Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Some Deets on the Digs

I'm sure I have a few burning questions to address, ones that are burning a veritable hole in the pockets of your brain. So:
1. First things first. You're in the Southern Hemisphere-- we know it's winter right now, but more importantly, does your toilet flush in the opposite direction?

      Despite me forgetting to take a video of a toilet flushing while I was still up above the Equator, I haven't quite noticed much of a difference, mostly because many Argentinian toilets flush directly down instead of swirlying about. This whole snippet of "clockwise or counter" is supposedly due to something called the Coriolis Force, which is after all the physics, and the math something quite negligible when you get down to the scale of a bathroom sink or a toilet. Thanks, Sr. Google. Sorry, readers.

2. What are you eating over there? What produce is produced? What meat is met, masticated in your mouth? (Allow me the alliteration)

       Empanadas!! But when I'm not eating those, sweets and meats. Which is not to say sweetmeats, even though those are available.
      As for the former, let me first say that not growing up with dulce de leche probably saved me from early onset diabetes and a good deal of obesity/cavities. But now that I've discovered it in the form of... everything, especially alfajores, I am taking a brisk eating pace, and will probably catch up. Alfajores are something that can range from the size of a small macaroon to a... pretty big macaroon or a Moon Pie (for our Asian supermarket going friends). With DDL inside two pieces of scrumptious shortbread-- it something not too different from heaven. With some Earl Grey tea, or black coffee-- it is a gorgeous gustatory pairing. And I am eating up.
         The latter-- the meat. The parilla tradition in Argentina is like none other. Possibly like crawfish boils are to Louisianans, and a braai in South Africa though I'd have to do a little more ethnographic research on that one.  Meat grilling is practically a religious experience. It consists of mostly beef but Argentines like Chinese tend to be equal opportunity eaters. The beef in Argentina, as I'm sure you've been told is quite incredible. Vocabulary time! Rare: Crudo  Medium Rare: Jugoso  Medium: Puntado and the rest... is just not worth eating. Historically, I haven't had too much luck at steak places in that they constantly overcook the cut, so I've taken to saying "vivo" with the rationale that you can't uncook meat.   Not as much fish to my chagrin, but much to my dining delight, a multitude of places for "queso y crudo". The word "crudo" refers to jamon crudo, which is pretty much cured meats to the idea of prosciutto.  In essence, a deli. Which utterly thrills me.

Regarding vegetables: an Argentinian friend said very poignantly as we sat down to parilla one day, "An Argentine vegetarian is someone who has salad with their steak". Yet, there are places (one) where we found a gem of a culinary saving grace--- a vegetarian buffet. Best thing is that they are Taiwanese immigrants, and as a consequence are not afraid to use tofu. On Saturday I discovered a farmer's market full of beautiful produce right close to the apartment. Joyous!
 And fruit: Every day at work there is a great big pile of fruit for snacking on. Apples, pears, bananas, oranges, and even grapefruit. I love grapefruit. It is an immensely fulfilling for a public health student (read: nerdface) to see break rooms/office kitchens without those awful vending machines so ubiquitous in the US. Instead, there are water coolers, and tea. I smell an intervention!

So: bakeries, grills, delis, vegetables and fruits. YAY.
3. Of course the next logical question: What are you drinking?

     Something utterly wonderful is that water from the tap (canilla) is potable, and I have been making good use of it with tea, and coffee. But you want to know about the alcohol. I find that the tragos (mixed drinks) to be rather unremarkable and usually a bit too sugary for my taste. A local beer here is called Quilmes, named of course for where the brewery is. Stella is very popular here. Why, I don't really know.  What many Argentinians love is the Italian originated Fernet. Usually done with Coke, it tastes to me like a... taste I'm still acquiring.  A licorice meets Chinese medicine type of taste which to the right palate apparently is heavenly. Perhaps I'm not one of those chosen.  

        But really, what you want to know about is mate. Luckily, the kind people at wikipedia have made it easy to get an idea of what to expect from the taste and the culture surrounding it.  Tons of marketplace stalls selling the accouterments and last week I finally purchased a gourd (also called a mate) as well as a bombilla (the straw).  Limiting reagent is the yerba itself, but that soon will be in order as well and I will be sipping at work like the rest of them.

        That's for a later post.

Lagniappe notes:
Spanish here if you didn't know, has got the castellano tendency. Those from Spain pronounce it "cahs-theh-yawn-oh", the Argentines say "cahs-teh-shawn-oh". So think of all the words with a "y" sound and say them with a "sh" instead. There are a few in this post: canilla, bombilla, parilla, smell, (hah!) yerba, Fun, right? Its a different taste of a sound swishing about in your palate: a bit challenging to catch sometimes, especially since the Argentine speech patterns are so fast, but it is beautiful and wispy, like a dream you had that you are dying to remember.     

Monday, June 11, 2012

Getting to the Good Airs

That day of travel to Buenos Aires was one where I was a witness to more small miracles than perhaps many see in months, or rather, allow themselves to.  And while I usually make it a point to look for tidbits of giddy, this whole entire Tuesday to Wednesday in the air and on the ground really took care to show me a good time, from the manner in which the 405 and the 101 did the math perfectly to allow my arrival at the airport, to the kindness and laughter, yes laughter at LAX. And somehow thereafter, it just got better. From conversations, to the movies I saw on the the flight, things just fit. Vague? I know, but I suppose what Im trying to say, is that the world, or the universe, the community at large or at small really was protective of me, and that makes me feel joyful. 
This was the first flight where I witnessed a sun set and followed it as it rose, with stars in my path on the way between. I felt momentous, and miraculous, and humbled.