Monday, May 25, 2009

The porteños bundle up

Porteños (that's the name for people who live in Buenos Aires) are a funny lot. You know how excited we get when the temperature first gets up to 10ºC in the spring? How we go around in short sleeves and sometimes shorts? Well, let me tell you something: the temperature here was 10ºC this morning, and everybody dug out their winter clothes. You'd think that the ice age had arrived! People in the streets had their coats buttoned up, hats pulled down over their ears, and scarves wrapped around their faces to protect their noses and mouths. All they talked about was July, 2007, when it snowed for the first time in almost 100 years. It wasn't very much snow, either; but I guess snow's really exciting if you've never seen it. It must be like Canadians getting all excited over palm trees.
I wonder what they'd think of Mallorytown in January?

Fernanda found me a bicycle that was almost my size, so she took me out to explore a little more of Buenos Aires. This wide street with the trees down the middle is the Avenida 9 de Julio. (July 9th is Argentina's Independence Day.) Look at these webcam views - it's twelve lanes wide in some places.

There are some really funny-looking trees here. This one with the swollen trunk is called a palo borracho, which means a drunken stick. I guess here we'd call it a beerbelly tree. The ombú tree has the most wonderful roots; it reminded me of the Forbidden Forest in the Harry Potter movies.

Here's a view of some shrubs in their fall colours, and here's a picture of the Madagascar periwinkles blooming in Fernanda's garden. I have to tell you, it does not feel or look like winter here!

Fernanda and her friend had a game of tennis, while I rode my bicycle round and round the court. After they tripped over me a couple of times, they asked me to be the umpire instead. On the way home, we met a couple of men in uniforms. The man in the white hat is a naval cadet. That means he's going to navy school. Look at his sword! I can't decide now whether I want to be a gaucho or join the navy when I grow up.
The other man was helping me to get onto that rainbow horse. (There are fancy horses like this one all over the city. Somebody said that Toronto had a bunch of moose statues just like them.)
Because this is Buenos Aires, we stopped at a patio restaurant for a little smackerel of something.

On the way home, Fernanda said that she had a surprise for me. We took a detour, and found ourselves in a little park. At first I couldn't understand what was so special about it, and then she pointed to the name on the sign.

How cool is that?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Buenos Aires - a little smackerel of something

Winnie-the-Pooh always used to believe that eleven o'clock was time for "a little smackerel of something". Actually, I think that Pooh believed that any time was time for a little smackerel of something. I also think that he must have lived in Buenos Aires.

For one thing, they take their food very seriously. They're very proud of their big juicy steaks, their asados, and their wines. They are much more interested in the quality of their food than we seem to be. They also take their decor seriously; one restaurant even had a piratical theme.

For another thing, they enjoy breaking up their day with a snack and a chat at one of the cafes. They linger over their food, talking and laughing and watching the world around them. At home, we just eat quickly and get on to something else.

Another difference is that they have supper waaay after my bedtime. Usually they don't seem to sit down to supper until 10:00, and sometimes even later. Their evenings just get started at 11:00. Fernanda says that most milongas (places where you can dance a tango), restaurants and bars are open almost all night long, and you can have supper at thre o'clock in the morning!

Fernanda and I went shopping for fruit one bright fall day; we found red apples from the south of Argentina, pineapples and bananas and green apples from Ecuador, and delicious vegetables from farms outside Buenos Aires.
Then we went looking for an asado. We found this gaucho busy with his facón cutting slices off the roasting meat. Normally a gaucho never, ever lets anybody else touch his facón, but he let Fernanda hold the handle as a special favour.

We had our meat, vegetables and fruit ... now it was time to look for the rest of supper. Fernanda bought two big boxes of empanadas. These are delicious. Sometimes they're filled with meat, sometimes with cheese, and they're served piping hot. I had one for a snack ... I couldn't wait until 10:00 for supper!
After dinner we went to a birthday party where we had pizza; slightly different from ours, but I still had three slices. One of my teeth came out, and I put it under my pillow at bedtime. The tooth fairy doesn't visit Latin America; Ratón Perez collects the teeth instead. I tried to stay awake to see him, but it was after midnight. When I woke up, the sunlight was pouring through the window and this was under my pillow.
I think I'll spend it on another empanada.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Pots, pans and protests

Buenos Aires is a crazy place, especially after the peace and tranquility of Tierra del Fuego. The traffic is confusing and noisy, and many drivers seem to ignore the traffic signs. When cars do stop, kids often rush right out into traffic to wash their windows or juggle to earn a bit of money. The streets and sidewalks are more crowded than anything I've seen. At night, there was a street march where everybody banged the on their saucepans. It all made me feel dizzy. Whenever we went outside I held on tight to somebody's hand.
Luckily this is a country where there's nothing weird about that. I've never seen anyplace as kissy as Buenos Aires. Everybody kisses everybody. Friends kiss each other. Kids kiss their moms, their dads, their friends, their friends' moms and dads, everybody except their teachers!

Fernanda's house is full of musical instruments, and everybody seems to be singing all the time. Her son, Pedro, even plays in a jazz band. You can see him playing the piano while I dance to the music.
This is her youngest daughter, Mercedes, with her friend Mariana on the left. The oldest daughters are Paz and Flor. I love being in such a big family.

When they aren't singing or playing guitar or piano, the García family watches a lot of soccer (which they call football). Do you think the Stanley Cup playoffs are crazy? It's nothing compared to being at a soccer game in Buenos Aires. People yell and cheer and sing; sometimes they set off fireworks; they throw streamers and papers and balloons - I have never seen anything like it in my whole life. Everbody seems to be a fan of either the Boca Juniors (they have a smiley yellow heart for a mascot) or of River Plate. Here you can see the Boca Juniors stadium behind me. It's called the "candy box" because of its shape.

One cool fall morning, Fernanda took me to visit the Pink House, which is where the President of Argentina, Crístina Fernandez, works. (She lives in a different house.) This is at one end of a huge park called the Plaza de Mayo. It's surrounded by palm trees and jacaranda trees, which are covered by a mist of blue flowers in the spring.

Today the Plaza Mayo was like a calm island in the middle of all that noise and bustle. I fed the pigeons, tried to count all the squares on the sidewalk, and decided that I do like Buenos Aires after all.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

El Fin del Mundo - beavers and murderers

Fernanda and I had enjoyed our train ride so much that on Easter Monday we took a bus tour. We explored a little more of Tierra del Fuego and admired the fall colours. With all the fall colours, I kept feeling that it was a Thanksgiving drive. We passed beech trees (they have smooth silver bark) and beaver ponds, and it felt almost like home. Then I began to see more beaver ponds ... and more beaver ponds ... all filled with dead beech trees.

The beavers had been invited down from Canada 70 years ago, and had made themselves a little too much at home. Now their great-great grandchildren are killing the forests of Tierra del Fuego, and nobody seems able to get rid of them. When I get home, I'm going to send Fernanda some recipes for beaver!

Fernanda and I shared some mates near the border with Chile. Then we drove way up into the mountains, where the snow sparkled on the peaks. We passed all sorts of lakes and rivers: this one is called Hidden Lake.

Because of all the wildnerness, the government once built a jail in Ushuaia. They thought that even if the prisoners escaped, they couldn't go very far. A long time ago they closed the jail and turned it into a museum, so we bought a ticket and went to visit the "prisoners".

First we said hello to Ricardo Rojas, who was sent to prison in 1934 because the government didn't like the books he wrote.
Then we met Cayetano Santos, the "big-eared midget". Now he was scary. He seemed to have spent a lot of time killing children and animals. They say that he cut off his ears to disguise himself, but they grew back bigger than ever.
I knew he wasn't real, but he scared me so much that I asked Fernanda if we could visit a different prisoner. So we did, but then Fernanda got so scared herself that we decided it was time to leave.

We shared some Easter candy beside a garden of lupins, and soon I felt better again.

Speaking of picnics and food, how do you like this kettle behind me? Isn't it enormous? It sits beside the firepit all day. This is also where they roast the meat for a traditional Argentine barbecue, called an asado. I loved the smoky taste of that mutton ... mmmmm!

When we weren't eating asado or spider crabs, we just made our own lunches. Here are some of the groceries we brought back from the store. Can you recognize any of the labels?
You know, every place I've visited has been beautiful; but I think that Tierra del Fuego tops them all. They say here that if you eat calafate berries you will return. As you can guess, I ate quite a few.

I want to be sure that sometime, somehow, I will see the Southern Cross again in the skies above Ushuaia!