Here's a pic of the Aguas Argentinas, their water company. The building is one of thousands of classic beauties built during Argentina'a heyday in the 30's.
I just got up from a little nap and may be somewhat human now. Prior to the nap I went with Larry to his Spanish lesson. He's the only one in the class, and he seemed glad to have me there to make it a little less intense for him. The teacher is talking in Spanish to him 100% and to me a good 80%. So it was a workout, specially on not much sleep.
Larry confirms that Buenos Aires means good airs. (A more idiomatic historical/nautical translation would be "fair winds")
On my walk I bought a couple of mate bowls and straws as gifts.
I went grocery shopping today and bought some stuff to replenish what I've been eating here. I seem to eat obviously more than Larry and Liliana, but I guess I must need it. I prepared lunch today for the 3 of us. I got some spinach and was intending to steam it but they didn't have a "steamer" or any way I could fix up to steam it. So we went out and bought a foldable steamer, the kind that has multiple leaves that opens up in the pot. Some things here are cheap but this was almost 30 pesos ($10). Oof! But the spinach was good and I was glad to have a fresh veg. (I cooked linguini also, with canned sauce)
Soon I will go to the Plaza de Mayo to see the Marching Mothers.
These are women who every Thursday march arm in arm around the plaza to commemorate their children who were taken away during one of Argentina's dark periods. The march is in view of the Casa Rosada (pink house) where the president lives. After that I'll go and pay for my trip to Patagonia. I think I'll take taxis since they are so cheap (3 pesos each way I think) and it's kind of humid, and it's 15 blocks or so. Wow, that clinches it, too many reasons. I'll take my camera this time.
Larry and I did a quick excursion to some bars he likes. We took the subway (Subte - for subterranean I guess). It costs a flat 70 centavos per trip, and you buy an encoded ticket from a person ahead of time. The turnstile then decrements your ticket and gives it back to you. The Subte looked clean and efficient to me, crowded with lots of people coming home from work.
I'm getting a little more used to conversing in spanish (they call it Castillano.) The hardest part, apart from the verbs, is the pronunciation here. They don't say the double l as Y as in Mexico and most of Latin America. Instead they give it a Zh sound. So when I hear words I should know, I don't recognize them.
The marching mothers were rather moving to me. We reviewed some of my photos last night on Larry's TV (they were amazed by the digital camera) and some of the faces of the old women are striking. These are ladies with some serious "baggage"!
I'm hearing all about the presidential candidates since the election is next week. It's amazing to me but Juan Peron is still a folk hero here and there are 3 candidates claiming to be Peronistas. Doesn't make sense to me since Peron nationalized the industries and took care of the poor people, albeit paternalistically and with an iron hand. And the new guys just want to grab whatever money is left for their friends by privatizing industries. I'm sure I don't understand what's going on. Several taxi drivers I've talked with have asked me to confirm that Bush is "crazy" (loco - and they make the screwball sign with their hands..). That's a kinder assessment than some of us have.
The Tango club was very cool. Lots of quite old men dancing with women of all ages. Most were very good dancers. We didn't try since we would have been obviously bad (says Lili). Then they cleared the floor and an older man (60's) and beautiful younger woman (30 max) came out and did a total of three demo dances. Graceful, rythmic, sensual. I've got to learn. Maybe lessons or videos or something.
Today Larry drove me out to San Telmo, a neighborhood with lots of antique shops and a
collectables flea market. I've become interested in the Evita cult and was
looking for Evita memorabilia. Found some but didn't buy. We then drove to
the area where Tango was suposedly "born" (Boca district). It's touristy but
fun. I did buy an Evita refrig magnet and other thingie one could wear as a
pin. Lili suggests I NOT wear it tomorrow during the election.
Here's pic from an art book in the apartment about Evita and her parental dealings with the children of Argentina. This one fanticizes about a device in her mausoleum which a machine to automatically caress poor people. It was never implemented due to a design flaw which made it dangerous. Wow!
I cooked omelettes for lunch.
All Argentine eyes are now on the TV to see the election returns. Someone has to get at least 45% to win so it looks like there will need to be a run-off between Menem (one of elder Bush's cronies) and Kitchner (another of the "political class" as they call it). Most of the Capurro clan preferred a woman candidate, Corrio, since she is least likely to be corrupt. Their politics is interesting and quite different from ours since their problems are different. I observed the voting, and it was quite civilized and genteel, at least in the suburbs. It is very Catholic country too, I was reminded when seeing that the women's names were on pink lists and the men's on blue ones, and they voted at separate sections of the polling place.
After lunch we went to visit a friend of Lili's who is a tango teacher. We had a nice visit with her and more friends in the garden of her beautiful house in the burbs. Then we went into her studio. She turned on the music and to my surprise, she gave me a quick tango lesson (in front of all). I think I did OK, and I am encouraged to try it back in the USofA.
How will I ever survive at the South Pole (almost, if you look at the map). I looked up Culo and it shows "bottom" or "backside". Then I heard that it's called the cola del mundo, which is "tail". Quien sabe? I'm going to borrow parka, gloves, etc from Larry.
Well, the candidate my friends favored did fairly well for being way underfunded. She got about 12%. Overall it's pretty good news since the extreme right wing fellow (Menem) got only 25% and that is far below the necessary 45%. So there will be a runoff between Menem and Kirchner (who got 23%?). Per the news the election was very orderly and non-violent, plus they had about 80% turnout! Wow, huh? We in the US could get such a turnout if we could actually vote for someone we lked. oooo I feel a letter to editor coming on.
I've promised to do some grocery shopping. L&L aren't really very domestic, so they tend to run out of things. And their kitchen is pretty frustrating. There's no knife larger than a paring knife.... So here I go.
Just got back with Larry from downtown, this time BA's galleria area. Lots of posh stores along a pedestrian walkway. The leather here is very nice and very cheap I think. I was sort of looking for slippers, the most popular kind being made of carpincho hide. It's a large rodent - cool huh? I never got the GO signal to buy so I'm still wearing my wool sox as slippers.
It rained here today and the wind blew pretty fiercely for a while. Liliana put together a good looking "shepherds pie", (meat with potato on top) so I really need to take back my commentary about them not being domestic.
Today was very quiet. Larry had an exam and a class and I was not motivated to go out in the rain and wind, so I stayed in and read Bridges of Madison County from their library. Muy romantico. I've seen the movie, but the books always have more impact. Tomorrow, I MAY try to read it again in spanish.
L&L are very cute together. When Lili has a late class, Larry puts out a candle and a glass of wine on the table in the hall for her. They're pretty smoochie too.
It's raining again. I'm doing laundry. Need to buy some more yogurt. That's my story and I'm sticking with it.
So, perhaps I'll try to read Bridges of Madison County now in spanish. Not sure I have the patience. And there's a very good collection of short stories I found on the shelf.
It was a national holiday
today, Day of the Workers, so we drove out to the countryside, about 50 miles
inland. We went to an estancia (ranch) which provides a package of
entertainment and food etc. for a small price. There were quite a few people
there since it was near a small town. The main dish was asado (beef cooked
beside an open fire). They had entertainment in the form of a goucho band
singing and playing folk songs (I liked this part). A couple did some folk
dancing (It was pretty folky - not to my taste). (right now in the apartment
I'm being serenaded by church bells and a car alarm - It's a bit noisy
After the meal the gouchos did horseback stunts, trying to catch a
little ring with a stick while at full gallop. A couple of other horse
stunts. It was beautiful weather and the sky was very pretty soft blue
with little puffy clouds. At sunset it was a soft pink. L&L were talking )
hypothetically I think) about buying a small ranch. It's quite nice out
there. I could get into that maybe. Argentina's just a bit far from home
I found another art museum on the way back with a showing of an artist named Florentino Sanguinetti. Bold, colorful, striking stuff, mostly with human forms in an abstract context. I'll have to look for it on the web. Today I couldn't look for long though since I was about full up with looking. I seem to have a limited capacity for looking at art. Too many images just muddle the mind. I'd rather spend more time looking at fewer favorites. The guard in the second museum tried to encourage me to go upstairs and see another exhibit. I tried to expain that I had seen a lot and was "full". He volunteered the word "saturado". That explained my feeling exactly - saturated.
So my mind is aswim with the sights of the city. Lots of stylish people. Young women elegantly and imaginatively dressed. I saw one striking chica with a modified goucho look. Soon after was an elegant matron holding her miniature poodle closely so that only the head peeked out. Dog walkers too, holding the leads of mixed assortments of sizes and breeds, all glad to get out of their apartments. The men are handsome with their european look, Italian double- breasted suits, artistic ties. Larry says he knows of men who dress every day in business attire, then go to cafes, plazas, or walk about the city rather than stay home and confront their wives with the fact their jobs are gone. Now when I see these impresive fellows walking, I wonder if they really have a destination; or are they like me... Many stylish shops, but few customers, it would appear.
I don't know how the stores can stay in business. The official unemployment rate is 22% last I heard. Larry says that many middle-class people can't pay their bills since the Peso was allowed to float (and devalued to 1/3 as a consequence). Their debts stayed in US$ but their salary, if they have one, is in Pesos. The good news is that there is little enforcement or recourse by those who are owed money. The utilities will eventually shut off the phone or electricity, but there are a lot of vacancies and back rent is hard to collect.
Today, Graciella (L&L's wonderful cleaning woman), the electrician (here to fix a bad circuit which put the kitchen out of electricity last night), and the building "super" (here to prep the radiators for winter) were all here at once. That was pretty exciting. It's quiet here now, though I hear folks waking up from their naps.
Haven't got the tix for Patagonia yet. They are ready, but they wanted till 5PM to figure out how to give me a partial refund (for the hotel downgrade). They're open late so I'm not worried. I leave Sunday late AM.
OK, I got the tickets. Since I downgraded the hotel, they wanted to charge me for the new total amount, THEN credit me the old larger amount. I refused to do it this backwards way, trying to get them to just credit me the difference. There was a "kerfluffle", steam came out my ears, and eventually the agent said he'd take care of it but it would reduce my refund by 13 Pesos. He went away and I steamed for about 20 minutes it seemed. When he came back he had a cash refund for me. That was the reason for the 13 Peso charge (less than $5 US and not worth agonizing over). Larry says it always takes multiple trips to the agency to get this stuff done.
Not sure what our program is for today. Lili pointed out that they have a Tango channel on their cable TV. I watched while drinking my coffee this AM. Many of the Portenos (the last N should have a tilde but I can't see to do it - these are natives of BA) are passionate about Tango. It reflects their character in some way. They seem serious, artistic (everyone is an artist - you'd love it here), a little wounded, and articulate (at least they do a lot of talking. I just don't know what they're saying). Perhaps it's the classic aquiline noses, the men's slicked-back hair, stylish dress plus my scant knowledge of their history that leaves this impression. The women are a variety of shades but mostly very european, the younger ones slim and elegant. No wonder Larry settled here.
We went out this PM on a shopping trip to get a birthday present for Lili's niece. She's having a party for her 8th tonight and we're all going. Lili looked and looked and decided on a Princess Dress. I thought it would be for costume use, but Lili says it's for play. I bought some flowers to take. The division between the haves and the have-nots is very noticable on the streets in BA. Here's liberal Lili buying a fairly expensive and useless item for an 8 year old, and nearby vendors have their little displays of sox out on the sidewalk, hoping for a sale. I asked Larry if they (L&L) would buy sox off the street and he thought not. On the walk back, Lili surprised us by buying a handful from a sad looking woman. The ten pesos will probably buy her dinner.
Back from the birthday party. There were about 15 8-year olds, mostly girls. They had a couple of hired clown/party-giver women who entertained the kids, which was a good thing so the adults could drink wine, eat empanadas, and talk. I did pretty well with my Castillano, and the other folks tried their sparse English. They are patient and sweet so it works out pretty well. If we get frustrated we call on one of the real bilinguals in the crowd.
There was a little tension since it was at the house of the birthday girl's mother and the separated father (Juan Carlos, Lili's brother) was there too. It used to be his house too. This was their first time together since finalizing the separation, or something like that. The mother and father are both lawyers so maybe they tend to be more tense anyway, but I could sure see it in them. But the guests were all amiable and relaxed. The b'day girl's grandmother made the empanadas and they were the best I've had so far this trip.
The party broke up about 9PM so L&L and I went to Tortoni's. Tortoni's is a classic BA cafe/bistro. It's great for people watching. The waiters look like peole out of an old movie. One looks like he's about dead and ours is just great with his pained look, hair slicked back, mustache, and slightly bent over. We just had one drink each, yawned, and come home.
So I'm off for Ushuia tomorrow at 1:10. I'm supposed to be at the local (domestic) airport at 11AM but that sounds a little early and a long wait. L&L are going to take me. I still don't know if I can get by with one carry-on. I'll put it all in and see if it fits. I don't need any "nice" clothes I think and I'm OK with the shoes I wear.
Iīm back from dinner and more relaxed now. I was a little wired from travelling. The arrival in Ushuaia really was impressive. Iīve had two glasses of quite good chard. at a cafe and my typing may not be up to snuff. Plus itīs a spanish keyboard. They really are different. I have a half day tour tomorrow at 9:30. Then I donīt know what in the PM. The town is like a mountain resort town with a slight chill in the air (not very cold) lots of shops on the main street, and lots of tourists. Most of the tourists are Spanish speaking, but I saw a few Japanese and some English speakers too.
Iīm not used to dining alone in a restaurant. One does need to have something to read. I got a newspaper and did my best with the Spanish. There was an article about a woman arrested for biting a man's tongue badly enough that he needed medical attention. Theyīre pretty tough down here I guess.
The town is situated on the Canal de Beagle (The Beagle was the ship Darwin sailed in in his voyage that inspired him for his theory of evolution. He passed this way and the strait is named after the ship. There is a short mountain range named Darwin, too). It looks as I picture those little port towns in Alaska. Picturesque but funky. The internet cafes however are a hotbed of younger folks typing like crazy; me too.
My little hotel room is going to be pretty quiet tonight. No loud partying downstairs and no daughters stomping in at 5AM. There are three little twin beds; one for each night I suppose.
I didn't sleep well at all last nite due to the noise from the street. So I changed rooms to one in the back. It only has 2 beds instead of 3, but I only have two nites left here.
Even without benefit of much sleep I did have an enjoyable day. My tour started at 9:30 so I had some time on my hands in the AM. The sun doesnīt come up over the mountains until after 9AM. So I walked down to the waterīs edge and took some pretty good pics. Very soft, reddish light, reflections on the calm water, dark snow-dusted mountain masses in the background. Very pretty. When the sun finally did appear, attention turned 180 degrees to the town and the mountains in the background there, now lit up brightly. Good stuff.
Watching the sunrise also were some student travellers, one woman from New
Zealand. She used the expression, Iīm so hungry I could eat a horse and chase
the rider. Iīd never heard the second phrase before.
The tour of Tierra del Fuego Natnl Park was fine. There were 3 others in the
bus, cardiologists from Romania. They all spoke english, so the guide did the
tour in english. The doctors were in BA for a conference and took a 2 day trip
to see the sights here. Articulate and intelligent fellows all. They looked
grumpy to start with but were quite jolly soon after chatting commenced.
Great scenery: lakes, mountains, trees unlike ours.
Many have turned red, orange,
and some yellow. These are the diciduous beeches. And the evergreen beeches
are still green, oddly enough.
I saw Crested Caracaraīs quite close and got a
good pic. Saw a beaver dam, which was new to me.
After the tour ended I went back and had a quick nap. Then I went on a catamaran (covered, large boat) tour into the Canal Beagle. The same cardiologists were there so I hung out with them a bit. Had a burger and beer on board. I enjoyed that, eating and watching great scenery go by. Itīs like being in the dining car of a train, also one of my favorite things. We saw lots of seals, some in the open water, and tons on their favorite rocks. Other birds too.
I heard about their maritime museum. Itīs in a section of their prison museum. Cool huh? Apparently Ushuaia was where Argentina sent their prisoners since itīs a bit off the beaten track. They had ship models but my viewing capacity had been reached. I was saturado, as they say.
Next, dinner I think. Couple of glasses of the same good chard I had yesterday, then to bed, perchance to sleep.
This tour had a total of 4 tourists. One Argentine who now lives in Spain. He had taught psychology and his Phd thesis was about the psychology of coins. We talked some about the changes in Europe brought about by the Euro. His English was rough but very good compared to my Spanish. The others were a youngish 30s couple. He was from Switzerland and she from Spain, now both living in Sao Paolo Brazil. The spoke beautiful English and took it upon themselves to summarize the guide's commentary in English.
The scenery was wonderful of course, but the highlight was a stop at a place where they raise dogs for competitive sledding. Anyone who feels sorry for these dogs hasn't seen how eagerly they want to pull the sled. There was no snow on the ground, so the owner hooked up 7 of them to a wheeled buggy. They all howled and barked, hoping to be chosen for the outing. One was so excited and happy to be chosen and put in harness he literally bounced repeatedly, all four feet, half a meter into the air.
There were about 50 dogs I'd estimate, each with their own name, personality, and little house. They were on chains about 3 or 4 meters long. The owner takes them to N America and to Europe to race. It would be so cool to do mushing I think, except up where this ranch is in the winter it's sometimes -30 C. Too damn cool. The dogs were all friendly and we were encouraged to go among them and visit. The areas were kept very clean, no mess to be seen. They are great dogs, Alaskan huskies all. The owner says they are losing their summer coats now and getting the winter coats. He says that in the winter they feel strong. The pick the lead dog based on intelligence, not for speed or strength as the others, and start training them for that role as puppies. They hook up boy, girl, boy, girl, to avoid competitive nipping and such. He also spoke of breeding them for 'pepper', enthusiasm or spirit I suppose.
He untied the wheeled sled and they all took off like a rocket. He told me that any more dogs on the line and and the sled would be too fast to control. It tried to get a pic of them in motion but they were gone too fast. I missed also as they returned when my camera batteries ran down. (I just paid 2 pesos for 4 AAs, versus 12 pesos I paid 2 days ago. Go figure.) Afterward the dogs were a lot quieter, sitting and looking pleased with themselves. He assured me that was only a very short run for them. He clearly loves his dogs and is doing exactly what he wants.
The tour took us to lakes, mountain views, etc. and back to a place where we were served grilled lamb. This is not a place to be a vegetarian. The lamb was plentiful and tasty. I'm still full and quite thirsty.
They pick me up for the plane trip to Calafate at half past 3 tomorrow, so I
need to plan something. I read about a hike to a local glacier. The hotel man
said, if I understood his Spanish, that I take a minibus that goes and comes
hourly to the trailhead. More photo ops, that's what I need.
My next stop was a photo store since I only had room for a few more pics in the camera. My inquiry was if they had Smartmedia cards for sale, the memory on which my camera stores the pics. They did not, but suggested putting my pictures on a CD, then I could reformat my card and start over. So we did. Another problem solved.
I have to kill time until 3:50 when I get taken to the airport for the flight to Calafate, so my next stop is the cafe Iīve come to like rather a lot. The first night I looked around a lot before I settled on that one. Itīs always crowded and busy, and has a rather classic look with wood panelled booths. I sit at the same table, rather towards the back, but where, peering over my glasses, I can watch people come and go, usually kissing each other on the cheek. The music in the background pleases me there also.
While having lunch at my cafe, I ran into the couple
from the tour yesterday, Swiss man and Spanish woman. They joined me at my
table and we chatted for a couple of hours. When we parted we did the kiss on
the cheek thing; I felt very native. By the way, Ushuaia is not a small town. There are 50,000 or
so people here. My first impression was not correct.
My hotel room here is only 3 stars but very nice. Not in the middle of town though, so I had to walk a few blocks to get here. Iīve ordered a box lunch for tomorrow, since itīs a full day trip.
Saw Upsala glacier and several other glaciers. Rather a lonely day though, since all others on the tour spoke Spanish and I felt a bit of the odd man out. A few spoke some English so I visited some, but it was a large group, on the boat most of the time, and it seemed less congenial. But the scenery was amazing. The boat set out into Lake Argentina, a huge lake. After a bit I saw strange objects in the distance. They were an unnatural, fourescent, sno-cone blue. It turned out they were icebergs. We got closer and they were huge.
They day was overcast most of the time, and as a result we were told they are even bluer. We viewed Upsala glacier from the boat, getting not too close, but it was very cold out on deck and it was hard to stay out for long. Then we motored into another arm of the lake and docked. A muddy 20 minute walk through woods brought us to another lake, into which several glaciers enter. We could see 4 at least.
People picked up floating ice and posed with it, took
tons of pictures - it was a jolly scene. I went back to the dock where there
was a restaurant. I got a bowl of great split pea and ham soup, and a glass of
nice vino tinto, and enjoyed that part immensely. It was a long trip, taking
from 7:30 AM to 6:30 PM.
Today it was only 7 of us in the little bus and it was very congenial. There were 2 Brazilians who didnīt speak much Spanish so I wasnīt the only one. And the guide graciously summarized stuff into English for me.
The Perito Moreno glacier is spectacular. I took a ton of pics and I expect Iīll get some good ones. All the way back I visited with a man who wanted to practice his English and urged me to speak only in Spanish. It was good practice for me and for him. We swapped business cards. Turns out he is a medical doctor and the guy behind him was an accountant, fairly educated folks doing the travelling for the most part.
The glacier is immense. At first we took a boat to the left flank getting fairly close. It was awfully cold, I was hungry, and there was no bathroom so this wasnīt the best part. Then we went to the nearby restaurant and I was restored. Very pleasant lunch, though nothing special on the menu. Some English was spoken though, mostly by the woman from Brazil. Then we went to what they call the balconies. These are a series of walkways and platforms for viewing the glacier from fairly close. The immensity of these things is unbelievable; a massive river of ice 150 feet tall and half a mile wide. It is frequently making banging, popping and crashing sounds. Sometimes you canīt see anything to account for it. And sometimes you can see a small chunk of ice fall off and into the flowing water below. We were lucky though because all of a sudden a very large ice structure the size of a small house rose up from under the water at the lip of the glacier. It must have been part of the underwater ice, and chose us to view itīs separation from the main body. It was smooth and much darker blue than most of the other icebergs. We all stood around and grinned at each other; no language was necessary.
This glacier is unique that it is flowing across a river and toward land. So occasionally (every 5 years for some period in the past), the river is totally blocked by the ice and the water level rises about 100 feet. The water remains high for about 3 years then due to increasing pressure and erosion of the ice, the ice dam breaks, and the water gushes into the main body of the lake. There is a 100 foot strip of bare land next to the water where all trees have been drowned. It odd and quite amazing.
I must confess Iīm ready to come home though. Iīve seen enough, and Iīm going now to get some dinner, a glass of vino tinto, and then to my quiet little room and to bed.
Just now we looked at my photos. For the ones still in the camera, we looked at them on the TV. FOr the ones on CD, we used Larry's computer. There are some good ones I think. I'll try to weed them out so it's not too tedious.
Lili's daughter Maria moves tomorrow to a new apartment in town which she's bought. So I'm not sure what's on the agenda for us. Probably laundry for me at least. Then Monday I'm heading home. Yes!
Then we had a ride on a boat down the river and back again for about an hour. It was great fun. I really do enjoy everything about boats. We stood in the front drinking our beers, watching the docks, shuttle launches, private boats, and rowing club people go by. Our boat was a large, 100 passenger, steel hulled catamaran; comfortable and manuverable, but not very sexy. The shuttle launches however are classic mahogany-planked narrow launches with big throaty engines. Their sport is to speed up when they see people in the front of the catamaran so they generate a large wake. The first time this happened some kids at the front sides got doused, so I was a little wary. The second time the wake was bigger than I thought and my pants got a little splashed. The third time I saw it coming and stepped back. Bad move. I got a shot of water right on the head and face. So I've got bad hair until tomorrow.