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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Noche de la Nostalgia

Well last night (August 24th) was a national pastime called Noche de la Nostalgia. Apparently during the 70's it became popular to celebrate music and dance and has lasted to this day. Our local restaurant (1 block away) hosted its own celebration, joining hundreds of venues all over Uruguay. Denise signed up for it a few weeks ago, and at about 9:30 last night, we showed up for the festivities.

We were among the first to arrive. I should not have been a surprise, in a country that regularly eats dinner at 10 pm, that things really didn't get under way for another 1/2 hour or so. For a cost of 400 pesos each (about $17 US), we were treated to: 2 complementary drinks (whiskey or martini), a plate of hors douvres, beer and soda, a nice main entry (chicken stroganoff, very tasty) and a nice little desert. In addition, there was a couple of hours of live music. A couple sang songs, accompanied by pre-recorded tracks and did a very nice job.

A word about the martini. I didn't fancy a whiskey, so we selected the martini. Here is how it played out. The martini was served in a tall highball glass, with a lime wedge perched on the lip. It had ice cubes, a drinking straw and my guess is that it consisted of sweet vermouth with a splash of gin. Now the last item might not be way out of place, since this is south of the equator and many things run backwards (including sun dials). However, it did remind me of a joke that martini drinkers will enjoy and others may not appreciate.

A sophisticated New Yorker on his way through the South on business, stopped into the "Dewdrop Inn" for dinner. When the waitress came for his order, he sarcastically asked if they had ever heard of a martini. The waitress assured him that a martini was the "Speciality of the house". Impressed he ordered one. "Would you like the regular or deluxe?" she asked. "What's the difference?" he wanted to know. "Honey, the deluxe comes with grits." (......rimshot....)

OK- back to the evening. The crowd (about 30-40) was seated in a nice large area, normally occupied by a pool table and some electronic games that had been cleared out. The group was obviously from our neighborhood and with the exception of a few couples, most were in their 50's or better (present company included). We felt right at home. The drinks were served and eventually the sound system set up and the couple began singing songs. The rotating disco ball and black lights added to the scene, and anything white (including teeth) shown with a strange purple glow.

The songs were no doubt very popular Latin American songs, as most of the crowd knew the lyrics and either mouthed the words or sang along. We were probably the only ones who didn't know the songs and were not able to grasp the meanings from the Spanish lyrics. But the general tone was one of love and affection and seemed to generate a nostalgic atmosphere (hence the name of the evening). After the first couple of songs, the couples took to the dance floor and the dance floor was not empty the rest of the night. Everybody danced and some danced for hours.

After about a 1 hour set, the couple packed up and the DJ for the night spun 50's rock and roll songs (strictly American), which the crowd also knew and sang to. If you had pulled up to the joint in a '57 Chevy convertable, dressed in jeans and T-shirt and your hair slicked back with oil, you would have felt right at home (except for all of those old people dancing to the music).

Dinner was served and eventually dessert, but there was almost always some couples dancing. This went on for 5 hours, and though some left, it didn't really seem like it was slowing down a lot. At 3:00 in the morning, Denise and I felt we had "represented" well enough, eating, drinking and dancing the night away and so we finally slunk out with goodbyes and kisses for the hostess, determined to mark this on our calendar and be fully prepared for next year. Hey- with a little practice, we could be the "hot ones" on the floor.

On a different note, the other day we spied this house and it's business sign while driving through Parque del Plata (a neighboring area). The sign says that the man offers his service as a carpenter. Hmmm...any takers?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Bug Hunt

Well, the bug hunt is on. After looking over the many choices in transportation and taking stock of our meager budget- it was decided that the only car that could come remotely close to being decent transportation, for under $5000 was a VW Beetle (or "Fusca" in South America). Remember that cars are expensive and a luxury, here and used cars command a premium price. A used car selling for $2000 in the States would go for $4000-$5000 here.

So a budget of $5000 does not give you a broad range to choose from.

While traveling to Montevideo (where a good number of cars are for sale) we came upon this beautiful artful metal door (pictured above). Since Denise loves taking pics of architectural details, I couldn't help including this.

A little later we heard a strange whistling sound and came upon this afiladora de cuchillos (knife sharpener). They go about the town on their bicycles, with the sharpening stones mounted on the back. The whistle that they blow alerts householders that an afiladora is nearby and they bring out their knives, get a price and he sharpens them on the spot.

After settling on a Fusca, now comes the hard part. Finding one that is not a total shell, that would need to be entirely rebuilt. The first one that I looked at, was an '80 (1300) that actually looked pretty good. The body was straight, and the engine ran well. But it would have to be painted and the interior replaced, and with the age of the car- probably the engine as well. Having spent a year renovating the house (and still not finished), we wanted to look for a car that did not need such extensive work. I next saw an '87 with low mileage for $3300, but I suspected crash damage that had been repaired (the passenger side door had been re-attached and many of the body parts didn't fit well).

We have settled on this little '87 (1600) that was recently repainted. It is supposed to have 35K miles only, but I suspect it has more. Still it looks very nice and you will notice the "Krispy Kreme" sticker in the back (given to the owner by his friend who lived in the US). However, I still have one car to look at. Tomorrow I will go up to Maldonado and look at another '87 that is supposed to be impeccable. We will see. It is a good deal more that the Krispy Kreme, but if it is as clean as the ad says, it might be worth it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Thanks to the good graces of our friends in La Floresta (Steve and Diane) we were treated with a trip to Piriapolis, the largest coastal town before you reach Punta del Este. Through the early 1900's and up until the 40's and 50's, Piriapolis was the destination in South America for the rich and famous and remained so until Punta del Este began developing into that role.

It is truly a beautiful town. You can see the elegance of the era from the opulence of the Hotel Argentino, with its beautiful marble floors and columns to the many historic and picturesque buildings throughout the city. A stay at the Hotel Argentino would run you about $60-$100 in the off season. As you can see from the pictures, we were some of the few visitors there. Although this was a warmish day (with some overcast), the beach was virtually empty, the rambla had few cars on it and most of the shops and restaurants were empty. While we had been told that the town was "dead" in the winter- we found that midweek (this being a Wednesday) it was quite lively and many shops and services were open. We will have to go back during high season (Dec-Jan) when we are told it is wall to wall people. I am sure I will prefer off season, however.

After a brief lunch stop at the local La Passiva (Uruguay's Denny's) which was particularly overpriced, we made our way up to one of the lookouts where we could see the town and also the third largest mountain in Uruguay (a notably flat country), Pan de Azucar, with it's famous cross on the top. From this vantage point we could look out over the harbor, get a nice view of the city and also the mountain. There is an alpine style chair lift that takes you from the beach to the lookout. It wasn't running today (probably only during the season), but it looks like it would be lots of fun. In addition, there was a small but well-kept marina below, as well. Looks like there were about a dozen slips available and several nice boats were in port.
We continued further along the coast and found lovely beach houses and nice communities, with signs of construction bustling all over. Before heading back into town, we sought out the house of one of the expats who used to blog about his experiences some time ago (Ken M.) and by chance were able to locate his house, from pictures he had posted. It had a nice view of the bay and his wife came out when we arrived, but Ken and the kids were down with the flu and so we missed meeting them.Entering the town again, we came across some of the architecture that makes this place special. We noted that this was a hotel-heavy town, with hotels in almost every block. As you can see from this view of the rambla looking from the Hotel Colón, this beautiful beach and walk are almost deserted. We had the whole place to ourselves.

Heading home, we passed through the inland part of the town, all very nicely paved streets and neat houses. Some very ritzy areas and some modest, but most of the areas were very well kept up. We came across a very nice park close to sundown. It had camping facilities nearby, was in the shadow of a massive granite mountain and you could even see the bay. The park had it's own caretaker. He had a little room connected to the bathrooms, and he was busy caring for the park. This was a little fountain where we could have filled up our water jugs, if needed.

There were heavy duty metal playground equipment. This was special, as many of the smaller parks in some of the smaller communities have such equipment made out of logs or even metal barrels. But this was first class. The center of the park was taken up by a very large circular pond and in the middle a very stately greek style cupola with a beautiful statue. The picture seemed a fitting end to a lovely day. We can hardly wait to go back and spend more time wondering about the town and finding new places to visit.