Saturday, June 25, 2011

Te Amo, Mendoza

It's about time where I quit my bitching and write a post about what I love about Mendoza. Because it's seriously a great place. Homesickness seems to tweak my reality at times, and I'm not always as appreciative as I should be that I live in a wine-lover's paradise and I'm surrounded by the great outdoors.

So here goes:
  • The wine. Period. I could write essay upon essay about how much I love it, and it still wouldn't do it justice. Some of my favorite bodegas from right here in Mendoza are O'Fournier (see previous blog post), Pulenta Estate, Doña Silvina, Gimenez-Riili, Sangre de los Andes, Vistalba, Enrique Foster, Mil Vientos, Atamisque, Mauricio Lorca, Azul, Qaramy, Renacer, and Las Perdices.
  • The Andes. Walking around centro, you don't see them all too often, but they're right there, looming to the west of the city. It's an amazing sight, and I don't think I'll ever tire of it. When I'm feeling homesick, going to the park or plaza to see the mountains in the distance is one of the best cures.
  • The piétonal and Plaza Independencia - there are always street performers and artisans selling hand-made goods lining the plaza and the pedestrianized shopping street known as the piétonal.
  • Just now, the little man on a bicycle who goes around sharpening people's knives rode by. How do I know that, without even looking out the window? Because he plays this signature tune on his pan flute as he rides. It's pretty freakin' cute.
  • Did I mention that I live in wine country? And any given weekend, I can go winetasting in any one of the three valleys here (Maipú, Lujan de Cuyo, Tunuyán).
  • Sometimes I hate her because I can hear it in the early morning and I get grumpy, but there's a sweet little old lady who lives in my building that sweeps in front of the building every single day, getting all the leaves and dirt off the sidewalk. Every morning. Without fail. And she's a sweetheart. I just wish I could understand more of what she says.
  • The little mom and pop vegetable stores (verdulerias) and kioscos, where the ladies on my street know me. Also if you don't have a peso or five, and they don't have change, they'll let you pay them the next time you see them. I'm not sure this would ever happen at home.
Did I mention how cheap the wine is? You can buy an amazing bottle of wine for about $25. A great mid-level bottle can run between 30-70 pesos, which is less than you probably have paid for a crappy Chilean wine in the past month.

Oh, Mendoza. I'm glad we'll get to hang out a little longer.

What's in a name?

As Shakespeare said "That which we call a rose; by any other name would smell as sweet...". Except when your name is ridiculous and the Argentine government wants to protect children from lifelong ridicule because of stupid parents.

That's right. There's a baby name registry here in Argentina, and if your chosen baby name is not on there - too bad. Little Guava Queso Inspección better be born somewhere else.

This list is published by province. To consult the list for BA to see if your name is too ridiculous for the porteños, click here.

Personally, I don't think this is such a bad thing. The government makes exceptions for names that are passed down through families, and you can appeal to the authorities if your name is rejected. But, the general rules are: it can't be ridiculous, it can't be sexually ambiguous, the same name as a living sibling, something too foreign, or have more than three first names. So, George Foreman would be totally screwed.

An interesting anecdote told to me by a friend: Frustrated parents who couldn't name their daughter an unapproved name finally got their way years later, when they named their vineyard that name instead. And the wine is pretty great, too. Well done.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sunset in the Uco Valley

Sunset over the Andes from our finca in the Valle de Uco
I don't know about you, but I've never seen skies like this.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Being followed like thieves.

So, shopping in Mendoza is kind of like being a teenager in a record store again. The second you go in, the staff follows you around, making sure you're not going to steal something and run out of the store on a moment's notice. Because, goddammit, you need those fake snakeskin leggings, and you're not going to pay for them!

At first it's kind of funny or amusing. And then you realize that they really think you might steal something. I don't understand how this is the case when they hear me or my friends speaking English and see that our style isn't exactly like the 1990's floral prints are our "thing". Or that maybe we don't want a cropped t-shirt with a random chick printed on it.  Or pants that I couldn't even fit my arm into.

We're dressed nicely and are barely even touching the clothes as we browse the racks.  But somehow, we're there to steal. Either that, or we're there for them to stare at and give dirty looks to, because we're the only people in the store, and how dare we interrupt them from loafing around doing nothing and they MAY have to work?

Needless to say, on principle I refused to buy anything at any shop where I was treated this way. I'm not a criminal. I'm actually a lawyer in my late twenties with fashion sense (as in I know that the 90's belong in the 90's, not 2011) and no criminal history. I'm not a Mendocino teen with a mullet and a drug habit. So thanks, I'll go buy a studded pleather vest someplace else.

Jerks.  Ah, the perks of living someplace where petty crime is all the rage.

Antares... mmm.

Ah, Antares.  It's a brew-pub here in Mendoza, Argentina (one of the only) that has happy hour from 7-9pm. Two-fers on microbrews? Yes, please. My favorites of theirs are Imperial Stout and the current seasonal beer  "Wee Heavy". The Cream Stout is pretty great, too. And they have a barley wine with over 10% alcohol. Not too shabby.  Other offerings are Scotch Ale, Kolsch, Honey Beer, and Porter.  My first move when I first went was to get the sampler, which features all of the staple beers plus the seasonal selection.

I went to check out an Irish band here last week, that played traditional Irish music. They were actually really good. But I think I may have enjoyed them the most out of the entire room. Although, I'm pretty sure they were a general hit. The place generally has live music going on, but I'm not quite sure of the schedule.

The music is good and there's a big screen in the back playing either random music videos to accompany the audio, or a big futbol game if there is one that day.

The other perk of this place is that the food is surprisingly good. The Papas Antares (big pile of fries covered in 4-cheese sauce (like an alfredo), pancetta and scallions, i.e. a heart attack) are good, the pizzetas are very decent - get the Especial, and I hear the cazuelas (stews) made with their in-house beers are pretty great.  I once ordered the kids meal of chicken nuggets & fries (because I'm 5 years old) and it was perfect.

Service is fast and pretty friendly, and I've never had a bad experience here. My only complaint is that I once went with some friends and the place was short on degustación (tasting sampler) glasses, and there was allegedly a waiting list for who could get the next sampler.

Kato Cafe, submarinos, shopping and fun

I met up with a friend yesterday at Kato Cafe on Civit and had a lovely afternoon of lounging around on their couches, drinking tea (Patagonia Bee by Inti Zen (Click here for more info)- which is a delicious vanilla, honey, and cacao blend), eating snacks and finishing with my first submarino.  A submarino is an Argentine hot chocolate; it's made with hot milk and a chocolate bar that slowly melts into the milk and makes this not-too-sweet-but-oh-so-delectable hot cocoa that is perfect for the current onset of winter here in Mendoza.  With reasonable prices and a great ambience, I think Kato will be a new favorite haunt of mine.

We then embarked on a journey to buy clothes/scarves/boots/coats in the boutiques that line Avenida Arístedes Villanueva (or, simply, Arístedes). Found a great little boutique with a French flair called Cosset, which is attached to another really cute cafe called Clementine. The shopgirl was sweet and attentive, and very helpful. I ended up buying a sweater-dress and my friend bought a few other things. From there, we continued down the street hitting other boutiques along the way. I'll do a post about this experience in a separate entry, for the sake of brevity here.

After working up a thirst buying things we didn't need, we ended up at Antares, which I'll post about in a separate post as well.

Last, but not least, I ended up going to see a friend's band play at the Liverpool Pub in centro. It was great, but there were some problems with logistics and other things, and I ended up going alone and nobody met up with me there. Woe is me. At least they played some Oasis and U2 covers, and I was pleased. 

All in all, a good day.

Taking a taxi in Mendoza

Since I am retarded and afraid of taking the bus here, I either walk, bum rides from friends or take taxis. Here is a brief summary of what I've experienced in taking taxis pretty regularly around Mendoza. The good, the bad, and the ugly... on 4 wheels.

Taxis here are cheap. The base fare is about 4 pesos (maybe $4.50) during the day and about 5 and change after midnight. Basically, most of my taxi rides around centro have been $10-15 pesos (or $2.50 to $3.75). 

On the whole, most of my taxi-cab experiences have been quite good here.  Some of the drivers are pretty young and hip, and try to speak English to me even if I'm speaking to them in Spanish, asking where I'm from, telling me they know someone in Texas, etc.  And nearly every single male driver I've had that drops me off at my apartment after dark waits for me to get in the door before they drive off. It's something I'm grateful for, and it's them going out of their way to make sure this gringa is safe on their watch.

The drivers are sometimes crusty men in their 40s who talk very little, drive a little too fast, and rebuff any attempts at friendly conversation. But they don't normally overcharge or try to screw me over because I'm a gringa.  Me gusta mucho.

The worst experiences I've had here are very few and far between. One was last week, when taking a cab back to my apartment, I got in and gave the driver my address. He nodded, and we were off. We got to my neighborhood, and he missed a turn. I was going to say something, when he pulled over a few blocks later next to another cab driver to ask where my address was. He never asked ME where it was, and took me five minutes out of the way. I told him I knew where I lived and could direct him. Then, finally, when we arrived at my apartment, he made me pay the full fare. Dickhead.

Then I had a woman driver last night. Now, I'm a girl. I am a girl who can drive. Usually, I don't find many women to be good drivers. Sorry, it's true. This woman was no exception. She was rude, abrupt, and drove erratically. She also didn't tell me she didn't know exactly where I lived until we turned down a street near my apartment (that was a wrong turn, since the streets are mostly one-ways and she turned too soon, and would have to loop around to get in front of my apartment) and I made her let me out on the corner. No sooner had I paid her and shut the door did she speed off in search of other customers to be a bitch to. She wasn't about to wait around to make sure I didn't get raped or anything walking by the abandoned, dark construction site. Gracias.

There are also taxis you can order, called a remise. They come in handy on Sundays when there are less people around and less taxis available to be hailed on the street.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Major life decisions.

So, I was only supposed to be here for 6 months - from February to August. Well, I have news.

I'm staying until April.  So that means 8+ more months of South America for me!

I can't say that I've been loving every minute here, and I have been really homesick. But I feel confident that I've made the right decision to stay (and work) until the end of the next high season. That means another summer, and my first Mendocino spring. And a lot more time to get out and SEE Argentina!

I also get to spend 2+ weeks in Texas in August, seeing my friends, taking care of things at home, and packing up my apartment to lease for 6 months. So, if you're in the market for a sweet downtown Austin condo in a new building with tons of perks, let me know :)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Automatic Weightloss

I finally stepped on a scale the other day for the first time since I got to Mendoza.
I know I've lost weight because a) everyone's telling me I look like I have and b) my clothes are a little big.

So I went to one of the farmacias near my office and stepped on the embarrassingly-large scale outside that weighs you for free.

I've lost 20-23 pounds.

I'm not really on a diet. I eat what I want, when I want. But working so much and for such long hours, sometimes when I get home at night, I don't feel like eating dinner and I just go to sleep. Or I'll eat less because I'm in a rush. Or skip breakfast because I forget to eat. 

Not having a car here, you pretty much have to walk everywhere or take cabs.  I still haven't figured out the über complex bus system yet, so I stick to walking.

I haven't worked out in at least 2 and a half months. And voilá! Lost 20 pounds.

Pretty sweet.

Autumn in Mendoza

Autumn seemed to suddenly set upon Mendoza overnight.  One day, the trees all had leaves, and the weather was decent (no coats needed), people were out at all hours of the night, sitting at sidewalk cafés and bars.  The next day, the leaves turned yellow and fell from the trees, the weather turned brisk and coats are a necessary item, and the Mendocinos have begun to hibernate.

The same change is noted in the vines at the vineyards. Within a 2 or 3-week period, they went from beautiful deep reds and purples, to shriveling up and losing all their leaves for winter.

The saving grace of the Mendocino winter is that the sun is still strong and warm, and there are still over 300 days of sunshine here a year.  Outdoor cafes have tables outside still (optimistic?), and many have big spaceheaters to accommodate diners who want to dine alfresco without getting too frio. 

Arístedes (the major nightlife street) is dead - about 1/4 of the people are out at any given night now, compared to a month ago. It's really quite strange.

It's good red wine drinking weather. :)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Walkie-talkie phones

Dear Argentina,

I just thought you should know that we were actually quite comfortable in 2002, and would like to be left there. We're really not cool anymore. And nobody else wants to hear your conversation. Thanks.

Nextel direct-connect phones.