Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Daily Schedule

Even though I'm on vacation, I like to have a daily schedule.  In Buenos Aires, I would start my day with a trip to the gym in our building every other morning, breakfast in the flat, shower and work on my course.  Once my work was done, I'd head out to explore the city, picking up groceries if necessary, and returning to the flat when it started to get dark around 5 pm (it is winter here, after all).  When John would get home from work, we'd get cleaned up and head out for dinner. Since BA is such a tourist town, it was easy to find lots of great restaurants that were open by 8:30 pm.

Cordoba is different and my schedule is not working anymore!  I have to get out of the mindset of doing my work first and then heading out for the afternoon.  The problem is that most stores in our neighbourhood close down for an afternoon siesta.  By 2:30 pm everything from variety stores, fruit and vegetable stalls, the dry cleaners, and even the hair salon is closed for the afternoon. 

The market across the street -
"Open Monday to Saturday
8:00 to 2:00;   5:00 to 9:30
10:00 to 2:00"

This morning John had a driver picking him up at 5:30 am for a ride to the airport.  He is heading back to Buenos Aires, returning tomorrow night around 8 pm.  We decided to go out for dinner last night, and headed out 'early' since he had to be up to early in the morning.  The first restaurant, San Honorato, was locked tight and inside we could see that they were just beginning to set up for the evening service.  It was 8:25.  We went to three other restaurants, all locked tight, until we finally found a parillo (BBQ) place around the corner from our apartment that was open. I think they may have unlocked the door early by accident, but they let us in.  The staff were still folding napkins and setting glasses on the table, and had only begun to get the BBQ going, so we thought we'd better order a salad as it might be awhile before dinner was ready.  Did I mention that it was almost 9 pm by the time we finally found an open restaurant?  And that we were the only customers until about 9:30?  I'm not sure how long it is going to take to adjust to this schedule - it may be a very long time.

Late night dinner at El Patio Parrilla - salad, grilled vegetables and beef.
There was a cutting board in the middle of the table, and they served John's steak and my beef medallions
on the cutting board, so neither of us had a plate. 

Maybe that's why all the shops close down for the afternoon. Everyone needs to go home and have a nap so they can stay awake for dinner at 10pm.  I think we may start having more meals at home; it's just too hard to wait til 9 pm to head out for dinner.  And I don't have to work in the morning! 

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Sunday in the Park

John had the day off today, probably his last day off before we head back to Canada in mid-August, so we spent a leisurely day walking to a big park not far from our apartment - Parque Sarmiento.  There is a big midway and a zoo, which we didn't bother with, and huge grounds where we wandered.  I can't wait to come back and see it in the summer.

Outside the Civic Building, on our way to the park

A beautiful bench on the staircase up to the park

Surprise - even more stairs when you get to the top

An ancient ferris wheel - I wonder if it will be running this summer?

Teatro Griego, a huge amphitheatre in the park, where they hold concerts in the summer.  Do you suppose that big moat in the front is a mosh pit?

Two islands in a big lake in the middle of the park.

Wild parrots or parakeets at the park

Cactus Garden at the Park Entrance

This art installation was very simple yet very striking.  There are 400 circles, in a variety of colours and sizes.  Each one is marked with a date, and they are arranged in chronological order to mark the 400th anniversary of the founding of Cordoba. The first/last circle in the installation is marked 2010 at the top and 1610 at the bottom.  On this day there was a group filming something and some easels set up for some sort of children's art activity.  And of course, a stray dog or two...

"The work of the bicentennial is designed as a sculptural installation that embraces space.
Each circle represents a year and here you can read the important event of that year.
The visitor may cross it through the passage of time."

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Casa Numero Tres

All settled in to our new home.  It's on a nice quiet street with lots of nice restaurants nearby and a big grocery store, home furniture store, and 'Walmart' type store within a five minute walk.  John loves the real kitchen and separate bedroom; I love the in-suite washing machine, the balcony and the neighbourhood.

Living room  - after I took this photo, I got rid of the random knickknacks
on the coffee table.

Dining room

Kitchen (with washing machine!)

Bathroom, with separate bathtub, toilet and bidet area

BBQ on the patio, just outside our bedroom

Giant bedroom closet

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Quebrada del Condoritas National Park

On Sunday John had the entire day off (hurray!!!) and I booked a trip with Condor Expeditions to Quebrada del Condoritas National Park.  The driver and two guides, Maria and Barbara, picked us up at the hotel at 8:30 am we were off for the almost two hour drive to the park.  We drove through the foothills (Sierra Chicos) and on to the Sierra Grandes.
Once we arrived, we made a quick pit stop at the beautiful new visitor centre and then began the 6 km walk to Balcon Norte to see the condors.  Condors have a wingspan of 3 meters, or nine feet, and we were quite excited about a chance to see these magnificent birds in their natural habitat. The landscape was a combination of grasslands and rocks, with a well marked path taking us up and down the mountain range. 

Can't remember the name of this bird, but we saw several of them
including this pair. The male was quite curious to see if we had any
scraps for him.

We finally arrived at Balcon Norte, and spent about an hour there, watching the condors and other birds, enjoying the spectacular scenery, and for me at least - gathering my energy for the long walk back to the visitor centre.  The high altitude and occasional steep climbs were not easy on my asthma.  Thank goodness for modern medicine.

Condors roosting on the steep cliff walls

Because of the high altitude and low rainfall, there are almost no trees in the park, and the few that do grow there are only about a metre tall.  They are twisted and have dark red trunks that reminded us of cedar.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Food, Glorious Food!

Anyone who knows me knows that my life revolves around food.  Yes, my family is most important, but after that, life revolves around food.  I've made the adjustment to Argentinian style dining, but it hasn't been easy.

Mealtimes are not the same as in North America.  Breakfast at our hotel is served from 7 to 10 am on weekdays, and from 8 - 11 pm on weekends.  John has to delay the start of his workday if he wants to be able to have breakfast before he leaves for work; normally he would be at work before 7 am.  Lunchtime is around 1:30 or 2 pm.  There are lots of great cafes for lunch, or sometimes I just grab an empanada from a stand in one of the pedestrian malls.

John and I had lunch at La Fontaine, an outdoor cafe featuring works by local artists, and the ubiquitous stray dogs.

Dinnertime.........well, you've got a long wait til dinnertime my friends.  Restaurants in Buenos Aires and in Cordoba don't open for dinner until at least 8 pm and often not until 8:30 or 9 pm.  And since Argentina is famous for slow service, by the time you are seated, have some bread and some wine, you might not be eating around 10 pm. Then you wait for your bill and by the time you walk back home, it's bedtime.  We usually get to the restaurants shortly after they open, and within half an hour they are always packed with local families as well as tourists and business people.

Portions here are enormous and no one has heard of doggy bags, so John and I will often split a salad and an entree.  Or we each order our meat entree, and then split a side of vegetables. Meat courses come with just meat, and then you order whatever side dishes you want such as potatoes and veg. I've been keeping my eyes open for vegetarian options so that we have a selection of nice places to eat when Madison and Shelbe come to visit in the fall.  Food here tends to be on the bland side, and any ethnic dishes tend to be blander than they would be at home to cater to Argentinian palates.

John's steak at Alcorta.  Back home, we might call this a roast and serve it to a family.

BBQ places (parilla) are very popular with a variety of meats cooked over wood coals. 

Dulce de Leche is super popular in Argentina.  To paraphrase the old lady in the Frank's Red Hot commercial, "They put that sh*t on everything!"  For those of you who aren't familiar with Dulce de Leche, it's made by slowly heating sweetened milk until it's like a caramel sauce.  The literal translation is Sweet of Milk, and we've seen it listed that way on some menus that were translated into English.  You can find it in any kind of dessert including dulce de leche flavoured ice cream.  You can buy it by the jar, or in big tubs, at any grocery store. On the breakfast buffet, dulce de leche is available to spread on your toast, and the English translation is "Milk Jam." 

The English version of the Dessert Menu at Da Minga, in Buenos Aires. It's wonderful that they have English menus, but not everything translates.  Some items for dessert include Lemon Foot; Pears to the Burgundy or the Mist; and Pancake of Sweet of Milk, which is probably a crepe with dulce de leche. 

We had the Apple Tarantella, which turned out to be like cheesecake with cooked apple slices on top, covered with dulce de leche.  Delicious! 

The odd thing is that even though the locals seem to subsist on a diet of white carbs (facturas, medalunnas, chirrillos, etc), red meat, red wine and late meals, the obesity rate of 18 % in Argentina is lower than Canada (24%) and the United States (34%).  How is that possible?

Because the economy in Argentina is not very strong right now, we get a great exchange rate for our dollar, which makes eating in restaurants here very reasonable. And wine is dangerously inexpensive - about 40 to 50 pesos for a nice bottle of wine with dinner, which is about $10 Canadian.  In the grocery stores, if you buy food that has been grown and processed in Argentina, it is very cheap. If you buy something that has been imported from any other country, it is usually very expensive.  For example, I saw a tiny little container of blueberries, wilted and shrivelled that had been imported and they were 22 pesos ($5 Canadian).  For the same amount of money, I could by a mountain of local produce.

We are really looking forward to moving into the apartment on Tuesday.  We'll have a full kitchen with a big fridge and a gas stove with an oven so we can start eating some meals at home.  We had a tiny kitchen in our BA apartment with just two electric burners and a bar fridge, but even then we were able to eat some meals that we had prepared ourselves.  I'll miss the breakfast buffet each morning, but it will be nice to eat what we want and when we want. 

'Home cooking' in Buenos Aires

Thursday, 19 July 2012

A Day About Books .....

Yesterday when I was out for a walk, I happened upon a Children's Book Festival taking place in a converted church.  There was an iron gate, and a security guard, but I managed to talk my way inside.  It was beautiful.  A storyteller was entertaining a group of parents and children, and off to the side was "Bibliotech De Libros Fantasticos."

(Please forgive any of my translation errors throughout this blog. I mean no disrespect.)

"The bread of each day"
"He has left his book to take charge of their history"

"The garden was in bloom and the palabrero went by seas of God"

"There is history capable of stopping time"

"White field; Black flowers; A plow and five mares"

"Book of the Truth. Censored."

Way too much to translate.....

We all have to stop at some point and this book too.  De que huia?

 "The Dream of My Child" 
The dream of my child, who is travelling
The dream of my child, you are walking.

It was beautiful and inspiring.  So I thanked the security guard who let me in and walked a few minutes downtown to San Martin Plaza and got talking to a lady from Georgia who told me about El Museo de la Memoria, which is a memorial to "The Disappeared" from the Dirty War from 1976 - 1983, when a military dictatorship took over the government, dissolved the parliament, and ruled with an iron fist. The museum is located on a side street off of the square, in a building that served as a secret detention centre for interrogation and torture.  In Argentina, over 136,000 people were arrested, sent to prisons all over Cordoba, and many were never seen again.  Most of them were young students, teachers, professionals ........ anyone that the government considered a threat.  Student organizations and teachers unions were banned; the president of the teachers' union and his brother were shot dead in the union office.  In one room they had copies of letters that were sent out to school districts with lists of banned books, and photographs of teachers who were arrested.   In another, you could look at copies of some of the banned books. Children's books were banned "Por Fantasia Ilimitada" - for unlimited fantasy. After the stark reality of the detention centre, the bookroom was a colourful return to what is possible today.

This book, The Cube Tower, was banned because "serious shortcomings as social ideological symbolism confuse questions, objectives unsuitable to the fact, aesthetic, fantasy unlimited ...... leading to the destruction of traditional values ​​of our culture"  It was a pre-primer reader, a collection of short stories for beginning readers. Now you can buy it online at Amazon.com

It was hard to comprehend that only thirty years ago the "Bibliotech De Libros Fantasticos" would have been illegal; artists and organizers trying to plan such an event would have been arrested, and those attending would have been seen as a threat to the national culture.

It was a very emotional and moving experience to visit this memorial, and hard to put the impact into words. 

Photos of some of The Disappeared

An explanation of the artwork outside at the entrance to El Museo de la Memoria. The artist used the names of those detained at this centre to create fingerprints.  This was one of over 20 centres in Cordoba province; in Argentina, there were over 300 detention centres.

Memory, Truth, Justice