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Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Social Club

The Social Club. Back in the States you might call it the local recreational center.  Maybe it's just me or rather my point of view, but it seems to play a big part in Uruguayan life.

In Seattle, I remember seeing rec. halls in various communities offering special senior citizen gatherings and classes. I remember adjoining playing fields and seeing little league being played while enthusiastic dads and moms rooted for their little ones. I remember during the summer, swim classes being held at the swimming pools of some of those rec. centers. Well, Uruguay does all of that plus adds a social context.

The above picture is of the Club Albatross (like the bird) in the town of Salinas. That town is 1 1/2 kilometers away from my home (in Marindia). In Spanish, it's listed as a Club Social y Deportivo (sports). Every community has such a club. Instead of little league in those adjoining fields soccer is the sport of choice.

Inside the club Albatros (spelled with only one "s") you will find a basketball court as part of a huge room with windows that includes a stage. This center room also has a pass thru counter that connects to a kitchen so that food can be featured at some events. Wally and I have been to this club for an afternoon gathering with an onstage comedy sketch at one time and for a rather odd singing event during another evening. That evening event was when someone was trying to raise some money for a skating (patin, in Spanish) competition. It seems that Uruguay has just, in the last few years, gotten into competitive dance skating (roller skates) and is now encouraging youth groups in this sport/art. I'm sorry that I missed it but last year (3/20/2010) this same club Albatros featured, "Fantasma Opera" (Spanish) or Phantom of the Opera on skates! An exhibition of skating by Prof. Alejandro Martinez skating to a Michael Jackson song and "moon skating" backwards if you know what I mean! I saw the videos on U Tube! I would have liked to have gone that night!

The night we went, the person was raising money to help his group travel to a competition. He claimed to be a singer and sold tickets to his show. I was hoping to see some of the skaters but inside we watched him sing instead. He sang Sinatra songs.Well at least we were able to dance and buy some beer at the event, (Patricia my favorite brand here), so enough said about his singing.

There is also a "piscina" or swimming pool in this building. Even large pools in Uruguay are rather small by North American standards. Most seem to be made out of fiberglass which limits their depth and size. Still a neighborhood pool indoors at that, is not to be snubbed.

Every year, around August 24th there is a countrywide celebration of "Rock and Roll" called the Night of Nostalgia. It's an epic event as big as a "New Years Eve" celebration would be, with advance ticket buying and Rsvp ing. The Club Albatros would be one of the places to go to on that night in Salinas. Many special events and dinner shows are held there. Here is a picture of a typical invitation I found in town advertising the 23rd year anniversary of a 5 town business commercial association.
Cena means dinner in Spanish and this dinner show will have a couple of musical groups playing that night "Old Boys" and the music of the "Kalua"group, Prices are not listed on this invitation but I doubt its more than one or two hundred pesos. Food would probably be pizza or sausage or milanese (a breaded cutlet). You can often buy a piece of spinach torta (pie) for around 30 pesos,

This commercial association is made up of the towns of: Neptuna, Pinamar, Salinas, Marindia, and Fortin De Santa Rosa. If you look on a map, the towns are listed in that order along the highway (west to east).

One of the many classes held in this club has been yoga. Yoga seems to have caught on, big time in Uruguay. It's advertised everywhere. This is not surprising, in a country where the first Spanish word taught to me was "Tranquilo" or calm (for a person), peaceful (for a place) or quiet (for an evening). That's the name we have chosen for our house's name if we can ever afford the sign. When we used to tell people we were moving to Marindia everyone would say in reference to the area Es muy tranquilo (it's very quiet). They tell me, all the time, to be tranquilo. Still others just say that word by itself when they are around me. I tend to be demonstrative, and animated using facial and hand gestures, it's usually too much for most people here so, "tranquilo!"

Many people cry that it's such a shame that this building needs sprucing up but I find the lovely brick building to be in better shape and quality than many of the neighboring community clubs. Marindia also has it's own club near my house. That one is smaller and has a more beach bar shack look to it.

Our "Club Marindia" has advertised summer "movie nights" where they show an old flick on a large screen. Other nights have seen local musical groups playing. I must admit I usually find out or remember these events a day after they have been held but I've seen the flyers stapled on telephone poles around my neighborhood. A lot of my friends live closer to Salinas so I am made more aware of that club's happenings. Inside the Club Marindia is a ping pong table and a few benches. I think some tables can be brought in. I think it has a bathroom (Toilet) However, it's a far cry from the one in Salinas. The saving grace, the redeeming difference for Club Marindia is that it is almost, right on the beach. The Club Albatros sits a little higher up but does have a view of the water as seen in the title picture (on the right).

This summer I will take advantage of Club Marindia more. I want to check out movie night, I hope they will still have those. It's a pleasant walk to that club. I can go there either on the higher dirt road (the rambla) that runs along the coast. Or  I can go on the beach itself as seen in the below picture. Can you see the club's roof on the left?

Those are my two dogs running along the beach. During the week I pretty much have this beach to myself as seen in the emptiness of this photo.

Each social club has it's own special character reflecting it's unique community (mine is beach y). Some are quite sophisticated while others reflect what's important to that town. Whether you are a child, senior citizen, a young dating couple or an old married pair wanting to get out and dance, sooner or later, if you live in Uruguay, you will be in attendance at your local neighborhood sports and social club.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Bicycle!

What do Spring and Bicycles have in common?

 International Ride your Bike to work Day! It's suppose to encourage people to forsake their cars for one day. You're encouraged instead, to ride a bike to work, and to anywhere else you would have used your gas-guzzling, carbon producing vehicle to go to on that day. It's a big deal to get people to give up their convenient car for the day and go low tech. That's why a special day had to be invented to promote this. I think it's been going on for about 10 years now. Each city and country has had their own bike day on  different dates. New Hampshire with it's Eastern seacoast chose Friday May 20th as did San Diego, CA which also encouraged bike riding for that entire month of May. Dublin gave June 22nd a bike nod, Winnipeg, Canada had their day June 24th. In life there is always an exception to any rule and the Twin Cities of St Paul and Minneapolis are pushing their bike day into the chilly month of October (not spring).

Here in Uruguay, September 22nd will be this country's bike day. It's called Día Internacional Sin Autos (Day without cars).  Riding a bicycle, It's good for the environment, your health and all that, etc... stuff.

However, in actuality, everyday here in Uruguay is, ride your bike day!

I haven't ridden a bicycle for over 4 decades, not since, I was a kid. Even then, I never rode much. Because we were poor, I never owned one of my own. I only learned how to ride one by borrowing my friend's bike. Besides, I'm a klutz! So, when my new friends here in Uruguay kept asking me, why? I was walking everywhere and why? I didn't have a bicycle, my trepidation kicked in. Oh, no! I'm suppose to be fitting in here and I am literally standing out, by standing! I'm not sitting and riding a bike, while I travel down the road.

I knew I had to take the plunge, so my first step was to obtain a bicycle. Fortunately, an expat couple living here wanted to buy new bikes and sold their old ones to me and Wally. My second step was to try and ride it! When I first sat down on it, to try and ride, I panicked! It seemed so tall. I just pictured myself falling! I kind of put it and the idea of riding a bike out of my mind. I thought to myself, well, Wally has a car, we don't really need need a bike.

Now that Wally has been temporarily back in the States, I've been more dependent on my friend's schedules than Wally's. I go to my congregation's meetings, several times a week, the same as always but I've been walking to them now instead of driving there with Wally. In the early evening I walk some 2 kilometers to the hall. Returning, I either get a ride back home or I walk back home with a small group of friends. We go back home together because of the darkness and late hour. These friends live in the same neighborhood (barrio) as I do (just a few blocks away). The problem has been that, they go to this same meeting riding on their bikes but often had to push their bikes all the way home to keep pace with me while accompanying me walking back home. I never asked them to do this! I told them just to ride on ahead but they insisted no, that we would all go together. If I walked, then so would they! Well, you can imagine how guilty I started to feel at this dilemma! So, I started to revisit the idea of trying to ride a bike, my own bike this time, to my meetings.

My first thought was that, I had never panicked before at a bike being tall, so why now? I realized, that I should lower the seat! That did it! It wasn't so scary now! Next, that old Armour hot dog jingle, started to play in my head, Yeah, my brain works in mysterious ways! But if you remember that commercial, the words were "What kind of kids eat Armour hot dogs?" and the answer was, "Fat kids, skinny kids, kids who climb on rocks, tough kids, sissy kids, even kids with chicken pox love hot dogs, Armour hot dogs, the dogs kids love to bite!" (How's that for a blast from the past?)  I wasn't thinking about hot dogs however, but rather at the fact that every kid and person from age 3 to 93 on up rode bikes here in Uruguay! Fat people, skinny people, etc... and so should I!!!

By the way, ordinarily nobody rides with a helmet here unless you're a professional racer in training or riding long distance or on a bike tour. Not a good habit, but it is often said that Uruguay reminds you of being back in the 1950's. Kids still ride in the back of pickup trucks along with dogs. People here, don't run around suing other people or the city when they fall into a pot hole. You're suppose to watch where you walk! You get the drift. I just thought you would notice in the photos no one wearing a bike helmut.

 Since I was now determined to ride to the meeting for the sake of my friends my first ride was in full meeting dress, skirt not slacks, no helmet, bundled up wearing a coat and a sweater (winter wear). I rode at near night, with no bike light (like most everyone else does here). I rode for 2 kilometers, each way that night. Talk about jumping right in and taking the plunge! I rode there on a back road, sweating and praying all the way to my meeting that my legs would have the strength to get me there (I'm out of shape) and that I wouldn't fall!  Boy, was I exhausted! My friends quietly smiled when we all rode back home together. They couldn't help themselves and so took my picture! (by phone camera). I'm glad they did that for me! They showed me a quicker way back home that was partially paved and had some street lights! All I can say is that I finally did it!

I read a recent Uruguay forum where someone (not in Uruguay) asked are there any cyclists here? I almost fell on the floor, yes the whole country is a nation of cyclists out of necessity. Cars are expensive here so if you're not using the city bus, the majority of people here use bikes in their everyday lives. The next step up is motorcycles, then cars.

This same person asked, what the roads were like and if there were bike trails and lanes? Despite everyone riding a bike here, this country doesn't feel the need to cater to bike use.Why bother and spend money encouraging usage when everyone already does! So I'm including a picture of some of my neighborhood roads to show what I'm riding on.

These are good, beach community roads! See in the second picture, how smooth the road is? Yet, watch out for that permanent piece of granite sticking up out of it! In the 4th picture you can see the typical multi-pot hole formation and the 5th picture is of an intersection, where one road meets another. Notice the big dip, then the adjoining road!

In reality, I couldn't have picked a more perfect time of year to get out and finally start riding a bicycle. The weather has warmed up. Spring has arrived with it's fabulous fragrance, that is filling the air with the blush of wildflowers (silvestre flores). I think that the scent is from Freesia's, I see that this is not the time to be mowing your lawn but rather to let this natural perfume waft by you. Oddly, the scent reminds me of Lipstick! The good kind, like my mother and proper ladies used to wear, not the dollar thrift store variety. Yes, Lipstick must have added the scent of freesia to it's base.

 In case, any of you ever visit Uruguay, you can always rent a bike. If you want to rent a bike in MVD at a good price (I am told) then the company to go to is:

Bicileteria Sur (In Central) Lanza 110 at Duranzo and Yaquron. Fridays 9am to 1pm then it reopens at 3pm to 7pm. The phone number, (I believe) is (02) 901 0792

Posada al Sur is another bicycle rental shop near the old town (Ciudad Vieja). It's near the Mercado del Puerto on Perez Castellanos, Between 25 de May and Washington. The phone number is (02) 916 5287
They are a couple who is trying to develop a trail guide, mapping bike routes and points of interest.

I wouldn't ride in Montevideo because the taxis drivers are wild drivers. Cars often drive in more than one lane at a time. A helmet would be a must there. However, if you would like a bike tour in either Montevideo or in Punta del Este then click on the link for a bicycle tour company, named bikinguruguay (This is an English page link). The other link is in Spanish but is the same company.

If you want to join a planned group event for "International Bike Day" here in Uruguay on September 22nd. then you can contact urubike which is planning to ride around city hall (La Intendencia) and have a number of other activities to do. Click or contact that group below.

In Uruguay, if you are really into biking you might want to contact urubike (that's WWW.URUBIKE.ORG)

For now, touring on a bike is not something I'm looking to do. I think I'll just stick to riding to my meetings and to my friend's houses at least until my legs (and butt) toughen up. Still, I can finally say, I am riding, The Bicycle!