Reserva Ecologica, Argentine Culture

Trip Start Apr 15, 2011
Trip End Feb 04, 2012

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Sunday, June 5, 2011

and saying in BA a bit longer...

On Tuesday it's a beautiful, sunny day and I finally make it to the Reserva Ecologica. Buenos Aires goes through a sharp contrast on its edge with the hustle and bustle of the main city,  crossing over the marinea to the shinny new suburb of Puerto Madero with some of the most expensive apartments in the city, then this beautiful, long wide avenue with Parrilla, Argentine BBQ shakes overlooking the Reserva Ecologica beyond.  There are so many Parrillas along this stretch the air in places is filled with the smell of BBQ’ed meat and wood smoke forms a light haze in the sunshine over the plastic tables and chairs.  They sell slabs of Argentine meat in steaks and hamburgers with bread, a range of sauces and a smattering of salad.  It’s a sunny day and for once I regret my vegetarianism.  I think how nice it would be to sit in the sunshine at one of those tables with a beer and some famous Argentine beef.  Argentines are reputed to eat more beef than any other country in the world incidentally, with an average consumption per ca-pita of around 60kg per year.  I console myself by sitting on the wide parpet eating my box of salad in the sunshine and enjoying a vegie hit.  The Reserva Ecologica is a different world again, with long raised pathways through the wetlands & pampas grass, a myrid of small birds flitting around and the towering sky scrapers of Puerto Madero beyond.  Couples brought their children to run around, joggers puffed past, friends relaxed drinking mate and couples canoodled in quiet spots.  This is clearly a place where the locals come to escape the high rises and for some fresh air.   

I feel I have been in Argentina to get a glimpse, a peak, a little of an understanding of the place and the people.  I have stayed in local apartments and been on walking tours with local guides and gone out with groups of predominantly Argentine people.

In a social situation for example, when you arrive at a gathering it is the custom go around and greet every single person.  For women the correct greeting is a quick 'hola’, a single kiss on the right cheek and exchange of names ‘hola, *kiss*, Sarah, Juli’ etc and repeat in turn with each person in the group, both men and women even if there is 10 or 15 people, until you have greeted everyone.  If you are a man the rules are slightly more complicated.  To a woman, you greet as described above, to another man, it depends on how well you know them.  If you are two men meeting for the first time you shake hands, but if you are friends, or perhaps if you have meet several times before the usual greeting applies.  At the end of the social gathering this process is repeated to say goodbye with a kiss and a simple ‘Chow’.  In Spanish language classes they teach you to say Adios, Buenos Noches, but I have only heard this used one or twice, everyone simply says Hola and Chow.  The greeting or variant there of is used each time you meet someone for the first time or see someone you know in the street or social setting.
Mate, a sort of herby drink is another strongly cultural, social habit in Argentina.  I think it is one of those acquired tastes everyone from Argentina grows up with, a bit like Australian Vegemite.  In Argentine you are given Mate from an early age, about seven or so and it is drunk much of the time and in many, many social settings, from the family home to social gatherings in a park.  It is a sort of grass like tea made up in a smallish wooden gourd or cup with a silver straw.  Both the cup and the straw can range from simple constructions to elaborate, fancy carved affairs, and even come in modern plastic versions, although I am yet to see any Argentines drink it from anything other than a traditional wooden cup.  The cup is filled with mate and hot water, and passed to the first person.  The person drinks the mate, perhaps 2 to 4 mouth fulls, not to slowly but not to quickly, and hands the cup back to the original person, who refills the cup with hot water from a large thermos and passes it to the next person and so on and so forth, with the mate cup doing the rounds around the group.  To me it tasted like burn grass when I first tried it, but I’m developing a liking for it.  When traveling I try to adopt a ‘when in Rome, do as the Roman’s do’ approach and I try to ignore the small, western part of my brain that is slightly horrified by the whole shared straw thing.  Argentines drink a Lot of Mate and the supermarket shelves are filled with shelves of different brands and different flavors.  Everyone in Argentine seams to own a large thermos which is dutifully taken to social gathering, or put on the table at home to refill your own mate cup as you sit and work on the computer say or watch TV. 

Food in another area of Argentine life I have quickly adapted to.  With exception of the obligatory meat fest I have developed quite a liking for many of the other food stuffs on offer.  Due to the large influx of Italian migrants BA in awash with Pizza & Pasta houses however most of them also serve empanada’s, small pastry parcels with a variety of fillings.  My favorites are the cheese and onion, but I also like the spinach and the mushroom and garlic (yum!).  Fruit is plentiful and most days I snack on fresh banana’s and crisp apples and juicy tangerines.  To drink I have already talked about Mate and the very delicious red wines they have.  I am particularly partial to Malbec but they also do Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and another variety I can never remember.  The wine ranges from around 8 – 40 Argentine pesos’s a bottle but even a Malbec of about 14 pesos is perfectly drinkable (that’s about 2.50 or $3.50Aus btw).  Beer on the other hand is not an area I would say Argentina excels and my introduction to the national beer Quilmes very nearly put me totally off drinking beer in Argentina again.  I believe it is more the equaling to Fosters, i.e. with a good marketing campaign, but tastes Revolting.  Best to stick to wine really. 

When it comes to sweets the Argentine’s have inherited a Spanish taste for them, with Panderia’s, Argentine bakeries, filled with cabinets of delicious sweet cakes and croissants and trays of tasty empanadas.  Croissant’s have been elevated to an art form here and come with a multitude of fillings from custard or chocolate to my personal favorite, Dulce de leche.  Dulce de leche is a sort of caramel sauce used in a myriad of deserts from croissants and cakes to ice-cream.  You can buy it in tubs and tubes and jars from the supermarket and goes particularly well with slices of fresh banana.  Ice-cream is another area where Buenos Aires in has benefited from its Italian migration.  There are ice-cream shops all over serving a variety of mouth watering flavors in anything from small waffle cups to 1kg open polystyrene tubes you can make yourself totally sick on.  My favorite, not surprisingly, is Dulce de leche with almonds, in a small waffle cup with what ever other flavor takes my fancy, or I am able to order in my limited Spanish.  Then there is Alfajores, my favorite of the lot .  They are essentially two cookies with a layer of dulce de leche sandwiched between them but the varies are almost endless with white or milk chocolate coverings, different icings, different flavored cookies etc.  I like the one’s with vanilla cookies and white chocolate or lemon icing but to be honest I’m yet to try an Alfajore I haven’t liked and yes I’ve tried a few since I’ve been here :) 

There are a few aspects of Argentine culture I’m less than fond of.  For me, I find highly public and overt sexualisation of women and there bodies slightly horrifying.  Popular day time television (I’ve seen a bit recently) is simply filled with scantily clad ‘perfect’ young women, who’s primary purpose appears to be to strut and shake their buts and plastic breasts and flick their long straight hair and smile coyly and vapidly for the amusement of any male that happens to be watching.  The men on the show’s are almost always fully clothed, perhaps at most with a button or two of a shirt undone.  They can be young or old with grey hair and don’t even have to be good looking.  The women, well, you’re either under 25 and act as described above and appear to have the IQ of a small brick, or you’re over 50 but have had so much plastic surgery you almost look like a man.  A shiny, plastic fantastic Barbie doll with no natural features, bleached or died hair and limited facial expressions.  But at least you’re allowed to have a slightly higher IQ and a bit more personality.  I know it’s the culture here.  And that plastic surgery is cheap and its just the way things are but I find it disappointing one of the most progressive countries in South America, with a woman president, still portrays women this way.  I know other places in the world aren’t that much better but seriously.  Ok rant over.

Wed marked the start of an interesting rest of the week for me.  I meet Margarita to do some site seeing.  We made it to the Floralis Generica, failed to find a market to buy a mate gourd (wrong day, they were all shut) and I made it to the Xul Solar museum.  Floralis Generica is a metal flower sculpture that opens in the morning an closes again in the evening.  Its huge and pretty impressive but once you’ve taken some photos its time to move on, unless you’re going to sit around chatting & drinking mate.  After ice-cream I said good bye to Margarita and hit the Xul Solar museum.  I discovered the Argentine artist during my visits to some of the other museums in Buenos Aires and wanted to see more.  His paintings are eccentric but I like his bright use of color and unusual, almost geometric use of patterns and shapes in his paintings. 

On Wed afternoon I started to feel unwell, but I put this down to a lot of walking in the last day or two.  I took a taxi to the next place I'm staying where I rapidly got worse, developing flu like symptoms of which I'll spare you the finer details.  On Thursday I was worse again my foot puffed up to the size of a small pumpkin and is the color of a fire engine.  On Thursday night Juli, the woman I'm staying with, insists on taking me to hospital and I’m to sick to protest.  An hour later I was promptly diagnosed with a nasty bacterial infection which entered my system through a scratch or broken skin on my foot (joyful).  I’m given three drips of strong antibiotics and fluids and sent home with a prescription for a course of strong antibiotics and told to come back for a check up on Monday unless I get worse over the weekend, in which case I am to come straight back to the ER.  So I have spent the last 5 days convalescing, going from being unable to keep down water or get off the couch, to slowly getting back my appetite and building up how much I can walk.  Juli has been my guardian angel, truly in line for sainthood from driving me to the hospital and staying with me all night to going to the supermarket and pharmacy for me and letting my stay much longer than the two days I originally asked for.  Tomorrow I got back for a check up and it remains to be seen how much this will impact on the rest of my trip.  Wish me luck for tomorrow.
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Jen on

Really sorry to hear of your infection. Glad it sounds like you're getting over it. *hugs*

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