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April 2003

Mar Del Plata for Easter,
the apartment gets painted, Presidential elections take place!

Friday April 4th, 2003 – Met with the architects and to pick the paint colors for the new apartment.  I thought this was going to be extremely difficult as I like bold and bright colors and Ron likes softer pastels and earth tones.  We had gone to a paint store and got lots of chips of paint we both liked.  The architects, Alberto and Ricardo, were excellent at refereeing between the two of us and suggesting colors, and finishes.  We actually made decisions for every room in the apartment in about an hour.  This was a huge accomplishment in my opinion.

Alberto and Ricardo - our architects

That night we went out with Felipe and Thomas for dinner, Felipe recommended a local Spanish restaurant that sounded wonderful.  Felipe always seems to think we want to eat in fancy restaurants, but I assured him I love to eat in any place that has good food, whether that’s a fancy place, or a local café with 2 tables shoved against the wall.  The place was large and quickly filled with people, you could tell by the plates going by that this was going to be good.  Ron ordered a rabbit dish and I ordered paella, I love paella and I figured a Spanish place should know how to make it.  The food was wonderful and we had a really nice time.

Saturday April 5th, 2003 – We went to check the progress at the apartment, as we did almost every night, and I noticed that there was only one valve in the laundry area for the washing machine.  “Hmmm, where is the hot water lead?” I thought.  I left an email message for the architects asking why there was only one water valve in place for the washing machine.

Something else I wanted was border crown molding in the living room.  The architects sent us to a few stores to look at the selections, but they were all made out of Styrofoam!  I thought this a little weird and wondered how durable it would be, the salesman told us it is glued into place then painted.  I said, “What if the carpenter presses it to hard and leaves in indentation?”, and the salesman replied, “Oh yes, you must be careful not to damage it while you’re installing it.”  “Why isn’t it wood?” I asked, “Because wood is expensive!” I was told.  Hmmpth!  We went to visit a shop in the Congresso area that I saw that had real wood trim, we saw some things we liked and got some information for the architects to call and ask about prices.

Monday April 7th, 2003 – We met with the architects to talk about why there was only one valve for the washing machine.  Poor Alberto (the architect, not my friend Alberto), he seems about to have a heart attack every time we ask something like, “Why is there only one water line, there should be two!”  Alberto said that the washing machine only needs a cold water line and it has a heater inside for making the hot water.  I had never heard of this and was very unsure if Alberto knew what he was talking about.  He assured me this was the “European” way and all washing machines heat their own water.  “OK”, I said, thinking he was bonkers, but then again, we haven’t bought a clothes washing machine in almost 20 years, maybe they’re made that way in the USA now?

Ron walked over to the Whirlpool dealer to ask about the water line in the clothes washer and they assured us that it heated it’s own water, “Why run two expensive water pipes to the laundry area when the machine needs very little hot water?” the salesmen said.  This actually made a whole lot of sense.

Wednesday April 9th, 2003 – Met with architects to go over the estimates on the marble and granite countertops.  The granite for the kitchen was only USA $745, this was for all the countertops in the kitchen and laundry area, the center island work area, and 18 inches of backsplash going up all the walls.  I couldn’t believe how reasonable it seemed.  We found a Brazilian granite that was just beautiful that we fell in love with, however, it was 3 times more expensive then Argentine granite.  After seeing that the difference would only be a few hundred dollars to get something spectacular over something that was just pretty, it seemed like a good idea to splurge.

Monday April 14th, 2003 - My college roommate Dean emailed me a picture of us in our college dorm room from 1980, I almost fell out of my chair laughing.  I’m the one on the far right!

Craig, Dave, Dean and Pete

Wednesday April 16th, 2003 – Visited the marble and granite store in a neighborhood outside the city limits.  I could kill myself for not taking the camera.  This place was the size of a football field and was filled with huge slabs of marble and granite in all colors of the rainbow.  I would be walking, stop, gasp, and say, “OH MY GOD!!!!!!!!!!”  It was like walking through an art museum, these huge slabs of marble and granite in beautiful patterns.  The architects explained that the more complex patterns don’t look good in small areas because you can’t get the affect of the whole design, however, if you had a large bathroom or entryway, it could look incredible.  I kept stopping, staring, feeling the texture, having my eyes dazzled by the natural beauty.  We got to the area where the Brazilian granite was for the kitchen.  As we walked by I saw a different variety of the Brazilian granite that was even more beautiful.  After comparing it the original one I picked at a different store, we decided to change to this other granite.

Then we headed off for the bathroom marble.  Ricardo suggested a more white marble for the bathroom countertops, but really white marble always reminds me of a mausoleum.  We found some beautiful white marble with veins of black running through it.  Next was the emerald green marble for “My” bathroom, we looked at several slabs and it was all beautiful, we picked one at random and they had a huge overhead crane come over, grab the piece from between the others, hoist it up and then put it on a display rack, WOW!  It was gorgeous!  The architects looked it over with some trepidation and showed where there was lots of different patterns in the slab that was about 5 feet high by 12 feet long.  They said we can request certain areas of the slab, the one with the most “interesting” pattern, they would then sell the rest for other uses.  I was thrilled and kick myself every time I think about not bringing my camera!

Thursday April 17th, 2003 – Easter weekend and our friends Felipe and Thomas invited us to go to the seaside coastal resort of Mar del Plata for the weekend.  Sounded wonderful to us.  Felipe called us the night before and said that traffic can be terrible going on a busy weekend so he asked if we would mind leaving early, “Of course not, how early?”, “6:00 am?” he said, “WHAT?!?!?!?!?  ARE YOU NUTS!?!!?!”  Since Felipe was driving, we thought it wise to agree to leave early.  The traffic was very light at that time, no big surprise there, and we arrived in Mar del Plata about 12:30 pm.

         A chilly fall day, rained the whole time we were there!                     The huge casino across from our hotel

Felipe had booked us into a spa for Friday and Saturday but he thought it would be nice to see if we could get in an extra day so we drove out to find the spa, it was about 15 kilometers south of the city.  We drove up to the gates and Felipe asked them if we could enter, the guard called in and came back to inform us the spa was full and we wouldn’t be able to go in.  Felipe then asked if we could just check out the grounds and maybe have lunch in their restaurant and the guard let us through.  One thing I’ve learned about this culture, there may be rules, but all you have to do is ask politely and they are usually bended or ignored.

The spa was quite large with different buildings and spread out over quite a large area, we peeked into the mineral bath area, but it was locked off for non-paying guests.  We walked out to the ocean and there was a restaurant perched right on the beach, it was a wonderful fall day, sunny and not too breezy so we had lunch outside.

We returned to the city after lunch and had a little nap and then walked around a bit before dinner.  It’s fall now so it was a little breezy and cold.  Felipe picked up a brochure on a concert that weekend that was only going to be held for one night only with Mercedes Sosa, Mercedes Sosa is kind of the Joan Baez of Argentina.  She’s a singer who has been around since the 60s singing about political rights, the oppressive government and the plight of the people.  The first time I remember hearing a CD of her music was on our trip to Villa Gessell, I have to come to like her music and was thrilled that we might be able to see her live.

Friday April 18th, 2003 – Had a light breakfast at the hotel and then headed for the spa.  The woman who checked us in told us our 80 pesos for day use at the spa included a ˝ hour massage and of course if we wanted any extra treatments they had a full array of things to make you thinner, younger and rejuvenated.  All of this sounded wonderful.  She showed us the indoor heated pool with water aerobics twice a day, the hot mineral baths, steam room, dry sauna and small gymnasium.  She explained the rest of the grounds had tennis courts, paths, trails and cabanas on the beach for sunbathing, although this time of year it was a little chilly to be sun bathing.  We happily changed into our swim suits and got some nice fluffy robes to wear around the complex.  The ˝ hour massage was nice, but a ˝ hour just doesn’t cut it, I said to myself I would upgrade to an hour massage for the following day.  We enjoyed lounging around the mineral baths, reading magazines, drinking hot tea and maté (Argentine herbal tea).  It was a wonderful day.

Mar Del Plata and Spa Pics

After returning to the hotel we wanted to walk around a bit and I saw some vendor on the street selling batteries, I’ve been going through batteries like crazy and asked him how much they were.  He said they were 2 pesos for 2 AAA batteries, in the store they are 6 pesos for one, so this was really cheap.  I looked at the batteries to check the expiration date and it said “December 2005”.  Great!  I bought 4 batteries and we walked away as I showed them to Thomas, he said, “Oh look, they’re not DURACELLs, they’re DURABLEs.  I looked at them and laughed, not noticing the obvious rip-off of the design, trying to make them look just like DURACELL.  Felipe assured me I would probably only get 15 minutes of use from them instead of 6 hours (turned out later I got almost 30 minutes of use!)

This is how they came packaged

                           Some regular DuraCells                                   The obvious copy of the DuraCell design to fool you

We went to dinner a little early as this was the night of the concert, we stopped in a restaurant recommended by the hotel for a nice parrilla dinner of meat, sausages and grilled sweet breads!  Yummy!

We got to the stadium through the pouring rain and found our seats inside.  This was my first concert in Argentina.  The show started with the 3 singers, Mercedes Sosa, Heredia and Gieco on stage.  They sang a few songs together as the crowd swayed and sang along, you could tell these were old standards that no one gets tired of hearing.  Next Mercedes had a solo set of a few songs, then Heredia followed by an intermission.  After the intermission Gieco came out and did a solo set, then they all rejoined on stage to sing a few last songs.  It was great to hear the audience singing around us, seeing the look on people’s faces and to hear them shout gratitude and affections between songs, it was a great show.

Saturday April 19th, 2003 – We had another relaxing day at the spa, this time with a full hour’s massage.  Ron got his first facial of his life and I oooowed and ahhhhed that it took 10 years off of him!

                                Ron's first facial                                                Who is that young guy??

That night we visited a restaurant that everyone said had the best Sorentinos in the city.  Sorentinos are a kind of raviolis made with ham, cheese, and spices, they are usually big and round, maybe 2 inches across.  Ron got the Sorentinos but I spied fresh angel hair pasta with pesto and had to get that.  Thomas tried lasagna and Felipe tried the vermicelli pasta.  After trading bites we all agreed that everything was wonderful, but that the house specialty is Sorentinos and Ron had picked the best dish. 

Sunday April 20th, 2003 – We left after breakfast to try and beat the holiday traffic home.  We had to go visit the apartment to see the progress.  The original completion date was supposed to be the upcoming Friday, April 25th.  I kept asking the architects if we were on schedule and they would always say, “Yes, yes, everything is set to be completed on April 25th.  Well, it was obvious there was no way they could finish in 5 days, we were just glad we were still living in our other apartment and not having to live in the dust and rubble that was still everywhere.

Tuesday April 22nd, 2003 – We went over to the apartment to answer some questions the architects had on some of the paint colors.  I was astounded to see the painters mixing the paint colors by hand, they would paint a swatch and the architects would look at it and say, “No, it’s too bright, add some black to tone it down”, then they’d say, “It needs some green to cool it down so that it’s not so ‘hot’ of a color”.  Each time the painter would take some coloring, mix it in the paint, test it, adjust it, I couldn’t believe it.  They were real artisans, but the other thing I realized is that we’d never be able to match the paint in the future if we needed to touch up an area.  I asked Ron about this and we agreed that we should get some extra paint cans so that painter could make extra paint for us for future touchups.

Painting Pics

There was a guy who was plastering the ceiling in the hallway.  He had a kind of small inverted V shaped ladder with leather straps holding it together.  He was straddling it, and then he would pull his legs together and step over, kind of like walking stilts, this way he could walk around the room without having to get down.  Very clever, another low tech solution that looked fantastically simple.

I wanted the guest reception toilet to be something really fun and wild, since the room is pretty small I picked a kind of dark, burnt rust red color for the walls thinking that since it’s a small space you could go really crazy with something different.  The painter had applied one coat and I just said, “Whoooaaaa, hold on, I don’t know what happened, but I didn’t pick THAT color!”  The architects seemed visually relieved that I didn’t like it, it was some kind of horrendous orange color.  I tried to explain what I wanted again and the architects went over to talk with the painters.

Thursday April 24th, 2003 – The architects asked us over to approve the final paint colors.  They had changed the color of the guest reception toilet and although it was a lot better then before, it was still not what I envisioned.  I talked the architects into adjusting the color once more.

The original windows in the apartment were this old, pot metal, very heavy, very ugly, and difficult to open and close.  The architects said that they could refurbish the windows to save money but I had my doubts so I asked them to just do one window so that I could see what the results would be.  The repaired windows were still not very attractive so we decided to replace them all with new aluminum windows.  The installer had all the balcony door windows out of the living room and it was pretty amazing to see the apartment opened up to the space beyond, I constantly say “WOW” every time I see our view.

Living Room opened to the space beyond

Sunday April 27th , 2003 – The presidential elections for Argentina were today, elections are always held on Sundays and it’s mandatory that you vote.  Actually, I think it’s a good idea that voting is mandatory, I think the USA should be that way.  Former Pres Carlos Saúl Menem obtained 24% of the vote and ran neck and neck with fellow Peronist Néstor Kirchner.  This surprised a lot of my friends who despise Menem who was president for 2 terms in the 90s and is blamed by many for selling out his country, privatizing many government businesses and following the advice of the I.M.F. regarding opening up importing of trade barriers and pegged the pesos 1 to 1 with the USA dollar.  This gave their currency stability and encouraged foreign investment but now the critics are saying it was a dream that could never have succeeded (hindsight is always 20/20).  Argentina law says that if you don’t have at least 50% of the popular vote, or if you don’t earn at least 25% more of the votes then the next runner up, then there has to be a run off election in another 3 weeks on May 18th.  Friends who thought Menem didn’t have a chance are now reeling in fear that Menem could be elected again but polls are saying that Kirchner will win.

Saá was another presidential candidate and was actually the first of the 4 interim presidents during the time when Fernando de la Rua resigned in December 2001 after history’s largest default with the I.M.F.  This handout I got on the street is saying that he is against the war in Iraq.