Valentín Alsina: the Other Side of Buenos Aires

When I tell people I live in Valentín Alsina, they either nod or look at me quizzically.  Porteños look at me like, “I’m sorry.”  Foreigners have never heard of it.  But from those who also live on my side of the greater metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, I get smiles.

Puente Alsina, as seen from the capital

Puente Alsina, gateway to my neighborhood.  Puente Alsina crosses the Matanza River, commonly known as el Riachuelo, separating the city of Buenos Aires from the province of Buenos Aires.  The Riachuelo is dreadfully polluted.  The most contaminated river in Argentina, so they say.  Makes me want to cry.

Once a thriving part of the great metropolis, Valentín Alsina has seen better days.

Puente Alsina seen from Valentín Alsina

downtown Valentin Alsina

Valentín Alsina is a street artist’s paradise.  Images and opinions get right in your face.

This one says it all.  No client = no business.

Ex-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is still a favorite in this working class district.

Young family with a couple of fuzzy friends.

Do you believe in creating your own reality?  Don’t we all?  There’s a Coliseum on the this side of Rome.

Create your own reality now, before someone else creates it for you.  If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own!

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Need a little help with the remodel?

“Wabi means that which fails to satisfy, wholly refuses to submit to one’s aims, and goes against what was wished.  Take to heart that wabi is not considering one’s incapacities, nor even embracing the thought that being ill-provided for is in any way out of the order of things.” the Zencharoku, 1828

Bandoneon and bajo… the wabi and sabi of Tango.

Tango is the beating heart of Buenos Aires.

They call this el Muro Sur (the southern wall).  You drive right past it after crossing Puente Alsina.

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Abandoned factory…

meets lonely playground.

Pretty flowers and bright happy calacas remind me of Califas.

I like to imagine that some talented neighborhood kids did this fabulous copy of Picasso’s Guernica.  I spotted it a few months ago, walking around looking for the Alsina cultural center.

German aviation forces bombed the Basque town of Guernica on April 26, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War.  “Guernica had no military or strategic importance, and thus provoked a popular reaction against the absurd sacrifice of innocents.” [culturagenial.com]

This is my neighborhood.  I think it’s pretty nice.  I’m a fan of all things wabi-sabi.

The wabi-sabi ruin below is just a block away.  Definitely a scene stealer.  I hope somebody remodels soon.  Perfect set for an action sequence in a nitty-gritty urban thriller… am I right?

Wabi originally meant ‘sadness of poverty.’  But gradually it came to mean an attitude toward life, with which one tried to resign himself to straitened living and to find peace and serenity of mind even under such circumstances.”  Diane Durston, Wabi Sabi.

When it rains in Valentín Alsina, it pours.  Last year my neighborhood flooded.

Too close to the river, I guess.  Below, a block from Santos’ house:

That green stuff in the foreground is the grass between the street and the sidewalk.  Flooding gives me the creeps.  Whoever’s in charge of water management infrastructure hereabouts (levees, spillways, floodwater diversion systems) has been sleeping on the job for the last fifty years… and stashing those big checks in some offshore account.  Panamá, Caymans, New Orleans?

What’s all this  talk about diverting cash flows?  When you lose buying power to massive inflation, or get charged 40-70% interest on your home loan cause you missed one payment… you must be in Argentina.  Argentines pay taxes and get NOTHING in return.  Broken dirty streets and sidewalks, broken sewage systems, inefficient wastewater treatment plants, ancient power grids… kind of like Venezuela, I guess.

Retirement pensions were cut 15% in 2018, and the government of Macri is considering another cut in 2019. That’s money people earned and saved… what kind of idiot thinks he has the right?  Macri is such an imbécil, like his fellow Emperor Has No Clothes Trump.  Hmmm… maybe that’s why there was a fiery picket line blocking Puente Alsina when I was heading home yesterday.

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Picket Line on Puente Alsina

This Monday and Tuesday there were paros (work stoppages).  Subways and collectivos (buses) were grounded both days.  People survive by ridesharing with others who have cars.  But no vehicle was going to cross Puente Alsina this afternoon;  picketers lit fires at both ends.

Flashback from a New York Times reporter: “Back this month for the first time in 16 years, I saw a country stuck in what has now become its natural state: crisis.  As if living a déja vu, I flipped on the TV to once again hear Argentine newscasters fretting about bailouts, the peso in freefall, and fears of default.  Many stores advertised going-out-of-business sales.  Still more storefronts were shuttered and empty, with For Rent or For Sale signs.”

“Consider the recent Group of 20 summit that drew global leaders to Buenos Aires, including President Trump.  The Argentines erected a glamorous media center for an army of press.  They filled it with avant-garde art and offered unlimited wine on tap, craft beers, fresh pastas and rare cuts of Argentine beef.  They staged edgy performances – a sort of tango show, as if produced by Andy Warhol. – …  Yet for the vast majority of the summit, the wifi – the most fundamental necessity for working journalists – was offline. Broken. Didn’t work.”  – Anthony Faiola, New York Times, 27 Dec. 2018. 

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Welcome to Argentina.  Sounds like Burning Man.  No desert playground here, but we have our own Burning Man.

Who’s your Daddy?

Sorry, no avant-garde art or craft beers out here in the stix… but Don Tito cooks up the best asado in Valentín Alsina.  Sit back and enjoy an adult beverage while I relate my Cliff’s Notes style version of local history:

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General José Maria Paz

Lanús, the bigger city next door to Valentín Alsina, essentially a suburb, was established as Villa General Paz in 1888, named after numerous battles captained and won by General José María Paz in the Argentine civil wars of the mid-19th century.

Villa General Paz was officially renamed Lanús in 1955, in honor of Hipólito Anacarsis Lanús (1820-1888), a settler of Basque origin, who helped found the city.

Hipólito Anacarsis Lanús

Lanús dedicated himself to importing goods from Europe, and made a fortune supplying the war effort against Paraguay in the latter part of the 1860s.  Paraguayan troops had occupied the city of Corrientes in 1865, thus persuading Argentina to enter the war as an ally of Brazil and Uruguay, who were already fighting the Paraguayans. [La Defensa, Diario Digital, 24 Dec. 2016]

Lanús was one of a group of wealthy men who helped Bartolomé Mitre start up the newspaper La Nación in 1870 It’s still one of the most widely read papers in Argentina, although perhaps not the most respected.  Lanús later became a provincial Senator, and vastly enriched his fortunes provisioning the armies who obliterated the indigenous peoples in the south of the province.  He’s no hero in my book.  Bad karma.

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What goes around, comes around.

The geography of what is now Valentín Alsina and Lanús, with a navigable river flowing into the Río de la Plata and hence to the Atlantic, precipitated the intense growth and commercial development of Lanús.  Those in a position to profit could see that it would not be long before the huddled masses of the second half of the nineteenth century would be arriving: people from other latitudes and hemispheres, with other experiences and knowledge, other cultures and languages.  All of them looking for a place to put down roots.  The soil was generous, the sun smiled upon the land, and the river linked the new city to the sea, assuring the progress of some …  but not all.  Sound familiar?

Lanús wasn’t always as rundown as it is today.  In the 1940s, Lanús was still mostly fields, creeks and trees.  Lots more people arrived when the meatpackers opened: Frigoríficos Wilson and La Negra. 

The canneries employed so many people there were 3 shifts a day.  Frigorífico Wilson built a ballroom in Valentín Alsina, where workers danced on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons.

A downtown was built; streetcars were assembled and rolled onto new rails.  Cars were still scarce in those days, while horse-drawn wagons were everywhere. 

Practically every enterprising business made deliveries by wagon.  Horse-drawn carts are now prohibited by law, but I still see a few around Valentín Alsina.  Fueled by necessity, post-industrial creativity flourishes.

Who are the cartoneros?  Mostly skinny men and an occasional woman, pulling a jury-rigged metal-framed cart, collecting used cardboard to sell to recyclers for a few pennies.  I’ve never seen a well-fed cartonero.  Recently I saw a cartonero loading a beat-up pickup.  Civilization and Progress. 

a local dairy from back in the day

Someone once asked Gandhi what he thought of Western civilization. “It would be a good idea,” he replied.

Now a major industrial center, Lanús is served by freight and passenger railway lines.  The city has chemical, armaments, textiles, paper, leather and rubber goods, wire, apparel, oils and lubricants industries, as well as tanneries, vegetable and fruit canneries.  Primary and secondary schools, as well as several technical schools, are located in the city, as well as the Hospital Eva Perón, one of the largest in the Greater Buenos Aires area.  Lanús has a football club, Club Atlético Lanús, currently playing in the Argentina Primera Liga.

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Argentina won the World Cup in 1978.  Argentines like to fight so much at soccer games that only one side of the stadium will let fans out after a match.  The other side has to wait at least an hour before they are allowed to leave; and all the bars and liquor stores within a mile are shut down.  I know; been there, done that.  Last November a couple of Boca players received eye injuries from broken glass when some River fans threw rocks at their bus, as they pulled up outside the River stadium.  The match had to be rescheduled, and finally took place in the Santiago Barnabéu stadium in Madrid.  Argentines are passionate about their sports… and they’ve produced some of the best players in the world.

Messi, Argentine God of soccer

Another Argentine passion is Tango.  You knew we’d be getting to that, right?  Following is a compilation of Santos’ favorite tango singers from Valentín Alsina.

Above, Tango singer Mercedes Simone, 1904-1990.  Following, one of Santos’ favorite singers, Hector Varela, a local from the Lanús area.

Hector Varela (1914-1987) was a bandoneon player and composer of tangos who joined the orchestra of Juan D’Arienzo as first bandoneón in 1934.  Legend has it that Tita Merello and Libertad Lamarque, Argentine singers and actresses, asked Varela to accompany them.  Varela’s parents wanted him to become an accountant.  He graduated with an accounting degree, but never worked a day as a numbers cruncher.  In 1935 he joined the orchestra of Enrique Santos Discépolo, where he met Aníbal Troilo, another almighty god of Tango.

Cuando Troilo toca, Dios habla.  When Troilo plays, God speaks.

An image of Troilo on the screen at Milonga Marabú

In 1939 Varela briefly formed his own orchestra, but then returned to the orchestra of Juan d’Arienzo, “el Rey del Compás,” and stayed there for 10 years.  He formed his own group again in 1951, and over the years recorded 383 tangos with singers Armando Laborde and Argentino Ledesma, among others.

Another superstar from Valentín Alsina was Sandro, a singer and songwriter. (1945 – 2010)  Sandro sang rock, pop, and ballads.  Not just any ol’ musician, Sandro went on to become a well-known actor, producer, and director.  He recorded 52 albums, selling more than 8 million, and starred in 16 movies.

Sandro on the far right, at a birthday party

Sandro won a Grammy in 2005.  He was the first Argentine pop singer to perform at Madison Square Garden, and is dearly beloved to this day.  Sandro’s star status enabled him to buy a mansion in Banfield, near Lanús, where he installed a recording studio, and lived there until he passed away in 2010.  A statue of Sandro inhabits a nearby park here in Valentín Alsina.

Sandro

Edmundo Rivero, (1911-1986) singer, guitarist and composer, was born in Valentín Alsina.  Rivero trained in classical music at the National Conservatory in Belgrano.  A friend said he was “…a character straight out of the Quixote, born in the Pampas.”  Edmundo Rivero had a deep, gravelly voice, and an unmistakable style.  In 1935 Rivero joined the orchestra of Julio de Caro.  In the 1940s he sang with Canaro.  Later he sang with other orchestras, including Horacio Salgán and Aníbal Troilo.

Edmundo Rivero

    «Mire, Rivero, mejor bájese del palco, porque me parece que esto viene de         “cargada”».

     «¿Le parece?».

     «¿Y no ve que le tiran cosas?».

     «Ah, pero a mí en los bailes siempre me aplauden así».

     «¿Está seguro, Rivero?».

     [translation follows]

     “Look, Rivero, you better get off the stage, they’re starting to throw things.”        

     “You think so?”

     “Can’t you see they’re throwing stuff at us?”

     “Yeah, that’s how they always applaud me.”

     “Are you sure, Rivero?”

Alberto Morán (1922-1997)

Born in Italy, Morán emigrated to Buenos Aires with his family when he was 3 years old.  Morán made his singing debut in 1940 in the famous café El Nacional, known as la Cathedral of Tango (not to be confused with la Nacional, on Adolfo Alsina, or la Catedral in Almagro, or la Catedral in Mataderos).  Morán really made star status when he joined the orchestra of Osvaldo Pugliese, in 1944.  Some of his most famous songs include “Pasional,” “San José de Flores,” and “El abrojito,”​ which is a kind of thorn that pierces your heart.

Tito Reyes  (1928-2007)

Tito Reyes con Troilo

Tito Reyes was born Tito Cosme Sconza in the Puente Alsina neighborhood.  He and his six brothers were raised by Italian immigrant parents in a house his father built; wooden with a metal roof, the typical immgrant house of the period.  The Sconza family home was elevated 1-1/2 meters above the ground, because the barrio of Valentín Alsina floods frequently due to storms.

No kidding

Tito grew up listening to the radio.  He taught himself to sing, listening to Carlos Gardel on Radio Colonia.  Tito apprenticed as a shoemaker, and later worked in construction and as a welder.  Tito never quit working; he didn’t think that singing in cafés was a real job.  Eventually, though, he must have wrapped his mind around the idea of becoming a professional singer,  because in the early 1950s he began to use Tito Reyes as his artistic name.

The rains always end, sooner or later. The sky clears, the sun comes out, and lovely clouds come riding in on the sunset like a live fire-breathing dragon.

from my balcony

Seriously, how can you worry when you have a dragon like Smaug hanging around?

Saints need sinners.  Otherwise, they’d be out of a job.

Jus’ having a little fun.  Hope you’all are too.  Over and out from Buenos Aires.

Córdoba: Hotel Nazi, la Salamanca, and Other Tall Tales and Adventures

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The city of Córdoba, capital of the province of Córdoba, Argentina, was founded on July 6, 1573 by Jerónimo Luis de Cabrera, a Spanish conquistador.  Cabrera named the city after Córdoba, Spain.  Córdoba was one of the first Spanish colonial capitals of the region that is now Argentina (the oldest city is Santiago del Estero, founded in 1553).   The U of Córdoba is the oldest university in the country and the second oldest in Latin America.  It was founded by the Jesuits in 1613.

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Córdoba has many historical monuments preserved from Spanish colonial rule.  The most recognizable is perhaps the Jesuit Quarter (la Manzana Jesuíta), declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. 

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This beautiful barrio consists of a group of buildings dating from the 17th century, including the Colegio Nacional de Monserrat and the colonial university campus.

recova Plaza San Martín

recova Plaza San Martín

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In January we flew up north to the province of Córdoba. The original Córdoba, in Andalusia, Spain, was built by the Romans and conquered by Muslim armies in 711.  Córdoba became the capital of the Islamic Emirate and the Caliphate of Córdoba, which included a great swath of the Iberian Peninsula, not to mention my favorite Andalusian cities: Granada, Málaga, Sevilla.  According to archeologists, Córdoba had upwards of a million inhabitants in the 10th century, in a time when only one other European city had more than 30,000: Constantinople.

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Córdoba was famously cultured, enlightened and stunningly beautiful, and is credited, as I will illustrate, with jumpstarting the Renaissance.  The city was known for its gardens, fountains, artificial lakes and public baths fed by an aqueduct.  Muslims bathed daily, unlike their fragrant European neighbors who were averse to cleanliness, and instead resorted to the invention of perfume.

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General San Martín

During these centuries, Córdoba became a society ruled by Muslims, in which all other groups had second-class status but lived together in relative peace and poverty except for the noble classes, who were exempt from paying taxes.  Spain returned to Christian rule in 1236, during the Reconquista.  In 1492 Fernando and Isabella, los Reyes Católicos, forced all the Muslims, Jews, gypsies and other “deplorables” out of the country in the name of Catholicism.  (Many converted to Christianity to avoid being deported: los conversos)  The ebb and flow of tolerance seems to be a recurring pattern worldwide.  We humans just can’t seem to rise above the avarice, ego, and drive to dominate others, which is apparently encoded in our DNA.  History repeats itself. 

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Because of its enlightened rulers, Córdoba was home to a university, medical schools, a library of 400,000 volumes, and 27 free primary schools for children of the poor.  The literacy rate was high for both males and females …. encouraged by a famous king, Alfonso X, el Sabio.  Alfonso the “wise” was crowned in 1252. He is known for his interest in science and literature.  Under his rule, early Greek and Roman texts (Homer, Herodotus, Aeschylus, Euripides, Sappho, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, et al.) were translated into Castilian Spanish.  Alfonso X sponsored, supervised and often participated with his own writing and in collaboration with a group of Latin, Hebrew and Muslim intellectuals known as the Toledo School of Translators, in the composition of an enormous body of literature that kick-started the production of literature in Spanish as we know it today.

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Córdoba has many historical monuments preserved from Spanish colonial rule.  The Colegio Nacional de Monserrat and the colonial university campus, as I have mentioned, all date from the 17th century. The campus belongs today to the historical museum of the National University of Córdoba, which has been the second-largest university in the country since the early 20th century (after the University of Buenos Aires), in terms of the number of students, faculty, and academic programs.

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January and February is school-free summer vacation time here in the far southern latitudes.  Trees are in blossom all over the place.  The Córdoba countryside reminds me so much of California; the Santa Lucias, the Gabilanes, Los Padres, Ojai…  Seeing Córdoba adds life and depth to an understanding of our California missions.

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Isn’t she lovely?

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a Dominican convent in the Jesuit quarter

Segue to the 20th century: a beautiful bronze bas-relief in the historic quarter of Córdoba, dedicated to the women of Córdoba.  Just in time for International Women’s Day!

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monument to the women of Cordoba, 1956

In case you might not know about or have forgotten about a very difficult period in Argentina, there is the Museo de la Memoria in Córdoba.  The coup d’etat of March 1976 was a civic-military rebellion that led to the establishment of a military junta, led by Lieutenant General Jorge Rafael Videla.  The junta called their state-sponsored terrorism the Process of National Reorganization.  People called it “la Dictadura” and “el Proceso.”  It was not the first, but by far the bloodiest dictatorship in the history of Argentina. [Wikipedia]

Museo de la Memoria

More than 30,000 people were “disappeared,” tortured and killed.  The junta remained in power until December 10, 1983, when Raúl Alfonsín was elected president by free and fair elections.  In Buenos Aires you will see many bronze plaques set into the sidewalks, in every neighborhood, where the names of the disappeared are listed, along with with the date they were kidnapped from their homes at that location.  On the facade of the Museo de la Memoria are hand-lettered the names of those who were “disappeared” in Córdoba.  I saw quite a lot of politically-inspired street art in Córdoba.  People having a voice is what democracy is all about.

we want to live   …    we exist because we resist

 

El Cordobazo: a student – worker uprising against a previous dictatorship in 1969.

When reality gets too depressing, you have to just forget about it all, for a while.  C’mon, let’s go dancing.

Saturday night Milonga in Plaza San Martín, Córdoba.

If you’ve got a bad case of the blues, and the Cathedral at Plaza San Martín is just too damn lovely, take a walk on the Goth side, near the Plaza España.  It’s absolutely wild!

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Gótica extremensus!

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You would think this cathedal, la Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón, was built in the 1700s… that’s what I thought!  I mean, it’s positively crawling with grotesque and beastly gargoyles.  But I was soooo wrong, just like the Beatles’ song.  Also known as the Iglesia de los Capuchinos (let’s just call it the Cappuchino church, even if it doesn’t have an espresso bar), it was built by the Franciscan order between 1926 – 1934.

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Gothic my ass!  The brickwork gives it away.  It’s pretty amazing, just the same.

Hmmm… prehistoric Legos?  Holy Friars!  What were they smoking?

Córdoba Day 1.

Our first destination in Córdoba was La Cumbre, a pretty little town 500 miles northwest of Buenos Aires.  We loved La Cumbre… we stayed there for a whole week.  You can keep your yurts… La Cumbre is the best base camp anywhere.  It’s friendly and picturesque, and the dozen or so sidewalk cafés and bistros serve up some really delicious food.  How about a plate of crusted stuffed Patagonian trout?  Rúcula and radicheta salad with caramelized pears and melted brie?  We’re talking’ some really good eats in this town, not to mention the BBQ, the empanadas, and the quintessential malbec: in vino veritas!  In La Cumbre the Tourism office doesn’t close till midnight.  Argentines are all about their night life!

La Cumbre

La Cumbre has a lovely willow-lined creek on the edge of town.  

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We discovered the creek while wandering about town the next morning, trying to find the 10K trail we were told about.  It starts behind the statue of El Cristo Redentor and ends at the San Gerónimo reservoir.

el Cristo Redentor

It’s a 10 minute climb up a series of steps to get to the lookout.

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Nice view of La Cumbre.  The best part was getting to pet the adorable cuddly vicuña for 10 pesos.

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The trailhead starts right behind the statue and we nearly missed it, but our new friends, las Gaby, pointed out what looked like a rabbit trail going straight up, a few feet from the backside of Christ.  The four of us spent most of the day climbing with hands and feet up a narrow, rocky trail to the top of the ridge. Lush, grassy green hillsides with horses and burros grazing.  My kind of paradise!

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There was a cute burro hanging with the herd but he kept moving away and I couldn’t get a good shot.  As we climbed up the views of La Cumbre just got better and better.  Santos added the “the bear went over the mountain” to his repertoire of Latin American hiking music.  After living in Buenos Aires for most of the last 6 years  – that big beautiful cognitively-dissonant city that I love –  it was delightful to be up in the hills with the sweet air, the fresh breeze.  The  warmth of the sun was absoutely glorious.  A wonderfully healing and energizing day.

We had to ditch our sneakers and socks to ford a creek that was only a few inches deep.  Our happy feet dried in the sun as we kicked back in the tall grass munching trail mix.  We scrambled up faint paths on all fours, rock to rock, like, seriously climbing!  On the downhills we scampered and skittered like clumsy goats, concentrating on each split-second landing, not afraid, but keenly aware of the possible unfortunate consequences of one poorly placed foot.  Luckily I had brought along a good pair of hiking shoes, and with zen-like concentration I donned the spirit cloak of a mountain sprite.

We finally made it over the ridgetops and scrambled down, down, down to the San Gerónimo reservoir.   The water was still a little muddy from recent rains.

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Dique San Gerónimo after the rains

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web photo: cobalt blue water!

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a spillway: built to last!

It was about 4 pm when we made it to the reservoir.  After a short break our 4-person team set off down the dirt road towards La Cumbre. Riders on horseback passed us ponying a mare with a colt skittering alongside.  It was about a 4K walk into La Cumbre.  After a while we turned onto the main road (also dirt) and to our right was a sight for sore eyes: la Estancia Rosario!  It was a hot and sunny afternoon, and the gate was OPEN!

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La estancia welcomed us with beautiful sweeping lawns, benches all over the place, a café, a restaurant, huge nice restrooms, and a shop that sells an enormous variety of alfajores (saddlebags in english).  Alfajores are cookies sandwiched with jam or dulce de leche.  Sometimes the cookie dough is made from almond paste and nuts, or breadcrumbs mixed with honey and spices.  Speaking of breadcrumbs, I spent so much time in the ladies’ room washing off the sweat and trail dirt, and rebraiding my hair, that the team sent one of the Gabys to drag me out.  Then I had to stock up on alfajores… dulce de leche is my favorite, dusted with coconut instead of dipped in chocolate.  Estancia el Rosario makes the best alfajores I’ve ever had.  Ah, alfajor heaven!

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So, rested up, full tummy = happy heart.  We set off to hike the last couple of miles into La Cumbre.  Piece ‘a cake!  Flat, no stones in my passway….

Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues

Robert Johnson, 1911-1938, King of the Delta Blues

A stray dog decided to join our wolf-pac.com.  Maybe he liked the scent of dirt, dust and alfajores?  After awhile he changed his mind and headed back to his comfort zone.… the familiar.  He didn’t want anything weird to happen at the next crossroads.  Happens to all of us at some point, right?  If not, there may still be time…

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After a day of climbing nearly vertical rabbit trails, walking on the flat was sooo easy.  We were NOT complaining.  But then, as if the universe wanted to applaud our efforts, we heard a vehicle approaching, bouncing and jolting its merry way along the washboard.  We all turned to look.  It was a white ’64 Ford pickup.  Its driver spotted us and slowed down to have a look.  Three women and one guy.  The odds are good but the goods are odd!  Just kidding, he was a good guy.  There were 4 or 5 tires in the back of the truck which looked liked couch cushions to us.  Santos spoke to him, he gave a nod, and we jumped in.

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Gabriela la Morocha and Gabriela de Córdoba: las Gabys

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Back in town, we celebrated under the umbrella of a sidewalk cafe downtown with Quilmes, empanadas and a spiked mango licuado for yours truly. Good times and best friends forever!!

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Later on Santos and I drove to Cosquín to go to a peña.  What’s a peña?  It’s a club where you can sit and have a nice meal and a bottle of wine and listen to live folk music, and sometimes other local musical offerings.  Santos was really jazzed to go to Cosquín, because it’s THE center of Argentine folk music and dance, and he’s way into all that.  They have music festivals there all year round, and the biggest ones are broadcast live on Argentine public tv, night after night. 

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During the day they have rodeos where you can watch gauchos in Argentine style caps and sombreros ride outlaw bulls and broncs. It’s kinda funny for me cause, being a cowgirl myself, I’m used to American rodeos with clowns and dumb-ass announcers and lots of flag waving and team roping and steer wrestling, barrel racing and all the rest.  In Argentina, especially in the provinces, they’ve got guys riding broncs and bulls with folk singers singing at the same time!  Crazy!  But that’s how it’s done here.  Their rodeos are called domos.  Later on, for the folks at home, the tv broadcasts hours of folk dancing, all in very elaborate and beautiful costumes, very much like our baile folklórico in California and Mexico.

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dancing la Zamba at Peña La Salamanca

So that evening we went to la Peña Salamanca.  The food was great (we had locro, a traditional corn and beef stew) and there was a stream of different groups performing… a dozen at least.  It was the week leading up to the big festival weekend, so lots of performers were in town doing the rounds of the peñas.  We got up and danced to the chacareras, and when a group played some Piazzolla, we were the only dancers brave enough to get out there and show our stuff.  The audience went wild for us!!  Blame it on that bottle of tinto we were drinking.  

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The fact that we were visiting “la Salamanca” made Santos spill the stories his mom told him when he was little, about the Devil and la Salamanca.  

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According to the Santiagueño version, la Salamanca is a place where people go to make a deal with the devil (Zupay) in exchange for knowledge and powerful gifts.  La Salamanca is usually a cave in the mountains.  Zupay may teach the initiate the musical arts, such as playing the guitar or other instruments, dancing, horse breaking and training, or the evil arts of brujería (witchcraft).  Tradition tells that if you hear the music of la Salamanca, you will fall into an evil life, full of fear and horror.  People of good faith can avoid falling into the temptation of the Zupay by carrying a rosary.  It is said that those who have made a pact with the devil can be spotted because they cast no shadow.

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“As always, there are many versions of this legend, but most of them agree on the main points.  This story was well known in Spain during the 14th and the 16th centuries and was so famous that it went with the first Spanish sailors who took part in the colonization of Central and South America. This is why … people still refer to … caves and dark places as “Salamancas.” [spanishinspain.blogspot.com.ar]

While I was writing about la Salamanca an old Robert Johnson song came into my head.  I remember stuff like that instead of people’s names and what I had for breakfast.  Weird, right?  Are you seeing a connection here between the singer and la Salamanca?

          I got stones in my passway
And all my roads seem dark at night

          – Robert Johnson, “Stones in My Passway”

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[The following story is from Henry Goodman, excerpted from Vagabonding, Rolf Potts, June 26, 2015]

Meeting with the Devil at the Crossroads  

Robert Johnson been playing down in Yazoo City and over at Beulah trying to get back up to Helena, ride left him out on a road next to the levee, walking up the highway, guitar in his hand propped up on his shoulder. October cool night, full moon filling up the dark sky, Robert Johnson thinking about Son House preaching to him, “Put that guitar down, boy, you drivin’ people nuts.”

Robert Johnson needing as always a woman and some whiskey. Big trees all around, dark and lonesome road, a crazed, poisoned dog howling and moaning in a ditch alongside the road sending electrified chills up and down Robert Johnson’s spine, coming up on a crossroads just south of Rosedale. Robert Johnson, feeling bad and lonesome, knows people up the highway in Gunnison. Can get a drink of whiskey and more up there.

Man sitting off to the side of the road on a log at the crossroads says, “You’re late, Robert Johnson.” Robert Johnson drops to his knees and says, “Maybe not.”

The man stands up, tall and black as the forever-closed eyes of Robert Johnson’s stillborn baby, and walks out to the middle of the crossroads where Robert Johnson kneels. He says, “Stand up, Robert Johnson. You want to throw that guitar over there in that ditch with that hairless dog and go on back up to Robinsonville and play the harp with Willie Brown and Son, because you just another guitar player like all the rest, or you want to play that guitar like nobody ever played it before? Make a sound nobody ever heard before? You want to be the King of the Delta Blues and have all the whiskey and women you want?”

“That’s a lot of whiskey and women, Devil-Man.”

“I know you, Robert Johnson,” says the man.

Robert Johnson feels the moonlight bearing down on his head and the back of his neck as the moon seems to be growing bigger and bigger and brighter and brighter. He feels it like the heat of the noonday sun bearing down, and the howling and moaning of the dog in the ditch penetrates his soul, coming up through his feet and the tips of his fingers through his legs and arms, settling in that big empty place beneath his breastbone causing him to shake and shudder like a man with the palsy. Robert Johnson says, “That dog gone mad.”

The man laughs. “That hound belong to me. He ain’t mad, he’s got the Blues. I got his soul in my hand.”

A few more notes about the legend of Robert Johnson, the blues guitarist who supposedly made a pact with the devil to become the greatest blues guitarist of all time.  Robert was the 11th (and illegitimate) child of a poor Mississippi family.  He was 17 or 18 when he found out the name of his biological father, and he then took on his real father’s last name.  Robert married at 19.  Perhaps due to bad luck, as some say, his wife Virginia died in childbirth, losing the baby, too.  She was only 16.

A few years later,  Johnson made the mistake of fooling around with the wife of the owner of a club where he was playing.  The outraged husband sent a bottle of poisoned whiskey to Robert’s table.  Apparently Robert drank a fair amount of that whiskey, ’cause later that evening he stopped playing, walked outside, and passed out.  He died three days or two weeks later, as the tale spins, from the strychnine-laced whiskey.

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Everyone knows a deal’s a deal, especially if it’s a deal with el diablo.  When your time runs out, you’re done.  Robert didn’t collect a lot of time in this world, but the devil sure got his due.  That’s the story of Robert Johnson, part history and part fiction.  For me, the truest part is the mesmerizing sound of his soulful voice, the genius of his music and his technical skill on the guitar, for all of which he earned the title “King of the Delta Blues.”

          I went down to the crossroad

          fell down on my knees

          I went down to the crossroad

          fell down on my knees

          Asked the lord above “Have mercy now

          save poor Bob if you please”

          – Robert Johnson, “Crossroad Blues”

[Check out this YouTube history in Spanish: Historias y Relatos – El Pacto de Robert Johnson]

Did we earn our Adventuresome Tourist badges on day 1?  Yikes!  Segue to another sketchy location about 30 miles away:  La Falda.  Home to the  decrepit, deteriorating, notorious Hotel Eden, the world-famous Nazi vacation retreat and watering hole.  Córdoba Day 2.

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Hotel Eden is an enormous building… about the same size as the Hotel Palace.  But you can’t book a room; it’s actually not habitable.  The second floor has big holes in the floors and walls, so the guided tour only took us up the decaying stairs (that was scary!) to the 2nd floor landing.  The hotel hasn’t been open for business – except guided tours – for many years. 

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view from the back

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section of the ground floor

The main event was a long boring documentary about all the rich Germans who stayed there before the war.  Albert Einstein did visit the hotel in 1925.  It was widely rumored that Hitler was also a visitor but there is no supporting evidence.

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Santos and his brother Einstein, 2017

During Einstein’s visit to Argentina he met with an Argentine physicist, Enrique Loedel Palumbo, who had written his doctoral thesis on the optical and electrical constants of sugar cane.  Is that, like, what color is it and can it bite you back?  According to Wikipedia, the two had a conversation about the differential equation of a point-source gravitational field, which resulted in a paper published by Loedel in Physikalische Zeitschrift.  I’m guessing that was a German scientific journal.  It’s claimed that this is the first research paper on relativity published by a Latin American scientist.  You go, Enrico!

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Enrique Loedel Palumbo, 1925

Another influential character, George Strausser Messersmith, was the U.S. ambassador to Austria, Cuba, Mexico and Argentina.  Messersmith also served as head of the U.S. Consulate in Germany from 1930 to 1934, during the rise of the Nazi party.  He was best known in his day for his controversial decision to issue a visa to Albert Einstein to travel to the United States.  Good move for the USA!  ICE, get a clue!

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George Strausser Messersmith

As America’s consul general in Berlin in 1933, Messersmith wrote a dispatch to the State Department that dramatically contravened the popular view that Hitler had no consensus among the German people and would not remain in power, saying,

“I wish it were really possible to make our people at home understand how definitely this martial spirit is being developed in Germany. If this government remains in power for another year, and it carries on in the measure in this direction, it will go far toward making Germany a danger to world peace for years to come. With few exceptions, the men who are running the government are of a mentality that you and I cannot understand. Some of them are psychopathic cases and would ordinarily be receiving treatment somewhere.” [Wikipedia]

We enjoyed walking about the ruins of the pool and adjacent servants’ quarters.  Guys on one side of the pool, girls on the other.  How convenient is that?  How about I swim over to your place later, baby?  Our tour guide, noting the sparse accomodations of the maids who took care of the children of rich Germans, and their proximity to the equally spare quarters of the male wait staff, gave rise to amusing speculation about how much hanky panky was going on after hours under the noses of the fat cats.

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The scariest part of the Nazi hotel tour, besides the mala onda (bad vibes – which apparently have at least an 80 year half-life), was the crowded squeeze of our tour group into a basement wine cellar full of empty wine bottles arranged into low walls on every side, kinda like the bones in the Paris Catacombs.  Spooky. 

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The last and worst part of our 60 peso tour included a wine and cheese tasting in the bodega.  A little taste was all there was.  A 3 oz. plastic cup half full of an unidentifiable anemic red wine, and a piece of cheese literally no bigger than my pinky fingertip.  No little toothpicks, no cute little umbrellas; 50 tiny cheese bits piled on a wooden board so you had to grab a morsel with your fingers, touching many other cheese bits in the process.  Yikes!  Where’s the city health inspector?  Where’s the building code inspector?  AWOL and for good reason.

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After waiting 20 minutes in line for the formidable aperitif, we had to do a U-turn and leave the way we entered.  There was only one staircase, and it was barely wide enough for 2.  If there had been a fire or an earthquake, we would all have been buried under that low-ceilinged hell hole, like so many cans of bait.  No wonder the municipality of La Falda washed its hands of the hotel, and left its care and upkeep in the hands of a park concession business: imagine Curry Village in Yosemite turned into a FEMA shelter. 

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We couldn’t wait to get the hell out of La Falda.  Others seem to like it just fine… dozens of cafés and food joints lined the road up to Hotel Eden, and they were all jumping.  We grabbed a parking spot, walked into a place across the street, found a quiet booth in the back, and zoned out.  We took our sweet time consuming a plate of fries and cool drinks, basking in the A/C.  (It was a hot day in La Falda.)  When we finally made our way back to the rental car, we found a small dent in the front fender.  Did some lurking evil spirit follow us back from the Nazi Hotel?  

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One of the young guys who works at the hotel spotted us trying to pop out the dent in the parking lot when we returned that evening.  The next morning he brought over a dent restoration specialist friend.  They restored the fender to near perfection in about 5 minutes… and didn’t charge us anything.  Another star for the Palace Hotel!

On Córdoba Day 3 our first stop was El Cajón Reservoir, just a few kms north of La Cumbre.  We spotted a dirt road leading towards the river that spills out of the reservoir to the south.  We rattled along that first dirt road and finally got to the creek, but there was no place to park except sand dunes, and only one sketchy turnaround.  Later we realized we could have just parked in the road and waded across the river.  No problem blocking traffic at a dead end.

But I was a little shook up from all the big potholes and treacherous sandy spots.  So we headed back to the highway and took our best shot at the next dirt road.  Bingo!  It seemed like a long ways and practically all washboard, but finally we found the river crossing.  I parked on the other side, pointed in the return direction.  I always like to be ready to get the hell outta Dodge; must be all those 007 movies I grew up watching.

Río Dolores diquecito El Cajón

We were delighted to find ourselves in a nearly empty riverside retreat with a few acres of natural lawn sloping gently down to the water.  Families and kids were up and at it, splashing around in the water, and a couple of barbecues were already in high gear, making us hungry.   As we walked upstream I was blown away by the number and size of my namesake trees along the river.  Do you remember Kenneth Grahame’s famous children’s book, The Wind the the Willows?  Almost all the characters are animals.: Ratty, Mr. Badger, Mole, Otter, Mr. Toad of Toad Hall, and a “mixed lot” of rabbits and squirrels, weasels and stouts.  Nice to catch a glimpse into the willowy land of make-believe.

“Please, Ratty, I want to row!”

 

grandma willow

There was a little snack shack where we bought sodas and choripan.  If you’ve never had a choripan I feel really sorry for you.  Think Ray’s Own Brand Pork Sausage from San Luis Obispo, hot and juicy in a french roll with a little salsa criolla on top.  Extreme yumminess.  Actually they weren’t the best choripanes ever.   That honor goes to the first one I ever tried, at an authentic gaucho asado in the middle of a day-long ride in Bariloche, in 2012.

Santos and I sat in the shade of a willow to eat our choripanes.  Then we strolled upriver aways to get our bearings.  We didn’t go in the water, cause we hadn’t brought towels or swim clothes, but we lounged contentedly in the sun, like a couple of cats.

Rio Dolores choripan shack

We eventually hit the road, cause we had a number of places we wanted to check out.  We stopped in Los Cocos.  It was perhaps once a quaint town but shows every sign of death by tourist trinket shop overdose.  They have a pretty park that you have to pay to go in.  It looked nice from the sidewalk, but we didn’t take the bait.  You can also pay for a ski lift ride (el teleférico) that hauls you up and down the mountain.  Instead we stopped for coffee in a quiet café that had a shady deck and a resident feline.  That was the best of Los Cocos. 

We continued north to Uritorco, a peak known for its healing energies, complete with a creek for swimming.  It’s all private land so you have to pay for the privilege of river access.  We paid the man, parked, and walked along the river a ways.  There were lots of people camped there.  We wanted to hike to the top, only about a half hour hike, but turns out it cost extra!  We hit the road again.  

I guess I’m used to the immense free, or nearly free, state, county and national parks we have in the U.S.  The concept of private land on mountain tops seems odd.  But we had ol’ Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir and Aldo Leopold.  They set the standard for all time. 

Rio Quilpo, San Marcos Sierra

Santos and I headed north again, this time to that quintessential hipster paradise and land of enchantment, San Marcos Sierra.  A little ways off the beaten track, but not too hard to find.  The roads of San Marcos Sierra are unpaved, but there is wifi, and I hear they’re putting in their first stoplight.

Like most colonial towns San Marcos Sierra is built around a big square.  There’s lots of tall trees and a few patches of grass… some of it cannabis, judging from the lingering scent about town.  San Marcos Sierra really is a hippie magnet.  The local economy depends on apiculture (bees and honey), olives, goat cheese, and tourism.  You can rent a room, a tent, a sleeping bag.  The beach along Rio Quilpo is a big draw.  We saw hippie grandmas herding their grandkids to the beach and back.  Reminds me of California beaches in the sixties and seventies, minus the sand.  

Río Quilpo swimming hole

We had coffee and medialunas at a cute place in the shade across from the church.  I read that the local environment is pure and unspoiled.  They probably have a town ordinance prohibiting pesticides.  That explains the clouds of flies buzzing around everywhere.  Nice idea but things can get out of hand in that tropical heat.  We were under constant attack from the buzzing little black nano-drones.   I always used fly spray on my horses – maybe that’s why my brain has more than a few crossed wires.  

The Río Quilpo is crystal clear.

I guess the town looked a lot different 400 years ago.  Amazing that this beautiful colonial church survived. 

San Marcos Sierra church

 

church interior

We walked to the river and found a few rocks to sit on.  Santos sat in the shade with his back against the riverbank, and I found a quiet spot below where I sat on a rock with my feet in the water, reading.   There were whole families camping in tents above the riverbank, kids playing in the water.

reading Middlemarch by George Eliot

I had a lovely time reading by the river for a couple of hours, with my toes in the water.  That alone was worth the journey.  I’m not sure what Santos was up to, but it turns out he took a few surrepticious photos.  Friends wanted to know what huge book I was reading.  Middlemarch, by George Eliot (an English woman writer), published in the 1870s.  I was reading it cause I heard it’s considered the greatest novel in the English language.  But no, not my cup of tea.  I found it monotonous and depressing, like a Downton Abbey episode that keeps repeating.  Nowhere near as good as the novels of Jane Austen.  If you’re into 18th century British women’s literature, I did enjoy this good critical comparison of both novelists: “Without Austen, No Eliot,”  Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker,  Jan. 28, 2013. 

Later we walked into a few shops looking for algarrobo flour for Santos’ homemade bread.  They grind the algarrobo pods into a delicious dark brown flour.  In San Marcos Sierra we parked the car, walked around town, splashed in the river and no one charged us anything.  Way to go!  Santos wanted to try the locally brewed beer, but the pub was closed for mid-day siesta.  Wow.  This town is nothing if not laid-back.  We had to be satisfied with a photo of the Quilpo microbus, and a glimpse into the Hippie Museum.  

Museo Hippie  …  Peace and Love!

We got a bit lost heading back to La Cumbre that evening.  Blame it on all that lovely sunshine making algarrobo guacamole of our brains.

On Day 4 we spent a couple of hours swimming and lounging around by the pool.  Later on we went for a 10K ride.  Late afternoon drifted into sundown as we climbed up the high ridges.  For the first hour or so we followed twisting dirt roads wide enough for vehicles.  We forded a lot of creeks.  Our horses were amazing.  They had one speed, and it was non-stop.  They never slowed down unless asked.  Higher up we forded stony streambeds and clambered up rocky, slippery trails; those criollo horses never missed a beat.  Best trail horses I’ve ever rode, and I’ve been riding since I was a wee one!  Santos, who grew up playing hooky in the dirt streets of the barrio, had no riding experience whatsoever.  But after the first half hour he was sitting his horse really well.  A natural, that guy.  Santos is the Man. 

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our horses Zamba & Gurí

We rode past ranches, a polo field, and 3 or 4 drop-dead gorgeous homes straight out of the magazines.  We were met with plenty of attention by 3- and 4-packs of dogs.  The horses were unfazed. 

polo field @ Estancia La Triana

polo field @ Estancia La Triana

Our trusty guide, Pedro, had the keys to multiple gates crossing private ranches, enabling us to continue ever onward and upward.  Climbing the last few switchbacks up to a trail along the ridge, I spotted a faint crescent of moon topping a far ridge.  The rising full moon gleamed incandescently.  The moon’s powerful presence hijacked me to another realm of consciousness, where I remembered just how small and insignificant we humans are in the grand scheme of things.   I felt as if I was light years away from civilization.  A magical moment, indeed.

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The moon lit our way as we rode along the hills and ridges above La Cumbre.  By the time our horses began to pick their way back down the rocky paths it was getting late.  The meandering trails turned into broad, well-travelled dirt roads leading to town.  We walked back to our hotel, dog-tired.  We celebrated the great ride and moon viewing with shots of Tequila.  We rested and showered and went out for midnight pizza at Rhapsody, a hoppin’ joint just across the street from the Hotel Palace.  The sidewalk tables were all full but for one… the one that was waiting for us.  We shared a Rhapsody specialty, pizza al fuego… with their special spicy jalapeño sauce.  Así nos gusta!

Córdoba Day 5:   Cuesta Blanca

The four of us renewed our mountain climbing skills the very next day.  It was a long drive… almost 2 hours.   A typical LA commute, right?  We had to pass through the city of Carlos Paz, which we didn’t like much.  We had already driven about an hour south towards Córdoba, and we needed a coffee break.  We found a place to park, close to where I took this photo.  Then we hoofed it 4 or 5 blocks to the main drag where we claimed a couple of tables at a sidewalk café.  The good thing was we had a spot in the shade, and the waiter didn’t waste any time bringing our café con leche, jarrito, lágrima, café solo, cortado, etc.  Argentine coffeespeak: it’s another language.  But Carlos Paz was hypercrowded, noisy, full of traffic fumes and annoying trucks blasting promotions from loudspeakers.  El infierno. 

with las Gabys in Carlos Paz

with las Gabys in Carlos Paz

We drove out of that hell hole all the way to Cuesta Blanca, the Hippie Beach or La Isla Hippie, as some call it.  There are only two ways in. 

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First you have to drive up a steep, twisty, dusty dirt road for a few miles, till the road drops back down to a spot near the river.  You hike to the dam, then uphill to the top of the dam – 5 minutes –  where a guy paddles you upriver in his canoe to the beach landing.  

Some folks don’t bother hiking in; they just splash around below the dam.

The second way in (or out) is a 40 minute hike up and over a steep hill; a snaky, rocky trail full of brush and boulders.  We took the canoe.  I love the slow, steady drifting along, riding the water.  Easier than swimming and you can bring all your gear. 

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a glimpse of Cuesta Blanca from the top of the dam

 Check out these horses!  How beautiful is that?

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Cuesta Blanca is an idyllic, laid back, no rules but respect others and pack out your trash kinda place. If you need to use the restroom you have to take a hike, ’cause this site is privately owned and wonderfully unspoiled.  We swam, sunned, kicked back in the shade, lunched on salame and bread and cheese and drank vino tinto.  A really cool place, and not in the guidebooks.  It was las Gabys who knew how to get there.

Santos took this awesome shot

Playa Hippie from the other side, upstream

When you get to the top you’re rewarded with a view of the whole scene.  Quite a few people bring tents and kids and stay for days.

We paid 50 pesos apiece for the canoe ride, and returned via free climb, as you can tell in the above photo because the sun was setting when we left.  None of us had thought to bring a flashlight… hey!  We’re on vacation!  We don’t need no stinkin’ flashlights!! 

la Casa Jipi along the path to Cuesta Blanca

la Casa Jipi along the path to Cuesta Blanca; 4-legged guardian on watch duty

The light was fading as we hiked out, and we had to backtrack several times to find the trail.  But we made it back to La Cumbre just fine, later that evening.  The four of us went out for beer and empanadas, and I had my fruit smoothie.  We had to put up with a karaoke bar on the sidewalk at the café next to our café, where we listened with amusement to the assorted bunch of nut cases who thought they could sing.  That put us in an entertaining mood, and las Gabys wanted to take us to their new favorite bar around the corner from the Palace, la Biblioteca.  They had been in there a few days before and the bartender had refused to make them Daquiris.  “No es para vosotras, señoritas,” he told them, “Es un trago muy macho.”  (“It’s not for you, ladies,” he told them, “It’s a very macho drink.”)  We decided to head over to la Biblioteca and show them how girls can throw down tequila shots.  Mission accomplished.  Delicious with a good kick in the ass!

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Our last two nights in Córdoba we stayed in the capital, right in the historic district.  We ate out at nice cafés and restaurants and walked all over town.  I used to dread getting lost in strange cities, but I’m beginning to realize it can be a fine and passionate experience of the here and now.  And if I have someone to keep me company I don’t end up in a panic with tears running down my cheeks.

dancing la Zamba in Plaza San Martín

 

Over and out from Córdoba, Argentina

Tango Dancers Open Café

Carlton Café & Bakery

Carlton Café & Bakery

We’ve opened a café of our own right here in the backcountry of California’s Central Coast. This little backwater halfway between Frisco and LA is its own kind of gorgeous, straight out of Steinbeck: rolling hills covered with vineyards and statuesque oaks; cottonwoods and sycamores along the creeks flowing into the Pacific Ocean and the mighty Salinas.

Salinas River

Salinas River

Atascadero, once so sleepy it rolled over and played dead every night at 6, now practically teems with amorphous protomorphium swimming blindly upstream through the marine layer into they know not what or wherefore (picture 3 pm when junior get-highers get out of jail free). But no worries, we are all about helping our fellow pleistozoic critteralium evolve and merge into the more convoluted streams of higher consciousness, otherwise known as twenty-first century artsy wine-guzzling nouveau-cui$ine Culture with a Capital C.

6005 El Camino Real carltonbakery@gmail.com

6005 El Camino Real
carltonbakery@gmail.com

There was at last count one really good restaurant in our three-block downtown: Fig; another one in nearby Santa Margarita: The Range (as in, “Home, home on the Range”)(*if you don’t love classic western writer Will James I’m not talking to you anymore!); one great burger joint: Sylvester’s Big, Hot n’ Juicy; an awesome homestyle Mexican place (El Compadre) next to a fine bakery (Hush Harbor); and a classic dive: the newly reborn Whisky n’ June. (Never trust a man who doesn’t like whisky and women!)

yeah baby

yeah baby!

Hmmm… where was I going with all this? Floating facedown in those muddy waters of swirling upwardly mobile sometimes divinely-inspired (as in a chocolate croissant) sense and sensibility, was I? Oh, yeah, downtown Atascadero also has…

The ARTery

The ARTery

a hangout frequented by cool artistic types that boasts a scandalous history of NIMBY activist-inflaming murals painted by folks from that evil southern city of the Fallen Angels. And the shining star of A-Town, the Rotunda…

City Hall

City Hall

… a wannabe colonial domed and pillared squarish brick city hall structure (reminiscent of an abandoned feminine implant from 20,000 feet up) casting its authoritative gaze on the strangely-named “Sunken Gardens”: our courthouse square minus the courthouse. “Sunken” perhaps refers to the meaning of atascadero in Spanish: a place where one gets stuck in the mud, a kind of hell hole. A close friend’s husband, born and raised in Puerto Rico, told me that when he was a kid, his mom would yell at him to clean his room ‘cause it was an “ATASCADERO!”

Heck, even Oprah's been here!

Heck, even Oprah’s been here!

Atascadero has too strip malls, too many Starbucks, too many stoplights, and nine too many exits off the 101. Just another California town basking in the warm fall sunshine. Lord, please bring us some rain sometime soon! Which is why we couldn’t come back to God’s Country without bearing special gifts gleaned from our 2-1/2 year tango-crawl through the wilderness of the civilized world.

the current incarnation

the newly reborn Carlton Café

A room at the Carlton... just upstairs!

a room at the Carlton… up above the bakery!

How much time could YOU fritter away lounging in a great café in a great city like New York, Paris, Buenos Aires, Barcelona?

Café Tortoni, Buenos Aires

Café Tortoni, Buenos Aires

So how ‘bout we don’t call it frittering. Call it a waste of time if you will, but a QUALITY waste of time (oink oink KPIG). How many hours could YOU spend sitting around drinking a velvety latte or a structurally perfect macchiato? I sure can… and I don’t know where the time goes but it does keep going…have you noticed time passes on the left? ‘Cause it’s always going faster than we are. And left is the evil side: “a sinistra” (to the left). When Dante descends into hell, his path winds down to the left. Counterclockwise. Got it?

hmmm... lost his head?

hmmm… did we take the wrong turn?

Picture yourself sitting in a nice comfy chair in a cool, beautiful wabisabi space… quality time, chill time. Time to think, to dream, to get inspired; to power thru your daily in-box, google this’n’that, check your FAQs, consult your horrorscope… fire off a few nasty grams to the big cheese… wait a sec… don’t toss your luck to the winds and ruin your forecast! Breathe, do some yogalates, take time to visit with a good friend, take your mom out to lunch, celebrate your cumpleaños in a great café… dancing tango, of course.

Confiteria Ideal

Confiteria Ideal

So, you may be wondering, where IS she running off to now with this late night verbal soirée? Just explaining to y’all why we HAD to bring a little taste of café-culture home with us, in the form of delicious artisan breads and pastries, high-octane coffee, and a beautiful wabisabi space for dancing tango!

Salsa break at La Milonga del Carlton

Salsa break at La Milonga del Carlton

The tall relentless guy in my world just HAD to open his own bakery, so he could bake the bread and bring home the bacon. A place to wine and dine friends ‘cause he loves to feed hungry hordes. 

Courtney's Chocolate Bread

Courtney’s Chocolate Bread

still life with 5-grain loaf, cheese & olives

still life with 5-grain loaf, cheese & olives

And a place where he and his buddies could stand around and spin lies, surrounded by lots of dough, solving the world’s problems over and over again, day after day. Luckily those problems never get solved (you’ve noticed that, too?)… so they rework possible outcomes, endlessly reposition themselves… when people consume caffeine they can talk all day long!

Ben and Eduardo

boy can they talk!

Besides, we were drinking so much coffee out, one day he did the math and decided it would be cheaper to open our own café! Now he’s wondering about that math… duh!

kjgsd

2+2=22?

Must be the faulty DNA we all share. Didn’t those wiser-than-us extraterrestrials toss all the rejects on our planet? Where did YOU think politicians came from?

Ho ho ho

Ho ho ho

If you think too much and too frequently, like yours truly, you really NEED to dance, and you particularly NEED to dance tango. Tango dancers DANCE through our ups and downs, our romances, our breakups, our broken hearts, broke-down cars, our fallen soufflés, disinflated egos…

sadkhasd

when in doubt keep dancing

Just in case you’re already thinking about those New Year’s Resolutions, let’s review the guiding principles of Tango:

1)  you keep doing it
2)  every time you do it you feel happy
3)  it turns your life upside down but you don’t care!

Pati & Willow at La Milonga del Carlton

Pati & Willow at La Milonga del Carlton

Stop by the café, get comfy, relax, have a lovely mocha or macchiato, bite into a flaky crunchy croissant, a berry twist, toasted 5-grain bread with butter and jam.

pastries

Watch yourself go from pathetically morose and incommunicative to chatty and sociable! Instantly reenergized and ready to take on the world! What are you waiting for?

¡Felíz Navidad!

¡Felíz Navidad!

Here’s Looking at Portland

Portlandevening2*

PORTLAND IS ALL ABOUT THE RIVER… broad and busy by day, stunningly elegant by night.

view of the the South Waterfront from further south

view of the the South Waterfront, taken from the Sellwood Bridge

Portland is a sprawling city of 600,000 bisected by the Willamette River, divided into quadrants, spanned by a dozen bridges, and bounded on its northern shore by the Columbia River and the state of Washington.

yacht harbor on a gorgeous day, taken from the waterfront bike trail

downtown yacht harbor, at the end of Montgomery St.

The Port of Portland, located about 80 miles upriver from the Pacific Ocean, is the largest freshwater port in the U.S.A. Portland ships out more wheat than any other U.S. port, and is the second largest port for wheat in the world.

The northernmost bridge of Portland is so Gotham City:

St. John's Bridge, photo by Ben

St. John’s Bridge, photo by Ben

Each bridge has its own flavor and story… all impressively heavy metal, functional, and even inspiring.

Hawthorne Bridge and boats

Hawthorne Bridge and yacht harbor on a gorgeous May day

the cute version

the cute version

Under construction is yet another bridge which will facilitate multiple forms of public transport across the Willamette: Max Light Rail, Tri-Met buses, the Portland streetcar, pedestrians and bicycles: NO CARS ALLOWED! Popular Science magazine awarded Portland the title Greenest City in America in 2008.

TriMet bridge

TriMet bridge: completion expected in 2015

Portland is famous for its outdoorsy, tree-hugging, bicycle-riding, homemade beer brewing and coffee slurping liberals. There are more than 60 breweries here. In 2010, CNBC named Portland the Best City for Happy Hour in the U.S.

for those of you who go for the brew

for those of you who go for the brew

Ever seen the TV show Portlandia? It satirizes the city as “a hub of liberal politics, organic food, alternative lifestyles and anti-establishment attitudes.” [Wikipedia] What other city can happily negotiate such a dysfunctional but workable dynamic between guns, gays and greens? Perhaps that explains the weltanschauung behind the Keep Portland Weird movement.

images

Ben sums up Portland in 2 words: pedestrians vs. cyclists. He thinks walkers and hikers don’t like bicyclists ’cause they damage the environment… I mean, seeing a bike tire track in the mud of your favorite hiking trail would make anybody flip and run for their gun… wouldn’t you? …ja ja… and naturally bicyclists wish pedestrians would just get the hell outta the way!! But the real issue has, perhaps, more to do with primal fear: fear, that is, of being turned to toast under 2000 lbs. of steel and rubber. I found an intriguing apropos discussion on the City of Portland website, just for a reality check:

4 types of cyclists orange2

The intrepid few “Strong & Fearless” identify primarily as bicyclists, and ride everywhere without fear (or almost everywhere), under any and all road and weather conditions. Truly courageous or merely suicidal?

he's multi-tasking

a multi-tasking cyclist

The “Enthused & Confident” — like Ben — ride daily to work or school, for the pure joyful adrenalin rush of riding. (Also to save bucks and shrink their carbon pawprint). Who wouldn’t want to ride Portland’s beautiful bike lanes and bike boulevards?  There’s even bike lane stoplights and, lucky for me, no bike path traffic cameras! Not yet, anyway. Is it a crime to cross on the red when there’s no traffic in any direction?

OK, but... what if I can't find  the speedometer on my bike?

OK, but… what if my bike doesn’t have a speedometer?

As Portland has been particularly supportive of urban bicycling, it now ranks amongst the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world. Approximately 8% of commuters bike to work, the highest proportion of any major U.S. city and about 10 times the national average. [Wikipedia]

Main Map-v3

“The Interested but Concerned” group covers the vast majority of Portland cyclists. “They like riding a bicycle… they would like to ride more. But, they are AFRAID to ride. They don’t like cars speeding down their streets. They get nervous when a driver runs a red light, or guns their car around them, passing by too closely and too fast.” (City of Portland Bicycle Plan 2030) Sounds like me. I KNOW I’m taking my life into my hands every time I get on my bike. Duh!

weird cyclist

“No Way No How!” is the anthem of group four. Besides primal fear and equally primordial  laziness (aversion to exertion), not to mention the over-abundance of Pacific Northwest Stormy Mondays, they may be unknowing victims of an acute case of nostalgia for the gas-guzzling, chrome-dazzling Twentieth Century; back in the day when petroleum was plentiful, and joy riding in a true-blue Made in the U.S.A. cruiser was a sign of status and All-American Attitude. On a lucky day you may still catch sight of one around town:

'63 Lincoln

’63 Lincoln… yea, baby!

Pontiac Bonneville - 1965?

’64 Pontiac Bonneville

el Jefe chillin' in the back seat

el Jefe chillin’ in the back seat

You don’t have to be a cute mutt in a cool car to be in my blog, either:

Charlie & me

Charlie & me

But wait… we’re not done with the bridges yet! A block from our apartment in the Pearl District is the Broadway Bridge:

Broadway Bridge

riverfront walk near the Broadway Bridge

Portland’s urban growth boundary, adopted in 1979, separates urban areas (where high-density development is encouraged and focused) from traditional farm land (where restrictions on non-agricultural development are very strict). This was quite atypical in an era when automobile use led many areas to neglect their core cities in favor of development along interstates, in suburbs, and bedroom communities. Former industrial areas reeking of urban decay were “redeveloped” into prosperous new neighborhoods… like the Pearl District. The city has grown inward and upward, as opposed to sprawling outward. Impresionante, Portland! California, are you listening? 

Burlington RR Bridge

the Burlington Bridge: a railroad bridge with a vertical lift

the Steel Bridge

the Steel Bridge: bike & pedestrian path AND train tracks on the bottom, cars on top

Almost 200 years of industry (shipping, logging, manufacturing) went into making Portland the city it is today. This heritage is breathtakingly visible in the older parts of the city and all along the riverfront, especially around the industrial waterfront and deepwater port. Heat-forged iron and steel trusses and beams hold up bridges and docks. Old brick buildings and warehouses were reborn as shops, bistros, cafés, apartments and lofts, galleries and urban “outfitters.”

below the bridge

the poetry of steel, under the bridge

Portland is so modern and yet its history continues to underwrite its modernity. I really like this contrast, in which each flip side of the coin does not disavow its alter-ego. Past and present are connected in a wabi-sabi “…beauty that treasures the passage of time, and with it the lonely sense of impermanence it evokes.” [Diane Durston: Wabi Sabi, The Art of Everyday Life, 2006]

Morrison Bridge on a grey afternoon

Morrison Bridge on a still, grey afternoon

big train comin' thru the Steel Bridge, photo by Ben

big train comin’ thru the Steel Bridge, photo by Ben

lkjhasdf

random tango dancer in Biker Babe jacket checking out the income-producing side of the river

Portland has an impressive and beautiful downtown, lined by scores of trees, parks and greenspace, and the ultra-beautiful Japanese gardens:

Japanese Gardens

Portland Japanese Gardens

The International Rose Garden has a stunning amphitheater. We walked up there yesterday, in a light rain:

amphiteatro2*

We haven’t seen the Chinese gardens yet, but I’ve heard they’re stunning!

Portland Chinese Gardens

Portland Classical Chinese Garden

Portland is a fabulous and colorful city, well known for being cool, hip, fashionably eco-sustainable-everything, and ultra walkable (a walkscore of 98 in the Pearl District), with a kid-friendly, tech-friendly urban vibe.

Streetcars rock Portland!

Streetcars rock Portland!

Portlanders are friendly, multicultural, awake and aware of what’s goin’ on in their world and their town. Artists, hipsters, locavores, LGBTs, tree-huggers, tango dancers, Power-to-the-People progressives, retired hippies, fanatics of every stripe, wealthy young entrepreneurs and tekkie types…. and cool habitats for humanity from A – Z. The growth of high-tech startups and related businesses have earned Portland the nickname Silicon Forest. Powell’s Books, whose three stories above ground take up an entire city block, claims to be the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world. Portland is also the karaoke capital of the U.S.!

Hoyt Street townhouses

Hoyt Street townhouses

What do I like most about Portland? My liveable downtown neighborhood, the Pearl.

pedestrian path

pedestrian path in the Pearl

Jamison Square reminds me of ___ Gardens in Paris

Jamison Square reminds me of the Luxembourg Gardens

kid-friendly waterfall/pond at Jamison Square

kid-friendly Jamison Square fountain

our friendly neighborhood Lovejoy Bakery

our friendly neighborhood Lovejoy Bakery

looking down on the bakery from our apartment on a sunny day

looking down on the bakery from our apartment on a sunny day

I also love the ubiquitious cafés with outdoor seating, reminding me of Buenos Aires and European cities. Here’s our favorite, authentic (all the staff imported from Italy), delicious trattoria, Piazza Italia, right around the corner from Jamison Square.

Piazza Italia

Piazza Italia

Downtown Portland’s numerous cafés remind me of Buenos Aires, Rome, Barcelona, Paris… they make you feel like the streets in your hood are an extension of your living room! Sustainable living abounds, complete with rooftop gardens, terraces, wind turbines, solar power, etc. What do I mean by sustainable etc? I know, I had to look it up too. See my notes at end.*

another lovely pedestrian path in the Pearl

another pretty pedestrian path in the Pearl

Portland has many different faces: cool steel under grey skies…

;jhasdf

reflecting pool

convention center

convention center

parks, pedestrian and bicycle trails all along the river…

waterfrontpark**

springtime waterfront

waterfront in spring

juxtaposition of old and new in the Pearl District

juxtaposition of old and new

colorful streetcars

green & yellow streetcar

blue streetcar

blue streetcar

old and new cottages on the south waterfront

old and new cottages on the south waterfront, a stone’s throw from the river

A perfect example of wabi-sabi: isn’t the one on the left so timelessly beautiful? (Maybe needs a little work on the interior…)

houseboats & sailboat on the Willamette

houseboats & sailboat on the Willamette

Ben says he likes the culture of Portland. Portlanders are quite courteous, both on and off the dance floor. They respect walkers and cyclists… they stop for you even when they don’t have to. Portlanders find value in music, dance, food, the arts… and in people connecting with each other. The pace of life is slower. Huge ships in port are constantly loading and unloading, while at the same time fishermen troll the river in small boats. Portlanders work to continually improve their quality of life; they don’t just care about the environment; they make it HAPPEN.

Sauvie Island - my favorite idyllic getaway only 10 miles upriver

Sauvie Island – my favorite idyllic getaway only 10 miles upriver

Sauvie Island rules & regs: but no one's watching

Sauvie Island rules & regs: overzealous verbiage to be sure

Portlanders also care about what goes into their food, i.e., Portland is NOT a fast-food paradise. Human beings are essentially the same everywhere (our DNA is identical, right?) but the culture here has developed favorably for a healthy, sustainable environment, and people-friendly transportation systems.

The climate is, well… I’ve written pages making fun of the climate. Seriously, I like it hot, humid and tropical! Sadly, today is yet another drizzly grey day here in Portlandia. Seems like there’s only one season here. The trees change but not the weather. But if it keeps the unwashed hordes from discovering and moving to this idyllic Pacific Northwest homeland… it’s okay.

wabi-sabi doorknobs

wabi-sabi doorknobs in a recycled building materials shop

That’s all for now, friends… stay tuned for my next post: the Portland Tango scene. You’re gonna like it!

*What do I mean by environmentally sustainable design? It’s the philosophy of designing physical objects, the built environment, and services to comply with the principles of social, economic, and ecological sustainability. McLennan, J. F. (2004), The Philosophy of Sustainable Design. More references: (1) Anastas, P. L. and Zimmerman, J. B. (2003). Through the 12 principles of green engineering. Environmental Science and Technology. March 1. 95-101A. (2) Fan Shu-Yang, Bill Freedman, and Raymond Cote (2004). Principles and practice of ecological design. Environmental Reviews. 12: 97–112. (3) Holm, Ivar (2006). Ideas and Beliefs in Architecture and Industrial design: How attitudes, orientations, and underlying assumptions shape the built environment. Oslo School of Architecture and Design. You gotta appreciate research and researchers! They help dummies like you and me make sense of the world we live in!

Ciao from Portland!

Ciao from Portland!

Costa Brava to East Coast

Preview: Atlantic sunrise

Preview: Atlantic sunrise

Opening this post with no dazzling first line was not really what I had in mind. Somebody please just toss a poetic blast of bombast at my beleaguered brain! Say what? Can you repeat that? No matter, let’s just get down to the biz of catching up on our whereabouts since we left Barcelona last August. People keep asking me, where are you guys? Well, right now we’re in Portland, Oregon. And, sad to say, many long miles from the beautiful Costa Brava, España. Here’s where we were in August 2012: along the coast north of Barcelona, known as the Costa Brava. We rented a car and went exploring.
Big Sur's got nothin' on the Costa Brava!

Big Sur’s got nothin’ on the Costa Brava!

Many years ago I asked one of my uncles, in Italy, how they manage to keep Italy so clean, green and well-tended. “We toss all our trash into the Mediterranean!” he replied with head-tossing laughter!
a noisy little cove... check out the boats!

no trash in sight… just lots of gorgeous scenery!

Not trashy here on the Costa Brava, and only 116 km south of the South of France. Check it out! This beach borders the historic town of Sant Feliu de Guixols. I have no idea who that happy saint was, it’s Catalan to me.
ljhasd

Sunday afternoon at the beach – Renoir could have painted this

Sant Feliu has an awesome museum, the Espai Carmen Thyssen, founded by the late Baron Hans Henrik von Thyssen-Bornemisza (1921-2002), a wealthy Swiss-German industrialist art collector with an ancestral Hungarian title and a villa in Montecarlo. The museum is named for von Thyssen’s fifth wife, Carmen “Tita” Cervera, a former Miss Spain, whose art-loving instincts played a key role in bringing her husband’s valuable collection of nineteenth century Andalusian and Catalan art to Spain.

images

The museum entrance is on the right. Behind the arch is the 10th century Roman monastery, built over the ruins of an old castle which saw plenty of action back in the day. Apparently the monks were occasionally  called upon to drop their rosaries and defend their turf from marauding turks, moors and other riffraff, with arrows shot from narrow openings in the high walls.

Carmen Thyssen Museum

Carmen Thyssen Museum on right

former monastery

Benedictine monastery, rebuilt in 1723

Ben at the Arc de Sant Benet (1747)

Ben at the Arc de Sant Benet (1747)

Quite the jetsetting playboy, Baron Thyssen once famously explained his surname: «Bornemisza significa que no bebe vino, y yo más bien debería decir que no bebo agua». (“Bornemisza means “doesn’t drink wine,” but in my case “doesn’t drink water” would be more apt.”) The Baron also has  museums in Málaga and Madrid. In the 1980s he created a foundation to prevent his fabulous collection being dismantled and sold off to private collectors. My mom, a retired art critic, reminded me that she interviewed Baron von Thyssen when  he visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, accompanying an exhibition of his personal collection.

CarmenThyssenMuseum

PR for the fabulous inaugural exhibit at the Espai Carmen Thyssen. What a gorgeous day, and filled with spectacular art. The above painting made me nostalgic for our time in Paris: it rained so much last spring.

The Baroness Carmen Thyssen said of Sant Feliu: “…her dazzling beauty and  joyful people I found captivating from the first.”

Sant Feliu aerial shot

Sant Feliu aerial shot

Adios, España! In late August we flew from Barcelona back to Paris and on to San Francisco. After visiting family and friends in California we took a month-long break in beautiful South Carolina.

Charleston SC

Charleston SC

From Charleston — where I could stay forever — we drove south to Murrell’s Inlet for a vacation from the vacation! A restorative, off-schedule downtime of surf, sun, sleep & fresh seafood prepared by Chef Ben.
cloudy day at Murrell's Inlet

late afternoon on the inter-coastal waterway

Avendaw Creek

Avendaw Creek

Ben caught a big fish.

Ben caught a big fish.

we kayaked

we kayaked

we found a dockside watering hole.

we spotted a dockside watering hole.

a working fishing boat

a working fishing boat

Art on the docks

Art on the docks

tidal marsh

tidal marsh

even a pirate ship!

even a pirate ship!

ciao! from South Carolina

ciao! from South Carolina

Atlantic sunset

we head off into the sunset

South Carolina was wonderful last september, with its sizzling beachfront and dripping wet hot humid weather… I loved it! But eventually it was time to move on…
spent a few days in the Smoky Mountains

we spent a few days in the Great Smoky Mountains

Tango near the Capitol Dome

we tango’d near the Capitol Dome

We milonga’d in DC one night before heading to New York state. It was a warm and beautiful night in DC, and really cool to be dancing in Freedom Plaza, with the words of Martin Luther King Jr. engraved on the stones beneath our feet. The next day we drove through northeastern Pennsylvania over into New York, and then more or less followed the Hudson River Valley north, bypassing New York City, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

Freedom Plaza - Capital Tangueros

Freedom Plaza – Capital Tangueros

the old homestead in PA

the old homestead in PA

Wayne Hotel, Honesdale, PA

Wayne Hotel, Honesdale, PA

upstate New York

upstate New York

Albany

Albany

Albany

Albany

Appaloosa in the Green Mountains

grazing appaloosa in the Green Mountains, Vermont

falls near Rochester VT

falls near Rochester VT

Red Barn

Red Barn

Sandy's Bookstore and Coffeehouse

Sandy’s Books and Bakery in Rochester VT– where old hippies munch good munchies

The frenetic grease-dripping fast food twilight zone of a cross-country road trip finally came to a standstill when we took up lodgings in Montpelier, Northeast Kingdom, Vermont. Time slowed to a crawl. We woke up to shorter days, longer nights, cafés and restaurants shutting down so early — and this is the state capital! (pop. 8,000) People actually watch TV and play board games in the evenings. Not to be left out of all the fun, we picked a free tv (the formerly glorious, heavyweight color tv, so impressive back in 1965!) and signed up for cable… like hooking up a one-way IV sucking down your bank account. That lasted a couple of months till we went back to watching news and soccer matches online.

Vermont was picture-postcard pretty! Ben started artisan bread-making classes at the New England Culinary Institute. We found a 3rd floor apartment in a 100+ year old house downtown. Pretty comfy, though we only had a bed, a kitchen table, 2 chairs and some cardboard boxes. When we arrived in October the leaves were turning and the days were still pretty nice, not really too cold yet, the nights just barely dipping into the 40s.
view of the Montpelier Capital Dome and clock tower from our apartment

view of the Montpelier Capital Dome and clock tower from our apartment

Ben enjoyed his breadmaking classes at NECI, though the expectation level was decidedly a few rungs below his experience at the French Culinary in Manhattan a few years back, where highly paid world class egomaniacs belittled & berated their students’ efforts…  turning out some highly trained professionals nonetheless. A little constructive criticism can be a useful part of the learning process… ouch! Every day was a blast for Ben; he even enjoyed trudging through the snow to be at the bakery at 6:00 am. He was lightyears beyond most of the students… mostly mouth-breathers, you know, adolescents with perpetually hanging lower lips. When he had extra time (he’s fast) the chefs let him do his own thing, and he made the most of it: croissants, pan au chocolat, marzipan pastries, escargot, stollen, panettone… you name it. Lots of yummy stuff… not to mention a million varieties of artisan breads, made the traditional way. Like, the way they make it in Paris. Voilá!
La Brioche, the NECI bakery

La Brioche, the NECI bakery

Ben cooking at home

Ben cooking at home

Yeah, he loves to cook and the kitchen always looks like a tornado’s touched down, but it’s worth it. Delicious! Notice the way cool 1950s electric stove? The oven window looks like a porthole on a spaceship. My spaceship!

what a classic!

a vintage classic

The door on the left is a warming oven, and the rear left burner is a deep well with a built-in soup pot. Crazy! Some nut will pay big bucks for it on eBay someday!

Speaking of tornados, we were in Vermont when Hurricane Sandy tore up New York and New Jersey.

Hurricane Sandy NYC

Hurricane Sandy NYC

She was just a breath of whispering wind by the time she reached northern Vermont — lucky us.

St. Anne's was RIGHT next door!

beautiful St. Anne’s was right next door

Fall colors in Montpelier… flaming red, orange and gold. There were still a few warm days but not for long… the days got shorter and colder, and there wasn’t a heck of a lot to do after dark. Burlington had a small tango community, but their milongas were not what we were used to — sorry, friends! Although we did have a fabulous evening at the Palais de Glace Holiday Milonga, in Stowe, and a New Year’s Eve Milonga with live music (and a hysterically funny skit!) in Hartford, Connecticut.

too many women in his life!

he’s gotta quit flirting with the waitress… or there’ll be hell to pay!

Happy New Years' Eve!

Happy New Years’ Eve!

Three months in a deep freeze was a little much for me… I’m a California girl! Snow is exquisitely lovely, of course. Making cut-paper snowflakes is my idea of a good time in the snow. Furnishing our apartment was kind of fun, though. We found this really awesome blue ultrasuede chair at an estate sale:

with lime green piping... and a matching couch!

with lime green piping… and a matching couch

Getting it up to the apartment was a challenge

Getting it up to the apartment was a challenge

nothing like a few bored neighbors to lend a hand!

nothing like friendly neighbors to lend a hand

Needless to say, the winding steep and narrow stairs up to our spacious atelier in Montpelier would not admit the couch, nor the bed. Lucky for us when we moved out three months later the new tenant took it all. I kept picturing how much fun it would be, rappeling all that furniture back down in the snow.

fast forward to snowy night on our street

fast forward to snowy night on our street

Montpelier West Branch

Montpelier West Branch

Beautiful Montpelier Round House

Beautiful Montpelier Round Porch and Tower

Before long our world became an exercise in whiteout conditions, arctic blasts, ice showers and icicles, frozen cars, frozen streets, sidewalks and noses; woolen mittens and lost kittens, gloves, scarves, wool caps, snow boots, layers upon layers of the warmest stuff you got… fleecy jammies and bathrobes (or my version: just drag the blanket around the house with you), down jackets… and don’t forget sheepskin booties for indoors. Snowy winter holidays prevailed. But before all that white stuff covered everything, we took a weekend trip in Maine, including a stop at L.L.Beanville.

battling moose at LL Bean world headquarters

battling moose at LL Bean world headquarters

Maine coast

Maine coast

New England Saltbox

New England Saltbox

boats in dry dock

boats in dry dock: Wicked Good is no secret; La Galatea, Cervantes’ first novel (1585)

having dinner in Bath, Maine

having dinner in Bath, Maine

Home of the Lobster Roll

Home of the Lobster Roll

Maine Weekend Harbor

Maine harbor

Colf Mountain

cold mountain, New Hampshire

MaineWknd13

Brrr! Those were cold days.

icicles in Montpelier

icicles in Montpelier

downtown Montpelier

downtown Montpelier

my son and grandson hiking!

my son and grandson hiking

the old stone tower

the old stone tower

the sled run

the sled run

view from the tower

view from the tower

tall snowy trees

tall snowy trees

our building on a snowy evening in Montpelier

a snowy evening in Montpelier: our apartment top floor

pretty Montpelier at Christmas

Christmas in Montpelier

We left Vermont in mid-January, driving across the frigid Midwest. Mile upon mile of frozen highway: bleak, cold, heartless. Miraculously, we only met one snow storm, near Buffalo, NY. It lasted less than two hours. I parked us in the draft of a big semi and hung onto his coattails till the storm eased up. We kept to the northern route: Buffalo, Chicago, Omaha, Cheyenne, Boise… all the way to Portland. One evening we found a great little milonga in Lincoln, Nebraska… what a pleasant surprise! The Milonguero Spirit appearing in a place previously disguised as Nowheresville! No wonder… the home of the Univ. of Nebraska Press. Publishers of books and journals specializing in American history, the American West, and Native American studies. (Lewis & Clark fans, take note!) Our next destination: Portland, Oregon. Stay tuned!

Next stop: Portland

Next stop: Portland

¡Felíz Año Nuevo! 2012 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 8,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 13 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Barcelona III: Milongas and Prime Directives

Are you ready to tune into a new channel? You could call it the Universal Channel (no, not Universal Pictures; not the Disney Channel, either). Let’s call it the CLC: Cosmic Light Channel. Ready to tune in and have your DNA synced? Ready to get rebooted by the galactic synchronizer? I keep hearing from every twinkle twinkle little star, saying that our bodies are gonna be receiving electromagnetic pulses from the CLC which will greatly accelerate our own personal evolutionary journeys! Not a roller-coaster ride, please! Just a gentle ZAP! from the cosmic mother board, like the little slap on the bottom babies get after leaving the tranquil maternal seas.

Spock

Spock

A lot of that grey matter which most of us have never used to capacity (Hey! speak for yourself!) may finally be put to work! And not just for ourselves, but for the benefit of all humankind. They say we should NOT go online, not watch TV, not travel, not use electronic devices (you gotta be kidding! ya mean, wean ourselves from the mother boobie?) during our “stimulus package” makeovers to avoid a quantum leap out of the cosmic jamba juicer into the proverbial (uh-oh!) frying pan! Not good! Steer clear of the Dark Side! No burnt side with my jumbo meal today, thanks! Definitely gotta cut back to fruits and veggies, nuts and spuds, during your cosmic tune-up and chakra alignment! I mean, you wouldn’t pour Karo syrup into your gas tank before a major road trip, would you?

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So, what should you do during your universal involuntary Solstice Synchronizing weekend? Well, food, sex and tango is always recommended… um, what else is there? More endorphins, please! Some serious prayer and meditation is always good idea, of course, with a little cosmic-chip wafer and wine. A scoop of Cherry Garcia in your smoothie will give you a better chance of chatting with you-know-who on the other side. Dark glasses to avoid being blinded by the Light. And don’t leave out the Xocolate!

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Well kids, If we’re going to be the heros and heroines of a universal paradigm shift, let’s do it with style and class: Enzo Ferrari all the way! Max out your carbon-cylinder footprint!  Be the protagonist of your own story, not the silent witness! If you decide to hibernate (highly recommended by non-tango dancer friends), stay at home, read, fix a fruit salad, bake your own bread, play with your kids, be creative! Make your own post-apocalypso holiday greeting cards, write a story and read it to your cat or dog (your cat will just fall asleep; your dog may provide helpful critical feedback).

So, just to be on the safe side, keep in mind these universal mandates:

  1. Resistance is futile (the Borg)
  2. Mutate now, avoid the rush! (Katie & Renie)
  3. Resist much, obey little (Edward Abbey)
  4. If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own! (Cosmic Muffin)

and these other guiding principles of La Vida Tanguera:

1)  keep doing it
2)  every time you do it you feel happy
3)  it turns your life upside down but you don’t care.

Graciela y Osvaldo La Yumba Tango y Milonga en Barcelona 0

La Yumba… our favorite Barcelona milonga!!

la Yumba

before the crowds

All the flavor of a real authentic Buenos Aires milonga!

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delicious dance floor!

We also like the Acuarilonga: an open air milonga a few steps from the aquarium, in the harbor right next to the Mare Magnum, surrounded by water with a bridge that connects to terraferma.

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Sorry, I forget the name of this next milonga! Only a few blocks from our Eixample neighborhood, near Carrer d’Árago x Calabria. PR for milongas, prácticas, tango classes and workshops is spread out on the pool table. Nice bar, nice floor, nice vibe! Now, if we can just find it again… that would be nice!

unknown milonga!

possibly, La Milonga del Café

Catalans really like to play with words. There are 9 million Catalan speakers in Spain — no wonder they want their own borders — I don’t know how that would affect their economy; the way things are now, it could hardly be worse. But I’m no economist, so don’t string me up! I mean, I still use my fingers to count, ok? (All those years teaching kindergarten…) But the wonderful Catalan way with words leads to all these delightful milonga names, such as la Acuarilonga, la Milongallega (a gallego is someone of Spanish descent); la Gratalonga (a beautiful time); a milonga on the fringes of town: la Arrabalera; a milonga with a well-polished dance floor: la Bien Pulenta. How fun is that? Another night we stumbled onto a really cool milonga with live music in a tiny club. The sound was pretty decent, dance floor not bad, nice lighting, good dancers… check it out!

Milonga Bellos Aires

Milonga Bellos Aires

We went to an evening concert at Teatro Grec, an outdoor amphitheater up on the hill called Montjuic (monte de los Judíos), site of a Jewish cemetery dating to the Middle Ages, now a park and home to the Barcelona Olympic Stadium and numerous museums and event centers. Are you ready to recite the Barcy museum litany? :  there’s the MNAC (Museu Nacional d’Arte de Catalunya), the MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona), the CCCB (Centro de Cultura Contemporánia de Barcelona), el Museu Picasso, la Fundación Joan Miróla Fundación Antoni Tapíes, el Museu de la Historia de la Ciudad de Barcelona, el Museu Maritimo, and of course, la Pedrera, one of Gaudí’s many masterpieces. There’s lots more museums and galleries, but ¡ya basta!

the original iconic Art hipster

Dalí: the original iconic Art hipster

If you’re serious about Art, besides learning all the acronyms, reciting the litany, and looking the part (see above), you’ve got to get a museum pass, the Articket Barcelona.

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It costs €30, saves you a ton of plata and no more waiting in lines. Pre-concert to-do list: kick back, have a drink, and watch the Barcy sky fade to indigo blue.

Teatro Grec

Teatro Grec

Tango en vivo!   Juan José Mosalini, in center with white hair and sensational bandoneon, in the midst of his superb orchestra.

Orquesta Juan José Mosalini

Orquesta Juan José Mosalini

Nothing like the earthy atmosphere of ancient rock-quarry walls ceilinged with stars for awesome sound; mix in a few spotlights slowly morphing from blue to purple to red, highlighting the orchestra and the dancers. I was swept away by a sense of timelessness: what a fabulous evening!

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dancers in white

Mosalini had different couples wearing different colors to complement the different Nuevo Tango pieces, including several Piazzola heartbreakers.

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dancers in red

Tango dancers in...

dancers in… um… flowers

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Recognize this couple?

Sebastian Jimenez y María Inés Bogado……winners of El Mundial, salon style, 2010. We saw them at the Sitges Tango Festival in July.

And how about that Pipa Club? I think we should spend another month in Barcelona just dancing at La Pipa, Plaza Real (ok, Plaça Reial in Catalan)…

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we spotted our friend Gato Valdéz here

Who’s the guy next to Aníbal Troilo? Somebody please tell me!

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Cuarteto Irreal

We didn’t see Quarteto Irreal, but you gotta love the poster!

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Yet another sizzling hot tango poster, exemplifying this absolutely electrifying Mediterranean port!  But that’s not all… what about Barcy’s amazing soccer team?

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Yes, I’m a Barcy fan. Can you tell?

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Of course, you already know about the Gothic Quarter, el Ravel (next time you listen to Otros Aires’ tune, Rotos en el Ravel, listen to the words… they speak of the multiculturality of this famous and fabulous city, an “encyclopedia of humanity”). And you may recall the sunset Jazz Chill-Out cruise… but there’s more! I have yet to write about world-famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (does the name la Sagrada Familia ring a bell?) and the Costa Brava: the meandering coastline heading north to France, not just vaguely, but very reminiscent of our own Big Sur.

la Costa Brava

la Costa Brava

Barcy just can’t be summed up in a few words, but let me try: so many hip young people, so much music, art, creativity: such a phenomenal scene! The delicious (and cheap!) tapas, delectable wine, sangria, cava… affordable public transportation (buses, subways, trains), free drinking water and recycling bins on just about every block; protests for Catalan independence every other day; corner cafés, pubs and bistros everywhere, plus the amazing nightlife: the bar scene, the nightclubs, the parties spilling into the streets at all hours…  and a waterfront! Barcy reminds me so much of Buenos Aires. How do you spell culture, nightlife, fun times, outgoing, passionate and compassionate people? ¡ESPANYOLES BARCELONA CATALUNYA! 

Hold everything!

the Maritime Museum

But wait… hold everything! No, you’re not going to the Magic Fountains before looking at some of the world’s most stunning artifacts from early Catalunya. An old Spanish friend of mine, Miguel de Cervantes, always reminds us to educate as we entertain! Besides, where else are you gonna get ideas for next year’s Halloween costume?

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La Pelirroja: biblical heroine

winged saints...

winged saints…

meditating monks...

meditating monks…

All these lovely artifacts can be found in a beautiful former palace, the MNAC: Museo Nacional d’Arte Catalunya. My favorite Barcy museum, and former palace. (Please note: la Pelirroja is not her real name. Just foolin’ around.)

el Palacio Real

el Palacio Real on a very pretty day

gorgeous black steed

gorgeous black steed – rider’s head in the clouds?

So if you want to see the Magic Fountains of Montjuic, you must begin at the stunning Plaza España, just down the hill, in the middle of a very busy intersection.

Plaza d'España by day

Plaza España by day

view of the palace from below

looking up towards the MNAC from Plaza España

You climb up the hill, sonambulate around the museum for a few hours until it gets dark, turn yourself around and, wow!! quite the view of Barcelona! In the next photo you can see the Plaza España lit up in the background, between the giant obelisks. The big round building, once a bullring, is now a huge shopping mall.

looking down from up top

looking down from up top

Yeah, they get quite a crowd around dusk!

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the sound of the water, the lights, the music…

Merry Christmas everybody!!

Happy Holidays from Barcelona!!

And don’t for get to have a superlative transformative Solstice!

Over and out from Barcelona!

Over and out from Barcelona!