Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Cycle of Life......

For me (Jan writing now, not Vince… though I’m sure you will be able to figure that our in about two more lines), one of the things I love most about living here is our connection to the land--the soil, the grapes, the seasons, and the ways in which they connect us to the cycle of life. (Is anyone else feeling the urge to sing the theme to the Lion King? VM).

This is the second year we’ve celebrated Mia’s birthday abroad. Last year our Argentine friends asked us if we found a place to have the party, wanted to rent a moonbounce, etc. We said, “What? Are you kidding? She’s only four… we’ll have a fun party in the back yard! All we need are a few kids, a cake and some balloons.” Then, we began to attend Mia’s friends’ parties. We clearly misunderstood Argentine birthday norms. So, this year, we went all out -- depending on who you asked, we probably barely managed to pull off a reasonable facsimile of a birthday party como Mia’s amigos -- complete with a jugador (an entertainer), a giant cake for the 40 + kids in attendance, empanadas, tea sandwiches… and a piñata! I must admit; it was great fun!

This is also our second year to celebrate the harvest in Mendoza. Since the Vines of Mendoza team has grown from about 35 last year to almost 60 this year, it was a huge celebration. We picked about a hectare (just over 2 acres) of grapes in about 10 minutes -- OK, it took a little longer than that, but not much! -- and then enjoyed an asado in the vineyards, prepared by Marcelo our new Chief Financial Officer.

Mia left for home covered in dirt and grape juice, as did many of our staff members. A perfect day!

Friday, May 25, 2007

25 de Mayo - El Acto

There is just nothing like a school play. The type of school play that you attend when your kid is in kindergarten or first grade is an especially unique event. That is not to say that I don't love school plays - because I think they are great -- they just require a certain blindness to truly appreciate.

Yesterday we attended Amelia's school play - Viva La Patria - the celebration of the Argentine May Revolution. Being the overly proud father that I am I was certain (and remain so) that my daughter would play a part that was central to the Argentine Revolution. So, of course Amelia played one of several lavanderas (women who wash clothes). I need to read a bit more about this particular holiday to get a sense of the role of the lavandera (or the candle sellers that boys in Mia's class portrayed) in the bloodless revolution of May - but I am positive they were central players in the overthrow of Spanish rule.

For now, I will rejoice in the joy of watching my five year old sing the song of the lavandera, smile like she has just won an Oscar and hug every friend in sight. The joys of being a parent!

For those of you interested, you can see pictures of the big event (her third play - she is a regular on the stage) here. I really only expect Amelia's grandmother to look at these pictures - let's be honest this was no High School Musical.

Felice Dia Del 25 de Mayo!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Winter is Coming

It is true. Winter is once again coming to Mendoza. I guess you could say I am jumping the gun a bit on announcing winter because it is really just Fall. But Winter follows Fall, so I feel like I should go ahead and say Winter is coming - it is inevitable.

A couple of things about Fall and Winter in South America that have been true both years that we have been here. First, I spend all of the Summer (October through April) reminding everyone I know who lives north of Costa Rica that it is Summer where I am and Winter where they are. That joke is not nearly as funny when it is Winter here.

Second, inevitably someone from the U.S. will ask me a variation of the following question: “Isn’t it strange to have Christmas in June?” I was surprised last year when someone asked me this and more surprised when two people asked me this question this year (I thought I only knew one person who would come up with that question). So, just to dispel the myths that abound in the North. The day on which we celebrate Christmas does not change when you pass over the equator. Argentines use the exact same calendar (in Spanish of course) that we use in the U.S. It seems to me that someone would ask what it is like to celebrate Christmas when it is 95 degrees – that seems stranger to me. But, no one asked me that question.

Now that we have that clear – on to the topic of the Day: Fall. We have added some photos of the change of seasons in Mendoza – you can see them here. Pretty spectacular photos (I didn’t take them).

Monday, May 14, 2007


Wikipedia says that an expatriate is “a person temporarily residing in a country and culture other than that of the person’s upbringing or legal residence. The word comes from the latin ex (out of) and the greek patria (country)…..”

As strange as it may seem to us sometimes, we are expatriates. Though we have many Argentine friends, we’ve also created a rich friendship network with other ex-pats, primarily from the States, Italy, and Great Britain (or “ENGLAND -- I’m not Scottish,” as our friend Haisley would say). Not quite as romantic as the “lost generation,” but ex-pats nonetheless.

Today, we said so long to Sam -- our ENGLISH (Italian -- well, technically, he’s ENGLISH, but he lived in Italy for over 15 years before moving here with his wife -- who is ARGENTINE but lived in Italy virtually all her life, and family, whew -- they are REAL ex-pats) amigo who is moving back to Italy to work for at least another couple of years (what he needs to earn his pension) for the European Union. Fortunately, we don’t have to say goodbye to Monica and the kids yet….

For the last few months, we’ve spent many a Sunday “asadoing” while the kids played in one of our backyards… Drawn together by our love of Argentine wine and beef, lots of laughter, and the exhilaration and strangeness of living in a foreign land, we have become fast friends.

Here’s to you Sam -- not quite sure what Vince and Haisley will do without you! Suerte y buen viaje - Nos vemos pronto, amigo!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Argentine Transplant - by Shoshana Davis

“Miiiiiiahhh, where are we going again?” sighs Charlotte, a newly four, overly poised, yet quiet and thoughtful red headed child. “We’re going to Argentina,” answers her best friend, Mia with a subtle eye roll and toss of her bobbed blonde hair. She can’t understand why Charlotte does not remember. It’s the same place they go every time they go on a trip. The bottom two steps act as their airplane seats when they travel around the world.

Ameila known to most by her nickname, Mia, is a slightly older (almost five) four year-old, and is the type of little girl always found wearing a pink skirt. She prefers dark pink and everything must match. She thinks anything pink matches. Polk-a-dots, stripes and stars match. It just has to be pink and if possible bright. Currently, she’s outfitted in pink sweat pants, under a pink flowered dress, and topped with a hot pink and orange fleece poncho.

“Where is Argentina?” asks Charlotte still attempting to comprehend how they are going to get there via the staircase of her parents’ Victorian style, northern Virginia home. “It’s faaaar away,” says Mia as she packs up one of their two Fisher Price strollers with her favorite doll, Bitty Baby, and her stuffed brown dog, known simply as big dog.

“Is Argentina more far away than Africa?” Charlotte asks as she continues her inquisition. Charlotte’s class at the Waldorf School recently learned about Africa. She really enjoyed learning about the drums. Mia pauses as she buckles Bitty Baby into place to collect her thoughts. “Well, Argentina is at the very top of the stairs and Africa is at the middle of the stairs,” she says as she points up from her perch on the bottom step. “We have to go far to get to Argentina. It’s not very close.”

“We are going very very far away?” Charlotte asks again. “Reeeaally far away and we have to take macaroni and cheese. They don’t have even Annies in Argentina!” Mia squeals as they both burst into uncontrollable four year-old girl giggles.
While most American children her age are going to pre-school and debating hot topics like what finger paint color looks the best on red construction paper, Mia has already lived a double life. For the past year, she has lived in the wine country of Mendoza, Argentina after her parents decided to take a lifestyle sabbatical.

Vince and Janalee, aka Mommy and Daddy, fled their suburbia existence in Clarendon, Virginia, quit their suit wearing, high stress Washington jobs, sold their cars, rented their house and left on a year long adventure to help a friend’s start up wine tourism business. And they’ve just signed on for one more year abroad. To many people it sounds like living a dream.

While in Argentina, Mia’s mom and dad switched caretaker roles leaving Vince to act as a stay at home dad. Mia’s mommy is the chief of staff for their friend Michael’s wine business, which often leaves Mia asking “Where is Mommy?” instead of her typical “Where is Daddy?” Although they both worked in the states, Mia’s mom was home two days a week.

This quick transfer left Mia on a lifestyle sabbatical of her own, which is why on a week long vacation to the states, Mia constantly tries to explain life in Argentina to her best friend, or “twin” as she calls Charlotte.

Yet, Mia does not make her shift from a yuppie neighborhood where everyone drives energy efficient cars and shops solely at whole foods to a country where they nightly have celebrations that serve solely meat (Asado), seem difficult.

“I go to school all day, and I play all day. Then I go to the pool and swim. They give me lollipops - strawberry lollipops,” she says as she giggles and lets out a lady like snort that’s only endearing when you’re under the age of six.

Mia’s new school is much different from the one she left in Clarendon. The old establishment was in an ancient brick church building and housed a total of 35 Arlington pre-schoolers with arguably over attentive mothers and fathers. In Mendoza, Mia attends school with 300 kindergarten through eighth graders all dressed in the same uniform with a St. Andrews cross on their chest. Her father always brings Mia to class which is very different from the typical societal norms in Argentina. He is the only father in a sea of women.

Mia also notices a difference in how people are disciplined at school. “If you say a bad word, or something, they leave you alone. I don’t know really, I don’t do it,” she clarifies, just in case her parents read this. “In my old school, they would say ‘now don’t say that,’ but in Argentina they just leave you alone.”

During the day, Mia’s new teachers, Ms. Savina teaches in Spanish for the first four hours in the morning and Miss Anita teaches in English for the rest of the day. When she first started at Colegio San Andres, the only Spanish she knew was from Dora the Explorer. Now, she’s not only fluent, but sounds like she she’s a true Argentine in both language and spirit.

She cheered for the Argentine soccer team by shouting “Vamos, Vamos, Vamos Argentina”, wore a jersey and painted her face during the world cup. She wore a falda de pisana (a type of skirt) and waved a handkerchief during her class’ Argentine Independence Day play. And one of her favorite things to do is sing in Spanish.

“La cucaracha, La cucaracha, Ya no puede caminar!!” screeches Mia at the top of her lungs in perfect dialect as she slides on the wood flooring in her pink striped socks. “Charlotte, do you know what that means?” She asks. “The cockroach can’t walk!” Again, both girls break into intense giggles.

Within seconds, the two are serious again. “We have to bring the car seat with us,” instructs Mia as they continued to cram vacation necessities into their strollers. “They don’t use car seats in Argentina. Only babies use car seats there. We need to bring our own. I don’t like slipping around in the car.” She says confidently, as if she’s obviously used this explanation before to show that she is not a baby.

To Mia, the biggest difference is in the driving. “They drive sooooo fast in Argentina. They just drive crazy!” she explains excitedly. Her young brain soaked up the language quickly and clearly one of the results of Mia’s transplant is apparent as she accidentally goes in and out of Spanish.

“First we walk to the car, then I put on cinturon on then we go to the store.” Charlotte looks at Mia bewildered as she tries to figure out what her best friend just said. Mia quickly realizes her mistake and says “First I walk to the car, put the seat belt on and then we go to the store.”

This isn’t the first time this has happened. And don’t be fooled, sometimes she’ll even do it for her own entertainment.

“It’s so fun here. If someone asks you something, you can explain in Spanish,” she laughs “And only some people know what I’m saying! People here can’t speak Spanish either. They sound funny!”

By this time they’ve also added many sweaters, scarves and gloves to the growing pile on the stairs. But surprisingly the two have also found bathing suits and sandals. The amount of stuff has quickly exploded out of their two strollers and into cardboard boxes known as suitcases to the busy four year-old crew. Mia explained to Charlotte that they need both sets of clothes because it’s winter in America, but summer in Argentina.

It was leaving her friends as well as Annie’s Organic Macaroni and Cheese, her favorite comfort food that causes the most anxiety.

“I like America better, I don’t have Charlotte or Sarah or David in Argentina,” she explains as thoughtfully as any four year-old can waving her small stubby hands in the air for emphasis. “And Argentina is a lot different. They don’t really make pink stuff.” Her five year-old priorities are definitely in the right place.

“Charlotte-Darlotte, let’s go to Argentina!” Mia says in a sing-song voice as she drags her friend’s hand to the staircase to take their pretend airplane seats where their jam packed strollers and random articles of clothing are strewed about. “We have to stop in Miami first,” she giggles. “Are you sure you packed the macaroni and cheese?” asks Charlotte earnestly. “Sure!” She shouts as she and Charlotte depart on their last trip via the staircase before she and her “Papi” board their actual flight across the equator. “Say goodbye through the window!”

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Whither the blogmaster?

Some of you may be wondering why there are so few posts this year. Last year, my husband wrote at least once a week, sometimes twice. In fact, sometimes, I had to beg him not to blog….”you don’t have to share every detail of our lives on-line…”

So, que pasa este ano?

It seems that our blogmaster has gone back to more than part-time work outside the home… While he still does some consulting, and he’s still Super Dad, he’s also resumed a modified version of his former life in the states.

In January he was asked to return to Earth Force, and serve as President there. This presented a tough choice for us; we had decided we really wanted to stay in Argentina for at least another year. So, Vince and the Earth Force board arrived at a shared leadership arrangement -- he serves as president and is responsible for raising money and working with the Earth Force team to set direction -- while one of his colleagues, Lisa Bardwell who has led the Denver Earth Force office for many years, serves as CEO and oversees the day-to-day operations.

Thus far the arrangement is working well. It does mean, however, that Vince spends a lot more time in the states than he used to, and these days, he’s much more likely to be working late at night than he is to be practicing his Spanish -- or blogging.

So, alas, it seems that I will need to take up the blogging mantle. In homage to Vince:
* I promise I will try to be funny (my friends always comment that they can tell when I have written something, by the “serious nature” of the post -- read BORING)
* I will write one silly blog/month, just because
* I will make sure to include lots of pictures of Mia (first I have to learn how to insert pictures…..)

Bilingual and Worried

Amelia is bilingual. I am not. It is not that I haven’t tried to learn Spanish (though I could certainly try harder) and it isn’t that I don’t speak some Spanish (I can order meat at the local butcher), buy my Spanish pales in comparison to Amelia’s.

On the whole I am incredibly excited by Amelia’s fluency in Spanish (or Castellano as she corrects me). But, having a child who speaks a language that you don’t can be an interesting experience. A case in point:

A few months ago Amelia went with me to my Spanish lesson (which I no longer take – another story). She was playing in the area, making fun of my accent and correcting my grammar, and generally hanging out with some of our friends. Suddenly, I could hear Amelia yelling at a friend of ours (Florencia – one of 50 friends named Florencia). Typically Amelia doesn’t yell much. She laughs really loudly and screams in delight when she can trick you in some way, but she is not much of a yeller. Anyway she was yelling. I could here her say two things to Florencia:


Te mato!!

The downside to having a child who speaks a language you don’t is that they say things you think might be cute, but they aren’t. I had no idea what she had just said. Since I was in the middle of a Spanish lesson, I asked my instructor.

Her response was, “I was wondering if you understood that”. I think that might have been a personal dig – what did she expect after only 12 months of Spanish lessons! Sadly, the answer was no. I admit it. My five-year-old kid can speak a language I cannot. But, I can order wine at a restaurant and she can’t! Well, she could (and better than I can), but they wouldn’t give it to her. There are limits to what a five year old can do!

Anyway, I called Amelia over - “Mia, we don’t talk to people like that.”

Mia - “Como”

Me – “You know what you said and I don’t want you talking like that. Apologize to Florencia.”

Mia – “No hice cualquier cosa mal.”

Me – “You know what you said. Now, apologize.”

Mia – “Era un chiste.”

Me – “It wasn’t funny. We don’t talk to people like that. Say you are sorry.”

Mia – “No”

Me – “Yes”

If you want to get a sense of the full extant of the conversation you can re-read that section several times.

After several minutes Amelia saw the error of her ways (or realized I am entirely too stubborn to make it worth the time) and apologized. We had round of besos and abrazos all around and play could resume.

I learned an important lesson. I need to study all of the Spanish words that could be used to insult people – and quickly!

Today, I realized Amelia is picking up some Italian. She has been playing with some kids whose parents are from Turin – their kids speak Italian to each other almost exclusively.

I guess that means I need to start to learn Italian insults.