¡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!

maya_cartoon

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.

Acuarlionga

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!

LaPipa-Troilo

Cuarteto Irreal

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

MediaLuna

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!

Medieval field trip: Luxembourg, Gargoyles and Provins

Luxembourg Castle

One fine day we left Paris for a weekend drive to Luxembourg. The french countryside is so very beautiful, so very lush this summer, on account of all the rain. Abundant greenness everywhere, though not as wild and untamed as the more remote places back home in California.

old path and steps in the river bottom, near the castle moat

The french are so neat and tidy, so meticulous! I thought only the germanic tribes were like that! We took back roads and drove through village after village, each one so perfectly cared for, so historic. Here you can see the juxtaposition of three eras: medieval, eighteenth century and twentieth.

which era would YOU choose to live in?

Downtown Luxembourg was bustling; people were eating, drinking, shopping, listening to music. A street fair was bubbling over one of the plazas, with entertainment and a huge yard sale.

kinda like Farmer’s Market in SLO

Every building is historic and well-tended. There must be hordes of worker-ants crawling around every day inside and out, keeping it all so perfect for us lucky tourists.

a quiet plaza in Luxembourg

Part of the old castle fits like a jigsaw puzzle into the natural rock formations carved out by the river a few eons ago.

some good hidey-holes there

this gorgeous building caught my eye

I stole this photo of Luxembourg lit up at night:

looks prettier without the skyscrapers

We found more old rock walls on our way back to Paris. It was like the family field trip minus the kids; late afternoon and we were hungry. We took the turnoff  to Provins almost by accident: it looked big enough to have a restaurant that might still be open on a Sunday evening. As luck would have it, we drove into a medieval village le plus belle de tout. A middle-eastern café was still open and quite busy. While throwing down hummus, pita bread and baba ganoush, I couldn’t take my eyes off the church across the street, where a diverse clan of gargoyles guard ancient stone.

parts of it are more vintage than others

Eagle gargoyle

Big Bird gargoyle?

Old Woman Gargoyle with Message

Porky Pig?

I give up: dog-dragon-gargoyle?

I thought maybe some of them were griffins but Wikipedia says griffins have the body of a lion with an eagle head. Gargoyles, as you know, are there to protect churches from evil spirits and other wandering disembodied bad vibes.

a goat gargoyle

I thought THIS was a GRIFFIN. WHOA!! Please note!! CORRECTION!! Our good friend Adrian from San Luis Obispo, who happens to be British which of course makes him an expert on cathedral decor, writes:  “Incidentally, the creature you have at Font St. Michel is a wyvern, not a griffin, since it has the hind quarters of a serpent – preferably with a barbed tail.” Oh my gosh I had no idea!! Knowing this could come in real handy, especially if you time-travel to the middle ages, or have a nightmare where a wyvern is going to toast you if you don’t answer the riddle about how his tail came to be barbed.

detail of Font St. Michel, Paris, Latin Quarter

Wikipedia sure has some amazingly curious articles on a host of obscure topics! Our wyvern doesn’t have a dragon’s head, but a lion’s. In every other respect it is undoubtedly a wyvern. This oddity is “a frequent heraldic device on British coats of arms and flags… A golden wyvern is believed to have been the symbol of the ancient kingdom of Wessex.”

a golden wyvern

So why are griffins part lion and part eagle? “As the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts and the eagle was the king of the birds, the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature. Griffins are known for guarding treasures and priceless possessions.”  I think I want one!

Provins church: note the older portions mixed with more recent

The arched doorway of the church in Provins reminds me of Notre Dame de París, but with way less fuss: broad strokes as opposed to devilish details. Compare it with the doorway of this catedral in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona:

Barrio Gótico

And for more comparison here’s the lady herself: Notre Dame de París:

Notre Dame is famous for her gargoyles and her hunchback, from the story by Victor Hugo

Once you see one gargoyle, you start seeing them everywhere! Here are some from that cathedral in Barcelona.

A few gargoyles to protect from Dark Side flybys

Little Provins turns out to be a big stop on the European Medieval circuit…. remember the Renaissance Faire? This is where it lives. Time stood still here in 1429, when Joan of Arc went to mass accompanied by Charles VII.

Wow! She is one of my favorite saints… that girl really rocked the boat — and paid the price. My favorite, unforgettable painting of her lives in NYC, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

St. Quiriace was built in 1160, partly destroyed by fire in 1662, and is pretty much out of service these days, you can’t even get a peek inside. But the vibes there are amazing; we loved it. Here is a statue of Joan of Arc in Paris, wearing solid gold armor. I can’t seem to find my photos of her; this is off the web:

correction: this one is MY photo of Joan of Arc!

St. Quiriace

Here I am at the doors:

yes, I go to church occasionally!

wabi-sabi detail

the watchtower next door

This is the old keep, or watchtower, sometimes called Caesar’s tower. We circled it.

Ben likes ancient rock walls too.

Provins is an amazing place, definitely the spot for all you history buffs. I couldn’t stop taking pix of the old houses, they are so beautiful!!

a busy corner in Provins

part of the old moat

How cool is that!!?!

a pretty country cottage

on the outside, a rustic cottage

On the inside… I’d be happy to decorate it for you!

the banker’s mansion?

City Hall or an official residence?

Provins is a living town, albeit a tourist town: how convenient. However it is located in the midst of some of the most beautiful countryside in the world! Its rolling green hills are like California’s wine country in spring. Just gorgeous. By the way, don’t get Provins, the town near Paris, mixed up with Provence, a wine-growing region in southern France, close to the Mediterranean coast: Marseilles, Aix-en-Provence, Cannes, Monaco. Not a bad spot to combine vacation and business: just ask James Bond!

Thanks to all of you for your emails, comments and likes. I really appreciate news from home. It helps me feel connected and not adrift somewhere in the universe…. sometimes I wake up and it takes a few moments to get oriented…. where the heck am I?

Next blog up: Tango Festival in Sitges, and fabulous Barcelona!

Au revoir, Paris!

Patagonia: Estancia San Ramón

Patagonian cowgirl

The sun was shining and hot with no hint of wind the day I went riding with Carol Jones. Carol is a genuine gaucha who grew up on Estancia Nahuel Huapi, across the lake from Bariloche. She inherited the ranch from her grandpa, Jared Jones, who was the first white man to settle in the area. He arrived over a hundred years ago, whether heading towards Patagonia or running from Texas, I couldn’t say. But this sureña cowgirl is the real deal: a life lived from the back of a horse. Carol was ranch-raised and began riding and helping out with ranch chores when she was 5 or 6. Her grandpa Jared had seven sons; so she had plenty of aunties, uncles and cousins to play with.

Carol on the trail (note the volcanic dust)

On account of the still-present and very visible ashes from volcano Puyehue, Carol had to move her livestock to another ranch the family owns higher up in the mountains to the south, farther away from the volcano. She’s already lost one horse who colicked from a gut full of volcanic dust.

After we hit the trail, Carol was happy to talk to me about local medicinal plants and discuss their uses. She says none of her horses have had shots or medical treatments except for herbal remedies, and they’ve all had exceptionally long lives – well into their thirties. She built up her knowledge of local plants and herbs through conversations with the old women whose families have lived in the area for generations. She knows which plants are which, and how to collect, store and administer the herbs to treat equine problems, and human problems too. Unfortunately, her horse’s ingestion of volcanic dust (by foraging on dusty plants and ingesting the dust) was not something herbal remedies could fix.

gearing up

Carol and I drove east out of Bariloche to the estancia of a friend, Estancia San Ramón, where she keeps a few head of horse for these rides which bring in a few dollars, as she waits for the natural cycle to restore her pastures. On the way we picked up a young English couple that had signed up to go along.

young English couple

We saddled up with the help of Miguel, the gaucho in charge of the posta, the section of ranch that’s his to take care of, and where he lives year round with his wife and family. Also riding with us was the ranch manager, an Aussie, and his two boys ages 8 and 10. The jefe grew up working on ranches in Australia before transplanting himself and family to Patagonia. The English couple and yours truly made up the rest of  the group. We hit the trail before ten am and rode till six. The Estancia San Ramón is huge – 75,000 acres – which explains its amazing variety of rock formations, creeks, canyons, and high rocky peaks. There’s an old graveyard, too.

awesome hills!

We saw red ochre Indian paintings on a rock overhang, and explored a cave.

Indian painted rocks

Carol and Miguel at the painted rocks site

Patagonian gauchos wear berets!  Takes some getting used to, I admit. Can’t turn it upside down and use it for a horse drinking fountain, either. The little flea-bitten grey mare Carol was riding had quite the personality. Don’t let the sleepy demeanor fool you: definitely a boss mare!

I'm head bitch, bitch!

We climbed up, down and around the rocky hills and steep arroyos. The sky was the bluest of blues. And the volcanic dust was, well… everywhere.

the young cowboys

We rode past a herd of goats that I might not have noticed but for the tinkle of their bells. They paid no attention to us.

goats same color as the ash

After a few hours in the saddle breathing trail dust we stopped by a creek in a lush little valley bottom. Miguel got the asado going. The horses were unsaddled and turned loose to graze the tall grass in the shade of the willows by the creek.

break time for the horses

Argentine barbecue

I loved the choripan; a piece of sausage hot and dripping grease straight off the fire, wrapped in a French roll. We fix it the same way back home, only we wrap the sausage in a hot tortilla. Mate was passed around, and I refilled my water bottle from the creek. This was my favorite time, I think, sitting around the fire enjoying good food and good company in a beautiful place.

Some more pix from the ride:

I'm really not a mule!

me and my trusty pony

dismounting to explore the cave

we saw strange looking green and white rocks

but no White Rock girl!

did the gods turn her into a rock?

here the trail descends sharply

my sturdy saddle tree and cinch

really comfy with the sheepskin!

Carol told me a story about how she saved a horse’s life with help from the ant people:  One time she had a horse that was seriously ill and two different vets told her there was no remedy and no hope. But she had heard about a treatment using ant-dirt. Ants collect seeds and whatever else they can find to eat, digest it, poop it out, and then, in true harmonic harmony and sisterhood carry the residuals outside the kiva-like hill, where they are strategically and reverently placed in the ongoing, never-ending task of renovating the community housing project. So Carol collected some ant dirt from a nearby anthill, made it into a watery paste, and fed it to her horse. She didn’t say if her horse liked the goop she poured down his throat. But guess who made a complete recovery! I had heard of using gopher dirt to make ceremonial altars, but this use of ant dirt is new to me. Blessings be upon the Horse Medicine Woman!

I wonder if Edward O. Wilson, Pulitzer prize-winning author of On Human Nature, (famous ant behavioralist at Harvard) has heard of this use of ant dirt. “If all mankind were to disappear,” he wrote, “the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.” Wow, this prof rocks the boat!

Edward Osborne Wilson

Now, I really don’t like ants, and if they invade my space I go on the warpath, but… maybe it’s time for me to renegotiate my relationship with the tiny critters. Should I be more ant-friendly? (except for the red fire ants?)

We finally reached the end of the trail. Miguel’s wife was waiting for us with maté and fresh hot Indian fry bread. I didn’t know they made that here! Made me feel quite at home. Served with honey and jam, it hit the spot!

the end of the trail is just a little ways...

And this post is almost over, too! But I must pause to wish my daughter Autumn a very happy birthday!

Happy Birthday Autumn!!

¡Felíz Cumple Autumn!  ¡¡¡Te quiero mucho!!!!

Ciao from Patagonia!

another day at Lago Moreno

Bariloche and Lago Nahuel Huapi from Cerro Otto

CIAO FROM PATAGONIA!  Next week we’ll be back in Buenos Aires…. hasta la próxima!

A Visit to the Pampas

I never meant to blog about itty-bitty cars, but sometimes things just happen. Perhaps if I had a kitten to play with, or a horse that needed riding…  I had to find a horse to ride, to be sure, but the little blue car found me.

my Isetta getting a green energy transfusion

DEAR FRIENDS and WILLOWTANGO.ME FOLLOWERS: Hundreds of you are responding to this post as if it’s the only post you can see!! If you like this post and want to read more, go to <willowtango.me> And please, no responses marketing your product line or personal fetishes!!

QUERIDOS AMIGOS de WILLOWTANGO.ME: Cientos de vosotros, mis queridos lectores, están respondiendo a este post como si fuera la única!! Si les gusta este post y quieren leer más, hagan clic en <willowtango.me>. Y por favor, no me hablan de sus intereses publicitarias ni sus fetiches personales!!

No, it’s not my Isetta.  If it was I would spoil it with some much-needed TLC. Please note that the front of the car doubles as the entry. This baby is a one cylinder, 4-wheeler ragtop. Here she is cuddling up to a pickup. How cute is that?

which do you like better, the front or the rear?

Ben discovered it while walking from our apartment to his Spanish class in Palermo Soho.  Apparently it’s parked in some kind of cosmic waiting room, patiently awaiting restoration and rebirth.  Perhaps its mantra could be… I’m so cute I can tango on 3 wheels?

sweet view from a wabi-sabi world

There can’t be very many of these microcars left.  But thousands were produced in post WWII Europe.  Skip the next paragraph if you’re not totally fascinated by this Barbie car.

The Isetta was an Italian-designed micro-car built in a number of different countries, including Spain, Belgium, France, Brazil, Germany, and the UK. Produced in the post-World War II years, a time when cheap short-distance transportation was most needed, it became one of the most successful and influential city cars ever created.

The car originated with the Italian firm of Iso-SpA. In the early 1950s the company was building refrigerators, motor scooters and small three-wheeled trucks. Iso’s owner, Renzo Rivolta, decided he would like to build a small car for mass distribution. By 1952 the engineers Ermenegildo Preti and Pierluigi Raggi had designed a small car that used the scooter engine and named it Isetta—an Italian diminutive meaning little ISO.

The Isetta caused a sensation when it was introduced to the motoring press inTurin in November 1953. It was unlike anything seen before. Small (only 2.29 m (7.5 ft) long by 1.37 m (4.5 ft) wide) and egg-shaped, with bubble-type windows, the entire front end of the car hinged outwards to allow entry. In the event of a crash, the driver and passenger were to exit through the canvas sunroof. The steering wheel and instrument panel swung out with the single door, as this made access to the single bench seat simpler. The seat provided reasonable comfort for two occupants, and perhaps a small child. Behind the seat was a large parcel shelf with a spare wheel located below. A heater was optional, and ventilation was provided by opening the fabric sunroof. The first prototypes had one wheel at the rear; this made the car prone to roll-overs, so they placed two rear wheels 48 cm (19 in) apart from each other.

BMW bought the Isetta license from ISO SpA in 1954.  They bought the complete Isetta body tooling as well.  The BMW Isetta was in 1955 the world’s first mass-production 3-Liters/100km car. It was the top-selling single cylinder car in the world, with 161,728 units sold. After constructing some 1,000 units, production of the Italian built cars ceased in 1955, although Iso continued to build the Isetta in Spain until 1958.  (compiled from Wikipedia)

Even in its present sad condition, this Isetta has a bright future!  and is probably worth a few bucks.

Do you see the little face?

So sweet of the man in my life to take these photos for me.  You could say he found a clever way to get back in my good graces, after a little spat about who knows what?!  Here he is asking for forgiveness:

on his knees at the Gallerias

Not blue anymore, but wearing blue! at our favorite café by Plaza San Martín:

blue sky and sunshine!

Now we’re going on a day trip to the Pampas! First stop, San Antonio de Areco, about 120 km. northwest of Buenos Aires. This beautiful colonial pueblo was settled in 1730. The bici is not quite that old!

two-wheelers can have significant curb appeal also

The bici decorates the sidewalk in front of one of the best trattorias in town, La Esquina de Merti. My hosts, Flavia and Fabio, who also happen to be our landlords in town, brought me out to the country for an afternoon of sightseeing and horseback riding. Here’s the beautiful shady plaza:

Plaza Gómez

A typical street on a very quiet day in San Antonio de Areco.

Fabio at El Tokio

The church looks like an vacant gray stone palace.  Spooky and grim, even in the sunshine!

Nuestra Señora de Loreto

It’s prettier on the inside. The main altar is quite beautiful. We were the only people inside the church, on a Tuesday about 1:00 pm. This town is definitely not overrun with tourists! Maybe on the weekends.

el altar mayor

Flavia and me sightseeing

We were fortunate to find the leather shop open. Besides the handmade leather goods, there were bridles, reatas, cinchas, stirrups, tapaderos, ponchos… lots of stuff. Many of the tools hanging on the wall or lying about the workshop were antiques still in use. We chatted with the craftsman at his workbench, and he showed us how he stamps a design into leather using a metal punch.

the artesano working at his trade

cowboy socks’n’spurs?

In the really old days (we’re not talkin’ 1950s here! more like 1750s!) out here in the pampas, they didn’t have boots. They just wrapped rawhide around their legs and feet. They left the toe part open cause back then their stirrups were a rawhide reata hanging down from the saddle with a big rawhide braided knot on the end that you stuck in between your big toe and second toe. Kind of a toe wedgie! Doesn’t sound as comfy as a real stirrup, does it? Of course they didn’t spend a day’s wages to have their horses shod, either. Come to think of it, the campesinos back then didn’t get paid wages at all. That was back in the days before organized labor.

Rawhide, when it’s wet, can be stretched taut (as in drum making); when it dries, it’s stiff as a board and extremely sturdy. You can cut it in a giant spiral which results in narrow strips anywhere from 30 – 60 feet long depending on the size of the hide. Braiding a number of those strands together creates reatas, reins, bosals, bridles, etc. All the gear you ever dreamed of having!

Argentine bridles

These are the saddles we’ll be riding later today. No frills, no saddle horn, either. In an emergency, just grab some mane!

a Chilean saddle: no frills, wooly sheepskin keeps you warm

As we drive into the rancho the first thing we see is a bunch of horses tied up amongst the trees:

all tied up and waiting to be ridden

we go past a marvellous treehouse!

Pulling into the stable area the horses in the barn stick their heads out to see who’s coming:

howdy

The barn is new, built of cement and brick, with a metal roof. It has 5 stalls, a tack room, a bathroom with shower, and a tiny kitchen area with sink. The stall doors are wood, as is the framing and the shutters.

the front of the barn

We saddled up and went for a ride!  The sun was playing tag with the clouds, but it was warm with a slight breeze. Everywhere you look it’s green! We were about 60 or 70 miles northwest of Buenos Aires. Santiago is wearing polo boots and riding britches; he competes on the hunter-jumper circuit.

Santiago, Flavia’s hunter-jumper instructor

Flavia is our horse-crazy landlady!  She and I hit it off from day 1. Here she is on a pretty red dun, holding his head very nicely.  The helmet protects her coco loco. She and I could sit and talk horses all day long.

Flavia on a red dun

Here I am on a nice little grey gelding. When we were just walking along he wanted to lag behind the pack, but when we were loping, he moved right up to the front every time!

me on Gitano

We rode for about an hour and a half. By the time we came upon this windmill and got thru the gate, we could see the clouds piling up. The rain was comin’!

a working windmill

We kicked our horses into gear and loped the last few hundred yards in the rain. Now that’s my idea of fun! After we unsaddled and got the horses put away, we hunkered down in the barn in some comfy canvas chairs to dry off while our host brewed up some mate. We passed it around, sucking it down thru the silver bombilla. Good medicine. This was our view out the barn door:

sweet view

You can just barely make out a gorgeous caballo criollo in this stall:

chewable stall doors

I like the clean, earthy design, but… but what if your horses decides to punch a hole in it with a double-barrel kick?  Here’s the ranch manager’s casita:

see the tri-color tail on the left?

I have to share a funny comment from my brother Kim:  “Hi Sis, I am really enjoying your tango blogs…  You are a great writer!  Not a bad photographer either (must have gotten that from Grandpa).  In the future please try to provide more photos of beautiful women instead of just guys, cowboys, etc.”  

Okay, bro, this one’s for you!  Ciao from Buenos Aires!

Yerba Mate, Symbol of Argentine National Identity

So what is this stuff people are drinking out of a little gourd with a funny metal straw?  Yerba Mate is an evergreen plant of the Holly family (scientific name ilex paraguariensi) and is indigenous to subtropical south America. The Guaraní people, who inhabited the area that we now know as southern Brasil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, first learned to harvest and brew mate.  People of the Río de la Plata region have been drinking mate for thousands of years.

Mate leaves contain caffeine.  Depending on who you talk to, of course, mate has significant health benefits:  it’s anti-carcinogenic, anti-oxidant, speeds up your metabolism, clears your sinuses, lowers your cholesterol, relaxes your muscles, and promotes a healthy heart.  Sounds good to me!  But I’m already addicted to black tea!  From time to time I buy mate, brew a cup (it’s called mate cocido if you brew it with a tea bag instead of loose tea in your gourd) and drink it with a little sugar… delicious!

girl in red dress drinking mate

The flavor of mate is reminiscent of green tea.  Freshly harvested mate is sometimes smoked over a wood fire to give it a smoky flavor.  Sounds like the cowboy version.  According to La Nación, straight, unsweetened mate is called cimmarón and is preferred by men, while women and children prefer theirs sweetened, and children especially like it mixed with milk or juice.  Mate can be drunk hot or iced.  Street vendors sell it.  In Brasil, on the coast, they drink mate batido: iced, sweetened, with or without fruit flavoring, made with the smoky mate which is spicier and less bitter.  Shake it up and it becomes creamy, like a smoothie.  Yum!  More please!

a happy mate-guzzling gaucho!

But mate is not just a drink, it’s a social activity.  Families and friends drink mate ritually.  The gourd is passed from person to person.  Each person drinks it up, then passes it back to the host or hostess who throws in some more herb and then fills the gourd with hot water (not boiling! or it will be bitter), and it gets passed to the next person.  Even little kids drink mate in the morning before school.  This could be the perfect beverage for your little wolf pack!

Mate keeps you going all day!

Here in Buenos Aires I see people drinking mate in cafés and restaurants, at the park with friends and family, and of course tango teachers can be seen sipping it during workshops (the ubiquitious thermos and gourd: Gato and Andrea, always!).

I first read about mate when I was in grad school.  Martín Fierro was the protagonist in an epic poem of the same name, written by José Hernández in 1872.  He was a tough, sun-baked, hard-riding, quintessential cowboy of the Pampas. Kind of an Argentine John Wayne: independent, heroic and self-sacrificing.  Martín Fierro fought social injustice and so became an outlaw.

Gauchos lived by their macho code of honor… survivalists to the core. They wore flashy belts decorated with old coins (cowboy glam: I want one!) and they were always ready to unholster their dangerously beautiful daggers (called a facón) worked in silver and horn. They had redeeming qualities though, like being fond of horses and wide-open spaces. Not surprising that Martín Fierro is considered a founding text of Argentine culture and history.  Get off your horse, facón in your belt, and sip your mate as you sit of an evening around the campfire and read Martín Fierro.  It’s long, and it’s all in verse. But it’s a long way to town, too, and what else can you do while you’re out there keeping watch over the herd?

About sixty years or so after Martín Fierro, Borges wrote a now-famous short story called “El Sur” in which a hopelessly civilized city youth, living in the Buenos Aires of the 1930s, returns to the town of his forefathers, on the Pampas, and is challenged to a knife-fight by a local gaucho bully.  He can’t back down, because that very same macho code of honor that he still has a few drops of in his blood comes welling to the surface as he steps outside to meet his death.

Part of the Argentine self-image, then, is the gaucho and the code. We’re way beyond the mate now.  We’re a long way from Tango, too, but it all fits in somewhere.  This is just another piece of the puzzle of Argentina:  tango, mate, gauchos, waves of migration. What a delicious, rich, cultural stew.  As you read the first verse of Martín Fierro, look for the Tango lyrics, and you will find them, ready to be put to music in a new century, the 19th.

Aquí me pongo a cantar

al compás de la vigüela

que al hombre que lo desvela,

una pena estrordinaria

como la ave solitaria

con el cantar se consuela.

Ciao from Buenos Aires!