Home again.

Whew. Sorry about that. I know I said I’d try to get something written during the week, but everything conspired against me, “everything” being defined as personal exhaustion. (Also, that Spanish keyboard, which reduced my usual brisk writing pace to hunt-and-peck.) The trip was, how you say, packed. We spent most of every day racing from one engagement to another, interspersed with the sort of eating you thought went out with the Romans, but didn’t. More on that in a minute.

I rode a horse on an estancia (“dude ranch” in Espanol), and I shook the president’s hand in Evita’s own Pink House (“Casa Rosada” in Ingles). That was pretty much the range of experiences we had. We met the U.S. ambassador, took a tango lesson, talked to political dissidents and victims of the military junta of the late ’70s, had briefings from bankers and economists on the country’s current economic problems, went leather shopping, drank many toasts to international friendship and rare beef. I can’t say I came away with an incisive understanding of the place, but then again, we heard again and again from Argentines that they haven’t figured the place out, either.

It was a wonderful trip. What a fascinating country. Interesting Argentine fact: Did you know this country is one of the last places where old-fashioned Freudian analysis still thrives? Really. There are 40,000 psychoanalysts in Buenos Aires alone. I sat next to one at dinner one night. She specializes in domestic violence and scorned the American method — Prozac and a few sessions of focused, results-oriented therapy — as superficial. I wouldn’t want to quote her on anything — her English was spotty, but far superior to my Spanish — but I think she told me that if one of her clients repeated her pattern of choosing Mr. Wrong, at least she’d understand why she kept doing so.

The country is one of the most European in South America, and shows it in its wedding-cake architecture and the easy-on-the-eyes faces that pass by in the streets. You see Indian bone structure and skin coloring here and there, but far more common the sharp noses and deep-set eyes of Spanish and Italian bloodlines. These are some great-looking people, the women with long, flowing hair and effortlessly chic outfits, the men in shaggy haircuts and nicely cut suits. They give you an air kiss when you meet and say “ciao” when you part, and if you try to speak Spanish to the shopgirls, more often than not they’ll answer back in excellent English, even outside the tourist districts. When I tried to ask which way Avenue Santa Fe was, the clerk said, impatiently, “Don’t try to tell me in Spanish. Just speak English.” Ohh-kaaaaay. I didn’t think I was massacring “donde esta” that badly, but I’ll take her word for it.

The food: Protein. We had at least four or five meals in parillas, steak houses where the grill is in the front window, a large, open fire surrounded by whole pigs, goats and sides of beef. They’re tended by career grill men and the meals they serve are orgies of protein. We generally started with an empanada — a meat pie, appetizer-size — followed by sweetbreads and assorted innards, salad and then — only then! — do they put a cut of beef the size of a baby’s head on its own little brazier next to your plate, along with a side of fried potatoes and whatever else they can stuff down your throat before you get gout. It was an embarrassment of riches, and led to a painful, “Y Tu Mama Tambien” moment our last night, when the last in our group to leave witnessed poor people fighting over the leftovers in the restaurant’s trash bags. We were told over and over that Argentina’s poverty rate now stands at 50 percent, with half of those in extreme poverty, and a smaller but still disturbingly high number who don’t have enough to eat. We saw evidence in the people who come into the city every night, digging through trash for paper and cardboard, which they sell to recyclers. Everyone was optimistic the improving economy might chip these numbers away, but I still spent too much giving to panhandlers and tipping at a 50 percent rate. With prices for nearly all locally made products at about one-third of what they’d fetch here, how can you not?

OK, then. I’m tired, having spent about 18 hours today in transit of some sort (and may I just say, the “trip map” function on the 777 aircraft personal video screen is the coolest thing since cinnamon toast), I’m ready for a Canadian beer, a vegetarian dinner and a long, deep sleep. Pictures later. Comments welcome.

Posted at 5:43 pm in Uncategorized |

7 responses to “Home again.”

  1. jcb said on December 18, 2003 at 8:37 pm

    Welcome back Nance…yeah, it’s not easy to travel and write sensibly about it.

    88 chars

  2. jones said on December 19, 2003 at 2:23 am

    I hope Michigan pukes giant ice chunks on you for a week. But welcome back.

    Oh… While you were South, they brought Peter Lupus out of retirement, made him one of those really cool, convincing masks and dragged him out of a rathole outside Tikrit. Or maybe it was Lynda Day George, I’m not sure. But say hello to another five years of George Bush.

    352 chars

  3. Randy said on December 19, 2003 at 10:14 am

    Welcome back – Argentina (and Chile) are the two places I most want to visit in South America, so I really enjoyed the posts you provided.

    When you mentioned Canadian beer, it reminded me that the US market will soon receive one of the very best line of beers from our frozen tundra – Sleeman’s. If you haven’t tried it already, make sure you get it at your first opportunity. I recommend the Honey Brown.

    408 chars

  4. alex said on December 19, 2003 at 10:20 am

    You also missed out on the other two best stories of the week�the ones that made it look like the GOP’s lock on things might actually be faltering:

    Strom’s a closet dinge queen and Haliburton’s a thief. I mean, we knew that. But it was on the front page, finally.

    268 chars

  5. hernan said on December 19, 2003 at 1:23 pm


    – the grill meat (“asado” o “parrillada”)

    you (i hope) enjoyed is frecuently done

    on weekends, at home (traditionally prepared

    by men, not women). and not with fried

    potatoes (modern heresy!) but with

    tomato salad and bread.

    – the amount of psychoanalysts (and psichoanalyzed people) here is truly

    remarkable; it is related with the french


    cultural influence, tradicionally very

    strong in the media-upper classes of

    buenos aires

    – didn’t someone invite you to drink mate?

    hey, then you didn’t really know

    argentina 🙂


    nice review, though


    hernan j. gonzalez

    buenos aires, argentina

    694 chars

  6. Nance said on December 19, 2003 at 4:01 pm


    Thanks for the feedback. We had a mate at the estancia. Let me just say, diplomatically, that it’s one of those things I didn’t feel the need to make room for in my suitcase.

    Great food otherwise.


    225 chars

  7. Beth said on December 20, 2003 at 3:39 am

    Glad to see that you’re back! We need your commentary on the latest events in the Good Ole US of A! I’m sure of course, that your two weeks of beef intake have not soured you on our “president”, and his Texan roots.

    218 chars