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Showing posts from May, 2008

You Know You're Living in Buenos Aires When...

Everybody knows Buenos Aires is a late-night party city, that beef is plentiful, and that everything is cheap. Any fool with a Lonely Planet guidebook can figure that out. But there may be a few things you don't know about this city. So, here's a quick checklist of some things you might find if you stay here longer than a week or two.

You know you're living in Buenos Aires when...

...you eat for breakfast some food that is at least 75% sugar and could just as easily be served as a desert. This could be anything such as dulce de leche (caramel), an alfajor (a little dulce de leche cookie), or a glazed media-luna (croissant) which more resembles a doughnut in its consistency.

...you face the imminent threat of electrocution whenever you plug in an electrical appliance, assuming you even have the correct adapter. It is a leap of faith. Sometimes you hear a sizzle, sometimes it's a little blue bolt and a "pop" sound, but there is usually some kind of report to let y…

Norton Clasico 2005

Alright, I'm finished with beer...for now. I just realized the idiocy of being one of the world's great wine producing countries and drinking beer all the time. No, it is time for a fundamental shift back toward the fruit of the vine...

Rather than completely shock you and start writing about expensive wine, however, I've chosen this $9 peso (>$3 U.S.) bottle from Bodega Norton, one of the upper-tier Argentine bodegas. Like I always say, the true measure of a bodega is not the way their top quality wine tastes, but rather how their bottom shelf stuff tastes. Actually, that's the first time I've ever said that, but I like the sound of it.

Anyway, the name of this particular Norton wine is "Clasico" and it is referred to simply as vino tinto, or red wine. That basically means (as near as I can tell) that there is not enough of any one grape in it, like Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, to classify it as such. It doesn't even classify as a blend, or a bi-vari…

What's With This Big Brown Business??

News from the U.S. doesn't reach me easily or often. Yes, I understand there is literally no excuse for that, given things like the "newspapers" and "the Internet," but still, it's surprising how easy it is to avoid all that business when you really try.

None the less, I've been hearing a lot about this horse called Big Brown, probably because he won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes this month and could be first Triple Crown Winner in 30 years. Well, I did about five minutes of research on him; watched replays of the races on ESPN.com.

I was impressed with both races, but there is no way I'm buying into the whole, "This is the One" hype. It's just a roller-coaster I don't feel like riding right now. In my recent past as a Triple Crown vulture, I've ridden that roller-coaster with War Emblem, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, even got my heart broken by Barbaro like so many others. Every time there was a Triple Crown at stake, …

Quilmes and Me: A Love-Hate Relationship....or, A Brief Primer on Argentine Beer

There is basically only one mass-produced beer in Argentina; it is called Quilmes (Say: KEEL-mess). In a way, it is like the Argentine version of Budweiser, except Quilmes is practically the only beer available anywhere here. Whereas in the U.S. most restaurants and bars with serve Budweiser, they will probably also serve at least a few other beers. Not so in Argentina, or at least in Buenos Aires.

Here when you go into a restaurant or café the drinks menu says merely cerveza litro and cerveza chopp (meaning a liter, and small draft). And when all the menu says is "cerveza," it is taken for granted they are referring to Quilmes. On average, most places might serve one other beer, such as Stella Artois, but it will be much more expensive. A liter of Quilmes will run you around $9 peso, whereas the same of Stella or another import will be around $15 peso.

So from whence comes the title of this piece? Well, I'm not a big fan of Quilmes. It is very, very light in color and fla…

Random Notes: More Friendly Locals, and the ol´ "Mysterious Liquid" Gag...

So last night I went into a small restaurant by myself, a little corner place called Plaza España, on Avenida de Mayo near where I live. I was actually testing this place out again because a few days earlier they really pissed me off; I went in trying to get a seat to watch a soccer game, and they studiously ignored me for about 20 minutes until I left. So tonight I was determined to give them one more chance, or else commence a personal vendetta against them for the rest of my stay here. Lucky for them, they did me right this time...

Anyway, the point of the story is this; I have again found the locals to be extremely friendly. As I was eating and chatting with the waitress, the couple next to me picked up that I was a foreigner. At some point I asked the waitress for some chilli sauce, but she didn´t seem to understand, or else they just didn´t have any at the restaurant. So the couple next to me offered me some of their chimichurri sauce, which is kind of similar. Not only that, bu…

Yerba Maté

One of my loyal readers (Aunt Donne) has requested I write something about Argentina's beloved national beverage: Yerba Maté. Well, I´m only too happy to oblige, and hopefully introduce you all to something new from this yerba maté primer.

Yerba maté (say: YER-bah MA-tay) is a typical Argentine drink, kind of like a strong green tea, that is drunk hot, and usually shared between two or more people. Basically, the loose-leaf yerba, or herb, is steeped in a hollowed-out gourd, called a maté, and is drunk through a metal strainer/straw contraption called a bombilla. It has a very potent flavor, and can be a bit bitter to the uninitiated. It does contain a lot of caffeine, almost as much as coffee, but it does not produce the same jittery kind of high as coffee. Instead, it produces a lower-intensity buzz, but accompanied by a kind of alertness and heightened focus, which I think lasts much longer than coffee.

Maté is a very social drink, and many people here only drink it when they are…

A Few Random Mendoza & Andes Photos

Here are some photos from a horseback riding trip in the outskirts of Mendoza, and some others I took from the bus while crossing the Andes into Chile. Notice the photo of me drinking yerba maté...that one is going on the jacket of my great Argentine novel. Notice also the one of the switchback turns cutting through the mountains...try about six hours of that, and you´ve made it across the Andes. More photos to come, I promise...

A Lighter Look At Argentine and Chilean Culture

Alright, enough with the Armchair Anthropology and attempts at serious cultural observation. I've been traveling in Argentina and Chile for nearly a month now, and the following are some of the funnier observations, situations, and actual conversations that I've encountered in that time.

* Below is an actual conversation between me and a Maitre d' at a restaurant on Cerro Florida in Valparaiso, Chile (translated from Spanish).

Me: Hello.
Maitre d': Hello.
Me: Is it possible to eat dinner here?
Maitre d': No. I'm sorry. It is not possible.
Me: Oh. Okay. (Awkward pause) But I see other people eating inside.
Maitre d': Yes.
Me: But you are not open for dinner?
Maitre d': No.
Me: But it's 6:00pm.
Maitre d': Yes.
Me: And you're telling me you are closed?
Maitre d': No. We are open.
Me: So I can eat here.
Maitre d': Of course. It is a restaurant.
Me: But I just asked you if I could eat here.
Maitre d': You asked if you could eat dinner. We are only s…

Viña del Mar, Valparaiso, Puerto Montt, and Bariloche...A Round-Up For Those of You I Haven´t Lost...

It´s been a hectic week with a lot of bus travel. I have no brilliant cultural observations to offer you at this point. Well, not that I ever did in the first place, but... here goes.

Viña del Mar, Chile

A beach town on the Pacific Coast, kind like what you would get if you combined San Francisco with some little town on the Amalfi Coast in Italy. Summer is the high season, and it is autumn here, so the place was definitely a bit subdued. Still a very vibrant and attractive place in winter, with a lot of students and a lot of young people running around. It has an easily navigable bus system and a cool downtown area with plenty of markets and bars.

Valparaiso, Chile

A bit more of the blue-collar answer to Viña, and about three minutes away by bus. In fact the cities could almost be considered one, but the locals might have something to say about that. The city used to be one of the world´s busiest ports before the Panama Canal was built, and is still a thriving port city. The city extends…

Chilean Horse-Racing: The jockeys are bigger, the horses are smaller, and my run of bad luck continues...

It was a chilly night here in Viña del Mar, with the fog from the Pacific ocean rolling in shortly after sundown. I stood behind the grandstand at the Valparaiso Sporting Club holding my progam, warming myself by one of the little wood fires they make to keep the spectators warm. A few meters away the grooms were walking their horses at the open-air paddock, getting ready for the 13th race. The 12th race, and all of the even-numbered races, were being run at Antofagosta, another racetrack north of Viña, that night.

After an eternity of waiting, staring blankly at my program, and trying to ride the line between gathering information from the locals and drawing too much attention to myself, I heard the call to the races. A few minutes later, I went to the side rail to watch the race up close. It was so foggy, I couldn´t even see the horse leave the gate. But soon I heard the thundering of hooves, and then like ghosts a dozen or so horses plunged out of the mist and charged past me to the…

Santiago de Chile...a thriving, modern city, in the Land at the End of the Earth

In my posting about Mendoza, I marvelled about seeing the Andes in the distance while approaching the city, but I later realized I had only seen the foothills and what is known as pre-cordillera (cordillera being the word for mountain range). On Thursday, crossing the famous Paso de los Libertadores in a double decker bus, I saw the real mountains, the alta montañas. I can´t describe them for you, unfortunately. You just have to see them for yourselves, but now I can completely understand the famous quote by Sir Edmund Hillary about why he needed to climb mount Everest..."Because it´s there." There is something about these mountains.

I´m now in Santiago de Chile, which is at the base of the western side of the Andes. The entire city sits within full view of the glorious mountains. It is amazing to come out of a shop or a restaurant and look up and see those snow-capped peaks towering off in the distance. It still makes me exclaim a new four-letter word every time it happens.

W…

The Dogs of Mendoza

When I first arrived in Mendoza I took a walk to find the Parque Central, on the outskirts of the downtown area. I quickly got lost in one of those dead zones that are common to cities everywhere. Walking down a dusty road, beneath and overpass, flanked on either side by large, vacant lots, I came upon a dog. He was tan and black, with the stripes of a tiger, and his eyes were yellow. When I looked into them, he stared me down as I passed, and I was mesmerized. It was as though he saw into my soul, and I saw into his; I saw wildness, defiance, and hunger. I don´t what he saw in me, but he was still staring at me as I turned away. I turned back, but thankfully, he had moved on.

The dogs of Mendoza are lean and hungry, and they own the streets. They roam freely, with no collars and no rules, and a city full of scraps off of which to feed. They are always on the move; trotting behind someone for a few paces to see if they have food, or picking through an opened garbage bag, or even just c…