Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Saturday, 10 March, Alta Gracia

It will be difficult to write about this day because so much happened. Monica took us to her hometown of Alta Gracia, 30 km from Córdoba. We first went to a shop that makes traditional Andean ponchos--Tadar. I was not planning on buying one, but they are soooo Argentine. And I though of being back home in the fall around the campfire with my friends, and the next thing I know, I bought one.

We next went to La Iglesia Nuestra Sra. de la Merced. This is next to the National Historical Museum of the Viceroy Liniers. It is a 17th century Jesuit residence. This is where we were in for a real surprise. Monica's husband, Eduardo, was born in this house. His family was the last to own it before it became a National Museum. Monica showed us through, telling us things that only an insider would know. She showed us where Eduardo's room was and the private room above and beside the church altar where the family would attend mass. Eduardo's mother insisted the children attend mass, but Eduardo fondly recalls playing cards in that room rather than paying attention to the service.

We then visited Monica's mother. At 84, she is the widow of a respected physician. Monica showed us this house that is the only other house she has lived in aside from the one where she now lives and raised her family.

From there we went to Eduardo's campo--his weekend getaway in the country. It is a 200 acre farm where he keeps his horses. His friends stop by for some male bonding. Eduardo prepared an asado for us and we ate with the guys, visited the horses, and walked around in the tranquil setting. They even bought Diet Coke (Coke Light) for Helen because they know she prefers that.

We next went to Museo de Manuel de Falla. De Falla was a famous 20th century Spanish composer and friend of Claude DeBussey. De Falla suffered from TB and sought the dry climate of Alta Gracia where he spent his final years. Monica's father told her of the time when he was asked to make a house call on the ailling de Falla. One thing I will remember is that DeBussey told De Falla that if De Falla wanted to be a serious composer, he must never write for the guitar. Years later, after DeBussey's death, De Falla wrote a piece in homage of DeBussey--he wrote it for guitar.

From there, we went to visit the boyhood home of Ernesto "Che" Guevara. The Guavara family came to Alta Gracia in 1932. Like De Falla, they were looking for a better climate to raise young Ernesto who suffered from asthma. Che is mythologised in Argentina. He is now more legend than man, it seems. Still, it was quite something to visit the home of a man who changed so much of modern political and cultural history.

After coffee overlooking the 18th hole of the Alta Gracia Golf Club, we stopped to buy some chickens for Sunday asado. Monica pointed across the street and told us that the building is her Uncle's funeral home. It is still in the family and his daughter runs it now. "Do you want to go see?" She asked--who could pass that up? We were welcomed by Monica's cousin who showed us around and explained that it is customary for the family to receive mourners for 24 hours. In past times, this was partly to make sure the person was really dead and it is now just a matter of custom. Bodies are not embalmed and no "theatrical" makeup is applied. In the back yard, where they once kept the the horses that pulled the wagon carrying the coffin, there is now a swimming pool and parilla. I have GOT to build one of these when I get home.

We returned to Monica's house where she began to teach Helen how to make empanadas--a traditional Argentine pastry with meat filling.

This was the best day we have had in our ten weeks in Argentina.

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