I am now unemployed for the first time in 10 years. The colleagues gave me a nice lunch feast of crazy French cheeses, one of which smelled like a dead thing, but tasted oh so good! And they gave me a nice Swiss Army knife too, which is super thoughtful, coz X---- lost mine and I was always telling the office manager how I needed to get another.
I was surprised how sad this made me about leaving, but I'm very excited about the freedom! (Cried out like William Wallace in Braveheart!)
One week: Buenos Aires, baby, like a Nazi on the lam!
So we're safely in Buenos Aires. Talk about the teeming metropolis. A bit overwhelming, hard times but the city bustles and grows. I saw a Ferrari dealer as well as dozens of people sleeping in hovels made of trash. Lots of funny graffitti, as well as lots of anti-English stuff about the Falklands, but I don't dare use the word....It's "Las Malvinas" here. Great place, and soon off to Montevideo.
|Good luck with that, sir.|
Turns out it will be cheaper to drive to Montevideo from X---'s home town of Santa Fe. We're going to do that in 10 days or so. Meanwhile we're going to relax here in SF. A lot like Florida, reminds me of Tampa in some ways. A lot more chilled out than Buenos Aires, mercifully....beautiful weather, river, swaying palms. We're going to the city center a little later.
Our bus ride last night was pretty wild for about an hour as we had to cut through barely adequate roads crammed with buses and trucks; the "piqueteros"--mostly unemployed people, had "occupied" the freeway around Rosario, as they often do there, in protest. Of what exactly, we're not sure, but probably due to recent flooding that has left the shantytowns in shambles. But don't get the impression that all is squalor, etc. Santa Fe is orderly and seems pretty prosperous, a lot of what you'd expect to find in any relatively large American city. The contrast [between those with money and those without] is just a bit more stark. But then again, I haven't been to the states for a few years now....
|Costanera, Santa Fe, Aregentina|
So, the days are hot enough for the pool, and the humidity and mosquitoes are par for the course. Yesterday I visited the Santa Fe brewery....the free visit includes a ticket for a "liso" in the beer garden and a sack with two bottles of their flagship lagers. Santa Fe, the beer, is a light and crisp lager, far superior to Quilmes, which is like the Budweiser of the country. That said, the Santa Fe brewery also produces Budweiser! My daily routine is, get up at 8 or 9, drink a couple cups of joe, then take a walk. Today I took more than an hour to walk along the river then head in to the basilica, then back through verdant neighborhoods to my in-laws. Of course stopping for a beer along the way. Today we're gonna grill a chicken. The other day I had a two-inch steak and my knife cut thru that mofo like it was buttah. An Argentine pal once told me Argentina exports great beef and fine women. Political incorrectness aside, I can vouch for both assertions.
|Santa Fe: better than Quilmes!|
Went motor-boating yesterday and tried pitifully to do some wake-boarding, the only result is a pair of sore shoulders and a sunburn. The river was beautiful, and it was nice to get away from town and see the vast expanse of the pampa. As I watched A----- grinning on the board behind us, I was reminded of that scene in Apocalypse Now where Lance is skiing behind the PBR and wreaking havoc on the fishermen. All I needed was an M-16 in my hands to make the scene complete. Ancestral memory perhaps, with a tip of the hat to pops and Uncle D--, I miss you both dearly. Never get out of the boat....
Today I'll get to humiliate myself further as the family goes off for a tango lesson, of all things. Like Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock put it, "It takes two...." At least afterwards there will be an asado and some of that fabulous beer.
Took a spin in town and saw an Argentine mall, bought some gaucho pants (bombacho de campo) elsewhere (I actually saw a young gaucho in a pair of these, on horseback with bandana and beret and was jealous--truly a handsome fellow, almost a bit like a young Che Guevara). Also got myself a small figurine of San La Muerte, Saint Death, a golden-robed skeleton praying from a Santeria shop, filled with statuettes, soaps, oils, incense. Death worshipped overtly. The flags they sell of this guy are like something from a heavy metal album cover: Grim Reaper cool as fuck, sitting on a golden throne decorated with skulls. No pussy-footing about here. Have also seen a number of shrines to Gauchito Gil....read my earlier posts (here and here) for clarification on this fellow. His roadside shrines are announced by red flags. Wild stuff.
Humidity, mosquitoes, Santeria, Spanish spoken at every turn. Where am I, Florida? :)
|Ole Man Rio|
The two tango classes went well. It's very difficult, but apparently I did ok. Today I walked about 10k in the city and got listlessly drunk as I stopped for beers occasionally, mostly getting another so I could use the toilet as the last one worked its way through me. Tomorrow, finally, Montevideo!
Finally crossed the pampa. Such a vast expanse it's almost overwhelming. The dome of the sky not so much above but around you, drooping down to the horizon in a pale blue that makes it easier to understand the color of the Argentine flag. In Uruguay, we traveled five hours and crossed only four towns, only one of which was of significant size. Just rolling hills, cows and a hot, hot sun. We took a dip in a one of the many rivers we crossed to cool down on the way back. At that point I was limp with heat and coated in sweat. Sweltering.
Uruguay is lovely. The people, laid back and friendly. In Montevideo, you have an orderly and tranquil city of one and a half million; big enough to be a city, but still very manageable. Where I stayed, it was on a thin peninsula that allowed you to see water in two directions at the terminus of the corridor of buildings, never very long, no vanishing point, just sky or sea. This position was favorable for the constant breeze which kept the air cool and fresh.
I did a lot of walking and will blog a bit about the Masonic symbolism I saw everywhere. One example is the monument to Artigas. His mausoleum is a large underground space and above his remains, on the plaza above, there is a truncated pyramid, the top of which is open to let a shaft of light fall upon his urn.
I also saw a lot of Gauchito Gil shrines along the route but somehow didn't photograph a single example! I will hit the road again tomorrow for this purpose, as today, after 12 hours on the road yesterday, I'm to beat to do anything but sit by the pool and drink some beers. Life is very hard for me.
|Montevideo flea market|
If you ever get to one place in South America, you have got to come to Rio de Janeiro. This place is insanely beautiful. Truly the most remarkable city I've ever visited. I've had more sensory input in 24 hours than I get in a year at home. I sat on a terrace the first night drinking til dawn, the trees all around crashing with noise. Don't mind that, it's just the monkeys and fruit-bats and over ripe mangoes falling to the ground.
The terrace where we're staying overlooks downtown, and somewhere down the hill that night there was a dance party and blasting up was music and karaoke....LL Cool J, C+C Music Factory. I loved it. Partying til dawn, music heard for blocks around and the cops don't come to make it stop!
Rio's all nestled among these wild pointy mountains that make each part of the city almost like a little town unto itself. You pass through these tunnels and emerge on the other side....there's some view of mountain and sea so unbelievably picturesque that it's hard not to hoot with joy. One one side of the tunnel is 32°C and on the other side, 23°! Take your pick. Broil on the beach or chill out in a cafe.....
The beach at Ipanema, packed! Everyone has a tattoo. Not as many of those famous barely-there bikinis as one is led to believe. A constant parade of vendors selling soda, boiled corn on the cob, fried cheese and most importantly....beer. Hell yeah. In Florida they'll write you a ticket and hassle you for enjoying a brewski by the waves. Here it's open commerce. Small explosions in the distance! Firecrackers going off. Why, who knows.
Later, at the bobo Santa Teresa neighborhood, people walking down the streets in groups playing drums while lovely women dance before them....other people grilling BBQ in the street....each bar overflowing with people--all ages, social classes, sexualities, color. This is one of the most reflexively tolerant places I've ever been too, reflecting it's wild diversity for centuries. One dude with a perm, died red, with a tattoo that said 666 La Bestia. A drunken gay guy with brilliant tattoos telling me he was sorry he couldn't speak Portuguese in a way that I would understand him more easily. An old dude in ball cap, flip-flops and soccer jersey shaking a rattle along with the band, in his own world. People in the audience pick up rattles, triangles, boxes of wood to serve as drums. Music is part of the life-fabric here. Everyone looking pretty happy, never once a dour or aggressive gesture.
Overall, the people aren't remarkably beautiful, but when they are, my jaw drops. But I think it's the beauty of the setting that clinches it all....the sea, the mountains, the trees, the smell of vegetation in the middle of a busy part of town. I'm seriously considering moving here for a year.
And yeah, I realize this is the romantic view. I've left out the three highly-armed soldiers I saw hanging about a busy street to ensure order, the favelas and their poverty lining the hills above the ritzy places, the shocking disparity of wealth, the violence, the drugs. But I haven't experienced that yet and if I sound a bit giddy with the charm of it all, it's because I am giddy and amazed. I've been a few places in my 42 years, and so far, this place tops them all!
|Downtown Rio, my view|
It's been rainy and grey the last few days, so all those days at the beach haven't panned out, the colors are less vibrant and we're disinclined to stroll about as much. We've still managed a couple of walks though, and I've blown through a couple of books already.
Those heady first days I described before were from the back of a motorcycle, which definitely gives one a different perspective then when going by foot. Walking, the smells and grottier aspects of life catch up to you. I'm still enamored or this city and am scheming to find a way to make it possible to live here a month or two each year....during the kids' school holidays. I understand more and more of what's being said to me and am starting to use the language myself. Knowing a fair bit of Spanish helps, as many words are almost identical and with a certain inflection you can turn the Spanish into the Portuguese quite easily.
Yesterday we rode on this cable car that crosses the sky above the biggest favela in the world. You're a hundred feet of the ground or more, or sometimes right above the roof tops of houses constructed entirely without permits or ownership of land. What began as a shantytown is a city unto itself. I'll have to pop up some photos. Very odd though, ostensibly the cable cars are also a means of public transportation, so it costs 50 cents or so to make the entire 20 minute journey. But each 'station' is atop a massive hill so for the favela residents it's not very practical. Hard not to avoid the conclusion that it's for some weird kind of tourism. You get great views of the city and you can peer down into this different world of poverty without actually stepping foot into it. Quite perverse. We almost walked back through the favela to the metro, my sister in law does it often, but then again, she looks as if she could be Brazilian. We decided that having two "Swiss blond" kids at our sides would attract too much attention. On the bus going to the cable car station, kids looked at us as though we were Martians. Not uncomfortable, but still. Better safe than sorry.
So, other than the favelas, we went through the colorless and shabby quarters which are certainly not charmless, but aren't the kinds of places one would want to live in. If someone plopped you into Rio near these ports and concrete wastelands you'd wonder wtf I was talking about in my earlier comments!
Also, Brazil is a police state. There are cops everywhere. Military police with machine guns, municipal guards with batons, another special "pacification unit" for the favelas. Apparently they parked a tank on a hill overlooking one of the favela neighborhoods to show some muscle. This is not a pleasant fact, the police can be corrupt and brutal. Not all are, but people do disappear, get shot in the back, beaten.
But the city is pretty safe overall. This is the other side of the coin, the not so shiny side, but it's still a damn interesting coin!
|To infinity and beyond|
Took a two-hour walk today to walk off the hangover, cuz Mr. Sun is back in action! Parts of the city were eerily quiet, others bustling. Everywhere I saw people, many were going to the beach, naturally. I was glad to get back and rest my feet after my diverse stroll, thoroughly lost by the end. Rio is rich in monuments, graffitti, strange characters and other marvels. Several urban kilometers in flip-flops is torture, though. Flip-flops, btw, are de rigeur footwear here. Wanna be recognized as a gringo, slap on some sensible shoes. In shades, shorts, t-shirt and flippity-floppities, people take me for a carioca. I mutter one word replies and I don't even think they realize I haven't a clue. I love the anonymity of the cosmopolitan city!
I was pretty bummed returning to France. 2 days ago I was on the beach with a beer. Now it's cold, the sky is grey, the people are grey.....but then I had dinner, and it was all better. Nothing compares to the food in France! Thanksgiving dinner was magret de canard with red potatoes fried up in the fat, a salad of lettuce, noisette, slices of orange and chunks of jambon serrano. Then a creme à chocolate with dulce de leche. Topped of with a fruity Buzet red, 2008. Yum!