Thursday, August 13, 2015

It was funny to have some of the comments I wrote below about the Bush twins’ visit to Buenos Aires and the subsequent purse-snatching event included in the Washington, DC, “Wonkette” blog. Now I’ve finally received my 15 minutes of fame and can get on with my life. Whew, what a relief.

The holiday season in Argentina is always pleasant (he writes, after having experienced just the last two). The only difference this time was that we got a heat blast on New Year’s Eve and Day that put the temperature on New Year’s Day to nearly 44C (111F), and it was just downright uncomfortable. The fireworks shows all over the city and province were unaffected, of course, and the skies over the whole metro area were lighted for about 45 minutes beginning just before Midnight. Earlier that evening, Argentine native Daniel Barenboim conducted the Buenos Aires Philharmonic in a concert of Argentine music, including tango, with the venue being the great Obelisco in the center of town on the grand Avenue de 9 de Julio. Although an estimated 25,000 showed up, I was too hot to try to go, but it got great reviews. The Philharmonic is without its regular home for the next nearly-two years as the beautiful Teatro Colón undergoes massive restoration. But there are several other excellent halls in the city, so the orchestra won’t stop playing.

Later in January we were able to duck out of town to avoid the second big hit of warmth by traveling to San Martin de los Andes, which we loved so much last year that we decided to go again. This time, it was even better – if possible – in that every single day featured perfect weather, breezes, and tiny little clouds from time to time. We used our rent-a-car nearly every day for more excursions into the countryside and mountains and even traveled to the “big” (pop. 274,000) resort town of San Carlos de Bariloche to have lunch with two of Maria’s daughters who were vacationing there with some pals. I had not seen Bariloche close-up and don’t plan to for the foreseeable future – say, the next 100 years or so. It is so built-up and chaotic that even the beauty of the huge lake called Nahuel Huapi is eclipsed by the city. We drove some 8 kilometers farther along the southern coast of the lake (it’s about 60 miles long and joins other lakes to the north and west) and finally found a nice little Italian beach restaurant in a small cove called Bahia Serena. It was indeed serene for about the first hour, but as we were finishing lunch the hordes descended and when we left the water was a squealing mass of kids and parents and the beach itself looked like Coney Island on a busier-than-average day. The lake, however, like all of the high-altitude lakes in the Andean region, was spectacularly blue with little whitecaps.
And as last year we managed to visit the Avataras restaurant in SMA more than we had planned, simply because the food is so wonderful and the owners – the collective of people from Buenos Aires who created the place ten years ago – are so much fun. Saturday night after dinner we adjourned to the pub area, where the bartender had managed to install an old but serviceable electric piano, and so I played and we all drank and talked and sang and acted silly until five in the morning (not really unusual in Argentina but still a shock to my system!). During the evening we talked at some length with a long-time expat Swiss animal biologist who has lived in the SMA area for 30 years working on behalf of the government and the national park service to restore and increase the herds of red deer that used to be in abundance and are coming to be so again, to the point that they are numerous enough now to sustain regular culling by way of hunting seasons. He showed us pictures of some he had overseen, and one of them had what he assured us was a 40-point rack. I tried to count them in the picture but his antlers were such a maze that I couldn’t quite do it.

We traveled as well to Villa Traful, on the lake of the same name, and were as stunned by its beauty as we have been by nearly everything else in the Andean region. The tiny town of Traful is surrounded on both sides by enormous tracts of land now owned by Ted Turner; he also owns a couple of other huge areas a bit farther south. No one we talked to while we were having lunch at a little bodega seemed to feel that Turner posed any kind of threat or had some macabre design in mind; on the contrary, they were happy that development on his land would be minimal to nil, as he proclaimed, because it was purchased (as Teddy Roosevelt and others purchase much of the Adirondack region) in order to protect it as wild country. 

Argentina is still so under-populated that it’s hard to imagine there being a land rush in the Andean regions other than for summer homes or cabins, but it’s still nice to know that the property is more or less protected.
Geography and demographics: You may recall that the earth’s surface is almost exactly 70% water and 30% land.

Of the land area, Argentina is the 8th-largest country geographically in the world, but it ranks 195th out of 230 nations in population density, having only 13.9 persons per square kilometer. (By comparison, India has 336/ km², China 137/km², and the USA, 31/km².)

Additionally, in Argentina’s case, when you take into account that about a third of the country’s 38 million people live within 25 miles of the Obelisk in the center of Buenos Aires, that means the rest of the county has a population density of far less than 13.9! Any small amount of travel outside the two metropolitan regions of BsAs and Cordoba (with about 1.6 million) will quickly and in a visceral manner indicate how vast and empty this place is. As I’ve said earlier, in the Andean region you can drive miles and miles without seeing a gas station, a restaurant, or more than five or 10 vehicles – even in mid-summer.

Social & Quirky Things, part III (or whatever part it is!): Here are some observations I’ve made since last thinking about it:

• Weekdays, 5 to 8 p.m.: In France, they call the weekday after-work period when lovers traditionally get together before going home to their respective families the cinq-a-sept, in Argentina it would be the cinco-a-ocho. But, as in France and, I’m sure, other Latin countries, the 5-to-8 hours are much more used for many other things, including lots of activities for school children; get-togethers of friends in cafes or bars for tea, mate, or a drink; grocery and other shopping; paying bills at the Post Office or commercial bill-paying stores such as Pago Facil or Rapipago, playing tennis or squash or nine holes of golf, and myriad other things. An interesting anecdote I heard the other day was from a friend, who described a secretary where he worked. Every weekday after work, she meets up with her woman friends at the same confeteria, or café, and they have tea and talk for two hours – from about 5:30 to 7:30. Every day! She says that without that daily time with her friends, the rest of her life would just be chaos – working, taking care of her husband and children, and running errands. This means that when she and her friends say Chau, she hops on the bus, stops off at the supermercado to pick up anything she needs for dinner or her home, and then arrives home about eight. At this point, her husband is usually home from work and watching the news or a soccer game and her children are doing their lessons for the next day. She hits the kitchen, and about 9:30 or 10 p.m. everyone comes to table and the day’s family meal begins. Depending on their ages, the children are free to retire as soon as they have had their dinner; older kids go to their cell phones or their computers and spend until perhaps nearly Midnight in chat with their pals. Everyone is usually in bed by 12:30, and the next morning at 7:30 or so it all starts again! I add, as I have in the past, that sometimes the 5-to-8 period is used for a siesta as well, but not always. There is a lot of energy here.

• Saturdays: Many families spend Saturdays doing all kinds of things of their own interest, either together or separately. One tennis group I occasionally play with meets from 4 to 7 every Saturday for doubles. Then, at 6 or 7, many people have either mate and a snack or just head for the bed and take a nap. Social events for adults don’t begin until 9:30 or even 10, so there is a good block of time between 6 and 9, say, for rest and relaxation. Then adults are out until normally 2 or even 3 in the morning, whether at restaurants or clubs, or at each other’s homes for dinner. Older teenagers often stay at home and sleep until even 11 o’clock, because their social life really doesn’t start until after Midnight (this is not unusual in Manhattan in my experience, also). Then they’re out until dawn and sleep until who-knows-when on Sunday, unless they go to church, which usually means the 11 a.m. mass or later (most parishes have their most formal masses at 11, and a shorter one at 12:30 or 1:00 p.m., and again at 7 p.m. There are also anticipational masses on Saturdays at around 7 p.m., which of course counts for Sunday.) Sunday night they regroup for the coming week.

• Summer vacations from school: Since the “summer vacation” here is really only about eight or nine weeks, children of all ages are eager to be out-of-doors and on the go the whole time. For the younger ones, this often means camp or day-programs in the cities or suburbs, followed by at least a two-week family vacation somewhere away from Buenos Aires. I would guess that about half the vacationers head for the Atlantic beaches far away to the south of BsAs (towns running north and south of the large city of Mar del Plata) – where the water is clear – and the other half head for the Andes, the Cordoba or Mendoza provinces (the latter being Andean), or the Sur, meaning the vast area that includes Patagonia and the lower regions of Ushuia and the Tierra del Fuego. Older kids, those perhaps 16 and up, often just take all the money they’ve saved during the year, pack their backpacks (mochillas) and head for the Retiro bus station, where they ride the cheapest long-distance buses (called, for reasons that escape me, micros, because they are huge) and high-tail it to various vacation points throughout the country -- all at least a thousand or more miles away! With their Walkmans, their MP3 players, and their cell phones, they spread out over the country like swarms of ants, sleeping in the open countryside, in informal camping areas along the roads, or in inexpensive youth hostels, buying what food they need at local mercados -- and doing what young people do everywhere. When Maria del Carmen and I were in San Martin, we got a cellphone message from my tennis coach, Fernando, a 22-year-old medical school student and the son of good friends of ours, who just happened to turn up in San Martin while we were there, traveling with a pal of his, Gonzalo, he’d known nearly all his life. Of course we invited the two of them to dinner and then enjoyed a delightful evening hearing their various stories of this summer’s travels along with stories of previous year’s adventures and misadventures. (Once, looking for a place to settle late one night they were told of a campsite several kilometers along a road. They were exhausted but hiked and hiked, only to discover a broken-down farm/campsite that was closed and had "no tresspassing" signs. After that it rained the rest of the night!) This kind of summer activity, spanning thousands of miles of territory covered by buses, hitchhiking (very safe here), and plenty of walking, is the most popular thing to do for the non-beach crowd during the brief summer period. Young people who stay at home to work in summer jobs celebrate in a shorter but bigger-time fashion by taking only perhaps 10 days of vacation, but flying on a package tour to Brazilian beach resorts 1500 to 2000 miles away, or even to Cancun, which is 4,200 miles and 9+ hours by plane to the north. And so it goes.

Another quirk: On Saturday nights we frequently have dinner at home or at a restaurant with friends of ours. On restaurant nights we talk before hand and agree on a restaurant. Then I stupidly suggest we make reservations, since our group is usually at least four and often six or eight. Much hemming and hawing ensues, and the result is we “just go,” usually arriving around 10 o’clock, which is probably the single most popular hour to have dinner on Saturday night. Often, therefore, we (along with everyone else) are required to sign-in and wait. Almost all restaurants have a version of a waiting area where one can have drinks and little noshies and such. When we’re lucky, we have a table by 10:30. When we’re not lucky, we wait until 11 or even later, by which time everyone’s stomach is growling, the ladies are complaining about their husbands’ inability to commit to a dinner reservation, and a moderate sulk ensues for at least the first course of the dinner. Then with food and wine as fuel things liven up again, the long wait is somehow forgotten, and once again we stagger out of the restaurant stuffed to the gills with food, wine, and dessert, and go on to a bar or someone’s home for coffee and after-dinner drinks and more chitchat. I really have become used to this dynamic, but I have warned everyone that I am joining the females of our group to lobby for making reservations on Saturday nights. In doing, of course, so I am immediately considered a traitor to the male cause – which I can only assume is that of never committing to anything until you’re on the scene and have checked it out and find it suitable for your custom. But I will continue in my lonely enterprise and let you know how it goes. 
Da Katz: The Siamese siblings, Nick and Maggie, are well into their second year of life and are flourishing. Maggie fell, jumped, or was pushed (by her brother) out the window in the master bedroom last month and disappeared for four days. Her fall was cushioned by the branches of a lot of tropical plants in the neighbor's large patio. Finally she turned up at the sliding-glass door of the apartment below, looking scraggly and tired. Fortunately the neighbor knew she was mine and Maggie returned. She's much more careful now about prowling the window sills. Some of my neighbors think it is not nice to allow them to be on the (wide) windowsills, but I'm of the theory that it's up to them to police themselves. They're also good mosquito and moth catchers.

That’s it for now… more when the urge strikes.



SUMMERTIME: As a native of the Northern Hemisphere, I still find it weird to think of the summer season as the one that spans the old and new years, but here, of course, it does. The time leading up to Christmas and New Year’s is when students look forward to the end of the school year and summer vacation – although that vacation is much shorter in Argentina than in the US because their education system requires many more annual school days. Most children and young people get just under two months, from December 23 or so until the end of February, and then it’s back to the grind. It makes it difficult, of course, for those wishing to travel outside of the country; all the North is in mid-winter, and Europe or the US is certainly not as appealing in school vacation time here as it would be in Northern summer. Thus, families and individuals tend to get away to other locales in the Southern Cone, especially the Andean resorts that are scattered on both sides along the Argentine-Chilean border. As I mentioned last year at this time, one of the popular places is San Martin de los Andes, and we’re headed back there for two weeks again in January simply because we want a more thorough visit to the surrounding region, including the “Siete Lagos” (Seven Lakes) tour (you can Google it). Next summer we will probably venture even farther afield, probably to the Deep South where we will see glaciers and the Beagle Channel and all that great stuff.

HOLIDAYS & VACATIONS: The week of New Year’s marks the end of various activities for two or three months, especially those related to the arts and music. Theatres close their doors, and the city sinks into its summer doldrums of normally hot, humid weather. Everyone who can tries to get away from Buenos Aires for as long as possible in January and February, and the two major seaside resorts of Mar del Plata in Argentina and Punta del Este in Uruguay are vastly populated, along with their satellite beach towns up and down their respective coasts. Argentine President Nestor Kirchner and his senator and future presidential candidate wife, Cristina, shun the slightly more elegant Uruguayan resort and the Prez encourages his cabinet members and fellow party members not to patronize Punta del Este, but many go anyway. They go, like everyone else, for a variety of reasons, but mainly for annual socializing with summer friends, the more elegant social whirl of Punta, and the more international crowd that assembles there, especially in January, from the North. Lots of golf and tennis, along with dinner and garden parties and boat races, make for a suitable break from daily life in the big city. Argentines and other foreign visitors probably outnumber native Uruguayans by about three to one, and many Uruguayans are scornful of Punta because the international group has created higher prices for everything from property to a good meal. The Uruguayans go instead to other, smaller beach towns or to nearby Brazil.

It’s remarkably inexpensive here for many to leave the city in summer. Unions of all types have summer campgrounds and resort complexes that, while more modest than commercial sites, are very pleasant and offer lots of activities for parents and children both. The big union vacation clubs and their counterparts in the Buenos Aires metro area comprise one of the better monuments to Juan Perón’s political life in Argentina – he was a genuine friend of the worker, and even if he wasn’t always sure what that meant (he could be a seat-of-the-pants type of guy) he did strongly believe that workers had as much right to vacations and to real recreation during their time off as members of other economic classes. Thus, to this day the union social clubs are a huge part of Argentine family life. I myself play tennis once or twice a week at the huge SOIVA recreation and social property near the river in the San Fernando municipality north of the city. SOIVA is the union of textile and clothing workers; the huge swimming pool is built in the shape of a sewing machine – only you would have to be standing (or flying) pretty far above it to appreciate it fully; on the ground it just looks huge with a big island in the middle with a children’s’ playground.

Additionally, the long-distance buses (which long ago took over from the then-extensive railroads established largely by the Brits and French) are very inexpensive; a custom-class Mercedes “Marco Polo” type ride, more comfy than first class on an airline, cost US 50 round-trip to San Martin, a distance of more than 1,000 miles each way. Similar but less-exotic buses make the same run for US 25. And although cars are more expensive to own and operate in general here than in the North, many have older cars that are very economical, and the price of gas is cheaper here than in the US. Inexpensive campgrounds, many run by the ACA (Argentine version of the AAA), as well as self-contained apartment-type motels and hotels, mean that whole families, even of modest means, can make their annual pilgrimages to cooler parts of the country.

The run-up (I love how US English is using more and more Brit words, including “over the top,” etc.) to the holiday season is, gracias a Dios, much more low-key here than in NYC, for example. People do shop a lot and it’s a special time of year, but unlike in the North, what’s lurking in the back of Argentine minds as Christmas and New Year’s roll around is double-barreled: “We get Christmas, New Year’s and the Summer Holiday Season coming all at once!” as one younger Argentine person said to me not long ago. “Most of us are happy about the holidays, but even happier that school is out.” As people in the North see the often-bleak months of January and February stretching out before them after New Year’s, Argentines are getting into 100% summertime mode. Not a bad thing!

As I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the 2001-2002 economic collapsed re-ordered all of life for most Argentines save the very rich, who had their money offshore all along. Many families had to sell their homes, move to rented homes or apartments, change their daily menus, their spending habits, and especially what gift-giving was all about. Now, many families practice the “one gift per person" Christmas program, where everyone in the family contributes a little bit on behalf of themselves and everyone else, and selected people buy a single gift for each family member. Last Christmas with the family of Maria del Carmen, I received a really lovely slate-green polo shirt that is one of those things I would never have bought for myself but has turned out to be one of the favorite things I wear. When everyone gets just one thing, it becomes very special, and everyone knows that the gift is from the whole family. Again, maybe that’s not a bad idea, either, except for what such a concept would do to the American retailing industry after only one or two Christmases! Sigh. Spend and buy, buy and spend. Ah, well. So it goes.

THE BABY BUSH PURSE-SNATCH: There was some nice humor recently when Barbara Bush, Jr., was in town with her twin sister and had her purse stolen at a huge bar-restaurant in the hip San Telmo district south of the Plaza de Mayo. Evidently she didn’t even notice right away, but it seems that the ladrones were a young couple, obviously skilled at their trade. The papers said later that part of the reason it was so easy was that a) the place was crowded with young people, and b) Barbara’s Secret Service detail was some 40 meters away because she hates having them too close to her. So although it’s certainly not a happy event, it’s certainly common enough in San Telmo (as in Greenwich Village or Soho or lots of other areas) of a busy late Spring evening, and I don’t think anyone here feels either threatened by crime or particularly upset at her loss. One of the local chistes (jokes) was: Clever Porteño purse-snatchers, 1; US Secret Service, O. The next day the Argie government insisted on assigning about 50 Federal Police and a fire truck to the already large USSS protective detail. Believe it or not, the fire truck is used to put out small fires that are set by the firefighters themselves (when ordered to by their superiors over the radio) to distract people from chasing after the Bush twins. The fires are usually set in trash barrels as the firefighters stand by with a small hose. The USSS detail featured six of those huge Chevy Tahoe things (as we've all seen in pictures) and no one knows how many agents. During all this fuss, a Reuters reporter walked right into Barbara’s hotel lobby, after seeing her through the window from the street, where she was using one of the hotel’s computers to send e-mail along with three or four girlfriends. The reporter went right up to her and they chatted. He left. No one said a thing to him and he didn’t see any Secret Service or other security types. So, who knows? 
THE NEWS BIZ: Finally, in the Baby Bush saga, the Reuters agency outdid itself in good, old-time British journalistic style by creating a story called "Embassy Denies Telling Bush to Call Daughters Home." This is what we in the biz used to call the "Have You Stopped Beating Your Wife?" kind of comment. The whole thing was a set-up: The Reuters person asked if it were true that the Embassy had suggested that the Prez recall his daughters! Of course not, the embassy said, "What the hell are you talking about?" and then denied the whole query, which in turn generated the story that got quoted throughout the mainstream press. I mean, why would the Embassy tell the Bush daughters to go home because of a purse-snatching event? I confess to feeling nothing but scorn for news persons who cause such events, as well as being embarrassed for having been a part of that so-called profession (which, when I learned it in the early 60s, was still called a business). One of the pithier editors at my first paper, The Philadelphia Inquirer, said to me early on, "Son, what we do is not a profession. It's a business. The Inquirer is in business to make money for Mr. (Walter) Annenberg. It is not in business to protect the people's right to know, or any other silly damn thing. And don't you forget it." And we were called newspapermen or -women, not journalists. That same editor said, "Journalists are people who keep journals. Newspapermen are men who write stories for newspapers." Ah, were it only so.
MORE IS HAPPENING HERE: Argentina and Buenos Aires have been much in the news the last two or three months; I set up a Yahoo news-tracking thing and the number of stories that pop every day has increased from perhaps four or five to at least 10 to 15, with more when a serious event occurs. One interesting recent item was that the Argentine wine industry, which is located mostly in the Mendoza province and in other nearby Andean areas, is getting ready to expand to the southern part of the huge Buenos Aires province, in a hilly (but not higher than 3,000 feet) area called the Sierra de la Ventana (Mountain ridge like a window). Viniculturalists have scoped it out for the past couple of years and decided it has the capability of producing some very good wines, both white and red, akin to French wines in the mid-southern regions of France near the Atlantic. This land is hilly and rocky, and the creation of a new wine-growing area seems assured. Since Argentina is now the world’s 5th-largest wine producing nation, maybe this will move it up to 4th! I will keep close track of this and let you know when the first vintages appear.

Economically, things continue to grow. Big recent story: 1.2 million used cars will be sold by year-end, the largest number since before the 2001 crash. The peso, still pegged at a bit more than 3 to the US dollar, will receive less support from the Argentine government come the New Year, speculation says, and slowly begin to move towards its "true" level of 2.5 to 2.6 to one. That, of course, will decrease the buying power of those of us living here, but in real terms it means that the US 20 dollar blowout dinner for two of a Friday evening at La Vaca will cost about 23 dollars. Radishes will still be 22 cents a bunch and milk will be 34 cents a liter.

PERSONAL STUFF: In my own “personal development,” I’m back to playing tennis for the first time in many years and it’s going well – better, in fact, than I could ever have predicted, so that has been very exciting for me and my general physical well-being. And, I’m resuming my Spanish studies as part of a small group of four under the tutelage of one of the senior Spanish professors from one of the very good prep schools here. We’ll begin meeting in February and I’m looking forward to making more progress.

IMMIGRATION INCREASES BY ONE: Soon a friend of ours from Paris (an American) will be returning here permanently; she is one of many, I understand, who are emigrating here from Europe. In her case, after living in Paris for 40 years, she is finally fed up with the congestion, the taxes, the rude behavior, the prices, and the social ills she feels are befalling the country. She sold her apartment in Paris for many Euros, and has bought a much bigger one here in my suburb of Martinez for just about one-quarter of the amount her Paris place fetched. Needless to say, she is suitably happy about that. She is keeping her country house, however, for the moment, as she likes it and she has long-term tenants who like it as much as she does and take very good care of it – although as she wrote in a recent e-mail, she has now had to install an electronic security system. Such is life in the New Europe (or old, I guess, for that matter).

I have a built-in security system at my apartment here – my two Siamese, Nick and Maggie (aka Miss Priss), who can hear someone coming down the marble-floored hallway from yards away and immediately run to the door. How they would perform in attack mode has yet to be learned, since after running to the door they usually turn around and run and hide under my bed! Apartment robberies and break-ins are very rare in this part of the conurbano, and any burglar worth his salt knows that my particular building is not filled with rich folks.
I notice by the tracking system in my blogsite that some 1,324 people have visited my blog, but I find it interesting that none (so far) has left me a note! Gee, and I thought it was kind of interesting.

Until next time,



Of course, spring here begins September 21! It is somewhat difficult to become a Southern Hemisphere person if you weren’t born or raised here. Even after a year, I still get it confused and subconsciously, as September moves on, somehow expect the weather to become colder rather than warmer. And when Summer comes, officially, on December 21, it’s hot as can be and Christmas and New Year’s are upon us. Strange, strange. When anyone says “January” here, it means “hot.”

The Awful Castilian Language (with apologies to Sam Clemens): Meanwhile, it’s been a wonderfully interesting time since my last missive, although nothing of an earth-shaking nature has occurred; rather, it has been sort of normal life in a normal situation, with lots of things going on and lots of things to do, and always, always, trying to pick up more and more Castellano words, phrases, and locutions. One that had eluded me for a long time but is now in my lexicon is a word that sounds like “shas-tá.” People use it all the time, and it simply means, “That’s it,” or “That’s the one,” or “There we are,” or “That’s finished now.” In Castellano it’s two words – Ya esta – which literally means “already/now/soon is.” But Ya takes on a ton of different meanings as it’s used, such as “Ya te arreglo,” which means “I’ll get you!” And, of course, the Spanish “Y” here is pronounced with a “sh” or “zhe” sound, uniquely, I think, in the Spanish-speaking world. Another frequently used word sounds like “spéra,” and is actually the word “espera,” or “wait,” or “hold on.” Then, a word that sounds like “dá-lay,” and is actually “da le,” in Spanish, meaning “give it to me,” or just “give it,” and can be used in a variety of situations, from telling a waiter that’s what you’ll have, or choosing something to buy, to meaning “go ahead, give it to me/tell me,” or just “go ahead, do it.” Finally, there is “a-vere,” in Spanish, “a ver,” “to see,” which as a single ejaculation simply means, “let’s see (something),” or, “let me see that,” or, “let’s look at it,” or often, “wait a second, let’s look.” Sorry if it sounds confusing, but that’s because it sometimes is.

There are many of these words and short phrases that are pretty much unique to “Rioplatense” Spanish, meaning the language as spoken in the Rio Plate region (which includes the closest parts of Uruguay, across the river). They take a while first to hear, and then to integrate into your conversation. Beyond that, of course, is the famous lunfardo slang of Buenos Aires, which is both Italian- and Spanish-based and includes lots of popular swear words, the most-used of which seems to be “boludo(m)” or “boluda(f).” In times past, calling someone a boludo was an invitation to a physical encounter (and still can be when used with that intent), but in everyday speech it has just come to be a “friendly insult” of the type used among young people, especially boys, and schoolmates (as well as some adults). Another popular use occurs when you make a mistake or mess something up and say to those around you, “Ai, estoy boludo,” or “Ai, que boludo” – “Ah, what a boludo I am!” What does it mean? Well, if you’ll pardon the words here, it means everything from fool to idiot to a**hole to f***er to anything else generally foul you can imagine. And it isn’t normally used in seriously polite situations except where those present are old, old friends.

The language learning is likely to go on for years for me, as I’m convinced I’ve become a much slower learned than I had imagined. This is painful to admit, of course, but seems true. After my courses at UBA, I’m now on the lookout for a local tutor to meet with for an hour or two a week to continue the long haul. But progress is being made; I can, when I have to, talk on the telephone and understand what’s being said, or listen to the radio or television and get a lot of it.

The Winter: Has been about average, according to most I’ve talked to. We’ve had a few stretches of 30-degree days with wind and some rain, and although there have been a few days that felt warm, the constant experience is one of needing extra clothes when you go out, no matter whether the sun is shining or not. And my gas wall-heater has been on just about 24/7 for a couple of months, even occasionally requiring me to turn on the oven as well to get thing warmed up in the morning. I could install another/more wall heaters, but I don’t think I will just yet.

Return to Tennis: For those of you who may be tennis players, you might be interested in the fact that I’ve finally re-entered the game after many years of absence. One of my retirement goals is thus being pursued. While there are thousands of tennis courts in Buenos Aires, getting access to one is not always easy if you’re not connected via a school, a club, a company, or a union (the latter two having clubs of their own for members). But last month, while talking to friends, I learned that one of their sons, who’s a med-school student, is a very well-regarded player who teaches/coaches on Friday afternoons each week to supplement his pocket money for school. So now, every Friday I have an hour-long lesson, and have begun the work of getting my game back. Almost all the courts here are red clay, which is easier on the feet and legs than hard courts, but require a lot of scurrying around because the ball slows and hangs so long after a bounce. It’s very hard to play “power tennis” on clay, although the pros, as seen in the French Open every year, can make it look fast. The courts where my coach teaches are in a section north of me called Punta Chica (little point), which is actually a part of the San Fernando municipality, and are part of a huge club owned and run by the national clothing and textile workers’ union, Soiva. I pay 10 pesos ($3) for the use of the court, and 20 pesos for the coach; less than $10 an hour for first-class instruction. The same in NYC would cost at least $50 an hour, and probably more. My goal is to be able to get back into playing doubles, and I already have the promise of joining a regular group if my game is good enough. I think it should take at least two or three months before that will occur.

My Incredibly Brief Acting Career: Recently I was asked to audition for the lead role in an upcoming play at the Suburban Players theater group, a 40+ year-old institution not far up the road in San Isidro. This was the venue where I had played the piano player in a mystery-theater-dinner (where unbeknownst to me, I turned out to be the murderer!) and evidently had acquitted myself well enough to be asked to do this audition. The auditions were held at the large apartment of a couple that is very active in the theater. When I arrived I received about 20 pages of a script and was told to read it by myself and then when it was my turn to join the director and others at the dining room table where we would do the read-through. After an hour or so, while listening to others read and seeing people come and go, it was my turn, and, in a word, I blew it. I was completely incompetent, I couldn’t get a feel for the part, and didn’t seem to meet any of the criteria the director had it. Perhaps it’s just as well, since a) I really didn’t like the part much anyway, and b) being chosen would have entailed endless hours of memorization, rehearsals, etc., between now and mid-November. They were very gentle in indicating their disapproval, but it was clear I was not their man. So I finished my coffee, thanked them, and politely refused an invitation to join the stage crew. Thus my sole foray into the world of the theater since high school days was a consummate disaster, and I have learned my lesson! And saved myself and the public a lot of time and anguish in the process. So much for my acting career! (I will add that there was another guy there, an Australian, who I thought was absolutely terrible in his read-through, but the director thought was wonderful. Go figure.)

Continuing to Understand Psychological Factors in Argentine History: I’ve written about or alluded to the passive-depressive dynamic in Argentine history before; this is just another “take” on a widespread phenomenon. Basically, it is a way of describing the outlook on Argentina’s future that is held by many, if not a vast majority, of citizens here. As you probably know, the country – after the terrible economic collapse of 2001-2 -- has been enjoying three-plus years of economic growth and stability, some say at a cost of an increasingly powerful President and executive branch. Inflation is present, but is running well behind growth, and nearly every Argentine has more now than in perhaps the previous 15 or 20 years, and in a more substantial way, because this time the growth is not due to the selling-off of public assets and the subsequent squandering of the profits therefrom, as occurred in the Menem era of the 80s and early 90s. Everyone is traditionally guarded and cautious about “feeling good” about just about anything here, whether the national economy or local school test scores. The general feeling nowadays about the reality of Argentine economic growth is that it is somehow fraudulent and cannot continue, even though there are many indications otherwise. That feeling is also echoed in the common comment that “whatever happens, there will be another economic crash; we have them every ten years or so like clockwork.” The main reason given for all economic crashes is that the economic oligarchy, while happy with growth and profiting greatly from it, refuses to buy in on the idea of the importance of capital reinvestment during boom times. Many factories and shops are just “back in production mode,” but are producing, once again, without a lot of reinvestment in new machinery, computer technology, or other areas of corporate infrastructure that need modernization and change. Thus, when the machinery wears out or profits sag because costs increase owing to lack of reinvestment, the economy slows, the oligarchy once again begins sending money overseas, and either a crash or a recession hits. Overseas investors are conscious of this phenomenon (certainly not rare in even highly-developed economies) and thus reluctant to make significantly higher investments. Added to this is the fact that Argentina doesn’t allow profit-taking by foreign investors at anything resembling the rate at which it occurs. In one sense, this is good in that it discourages foreign investment from just taking out all their profits the minute they occur; but if profit-taking is allowed at too low a level, foreign companies go elsewhere with their money. I’m not conversant with the technical aspects of this issue, but I do know that it is something that needs to be balanced and managed on a continuous basis so that foreign companies will invest and be allowed a reasonable level of profit-taking so as not to feel they are just in business in Argentina to help the local economy. I understand from my reading that there is no easy answer to determining this balance, and it is clear that the conservative approach favors practically unrestricted profit-taking, while a more liberal/social approach favors reduced levels of profit-taking, increased levels of taxation, and reinvestment by foreign firms. All this is just by way of saying that the challenge for Argentines seems to be one of a) believing they have the ability to build and sustain a strong international economy, as difficult as it is, and b) convincing the economic oligarchy to understand the importance of long-term goals and reinvestment as the soundest way to ongoing growth. However, the historic temptation to take the money and run -- by both foreigners and the local power group -- is always present, and its justification seems always to be the “watch out for the next crash” and “it’s always been like this” syndromes. So the average person continues to be passive, in considering him/herself a victim of the rich and powerless against the oligarchy, and depressive, in not believing anything will ever change. I'm sure psychologists understand this corporate version of the "shitty self image" syndrome better than I, but it's pandemic here and will have to change before the long haul becomes the norm.

Argentine Quirks, part III: As noted in earlier entries, daily life in Argentina is filled with little behavioral and other differences that mark some differences between Argentine and US life.
• Grocery Shopping: The city has several chains of large supermarkets that are pretty much the same as supermarkets everywhere in the world these days, I imagine. Aisle after aisle of shelves, freezer and cooler cases, paper goods, fresh fruit and vegetables, meats. One difference here is that when you buy either vegetables or fruits, or bread or rolls from the store’s ovens, you have them weighed and priced in the area where you buy them, with a bar-coded sticker that the check-out person scans. Naturally, if you fail to do this, the checker has to take the stuff back to that section and have it weighed. This doesn’t appear to please those behind you on line, although most Argentines are too polite to offer any response other than perhaps a quiet sigh.
• Men and Beards: How men deal with facial hair is probably a subject of moderate interest to sociologists and perhaps others. In Buenos Aires, full beards, Van Dycks, and moustaches are all popular, and are seen on men in all walks of life. The President doesn’t sport one, but many in his cabinet do. Bank presidents, construction workers, restaurant workers, students, bishops, etc., are all to be seen with facial hair. I even have a moustache, which may not last long but is kind of fun at the moment. But what is more interesting, to me, is the fact that men seem not to feel the need (nor the requirement) to shave regularly, regardless of their facial hair posture. On any working day on the subway or buses you see young and old men with day-old or two-day-old beards, otherwise perfectly normally dressed in their suits and ties, on their ways to work. In any office you visit, a good number of the men working there will have not shaved that day. This seems to be perfectly acceptable in the marketplace and is an interesting twist on the New York City style of men not shaving on weekends. I would guess that it comes under a heading of “personal freedoms” that all enjoy here, and find it less strange now than I did at first – when I thought it was just because those men had left home in a hurry to get to work. Or worse.
• Deliveries: Another interesting thing here is that nearly everything can be delivered to your house or apartment. If you want, you can have a single sack of groceries delivered, at no cost other than a small tip to the delivery person. Almost every restaurant offers home delivery. Any regular commercial shop, from clothing to electronics to household goods, does the same. And all confiterias, or coffee shops (although they are far more than just coffee shops), will deliver even a single cup of coffee to your home or business within its delivery range. It’s a common sight to see waiters in their vests and aprons carrying trays of cups of coffee, cream, and sugar, in the streets. They stop back later to pick up the cups, saucers, spoons, and pitchers.
• Siesta time: Perhaps 70 per cent of the shops in the city close their doors for from one to three hours every afternoon, usually beginning at 1 or 1:30, with reopening from 3:30 to 4:3o. They open by 10 each morning, and are open until 8 every night. Larger stores, malls, and supermarkets do not usually have the “siesta” closings. After living here awhile, you begin to realize that your shopping is most easily done in late morning or late afternoon, or after work. Saturdays most of the shops are open until 1 here in Martinez, and most Saturday mornings huge numbers of people are in the streets and cafes. By 2 p.m., the shopping area is deserted for the rest of the weekend.
• Dentists: Dental practice here, like medical practice, seems very non-quirky. Operation of dentists’ offices is very similar to the US. However, appointments (tournos) are kept very close to time, and all the equipment is modern. My dentista is a 55-year-old widow lady who’s been practicing dentistry for nearly 30 years (the walls of her two dental-chair areas are covered with diplomas and certificates) and is very well regarded. I have about eight more appointments to go in a series of 16, and I guess my teeth feel better, but sometimes it’s hard to tell when basically you have bad choppers to start with. The only thing about her office I don’t like is the Muzak – all 1980s US pop music. Sigh. I’d rather it be classical or even tango, but no luck.

So that’s it for this entry. Everyone is waiting for Spring and Summer to arrive, and life goes on apace in Argentina. As always, write if you have questions or comments. Chau (a literalization of the Italian ciao) for now!


Our return cruise from Colonia del Sacramento, across the River Plate from Buenos Aires, ended our vacation in an extremely cool manner as we disembarked from the huge car ferry into whipping cold wind and temps in the 30s and struggled along with a thousand or so other travelers to find taxis. But, I’m happy to report, we survived it and indeed, it was the only uncomfortable part of our nearly-a-week spent across the river. (I have included a map and pictures in a separate blog.)

The ship takes about three hours to make the crossing, which gives plenty of time for staring at the vast river, reading, napping, having something to eat, or visiting the duty-free store to peruse its luxury and sin-tax items. We left at 9 on Monday morning and by 12:30 we were all watching the ship jockey itself into the port area of Colonia while taking pictures of the slightly hilly skyline marked by an ancient faro (lighthouse). [2] Even though Uruguay and Argentina are both Mercosur countries that require no passports for citizens, the customs process is still sometimes slow, and the number of immigration and customs people on duty at any time is unpredictable.

Imagine a crowd of perhaps 1200 people all hitting the dock about the same time and fanning out in all directions into a city of about 20,000, and then imagine a distinct lack of taxis, buses, or other public transport, with scores of private cars streaming out of the belly of the ship and blasting off into the countryside. We finally gave up waiting for a taxi and walked through town to our posada [3] about a kilometer away; with a couple of pauses along the way it wasn’t bad -- 
and we began to get a feel for the town.

Colonia has a wonderful history beginning in 1680 with the Portuguese. Its founding is attributed to Manuel de Lobo, who lives on in ways that include the name of our posada. The story of the historic part of the town just sort of stops in 1777, when the Spanish finally got Portugal to agree to relinquish the town and scoot back into Brazilian territory some 200 km away. But in that near-century from 1680 to 1777, the Portuguese had an enormous effect on life in the rioplatense (the region surrounding the huge river) in things secular as well as religious. Briefly, the Jesuits (who were all over this part of the world in those days, as anyone who has seen “The Mission” will understand) had many of their religious estancia-communes established throughout the Colonia region, enormous places where ranching and farming was vastly successful along with the Jesuit-izing of the local populace and use of profits by the Church both here and in Portugal. Colonia was by far the largest town on the northern side of the River Plate (Montevideo hadn’t been established) and in equal importance to being a regional religious center (the oldest church in Uruguay), it was the primary town for smugglers. Those of you who know your South American history will know that during the time of the carving up of the landscape by the Portuguese and Spanish, the Spanish controlled shipping and movement of goods from the centers of the Spanish world in the north – Potosí and Lima – through Alto Peru (now Bolivia) and into what is now Northwestern Argentina and on south to Buenos Aires. (There were other routes, too, but this became the primary one.)

The existence of Colonia del Sacramento as a thriving Portuguese-run town meant that shipments of all kinds of goods from England, France, and elsewhere could safely enter the continent there – because Buenos Aires was allowed to receive only Spanish ships in the controlled-economy model then in place. What soon evolved was a very efficient, illegal, popularly-supported and vastly successful smuggling trade, where goods from non-Spanish carriers were unloaded at Colonia, then reloaded onto smaller craft, which hightailed it in a loop up the coast and then across into the maze of islands and waterways that make up the huge Parana Delta region just north of Buenos Aires. There, they met up with Porteño traders, did their swaps, and the Argentines returned with their loads down to Buenos Aires. Nearly everyone, from the Spanish Viceroys to the local judges to the Church to the businessmen, traders and the general populace, were in on the scam and life went along merrily for decades – occasionally interrupted by a meddlesome tax official sent by Spain to try to stop it all. None of the officials sent from Spain did much of anything except get co-opted to roll over and play dumb, their pockets full of gold from the illegal smuggling. And so it went until finally Spain established the new Viceroyalty of the River Plate and decided it should just move over towards Colonia and kick the Portuguese out. It took them a few tries, but they finally succeeded in 1777.

From then on, Colonia was part of the new Viceroyalty; trade loosened up enough for foreign ships to be able to go directly to Buenos Aires, and the formerly busy, peninsular town of Colonia became moribund, in which state it lay until perhaps 20 or 30 years ago when historians and others began to realize the value of the early Portuguese architecture, planning, churches, houses, armaments, furniture, ironwork, tile-work, and so forth, and a great restoration ensued. Interestingly, for those of you who are aware of the great Calouste Gulbenkian, the Foundation named for him in Lisbon (funded by the late Armenian bachelor billionaire’s bequests) sponsored much of the initial recovery and reconstruction work, as well as donating hundreds of items authentic to the Portuguese period of Colonia’s history. Many of the items are original and were sent back to Uruguay by the Portuguese, and many are faithful reproductions that capture the essence of the design and workmanship.

Obviously, you can read a lot about this on the Web, but I have enjoyed just putting some of what I’ve learned in nutshell form. I certainly can recommend learning more about the place and, of course, visiting it if you’re ever anywhere near Buenos Aires or Montevideo.

What struck Maria del Carmen and me was that although we’d read about the place, and Maria had been there some time ago on a day-trip, neither of us had an inkling of its real cultural importance. Some of our friends said, when we told them we were planning six days there, “What ever will you do for the other five days after you’ve seen the Old Town?” Not! By the end of our time we slightly on overload at the historic and cultural resources available to the serious visitor and felt we needed more time; we look forward to going back to learn even more. Besides the physical layout of the town, which includes such things as original buildings, a park with the foundation outlines of the former colonial government center, former fortress walls and stone entrance gate to the Old Town, along with other structures, there are six small museums, each of which stores a finite but nearly perfect (in a curatorial sense) number of items of historic importance. And, it is not impolite to say that the entire rest of the city, including all its Spanish-era additions and overlays, offers nearly nothing of importance to compare with the Old Town.

So, for us, this was an experience whereby we thought we knew what we were looking for and what we were going to see, but the reality of it all, as it began to dawn on us, made us wonder why the literature and publicity about Colonia so ill-represents the true importance of the place. Its recognition as a World Heritage site should have provided the clue, but we were slow on the uptake. It is so, indeed.

Outside the Old Town, the whole Colonia area is experiencing a mini-boom of both tourism and vacation-home development, and seems to be keeping it under fairly good control thus far. Three chain hotels are present – Sheraton, Kampinsky, and Radisson – but only the Radisson is in the town and it is designed completely to fit in with the local architecture – low-slung, almost severe in angles, appropriate coloring and accoutrements. The other two are larger but also well-done and far from town.

Thursday we were invited to visit the home and farm of a couple from Buenos Aires who are approaching retirement and have staked their claim on a lovely property about 12 km northwest (upriver) from the town, in the middle of rolling hills, vineyards, trees, and various crops. Properties closest to the River Plate have marvelous views out over the sand beaches and waters, while those more inland have an almost equally-compelling view of the countryside of the litoral, with scent-laden breezes (as in Normandy) that indicate the presence of the sea. Carlos and Silva Jobke, friends of Maria’s from her teaching at Northlands School, bought their little estancia a couple of years ago and are in the midst of a slow and careful stick-and-stone reconstruction and rehabilitation of the house, which now has running (cold) water and electricity and, just recently, a telephone. It’s very much a farmer’s or rancher’s house, with a covered asado grill in back, heavy stone and cement construction, tin roofs, thick walls, and shaky windows. Surrounding the house are trees, fruit trees (including a tangerine tree that produces tangerines that taste like lemons!) and flowering bushes. Evidence of lots of former junk persists in the discoloration of some of the grass, but all in all, it’s a place that is and will be fun to work on while in the meantime providing everything one needs to live there day-to-day.

In the neighborhood are wineries, large commercial farms and ranches, and a smattering of fancy houses of both old and new design and construction. We saw the very modern and angular home with pool, deck, tennis court, etc., that could have been transplanted from the Hamptons. But in nearly every case, the houses were sited in ways that did not draw undue attention, often with long tree-lined drives and gathered shade trees around the homes. I’m not great about land and house prices info, but Carlos said that one could easily purchase a livable, convenient place with up to perhaps 50 acres of land (if one wanted land) for as little as US 50,000. Or more, of course.

The weather during our time there was very agreeable until the last day, when it turned serious and produced huge whitecaps on the River and made even the big car ferry rock and roll a bit on its way back to Buenos Aires. During the week it was mostly sunny, occasionally breezy, and very pleasant for walking a lot, wearing only a sweater and windbreaker. The town is remarkably quiet during the week, especially in winter, and by dinner time Friday night (9 and on) the visitor population increases to its weekend levels. Summers are more crowded, although some days are very hot if there’s no breeze. Nonetheless the town is always much cooler than downtown Buenos Aires, and of course smog-free and much quieter. For those of you interested, Uruguay is the only Latin American country where smoking is forbidden inside any commercial or public building; the law was promulgated by the President of Uruguay, Tabaré Vásquez, via what we would call in the US an Executive Order. This is obeyed without apparent complaint and we saw no lighted tobacco products anywhere inside. Someone told us part of the reason Uruguayans obey the law is because that’s what Uruguayans tend to do, and in addition, the President was/is a practicing MD whose specialty is oncology; he told me you didn’t need to write me to point this out. The food in Colonia is like the food in Buenos Aires, although perhaps offering more seafood dishes, and Uruguayan wine, though not as good as Argentine wine, is also more expensive. Our very pleasant posada was US 50 a night, including a wonderful breakfast.
So the verdict is in: After deciding to abandon our proposed frantic trip to the great Northwestern areas of Salta, Jujuy, and Tucumán, and opt for the quieter, closer, easier, trip to Colonia del Sacramento, we can pronounce it a great success and very much look forward to returning.

I have been trying to fix my internet connection for the last two months, at least. Back then, some kind of virus invaded, and after getting it fixed, everything worked as always except the ability to access secure internet sites, such as my bank, mail service, and online mail-order sites. I estimate that I’ve spent perhaps 100 or more hours trying to find out how to fix my internet/brower settings so as to be able to get back into the secure sites. Meanwhile, to check my bank account or do similar things, I had to go to a nearby locutorio (internet/long distance phone place) and use one of their machines. This is/was certainly not onerous, but it’s much more convenient to do it all from home.

Today I returned for perhaps the 20th time to the good ol’ Microsoft “fix-it” site and tried once again. I can’t remember all the attempted fixes I had tried – everything from re-doing the computer’s registry to adjusting every setting on Internet Explorer, firewall, security systems, and the like. Nothing but nothing had worked before. But today I noticed yet another possible fix and after clicking all over the place finally was able to download and install it. It worked.

I still don’t know what the problem was, but I was assured by my local provider, Arnet (a part of Telecom Argentina) that it wasn’t their fault. I had suspected it wasn’t but I’d been checking everything. Now, all of a sudden, upon restarting my computer after installing some obscure firewall-registry fix, bingo! It’s back in service.

Now, of course, I’m just waiting for the next problem. Thank goodness (knock wood) my very nice Toshiba laptop that I bought just before moving here has continued to perform perfectly. Since I don’t move it around and try to be very careful with it, I’m hoping it will hang in there for a couple of years at least. Until more local assembly plants are in service here, international-brand computers are very expensive, and the local brands are fairly obscure and no one seems to feel very safe with them.

It's been awhile, so I thought I'd spend a cool Argentine morning updating things. You'll notice in the way the blog is set up that until this point the entries don't seem exactly chronological; if so, it's because I did a cut-and-paste action to bring various items I'd sent as regular e-mails into the blog.

The biggest thing in Argentina right now is the World Cup games going on in Germany, and as I write Argentina is starting to look good at least as a finalist and perhaps as champion, although it's always dangerous to suggest that! At least the bookies in London have changed the odds a lot to make it harder to win lots of money on the team.

The games are seen here on satellite television at 10 a.m. and 1 and 4 p.m., which means it's pretty much a daytime thing, and as a result, the local school districts have pretty much allowed school/teacher discretion if an important game is on. Most schoolchildren -- as well as most Argentines in general -- will drop everything and go into viewing mode for the duration of an Argentina game. There's a big game tomorrow against Holland, the last team in our Group C hat we haven't played, and then things move on to the playoffs. There's so much information about all of this on the Web that it doesn't bear repeating here, but it's all very exciting and has the country beginning to wonder if we can go all the way.

The weather, for me, can only be called ideal, probably because I like cooler weather and don't mind the occasional rainy or windy day. But the overall difference from weather in NYC is that it is never quite as violent nor extreme. The Southern Hemisphere is free from hurricanes, and the worst weather we get her is the reverse of the Canadian Effect -- the bad weather blows up from the South, all the way from Antarctica through lower Patagonia and then along the huge Pampas plains and slams into the warmer/wetter air in the North and there we are. That isn't the only type of weather, but it's primary. The national weather service here is run by the Argentine Air Force (for 130 years) and they seem to do a pretty good job of predicting things, thought not always, of course -- just like everywhere else in the world. I'm loving it and enjoy long walks and explorations during the days, which although short, are bright and crisp.

Most schoolchildren will have two or three weeks off in July, sort of like Christmas vacation in the North, and many who have relatives in the Northern Hemisphere will flee with their families to enjoy some summer weather up North. Maria del Carmen and I were having a late lunch at the great old Richmond confeteria on Calle Florida downtown yesterday and noticed three young US guys at the table next to us. Since most Americans here are very easy to overhear -- they talk loudly all the time -- we learned involuntarily that they are all returning students from the graduate school of business (the Eller School) at my alma mater, the University of Arizona. They are here for two weeks doing some visiting to local companies and businesses and will be moving on to Brazil and Mexico before returning to the States. I continue to be proud of myself for doing absolutely nothing to acknowledge either their presence or my Arizona roots and the fact that I was graduated from the U of Az! Maria and I spoke Spanish the whole time and tried to hear each other over the din of the young men's conversation -- every other word of which seemed to consist of the word "like."

For Maria's time off in July we are trying to decide which part of this vast country to visit for a week or so. The finalists seem to be Salta and environs, in the far Northwest; Cordoba and the interesting towns around it in the near Northwest; and Colonia del Sacramento, the World Heritage Jesuit-founded town across the River Plate from here in Uruguay. I think it will be either Cordoba or Colonia this time, and will report accordingly.

Yet another understanding of the history of this country has occurred for me. It has to do with the role theatre and drama has played in educating and enlightening the Argentines about the very complex history of immigrations that occurred in much of the 19th and early 20th centuries here. The population doubled early in the 20th century just from immigration alone, and those folks came mostly from Spain, Italy, and Germany, but many other smaller but notable groups also arrived, including Jews from Russia (Jews are often called Rusos in conversation here, just as Spaniards are often called Gallegos because so many of them came from the northern area of Galicia in Spain); Christian Arabs from Lebanon, Syria, and other parts of the Middle East; many different Slavic peoples, especially Ukranians; Balkans from Romania and Bulgaria; and on and on. But an interesting part of the Argentine version of the melting-pot theory is that all this immigration has not resulted in intercultural strife. There is very little, if any, discrimination by anyone towards anyone else, in school or in society. And since the mid-19th century there have been many popular plays and stories written about various groups, their histories, and how they adapted to life in Argentina. Schoolchildren all read these various accounts and are well-versed in the issues of diversity that exist here, and as a result, tolerance abounds. Many of you will know that Argentina once had a sizable population of Black Africans, but the actual fact now is that that population was almost entirely assimilated through marriage and there are very few people in Argentina that anyone would recognize or imagine as being of African heritage. This stands in great contrast to the huge country to the north of here, Brazil, of course, where perhaps half the population is dark-skinned and related in many ways to African culture -- including religious rites and such. The more noticeable physical traits here these days are those of the native American populations that have immigrated here from Peru, Paraguay, Boliva, Ecuador, and other northern countries.

One of my projects for the rest of the winter here is to discover a tennis operation where I can begin getting back into shape to play following my broken-kneecap event of December 2004. I've thought about getting back into golf as well, which is very popular here, but I still don't have the patience for it. So I hope I'll be able to report a return to the courts in the near future!

Now to try to add the pictures to the Patagonia post that didn't make it last time!