Monthly Archives: January 2013

Perder chispa

This afternoon a forest fire started on Cerro Otto, a mountain peak in the middle of a residential area. Low humidity, little rain, and less than average snow fall for the last two years make for tinder-dry conditions.

This afternoon a forest fire started on Cerro Otto, a mountain peak in the middle of a residential area. Low humidity, little rain, and less than average snowfall for the last two years make for tinder-dry conditions.

We are ready to go home.

We are done trying to recreate the food we would eat at home (impossible) and unwilling to eat like Argentines.

We are done—for now—expecting that we will make significant improvements in our Spanish (except for Lou, who has a true immersion experience every weekday).

We are done being on vacation and not having the income or the sense of purpose that come from work, nor the comfort and sense of connection that come from having family and real friends nearby.

Our challenge is to make good use of the two weeks we have left and not think too much about home and the dried cherries, peanut butter, black beans, Yukon Gold potatoes, sourdough bread, asparagus, assorted cheeses, and Mexican food we will immediately buy.

Marcan el fin de año los alumnos de tae kwon do

Una cita a la calesita

Canto del pájaro

The last time we left town on a cloudy day we were met by steady rain, puddles and mud, and ended up calling a remise to take us home as soon as we got to our destination (and paid $35 for the pleasure of two hours of riding around). But since this is day nine of Pete’s twelve-day trip to Ecuador, I knew Lou and I had to risk another rainy day and get out of the house.

We took the bus to the Circuito Chico for the same five-mile hike we did in November. It was fun to see how things had changed in two months, and with so much bird song it was like walking through a giant aviary. Take a listen: 45 sec and 20 sec.

Me pone loco

“The A factor.” This is the label some acquaintances of ours apply to anything here that challenges American logic. For example, when I saw a mom drive up to day care this morning with her kid in her lap, I labeled that The A factor (more commonly, the baby or kid is in the passenger’s lap in the front seat or rolling around loose in the back seat).

Up to this point, the A-factor has been an opportunity for private judgment or a shoulder shrug. Today it got under my skin.

DSC_0094In almost any store, even a big grocery store, one can be expected to provide close to exact change. The first time I got a pedicure—and it was a strange experience for a few reasons—the woman could not make the equivalent of $4 in change, even after rummaging around in her purse, so she sold me a nail file I didn’t need. When paying for a pastry that costs two and a half pesos, I am not surprised to hand the cashier a five peso bill and hear “Do you have 50 centavos?”

This afternoon, Lou and I needed to take a remise to tae kwon do class and I wasn’t going to risk handing the driver a 100 peso bill (about $20) for a ride that cost $4. So on the way home from school I decided to buy Lou a gaseosa (soft drink) at a kiosco to break the 100 peso bill. For good measure, I put two bottles on the counter: 14 pesos ($3). The cashier asked if I had anything smaller than the 100, and I said no. He looked in is his till and dug in his pockets and, apparently coming up short on coins, asked if I had a peso. No. Another guy working in the store didn’t have one either, so Guy #1 threw up his hands as in, “What can I do?” It turned out Guy #2 did have a peso down in the depths of his pocket lint, so I was able to leave without further incident, but Guy #1 acted seriously put out. Whaaa?

Dibujo a marcadores

Louie drew this picture of "a beautiful day" for the senos at his new escuela. We learned yesterday that Seno. Gris is expecting a baby, and Louie included him, too. At the bottom is the all-black cat that hangs around the school grounds and sometimes accepts Lou's attention.

Louie decided on his own to draw this picture of “a beautiful day” for the teachers at his new escuela. We learned yesterday that one of them is expecting a baby, and Louie included “her panza” (belly) too. At the bottom is the all-black cat that hangs around the school grounds and sometimes accepts Lou’s loving attention. The tape frame was Lou’s idea.

Ha votado y botado

Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Fernandez de Kircher. Nestor passed away during Cristina's first presidential term.

Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Cristina became a widow during her first presidential term.

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is the president of Argentina. A lawyer by training, she had a political career as a national senator while her husband, Nestor Kirchner, served as president from 2003 to 2007. When he decided not to seek reelection, Cristina, as she is called by her supporters, ran and won. She is serving her second term and can only seek a third term if the Constitution is changed, which is what her supporters are trying to do.

I have yet to meet anyone who is indifferent to Cristina. People either really like her and think she has done a lot to help the poor and working class or they think that she is driving the country into the ground as fast as she can fill her foreign bank accounts and set things up to benefit her family and friends.

On the whole, Argentines seem convinced that active participation in corruption is the natural baseline for politicians at all levels and that things just get worse from there.

An Argentine joke:

President Barack Obama, Prime Minister David Cameron, and President Cristina Kirchner are on a junket visiting significant public works projects in their respective countries. In the United States, they visit a hydroelectric dam. Cameron and Kirchner ooh and ahh. President Obama pats his pocket and says, “Five percent. In here.” Next they visit the United Kingdom, where they tour a wind farm. Obama and Kirchner sigh with envy, and Cameron pats his pocket and says, “Ten percent. In here.” Lastly, they travel to Argentina, where Kirchner is eager to show the two men a bridge critical to expanding the national transportation network. She points, and Obama and Cameron squint. “I can’t see it,” says Cameron. Kirchner pats her pocket and says, “One hundred percent. In here.”

In Bariloche and the province of Río Negro, things have been interesting since December 20, when looting took place on the outskirts of Bariloche. The mayor has taken a lot of heat because of the inadequate police response (especially since there was advance warning?), and la Presidenta was not pleased to have to send in 400 gendarmes to discourage subsequent looting and doubly displeased when there was copycat looting in other cities.

Earlier this week five individuals associated with a workers cooperative, including the leader—known as “The Mohican”—were arrested for suspicion of organizing the looting in Bariloche. In Argentina, there is a national program under which the jobless can work to earn a small amount of money, and, for reasons I don’t quite understand, worker cooperatives have sprung up around it. The cooperative in Bariloche now implicated in the looting is called First of May, a date known internationally as Labor Day.

People were dissatisfied with the mayor before the looting, but after the looting he started to face pressure to resign from within his own political party, which is the same party as the governor of the province, an influential senator from the province, and la Presidenta. There was reportedly a secret meeting—which the mayor denies—during which he was asked to resign and refused. So now the provincial governor and the senator (and we can assume La Presidenta) are pushing for a referendum to recall the mayor from office.

As part of the political jousting, the governor has questioned a reported payment in December of approximately $19,000 by the city to the First of May workers cooperative for “building sidewalks.” If I understand it correctly, the city says that a payment of $19,000 to First of May was made in error and that a return of funds was requested. (This is the root of what was originally reported as motivation for the looting, anger over a promise of money that was rescinded?) In turn, the mayor says that a payment of $8,000 was made by the province to First of May after the looting, and that this was payment by the governor for the cooperation of First of May in carrying out the looting.

What’s the truth? An Argentine would probably say that it’s typical political theater and that they’re all on the take anyway.