Uno: Don’t shake the hand of a person of the opposite sex unless you’re closing on a real estate deal. One quick, but genuine kiss to the right cheek and you are Senor Rico Suave.
Dos: Remember that as a pedestrian, you hold the same status with drivers as a stray chicken.
Tres: Despite the Latin American stereotype, Argentinians, particularly in Buenos Aires moves right along quite nicely. I kept showing up to stuff early expecting a cluster and was pleasantly disappointed.
Cuatro: Tip like a rock star. Yeah, yeah, tipping 10% or less is customary in other countries but you’re not from ‘other countries’. Not if you’re a friend of mine. Point is, unlike some Europeans who might think you’re a sucker for dropping 20% percent everywhere you go (I’m talking to you, Malta), Argentinians are hurting financially. They’re nice people who really appreciate a generous propino (which would be a great name for an erectile dysfunction drug).
Cinco: I can only think of four things. Sue me.
I arrived in Mendoza, Argentina’s prime wine region under gray skies. My weather luck may be running out as rain is forecast for much of this week. BUT, tomorrow is going to be beautiful and I need to decide between exploring the Andes by car OR touring wineries by bike. My dilemma’s not as bad as Sophie’s Choice. It’s much harder.
Well look who’s making friends! I bought the very last ticket to a dinner show featuring live Brazilian music. Happily, I was seated at this table with three charming divorcees who spoke barely a lick of English. Best Spanish lesson I had all week. They think I’m a narcoleptic podiatrist from Florence, but we had some laughs.
And finally today, an Argentine puzzler. Anyone know why one (and only one) windshield wiper is left in the up position on each of these three parked cars? No, it’s not snowing. And yes, the word for ‘windshield wiper’ in Spanish is awesome…Limpiaparabrisas.
Four hours of foreign language instruction per day is about two hours more than my brain can handle. Sometimes I just have to slow down the teacher’s relentless conjugation of irregular verbs by asking a stupid question like ‘how do you say, on-fleek in Spanish?’ She’s getting back to me on that.
The little linguistic victories are thrilling. Successfully transacting the purchase of dental floss can make me feel as fluent as Miguel de Cervantes. But trying to learn the proper usage of the pronouns ese, esa, este, esta, estes, estas, esto, estos, aquel, aquella, aquello, aquellas, aquellos seems like something I didn’t leave enough life span to complete.
But when I’m feeling frustrated or low, the frisky little Patagonian Mara never fails to cheer me up. They roam freely in Buenos Aires and though they’re technically very large rodents, I prefer to see them as tiny little donkeys.
First day of Spanish language school and guess what? I’m the most popular student. Duh. My classmates are pretty cool though, too. They come from England, Australia, Switzerland, Germany and lots of other countries. There’s only one other American that I’ve met and she’s from San Francisco. They’re all young professionals- most of them on paid or unpaid leave from their jobs. I had to quit my job to get this much time off. Thanks Obama.
I don’t intend this to be a food blog, but this cat with the tie-dyed shirt and the rattail grilled up the best street food ever. It’s called a ‘choripan’, a slightly spicy sausage on a plain roll covered with chimichurri sauce- red or green. I opted for both. Washed down with red wine poured out of a two liter plastic jug, it’s one of those experiences that makes a 9 hour flight feel worth it.
If this is how they celebrate Good Friday in Buenos Aires, I’d hate to be here for New Year’s Eve. Fernet Branca tastes like Robitussin and gasoline. One ounce makes a nice digestif, but around here, they guzzle it like Mountain Dew.
On the food front, I finally had some of that famed Argentinian cow flesh. It was just a casual lunch joint special, and yes it was good. Very good. But I’m still planning on a go-to-hell steak dinner at a proper Parilla.
Food trucks serve up sandwiches with sausage, pork shoulder and of course, beef. This one pictured is called “Parilla Mi Sueno” or Grill of my Dream. See what they did there?
Today I crossed the muddy Rio Plato on a ferry to Colonia, Uruguay. I wish I had budgeted more time there because it had an intriguingly artsy vibe. Uruguay is increasingly popular with American expats and retirees and I can see why. Some Argentinians concede that things just work more efficiently across the river. I may try to get to Montevideo before returning home.
Fishing off the lighthouse in Colonia, Uruguay
I’m trying my best with the language but asking the flower vendor if I could ‘marry her llama’ was just sloppy Spanish.
I totally forgot President Obama was coming to Buenos Aires until I tried to go the zoo and the entire park was closed for his visit. And just like in the U.S, they’re blaming him for all kinds of stuff.
Today is the 40th anniversary of a military coup that began a reign of torture and kidnapping that scarred millions of Argentinians. Meeting the the Argentine President, Obama acknowledged the U.S.’s failure to oppose the human rights atrocities, but like the poster says, many here don’t think that ‘pays the debt’.
What else? Tried the national drink today, “Yerba Mate”.. a sort of green tea brewed in a mah’-tay cup and drunk through a filtered straw.
Luke, our tour guide brewed up a batch in the shade of a banyan tree. My new Aussie pal, Max and I gamely slurped it down and then fell into a brief ‘mate coma’. The anecdote is a caipirinha cocktail. (see photo at top)
Finally today, I’ll share some random pictures that are suitable for framing especially if you have lots of blank wall space.
Did I really cross the equator to watch Netflix in a shabby Airbnb studio apartment? Sorry. I just ran out of gas at the end of my first day. After all, I still have some of that sticky stuff on my chest from the electrodes they used to monitor my vital signs at St. Joe’s.
Day one involved the usual disorientation and rookie mistakes of a first time visitor to any country. Changing money took nearly half the day. TIP: Argentinians scoff at $20 dollar bills. Benjamins get the best exchange rate. Also learned that hugging random strangers is met with suspicion.
Since the primary goal of this three week trip is to attain some level of Spanish fluency, I’m happy to find that very little English is going on up in this pais. Since I stepped off the plane 24 hours ago,, I’ve spoken just a few sentences of my native tongue and that was muttering to myself about a lens falling out of my reading glasses.
Traveling solo is a strange experience if you’ve never done it. On the one hand, you don’t have to negotiate anything with anyone. Decisions about how long to stay at the museo or whether to turn derecha or izquerda at the intersection are all yours. On the down side, you have to make all the decisions. Dining alone has made me realize how many people dine alone. But I can tell you this: being alone by choice is a lot more fun than being a party of one because you have no friends.
Today I tackle the subway system and enroll in my Spanish program for next week. Better pictures on the way.
Bottom line, I had a blood clot form in my leg, possibly from a long airline flight. I was put on IV blood thinnners in the ICU and will now take anti coagulant pills for three to six months. Case closed. I hope to resume the first ‘leg’ of my Argentina trip next week. See what I did there? Leg?
The nurses at St. Joseph’s in Tampa were caring, professional and kind. But after spending three days and nights confined to a hospital bed, I’m convinced our medical needs an overhaul. The labyrinthine and disconnected lines of communication would give Kafka the creeps.
I won’t go into details here, but one of my key physicians was completely out of touch for two full days as I lay in a hospital bed. No checks, no updates, no questions, no answers. I called his office from my room asking for a call back. Nothing. (I should note, other doctors were very attentive.
Generally, communication goes in one directi0n.. always AT the patient. The essential problem in my case seemed to be multiple doctors, and multiple departments failing to communicate with each other- none of them fully responsible for your care. For me, it resulted in irritation and frustration. I’m a pushy reporter so I can irritate them back. But I’d hate to be wheeled into that same system with a more serious condition that prevented me from being the squeaky wheel.
I’ve drawn a lot of flack for criticizing healthcare in the past. Doctors will blame the cumbersome insurance bureaucracy, non-compliant and uneducated patients and, of course- Obama. I’ll acknowledge we have the best medicine in the world in some aspects, but it many ways, we don’t. I’m just saying, lots of cumbersome and just plain silly practices need to go- starting with hospital gowns. They’re not gowns. They’re large hankerchiefs and they make patients looks like deranged flashers. And I have haven’t even got my bill yet!
Since returning from San Francisco I’ve been experiencing a little pain and swelling in my left calf. I thought I might’ve overdone it climbing those famous hills. Just to be safe I had my doctor take a look a few hours before my planned departure.
She didn’t like what she saw so she sent me to tower radiation for an ultrasound. Sure as shit I have a deep vein thrombosis also known as a blood clot. Not a big deal unless it dislodges and goes up into your lung- a scenario much more likely to happen on a long flight to… say Argentina.
That’s why I find myself in a hospital bed instead of an airline seat. From what I’ve learned so far I’ll be put on powerful blood thinners and sent home. Hopefully I’ll be able to take my trip in a few days or maybe a week. I’ll let you know.
Men plan. God laughs!