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December 2004

Summer in Tigre!

Sunday December 5th, 2004 – Friends of ours, Claudio and Placido, bought a vacation home in a city called Tigre just 45 minutes north of Buenos Aires.  Tigre is surrounded by water ways, deltas and channels from the Rio de la Plata river.  A lot of the homes are on little islands where the only way to reach them is by water taxi. They invited us up for the day to enjoy some sun, kayaking and lunch.  We got up early and walked to the Retiro train station to catch the 55 minute train to Tigre, we were a little later leaving then expected because we had to wait 20 minutes for the next train, we must have just missed one.

We arrived in Tigre and had to find the water taxi station to get a boat to their home.  You have to find the right taxi company line that goes to the channel or river that you need to go to, you then tell them the dock you need to get off on as they are all named, to determine how much you have to pay.  As instructed by Claudio, we asked for the dock “Gambado”.  The person selling the tickets asked “Roundtrip?”, like yeah, we’re going to an island and never coming back, OF COURSE ROUNDTRIP!  It was only 9 am but the water taxi station was bustling with people and we quickly followed the throngs to the dock.  Since this is the only way to get to the islands, people bring picnic coolers, 5 gallon water jugs, groceries, luggage, patio furniture, bikes, even their dogs, which get tied up on the roof of the boat, yes, even the dogs!  There were 2 long narrow water taxi boats tied up next to each other and I kept asking “Gambado?  Gambado?” and they would point us along the way. 



We sat down and the boat took off in about 10 minutes.  The guy came around to take our tickets and ask us where to get off, “Gambado por favor!”  I kept hoping we would not miss our dock.


As Claudio instructed, it was only about 15 minutes before we stopped, they don’t stop for very long, just long enough for you to jump off and then the boat races off.  We followed their instructions to take a path that follows the river, there were many homes on the little island that share the “Gambado” dock.

We found their home called “Isla Negra”; along with the docks all the homes are named.  Claudio and Placido greeted us and introduced us to Mario and Dante. 


They had bought the house the year before and Placido loves plants, so they’ve been lovingly trimming and pruning and improving the grounds.  Ron asked, “Who takes care of the plants during the week?” and Claudio responded, “God does!”


After taking a hike around the island some more friends arrived and Placido started the parrilla barbeque to grill some delicious chicken.



To get home you have wait at the dock and flag the taxi boats down, the first 3 that went by at 8 pm were all full so they didn’t bother stopping, however, the fourth had a few seats and we were able to jump on board for the return to the station.  A great day!

Saturday December 11th, 2004 – A friend of ours, Christian, had his birthday today.  He held it in a restaurant in Palermo called “El Rescate de Dorya”. 


We took a bus over to Palermo, funny how buses are always there and get you to your destination in record time, but ONLY when you leave early and have plenty of time to get there.  We arrived promptly at 11 pm, yes PM, when the party was scheduled to begin.  Of course no one was there, so we got a beer at the little bar, as soon as I asked for 2 cervezas the young bartender perked up and asked us where we were from.  The guest of honor showed up at 11:45 pm and we headed upstairs to an open air patio.  We ordered some waters and the other guests started arriving.  Soon there were about 12 of us.  I bought Christian a nice shirt and a music CD.  Music is so personal, and a very difficult thing to get someone.  Christian and I were chatting earlier online and he sent me some music that I really liked, he’s younger then I am so I was surprised when he sent some files by Ginamaria Hidalgo, an Argentina opera singer in the 80s who also sang folklore songs.  She has quite a strange ethereal sound which I really like. 


Earlier that day, when I was looking for a CD for Christian, going up and down the isles, wondering……. I finally settled on a “Best of” Elvis Costello CD, I always figure buy something you would like to receive yourself.

I started talking to one of Christian’s friends, we had a great discussion on Argentina and the world.  We were talking about the differences in cultures and economics.  I was giving him my take on Latin lifestyle, of putting family, friends, and loved ones before everything else.  He just motioned with his arm at the people sitting around the table, we were there for Christian, to wish him a happy birthday.  Only 3 people brought gifts, it wasn’t about gifts, or having the perfect decorations, or the best food, it’s about getting together as friends, sharing time together, talking, enjoying a warm summer evening together.  That is what I like about Argentina!

We left at 2 am just as more friends were arriving.  We walked Christian’s sister to the main street so she could catch a bus.  We were going to catch a bus but I thought, this is crazy, a taxi ride home will cost about 6 pesos ($2 USA), let’s grab a taxi.  I hailed down the first taxi I saw.  I looked in and checked out the cab, looked clean, though a little run down, young guy behind the wheel, but he had a rosary hanging from the rear view mirror, a good sign, should be safe.  “Hola, buenos noches, Las Heras y Montevideo por favor!”

Little did we know we just got into Mario Andretti’s great nephew’s taxi.  I think we obtained air several times on Av Santa Fe as all 4 wheels left the ground as he hurled us to our home in record time.  It’s times like this I wished Argentines used seat belts.


Sunday December 12th , 2004 – We slept in a little after getting home at 2:30am.  I was on the computer when Christian came online at 1 pm, he said he had just arrived home.  Crazy Argentines!  He said after we left more friends showed up, then they went dancing.  I don’t know when these people sleep.

Friday December 17th, 2004 – We have somehow always missed our friend’s Ignacio’s birthday so this year I said, “Ignacio, we want to give you a birthday party.”  As we started inviting friends, we discovered 4 others that were having birthdays in December, so it turned into quite a dinner.  For the previous week I saw Ron intently working on something on his computer every morning, I hate when someone looks over my shoulder and looks at my screen, so I didn’t pay too much attention to him, but I did keep seeing the same “On This Day” logo.  Turns out there is a section on the NY Times website where you can see what happened on any given day, historic events, celebrity birthdays, etc., and Ron was making a commemorative document for each of the birthdays.  Ignacio’s birthday is 10-Dec-1958, Plácido’s 12-Dec-1965, Nacho’s (Ignacio #2) 13-Dec-1977, Claudio’s 14-Dec-1962 and Russell’s 16-Dec-1964.  After dinner Ron presented them all with their “On This Day” document.  I think they really liked appreciated the effort Ron went to. 




                                                                                                                     Gonzalo and Russell


                           Alberto, Plácido and Claudio                                                   Pete and Alberto


                        Plácido, Ignacio, Claudio                                                Nacho (Ignacio #2) and Carlos

As guest were leaving, Ron handed each of the birthday boys a little package of chocolate truffles from a favorite chocolate store near our home called “El Viejo Oso” (The old bear) to take home with them.


Tuesday December 21st , 2004 – Over the course of the last 6 months Ron has lost over 15 kilos (33 lbs).  He did it the proper way, slowly, with a sane and safe diet from the dietician at the hospital we go to.  About two weeks ago Ron had talked about getting a belly piercing to commemorate losing the weight.  When he said this I could NOT believe he was actually serious about doing it.  Ron has a tattoo that he got in the Navy when he was 19, and a pierced left ear with a small ruby stud, but I never thought he would ever consider something like a belly ring.  I hadn’t really thought about it when Ron came home from the gym early and said, “Look at this!” as he lifted his shirt, I almost fell out of my chair!


Friday December 24th, 2004 – Russell asked if we wanted to go to a restaurant for Christmas eve dinner.  With having a Thanksgiving dinner for 15 friends last month and then our 5 friend birthday dinner that included 11 people on the 17th, going out to dinner with no dishes to cleanup afterwards sounded like an excellent idea to me.  Russell asked if we had any suggestions as most restaurants were already booked up for Christmas eve.  He also noticed that many of the places he called were closed for the holidays.  Russell thought this very strange to be closed at such a busy time of the year, I think it’s showing a rebound in the economy, if they can afford to close their restaurant at busy times, they must be doing pretty well financially.

Russell brought a friend over to our house for drinks before dinner.  This is George’s first time in Buenos Aires and we had a nice time explaining how we ended up here.  George has 3 years before his retirement and he was very interested to hear about our experiences here, living here, how it feels to live so far from family and friends, etc.

Russell            George             Ron               Pete

We went to “788 Foodbar” which is on Arenales 1877, only about 5 blocks from our home.  It’s a very nice restaurant and I just love the fact that we can walk there and not have to jump in a taxi. 

Gonzalo showed up a little later for dinner, he had visited his sister and the train he took to get there was delayed on the way because some poor person decided to throw themselves under the train and kill themselves.  A little bit of somber reflection that someone would do that on Christmas eve.

The restaurant had a prix fix menu for 65 pesos which included a delicious warmed spinach salad with roasted peppers, an entrée of either bife de lomo (steak) or chicken breast, a super yummy brownie cake dessert, coffee, wine and champagne.  A GREAT MEAL!!!!!!!!

As we said our goodbyes, “Feliz Navidad!” and “Buen Año Nuevo” outside the restaurant on the sidewalk, Russell said to Ron, “Did you show Gonzalo your ring?”  Ron proudly unbuttoned his shirt and showed Gonzalo his belly ring, Gonzalo’s hands shot to his mouth and had the same gasped expression of disbelief that I had when he saw it.  He then started bowing down and said, “You are my idol!” for having done something so crazy.

Saturday December 25th, 2004 – We slept in a little after our late night at the restaurant, the day was cold and drizzly, VERY unusual for this time of year, usually by the 15th of December it gets hot and humid and STAYS hot and humid until the end of February.  Maybe we’ll luck out with nice weather until our trip on January 15th to Egypt, Turkey and France. 

I bought Ron a few music CDs and slipped them into a XMas stocking and put it on his computer chair while he was in making me coffee.  He came back and said, “What’s this??”, and I said, “I don’t know, Santa must have brought you something!”  He then said, “I think I also saw Santa leave you something under the tree!”  I found a wrapped package with a shirt and some shorts in it, some new beach ware for when we go to Mexico in February.

Everything was closed for Christmas so we had a nice quiet dinner at home, I told Ron about a friend of ours that bought a quarter hectare in a planned city called Pilar just about a 45 minute drive from where we are. 

We started talking about the differences in feet / acres and meters / hectares.  So…. I pulled out our Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary printed in 1979.  Hmmmm, an acre is 160 square rods….  What the hell is a rod?  It also says to see the “Weight Table”.  I went to look under hectare and it just said to look at the “Metric System” table.  Ok!  Off to the “Weight Table”, a rod is 5.5 yards, 16.5 feet or 5.029 meters.  That still doesn’t tell me how big an acre is on each side.  Hmmmm, under acre it says its 4840 square yards, 43,560 square feet, 0.405 hectares or 4047 square meters.  Well, at least there are some similar measurements, we might be able to figure this out.  Taking the square root of 43,560 gives 208.71032557111303591192697393256.  That sounds about what I remember from my land surveying class in college, but I don’t like the fact it doesn’t come out even.  Shouldn’t an acre be so many feet, by so many feet?  It should be exact you’d think.

Off to the “Metric Table”, a hectare is 2.47 acres, hmmm, I hate calculating area, DAMN the USA and Britain, why don’t they just go metric like the rest of the world??

Ron just loves numbers so he breaks out a sheet of paper and starts trying to calculate things.  Remember this is our after dinner discussion so we have just finished a bottle of wine, Ron is writing and writing and erasing and writing, finally I say, “I’m going to call dad”.  My father was a land surveyor engineer for 45 years with Detroit Edison.

Rinnnnnnng, rinnnnnnng, “Hello?” “Hi dad, it’s Pete”, “Oh hello son!”, “Dad, how big is an acre on each side?”, “202 x 202 feet” he says, in 1 - 1,000,000 of a second.  “I tried to look it up in the dictionary but it said something about rods”, “A rod is 16.5 feet”, “That’s what the dictionary said, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how big an acre is on each side, thanks dad”, “Sure son”, “Oh yeah, by the way, Merry Chirstmas dad”, “You too son”, “I love you dad”, “Yeah…..” click……………………..<dial tone>

I march back in and Ron is still huddled over the table madly writing on the paper.  “I asked dad and he said an acre is 202 x 202 square feet.”  “Hmmmmmpth!” is about all Ron could say.  Here’s his scribbles.


Monday December 27th, 2004 – Ron wanted to go try and retrieve our D.N.I (Documento Nacional Identification) cards, the final step in getting our residency.  I wanted to wait until after the new year, thinking no work is getting done between Xmas and new years but Ron is anxious and feels they’ll throw the cards away if we wait too long.  Ron gets up at 7 am and I grunt and say, “Take my form with you, see if you can pick mine up too.”

Ron gets back by 10:30 and says he was number 148 and got out of there in no time.  Ron finally got his D.N.I.


Tuesday December 28th, 2004 – Ron wakes me up early and says, “Go get your D.N.I.”  I grumble, “Friday”, “Come on, it won’t take long, this is important”, he says.  I am not good in the morning, especially until I’ve had some coffee.  However, I don’t want to drink coffee because there is no bathrooms that I could see at the “Ministerio del Interior, Registro Nacional de las Personas”.  I get down there by 7:30 am, they don’t open till 8 am, and the line is already a full block long.  I get to the end of the line and start reading my book.  It’s always kind of interesting to see the people waiting in line, lots of indigenous looking, darker skinned south Americans, short, black straight hair, many with babies in their arms.  I’m the only white guy there.  The line starts moving at 8 am and I finally get up to the counter.  I get number 17, I guess this stands for 217.  I get into the large waiting room and find a seat, the counter is far off with about 5 clerks at it, I listen intently to see where they are in the numbers.  One clerk mumbles something barely audible, then another clerk says something barely audible, then one clerk finally announces quite loudly and clearly “152”.  Ok, I have some time.

I finally have my number called and get up to the counter and the girl takes my number, at least they check the numbers I thought.  There system is to spike the paper tab on a nail, so the next person to call a number just looks at the spiked numbers and calls out the next one.  Low tech, but seems to work, except if you can’t hear them and see where they are in the number series.

The girl asks me to verify the information on the booklet, they had made a mistake on Ron’s and listed him as a woman, jajajajjaja, and had to obviously correct it before giving it to him.  The girl noticed the address and said (in Spanish), “This is the same address as the man the other day……..Ronald was it?”  I told her she had a good memory and she said, “Well I remember because his book was incorrect!”

I got home at 12:30 pm.  Ron lucks out again.

The residency and D.N.I. are only good for a year, then we have to renew, I am NOT looking forward to next August when we have to renew them, it has to be easier then this, but somehow I doubt it.

Friday December 31st, 2004 – New year’s eve.  I’ve been battling some kind of stomach flu and have been feeling lousy for the last 10 days.  However, we had arranged a small get together to ring in the new year.  I cleaned the house and then fell asleep for 3 hours while Ron went out to get some flowers for the table, a beautiful centerpiece for 20 pesos, about $6.80 USA.


He also bought some sandwiches, empanadas, a cake, some ice cream and plenty of champagne.

Carlos, Adrian, Ricardo, Ariel, Ignacio, Ron and I had a nice evening together.  Argentines love fireworks and Carlos asked if he could bring his British Terrier over as the poor dog goes crazy with loud noises.  Ron forgot to mention this to me so when Carlos set his dog down I hadn’t had a chance to round up the cats and put them in the bedroom.  I haven’t seen Loretta puffed up like that in a LONG time!  Jjajajjaa!

Once the fireworks started I went to check on the cats and they were both hiding, buried deep in the closet somewhere, I just cooed some reassurances and shut the closet door.  Carlos’ poor dog was in the bathroom scratching at the walls trying to find a hiding spot.

Unfortunately, there was a terrible fire the previous night where 175 young people were killed in a fire during a concert performance, the owner of the club having locked 4 of the 6 exits as a way of preventing kids from entering the club without paying.  President Néstor Kirchner said that all clubs should close for 3 days of mourning as a way of honoring those that perished in the terrible accident. 

As we watched the fireworks from our balcony, toasting our good fortune and friendships, it was with a bitter edge that some young people are now not around to see such a wonder.