Category Archives: Visiting Mendoza

Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos “The space for memory and human rights”. Part 1.

Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos

“The space for memory and human rights”

Ex ESMA (Naval School of Mechanics)The space of Memory, Truth and Justice

My visit to the “museum” began as I entered the building. Faces of the victims fill the windows and glass walls that welcome you to the Officials House, a former site of both the Argentine Naval School of Mechanics and, beginning in 1977, one of the more than 600 clandestine detention centers the military dictatorship created as concentration, torture and extermination centers during Argentina’s brutal military dictatorship from 1976-1983.

Fifteen buildings occupy the 42-acre property renamed the Space for Memory and Human Rights, known as ex ESMA. ESMA was the Spanish abbreviation for the former base of operations and living space for the officials who worked in this detention center, one of more than 600 detention centers located throughout Argentina. No wonder our bus driver corrected me when I indicated we wanted to exit the bus at ESMA. “EX ESMA?” he asked. “Si.” The space it formerly occupied no longer exists. It is undoubtedly EX ESMA now. I stand corrected.

So far I have visited four of the fifteen buildings so far: the “Casino de Oficiales”; the Casa por la Identidad; 30,000 Compañeros Presentes, and the Harold Conti Cultural Center. IMG_2882

Throughout the site appear various photographic, story panels that show some of those who were disappeared, telling the story of their short lives. Each records the dates of their entries into and disappearances from the ESMA detention center.


Hand-painted portraits of political activists from those years through today appear on the exterior walls of some buildings, like this one of Milagro Sala, a political organizer in NW Argentina who was imprisoned in January 2016 for her beliefs and work on behalf of the people who live in the Tupac Amaru community.IMG_2922

Other buildings on the 42-acre property are vacant, some are being used for educational, artistic, research, film, music, theatre photography, workshops, guided visits for schools, seminars and debates, programs for young children and many educational and cultural events—a place where the power of art is transformative! In the following posts, I write about visiting three other buildings/exhibits on the property: the Harold Conti Cultural Center; 30,000 Compañeros Presente; and the Casa de la Identidad.

Espacio Memoria

In the actual detention and torture center, the former Casino de Oficiales, I toured the building with a Spanish-speaking guide. I wandered alone throughout the rest of the buildings and around the property itself. Except for 2 or 3 text explanations in English all of the text panels and printed materials are exclusively available in Spanish. And while it is true that a photograph is worth a thousand words, the words of those who survived this horrible place with its horrible activities, it is especially poignant to read from their memories. It is possible to arrange for a tour of this space and the property in general—in English, but I didn’t do so. With English speakers, however, I recommend an English-speaking guide so you don’t miss the moving testimonies of the survivors.

Much of what is known and spoke about in this space is based on survivors’ testimonies and various historical documents. Large video screens display interview excerpts with many survivors. The building, now empty, except for the display panels and multiple video screens it is stark and quiet. But not always. Not then. Then the torturers blared rock music throughout the detention center, though it rarely muffled the sounds emanating from the rooms where the detainees were kept. As if loud hard rock music could block out the screams from the men and women being questioned and tortured, while the capucho or hood blocked their faces from their captors and from each other.


The building tour took us to the military and prisoners’ housing spaces, bathroom, torture centers, and birthing center. Yes, this was where pregnant prisoners “dieron luz”, that is, where the women gave birth to their babies, and then lost their own lives as well as their newborns’. This space and its macabre reality struck me as very very powerful, and left me more than ready for the beautiful testimonies to the families of the disappeared children I saw on display in the Casa de la Identidad.


How was it possible that children were born in this place?


The Capucha

The principal space where the prisoners were kept was known as the “Capucha” (literally, the hood). Each small cubicle had a bed on the floor. Those detained had their hands and feet tied and each wore a hood or silk mask that covered their faces/eyes. Prisoners here weren’t known by their names, but by their numbers.

Some prisoners remained here for hours, days, or months, while others were kept here for years. Every Wednesday the guards would call a group of prisoners by their numbers. They were made to form a line and descend two flights of stairs down to the basement where they would be “transferred.”

Entryway to ESMA memorial site

Looking out from the former detention center

The basement

The basement was used for torturing and eliminating victims It was the first place where those abducted were taken to and gathered to be killed. Torture was the main activity of the center. Prisoners were taken their after arriveal, where they were interrogated. Officers wanted information from them aboth other political activisits. Also located here was the Infirmary where prisoners were kept alive after their torture and where the military gave prisoners sedatives for their “traslado” once it was determined that they would die. Here, wrote Alberto Girondo, “Torture happened practically every day and when I was in the infirmary I could hear perfectly well the screams of those being tortured, in spite of the music played to ‘cover up’ their screams and the voices of the torturers who also screamed very loudly to demand information from the prisoners.

IMG_2774  Los Traslados

The euphemism for death. “Traslado” (transfers) was what the military called the disappearance of those imprisoned here. Their prinicipal method of exterminating prisoners here consisted in rounding them up alive, drugging, stripping and dropping them from airplanes into the sea or the Rio de la Plata. This method was later known as the “death squad.”

Pieza de las Embarazadas

The registries show that more than 30 pregnant women were sent to ESMA, even though it is believed that the number is actually larger. A number of the children born here would be returned to their families (after 1983) thanks to the work of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. These women did and continue to work tirelessly on behalf of the children of those disappeared.

After the mothers were separated from their newborn children, their jailers would make them write a letter with the child’s details. They assured the mothers that they would get these letters to the families where their children would be sent. But it wasn’t so. A few days after giving birth most of the women were assassinated and their babies given away. There is only one exception to this. The son of Elizabeth Patricia Marcuzzo, who she named Sebastian, born on APRIL 15, 1978, is the ONLY child who was ever reunited with his biological family, in part because his mother Elizabeth’s letter actually did reach Sebastian’s new family.

A small photo appears in an exhibit focusing on the perpetrators of the crimes against the people. It shows the official Héctor Febrés, in charge of the clandestine efforts that took place here, where more than 30 children were given away. Febrés, the only one implicated during the first trial of those responsible died in his cell after taking cyanide pills only a few hours after being sentenced, in December of 2007.IMG_2915

Los Baños

It was in the bathrooms that those abducted by the Navy Intelligence Service were able to communicate with one another. If not actually speak, at least they could look at one another in the mirrors of those bathrooms. IMG_2767As a result, survivors identified many of the disappeared and their testimonies were part of the main evidence provided in the court trials afterwards.


The last stop on our tour was a long, rectangular room with floor to ceiling windows separated by cement columns. It was completely empty, except for the 16 slide projectors overhead that projected onto all the walls photographs and histories of the military officials responsible for the disappeared at ESMA during these painful years. How moved I was to reach the end of this horrific slide show, to read the word Condenados and see the sentences meted out by Argentine courts to the torturers. Then. And now.

 Continue on to read Part Two: Espacio de Memoria y Derechos Humanos, Casa de la Identidad.












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Filed under bilingual American guide, Buenos Aires, Dirty War, Golpe Militar, Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Los desaparecidos, Parque de la Memoria, Plaza de Mayo, The disappeared, Visiting Mendoza

La Casa de la Identidad at EX ESMA



Identity. Family. Freedom. This child’s drawing welcomes visitors to the Casa de la Identidad, the space devoted to the amazing work the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of the Disappeared) have been doing throughout the past 40 years since the “Golpe Militar” to return babies disappeared during the dirty war years 1976-83 to their families of origin. At its start in 1977 the (then) Mothers took to the Plaza de Mayo where they marched in silence in front of the government house the Casa Rosada (Pink House).  IMG_2738



Even today, forty years later, a core group of the Abuelas still march around the Plaza every Thursday afternoon at 3:30pm. They vow to continue their search until every one of these children are returned to their original identities, their original families. To date 119 children have recovered their true identities.

Room after room is dedicated to this important work the grandmothers have done. Some rooms display photos of families whose infants were stolen from their mothers shortly after birth and given away to the military and its friends.


To recuperate identity is to realize that before you were not free.



Their birth mothers remain disappeared, likely victims of the “vuelos de la muerto” (death flights) where they were drugged, made to undress, and thrown from airplanes into the Rio de la Plata or the sea.

Other rooms highlight the various cultural work that goes on to help these children to uncover their true identities. Groups like the Identity Theatre present their work and contribute to the grandmothers’ searching. Popular musical artists give benefits to thank the Grandmothers for their hard work, and professional sports teams and individual athletes have spoken on their behalf. Their focus: find the children!

In the final room of the Casa de la Identidad I discovered a large, 12-panel comic strip directed at young children who may visit this place.  The first panel has a small boy asking “Who are the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo?” and the answer appears alongside it.  IMG_2917

In the final drawing in the series the same child asks “Have they found them all?” Again, the answer appears alongside: The Grandmothers have found more than 100 children (a sign at the entryway indicates 119 children have recovered their identities, thanks to the Grandmothers’ efforts.) But the search for all of the children continues on. IMG_2918

Two graphic posters in particular struck me as very powerful and engaging. In one the viewer is asked:  “Do you know who you are?”  In the other, those who suspect they might be a child of one of those disappeared is advised to contact the Grandmothers for help.  Answering this question is easier now, thanks to the work of the Grandmothers and the Casa de la Identidad.IMG_2900


“If you have doubts about your identity or you think you are the child of one of the disappeared, call us”.


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Turning 25 in Buenos Aires

thumb_FullSizeRender_1024.jpgNoooo, not me. My blog. I’ve reached a milestone 25 posts on since I started it five years ago. This post, #26, is really an index of the titles of each of my previous posts. I’ve written them to share my experiences, impressions and photos. Now in 2016 with almost 4,000 reader views I’m still finding new things I want to share. So far I’ve written about — well, go ahead, click, read, enjoy–and come visit to seebuenosaires for yourself!

Holy, holy, holy

On politics in Argentina: Without freedom of speech there is no democracy

Parque de la Memoria

Come along and walk with me if you like what you see: Morning walks in Buenos Aires

Viva Jujuy!

argentina image

La Vida Salteña

In red and white: walking against injustice

Your special Buenos Aires tour: the same and not the same

Carnaval 2014, Montevideo, Uruguay

Visit Buenos Aires in 2014

Buenos Aires and Iguazú Falls

Buenos Aires Street Art Graffitti

From Ice to Fire: Visiting Tierra del Fuego

Visiting Argentina’s glaciers

January, 2013 from my southern home

Museum Afternoons

Visiting Mendoza: Argentina’s wine country

People to meet, places to go, food to eat
Welcoming 2012 in Buenos Aires


Cycling in Buenos Aires

Bienvenido a mi querida Buenos Aires

On language, culture and friendship

Tango Energy

See Buenos Aires with me








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Filed under bilingual American guide, Buenos Aires, MALBA, Montevideo, Mothers of the Disappeared, Museums in Buenos Aires, Parque de la Memoria, Plaza de Mayo, Politics, public art murals, Recoleta Cemetery, Religious buildings, Street Art, The disappeared, Travel in Argentina, Ushuaia, Visiting Jujuy, Visiting Mendoza, Visiting Salta the Beautiful, Visiting Uruguay

Holy, holy, holy

Thanks to friends who asked me what I knew about Jews in Buenos Aires, in 2015 I began to learn more about the various cultural groups and religious faiths  here. First up: religions and religious institutions.

l had heard that Argentina was pretty much a Catholic country, although I’d never participated in  religious ceremonies of any kind when I’ve travelled within Buenos Aires and Argentina. While 70% of Argentinans identify as Catholics, down from 90% previously, there is indeed religious diversity in Buenos Aires. Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Mormons, as well as various Protestant and Christian groups each have their own places of worship, and in some cases, of burial too. Let me take you on a tour of the major religions and their institutions.


Altars, Metropolitan Cathedral


Side altar, Cathedral

The Metropolitan Cathedral, the most important Catholic Church in the area, is filled with marvelous tilework (not unlike the spectacular Teatro Colon’s), among its many altars and statues. The Cathedral was once the home parish of Pope Francis Bergoglio, then Archbishop of Buenos Aires who lived next door to the cathedral in a simple apartment so he could minister easily to his flock. The cathedral is set across from the Plaza de Mayo.


Overlooking Recoleta Cemetery

Not exclusively a Catholic cemetery but filled with many catholics, the Recoleta Cemetery where many of BA’s nobility and military elite are buried, dates from the early 18th century. Prior to becoming a cemetery, this area was once part of the land attached to a Catholic cloister with the church–La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar—below it.



From the cloisters overlooking the Recoleta Cemetery

While the land became the burial ground of Argentina’s rich and famous, the church still stands, as does it’s former cloisters. It is possible to visit what has become an interesting museum of Catholic religious art including various oil paintings, carvings, pictures, silverware, books, furniture, and liturgical vestments, etc. that date from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century. The view from the cloisters offers a panoramic view of this famous cemetery.


The largest mosque in all of Latin America, the King Fahd Islamic Cultural Center, is located in the Palermo neighborhood.


Mosque entryway

thumb_DSCF0247_1024Both a mosque and a center for Islamic culture, the center hosts a primary and secondary school, as well as a divinities school and a dormitory for 50 students. The mosque is home to about 1% (400,000-500,000 people) of the city’s population.

I had the unique opportunity to visit the mosque during a visit from Chicagoan Fadwa Hasan in 2011. The cultural center has very limited visiting hours, but when my Arabic-speaking colleague said we hadn’t come to visit but to pray, we were immediately welcomed in and taken to the room where women prepare themselves to enter the mosque proper for prayer.


thumb_DSCF0246_1024With shawls covering our hair, we were to remove our shoes, bathe our hands and elbows before entering the 2nd floor of the mosque (the first floor being reserved for the men). There we prayed silently before touring the rest of the center, and speaking informally with a young man who had also entered for silent prayer. He explained that when his parents migrated to Argentina they were attracted to the temple and after studying Islam, they converted and are now temple members, as is he.

Another half million people, according to the Mormon’s website, participate in the Church of the Latter Day Saints in Buenos Aires. Yes, there are Argentinian Mormons, and one of the country’s two Mormon temples is situated just outside the city limits in the suburb Ciudad Evita. I’ve never been inside this majestic temple, but its presence in this small suburb a few miles from the international airport offers dramatic views, rising as the tallest building in the area.IMG_1436

Across the street from Parque Lezama in the San Telmo neighborhood sits the majestic Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity of Buenos Aires, also the largest church in South America of its denomination worldwide.


Russian Orthodox Church


Russian Orthodox Church, San Telmo

The church was built in 1901 and continues to hold weekly and special services. Its blue and white spires beckon visitors from the nearby Feria de San Telmo and the park.

There are many Jewish synagogues scattered throughout Buenos Aires. Templo Libertad, the oldest Jewish synagogue in Buenos Aires, is located next door to the Jewish Museum and just down the street from the famous Teatro Colon. Starting at the Jewish Museum, whose artifacts


Hebrew typewriter

tell the history of the Jewish people in Buenos Aires and in Argentina overall, you can then visit the synagogue proper, with its beautiful stained glass windows.




Chandelier in Synagogue


Stained glass, synagogue

Although not specifically religious centers but cultural ones, the Jewish Holocause or Shoah Museum and the AMIA Jewish Community Center also reflect the religious and cultural life of many of the city’s Jewish residents. (Both the Holocaust museum and AMIA Center will be featured in a future post. Subscribe now.)



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Filed under Buenos Aires, Parque de la Memoria, Plaza de Mayo, Recoleta Cemetery, Religious buildings, Visiting Mendoza

Viva Jujuy!

My weeklong solo trip to northwest Argentina was a cultural odyssey, revealing a new Argentina for me, a Spanish colonial lifestyle very different than that of the more hectic, fast-paced urban world of Buenos Aires. The language and accent were noticeably Argentinian, yet also included various indigenous dialects like Quechua. There were many differences in food, clothing, architecture, natural diversity of mountains and valleys, music, the cities and provinces of Salta and Jujuy (Hu-hu-y). These differences shaped my time there into a beautiful week and another possible destination to invite American travelers to add to their list of “Places to see in Argentina.” So rich was my week that I am writing about each destination in a separate post. This post focuses on my time visiting Jujuy and the towns along the “Quebrada de Humahuaca”. In the previous post I wrote about “la vida Salteña”. Check them both out.

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Climbing and climbing more! The capital city of the Province of Jujuy (Hu-hú-y), formally known as San Salvador de Jujuy, and simply referred to as Jujuy sits at 4,130 feet above sea level and is the starting point for numerous daily excursions to the Quebrada de Humahuaca (9,311 ft.) and the salt flats known as Las Salinas Grandes (11,318 ft. above sea level), places I visited during my recent solo trip to the provinces and main cities of Salta and Jujuy. Salta is the focus of the previous post, and Jujuy is highlighted here.

The Quebrada de Humahuaca or Humahuaca Ravine spans almost 80 miles and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the Spanish colonial lifestyle in this area is preserved. The town of Tilcara (the archeological capital of the area), along with the indigenous towns of Purmamarca, Tilcara and Humahuaca with their local artesans markets and beautiful mountain views, welcome tourists all year around. Jujuy feels more Bolivian than Argentinian, at least if measured by the merchants and restaurant staffs’ clothing, culture, foods and indigenous languages, alongside the mountains, valleys and ravines that extend north and west and boast thousands of years of existence among them! Along this majestic route through the mountains and valleys we passed the Tropic of Capricorn, one of the five major circles of latitude marked by maps of the earth, “La Paleta del Pintor” (the painter’s palette) colorful rock formation, and the famous Cerro de Siete Colores (the 7-colored mountain range/hill) that provide the amazing background settings for these simple villages. The main square in Purmamarca is filled daily by local artesans selling their handmade clothing and other articles.

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The most colorful landscapes of the Quebrada are absolutely gorgeous to see, and viewing them is a changing experience as the sun and clouds shift and move across the open sky. Each view is a new one. The 7 colored hill takes its name from the various colors of the mineral deposits prevalent in the area (red rocks made from iron, yellow ones from uranium, white limestone deposits, and the greens and blues associated with copper.)

But when I visited Las Salinas Grandes, the 23,000 sq. miles of salt desert, located more than 13,000 ft. above sea level, with two new Argentinian friends, I realized how subjective our perspectives are. The well maintained, new national highway route 52 led our mini-van up via the serpentine two-lanes hugging the many switchbacks to the top, at 4,170 meters, or 13,681 feet. A thousand feet lower we sail into the Salinas themselves. Imagine an expanse of this desolate, unending white as far as you can see, a vision not unlike seeing frozen-over Lake Michigan from the Chicago skyline in wintertime, a fact that my late brother’s voice echoed in my consciousness. “And you paid how much to come all the way up here to see this?” he asked mockingly, laughing! All the while my Argentine travel buddies were in awe of the white desert, and they climbed the salt hills like kids playing in the new snowfall, while I laughed at my brothers’ wonderful sense of humor! They were fascinated; I, less so, but I am still appreciative that I actually have the chance to travel this far to see scenes like this that look similar but are quite different.

The Tropic of Capricorn

The Tropic of Capricorn

The beauty of Jujuy is in the land, and also in her native people, whether singing for us as did the children we saw, or knitting beautiful handmade ponchos, sweaters, blankets, ceramics and hats. ALong the way we stopped at the Tropic of Capricorn, the southernmost latitude where the Sun can be seen directly overhead and where La Pachamama, the indigenous earth goddess of the indigenous Andian people, is worshiped.

Viva Jujuy!Consider a side trip to Salta and Jujuy when you come travelling in Argentina. I’m glad I made the trip.


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Visiting Mendoza: Argentina’s wine country

Along with some friends visiting from Chicago, I spent a wonderful 5 days visiting the wine country of Argentina during Vendimia, the national grape harvest festival held at the beginning of March each year.  Between the city of Mendoza where the festival is held, and Maipu, a nearby city, there are more than 1,300 wineries and vineyards here, in what is considered to be Argentina’s wine capitol.  Alongside the high Andes mountain range is Mr. Aconcágua (22,841 feet), the highest peak in all of the Americas (North, Central and South), which we saw by bus and on foot, hiking one of its paths (4,000 ft above sea level) near Laguna Espejo, (Mirror Lake), one of the small glacial lakes set in this colorful mountain range.

Read on now, or view the photos on the link below and return to the text.  Whatever–I hope you enjoy it all. For the photos, click the blue link :

Visiting Mendoza, Argentina

About 2,800 ft. above sea level, we stopped to see the Puente del Inca, (The Inca’s Bridge) a natural arch that forms a bridge over the Rio Vacas, and the hot springs nearby, with an interesting natural formation that formed over time as falling snow, dust and rocks carved a path for the sulfurous water and petrified the surface.  Once the site of a hot springs resort, the erosion along the bridge has caused its closing, but now the area is protected and off-limits to tourists and continue damage that occurs with extensive use.

A variety of tours abound in the Mendoza province, including the winery and vineyards tours, as well as kayaking, horseback riding, rafting, and bicycling opportunities at high and low price ranges.  For 200-240 pesos per day (US $50-60) we were picked up in our hotel lobby and taken around in vans and small touring buses to our destinations.  Along the way, our tour guide told us about the area in both Spanish and English—the two most frequently spoken languages among the tourists.  We met fascinating people from Lithuania, Sicily, Canada, Brazil, and India (which claims the largest number of wineries world-wide, in its nascent industry!), chatting about other tours and travels we’ve made, sharing wine, restaurant recommendations and stories, and snapping photos for one another.  Everyone was so friendly—even before the wine tastings began and definitely more so afterwards!

A highlight of the trip for me was discovering Historias y Sabores, an artesanal factory located in a 100 year-old house close to the bodegas Trapiche and La Rural, which Mary Pat and I found while pedaling our rented bicycles around the Maipu area one lovely morning.  For 20 pesos ($5 US) the owner, Argentine Alejandro Prieto, offered us a tasting of his locally made liqueurs, chocolates, jams, olive oils and olive tapenades, in a lovely patio setting with grapes growing all around us.  Our bikes ($25 pesos or US $6 for the day) came from Mr. Hugo’s, one of a number of bicycling rentals located in Maipu, a 30-minute,  $1.80 pesos (42 cents US) bus ride from Mendoza.  Hugo provides a small map, helmet, bike, and water bottle—with complementary wine when you return.

Naturally we did some wine tastings too!  We visited a total of 5 vineyards/wineries in 2-1/2 days on various tours.  We toured a large industrial size winery, Bodega Lopez, which exports only 1% of its production world-wide.  The other 99% is consumed inside Argentina.  We visited a much smaller, new boutique winery, Vistantes, which exports to the US among other places.  At Bodega La Rural we explored the Museum of Wines, which had lots of early artifacts of wine making in the 1880’s Argentina.  It was a walk through time to see the various machines, barrels and other wine-processing equipment at the museum and be able to compare it with the contemporary wineries!  One guide told me Argentines consume about 90 liters of wine per person, per year, or more than 102 bottles each—on average!

On the tours guides walked us through the grape to wine process, beginning in the vineyards and moving through the various rooms and equipment used to transform the grapes into wine.  At the conclusion of the tour we sampled 2-3 varieties of wines:  malbec, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, champagnes, rosé wines as well.

An olive oil factory visit was on another tour we took in Mendoza.  Since 1920, Pasrai, an Olivicola Boutique, has been making olive oils, and a variety of tapenades, fruit jams, and other olive-oil based products like soaps and lotions.   Yum.  Locally made extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) with ájo (garlic), or oregano, or by itself, el clasico—with bits of bread–olive tapenades and raisins were included in the flavorful tasting we had here.  I couldn’t leave without buying some olive oil soap, and a small bottle of the delicious EVOO con ájo to enjoy back in Buenos Aires.

Local restaurant fare for us included one dinner at what is called a “Tenedor Libre” restaurant in Mendoza—an all-you-can eat buffet with parrilla.  Tenedor Libre, literally, translates to “Free fork” — the perfect name for a buffet style restaurant, no?  Mateo, the chef at the parrilla there, was delighted to pose with me and his work-in-progress display of grilled meats!

Two parades, the official “Carrusel de Vendimia” a morning parade on the first Saturday in March in the main streets of the city, includes floats representing the various departments (regions) of the Mendoza Province.  The floats show grape harvest motifs, the candidates for the title of the “Queen”(Reina) del Vendimia, and also include gauchos dressed in typical clothing on their horses.  The other was an anti-government protest parade, in streets nearby the official Carrusel parade route, where local citizen groups protested the government’s support for the use more than 100 million liters of water per day to benefit the development of the mega-mines and disregard the contamination and harm these mines bring to the people and the entire natural world, damaging mountains and towns forever.  “El agua vale + que el Oro” was the message displayed on banners, t-shirts, signs, chants and pamphlets throughout the route.   Sobering!


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People to meet, places to go, food to eat

Atlantída, Uruguay

I continue deepening friendships I’ve made in past years here, and through them I am making new ones as well.  With friends old and new I spent a delightfully tranquil week in Atlantída, Uruguay at a lovely riverside resort where we rented a bungalow and waited out some of BA’s hottest days this summer!  Thanks to Delia, a Uruguayan friend, I met two of her friends who live in Montevideo.  Off to their country place for the weekend, they joined us for a swim in the pool and helped prepare a homemade parrilla (barbecue) complete with provoleto, a delicious grilled provolone choose dressed with oregano and olive oil,  along with our colita de cuadril cut of beef cooked just right,  and two kinds of sausages–morcilla (blood sausage) and italian sausage– on the grill too, complimented by a green salad, excellent bread, and, of course, lots of good Argentinian malbec wine to drink.

Our backyard parrilla in Atlantída

It just looks like breaking and entering!

Waiting to get back into the bungalow that afternoon so we could start preparing this wonderful dinner, we discovered we didn’t have the only key to open the front door.  But thanks to Susana’s ingenuity we discovered an open bedroom window, and so I entered the bungalow cautiously, though that’s not what it looked like in one of the photos we captured in the moment.

I met Dani, Romina and Liz through my friend Gri, who was their English teacher.  They have generously included me in their recent gatherings, and Dani, an architect, is planning to take us on an architectural tour of the city!  I’ve also been seeing some North American friends who have travelled here, like my Chicago friends Angie, Pat, Roberta & Mary, who visited here briefly at the end of their South American cruise, and Mary Pat and her friends from Chicago, with whom I will travel next week to the northern city of Mendoza, the wine capitol of Argentina, and with whom I’ve been romping around the city again this past week.

Some of my new friends are Chris, from Oregon, his partner Jingzi, from China, and their delightful daughter Audrey, age 2-1/2. Audrey speaks English, Spanish and Chinese! She and I have had a few fun times together, but I was surprised to realize our preferred language together was Spanish! She, like my little friends Colette and Simon in Chicago, was fascinated to create pictures and make music on my ipad.

Rooftop dining with Gri, Liz, Romina and Daniel

El Caminito in La Boca

With friends from Chicago visiting I feel so much “at home”here. For three days in late January, Angie, Pat, Roberta and I toured the city by van, with our own driver who followed the route I mapped out for him. Since R & M were only here for one day, I planned what I call the “drive by day in BA.” I met them at the port where their cruise ship docked, sporting my homemade “Bienvenidos” (welcome) sign. Over the following 6+ hrs we went sightseeing, with stops like these:

  • Puerto Madero and photos at The Women’s Bridge (Puente de la Mujer) by the Spaniard architect Santiago Calatrava, who also designed the marvelous Milwaukee Art Museum)
  • La Boca, walking along the colorful Caminito and enjoying a cold drink atop the Fundacion Próa Museum
  • a drive to Plaza Dorrego through the San Telmo barrio, site of the ever-expanding Sunday antiques, arts and crafts fair, including fruit and vegetable stands like this one inside the old Mercado de San Telmo,

    Mercado San Telmo

    and the bizarre Barbies display of one local vendor (see above)

  • a stop to pick up our tango show tickets at the historic Cafe Tortoni (disappointing show unfortunately!)
  • adjacent to each other, we visited the famous Casa Rosada, the Cathedral, the Plaza de Mayo, the Obelisco monument on the 14-lane wide Avenida 9 de Julio

Symbol of the Mothers of the Disappeared at the Plaza de Mayo

  • passing through my barrio, Recoleta with the famous Cementario de Recoleta;
  • winding through Palermo to our excellent lunch at one of my favorite parrillas, La Cabrera Norte Restaurant, then back to the port and their cruise ship for the evening.

Similar to the personalized tour I set up for them is the city-sponsored touring bus—Bus Turistico— with 12 hop-on and hop-off stops throughout the city. It gives a good overview of the top sights and notable places in Buenos Aires at a reasonable price ($67 pesos or about $16 US). It’s a good way to help you decide which of the sights you want to return to at a later time. That’s what other visitors from Chicago have been doing since they arrived here.

I’m starting to really enjoy guiding Chicago tourists around Buenos Aires, now that I know the language and culture of both world class cities! Everyone has been generous to me as well, buying lunches, teas and dinners and giving me positive feedback on the solutions and suggestions I’m providing them.  I’ve been treated so many times in the past few weeks I’ve considered wearing a sign reading, “Will work for food!”

Liz prepares the parrilla

Mary Pat and Beau posing in La Boca

The classic  Argentine parrilla (barbecue) comes in many shapes and forms, but one thing is constant: the parrilla is a Buenos Aires must! The parrilla is a thing–a barbecue heat source, the meat cooked there, restaurants that specialize in grilling meats this way — all of these are what is called una parrilla.  There are restaurants that specialize in the parrilla, where meats are cooked using wood as the heat source, rather than the charcoal we are used to in the states, but also a wide variety of home parrillas. In January a new friend, Liz, invited me and others to a parrilla dinner on her rooftop deck. We had a feast with at least 3-4 different cuts of beef as well as morcilla (blood sausage) and chorizos. Oh yeah, and then there was that parrilla dinner at Restaurant Don Julio in Palermo and one at La Payúca in Recoleta, and our homemade version in Atlantída, and well, I’m sure there are at least a few more—parrillas and new friends– waiting for me here during the coming days and weeks!

I end this post with a note of sadness in memory of the 51 people who died and the more than 700 injured in the commuter train crash in Buenos Aires, Feb. 23, 2012.


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Welcoming 2012 in Buenos Aires

Chicago, DC, Buenos Aires, Colonia–these four cities in the northern and southern hemispheres mark my travels these past two weeks.  I left Chicago Dec. 30th and arrived at my Buenos Aires destination Dec. 31st.   A long layover in DC gave me the chance to enjoy a visit and dinner with my friends Kathleen and Larra.

New Year's Eve Dinner in Boedo: Turkey, sausages, cheeses, salads, ice cream, champagne & vinto tinto

Dining with friends has been my pleasure almost every day since, as these photos show.  New Year’s Eve dinner with Leda and her family in Boedo.  Saturday night dinner in the barrio Caballito hosted by Lis on her rooftop terrace.  Dinner with friends at my favorite, Bar de Cao, where we shared a wonderful tray of cheeses, olives, ham, salamis  and vino tinto  in this family restaurant with its great old world ambience.  A surprise visit with my “amiga de cafe”, Graciela, a woman I met last year, when we each searched for a place to enjoy a light breakfast (a medialuna-croissant and tea or coffee, discussing macrobiotic stores and Argentine politics.  Lunch with Jose and Ana, beachside, along the Rio de la Plata, in Colonia, Uruguay.

On Wednesday  I sat for nearly an hour in the countryside outside of Colonia del Sacramento, in Uruguay, watching the most amazing sunset.  It was a cloudy day, for the most part, but as the sun set the sky had cleared of all but a few small cumulus clouds.  The sky appeared to be a lake, glowing red, amidst  little islands within the lake.  There I was, sitting alongside my friend Josefina, catching up on the news of our lives since our visit last February.  “This,” I thought, “this is what I do when I come to Argentina for the summer. I must tell all the people who wondered how I would spend my four months here this year!”

Puertas Abiertas (Open Door) Community Center, La Boca. Sign on the wall reads: The only valid hero is the collective hero.

There have been other experiences, of course, not as pleasant.  Much of Argentina and parts of Uruguay are experiencing a severe drought. Prices have risen dramatically since last year, and now approach those in Chicago.  At times, as I’ve begun to takedaily walks in the city, I see the effects of globalization, passing McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Staples and a rapidly expanding network of Starbuck Cafes.  Where am I anyway? Still these changes pale alongside life changes happening to friends here.  I learned a friend’s mother had died a few months earlier, and another, after facing cancer last year, has developed uremia and now goes for dialsysis treatments, three times weekly, for the rest of her life.  These certainly put my good fortune into human perspective.

"La Colina,"(The Hill), friends' country home outside Colonia, Uruguay

Changing cities, countries, seasons (from Chicago’s mild winter to a hot Buenos Aires summer, and, most significantly, changing languages and cultures–all within a few weeks.  I wonder what the coming days will bring.


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Jacarandas near the Casa Rosada

As November’s sunlight filters through the remaining golds, browns and reds of autumn leaves falling in Chicago, it is spring in Buenos Aires, and the lush, purple jacaranda trees are in full bloom.  I love seeing them, and the other flowering trees.  The brilliant Jacaranda trees line many avenues such as Avenida Santa Fe pictured below, and alongside the famous Casa Rosada.

Avenida Santa Fe

The trumpet-shaped flowers retain their vibrant color even as they fall and carpet  the sidewalks all month long.  Alongside the small yellow flowers of the Fica trees and the pink blossoms of the Palos  Borachos trees (literally the “drunken sticks” because of their shapes), the jacarandas create a trio of
springtime colors!

Thanks to my dear friend Cheryl in CA, I learned about a wonderful recent Wall Street Journal article by Sarah Gilbert, Journal
Concierge, an insider’s guide to Buenos Aires. 
Read it here:

Gilbert shares my fascination and love of the city, its seductiveness and rich heritage. In her article, four well-known people with Argentine connections (actor Robert Duvall, married to the Argentine actress Luciana Pedraza; Narda Lepes, a  local chef, author and TV personality; Gustavo Santaolalla, Academy Award-winning composer/musician born in Buenos Aires; and pop artist Marta  Minujín) tell us what they love about BA.  After reading about their  favorite places and things, I began creating my own favorites list.

Dancers at Cafe Tortoni

Best meat meal: by far is La Cabrera in the Palermo neighborhood, where huge portions of Argentina’s best grass-fed, hormone-free beef (definitely share a meat entree) is served to you accompanied  by 6-8 small dishes filled with delicious vegetable sides such as baked garlic,
zucchini, sauteed onions, baked apples, creamed spinach. Their Argentine wine  selection compliments any meal. So popular, there is a second restaurant, La Cabrera Norte, one block away.
Evening reservations are a must.

Cafe favorites: The city has many bars and cafes throughout the various neighborhoods, some selling coffee and others offering an extensive menu. Two “Bares Tradicionales de Buenos Aires,” located in the neighborhood of Boedo, which I can’t get enough of are Cafe
and Bar de Cao.

The Cao Brothers make a delicious Spanish tortilla (potato and egg omelet) among their many offerings, and the cheeses/olives/meat plates at both cafes complement their cozy, local ambience.  Off the tourist path.
On the streets:  Looking for me on a Sunday afternoon in Buenos Aires?  You’re sure to find me at one of the outdoor ferias, the arts and crafts markets, especially the one held in the Recoleta barrio, at Plaza Francia, close to the famous Recoleta cemetery and Buenos Aires Diseño, a design shopping mall.  A close second is the ever-growing antiquest fair and artesans market held every Sunday in the San Telmo neighborhood.

Watching tango:  On the streets of the La Boca neighborhood,
or at local milongas (dance halls) including Torquato Tasso and Confiteria
, where you can also take a dance lesson.  For an evening of tango music and dance, I
like the intimacy of the small salon at the rear of Café Tortoni, or the continuous entertainment at Bar Sur.


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Cycling in Buenos Aires

For more than thirty years I’ve peddled my way along Chicago’s glorious paths alongside Lake Michigan, so it seemed about time that I took to two wheels in Buenos Aires during my 2011 stay there.  It is an adventure to cycle in the city proper, especially if you do it solo.  Better to take a cycling tour with one of the bike rental agencies, like La Bicicleta Naranja, which has locations in 2-3 different neighborhoods in the city.  Even so, with all the street traffic, it can be very dangerous, unless you ride along one of the many new bicycle paths that are being created throughout the city.  As this was the first year these paths have started to be created, I am hopeful that the network of paths will grow extensively during 2011, so I can ride again in 2012.

The Parque Natural y Zona de Reserva Ecologica Costanera Sur seemed like a good place for my first bicycling adventure in Buenos Aires!  The reserve, north of the Puerto Madero and San Telmo neighborhoods, encompasses four lakes, foxtail pampas grass, willows and shrubs where more than 200 species of birds live, so the guidebooks say. I only saw two species, though–some colorful parrots that flew off before I could retrieve my camera to take their pictures, and the Teru-teru bird, whose song sounds like its name.

I rented a bike from La Bicicleta Naranja about a mile south of the reserve. It was a single speed model with fat tires, a front basket to hold my things, and came with a map, helmet, lock and key–for $12 pesos ($3 US) per hour. A deal!  The map took me first to one of the growing number of bicicendas (bicycle paths) being laid out throughout Buenos Aires, then led me to the reserve.  No motorized vehicles of any kind are allowed in the reserve, so the only ways to see it are by bike or on foot, assuring me of a peaceful ride, I hoped. And it was.  I passed some joggers, hikers and a cheery young class of middle school kids and their teachers, but also the inevitable mix of noisy teenagers who made it impossible for me to get any really good photos of the Rio de la Plata, which seems as big as Lake Michigan, though it has a murky brown color unlike the beautiful blue of Lake
Michigan.  Nonetheless, stopping along the Rio for some cold water and a snack was a refreshing pause on the sunny, 82 degree
afternoon I went there last February, a spot much more desirable than the blizzard snowing under my family and friends in Chicago at the time!  Benches line some of the paths along the way, though more seemed positioned in the sun rather than in shady spots.  At a few spots I was able to see some of the tall skyscrapers of nearby Puerto Madero, and I enjoyed the peaceful solitude of a bicycle ride on a lovely summer day.

Leaving the  reserve I paused along the route to take a photo of the growing number of yachts anchored in the dock areas.  The city traffic in this area was intense–cars, taxis, and trucks rushed past me, causing me to cut short my afternoon on the bike after 2-1/2 hours.  I had planned to bike all the way to my neighborhood, Recoleta, before heading back to the bike shop, but I couldn’t
locate the yellow bicicenda markings to show me the way.  Rather than trying to ride in such chaotic and dangerous afternoon rush hour (hora pico) traffic, I wound my way slowly back to my starting point. I decided to save the bicicenda paths for another
day, or for my next trip to Buenos Aires.


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