- 2013 Pope Benedict XVI visit & Major Rock Concert series
- 2014 World Cup Football games (soccer)
- “film at eleven”
- 2016 the Summer Olympic games
When I mentioned in my last post “the bio-rythyms” of Rio, I did not mention the “political” center of this great nation (i.e. Brasilia). As in North America, the economic/political center(s) are not necessarily located close to each other. Why do I mention this? Well, there are similarities between the two Continents.
Each Continent has a Nation that speaks a different (official) language than all the rest of the nations.
Trick question: Can you name all the countries and the languages? ….. Times up.
Excluding all indiginous languages (and Quebec) Brazil (Portugese) and the “good ole USA” ah…Canada and uh Los Angeles…help me out here… will ya?
February 21st, 2012
After all the excitement of Rio, Montevideo was a very pleasant change of pace. Montevideo is often called the “Switzerland of South America”, because of it’s small size, it’s once high standard of living and it’s fine democratic institutions. It is the smallest Hispanic nation in South America. Uruguay is the first and remains the only predominate welfare state in the western hemisphere. Similar to all other Latin American republics, it’s history was bloody.
The efforts of Jose Batlle y Ordonez, resulted in a 1918 constitution that laid the foundation for social programs that are unparalleled any where in South America today.
The reforms were more advanced than anywhere in the hemisphere, including the United States. These included an eight-hour work day, paid holidays, social security for the aged free medical treatment, legal divorce, nationalization of nearly all essential industries and services, abolishment of capital punishment, seperation of church and state, and so on.
Uruguay, like many countries, is recovering from difficult economic times. The difference here is that they welcome people who want to contribute to their economy; and, they have a very solid social structure. They are a very warm and welcoming people. The crime is not as bad as other large South American cities, but one still has to be aware when downtown.
Nestled between the two huge countries of Brazil and Argentinia, Uruguay has the Pampas (a flat plain of rich soil several hundred miles across that has eroded from the Andes). In the Spring, it is covered by lush green grasses. The clay soil does not drain well and cattle ranches have depleted the populations of regional wildlife. But, the many marshes ans shallow lakes make this area one of the world’s best bird watching destnations. Uruguay is the breadbasket of the continent. It’s small size is densely populated and cultivated.
It is a country of many products and the port is a major trading center. Located at the mouth of the Rio de la Plata, which is a huge river that empties into the Atlantic ocean. The port water is very shallow, and has to be dredged constantly to keep the shipping lanes open. The river is very wide (about 150 miles wide at it’s widest point and 50 miles wide all the way upstream to Buenos Arires).
The beaches are nice, the streets and buildings are well maintained and the Uruguayans are a proud and industrias people. They were never so proud as when Uruguay won the World Cup in soccer in 1930 and 1950. As a matter of fact, the first World Cup was held here in 1930. The Uruguayan Football team is the current (2011) South American Champion (Copa America champions). In 1930 they beat Argentina and in 1950 they beat the favored host Brazil team 2-1, which is the highest attended soccer game ever.
With the Pampas, Uruguay is the home of the Gaucho (the south American Cowboy) with a rich history and culture of solitude minding herds of cattle. The high boots and bolos, distinctive attire and bigger than life presence are indicative of the tough and hard working peoples. Drumming and dances along with bolo handling competitions are very entertaining, and we saw our share.
There are severl fine museums and nine public beaches. The cost of living is low and they are encouraging people to buy there. A good place to have a second home or to retire? I think so.
Tomorrow we visit Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
During the great adventure, it was our pleasure to visit 11 countries, 9 were first time visits for both of us. I have written about all of our ports, except Buenos Aires. This journal is my attempt at a travel diary. When I first started this effort, I underestimated the amount of time and effort a good journal would take. As you read this entry, you will guess that this sounds like a final entry. For my South American adventure, it is. I have subliminally saved the best for last.
There are several reasons why I like Buenos Aires including the sophistication of Argentinian people, their history, the architecture and of course the Tango. It is called “The Paris of South America” and it lived up to the billing.
We decided on the “Tango Show and City Drive” excursion for our only day in Buenos Aires. The locals know about the “rush to the Recoleta Cemetery” when the cruise ships arrive. Literally hundreds of visitors from many bus tours hit the cemetery for the required visit to see “Evita’s crypt”. Thankfully, it was the first stop on our tour and we only had to wait 30 minutes to pass by her resting place. Evita Duarte Peron is the most well known historical figure of Argentina. But, there is much more to this interesting capital.
As we toured the city, the architecture was note worthy. You will not find many of the old Spanish Colonial buildings here. The reason is that Buenos Aires was not developed as quickly as say Lima. It’s founding in 1536 was during colonial times; but, it was a swampy malarial location surrounded on three side by treeless pampas and the fourth side the muddy Rio Parana. The official name of the city is “City of Our Lady Mary of the Fair Winds”. Buenos Aires literally means “fair winds”.
The city did not begin to grow and become prominent until the 19th century. Only a few downtown buildings survive from the colonial era. Eleven million people live in “La Capital”nearly one of every three Argentinians. The main esplanade, 9 de Julio, is the widest avenue of any of the worlds great cities. The locals refer to it as their Champs Elysee; other travelers find it similar to St. Peterburg’s Nevsky Prospect. (still on our bucket list).
Like Parisians, Argentinians like long leisurely meals and lively conversation over coffee and croissants. Good manners and proper dress are still important. Long breaks to sun in a plaza or a day off to spend at Palermo Park (which has a race track, tennis courts, Olympic-sized pools, a polo field, golf course, soccer fields and many athletic clubs) are a common occurrence for the well healed.
Be prepared to eat meat and lots of it. Argentinians consume a steak a day and often have two meals a day with meat as the main coarse. Also, don’t expect a restaurant to open before 9:00pm for dinner, very late by our standards. Luckily, we had a fine lunch with a show included.
The Tango Show was very impressive. The Argentinians feel that they own the Tango and few would disagree (even though other countries of the region dance the tango). We were fortunate to lunch in other cities in South America; but, only one other equaled the meal here (see Punta Arenas, Chile). Three full courses plus dessert and a half bottle of fine wine included. I would say that this show and meal was the culinary highlight of our trip.
The visit to the La Boca area of Buenos Aires was very touristy, but enjoyable. It is home to the La Boca Junior football team (well known to soccer fans) and is a home to many street artists and musicians. Expect to have a beautiful woman or handsome man put a hat on your head and encourage you to dance the Tango. This is one area of several where Tango music and dance started.
Tango grew out of the bordellos and cafes of Buenos Ares, which attracted mostly single male immigrants who were lonely. These places were not for the timid. La Boca was a rough neighborhood and claimed to have the best “style”of tango. Tango historians can tell the differences in styles associated with each neighborhood. Often, gangs would show off dancing the tango and each put forth their best steps when competing. Each Tango “style” was a source of neighborhood pride. It often replaced fighting as a way of expressing superiority (Similar to the Broadway musical “West Side Story”)
The Tango was popularized by Carlos Gardel (with lyricist Alfredo Le Pera) when he recorded “Mi Noche Time” (My Sad Nights) in 1917 and instantly became a Latin superstar. He, almost single-backhandedly, was responsible for introducing the sensuous and lyrical words , movements and music of the Tango. His career was cut short by a plane crash in 1935, but you will still see his picture wearing his fedora in many cafes and night clubs. Gardel was raised in the Abasto neighborhood which was the fruits and vegetable market area of Buenos Aires. The Tango has a rich and somewhat mythical history including the claim that Gardel was born in Tacuarembó, Uruguay (and not Toulouse, France as his executor claimed).
I have just brushed the surface of this marvelous cultural heritage. More research and lessons will help me learn and appreciate the Argentinian Tango.
Ah, excuse me while I put on some Tango music and reminisce…adios amigos…buenos noches…