busier and has a lot of locals judging by all of the beach joggers and dog walkers. People in Hawaii have great tans.

Beach and upcountry

We are staying at God’s Peace of Maui, a guesthouse in Hali’imaile. Hali’imaile is a small upcountry village surrounded by pineapple fields that look like they go on forever, except that you can see the ocean in the distance below. There isn’t much in the immediate vicinity but it’s a short drive down to the beaches and to the other nearby upcountry towns.

A green-covered headland of brown rock and a rock jetty extend into deep blue water.
The view from Tavares Beach
We took it easy today, spending the morning at a small beach in Pa’ia. It’s sheltered by a submerged ridge of lava, so the water is calm for swimming but you have to be careful not to swim into the rocks. I’m a believer in going to the beach early, but as of noon there were still no crowds.

A small green and white wooden shop with windchimes and a shingle that says Goodies.
A shop in Makawao
We drove up to Makawao for lunch. Makawao is a nice little town with art galleries. The winding mountain road above the town has ranches mixed with ritzy homes. We attempted to hike down to Waihou Spring through the experimental forest reserve but we ran out of daylight. The forest is in the cloud layer that hovers around the mountain most of the day. It gets dark early in the cloud forest.

We had dinner in Pa’ia, which is much quieter at night.

Waikiki

The weather in Honolulu is balmy. The sun goes in and out of clouds but the breezes are what make it pleasant.

Beachgoers crowd onto a city beach with palm trees, umbrellas, and rock jetties.
Waikiki Beach
I was spoiled by nice public beaches as a kid so I found Waikiki’s central beaches narrow and crowded. This morning we picked out a spot of people with lots of Japanese tourists. They like to carry inflatable floaty things into the water with them. Between them and the surfers there are a lot of flotation aids in the water. As the morning went on the crowd of surfers out around the breakers grew until it looked like a flock of sea birds.

I never understood people’s attachment to surfboards and body boards. Our bodies can float in sea water and if you get a good wave you can ride it without skill or expense. However, the water nearest the beach was calm and the waves were too wimpy to ride. The surfers were much farther out to catch the waves.

The water here is warm and clear. I could stay in it all day. I certainly can see the attraction to this place.

Swimming

We’ve been going to the pool a few times a week since the winter weather set in. I may very well be the world’s slowest swimmer but I’m getting better and I feel better. I’ve accomplished the short-term goal of not being totally exhausted after half an hour or twenty laps. I forget how much better I feel with even minimal exercise, and during the winter eclipse of bicycling weather I need something to do. I think other people underestimate its usefulness too.

Even though I swam a lot as a kid (the ocean beaches were only as far as the traffic jams made them seem to be), I’ve gone through significant chunks of my life without even putting on a bathing suit. That’s pretty sad. Iowa City has at least four public pools, which is amazing to me. It’s unbelievable I didn’t jump in sooner.

Something odd

I went to the pool for a quick swim and as I was getting dressed, something caught my eye: a woman’s bathing suit hanging from the hook on the toilet stall door. I have no idea why it was there but there certainly weren’t any naked women walking around in the men’s locker room. Curious.

Off Monday and Tuesday

I’m off Monday and Tuesday now, and that means I’m coming to the end of another weekend. I’ve been meditating on life, which a classy way of saying I’ve not done anything special on my days off. I went to yoga, went to the pool, rode my bike, worked on my resume, rented a couple of movies, cleaned out my closet, and procrastinated on some other stuff.

My neighbor just parked his slate gray Mustang. He immediately set to work cleaning off the front end, spraying it with what I suppose is some bug-off product. All that work for something that always depreciates in value. As for me, I’ve got a couple new bumper stickers I’d like to vandalize my ubiquitous red Plymouth with.

On aquaria and natatoria

Today was nice and I inavertantly spent too much of it indoors, thinking it was really hot out. I straightened out my fish tank today. The pump broke while I was away and I replaced it last week but the water quality was still screwed up. I lost only one neon, though, and that big snail I thought was destroying my plants. I cut down a lot of the plant and got rid of much of the algae growth. The tank looks so clean now. I’ll check the water again tomorrow.

Went swimming at the Biloxi pool this morning. The pool is pretty neat; they can open up the roof and walls on nice days. The sun shone in today.

Impending news

I have some good news which I will post here later when I can say for sure.

What nice weather followed the awful storm we had! I rode my bicycle into town and actually stopped by work for some reason (to check messages that didn’t need to be checked). I went swimming this evening at the pool. I’m practicing to be the world’s slowest swimmer. Even the fat guy in the weenie-wrapper was smoking me.

Oh, I rented “Sideways” (pun not intended). I liked it. The wine stuff was interesting. There’s also this one scene where this naked guy is chasing Paul Giamatti as he races back to his car. I swear the camera shot was right out of another movie, perhaps “Jaws” (the naked guy being the shark or whatever).

Snow and cold

I went back to work today, and I feel okay, but I actually felt better yesterday. Odd? The bookstore manager told me this bout of cold comes with the specter of relapse if I’m not careful. Darn. I skipped the pool again tonight, but I’m itching to start swimming again. I hate to start something like that and then just drop it.

My folks are delayed by snow in the Northeast. I hope they arrive promptly and safely.

A nice day

In another attempt to rescue my dwindling metabolism from the toilet bowl, I went to the public pool in Biloxi. It’s a pretty nice facility. I spent about half an hour (a little less) doing laps across (the short way) the pools. Man, my shoulders felt dead after that. I feel pretty good though. As I was about to leave the locker room for the pool, a bunch of school kids came in to use the bathroom. They were all wet and shivering. They looked miserable and sounded like, “W-w-w-w-w-w.”

The lady at the pet store thinks I’m changing my aquarium water too much, as opposed to too little. She says to do a 25% change once a month, which is what I do, except I also try to change 10% every week in between. She feels I am disrupting the nitrogen cycle (bad for the plants) and putting unnecessary stress on the fish.

This afternoon I rode my bike into town to get lunch.