Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Driving Miss Mendoza

So, we broke down and bought a car – we keep telling ourselves the only reason we bought the car was to ensure that we got Mia to school on time each morning, but the truth is that we like the freedom that comes from having a car (and we just couldn’t afford to have Janalee walk past all of the clothing stores everyday). So, it seemed cheaper to buy a car (that is a lot of shirts at 20 pesos a pop).

A picture of our car is on the right. It is a Suzuki Fun, which is essentially the exact same car as a Chevrolet Corsa. I took the picture from above because it makes the car look much bigger (muy grande even) than it actually is. While not a big car it is a fun car to own in Mendoza (you knew I was going to say the Fun is fun at some point so I got it out of the way early on). In truth I don’t think we would want anything larger here – it would be too big of a target. Which gets me to the point of this blog – driving in Mendoza.

Now that I drive regularly I have a much better sense of why the State Department lists auto accidents as the number one health threat to Americans traveling to Argentina. Driving here is nuts. So, here are my tidbits for anyone hoping to drive in Argentina:

Pedestrians – in the U.S. pedestrians have the right of way. In Argentina pedestrians have the right to get out of the way and they should know enough to exercise that right. If you are walking don’t think a crosswalk means you will be safe – it only means drivers know where you are (for a better shot at you). Janalee has gotten to be so adept at not stopping for pedestrians that the other day when she nearly ran over an older couple and they had the temerity to holler “this is a cross walk” she hollered back “stupid tourists”. True story.

Stop Signs – Don’t stop at stop signs. I am not at all certain what stop signs are meant to signify, but if you stop at one you are very likely to be hit by the car behind you. The correct procedure is to slow down and look for oncoming traffic. If the oncoming traffic is right on top of you hit the brakes and hope the person behind you doesn’t think you should go. If the oncoming traffic is a little way down the road slow down and place approximately 2/3 of your car in the oncoming lane and gun the engine until you can go (you could also honk the horn and scream at them for being slow).

Stoplights – Stop for red lights. A yellow light also means stop. When the folks driving in the oncoming lane see that your light has turned yellow they start going – regardless of whether or not there is someone already in the lane. By the time a red light has turned green the first row of cars has already crossed the lane. If you try to shoot through a yellow you will probably hit two or three cars, maybe a bicyclist and if you are having really bad luck that day a couple of dogs.

My advice, don’t drive in Mendoza until you have had a chance to watch the process up close and personal. If you must drive in Mendoza it is important to practice OFFENSIVE driving (take that anyway you want). Really, if you are going to come and visit we will drive you – it is probably more frightening at first, but we have a slight advantage because we have some experience.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Happy Birthday Mia

This week marks Amelia’s fourth birthday and it is off to a great start. The day before her birthday she was treated to a party at her school. The whole thing was a bit of a surprise for us. When we arrived at school in the morning we were met by five kids who gave Mia presents and then four older kids (they must have been 10 – I mean OLD kids) sang Happy Birthday. Mia was a bit surprised and spent the entire time hanging onto my neck whispering, “What are they doing?” I think she was excited, if surprised, and it was great to see the student body of Colegio San Andres reach out to Mia. She didn’t know what to do, but it was pretty cool for me to see. And, the birthday party was only starting. At snack time I showed up with a cake and juice boxes for Mia’s class. Her class sang Happy Birthday in English and then in Spanish and finally a group of girls from the classroom next door sang it in Italian. The festivities continued into clase de musica where we wore big foam hats. All in all, the kids probably sang Happy Birthday 12 times (and each time better than the time before). You can see the photos

To top of the day we had dinner at one of Mia’s favorite places – El Planque. I will write some more about El Planque later, but suffice it to say that Mia loves the Papas Fritas and Jamon y Queso Empanadas. So, I helped her eat two or three orders of each. So much for the diet, but how many times does your kid turn four? I guess that depends on how many kids you have.

Good night to all.

Monday, March 13, 2006

A Swimming Demon

Mia’s swimming lessons have continued and she is making great progress. Last week she topped off all of her hard work by swimming to her teacher without any kind of floatation device (no paddle board, no floaties and no tube). While her swimming includes as much time underwater as above water, she is becoming quite the swimmer (in her father’s eyes that is). I have visions of her swimming the 200 M Butterfly in the 2022 Summer Olympics (or perhaps watching them on TV – but who is to say she won’t be swimming). Of course, this vision assumes that she inherited exactly none of my physical prowess.

Anyway, being the overly proud father that I have become I made a photo album to share with everyone. You can see the photos here.

On another random note someone emailed me and asked why you don’t see any photos of me on the website. The simple answer is that I am the one who writes the blogs and takes the photos – I don’t want to put photos of me on the site, so I don’t. There you have it – no more reason to wonder about that.

And, one final shout out to our friends who recently got much older. Peter Loge marked another year over 40 (sorry about “outing” you with the American University Co-eds, but they were going to find out eventually). And, David Stempien joined the ranks of the over 40 crowd. My only piece of advice is that being over 40 is not as bad as it seems – there is life after 40 (at least that is what I hear from Janalee – how would I know what it is like to be over 40?).

May the road always rise to meet your feet!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

February’s Food and Wine Recommendation

Can it be that we have been here three full months? I doesn’t seem like it, and yet here I am writing my second installment of monthly wine and food highlights. The month of February was filled with Janalee working, Mia starting school and me battling hormigas and the pileta (swimming pool) – somehow we still found a way to taste some amazing wine and food.

This month’s food highlight is what is know here as an Asado. We have now hosted four Asado’s, each featuring a wealth of wonderful food. Interestingly I have found a way not to cook at any of these events and still I have had plenty to eat. Michael has become the unofficial Asador (fancy name for cook) at our house. Mia and I have two favorites at these events: Chorizo (an amazing type of sausage - not like the American or Mexican chorizo we have tasted) and Lomo de Cerdo (pork loin). The meat is cooked for 2 hours over a wood fire and is amazingly tender. Mia has been known to battle for her chorizo if she doesn’t get an adequate supply and I am happy to say that the Lomo de Cerdo usually arrives at the end of the meal when the poor planners among us have eaten their fill – leaving plenty for Mia and I. I have added a photo of Michael working the Asado (with phone attached to ear).

This month’s wine is Carmelo Patti’s Gran Assemblage 2002. Carmelo Patti is something of a legend here in Mendoza and has built his reputation on being the master of fine wines in the area. The Gran Assemblage is his masterpiece. It is a blend of his other wines and is as smooth as any wine you will ever have – the taste of fruit jumps out at you and the finish is amazing. Carmelo ages his wine for a year in the tank and another year (at a minimum) in the barrel before it goes to bottle – to say he is a perfectionist is to underestimate his work.

I am not the only person who finds his work amazing – I found the following on the web about Carmelo and his wine – I don’t know who wrote this, but I added a link to their site so that you can read the full article.

“As we tasted the wine from his winery, Carmelo was excited to talk about his production as if it was one of his children. He described its birth and the cares he had had to take as it grew up, always alert to every detail. Already in the casks, we tasted a riper wine and its incredible assemblage, a blend of four varieties, which awakens amazing sensations as it is sampled. It is hard to describe. When I met Carmelo, my vision about wineries changed completely. I understood that there is something irreplaceable beyond technology to make a good wine: the art and the love transmitted by a good enologist.” Here is the link .

Why am I diverging from my usual (as if one month creates a trend) naming of a restaurant in Mendoza? Because we have had a series of great meals in our own home and last week was typical of that event (if smaller). Last week we hosted 7 people, drank wines from the business’ “Reserve Room” and talked about life in Mendoza and the future of the wine business here. It was a fun evening (it is hard not to have fun drinking $200 bottles of wine and eating steak slow cooked over a wood fire) and reminded me that we came here was to reconnect to old friends, make new ones and experience the world in an entirely new way. The dinner last week accomplished all of that – I guess we can come home now (yeah right -- I believe it is still winter in DC -- I am not planning on seeing snow or temperatures below 50 anytime soon).

Happy Trails!