This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Many of us went to a tango lesson this afternoon and ¨learned¨ to tango. We had a wonderful dance teacher and his partner showing us the basic moves. After an hour and a half lesson we went upstairs to a dance party called a Milongas. It was like stepping into a movie. Marble pillars, fine architecture including an elaborate filligreed ceiling and gold scroll accents here and there. A few dozen old folks dressed to the nines danced slow tangos around the room. Some of the older men invited our girls out on the floor to dance. It was quite touching. After a while students got out on the floor in couples and practiced what they had learned. It was quite a sight. After about and hour we left to go out to dinner. We went back to El Establo, the place on the corner from the hotel and had an equally excellent meal. I ordered the same thing I had the first night, a steak that just melted in the mouth

We attended the Señor Tango show which began a about 10 pm and ran until nearly 1 am. This show was a tango extravaganza for lack of a better word. All the best and worst about tango was on display. Two horses were even on stage rearing up on hind legs. Lots of special effects, a volume level so loud that in places it hurt the ears. Much of the performances were pre-recorded which became embarrassingly obvious at one point when a singer's song began but her mic was dead. Cheesy! I'd describe it as an Argentinian Lawrence Welk show. It even had a "big star" Fernando Soler who sang, kidded with audience members and introduced a special guest, a kid who had apparently won the Argentina's Got Talent competition and sang a couple of songs. Horrible!

The show had a big band and orchestra that sort of played and sort of accompanied the pre-recorded music. It was really quite amazing though way over the top. Near the end of the show the "big star" walked over to the edge of the circular stage and took a note from someone and then walked over in the direction of our tables. He announced that the WWU choir was in the house and even named Leslie as the director. He pleaded with the choir to sing one song for the crowd. Though completely embarrassed by the idea, Leslie nevertheless had the choir sing one of their show stopping spirituals. The crowd went nuts! The entire choir wasn't even there and they were in no way prepared to sing but on they went and as I said the crowd loved it.
It was a long day but lots of fun! I guess I surprised Leslie by actually participating in the Tango lesson and myself by how well I did considering my two left feet.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Back in Buenos Aires

After an emotional concert last night at a very live church downtown Montevideo, we were invited to a reception where our choir met the other choir, a local community group who were very good. Before the concert we noted that they planned to sing one of the pieces on our program. So Leslie spoke with the director and it was arranged for her to conduct both groups in a combined performance of the piece. What a tremendous experience. The Western choir took the stage following the other group and performed the best they have done so far. They were fantastic receiving three standing ovations and performing three encores. The crowd also appreciated that Leslie was able to speak all her comments about each piece in almost perfect Spanish. Gifts were exchanged by the directors which is a tradition here, then we went into another room which had been prepared for a reception. The two groups mingled and got to know each other. Some of their singers arranged to go out clubbing with some of our singers later in the evening. That meant meeting about midnight and some were out until nearly dawn before coming home (apparently not an unusual thing to do here).

This morning we left the hotel for the ferry to Buenos Aires at about 11 am and arrived back here in Buenos Aires about 3 pm. Our hotel from before, The Dazzler, was ready for us. And now we are preparing to head off for our next concert this evening at a church about 8 blocks from here. A reception is to follow and we should be back to the hotel about 11 pm. Tomorrow it promises to rain, our first bad weather the entire trip so far. We are supposed to go to a tango lesson and then to a Señor Tango performance in the evening about 9. We also visit Eva Peron´s grave and have another concert. Another full day ahead.

We are also enjoying the Uraguayan cheeses we have purchased.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Montevideo, Uruguay

Took a bus tour of Montevideo this morning. Drove through the beautiful parts of the city, along the shoreline stopping for a photo op at a beautiful memorial park above the Rio de la Plata and then walked the downtown pedestrian street shopping along the way.

Montevideo, unlike Buenos Aires, has miles of pristine beaches and wide sidewalks allow the casual stroller to walk for miles. It being winter there swimming and or playing on the beach was not in the cards. But shopping, that's another story!

We were dropped off at the pedestrian street and walked the several blo
cks to the Port Market where we sat and ate in the same place Anthony Bourdain did when he filmed his show on Uruguay. Fantastic meal of, what else, MEAT! Had a great steak, chorizo, papas, a wonderful bibidas called media y media which is half white wine and half champagne. It comes in a champagne bottle and we had to purchase a some to bring home and share with friends. Everything was delicious including the items we shared off other´s plates--chicken, pork, beef innards. Yes, innards! Intestines, kidneys, liver, even sweetbreads. Not bad. Being adventurous is the key down here. Try it out. What does it taste like. Well, first of all, the beef here is far more flavorful than American beef. We have lost much of the real beef flavor in our cattle due to corn feeding, raising the animals in feedlots and especially due to the speed with which we raise our cattle. Here cattle are fed on grass and are allowed to live longer lives helping to give the meat a much richer meatier flavor. The intestines and other innards tasted like liver to me only, in the case of the intestines, chewier. As I love liver having grown up in a home that regularly served it with carmelized onions, I enjoyed these unusual cuts of meat. The sweetbreads, which is actually a part of the brain, the thymus and pancreas to be precise, was a first for me. It was creamy, mild and delicious. I'd eat it again anytime. Here in the states we rarely see this on a menu due to the scare of mad cow disease--an issue unheard of there as again, they don't raise there cattle in disease ridden feedlots, but rather in pristine pastures out on the pampas.

Walked back up the street sticking our heads in the shops along the way back towards the bus. I sat on a bench for a while and Leslie went into some of the stores to do some more serious shopping. As I sat there, the world walked by and I took some of my favorite photos of locals--a little old lady bent over with age, groups of school children on a field trip.

Back to the hotel for a while and to prepare to leave for that evening's concert. This was, like most of our concerts, an exchange concert meaning our choir sang and a local choir also sang. The WWU Choir sang secondly. The audience's response was overwhelming with three standing ovations and encores. Following the concert a reception was held in the social hall of the church This gave us the opportunity to meet the locals but with music being the immediate commonality, language issues melted away as everyone found fun ways to communicate, our students trying out their basic Spanish and the locals using the gathering as an opportunity to practice their English. Leslie, who spent a lot of time practicing Spanish before the trip, made good use of it getting progressively better a the trip went along. She found herself getting better and better at being able to communicate with the choir directors and other locals. We ate, sang, laughed and got to know each other until nearly midnight.

Back to the hotel and good night's sleep before we leave in the morning at 10 am to take the Buquebus ferry back to Buenos Aires.

Monday, June 15, 2009

We´ve Arrived in Buenos Aires

Our long ordeal of a flight to Buenos Aires ended with our on-time arrival here this morning at 9:30 am local time. It was an uneventful flight aside from just being too long in too confined a space with too little ventilation. Customs was slow and stuffy but after only a couple of glitches we all found the courier, Susana, the bus and were on our way into town.

Our hotel, T
he Dazzler Tower Hotel on San Martin Street is a great place, strategically located. As prices are much cheaper here we were able to upgrade to 4-star hotels at no additional cost. Thanks Mosaic Tours!

We got a bus tour of the city which gave us a terrific overview with a stop in La Boca, a fun district of the city with brightly colored wooden buildings and tango dancers in front of restaurants. Street artists also lined the streets. Sadly, none of use had had anytime to get any Argentine pesos out of an ATM yet so no one had any cash to buy anything and there were a few artists whose work we loved! A fun place to walk through in a group but apparently not advisable on your own or especially after dark.

We also stopped in the Puert
o Madero district and walked through this area and across the beautiful Puente de la Mujer pedestrian bridge. This area was filled with lovely restaurants and shops--very posh. In stark contrast was our experience a few blocks away. The bus suddenly got very quiet. We were driving through a street in an industrialized area near the freeway lined with shanties built of anything its occupants could find--cardboard and scraps of wood and metal fit together in jigsaw style and with open fires where families were eeking out an existence. The students sat in shocked silence as we drove past probably the worst poverty any of them had ever seen.

After checking into the hotel everyone went off in various directions. We along with small pack of students and groupies walked over to a giant outdoor market place in the Recoleta district that sold the wares of local artisans. I thought most of it was cheap and showed little real artisitic value. We did manage to find one artist who impressed us near the end of the market stroll and we bought one of his paintings before grabbing a taxi and heading back to the room for a rest.

This artisan market surrounded a beautiful church which would later be the site of a Sunday Mass and concert for the choir. There were also vendors selling various street foods. We tried our first empanadas here that cost only 4 pesos (about a dollar) and were huge and tasty!

Taxis are apparently a part of the adventure here. We were warned to pay in small bills as your change back from paying with a larger note is sometimes conterfeit. We never had any problems and the drivers were very nice.

The locals don't eat dinner traditionally until after 10 pm. Not being much of a night owl we headed out for a short walk before settling on a restaurant across the street from the hotel which many other students were raving about called El Establo. Read more about our experiences there in other blog entires. We tried it and what a meal. I had tongue as an appetizer and ordered an incredibly tasty loin steak called Bife Chorizo that just melted in my mouth and the flavors were so intense. I also sampled the sweetbreads ordered by another person in our party. This was my first taste of sweetbreads and I was a little apprehensive. I needn´t have been. They were so tasty, creamy, full of beef flavor. We drink a couple of bottles of Malbec, a famous Argentinian red wine. El Establo became a regular dinner and or lunch place with so many of the group that it was nicknamed Cheers!

Then back to the hotel to retire early before a 6 am wake up call. Tomorrow we take the ferry across the Rio de la Plata to Colonia del Sacramento on the Uraguay side of the river. We stay in Uraguay for several days before returning to our base here at this hotel for the remainder of our trip.