Friday, July 28, 2006

Caca de Pájaro

Why me? A question often asked by a person who has experienced bad luck. Why did the piano fall on my car? Why did my wife buy new boots? You all know the kind of bad luck I am talking about.

Why me was the question that I asked after I was hit with caca de pájaro. (For those of you reading along in English I will tell you that a pájaro is a bird – caca you will have to figure out on your own.) Since I moved to Mendoza I have been hit with caca de pájaro five times – cinco! In my entire life before moving to Mendoza I had it happen once – uno.

What is up? Do I look like a bird bano? Is my hair the color of a bird nest? Is it just a random occurrence? Is it some kind of kharmic payback for something I did as a kid? (I swear I didn’t do anything to any birds – it was Mike Olsen. Caca on him.)

Whatever it is I give up – it is someone else’s turn. Please, please caca somewhere else.

The bird pictured here is not the culprit. I just happened to see a Red Capped Cardinal the other day and thought is was amazing. For that coincidence it gets to be associated my rant. It is probably flying around right now asking itself “Why me”.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Feliz Dia Del Amigo

A little late, but Feliz Dia del Amigo - Happy Friends Day for all of you playing along in English. In Argentina they celebrate Dia Del Amigo by reaching out to friends that they might not otherwise see day to day. For us that means pretty much everyone we have made friends with over the last 20 years.

We spent Dia Del Amigo driving to San Rafael, a wonderful little city about 4 hours south of Mendoza. The drive reminded Janalee and I of our time in Arizona, Utah and Colorado. The country here is very much like the Southwestern U.S. -- where many of our friends and family still live. (Mia spent the time wishing we weren't in the car).

We hope that Friends Day finds you all happy, healthy and enjoying the heat wave!

Independence Day Asado

It has been a hectic couple of weeks and I keep putting off writing this little piece. I must be getting lazy. So, what has been up in Argentina that has been distracting me? Independence Day, horseback riding and Mia’s winter vacation have all taken some time. Now that I write it, it doesn’t sound like much. How about if I just say we have been enjoying the winter (average of 60 degrees – more like Spring really).

So, back to Independence Day – the big holiday is July 9th and proved to be a lot of fun. After finishing with Mia’s play at school we spent the weekend on the piece of land that Vines of Mendoza has purchased to build their resort and winery. There we rode horses and ate meat – there might have been some bread and vegetables around, but I can’t confirm that rumor.

Horse back riding was fantastic! It was really my first time on a horse and the horses were muy tranquilo (very calm). Which was good. At one point I was riding along with Pablo the gaucho (Argentine Cowboy) and he convinced me that I was ready to gallop. I went along with the idea. The only problem being that my attempt at galloping was, in a word, hilarious. So funny in fact that I thought Pablo might fall off from HIS horse – he was laughing so hard. Needless to say that was my last attempt at galloping for the day – better to spare everyone the risk of hurting themselves.

Amelia and Janalee were great on the horses. Mia absolutely loved it and has asked us to enroll her in a horse riding school that is near our house. I don’t know if we will go that far, but we will at least find more opportunities to ride.

After riding we all made our way to a dry streambed where we cooked an Asado. I don’t think I can really describe the entire process and do it justice. But I can honestly say that I have never been to a BBQ in a streambed before, so this was the best streambed BBQ I have ever had. The food was good, the friends were great and the day was beautiful. We have put the pictures here.

Not a bad way to spend a winter day. Hope you all had great Independence Days as well!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

9 de Julio

So what do Argentines do for Independence Day? If you have a kid in school you attend a school play or El Acto. Mia’s school presented a three-act one-hour ensemble piece highlighting the most important elements of Argentine independence. And, we had a great time.

Mia danced in her Falda de Pisana (kind of a cowboy skirt) and waved her panuelo (a blue handkerchief) with the rest of her class. She was quite cute and spent a good deal of time making sure her parents were still in the audience. You can see some photos of the event here.

I won’t go through how hard it was for me to find a skirt, basket and panuelo – I will just say that it went much better when I finally took Mia with me to explain what we needed. She chatters away in Espanol now – good thing she isn’t old enough to play really mean tricks on her dad – I would never know what was happening to me. Yes, my Spanish is still that bad.

I am going to write a bit more about the Asado we had on the actual Independence Day, but I am waiting for some more photos. The short story is in Argentina you spend the Independence Day eating meat and in our case riding horses.

Talk to you all soon.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Thinking of Jose

I have been thinking about this post for a long time -- which inevitably means it is going to be disappointing to both me and whoever reads it. I find that if you think about something too much it kills the best part of whatever idea got you started in the first place. But, in this case, I really had no idea where this post was going and so there is very little chance that I will kill the best part of the idea.

So, what have I been thinking about? General Jose de San Martin. Mendoza (and really all of Argentina) is riddled with statues, plazas, streets, schools, monuments dedicated to General José de San Martin. Why am I wondering about General San Martin in the middle of the night in the dead of winter? No reason really. But it is amazing to me how many things are named for San Martin in Argentina. Every city we have been to, regardless of size has a street named for the good general. It is usually the main street in town.

Random side note: In Utah the main street in every town is “State Street” – who was State and what did he do to have every main street named after him?

Who was San Martin? Are you crazy? That is like saying who was George Washington! Ok, a bit over the top there. But it is time for a bit of Argentine history.

San Martin is revered (not just liked or honored – revered I say!) in Argentina as the military hero who brought independence to the country; in Chile as the general who helped Bernardo O'Higgins oust the Spanish royalists; in Peru as the man who ended the vice-royalty system and liberated the country. His honorary titles included:

Generalissimo of the Ejército Unido de los Andes y de Chile
Fundador de la Libertad del Peru
Knight of the Andes
Santo de la Espada – Argentina’s greatest hero

One historian put San Martin’s legacy in these terms: He knew how to win. Not a bad way to be known if you are a general.

San Martin began his military training at age 13 in Madrid. While in Madrid he became fast friends with Bernardo O'Higgins, who would become the other half of a famed duo that would oust the Spanish from South America.

A side note on Bernardo O’Higgins: He was sent to study in Europe by his father, Ambrioso O’Higgins. The elder O'Higgins failed to publicly acknowledge the young Bernardo as his son (the younger Bernardo was the child of a local Chilean lady of some prominence – not the elder O'Higgins’ wife) and never really new him. The elder O'Higgins was the Spanish Governor of Chile at the time and later became the Viceroy of Peru. So what is the payback for not getting to know your son? He grows up and liberates Chile and Peru from Spain – I bet the Spanish were none to pleased with the elder O'Higgins after that little indiscretion.

Anyway, San Martín started his reputation for defeating the Spanish in 1813 when he rousted royalist forces at San Lorenzo. While he felt good about pushing the Spanish out of Argentina, he recognized that Argentina could not be free until the threat from Chile and Peru, both strongly Spanish royalist, ended.

In 1817 San Martin and O'Higgins led their combined armies over a pass nearly 15,000 feet high in the Andes Mountains. The march over the Andes has been memorialized in Mendoza at the Hill of the Glory.

Following Chile's independence, San Martin was offered the supreme dictatorship of Chile. He refused the honor. A few years later when he pulled off a similar victory in Peru he was offered the supreme dictatorship of Peru, which he also refused. Perhaps he was looking for a better offer.

There is a lot more to the story, but suffice it to say General San Martin did a lot. For all of his efforts he has a park (Parque de San Martin,) and a plaza (Plaza de San Martin,) named after him in Mendoza.

Hope that wasn’t too boring – like I said it has been banging around in my head for a while – I should have let it out earlier.

Random Note concerning the 4th of July

So the other day I was talking to someone in the U.S. and they asked, “What do Argentines do to celebrate the Fourth of July?” The answer is nothing. In Argentina they celebrate the 9th of July – Argentina’s Independence day. I don’t know what they do on that day, but I am willing to bet it includes cooking meat and drinking wine. We will post some photos for anyone interested next week.

Until next time, be strong and independent.

We went to the Zoo (and lived to tell the story)

Ok, so it has been said that I exaggerate once in a while. I don’t really agree with this assessment, but I realize that others think this it true – so I accept their opinions (not really, but it sounds nice).

Anyway, I am not exaggerating when I say Mia and I had the most up close and dramatic experience we have ever had at a zoo. In Mendoza the people are separated from the zoo animals by a metal bar about 3 feet high and a chain link fence. Sounds ok when you are talking about a Toucan – not so great when you are talking about a 350-pound Bengal Tiger. The upside – you can really see the animals in Mendoza. And, you get to see what happens when stupid people get drunk and have the chance to stand incredibly close to animals that think people are food. Two stories for you to chew on (this pun will be funny in about 30 seconds):

#1 There we are at the lion’s cage – maybe three in the afternoon – and two guys who have clearly had too much Frenet (the local equivalent of Tequila) decided that they are going to scream at the lion. At the National Zoo (in DC) these fools would be 100 yards away from the lions and zookeepers would be on top of them in a matter of minutes. In Mendoza these guys were 2 feet from the lions and there were no zookeepers in sight. And, the cages are essentially chain link fences (very much like the fence that used to separate our house in VA from Jose's house). Needless to say, the lion got a little bit perturbed. I found myself wondering how long that fence could hold that 400 pound lion and rooting for the lion. When I had this thought I decided we should visit the Llamas – no one was screaming at them.

#2 Puma are everywhere at the Mendoza Zoo – they are the local equivalent of mountain lions and they have a lot of them on display. So Mia and I are walking past the third Puma cage when a little boy standing near us sees a red ball in the cage and decides he wanted it. The boy runs, jumps the three-foot high guard rail and starts to reach into the cage. The Puma is no fool; he waited until the prey is close and then made his break for the boy. The mother arrived a split second before the Puma. No one seemed to think this was a big deal, except Mia’s overprotective father. At this point I thought it might be a good idea to visit the ostrich -- they didn't seem to be too interested in the kids hanging around.

Besides being a great adventure, it was a great reminder that animals are animals after all (and Rhinos are huge – especially when you are only four or five feet away). So, I have some photos from the day and you can see them here . I didn’t take as many as I would have liked, I was busy trying to keep one hand on the kid. Maybe next time I will be a little less nervous. Maybe not.

In the meantime, bless the beasts and the children.

Kicking the Winter Blahs

So, I haven’t been posting lately. A bit of the winter blahs have set in here in Mendoza. At least that is the excuse I am using today. But, to tell the truth it is hard to say it is really winter here – today it is 65 degrees and sunny. Maybe it is just that we have settled into living here and in some ways the excitement of living in another country is starting to wear off. Or perhaps, I have just been lazy. I don’t know and I am pretty sure no one cares.

But not the point. I am actually writing to mention that I have decided that it is winter and to celebrate I have added a set of Winter Photos. They all have stories to go with them – I have started writing the stories that go with the pictures today. I will post them sometime soon.

I just realized why I have the blahs – Argentina was robbed in the World Cup! We demand an investigation!

Hope you are having a great summer!