From mid February to mid March 2004 we visited Argentina. The following 12 reports are my first impressions of a country I’d never been in before.
Argentina trip - 1
When we left Los Angeles airport, the temperature was 62 degrees (15C) When we arrived in Cordoba it was 33C (91F!!!) That=s not incredibly hot, but it was hot enough to make it unpleasant.
The drive from the airport to La Falda took almost an hour, traveling through some beautiful country... rivers, lakes, and rolling foothills. They call these mountains, but they resemble Anaheim Hills.
We had breakfast on the flight to Sao Paulo... then an extra hour=s lay-over in that city. The lay-over was a pain, because we were confined to the departure area of the airport. We were told to report to gate 26... and that was the very last gate from where we arrived. When a plane arrived at the gate and it became time to depart, we walked up to the gate and were told, AThere=s been a change, go to gate 16.@ This gate was at the beginning, so we had to carry all of our carry-on luggage (which was heavier than it should have been) about a half mile back. The explanation was that the plane had been delayed on the flight from Rio... but I=m not completely sure that was the real reason. The flight from Sao Paulo to Ascension was about an hour and a half... and we were served lunch. The flight from Ascension to Cordoba was about an hour and a half... and we were served lunch! And when we arrived in Cordoba, they wanted to serve us lunch!!!!!!!!
One of the biggest differences between La Falda and Fullerton is the number of dogs roaming the streets. Almost everywhere you look, there are stray dogs... sleeping in people=s front yards, walking around the downtown area begging for food, and seeking attention from every passerby. Estela has Irma=s two Pekinese (which disappointed Irma, because they were not thrilled by her return.)
In addition to the two house-dogs, there are two strays that hang around. One (that I call Charlie) is a big dog that is mostly German Shepard. The other that has Irish Setter in his ancestry is called ARon.@ This is because it is short for AMaron@ which means Abrown.@
When people would feed these dogs, they would snatch the food out of their hands (and treaten to take the hands too!) Of course, I would not tolerate that... so in less than a half hour I had both dogs trained to sit and gently take the food from my fingers.
Downtown is only one block from Estela=s house... very easy walking distance. When I wanted to go into town, I had two dogs accompany me. The behavior of the dogs around here is extremely interesting. Every dog will bark, snarl, and go after every dog that walks by... but will wag its tail at every human. Once two dogs attacked Charlie... and he was doing quite well against the odds. A man nearby picked up a big stick and began hitting the two attacking dogs...who stopped fighting and bore no resentment against the man... only against Charlie.
Later, we drove about a mile from Estela=s house to Nelida=s place. I witnessed the most amazing sight. The two strays took off running with the car! They wanted to be with us. Many dogs here will chase cars, but they do it in a most interesting way... They chase cars from the front of the car!!! Many times I have seen dogs running just inches in front of the car, and the drivers ignore the dogs and I find it almost unbelievable that many dogs aren=t killed. Anyway, these two dogs took off running about 30 yards in front of the car, even though we were traveling about 30 mph. It was as if the dogs knew where we were going... which is what I thought. But the dogs ran straight ahead when we turned. I stuck my head out of the window and said, AHey, Charlie, we;re turning here!@ And the dogs changed course and followed us.
Nelida doesn=t like dogs, so they were not allowed inside the gate. But they were content to lay down beside the car and wait for us. We stayed for several hours and had a barbeque... and the dogs patiently waited for us. I took them scraps and bones from the barbeque and they were happy. I found it amazing that 2 stray dogs would show such loyalty to a stranger they had just met.
Speaking of barbeque.... all of the claims that Argentina has the best beef are complete understatements! I had the best piece of meat I have ever had. I have had some good steaks before... but this was a slice of heaven.
In the late afternoon, a gentle breeze sprang up and cooled things down. I=m not sure if this is a daily occurrence, but it was a welcome relief from the heat of the day.
Later that night, I went up to bed while the others sat around talking. I heard distant thunder... which they didn=t hear. After everybody was in bed and asleep... at 4 in the morning, boom... boom... BOOM!!! The last blast of thunder came from right outside the house and knocked out the power. It woke Irma and she was frightened,,, and so was the cat... but Estela and Andy slept right through it. They only knew about it because we told them about it the next morning. Talk about being a sound sleeper... if that didn=t wake those two, nothing ever will!
It rained all that night and threatened to rain the next day, but it was cool and mostly dry. There were a few sprinkles, but not enough to dampen our spirits.
Nightly... at least every night we have been here... there are concerts in the streets. They begin around 10:30 or so. Since we are less than a block from where they perform, we can hear them...especially the heavy beat of the drums.........ah, the natives are restless in Argentina!
I was informed that we were going to the ballet. The program was to start at 10:30. As the time approached, I said, AShouldn=t we be going?@ I was informed that, AThey never start on time.@ Well... this night was an exception, because the program was already going when we arrived. And they had bought front row seats for us... so we had to walk over a bunch of people to get to our seats... (there were no Aproper@ aisles)
And for the next couple of hours we watched girls in tutus and some guy wearing nothing but a breechcloth and a smile bouncing around the stage.
I discovered another major difference the next day. I always get up early... so I went into town and had breakfast. At the local 5 star hotel I had their AAmerican@ breakfast.......... coffee, juice, dozens of pastries, ham, cheese, yogurt, etc... for 6 pesos, and an omelet for 4 pesos... 10 pesos is $3.33. But hardly anything else was open. I returned home.
Later, about 3 in the afternoon I wanted to buy a few things...so went to the local variety store. And it was closed! The store hours are from 5:30pm to 11:30pm. They are not like Fullerton where the 99cent store opens at 8:00am and Sav-on opens at 7:00am. I guess the average Argentine can trace his ancestry to Count Dracula, because they don=t seem to awaken until the early evening, and don=t function well until much after dark. And all entertainment, conversation, and activity occurs close to midnight.
Food, on the other hand, operates 24 hours a day. There are more places to eat than there are stray dogs... and that=s a lot! Hamburgers are a popular item for about $0.80... and another sandwich called ALomito@ for about $1.25. Lomito is steak, ham, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and possibly the kitchen sink, served on a bun that is ten inches across! I could only eat half of one.
One afternoon we stopped at a local bistro for lunch. We got a three tiered tray that contained 36 different items... meats, cheese, olives, squid, escargot, sandwiches, vegetables, and things that I couldn=t identify. Plus drinks... for a very expensive total of 38 pesos. This is not a common dish, because people walking past would comment AOh, look at that!@ When you convert the money, it cost $12.66.
Argentina trip - 2
Having driven from the airport to La Falda... and all around the countryside... then from La Falda to Cordoba... and all around that city, I now consider myself to be an expert on the driving situation in Argentina. The following are tips for drivers who wish to travel in this country.
TRAFFIC LIGHTS... The lights come in three colors: GREEN means go like a bat out of hell, and don=t slow down for anything. YELLOW doesn=t mean anything, it=s just there for decoration. RED means that if you feel like it, you may stop and rest for a few moments. Most drivers don=t seem to be tired, so they just go on through it...unless it has remained red for more than 30 seconds.
TURNING... On a four lane, one direction road, I have seen many times, drivers from the far right lane turn left and drivers in the far left lane turn right. Turning from the lane closest to the direction you want to go is not considered sporting.
PAINTED LANE MARKERS... When she crossed over the double yellow lines to pass, I asked Natalia what the double yellow lines meant. She said that they were only for visitors... local people crossed them to pass whenever they wanted! Honestly, that=s what she said! And it must be true, because no one paid the slightest attention to them.
SINGLE LANE MARKERS... many of the streets have lane markers to divide the streets into 2, 3, or 4 lanes. The main purpose of the markers is to designate where your wheels are supposed to straddle. If the street is divided into 2 lanes, cars line up in 3 or 4 lanes... and I=m not sure how they decide who goes where.
WALK/DON=T WALK... WALK means that you take your chances, because cars are probable going to careen through the intersection. DON=T WALK means that you may cross the road any time you feel like it.
PARKING...Most areas have no specific designation for parking... so that means if you are in the right lane looking for a parking place and you see one on the left, you swerve across four lanes going your direction and five lanes going the other direction and park facing the wrong way. If your passengers are from the USA, it is good advice to bring along a spare pair of pants, because they will probably wet theirs!
NO PARKING... This means that no one (other than you) is supposed to park there. It=s OK for you to park there as long as you turn on your flashing hazard lights.
DOUBLE PARKING... If there is no available parking place on either side of the street and you don=t feel like walking ten paces from the nearest parking place, you just stop in the middle of the street and turn on your flashers. While you are shopping, the car that you have blocked in will honk their horn... repeatedly...and you will shrug your shoulders to indicate that the person who double parked was an idiot.
SAFETY EQUIPMENT... SEAT BELTS are standard equipment on every car. I think they are for decoration, because no one uses them. BRAKES... this is a spare pedal that separates the accelerator from the clutch. They are seldom used... because if another car is on a collision course with yours, you use your horn. HORN... The basic safety feature. It=s also used to say, AHello@, AGood-bye@, and A#@*#@
I noticed that Estela=s tires were nearly bald... especially the rear ones... so as a surprise, I went with Andy and had four new tires installed. The guy at the tire store said, AThe front tires are still good enough to drive on for a while.@ But I told him I wanted four new tires and put the best old tire on the spare... he looked at me like I was a crazy American who was afraid to ride in a car with bad tires... and I was.
Why? Because 1/3 of the roads are well paved... 1/3 of the roads have potholes... and 1/3 of the roads are dirt with sharp rocks strewn about. Since 2/3 of the roads have conditions that are hazardous to tires, I wanted to ride a little safer... just call me AChicken!@
Andy saved the other front tire, and sold it to a local tire store... for 5 pesos ($1.67) ... and they will sell it for 20, 30, or 40 pesos to someone who wants a bargain tire.
The traffic in the city is enough to make a grown man cry. There are as many cars as Los Angeles during rush hour... on streets that are not as wide, but since people create their own lanes, they manage. However there are other complications... there are hundreds of motor scooters and mini-bikes. Out of 100 of these suicide vehicles, one will be wearing a helmet. Most of them carry 2 passengers, but it is not uncommon to see a whole family... Mom, Dad, and 2 or 3 children putt, putting down the street. At night, fully 10% of them have no lights... either front or rear! It makes travel a real adventure, because cars cannot see them from 20 feet away.
There are other things on the road. Horse drawn carts share the roads with other vehicles. I must admit that the horses move along quite rapidly...all if the slow ones have already been barbequed and served to tourists.
Argentina trip - 3
Monday night, for the second time this trip, we had rain and thunder. This time it was accompanied by hail. This is quite typical during the summer. I was told that sometimes it rains for weeks during this time of year, ruining the vacations of many. Fortunately for us, it has only rained at night. During the day it has been really nice.
We met with Gustavo (a friend of Irma=s) She had loaned him a sum of money before she came to the US... and he had not paid back any of it while she was gone. Part of the problem was that she had loaned him US dollars when the peso was tied one-to-one to the dollar. Now the peso is free floating... and is 3 pesos to the dollar. He wanted to pay back in pesos... and Irma insisted that she be paid back in dollars. I was present, mainly as moral support, during the negotiations... and it was implied that I was an American Godfather who would not accept any further delay... and he decided that it would be prudent to sign a document admitting that he owed the sum (in dollars)
Then he invited us out to dinner. We went to one of the grills in town that was famous for the meat they served.
They started with salad... and french fries covered with scrambled eggs. The potatoes and eggs are a local favorite... and would be good for breakfast... but are served at dinner at many restaurants. Personally, I can do without this dish.
A 15" diameter wooden Adish@ is set on the table. People sitting across from each other share a single plate.
Every five minutes, a waiter arrived carrying a silver platter containing two or three different cuts of meat. It was different cuts of beef, pork, and goat.
We arrived at ten in the evening and began eating meat around 10:30... and kept at it until almost midnight. He would have kept bringing more meat, but we surrendered!
In the morning we went to a four star hotel for breakfast. Pastries, fresh fruit, coffee, cereal, yogurt, ham, cheese... and we asked for eggs and sausage. They brought two plates full of scrambled eggs... each plate held at least 6 scrambled eggs! And that=s no exaggeration... it could have even been more. Irma and I managed to eat 3/4 of our eggs, but Estela and Andy only ate half of theirs. Total cost for this meal was 26 pesos... $8.67
I got a haircut... Instead of the 5 minute... buzz, snip, buzz of American barber shops... it was a slow and deliberate adventure... all done with an old fashioned straight razor! The eyebrows were done with scissors, the ears and mustache were done with electric clippers. The process took about 20 minutes. I got up from the chair, pleased with the experience... but it wasn=t finished. I was led to another chair, where I got my hair shampooed! Of course this was not a cheap haircut, it was in the high rent district, so it was 18% higher than in other places... 6 pesos ($2) Eat your hearts out the next time you think you=re getting a bargain if you can get a haircut for $7.
I don=t think I would like to live in Cordoba... it would be too much like living in downtown LA. I would prefer to live in La Falda which is about 40 miles north... up in the mountains where summer temperatures are cooler and it=s a smaller town. Estela lives one block from downtown and Nelida lives about a mile away.
I have been (casually) looking at houses in La Falda. A typical three bedroom, 2 bath house runs between 72,000 and 75,000 pesos... $24,000 and $25,000!
Nelida just bought a very large house... with a separate Asummer eating house (for lack of a better term)@ The out-back house has a barbeque grill (fireplace), large dining area, sink, refrigerator, bathroom... and more.
She bought it for 72,000 pesos and has spent around 75,000 pesos to Afix it up.@ She added a swimming pool, all new parquet floors in some rooms and new tile floors in the rest of the house, all new wiring and new plumbing and air conditioning. So for $49,000 she has a house that would sell for 10-20 times that much in Anaheim.
Almost all of the cars here are compacts. I have seen one full size Chevy (1980), a couple of F100 pickups, and not a single RV or motor home. Most of the cars are European... Renault, Peugeot, etc... but Ford Escort and some of the small Chevy models are being seen among the newer cars.
The reason is fuel economy. For example... Estela=s car gets 10 kilometers per liter on the highway and 7 in the city. Gasoline sells for around 1.8 pesos per liter. To save you the time to work out the conversion... it translates into: 22 mpg highway and 15.7 mpg city. And the price of gasoline is about $2.25 a gallon. So the cost of fuel is around $0.10 per mile, which is a little lower than the cost to drive a bigger US car.
That=s comparable to the prices in the US... but you have to remember that wages are considerably lower... and a Big Mac combination (which is identical to the meal in the US) is just under $1.95.
However, there is an alternative. A majority of the cars have been converted to dual fuel... operating on either gasoline or natural gas. Almost all of the gas stations sell diesel, gasoline, and natural gas!
The power of a car is a little lower using natural gas, so acceleration is a little slower, but top speed remains the same.
Natural gas sells for .49 pesos per cubic meter. Estela=s car has two tanks that hold a total of 12 cubic meters. And a full tank will take you about 150 kilometers. It works out that $2.00 will take you 90 miles, so the cost per mile is $0.02!
This is a significant savings, and something that should be considered in the US.
Argentina trip - 4
There is one element here that is a big improvement over life in the US... at least I think so.
No one owns a garbage can! As in the states, grocery bags seem to multiply overnight. Trash and garbage is put in these bags.
In front of most houses is a pole that is about three feet tall, and on top of the pole is what looks like an over size bicycle basket. The plastic bags are placed in these baskets. Tree trimmings and grass clippings are dumped in the street next to the curb. If there is no basket in front of your house, the bags are set on the curb... or hung from telephone poles (to keep all of the dogs from ripping them open.)
The trash is collected daily! Except for Sunday. So you don=t have to store trash, you don=t have to haul garbage cans out to the curb, and you don=t have to put them back.
If we could find workers who were willing to work for $0.67 an hour, we could use the same system in the US. And that will happen about the same time that pigs fly!
Another improvement that should be instituted in the US is the way that supermarkets are run.
In the produce section, there are stations where clerks weigh and price the bags of produce that you select. So this is done before you go to the check-out lines... and saves time, because these clerks are specialists in their areas and they don=t have to do price checks. The big supermarkets are like super K or the largest Walmarts. They sell bikes, TVs, tires, and just about everything else you can think of.
When you get to the check-out is when you notice the greatest change. The clerks are seated in swivel chairs behind the cash registers! This makes a lot of sense. Instead of standing for eight hours a day, they are able to do their job in reasonable comfort... and is something that US markets should consider... and then cut the wages of the greedy American clerks who are striking for even more than they now get!
Another tip about traffic and driving. Fully a third of the streets in the cities are One Way streets. This has a different meaning here than it does in the states... if you are driving north, south, east, or west, you are only traveling one way... so it is alright to drive on these streets. However, if you are driving in the opposite direction than the arrow indicates, it is important that your safety equipment (horn) is working properly.
Since very little occurs until after dark, it becomes necessary to park in unlit areas, in unfamiliar places. Just as in parts of Mexico that I have visited, there are men in these areas who walk in the dark around the cars. They will tell you that nothing has been touched on your car, so you hand them a peso. It is not said, but it is implied that if you don=t pay them, your car will not weigh as much when you return, because it will be missing tires, radio, engine, and everything else that can be removed.
Estela and Nelida live about a mile apart in La Falda. Natalia and Andy live about three miles apart in Cordoba. Irma=s brother lives between Andy and Natalia. The distance between La Falda and Cordoba is about 40 miles...(or 1 tank of natural gas @ $1.50 for the round trip. There are no gas stations in La Falda ...although they are expecting one in November of this year. The closest station is in the next little town about 4 km away... so you get gas on the highway when entering or leaving town.
The other morning we were returning from Cordoba around three in the morning, and I was hungry... so we stopped at a little cantina to get a hamburger. I found it a little unusual to find a family with two young boys (about 5 & 7 years old) there. The eldest boy was playing pool with the adults and neither boy appeared to be the slightest bit tired.
AOur@ two stray dogs were in the cantina... and when they recognized the sound of the car, they came running out and greeted us like long lost relatives. Of course they were able to be persuaded to share my hamburger.
My daughter, Cheryl, wrote an e-mail saying that she had burned her fingers on her wood burning stove. I always knew that I had smart children...instead of resting your hands on a counter which might have germs, you rest them on a burning stove that has been disinfected with heat. Personally, I would risk infection and stay away from the fire, but modern adults have different values. ; >)
We have had rain the last couple of days... storms that lasted just an hour or so. The rain cleared the pollution from the sky... but there wasn=t any pollution to start with, so the rain was just a waste of resources.
Speaking of the sky... at night I have observed something that is unknown in California. There are hundreds of little dots of light in the sky at night... perhaps thousands. I have been assured that these points of light pose no threat... and it is totally safe to breath air that you can=t see. I=m not 100% convinced, so I prefer to spend my time in cantinas where the air can be seen, instead of outside where it is invisible.
I had thought that chasing pedestrians with motor vehicles was the national pastime. Perhaps it is for men, but Irma is determined that the preferred pastime is SHOPPING! Yesterday she stopped in all of the stores that had clothes... and that means just about every store in town, because almost every store has some articles of women=s clothing... except for the men=s barber shops, and I=m not sure about that.
She likes to have me along on these excursions. Not because she values my opinion on the clothes, but because she doesn=t have to dig in her purse for money. ARoncie, give the clerk 27 pesos.@ ARoncie, I need 18 pesos.@ It=s feels good to be needed.
Speaking of pesos... The paper money comes in 100 ($33.33), 50 ($16.67), 20 ($6.67), 10 ($3.33), and 2 ($0.67) denominations. The coins are 1 peso, 50 centavos, 25 centavos, 10 centavos, and 5 centavos. There must be a 1 centavo coin, but I haven=t seen one... but I have seen prices posted of 1.49 pesos, etc... so the individual centavo is recognized as a unit.
You will see a price of 13.43 pesos, so you will hand the clerk 20 pesos. Half of the time they will give you 7 pesos change instead of 6 pesos and 57 centavos... so it really doesn=t matter what the posted price is, nobody wants to mess around with the inconvenient coins.
Argentina trip - 5
Something that takes a little getting used to is the hot water supply. Instead of a 40 or 50 gallon take that supplies hot water at the turn of a tap, there is a small tank in the kitchen that is about 4 or 5 gallons... and it is not lit until you are ready to use it.
Neither the stoves nor the hot water tanks have pilot lights. Instead you use a piazo-electric starter that sends a burst of electric sparks that light the fire.
I was asked if I could send some photos... I attached three photos to an e-mail, but I am spoiled... it took 8 minutes to attach three photos using the internet connection that we are using... SO... I tried something different. I put the photos into a Word Perfect document, and tried to copy it into an e-mail... But the file was 17 meg and was too big to attach. Then I went into PhotoSuite and made composites of some of the photos. I saved them in a smaller JPG format and reduced them to 70K... I=ll see if that works better. You=ll have to let me know if this works... because I have hundreds of photos.
If you stop to think about it, we live in a marvelous time. I checked, and it costs 4 pesos ($1.33) to mail a postcard, and it takes 8-10 days to get there... but I can communicate almost instantly through the internet. AND... it checks my spelling, so that it appears that I have a decent education!
Argentina trip - 6
Irma=s sisters took her to an optometrist on Tuesday. It has been a long time since she has had her eyes examined... so we were happy to learn that she still has two of them. She needed a new prescription, since it had been at least five years since her last one.
Nelida worked out a deal... new glasses in exchange for advertising on her radio station. That was great, because prescription glasses are a bit expensive... especially the frames. Irma got the kind of frames that have the new metal that has a memory... you can bend them and they will return to their original shape.
If we had not had the special deal, the glasses would have cost us a lot of money... 100 pesos! That=s $33.33! For that kind of money, we could hire a maid for two weeks!
It=s been a couple of years since I have gotten new glasses, so I=m thinking that I may sacrifice some more money and get new glasses for myself. There=s nothing really wrong with the glasses that I have, but I=m a rich American and it wouldn=t hurt to have another pair.
I had an appointment at 5:00pm to see the eye doctor, so I showed up at 4:45. At 5:15 the doctor hadn=t shown up and I was getting a little upset. They told me that this was the Argentinian way.
At 5:30, the doctor still hadn=t shown up, and I was informed that there were two patients ahead of me..... I told them that I wouldn=t be treated like a peasant... so we left. I now have an appointment with another eye doctor at 8:00 pm on Monday.
I don=t know if I can get used to a country where many stores don=t open until early evening, appointments are meaningless, and the concept of punctuality is unknown.
AMy@ two stray dogs often go into town and hang out. We often go out and do a little visiting ourselves. As we return home, it=s necessary to travel down the main drag. Often we=ll spot the two dogs... and I=ll yell out the window, AWe=re heading for home!@ And both dogs take off on a dead run and arrive home about the same time as we do.
These dogs are used to grabbing food like wild dogs... which is what they really are. The first few times I fed them, I counted my fingers afterwards. This was not acceptable... so now, the dogs sit on command (most of the time) and don=t get anything to eat if they stand up. The problem is that other people don=t require them to behave, so the training is going slower than it should.
Argentina trip - 7
It=s hard to soar with the eagles when you play with the owls all night! I=ve mentioned before that they close the streets to automobile traffic and hold street concerts. This is not just for special occasions, but is a nightly affair. Cinderella would have a hard time living in Argentina, because she would miss all of the action which really doesn=t get into full swing until after the bewitching hour. Last night was a special occasion... I=m not sure, but I think they were celebrating the discovery of fire or something... so the music was a little louder than usual. We went to bed early... just after midnight... and the music was loud enough to wake the dead... but that didn=t keep me from falling asleep almost immediately.
Most, but not all, ceilings here are a bit lower than in the US. Instead of being 8 feet, they are perhaps 7 or 7 2 feet high. And the height often varies from room to room.
We visited a friend of Estela yesterday. She had a beautiful 2 story house... but in the stairwell, at one point, the ceiling was only about 5 feet high... and every time I would go up or down the stairs, they would warn me about the low overhead. They must have thought that I was as agile as my children... who rest their hands on burning stoves...
Speaking of hazards... in the US, the standard voltage is 110... here the standard is 220. 110 is enough to give you a jolt, and perhaps knock you on your butt, but 220 is enough to kill you... and that could ruin your whole day.
There are two standard plugs. The first is just two round holes, spaced about an inch apart. The holes are just a little smaller than a drinking straw. The second type consists of three little slots (about the size of a US plug) and they are equally spaced around a 1 2 circle. Many of the receptacles have both the slots and circles combined... with the circles included in two of the slots. That=s quite handy, so you don=t have to look for an adaptor every time you want to plug something in.
Unfortunately, all US products (including computers and CD players) would fry if you plugged them into 220. So everybody has a transformer to reduce the 220 to 110.
Yesterday we went to the best grill in town for lunch. I had filet mignon and Irma had a New York cut that was fully 2" thick. I took a picture of that... and later, when reviewing some of the photos, I noticed that almost every picture I have of Irma, she is eating. I had thought that she spent most of her time shopping... but after reviewing the pictures, I may have been wrong.
While we were eating, a truck stopped in the middle of the street. (The proper parking place for trucks to park) A man got out of the cab, went into the back of the truck and came out... carrying 2 a cow on his shoulders. I realize that beef must get from the slaughter house to the butcher... but this was the first time I have ever seen beef carried across a main street.
We had lunch a little after noon. At night, we were are Nelida=s and she ordered some steaks delivered to the house... around 10:30pm... and the same waiter who had served us at noon brought the food to the house. I found out that the waiter was also the owner of the restaurant... which he ran with the help of his father and brother... long working hours!
And of course... with the steaks came sausages and other tidbits of the cow that I couldn=t identify... and although I have sampled these, and I have been told that these were sweet breads... I prefer to leave them unidentified... and uneaten!
And no steak dinner would be complete without french fries... and that=s true here as well. However, their french fries are never crispy, and they=re limp... and to finish them off, they are smothered in scrambled eggs... which makes them soggy. But there=s hope... McDonald=s is here, and in time they might learn what a proper french fry is like.
When you go out for coffee, they usually bring a small glass of water. However, it=s not regular water... it=s soda. Strange.
I don=t understand... In the US, houses are built with rooms that are larger than here... bathrooms are large enough to hold a small party... and back yards are big enough to house three goats and a small pony. And yet, shower heads are mounted so low that only a midget can wash his hair without going into contortions.
Here, bathrooms are so small you have to leave the door open to turn around (almost)... the basin is in one small room, and the toilet, bidet, and shower are in another room. (In some of the larger houses all of the facilities are in a single room... such an extravagant waste of space!!!! ) However, in all of the bathrooms I have visited, the shower head is mounted 6 2 feet high. It makes it possible for a normal sized person to wash their hair without bending over backwards.
Argentina trip - 8
Sunday night we went to a AFolklorico: competition... kids from about the age of 5 up to young adult. This was to start at 10:00 pm... so, of course we didn=t arrive until 10:30. So much for my belief in punctuality!
I=m not an especial fan of the dance, and when one after another did basically the same dance, let=s just say that I found it repetitious. So, around 11:45 we left there and went to a local craft fair.
After a while, we returned to the show... and it was more of the same. Around 2:00 in the morning they asked if I wanted to go home. I said, ASince we paid to see this show, we might as well stay for the end.@ I was informed that this show, being an important competition, would probably go on until 5:00 in the morning! Since I considered my beauty sleep more important that sitting outside that late, I elected to return home.
We finally got to bed around 3:30... and the nightly street concert was going full swing. It was louder than usual... they must have been celebrating another important event, such as NATIONAL BAIT CUTTING DAY... or something equally important. I didn=t stay awake and listen long, but fell asleep sometime between the time I started to get in bed and the time I actually touched the mattress.
Around 9:00 in the morning I heard loudspeakers. In the 1940's, in the US, they used to mount giant speakers on top of cars to make announcements... until the practice was made illegal, because of Anoise pollution.@ I had assumed that all of those loudspeakers had been scrapped... but I was wrong. All of them have been shipped to Argentina and they=re still in use.
Zoning laws here are unique... if they exist at all. There will be a 4- star hotel next door to a mechanic...
and a mansion next door to a hovel. Natalia and Danny (Irma=s niece) live in a high scale neighborhood in a beautiful house they are renting (for the high scale rent of $200 a month) Right across the street from their house is a women=s dress shop.
Just like the US, toilet paper comes in many different price ranges... from as cheap as... as cheap as... well, as cheap as toilet paper to as expensive as dollar bills, anyway, as expensive as Argentina bills...
The best bargain is 6 rolls for .99 pesos... that=s 33 cents for 6 rolls of toilet paper. Of course it=s single ply and doesn=t have perforations, so it tears at strange angles... and if you=re not careful, half of the roll unravels... but it does the job for which it is intended.
I finally got to see the opthomologist... and had a thorough exam. My eyes are in great shape, too bad the rest of the body isn=t the same way.
I don=t need new glasses, because the new prescription is only a little better... but it won=t hurt to have a spare... although I don=t misplace my glasses like someone I could mention. I won=t reveal who I=m talking about... but the first initial of her last name is IRMA HUSTED!
Since the appointment for my exam was with an opthomologist instead of an optometrist, it was a complete exam by a specialist... and of course it was more expensive... 20 pesos! ... about $6.75! However, I was surprised when we went to the oculist to select my new glasses. The lenses ranged from 295 pesos to 850 pesos, depending on the brand... ($100 to $285)... This is something that I=ve never run into in the states. I wasn=t even aware that there were different brands available, or that the quality of the lenses differed. I selected the middle grade, which was made by Kodak. I really didn=t understand the difference in the grades... it had something to do with the field of view. Even though Irma was with me, I=m sure that much information was lost in translation.
Then it was time to select the frames. I=ve noticed a big difference in the presentation of salesmen here from the states... from jewelry... to lenses... to frames... to whatever. In the US, they always start with the most expensive and work their way down. They use the Asqueal factor.@ When they tell you the cost of the of the most expensive, you squeal... so they show you something a little cheaper and you don=t squeal as loud... they keep going lower until your squeal doesn=t hurt their ears and that=s what they try to sell you.
Here they must use the Augh factor.@ They start out showing you the cheapest items. You look at the these items and say ugh! So they move up to a better quality and keep going up until you stop showing complete disgust... and that=s what they try to sell you. When we looked at gold chains that Irma wanted... they started with 2 peso chains ($0.67) and it took about 20 minutes and 15 cases before they got to the expensive ($3.00) chains.
I was shown some real Augh@ frames, and the optician really tried hard to convince me that they were good quality and practical... and I had to really Augh@ loudly before he showed me better frames. He never did show me the titanium frames until I specifically mentioned them, and then only reluctantly brought out a single frame... saying that they were really expensive. I didn=t care for that frame anyway, but I found it interesting that he didn=t want to sell the most expensive item he carried... perhaps it had sentimental value that I didn=t understand. I finally settled on a frame that cost 120 pesos ($40)
Total cost of my glasses was 540 pesos... ($180) This is a little cheaper than in the US, but not as much cheaper than other things.
We went to Cordoba... to conduct a little business, and so that Irma and Estela could do some shopping. So I did a little shopping of my own. Mom had lent me her fold-up cane, and I found it very useful... so when I saw one for about $11, I bought one for myself. When we left the shop, I noticed a sticker on it... Amade in New York.@ Imagine traveling 15,000 miles to buy something made in the US!
The 24th was Mardi Gras... it was also Franco=s (Estela=s youngest son) 24th birthday. So we went to one of the best places in Cordoba for dinner.
It was an all-you-can-eat restaurant. But with a bit of a difference... instead of many stations with different foods (like Hometown Buffet or other American places) there were chefs at all of the stations. There was one chef by the grilled meats, and you selected the cut that you wished... another chef at the Chinese section who cooked the variety of items you selected. I was most impressed with the pasta station. There was spaghetti, ravioli, etc... all without sauce. I asked where the sauce was and it was explained that you select the type of pasta you wanted, which was only partially cooked, and they would finish cooking it and prepare the sauce. They had many different sauces you could select... and I decided on a Afour cheese@ sauce and spaghetti. An excellent choice! It was delicious.
At the end of the dinner, they brought out a small cake for Franco... and champaign for all of us. Instead of the waiters singing AHappy Birthday,@ they played a record and the whole restaurant sang to him... first in Spanish and then in English... with much clapping and gaiety. I was much impressed.
We then returned to La Falda... an hours drive. By the time we arrived, I was so exhausted that I immediately went to bed, and fell asleep with the local concert ringing in my ears.
ANOTHER TRAFFIC OBSERVATION... Yellow lights (which I always thought meant Acaution@) are of differing duration... they last from 1 to 5 seconds. Some, but not all, of the traffic signals show a yellow light with the red light just before it turns green. The red and yellow lights come on when the yellow light shows for the cross traffic. If there is not the yellow/red combination, drivers watch the signal for the cross traffic. Whether there is a yellow/red combination on their signal or a yellow light for cross traffic, it is a signal to go!!!
Since yellow lights are meaningless to the cross traffic and since they are a signal to go... it=s amazing that there isn=t wholesale carnage on the roads... and yet, in the two weeks we=ve been here I haven=t seen a single accident. Truly amazing!
(FACT TO IGNORE) Both Irma and Nelida have suffered from bouts of diarrhea... a malady brought on from the change in diet (I guess) Last night Irma had a dream that she had diarrhea and made a mess all over the bathroom floor. I sympathized
with her... but was informed that this was probably a good omen! It was explained that if you are walking in the street and accidently stepped in dog doo or horse droppings, it brought good luck... especially in financial matters! I said that I would look for such things to step in, but was told that it had to be accidental. So we are looking forward to great monetary gains because of Irma=s dream..........YUCK!
Argentina trip - 9
The dogs that I have Aadopted@... or who have Aadopted@ me continue to amaze me. When we get in the car to go somewhere, they seem to sense if it=s going to be a short trip or a long one. If the trip is going to be a mile of less, they run along side the car. If it=s going to be a long trip, they don=t bother coming along.
People who know the dogs can=t believe the difference in their behavior. They used to grab food from your hand like wild dogs... and it was a scary experience. Now, I make them sit and I tell them, Aeasy!@ And they take the food from my hand as gently as possible... or, I will make them sit and put their food on the ground... they will look at me and won=t touch the food until I say, AOK.@ It=s like they aren=t the same dogs I met a couple of weeks ago.
We go to the local casino daily... and often a couple of times a day. Irma loves going there, although if it wasn=t for bad luck, she wouldn=t have any luck at all! She seems to lose almost as much as I win! :>)
Today was fairly typical... I started with 90 pesos and didn=t do very well... win, lose, win, lose, win, win, lose, lose, lose. Then I went on one of my streaks...Playing the 5 centavo machines, I started hitting... win 20, win 30, lose 10, win 50... and got luckier as the day progressed... win 500, lose 10, win 400, lose 20... and just before we left to come home to eat, I won 1500, then another 2000. 2000 X 5 centavos = 100 pesos. After all was said and done... and after I had financed the whole family=s gambling... I walked out with 335 pesos... which means that I started with about $30 and walked out with $111... of course, even after I had financed Irma=s losses, I still had to give her 100 pesos... sigh!
For lunch today they instructed to maid to prepare filet mignon, mashed potatoes, and mashed banana squash for me... delicious! It was what I had chosen at the restaurant last night, so they knew that it was something that I liked... and they were right!
Tomorrow is Nelida=s birthday. No one could figure out what to get for her. Irma looked at a florist=s and didn=t find anything worth buying, so they were thinking about getting her a gift certificate for the local supermarket... I didn=t really like that idea... so I decided to make her a money tree. It turned out to be a family project. I showed Andy how to make flowers out of 2 peso bills, Irma cut tape into convenient sizes, and I shaped leaves out of 2 peso bills. We then fastened these things onto a branch that Irma had cut from the neighbor=s tree. We wrapped a 2 liter Coke bottle in foil, and filled it 1/3 of the way full of rocks and put the branch in it. We finished it off with a red ribbon. If I say so myself, it turned out quite nicely. Since Nelida will turn 58, we put a total of 58 pesos on the branch... hope she=s pleased. Irma and Andy were quite pleased with the experience of making it.
Every meal here is accompanied with bread...and/or pastries. Not the bread that we are familiar with in the US, but fresh bread from one of the local bakeries. Bread is purchased daily, because left over bread is only fit to be soaked in meat juice and fed to the dogs. The bread is in the shape of a small loaf of French bread and is not sliced. You rip off a piece and eat it... I feel like a perfect barbarian! :>)
I always thought that conversation was an art form where one person talked, then the listener responded. I was dead wrong... at least in Argentina!!!
Today there were five of us sitting around the table... conversation consisted of two people talking at the same time most of the time, and often three people talking at once... and I wasn=t doing any of the talking... I just sat back and watched....
Then I started holding up 1, 2, or 3 fingers to indicate how many people were talking at the same time. It didn=t seem to bother any of the speakers... for at times all four of the others were talking at the same time. I asked if anybody ever listened to anyone else, and I was told that they understood each other perfectly... and my thought was ABALONEY!!!!!!!@
One thing that I really miss is Mexican food. Unfortunately there isn=t a decent Mexican restaurant closer than 10,000 miles! I would like to introduce the people here to tacos, enchiladas, and other delicious foods... but there is no place to buy tortillas, and although I=ve eaten home made tortillas many times, I=m not sure that I could make them and have them turn out right.
When we came, we brought 4 bottles of hot sauce. Andy had enjoyed it when he came to visit... and he still enjoys it. So that was a good choice... even though not everybody enjoys it as much as Andy & me.
I=m thinking about making some Fajitas, even though I won=t be able to get any chilies... I=ll use some of the hot sauce. I=ll make some refried beans and Spanish rice. At least that=s the current plan, but here there are no plans that are cast in concrete.
Argentina trip - 10
Although most things are cheaper here, there are some things that are more expensive than in the states... primarily electronics. When I need blank CDs for recording, I go to Fry=s and I can usually find 50 of them for $7... which is 14 cents per CD. Here, blank CDs start at 1 peso each ($0.33) and go up. And they are not found in every store... you have to go to a computer store.
The computer store has double doors. You walk up to the entrance and someone inside pushes a button which unlocks the door. I guess that this is a security measure, but I=m not sure how effective it is... unless burglars here wear signs that say, AI=m going to rob you.@
If you want to buy CDs, you go to a machine that resembles an ATM. You push a button which displays about 30 or 40 brands of CDs. It tells all about the brand you select... and I was unaware that there were so many different kinds of CDs. Once you have decided which brand, you punch in the quantity that you wish to buy. The machine then prints out a form with all of the information. You take this form over to a cashier=s window (and probably have to stand in line.) Once you have your receipt, you go to another window and hand the clerk your receipt. He then puts it on a counter behind him and knocks on the counter three times. Someone unseen behind the counter comes and picks up the receipt (eventually) and goes in search of the item you want. Mysteriously the item appears on the counter, it is handed to you, and you exit... if the unknown person feels like pushing the button to let you out.
If I only had personal observation to go on, I would think that computers are ubiquitous, because every home that I=ve visited has one. And I would have guessed that every computer is connected to the internet. But this is not apparently the case. Instead, even if people have a computer, many of them go to an internet Astore.@
There are so many internet shops that it seems like there is one on every block. You go into one of these places and there are from 4 to 10 computers. You pay 2 pesos ($0.67) an hour to go online. These stores seem to use cable, because they are much faster than the phone connections that are used in most homes... but not quite as fast as the cable connection that I have at home.
This sounds like a cheap way to go online, but you have to put things in perspective. In the US, internet cafes charge about $4 an hour to go online... and this is about 2 an hour=s pay. Here it is $0.67 an hour... but that is a full hour=s wages for the average worker.
This morning the maid couldn=t light the stove. Irma called for me to bring my lighter... They use a piazo electric ignitor and she couldn=t get the burner to light. I tested the ignitor, and it was working fine. So I put my ear next to the burner and turned it on. I figured that the worst that might happen would be that I would singe the hair in my ear... but there was nothing coming out. Andy was summoned... and the problem was soon solved. He switched the gas tank...and the burner was soon turned on. The gas company was contacted, and the empty tank will soon be filled. This is a problem that few in the States face, but there are some (Jason for one) who depend on tanks of gas. The apartment in Cordoba does not have this system, instead it is hooked up to the natural gas pipeline... just like the States
For Nelida=s birthday, the maid prepared her favorite meal for lunch... a roast cooked in spaghetti sauce and homemade pasta. It was like noodles, but extremely thin and only about 1/16 inch wide... and homemade peach pie. The pies that I=ve eaten here are unlike American pies, they are like my great grandfather used to like... 1/4 inch thick crust and about 1/4 inch of filling and whipped cream on top. And for dinner there=s going to be a feast... don=t know all that=s going to be served, but what I=ve seen looks delicious.
Irma bought 4 or 5 new dresses for about 27 pesos each ($9.00) and they were longer than she liked, so she took them to the local dressmaker who charged the extravagant price of 4 pesos each ($1.33) to alter them. It=s a good thing I=m a rich Gringo, or I=d be in the poor house.
I=ve spotted a couple of 2nd hand stores... but I haven=t told Irma about them, or I=d never see her!
We=re about to head over to Nelida=s house for dinner and probably we=ll stay there for a few days. She still doesn=t have a phone, so I won=t be able to connect to the internet... thus the next report will be coming in a few days.
Argentina trip - 11
In my whole life I have not been kissed by so many beautiful women... and ugly men!
A former student of Irma=s and her mother came to visit... and Jean Luis (Nelida=s boyfriend from Paris) arrived. And we had a lengthy discussion about customs, conditions, and attitudes.
Here, as in France, the kiss is used in place of a handshake. In both countries, the number of kisses differs in different regions. Jean Luis travels thousands of miles each year (he=s in charge of all of the filming for Peugeot) and said that when meeting people of the first time he is in a quandary over who to kiss, where to kiss, how many times to kiss... and what happens next, because some kisses lead to a Abeautiful adventure!@ He was only half-way kidding. In this area, it is customary to kiss one time on the right cheek. In other areas, both cheeks are kissed, and in still other areas both cheeks are kissed twice... right, left, right, left. I have solved the problem the best I can... when meeting a strange man, I hold my cane between me and him to prevent a close approach and extend my right hand. This usually works, but I have been surprised by sneak attacks and received kisses on the cheeks by men.....ugh!
Nelida has been in her new house for several months, and still doesn=t have a telephone. Also, she has hooked into her neighbor=s electricity... she says to not worry about leaving the lights on, because she isn=t paying for the electricity. I=m not sure if the neighbor knows that he is paying her electric bill...
I asked why it took so long to get a telephone installed. The telephone company is a French company. They are a monopoly... and made big profits before the devaluation of the peso. They want to continue making those same profits, but in these economic conditions it=s impossible.
In many of the poorer sections, people cut down the telephone lines to get the copper... which is quite expensive. After replacing the lines a couple of times, the phone company said, ANo more!@ and certain areas will never have telephone service... Thus, in many parts of the country, people must rely on cell phones... and you can=t connect to the internet on call phones. This explains why there are so many internet cafes.
We have looked at a few houses, and found one that we liked... 2 bedrooms, 1 bath, living room with fire place, dining room, and good sized kitchen... plus... separate maid=s quarters with bedroom and bathroom, and a Aquincho@ the room away from the house for barbeques and picnics... and what they call a two car garage, but is really a covered carport that is deep enough for two cars... and the price is 95,000 pesos...($32,000)
I was informed that this was ridiculously over priced, and we should look for something cheaper. Before the devaluation, this house would have sold for 30,000 pesos!
But, before the devaluation, the peso was tied directly to the dollar... so it would have cost $30,000 before the devaluation... and it costs about the same in American dollars today. So, in terms of hard currency, (dollars, euros, or kugarands) the price hasn=t changed. But in terms of the local money... and what the average person here can afford, the price has trippled.
Yesterday was quite warm... ok, let=s say is was hot. In the afternoon a breeze came up and cooled things down nicely. Beautiful clouds filled the sky and I took a few pictures of them. But in the downtown area people were hurrying... I don=t mean walking fast, I mean running. And people were driving their cars as quickly as possible to reach home. I asked AWhy?@ And I was told that the clouds meant that rain was coming very soon... and people wanted to protect their cars. I said, AA little rain won=t hurt a car.@ And I was informed that it wasn=t the rain they were worried about, it was hail! During the rainstorms here, hail is a frequent occurrence, and it can peel the paint off of cars. The hail is not the pea sized stuff that I=m used to, it is the size of golf balls and can do serious damage to a car... or a person who doesn=t have a hard head like I do!
It didn=t rain that afternoon, but it rained during the night, sometime after midnight... and I slept through all of it.
There was a second birthday party for Nelida and Franco... more of a formal affair at Nelida=s house. The highlight (as least for me) was when they set the cake on fire! There were two candles... and two cylinders... that looked like fireworks. AND they were! Sparks flew towards the ceiling and it was delightful!
Irma=s brother, girlfriend, and four kids showed up... so of course we had to eat. Then I was asked to demonstrate my magic tricks, which was a big hit... then I took the youngsters aside and taught them a couple of simple card tricks. I told them to promise 2 things.... First they would practice the tricks, and secondly that they would never reveal the secrets to adults, because adults don=t believe in magic...because magic is alive in the hearts of children...like me!
So, for the rest of the evening, the children were impressing the adults with magic... and some of the adults wanted to know how it was done... and the children found much delight in refusing to reveal the secret.
Argentina trip - 12
Almost without exception, every bathroom has both a toilet and a bidet. I think that Abidet@ is a French word for ASplash your butt with water.@ In theory, this is a fine idea.... but you have to keep in mind the plumbing here.
If you remember, in most houses, the water heater is not turned on all of the time. Nelida has what appears to be a 30 or 40 gallon water heater, and would not appear to have any problem... but it takes about five minutes for the hot water to reach the bathroom.
Nothing like a jet of cold water shooting up into regions that are normally kept warm to make you jump up and yell, AGood Morning America!@... or something equally appropriate.
The obvious solution would be to turn the darn thing on and let the water warm up before you sit on it. It might seem obvious... but it=s totally wrong! It=s like bringing in the lawn sprinkler and turning it on in the middle of the bathroom. I now know why every bathroom has a drain in the middle of the floor... it=s because everyone, at one time or another, has tried to warm up the water in the bidet.
So this American will stick with the barbaric custom of using toilet paper, and will skip one of life=s great adventures.
Many, many places serve hamburgers... although the only place that uses a real hamburger bun is McDonald=s. The hamburgers are a meat patty, ham, cheese, and a fried egg... dripping with mayonnaise. I=m convinced that the local establishments have some kind of association with the Cardiologist=s Union... because of the amount of cholesterol in each burger.
Anyway, the napkins that they put on the table are like a 6" square of tissue paper. I know that you will find this hard to believe, so I=m bringing samples back as proof. I now know another answer... why there are so many stray dogs wandering about the streets... they are there to lick the grease off your fingers! And they do a great job.
Six of us went out to lunch today. I had a hamburger and fries, the other five had... Melanesia Neapolitan...what we would call a Achicken fried steak,@ covered with ham and cheese, french fries, a large dinner salad, .... and a couple 2 liter bottles of Coke... 25.5 pesos... about $8.50 for all 6 of us.
Jean Luis has arrived from Paris, and the kitchen table sounds like a miniature United Nations. When Jean Luis first met Nelida (twenty years ago) he spoke to her in French and she answered in Spanish... and somehow they understood each other... or... perhaps they misunderstood what the other was saying and believed that the other was saying what they wanted to hear...but it has evolved into a beautiful relationship.
Last night there was a terrible thunderstorm after we went to bed. There was rain and hail and thunder very close to the house. The electricity was knocked out and didn=t get turned back on until 7:15 in the morning. Others were awakened by the close strike, but I woke up when the lightening was far off and heard it getting closer and closer.
For everyone else, this was a normal summer evening, but I found it exciting. For the fifth time in a week, I had to reset the alarm clock. Electrical failures are quite normal and may explain why nobody is ever on time for anything.
In the next town... about 5 km away... there is a shop that sells precious and semi-precious gem stones. We have been looking and asking... and following wild geese... so we were looking forward to going to this place. We arrived just before noon... and it was closed. The sign on the door said that they were open from 9:00 to 12:30 and from 3:30 to 9:00. At 4:00 pm Estela called and talked to the owner... and was told, AYes, the sign says that we should be open, but we=re not. We will probably be open later in the evening.@ How can you possibly run a business like that?
The other day I mentioned that I particularly liked a dinner that consisted of Filet Mignon, mashed potatoes, and squash. So I got the same meal the next day at lunch, and again at dinner....
Filet Mignon is more expensive than other cuts of meat... about $0.90 a pound. We went to a butcher shop today and... as usual... bought the whole tenderloin, which is then cut into filet mignon steaks. Jean Luis had mentioned that the US has a special cut that is not served in other places in the world... Prime Rib! I had never seen a standing rib roast displayed in any of the supermarkets or butcher shops. So while we were in the butcher shop, I asked for a standing rib roast... and no one knew what I was talking about... so I drew a picture of one, showing the rib and the meat. The butcher invited me into the meat locker where there were several sides of beef. First he tried to sell me a piece next to the ribs which I recognized as a flank steak. But through gestures and hand signs he finally recognized what I wanted. He brought the whole slab out and I showed him how much I wanted... about a foot long. He kept asking if I wanted it cut into steaks... I was finally able to convince him, and Estela, and Andy that I wanted it whole. After he trimmed the excess fat off of it, it weighed exactly 5 kg.... which is 11 pounds. The cost for this was 25 pesos... $8.33...or $0.75 a pound.
The dials on the ovens here do not show temperature... instead they have numbers from one to ten. I wanted to cook the prime rib for about four hours at 225N F until the center was 140NF. But no one had a meat thermometer, or even knew how to use one, so I had to cook by guess and by-golly... but it turned out perfect (luck was on my side.) By the end of the meal there were only a couple of slices and a few scraps left... even the bones had been gnawed!
Over dinner, we had talked about potatoes, and how they were native to South America... and how explorers had brought them to Europe.... but no one would eat them. Louis XIV had a huge plot of potatoes planted and posted guards around the plot all day. The guards left at night, and the peasants stole the plants, figuring that if the king guarded them, they must be good. And so the poor had a cheap food that was filling and nutritious.
The minister who masterminded this ploy is remembered to this day by having a dish named for him... as best as I could figure out, it is a form of hash.
So...The next morning I diced the remaining meat and the uneaten potatoes and made a hash... topped with fried eggs... another hit!
I bought some red and green bell peppers, onions, rice, and canned beans (which were not pinto beans, but looked like a cross between navy beans and lima beans), and some Acheap@ filet mignon, corn meal (which was coarser than what we have... they said that they had finer grind, but I recognized it as corn starch, not meal), flour and butter.
I then set up an assembly line. Irma and Estela rolled tortillas and I cooked them. They were set aside and we sliced a mountain of bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, and sliced beef.
The avocados here are huge... almost a pound each.... so, of course I had to make guacamole to go with the meal.
I fried a few of the tortillas and covered them with cheese (Which didn=t melt as well as Jack or Cheddar) and served that with the guacamole while I fried the remaining ingredients into fajitas. I was happy to see people who had never tried hot sauce, pour salsa fresco on their food and eat with gusto... along with comments that after eating so many beans, we should all sleep outside!
There is a small café that we all like to go for lunch... and sometimes for dinner. They have a daily special... which varies... Melanesia Neopolitan and T-bone steak with pasta are two of the items we=ve eaten... and the price is about 3.5 pesos... $1.20!
Jean Luis always wants to pay for the meal... which I don=t think is fair. So I worked out a plan....
That night we went out to one of the more expensive places in town... where the dinners ranged from 8 to 12 pesos... $2.70 to $4.00. I told my plan to Irma and she instructed to waiter...... and then she started laughing so hard that everyone wanted to know what was so funny. She told them that it was a private joke... or something like that.
After a delicious dinner, the waiter brought the check... and Jean Luis grabbed the check and wouldn=t even let me see the amount. He handed three 20 peso bills to the waiter who inspected the bills carefully and announced that they were counterfeit!!! Jean Luis had just purchased some cigarettes across the street and was paying the bill with the change he had received. I paid the waiter, while Jean Luis and Nelida examined the bills... trying to spot anything that was incorrect. They wanted to return to the store and beat the clerk who had given them counterfeit money.... but Irma started laughing again so hard that she almost fell out of her chair... and everybody realized that I had pulled off a great joke, when I had instructed the waiter... AIf the Frenchman tries to pay, tell him that is money is no good...@ and the waiter did a fantastic job of acting... so he got a huge tip from me... 5 pesos!!!
Now we are in the process of collecting our things from all of the places we have stayed... and are re-packing for the return trip. So this will probably the last report from Argentina.