Thursday, March 29, 2007

Now you see it, Now you don't (Ken)

Finishing up the backlog here--got behind while Charlie was in town.

A while back, El Presidente Jorge W Bush, was in the neighborhood and -- well let's just say Argentina and the Kirchners were not in his travel plans. His Latin-America-thorn-in-the-side, Hugo Chavez, shadowed Bush throughout the region holding protest rallies. These were only moderately-attended affairs and, I reluctantly have to say Bush may have left the region scoring more points than were scored against him. Evidence of this is the grafitti that appeared near my apartment was removed within 48 hours of its appearance. Other grafitti on other topics remains all over the city, but the anti-Bush stuff, it was scrubbed clean. In Recoleta, anyway, Now-you-see-it-now-you-don't.

Vonage is in a bit of bind and that is making many expats nervous who rely on this service to transact business in the USA while living in Buenos Aires. Vonage allows them to have a USA local phone number that rings right here in Buenos Aires. It is local call for their customer, and the customer is none-the-wiser that he is doing business with someone in Argentina--or the rest of the world for that matter. However, all that may be coming to an end as a federal judge issued an order for the company to cease this service under patent infringement law. Vonage stock dropped. After having a 52 week high of 0ver $17 it fell to under $3 on the news. It's not looking good for all those expat Vonage users. Now-you-see-it-now-you-don't.

Finally, my lifeline to the English-speaking world was severed this week when my cable provider unceremoniously deleted from its lineup CNN International and BBC World News--my only two English language TV news sources. All I have left now is the Internet and the Buenos Aires Herald. It's not the same.
Where I am I going get my up-to-the-minute Cricket scores now?


Damn, now I'll never find out what happens to Anna Nicole's baby !

Colonia, Uruguay (Ken)

Today, Helen and I had an expat rite-of-passage. We went to Colonia, Uruguay to renew our tourist visas for another 90 days. When you enter Argentina on a USA passport, you are automatically granted a 90-day tourist visa. Since we are here much longer than that, the most expedient way of extending the stay is to exit and re-enter the country. It is rumored that thousands of expats have lived in Argentina for a decade or more on nothing but a passport and a series of every-three-month visits to Colonia.

Originally named Colonia del Sacramento it is a city in southwestern Uruguay, by the Río de la Plata, facing Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is the oldest town in the country and capital of the departamento of Colonia. It has a population of 21,714 most of whom are involved in, benefit from, or are employed by the tourist trade.

It was founded in 1680 by the Portuguese, Colonia del Sacramento. This is still evident in the architecture of the town and its culture. The Portuguese claim was later disputed by the Spanish who settled on the opposite bank of the river at Buenos Aires. The colony kept changing hands under treaties like the Treaty of Madrid in 1750 and the Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1777, until it settled, for a time, with the Spanish. Then back to Portuguese control again, and later to the Brazilians.

Today the original part of Colonia still keeps the odd, terrain-fitting street plan in the oldest part, built by the Portuguese, contrasting with the wider orthogonal calles in the Spanish area. Between “traveling” streets are “drainage” streets were it is difficult to walk, but the protruding stones slow the drainage water from above as it makes its way to the river below. It is a walled city and the original gate and part of the fortress remain.

We took the Buquebus from Puerto Madero at 9:45 and arrived in Colonia in about an hour. The experience was interesting to say the least. In Buenos Aires, we got our tickets and headed to immigration. There, we waited in line a short time before being summoned to a desk with two people. We gave our tickets and passport to a young woman, whom we later determined was the Argentina immigration official who processed our exit from Argentina. As this was day 90 of our 90 day visa, there were no problems—thankfully. Once she stamped our passports as leaving Argentina, she handed them to the man seated next to her who examined them and stamped them indicating we had entered Uruguay. We them went through the x-ray and metal detector, and boarded the ferry.

It was a rainy, windy day in Southern South America, and the Rio de la Plata was choppy. It was a bumpy ride on this high speed ferry and Helen was all-too-happy to be on (relatively) dry land again.

We rented a golf cart and tooled around in the rain and drizzle for the better part of three hours. We returned to the ferry for our voyage back to Argentina, and the process was reversed. We checked in (and paid our port tax of $10 to leave) and headed back to immigration. The Uruguayan official processed us out of Uruguay and handed our passports over to the Argentine official who granted us an additional 90-day tourist visa.

That’s it. We walked on the ferry.

The ride back, with the wind at our stern, was fine. We exited the ferry expecting to clear customs again, but, because we had no checked baggage, we walked right out on to the street.

At first, I was a bit surprised, and then I was delighted that there are still places in the world where the people don’t see Al Quida lurking around every corner.

So, Helen and I have experienced an expat rite-of-passage: our first (and apparently last) out-and-in visa renewal.

Goodbye Charlie (Ken)

Our good friend Charlie has come and gone. His visit was like a letter from home. He is the first familiar face—the first familiar tangible thing—we have had since we got here. We enjoyed every minute of his time here. Not only that--he brought us supplies and care packages.

His first day, I walked him all around town until his feet were literally blistered. We went to the Cemetery and all aver Recoleta ending up at Shoeless Joe’s for some Quilmes (Which I am sure is now his FAVORITE beer). That night was dinner at one of our neighborhood restaurants.

The next day we headed out for more adventure around town. Helen took him to the Artesian fair at Recoleta and that night we went to Dana and Gabriel’s home for an Argentine asado. We had a lovely evening visiting with a family that lives and works in Buenos Aires. It could not have been more perfect—not just for Charlie, but for Helen and me too.

Sunday, I took him to San Telmo for the street fair and made him walk back to Recoleta on his blistered feet—it was then he asked for band-aids and I found out his feet were really blistered.

Monday, we went to the horse races at Hipodromo de Palermo and another dinner out.

Tuesday, I took him guitar shopping at Talcahuano y Saramento. Then around town for a thrilling colectivo ride home. That night, we ate some regional food at La Querencia—Helen and I like to call it “Argentine comfort food.” It is the kind of stuff that you’d want to eat if you were feeling overworked and under appreciated. It would remind you of your mom and your grandmother, and everything would seem OK again.

Wednesday, he went back to the guitar store and bought his Argentine guitar. We made it back just in time for his remise and we had to say goodbye to our emissary from home.

I called him tonight to see if the trip went well. It did. He was in the grocery store bagging his American food and said, “I can’t tell you how great it feels to have people speaking English to me.”

Anyway, we were happy to have him; his visit was too short. It did, however, let us know how far we have come. And, it gave us a chance to show off—if just a little.

What did I miss Charlie? Fill us in.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Winning Hearts and Minds (by Chas)

Tonight, we have a guest appearance . . .

Now that the Great World Peas Summit of 2007 appears to be drawing to a close, I think it might be safe for me to tiptoe onto the scene to offer some of my embryonic impressions of Buenos Aires. I’ll try to be brief, but I will almost certainly fail.

Let me start off by saying that linguistically, my situation is in no way similar to Ken’s and Helen’s, in that they’ve have really had to penetrate this language barrier as a matter of survival. With the exception of my very first hour in country, all my encounters with the locals have been with the safety net of Ken or Helen by my side to bail me out of the inevitable jam that ensues when you can croak out some semi-intelligible noises in a foreign language, but literally lack the capacity to comprehend even one single word of the response. The Plan for my arrival, painstakingly arranged in advance by Ken, was that when I emerged from Customs, Ernesto, the remis driver, would be standing there holding a sign with my name on it. Well, apparently, checking for last-minute flight time changes is not part of the service, so when my plane landed an hour late, Ernesto had already been standing around for an hour, wondering where this inept traveler could be. By the time I got there – and I’m absolutely sure I was standing in the right place – there was no one holding a sign of any kind. Ok, time to go hire a remis on my own. When I confidently announced my intentions, in what I considered to be Spanish, the girl in the booth somehow surmised that my native language was English. To her credit, she answered me in Spanish anyway, which quickly proved futile. She switched effortlessly to English, and things went much better. Ultimately, I ended up having to pay both my driver AND Ernesto (the next day), because his service insists that he was there at the appointed time, and that he waited 90 minutes. (I have reason to believe he really was there, but if he and I were in the same place for thirty minutes, why, why, WHY didn’t I see him? Never mind, it’s only money.) I had just had my first taste of what Ken and Helen have been enduring every day of their lives for the past 10 weeks. My hat is off to these two – they’re now having relaxed conversations with waitresses and store clerks in a language that sounds way different in life than it did in my textbook back in 1971. Don’t get me wrong – I’m sure they’re saying “Please to permitting for we taking thirteen coffee please,” but they’re getting the job done, and I’m certainly not. I’ve been here four days, and I still can’t understand a word. Ken says it takes two weeks to get the ears attuned to the sound, so I better keep them close by at all times.

My Kerrs have some mad survival skills. In the two months they’ve been here, they’ve assembled a social network. Last night we had dinner at the home of Dana and Gabriel, and it was just the most delightful time. They’re both from here, but they speak English almost without an accent, as do their kids, and they seem to know more about the subtleties of life and politics in the US than most Americans I know. Much food, much wine, and much laughter – what more can a guy ask for? Ken has, I think, already expressed his desire to blend in, and not stomp around the city with his American flag flying, but I’m glad if people know that these warm and engaging Kerrs are Americans. I think we could use the positive representation. Looks to me like they’re busy spreading smiles and goodwill throughout the neighborhood.

Another impressive accomplishment of these two is that they seem to have figured out this fairly complicated bus system. (The buses, by the way, roar by at about 9000 decibels. I’ve never heard such a cacophony in my life.)

The apartment is small, but very nice. I have a room to myself, and it has one-and-a-half baths, so we’re never crashing into each other during our morning routines. And by the way, if all the above is not impressive enough for you, let me just say that they immediately figured out what the bidet is used for.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Dragon de Oro, un Restaurante Chino en Buenos Aires(Ken)

Our friend, Charlie, those of you who follow the comments on this blog know him and love him as “Chas,” is visiting. The other night, a group from my class at UBA got together for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Yi Le, from Shanghi, organized the evening and got us a big table in the back. She did all the ordering so that we could have as authentic a Chinese dining experience as possible in Buenos Aires.

Charlie had just arrived that morning, so he was having a bit of a surreal experience—he was in Buenos Aires, at a Chinese restaurant, with people from six different countries, and the only common language was Spanish.

As if that was not surreal enough for him, while we were there, a Chinese wedding reception took place in the room where we had our table. We stayed around to watch. Guests began to arrive and a Hostess/Karaoke singer served as emcee.

The groom stood at the door of the restaurant with a silver tray of single cigarettes each decorated with a red band around the filter. Reception tables had nuts and candies and fruit juice. The happy couple arrived to firecrackers, music, and applause. Then the food started to come out—lots and lots of food.

Then the traditional rituals took place. As the bride and groom stood next to the hostess, she instructed the groom to put his face in a bowl of powdered sugar to retrieve individually wrapped candies that he then had to transfer mouth-to-mouth to his bride. Then they had two red balloons placed between them and they had hug until both balloons popped.

There was a tower of wine glasses that were filled by the couple with cascading Argentine Malbec wine before the room toasted the couple. They then went from table to table with a tray of candy giving a piece to each guest and clinking glasses in a toast with each person at the table before moving to the next table.

It was a fun evening. Charlie had a unique first night in Buenos Aires and we got so visit with our friends from UBA.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

In search of world peas (Ken)

In the USA, we eat a lot of green beans and broccoli. Those are almost unseen here. When we do see them--in the almacen or vegetable stand--the green beans and broccoli don't look very good.
In the USA, we also have a variety of canned vegetables of assorted types and a mutiplicity of manufacturers. Here, there seems to be only canned peas. Shelf after shelf of canned peas.
In most of the restaurants, the accompaniment is usually puréed potatoes or squash. Here they tend to prefer starchy vegetables.
When you ask for a salad, you have to specify which ingredients you want in your salad: lettuce, carrots, celery, onions, eggs (they are big on the eggs here). As for salad dressing, it is oil, vinegar, lemon. You will not get the choice of thousand island, bleu cheese, or French. You can find them in the grocery store in the imported foods section. And they are fairly expensive at $7-12.
The best food deal in town is lunch where you can find the menu ejecutivo. This comes with a appetizer, drink, entre, and desert or coffee--all for about $20. Sometimes, there are a few selections; other times, it is menu del dia--you get what they made. It is consistently good, and I can almost never finish all of it. The portions here are not America-huge, but the food is more substantial.
And once I got used to the restaurant culture--if you want the waiter's attention, ask for it--I now find the restaurants and cafés to be a relaxed and unhurried experience.
But, in Argentina, if you are cooking at home and looking for a quick and easy vegetable side dish--think peas.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Las propinas--tipping in Argentina (Ken)

USAmericans tip. It is part of our culture. Both of my daughters work in the restaurant business. Helen and I have both been waiters. As recently as ten years ago at age 40, I was a waiter in Ocean City, Maryland for a summer making money so my younger daughter could go to a private school that year. I understand North American tipping well. Maybe that is why I have trouble with it here in Buenos Aires.

I belong to a Yahoo discussion group, BAnewcomers. The topic of tipping has been thrashed about this week, and it got me thinking on the topic again. Here is some of what was said:
Tania Lee wrote:
“I just asked my Argentine work mates and they all agreed that 10% was normal - as long as the service was good, if the service is bad they don't leave anything and if it was not good but not terrible they would leave less than 10%. Apparently Argentines never leave more than 10%.”

“Rshpuntoff” wrote:
“Let me give you the rules again. Note these are the rules of thumb for how Argentines tip: spare change in a café, 10% in a real restaurant, and nothing for taxis though if you want to round up so the driver doesn't have to give you change it is considered very ‘amable’ of you.”

He continued later:

“Enough of the guessing!“10% is considered a STANDARD tip here in restaurants. Anything above 10% is considered either generous or a courtesy because you appreciated the service.“In cafes it is normal to leave "some change." 25 centavos is fine and 50 centavos is nice. If you feel you made the waiter / waitress work a lot you can always go crazy and leave a peso. If you don't leave anything it isn't necessarily that big a deal.“Yes, some Argentines leave less than the standard ... they are considered cheap. I know. I married one.”

I went out for a long walk today to think about it. After two hours of walking and thinking, I went into my favorite watering hole for some almuerzo. I now have enough language skills, so I did my own informal surveys with the mozas. Marina and Mercedes were not too busy and they were wiping down some trays nearby. Pedí, “Tengo una pregunta. Por favor, explicar las propinas a mí.” I got a one word answer: “Malo.”

They went on to tell me that the Spanish, French and Brazilians are really bad tippers. The North Americans, according to them, are the most consistent. For the most part, North Americans have caught on the 10% rate, according to the girls, but larger tables sometimes tip more. Argentinos are poor tippers.
I went home and Helen wanted to go across the street to the café. I met her there and, once they were not busy, I asked Leo, Marisa, and Romina about tipping. “Los Argentinos, son propinosos?” Leo shook his finger; again, a one word answer, “No.” He then said, “Solo extranjeros” [Only foreigners]. He went on to explain that up to about $10, the North Americans may just leave some change, but above that, they consistently leave 10%. Argentinos, if they leave anything at all, just leave the small coins, not the peso coins.
Anyway, back to the discussion board.

Rshpuntoff closed with: “Argentina is a nation of immigrants so you are now officially Argentine. The question is, Are you going to be a cheap Argentine like my wife or a tipping Argentine like me?

Finally, Darin Hall probably put it best: “If you are American, remember that being generous is the only positive stereotype that we have, so let's try to reinforce it.”

I don’t know. The United States is now a service economy. We understand service. We have to—it’s all we have. We don’t make anything anymore; we just sell things to each other. Obviously, I am bringing my USAmerican values to this situation. Maybe I should. Maybe I should not.

I am just trying to understand.
My panel of experts
Top: Mercedes y Marian at El Alamo
Middle: Marisa, Romina, y Leo at Balcarce
Bottom: Melisa at Balcarce

Sunday, March 18, 2007

El Dia de San Patricio (Ken)

Unlike USA cities and towns, St. Patrick’s Day is not such a big deal here. Helen and I have been in New York for the past three years on this day. In NYC, people are well into their pints before noon. Here, the only sign of afternoon revelers was this group of North American tourists I passed in Barrio Norte.

That evening, wearing my green shirt and festive pin, I headed out with Helen for another round of beer tasting with fellow expat blogger, Alan. We were joined by his Porteño friend, Augustine who picked us all up in his car. It is one of the few times I have been in a private car in Buenos Aires—it is always an adventure. We arrived at Antares in Palermo Viejo and met fellow blogger, Yanqui Mike and his beautiful Argentine wife. Mike has a popular blog that I have been reading for over a year. He was even mentioned in an article in Clarín about bloggers last month. It was nice to meet him get some more perspective on Argentina.

Alan and I were there to kill two birds with one stone—or kill two mosquitoes with one slap as the Argentine saying goes—to celebrate El Dia de San Patricio and review another sampler of beers from another of Buenos Aires’ brew pubs. (I’ll let Alan post the review this time on his blog.) We made our list of over-the-top tasting notes and even had Augustine along for Porteño perspective. His comments were . . .unique, like, “It smells like toes.”

Antares had some bagpipers. The crowd was amused and applauded after each tune. An Argentine song got the biggest applause and quite a bit of singing along. After they marched out, an Irish band started up. Augustine was enjoying himself—he went to an Irish school and this was very nostalgic for him.

Helen and I headed home, and I went back out to Shoeless Joe’s to see what was happening there. It was crowded and young. I went upstairs where it was a bit quieter. I took the long walk home to see what was happening. Not much green, not many silly hats, but people were out. I could still have gotten a table for dinner at 1:30.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Signs of the Times (Ken)

It is nice to know that in Palermo Viejo, alcohol and religion do not mix.

Music here is tough to get a grip on. There is Rock National, and many Columbian singers: Juanez, Shakira. But these young guitar players are all about the Beatles. Creedence is a big hit with colectivo drivers, and Roger Waters sells out--even at $240 pesos a ticket.

Move over Colonel Sanders. When Porteños think Kentucky--they think pizza!!

This type of grafitti appeared in Buenos Aires when we returned from Córdoba. Bush was in Uruguay and Chavez was holding anti-Bush Rallies here and other in Latin American countries.

There was an interesting editorial in the Buenos Aires Herald the other day that attempted to explain why Chavez--a third world wannabe dictator--is seen as a viable adversary to the leader of the only remaining world superpower.

Crack, it's not just for Norteamericanos anymore. There is a big concern over Crack here. I read an article in La Nacion this week about the problem.

I saw this poem on a wall near my apartment

The noise of the city seems to insult of the ears,
and what quality of life is there for a man
when he is not able to listen to the call of his desire,
or hear the night time conversations of the frogs in the lagoon?

(I feel your pain, my brother. This is one noisey city!)

You guys tell me. Could this poster make on the streets of your North American hometown?

There is a lot to like about the spirit of these people. They have something here that we in the USA have lost, or forgotten, or neglected, or given away, or have had taken from us. I hope that they do not lose it.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

UBA: Ah... the waste (by Helen)

In BA is the University of Buenos Aires. This Univeristy is absolutely free. That implies the commitment to Argentina's most valuable resource - human capital - is actively present. If somebody wants to become a doctor, teacher, lawyer, accountant, philospher, or architect, they can go to the Univeristy of Buenos Aires (UBA) and learn how to do just that.

The medical school (which is what I am interested in) has a wonderful reputation, respected world wide as well as a source of true pride by the Argentinians. I could spend the rest of this blog expressing admiration for this system. But, instead I am going to lament the shameful way that the University is neglected.

When Ken and I went to register for language classes, we had to go to the Centro Universitario de Idiomas at 25 de Mayo in el Centro, the Language Center for the University. This building was a spectacular marbled building with gorgeous floors with intricate mosaics of marble, winding staircases with intricate banisters, high ceilings, columns & anything else you can imagine that may have been built with pride in the days of the past. The problem is that the place is shamefully neglected. First of all, it is filthly. The beautiful floors of mosaic marble haven't seen a floor cleaner in I-don't-know-how-long. The bathrooms were disgusting - no supplies, no soap, no toilet paper, it was like a latreen. The furniture is ancient, & there is no computerized account of the enrollment. This is a dirty, neglected, pen & pencil affair. And yet, the staff is dedicated, proud, capable, and amazingly productive. The salaries are minimal, and the working enviorment dismal, yet this Univerisity produces an educated people that can compete world wide in its capability and productivity. There are no updates such as air conditioning.

On Avenida Las Heras, there is another huge monstrosity of a building, 3 blocks from us, that looks like an old church from the 1600's which is falling apart, and yet I found out that this building is actually UBA offices.

The medical staff that is a product of UBA has world-recognized ability, yet has to strike to bring their salaries to a livable wage--$2400 pesos for the average health care worker (about US$800 per month). The retail pharmacists make less than bus drivers (correct me if I am wrong) and nurses do not even have credentialed initals (like RN or LPN) after their names. In other words, no professional recognition.

The dicotomy of pride and neglect is striking. It is sad. It should be a source of public outrage. If this neglect for higher education were going on in the US, there would most certainly be groups of alumna, professors, congressman, and parents of students, making all kinds of fuss and demanding public, as well as private, intervention to clean up the UBA facilities, increase salaries, and restore the grandeur of these spectacular buildings.

I would be very interested to hear from our Argentinian readers regarding this issue. Do you see it differently than I do? I'd really like to understand.

Curiosity and Customer Service (Ken)

Back home, (that is home, Frederick, Maryland) I am a curious guy. I can usually get to the bottom of things and get the inside information. I am pretty good at knowing whom to ask and what to ask. I usually get my curiosity satisfied. Here, in Argentina, that side of my personality is . . .well . . . impotent. I see something here that I don’t understand, and I don’t know how to ask what it is, does, means. I usually just walk away. It has taught me something, I am just not sure what.

Those Internet cards they sell on the street, why sometimes the orange juice is in a really big glass and sometimes in a really small one, yet the charge me the same; and those executive lunches . . .what are they all about?

So I went for a walk. I have been looking for a book about how to make a parilla—or churrasqueiro. I went to a bookstore and looked around. I didn’t find that, but I saw two books on Argentina and Buenos Aires with nice pictures. I thought they would be good things to take home to show people in the USA about the places we have been and the things we have seen.

I went to the counter and stood behind the woman who was buying her books. When she finished, I stepped up. The salesman began counting his cash drawer.
I waited.
He counted
I waited some more.
He counted some more.
I waited.
He ignored me.
I waited.
He finished.
I put my books on the counter.
He walked away and took the stairs to the upper level.
I took myself out of the store.

I just don’t understand the apparent lack of customer service here. For the most part, they just don’t seem to understand that it is what gets people to return. And, it seems to me, that the more upscale the store, the worse it is. When I walk into a clothes store in Once, the salesman is right there the moment I enter. On Avenida Florida, if I stop to look in a window, someone is right out so see if I need help. But here, he never even acknowledged my presence.

Anyway, back to my original point. After a longer walk down Santa Fe, I crossed 9 de Julio and realized that I had hardly eaten anything since leaving Monica’s house and her cooking. At the corner of Santa Fe and Carlos Peligrini, I saw a café that had an executive lunch—Café Plaza. So I asked for a table for one and ordered it right up.

For AR$20 I got a milanese de pollo Florentina con papas fritas and a glass of wine. It was really good and the waiter was attentive and pleasant. This lack of customer service is inconsistent, yet evident. I don’t know if I will ever figure it out—if my curiosity about this will ever be satisfied.

The books? I found them at a newsstand and bought them from a nice man who was interested in making a sale.

Oh, and it rained again today--really hard. Helen and I got stuck in it. She had an umbrella, but I insisted that the weather report had no mention of rain. It rained so hard, the storm drains were giving water back. And water was high enough to run under the doors of shops.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Blog backlog: The trip to Córdoba (Ken)

We returned to Buenos Aires this evening after a 12 hour bus trip home from Córdoba.
We wanted to travel home by day so we could see what Argentina looks like--the 700km from Córdoba to Buenos Aires anyway.
We were surprised by how much it looks like North America. At one point, I told Helen that if I had been drugged, and put on a plane, and woke up here, I would have thought I was on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
We saw miles and miles of fertile agricultural land. There is a bit more poverty here than in the USA--visible poverty anyway. But this is a beautiful country.
We were in Córdoba visiting Monica and her family. Monica is a friend of Carol, the president of the college where I teach in Maryland. As high school students, they were exchange students. Monica stayed with Carol's family in New York State, and Carol stayed in Córdoba. They have kept in touch all these years.

When my sabbatical was approved and Carol told me about her Argentine sister, I asked Carol to put me in touch with Monica. We exchanged emails and Monica invited Helen and me to visit and stay in her home.

Monica is a clinical psychologist and the mother of three sons and the grandmother of one. Her husband, Eduardo, is a lawyer. He is a strong and intelligent man with a love of horses and the outdoors. His law practice specializes in issues of "el campo."

It was a wonderful trip that has, so far, been the highlight of our time here. I kept a paper blog while we were there and have posted them below.

Sunday, 11 March, Córdoba (Ken)

In Argentina, Sunday is traditionally a family day.

We had some breakfast and walked around the corner to the almacen to buy some bread and charcoal (they call it carbon) for the asado. Eduardo then showed me how to use the parilla to make an asado. We had chicken because Helen happened to mention in conversation that she liked chicken. Eduardo has a neat way of butterflying the whole chicken and placing it on the parilla in one piece.

He showed me the proper way to start the fire and how the cooking begins with coals placed around the perimeter. A batch of hot coals is kept ready nearby to regulate the heat. This is slow cooking. The boys--Eduardo, Nicolás, and Ignacio, came over with Ignacio's wife, Laura, and their one-year-old son, Valentine. A s the first grandchild, Valentine was the center of atttention for the better part of the day. Edu's girlfriend, Cecilia, also came. Her family owns the paraderia where we bought bread our first day here in Córdoba.

Monica and Helen finished making the empanadas they had begun the night before while Eduardo and I sipped some Malbec. He was very kind to me as he talked to me about things he thought I would be interested in. Eduardo does not speak any English, so he was careful to use simple words and concepts so I could understand the stories. I enjoyed it very much.

We had a great meal with the whole family and then we all played guitars together. Ignacio is a very good bass player who studied music in Buenos Aires and played with a popular group for a while before returning home to start his family. Nicolás and Eduardo are also good players, and we sang songs and drank mate for hours. It was really fun to sit and play with some good musicians. I have not had a chance to do that since I got here. (These Argentino boys are all about the Beatles!)

We all went into town to the Paseo de Artisans where artists and craftspeople show and sell. I bought a handmade asado knife to use with the parilla I am going to build when I return to the USA. Monica got us each a little gift to remember Córdoba. Then we said goodbye to the boys and their wives and friends and returned to the house. Monica, Eduardo, Helen, and I sat around the table, ate leftover chicken and empanadas, and talked about Argentina.

I will be melencholy about leaving tomorrow. These are lovely people who have made us feel very welcomed. Spending time like this, with an Argentine family, is something I had hoped for as I planned this 6-month trip.

This visit to Córdoba was everything I had hoped for--and more.

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.