Carnaval

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We finally made it to Carnaval! Somehow, we had missed going to this South American rite of passage our first year here, and budget cuts in town meant last year’s Carnaval was cancelled. However, they were back in action this year–so we figured we’d brave the incredibly hot and muggy weather and see what makes this so special.

We just went to Ituzaingo’s small-town Carnaval–but it was still pretty impressive. I think some day we’d like to see a big-city Carnaval, but we just didn’t have the energy or time to devote to getting to any of the cities nearby. But being able to walk four blocks from the house and see a whole Carnaval parade is pretty special unto itself!

Carnaval in Argentina was officially two days (February 8th and 9th), but in addition to these federal holidays, Ituzaingo added three more weekends in January to the mix to maximize their tourists. The town could very obviously use the tourism–major flooding over the Christmas holiday wiped out almost all of the town’s beaches, so the tourists aren’t coming in droves from Brazil as in years past.

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From a logistics standpoint, Carnaval shuts down about a mile stretch of the main road into town. The elaborate floats end up being parked in an open-air garage that’s only about two blocks from our house–so we had the interesting opportunity to check out the floats in daylight before we saw them in action at Carnaval.

Carnaval starts LATE. The first round doesn’t start until about 11pm. We chose to do general entry, which was 30 pesos (or somewhere around $2USD) and allowed us standing room only. We figured this would give us the best option to walk from one end to the other and get the best vantage points for photos. They had the option of sitting on the bleachers (60 pesos) or in the “fancy seats”–otherwise known as lawn chairs on the dais (100 pesos).

One of the best-sellers of Carnaval was cans of spray foam–a cross between silly string and shaving cream. They were about 20 pesos each, and herds of kids spent the time in between groups dousing each other in foam. This must be a yearly tradition, since the moms we stood next to came prepared with hand towels to wipe away any that ended up in eyes and noses. If you go to Argentinian Carnaval, be sure to wear something that is okay to be covered in foam! (I hear the Paraguayan Carnaval version is about the same.)

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We knew that Carnaval would be full of barely-clothed women decked out in sequins, but I didn’t anticipate how inclusive it would be. People of every age, from toddlers to older folks, participated in the parade. It really was a community effort. As estadounidenses, we were a little uncomfortable with the preteen girls in g-strings–but it wasn’t particularly surprising, considering that’s pretty much what the bathing suits are down here as well. The costumes were incredibly ornate, and everyone was sprayed with copious amounts of glitter spray. Considering how difficult it can be to get so many basic craft goods in rural Argentina, I can’t imagine how much effort had to be put not just into making the costumes, but just in getting the raw materials!

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Each group started with a fanfare and flag bearers to clear the way. That’s followed by various groups, each with their own costuming theme. It seemed like some of the songs had a specific dance the whole troupe would do and others allowed each group to create their own choreography. The costumes would get wilder the closer to the end, and was often closed out with an elaborate float carrying that company’s “Carnaval Queen(s),” followed by the Argentinian version of a marching band.

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We ultimately only stayed until 2am (about three “crews”)–but we were told the party went on until after 7am. After further consultation with our Argentinian friends, it seems like the traditional schedule is to go out to eat at 9 or 10pm, drink a little bit at the bar, and then go to Carnaval for a bit, and finish the night (morning?) by dancing at the club.

Overall, I’m glad we got to experience Carnaval! The best way I’ve found to describe how the various groups work is that it’s very much like the Mummers in Philadelphia. The groups are familial or neighborhood based, and they spend a whole year coming up with a theme, costuming, choreography, and music. Each crew has their own distinct flavor, but they are all impressive in their own right. It was a great night to see the whole community to come together and dance, sing, and (of course) spray foam.

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Where did I go?

I just realized it’s been about six months since I’ve updated this blog. Yes, we are still in Argentina. Yes, we are still traveling around.

However, I started an online MBA program in fall 2015. Between doing work full time and school full time (plus that whole “living life” thing), I haven’t been great about keeping the blog up to date.  After the first semester’s craziness, plus a busy holiday home leave, things are starting to finally cool down–so I should be able to get into a more consistent blogging schedule.

Over the next two weeks, I’m going to try and do some good catching-up on what I’ve missed. You’ll hopefully see posts on our trip to Chile/Easter Island, Buenos Aires, Carnaval, and our two puppies!

I did it! But with some American mistakes.

This Saturday, I did something I had not been able to pull off yet here in Argentina.  I stayed out late like an Argentinian–but added some definitely different elements.

T and I hosted a wing night–where we introduce our Paraguayan and Argentinian friends to the joy of barbeque chicken wings and watch them squirm when they try buffalo sauce. Apparently wings are the cheapest of the cheap food down here–only the poorest people eat them–so it was an odd invitation to say the least when we invited them over for a whole meal composed just of that! However, they were all mighty impressed. American mistake number one:  feeding the guests peasant food.

In the past, T and I would be ready for bed at 1am and the South Americans would leave our house and head to the club.  This time, T was still pooped, but I still had some energy left and decided to tag along. Since I don’t drive stick (which is the only option for cars down here), and I wanted the freedom to come back to the house if I got tired, I decided to take my bike. Once I arrived at the bar (Deja Vu–which appears in a few pictures in previous posts), I got a few funny looks for riding to the bar on my bike. My friends quickly told the bouncer, “She’s American,” which I guess appeased him. Apparently only the poorest of the poor ride their bikes around willingly. American mistake number two: riding the peasant transportation to a fancy night out.

After a bit at the bar, we decided to cruise around town and see what else was going on. Around 3am, we ended up at the gas station (which is surprisngly nice and serves good food).  While everyone else continued to drink screwdrivers (with vodka and OJ bought in the gas station, which also has a full wine section), I made the mistake of ordering just seltzer water. Hydration, inexplicably, just isn’t a thing that happens. They actually ended up asking 1) whether T had imposed a curfew on me and 2) whether T required that I come home completely sober. I (obviously) was a bit flabbergasted that that was even an option. No, T does not dictate my curfew or my consumption of any liquid alcoholic or otherwise. American mistake numbers three and four: Ordering water in the middle of the party night, and not having my husband issue a curfew.

By 4:30am, we were back at Deja Vu, and by 5am I decided to call it a night. Despite some protestations from the rest of the crew, I convinced them that I was lucky just to be awake right now and that my warm, fluffy bed was calling to me. The crowd tried to convince me to stay out with them the “whole night” until 9am, when apparently the bar serves empanadas and croissants.  I calmly told them that I can make my own darn breakfast at home after a few hours of sleep, and that no empanada or croissant is good enough to warrant four more hours in a pair of heels when I’m dead tired. American mistake five: Not staying out until breakfast is served the next day.

I grabbed my bike, and apparently confused them again. “But you’ll be riding back alone!”  I rode here alone–and I do it all the time! “Are you sure you don’t want us to follow you with our car?” It’s 5am–the only thing out right now is you people downtown and about 25 assorted cats and dogs. I relented by saying I’d text as soon as I got back to my house. Needless to say, in my five minute bike ride back, I encountered no people, no cars, no motorcycles, and about five cats and dogs.  American mistake six: Riding the peasant transportation back home alone.

Was it fun? Sure! Would I do it again? Definitely! Will it be my new weekend “thing to do”? Um, no. I don’t have that kind of stamina.

Fiesta Nacional de la Yerra y la Doma

Two weekends ago, we had lots to celebrate! We hit a major milestone at work, which means that things slow down for the next few weeks. More importantly, that means that we get to have five day weeks for at least a few weeks!

In addition, the 14th was what we refer to as our “other anniversary.”  We were legally married on November 1, 2012, but had the “white dress, tux, and cake” wedding in September 2013. We like the opportunity to celebrate twice. 🙂

Since we had some time this weekend, we got to enjoy a local festival.  The Fiesta Nacional de la Yerra y Doma Correntina is part livestock show, part county fair, and part equestrian event. The weekend started with a parade that we managed to miss since we were so happy to sleep in and completely forgot about what time it started. (Note to self: 11 is not the same as 1.)

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It’s a major gathering of all of the gauchos, or cowboys, in the area to ostensibly celebrate branding their cattle. We didn’t see a single cow branded, but did see a lot of cows! The main event seemed to be a variation on barrel racing–the two riders would serpentine around the barrels and race back. I’m sure that there’s a proper name for this in the US–if anyone knows it, feel free to comment! There were all sorts of levels and divisions, and the banter from the announcers was hilarious. For the women’s division, every time they mentioned the next competitor’s name, one of the announcers would inevitably say, “Hey! I had a girlfriend by that name once!”

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Local ranchers brought some of their prize livestock to the arena, and we enjoyed looking at (and, I’ll admit it, petting) all of the pretty farm animals. There were cows and horses, of course, but also ducks, chickens, sheep, goats, and bunnies! A very nice gaucho noticed me admiring his very pretty horses, and let me pet his four month old colt. I was really fascinated by all of the people in their traditional gaucho garb–it looks impressive to see everyone all dressed up in their national costume, and the pieces themselves are incredibly beautiful and durable at the same time!

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Local firefighters

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We got some new housewares while we were there. There is a furniture maker we see in town occasionally who sells very ornate wooden chandeliers, and I’ve always admired their work. We didn’t end up with one of those–but instead got a nifty wine rack with wine glass holders, a huge new basket for our towels, a decorative mirror with some really interesting wicker work so we can start making the place feel more like our own, and some wooden plates in a holder–for our own asados!

We finished our weekend up with a meal at the Manantiales Hotel, where we lived for our first two months in country. We haven’t eaten out in ages–so the staff was all very happy to see us, and everyone asked us how we were doing.

 

Sunday Walk

Yes, I am well aware it is Thursday. But T and I have been super-busy this week, and I’m just now uploading our photos from our Sunday walk around the neighborhood. It was a beautiful day–and we’re trying to get all the vitamin D we can, since our office is at least 12 meters below the nearest sunshine!

We live in the villa permanente, which is a neighborhood essentially created by Entidad Binacional Yacyreta as a place for all of its workers to live. The houses roughly correspond to your place in the hierarchy–there are some low white houses that look like small barns and can be kindly described as man camps.

Then there’s our neighborhood of yellow houses. We love our quiet, friendly neighborhood. Pretty cobblestone streets, lots of people walking and biking, and plenty of little groups outside on a beautiful day enjoying the sunshine and a cup of mate. For being identical houses, each of the houses clearly expresses the personality of the owner.

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Then there’s the brown houses

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And finally, for the really important people, the white mansions:

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It would not be a walk if there wasn’t a moment of “Sara pets a strange but friendly neighborhood dog.”

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The beginnings of the garden…

T and I have been wowed by the abundance of beautiful, cheap as dirt produce here in Argentina. It seems like every week we go to the grocery store, there’s something new and exciting and beautiful to bring home. This week’s experiment was blueberry juice. The verdict? Odd, cloyingly sweet, and too syrupy. Oh well, it was a nice try, and it looked so pretty in the bottle!

One of the things we’ve had a hard time finding, however, is the fresh herbs we use in our cooking all the time in the States. They don’t seem to sell bunches of basil or thyme or rosemary. We’ve only seen parsley! So, we’ve decided to try our hand at gardening. The climate down here is so temperate (there is NEVER snow!) that we’re hoping that we can have some success. Here are our results so far!

The basil (both traditional green and some fun purple basil) is growing so well! In Spanish, this is albahaca.

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Our tomatoes (tomates) are doing well, and so are the spinach (espinacas)! You can’t really see it, but the thyme (tomillo) is slowly growing. I’ve nearly given up hope on the strawberries (fresas), peppers (pimientos) and rosemary (romero).

Here’s a bonus picture of what we thought was a lime tree, and now we’re not so sure… we think it may be a lemon tree. Lemons down here can be orange!

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We’re hoping to expand the garden a little bit more every few months–I have a whole collection of seed packets with various veggies. We just wanted to start small and see how these went first.