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Sunday, September 19, 2010

From Horse to Horse

All over the world Jehovah's Witnesses are famous for (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for going "house to house" with their message. This morning we ended up going from "horse to horse" (excuse me, please), as we traveled some 40 miles to help out a small group hand out invitations to their upcoming assembly. We met together in a group near our home, and caravanned together until we reached Montes, a small town in Canelones. The population of Montes, currently is about 1,500. Years ago, when the sugar mill was in operation, there were many more, but when it shut down, many left to find work in other towns and currently, Montes sports a congregation of only 4, which explains why they would appreciate out help to invite their neighbors to the assembly.

Montes proved to be quite a rural territory and unlike some areas, the people were very polite and would take time to talk and accept the invitation. As you walked down the street, people would wave and smile, which is somewhat different from the more populated areas, where people pass by one another, usually without acknowledging one another. It was a refreshing change of pace. There were quite a few sheep in that territory, as well as other animals.

As you can see, we were having quite a nice time, which went by rather quickly, as the towns in the interior shut down abruptly at noon for the afternoon meal and then "siesta" from 1-4 pm. So the work stops at noon.

As we gathered together and headed back in our cars, and said goodbye to the new friends we had made, we looked back on a morning well spent.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Everything But Elephant Ears

Yesterday we went to Expo Prado, which is billed as a rural farm and products exposition. Didn't really know what to expect, but it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable days we have had in a long time. But it didn't start out that way.

Heading into Montevideo in the morning, the car just wouldn't cooperate. Limping along on only 3 of the 4 cylinders, I got so mad that I considered turning the car around and forgetting the whole thing. Then I decided we could make it to Géant (the large store at the edge of Montevideo) and park it and take the bus to Tres Cruces and a cab from there. Then I decided to just sit with the car and sulk, and let Denise go alone. But I realized it would cost the same for a taxi for one person as for 2, so I finally decided to go with her, sulk and be uncommunicative the whole day. That would show my car!

We ended up taking the bus and asking directions (since we really didn't know where Prado was located). And we took 2 buses, saving the cab fare. The second bus, however, wound us through every barrio of the city, which actually proved to be very interesting and by the time we arrived, I couldn't help myself, I was enjoying the day, the pleasant weather and the chance to experience something new. I can only hold onto a good sulk for an hour or so. When we got off the bus, a nice young man offered to walk with us the 4 blocks and show us the way and we chatted with him.

We arrived at the entrance, paid a 100 peso ($5) general entry fee and went inside. You could pay more for multiple days, or one the the night's activities (there is a music venue) but we opted for just the general admission for our first time.

What we walked into was a full blown, rompin' stompin' county fair (or in this case a country fair). And we realized, that we had been missing our yearly trek to the Puyallup County Fair in Washington State. We used to go every year and loved it, but didn't realize how much we missed it until we entered the Prado. It was just like being "home", except nobody spoke English. But it was every bit like a county fair in the States.

We browsed through some of the vendors and Denise got engraved brass dog tags for Barney and Shila (something she had been wanting for many months). It is interesting that instead of an engraving machine, they had a set of hand punches and did a very fine job with even spacing and placement. Across the way, they sold paella and a drink for $150 pesos (about $7) and it was the most delicious paella I have ever eaten, filled with lots of sausage and seafood. The choice of coke, beer or white wine made this a bargain. With our appetites satisfied, we headed on into the "fairgrounds". Several radio stations were broadcasting directly from the site and Denise took a photo.

They had huge buildings for livestock and did judging just like you would expect, blue ribbons and all. The Prado is actually more centered on rural life, solutions to farming problems and issues than most county fairs. The booths, displays and vendors are really secondary to the mission. So you see a lot of farm equipment and farm related items for sale, as well as banking and finance for farmers and a strong presence of farm rights and labor organizations present.

We happened upon the horse judging and they were beautiful animals. The trainers all wore black suits and ties and it was fun to see them posing their horses and accepting the ribbons, as the judging was completed. Then we went off to look at some of the pavilions. They had an Indonesian Pavilion, Italian Pavilion, a Food Pavilion (my all time favorite) and a USA Pavilion. Outside the USA Pavilion, they had a small stage set up and they were just starting a small show with acoustic guitar and typical US songs. The singer started out with "Me and Bobby McGee". He had a low, gravelly voice. Denise thought he was Uruguayan, but I told her it was just his "bluesy" interpretation. However, after he launched into a few of the other favorites, it became evident that he was a local guy singing the hits and Denise was right. (good ear).

We had a donut and Starbucks coffee (just a regular drip, not the $5 latte), which apparently symbolized the United States of America. There was a guy in Spiderman costume and one in a Flintstone costume. Inside were a few displays, mostly embassy offices and some scholarship offers. All in all the pavilion didn't bring on a wave of homesickness, causing us to want to rush back. We were happy to leave and get back to the real show- the Prado.

We walked through the sheep and goats (they were separated, of course) and they had rabbits, chickens and pigs. Everything you would expect. They had cotton candy, balloon animals, and churros (they were delicious), as well as many fine looking restaurants. The method of cooking the meat around open fires was evident in most places. It looked so good. but since we had stuffed ourselves on the paella, we didn't try any of the restaurants. Next year will be different.

Eventually, as it was getting dark, we headed home. This time we asked directions for a bus that would take us back to Tres Cruces in a more direct route and was directed to the 183 Pocitos bus. Once again, a nice man going in that direction walked with us. He lived inland with his wife and they owned horses. He loved horses. He gave me his email so that he would sent me a photo of them. The people we had met during the day were so polite and helpful.

Arriving at Tres Cruces in short time (this bus did not visit every place in the city) and getting one back to Géant was easy. We started up the car, which unexplainably worked perfectly this time, and went back home. For anybody who loves a county fair, you can't beat the Prado. The only thing missing was "elephant ears", but other than that- they had it all.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cost Cutting

It is amazing just how much money I have wasted over my lifetime. Living on a fixed income, as we are now, shows me just how much money I could have saved, if I had just been conscious of it. I just came back from the feria, where I try and buy as much of the week's food, as I can. But they don't sell granola, and I love a good granola for breakfast.

We used to by granola at Tienda Inglesa, but is a pretty expensive cereal (about $4.75 for 10 oz of granola). Just the other day, I wondered how hard it is to make granola. Duh! It is very easy, you control the ingredients completely and I make twice as much for about half the price. The local feria sells almonds (that I roast) for about $5/lb and even Tienda Inglesa sells rolled oats at a reasonable price. Add some honey, canola oil and vanilla and you have a pretty nice little granola. Next time I will experiment with coconut and raisins.

I think if I had been as conscious of the need to conserve in my younger days, as I am now, I would be much better off. Can't complain, though, since we are finding ways to enjoy everything we need, at more reasonable price. Just recently I have located a source of corn tortillas, which are not sold in this country. I have to drive to Punta del Este to get them, but some things are worth it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Karaoke (Again)

We enjoyed our karaoke party last night. Everyone started wondering in, starting at 8:00. At 11:00 in the evening, a storm dropped about 4 inches of water, but until that time, the weather was very mild and we spent the first few hours of the evening on the patios. Denise found a little set of "bubbles" for the one child in attendance, who was a real joy, and we all enjoyed watching him blow bubbles and chase after them. It does not take much to amuse us.

Dinner was a mixed success. With help of Karina, serving, and Jorge, my assistant chef, the meal went off without a hitch. But looking back now, I should have provided some meat products. Uruguayans live for meat (myself included) and we thought that a nice salad, pasta with meat sauce and garlic bread would be fine. Nobody was really that excited about the salad, including the women (I should have known that). And since we added some red peppers to the meat sauce (as we always do), some probably thought it was a bit "hot". So next time I think I will have to provide more meat (that works for me). Of course everyone said they enjoyed the meal, but then they are very, very polite. I will publish my public apology for not being a better host and will make it up next time. I will make no apologies for the desserts, however. Jimena provided a delicious strawberry and cream cake and our carrot cake turned out to be fantastic (as good as any I have ever tasted).

The karaoke was a success. Due to the limited time we had to prepare, Denise and I only attempted one Spanish song. I don't think they could have found a faster paced song in all the list. We were horrible, but nobody was keeping score. However, we plan to download some YouTube videos for next time and practice a few of the songs. Fortunately, the video camera was not charged up and we have no record of how bad we did. Take my word for it, though- it was bad.

Eventually at around 2:00 in the morning, everyone wound down and headed on home.

*And Now for Something Completely Different

On a totally different subject, I would like to propose a change in the Spanish language. Now I know that Spanish has been spoken for ages and that there are many Spanish speakers throughout the world. In fact Spanish is the 2nd most popular language in the world, just after Chinese and before English. So I know I am treading on a lot of toes. But here goes.

Why are all nouns in Spanish (and also all romance languages) either masculine or feminine? Now every grammar books states that they are, but not why. Generally words ending in "O" are masculine and those ending in "A" are feminine, except for the many, many exceptions to the rule (and there are lots). Then, to compound the matter, adjectives describing these nouns must match in gender and number. So the question is- WHY! What difference if a house masculine or feminine? A house is a house. Some houses are more masculine than others, but all houses are feminine.

So here is what I propose. Let's just simplify all romance languages (including Spanish) and eliminate the gender preference on nouns. This would make Spanish much easier to speak and draw more people to learn. There are still 322 million people who speak English. Perhaps we can persuade some of them switch. Of course, I don't think Spanish will ever overtake Chinese, with almost a billion speakers, but perhaps more would join the Spanish speaking world if it were easier.

That's just my 2 centavos worth.

*A Monty Python reference

Friday, September 10, 2010

This Is No Yolk

I'm sorry, I couldn't help it. I was just yoking around. No- now I feel really bad- I guess the yolk's on you. Now I've just got egg all over my face. Enough!

I am making a carrot cake, this morning for our little karaoke party tonight. I've managed to secure over 500 Spanish language karaoke songs. Yesterday I went to the feria for supplies and for the second time, bought eggs with double yolks. Last time I bought them, I thought it might have just been a fluke. But this time I asked the guy if the selection were "doubles". He assured me they were and they are. Now you might be able to buy double-yolked eggs in the US (I am sure they must be available), but I don't remember ever seeing them advertised or for sale in my regular store.

So I wonder if double yolks are a Uruguayan chicken thing, or are they readily available wherever you live?

In addition, I was able to make a delicious cream cheese frosting using ricotta cheese (so technically, I suppose it is a creamed ricotta frosting). The reason for this is cost.  2- 3 ounce packages of Philadelphia brand cream cheese cost about $8.00 (US). The same amount ricotta costs a little under 50 cents. Using a few spoons of yoghurt to cream the ricotta produced a satisfactory frosting. Not quite as creamy as using cream cheese, but the cost savings alone make it more tasty. I am becoming a big fan of ricotta, having made a very nice Italian cheese cake some time ago. Again, the grainy texture of the ricotta is tempered with some heavy cream or yogurt, but the cost savings is immense. When you are living on a fixed budget, it is nice to be able to have everything you want, at a price you can afford.

As you can see from the invitation that Carolina designed (our resident event planner), there may be photos or videos that appear on the web, for which we assume no responsibility. The last time we posted a video, I really got a kick out of seeing the Uruguayos singing American songs. We'll see if it is as funny when we try to sing Spanish songs...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Santa Rosa Storm and the Assembly

Today was the first time that I have seen the sun in a week. With that statistical evidence, Stephen Hawking would probably surmise that the sun doesn't exist, but that is another matter. I couldn't figure out why it has been raining since last Saturday, almost non-stop. Then someone mentioned the annual storm that usually falls around the "Feast of Santa Rosa" and then I remembered.

For the past month, we have been handing out invitations in our local territory, as have the others, throughout the country. And yesterday was the first day of our 2010 District Assembly. It poured rain in the morning. Naturally, we got everything together and slogged our way to the assembly- Not! Sorry. We decided to take in Friday at one of the following assemblies. They are held every weekend from now, through October at the Assembly Hall in Colon. However, it was reported that there was one intrepid motorcyclist who braved the weather to attend yesterday's session. All I can say is wow! But today was much milder, so we attended and we were able to receive a new publication.

Sitting through about 6 hours of instruction, with limited language skills is difficult, to say the least. I have a lot more empathy for immigrants to the US, many of whom come there with little or no English. We, at least, have a support system with our brothers and sisters in the Kingdom Hall. There are talks and demonstrations on various subjects. Some are of general interest and some will be of more interest to active Witnesses, but we are now able to get the theme of the talks and many of the points, though some of the parts just go right over our head. It is almost as if they are speaking a foreign language...

For any local readers who wish to see what an assembly is like, the sessions start at 9:20 in the morning, with a one hour lunch break and continue until 5:00 in the evening and 4:00 on Sunday. Entrance and parking is free and no donations are solicited (you can look carefully and find discrete boxes, if you wish) and visitors can come and take in any part of the program that they might enjoy. On Sunday, in the morning session, there is a full dress drama. Denise and I have participated in 2 of these dramas over the years. Just for fun, I have included two pictures of us in drama costumes. The one on the left (with matching hot pink outfits was from Hawaii) and the one on the left is from Guam. For some reason I was always cast as a bad guy who was either kicked out of town or stoned to death. I hope that is not type casting.

For those interested, the address of the assembly is:
Salon de Asamblea de Los Testigos de Jehova
Cesar Mayo Gutierrez 2645

Well, we are getting to bed early tonight, and hoping for sun again tomorrow (weather report shows a good chance). It looks like the Santa Rosa Storm is winding down. We will, however be wearing regular clothes and not our costumes.....