Posted by: Jeremy Martin | May 21, 2008

The Truth Fades Back

What a colorful weekend.

Reggae bars, jam spaces, and 7 am river sunrises beside the rambla sand. Although Monday met me with ojera eyes (bags), it was well worth it.

And the rain has started to fall also. It’s been well over a month since the last drops. Looking out from Endeavor’s eigth floor, I can see shades of orange thundercloud and the dark dust trail getting left behind it. Hopefully with more water the farmers and cities will begin breathing in a life again. My host family has been eating in candlelight for weeks, afraid of electric blackouts and circling police vigilance. Businesses have rescheduled their workday hours to make the least of the grid and the most of shortening sunlight. Main streets, that are usually easy to cross at night, have every other lamp turned on now. And with almost all its electricity produced coming from hydropower, Uruguay has to import 75-80% of all its energy. The drought has sucked wallets dry too; lately utility bills have been skyrocketing and the government has begun charging sin taxes on elevated consumption.  

We take all energy too much for granted.

As I think of the last time I’ve seen the rain, I realize that time has been moving forward quickly but flushing in the other hemispherical direction. I woke up today to my cell phone alarm and saw the date, grumbling aloud: wow, it’s almost June already? It’s bizarre to think I’ve been in Latin America since the doldrums of February.

Up in Vermont, I can only see people stripping off their flannel as Midd pals have departed from their all-nighters and finals. The northeast must be blooming into summer quick. And on other continents, friends from China to Paris brace for flights home in just days. Odd: Uruguay’s clock ticks slowly but the calendar sprints through the pages despite there still being 2 months left. Now that’s a lot of mate.

Therein lies the truth of routine. It grows difficult to differentiate the days and even harder to shatter their similarities. I’m trying to break things up more. In order of events I’ve begun planning weekend trips in my head: one to Pirianopolis, a town shoulder to shoulder with Punta del Este’s chic hotbed, a trip to Mercede’s tree plantations, and a July flight (if money ain’t tight) up to Brazil’s Rio or Niteroi.

But really good things are happening now. The band I’ve put together sounds nice (just trying to pick a name), starting to knock off school assignments, the spanish is picking up, and the Celtics (as of today) are steamrollin’. I’m definitely sporting the Paul pierce headband. And ‘The Truth’ fades back… 

 

  

Posted by: Jeremy Martin | May 16, 2008

Warming up to Cold Calling

A piece of advice from a petty 21-year-old: Avoid wasting opportunities by being afraid.

Easier said than done, right? Very true, but it´s also easier when practiced than when not.

This past week has given me a (venture) capital-lettered chance at realizing just how self-intimidating we all are. And after some serious mental churning, I´ve begun ditching lame excuses and replacing them with no excuses (or really good ones at least). Let me fill you in at what I´m talking about…

When I was a littler kid, making phone calls scared the living shit out of me. My parents know this well. They´d asked me if I wanted pizza for dinner – the obvious answer being yes, of course – but usually told me that if I wanted it, I would have to call in the order.

Damn. I guess it´s spaghetti night again.

What happens when you´re too afraid to do something? Well, if you´re a cynic, you´d answer that you never eat pizza. Well cynics, technically you´re right. Except here pizza symbolizes something else: getting what we really want without flattering our fears.

It´s pretty redundant to say that we all want to get what we want. Unfortunately, if most people had digested this concept by now and made it part of their diet, we´d probably see more people going about doing it. Now I´m not talking about problems of motivation or reaping superficial or material things. Like that BB gun Ralphie thirsted for in A Christmas Story or some hair highlights your friends are preventing you from getting. Instead think of something simple but meaningful – maybe that trip you´ve been dying to go on or a person you haven´t gathered up the cajone strength to ask out.         

Uruguay´s been good turf for practicing at getting what I want despite the inklings of terror involved. Just the other day, I needed to schedule interviews for Guillermo´s clients, working more or less as his spy to tease out prices, quality control expectations, and market tendencies. Now I still haven´t grown out of my phone-phobia. After all, calling people you don´t know in another language to get confidential information sure made my palms sweaty at the thought. Technically I could have opted for emailing or asking one of my Endeavor colleagues to do it for me. But instead of wasting time and opportunity by being a major wuss, I was on the phone all day. Since then, I´ve conducted 4 interviews with some great results. (Sidenote: understanding another language on the phone or radio has got to be the biggest crucible for foreigners. This was some gritty but great practice.) 

So? I´ve started warming up to cold calling.

Wiping away the fear helps us squeeze the orange a lot better, too. I´ve been playing with Cuatro Vientos – the band near my house – and scheduling practices for a funky trio as well. The takeaway: shy people, straighten your backbone, raise your hand more, ask for directions, whatever. Nervous people, relax, quit biting your nails, or smoke some legal uruguayan pot for my sake and yours.

If you´re going to waste time, at least waste it some way or some place else other than ´zone fear´. Remember: opportunity begets opportunity. 

So for all those who really wanted to be a ski bum or rockstar, I urge you go do it. Or at least try picking up the phone. It´s good practice. For as they say, practice makes perfect. 

Posted by: Jeremy Martin | May 9, 2008

Swinging

It’s nice to be back in the land of trannies.

You might think I’m kidding. But after not seeing one crossdresser in Argentina, I realize how much I miss them (around 2 am they start to beehive in and out of my complex).

After the schlep to Colonia and across the river to Puerto Madero, a couple Middkids and I met up for dinner in the big ananá (pineapple) that I know and sort of love as Buenos Aires. The first thing one notices coming off the boat is how much faster people walk when compared to Montevideo. I don´t really know where these porteños are going, but by the looks of it they´re in a real hurry. And don´t forget, of course, there´s the heavy noise of Recoleta´s 26-lane downtown freeway traffic, which takes around five minutes to cross on foot.

Before hitting up the bus station (I´m determined most of my time in Latin America has been spent in a bus) we had to fill up time. As a result, some Monteamerican friends and I bummed around the city for the evening. What my dad would call ¨a good problem¨. We had the luck of meeting up with a friend living nearby … over empanadas and steak of course… all of which washed down swimmingly with an Argentine red. 

Meeting up in the bus terminal hours later boggled my mind again. Amongst the throngs of jostling natives was an awkward oasis of thirty-five yanquis (I recently discovered just the other day that it´s not spelt yankees, just pronounced that way. I am not so offended anymore). 

And in the words of The Doors, ¨people are strange, when you´re a stranger…¨ 

The bus ride included some solid company, a good thing given that we journeyed ten-hours through the black nothingness of the Pampas region. I sat on the second story of the double decker bus in the front – which gave way to a swinging feeling of gliding and riding, all without driving. 

Córdoba nests itself on the evergreen slopes of north-central Argentina. The streets for the city of under two million get surprisingly narrow, almost as though built in ancient times or for oversized keebler elves. The nightlife bumps from 2 am until whenever the clubs decide the sun comes up. Once that happens, your brain and hands can thaw out nicely.

During the day the group trekked in and out of the center with the use of our rockstar tour bus. The coordinators also gave us the choice of taking on our own schedule. Thankfully, I chose the latter option which led me to jamming with a local band, Optio, in their recording studio near the skirts of Córdoba´s suburbs.

The flight back had some priceless moments – although not of the MasterCard kind. I don´t think I´ve ever seen a group of 20-somethings, so miserably hungover, so decrepid and uneager to board a quickee flight back to BA. One girl looked happy passing out on her tray table. Another hyperventilated in one of those doggy bags. And a buddy of mine was so out of it he passed out with his head dangling over his lap, foaming from the mouth like a bloodless bloodhound. 

As great as Córdoba and its women were (I must return to make a few phone calls), getting back to Montevideo´s slow and ¨todo tranqui¨ lifestyle has me much more enamored. I mean, what other place in the world loves dulce de leche, milanesa, and maté so much?

Sleep has written over the week. A good thing since parciales (midterms) and projects are fast approaching. I continue struggling with the three-hour class, determined that it´s not just me who can´t concentrate since most people book it out of there once they´ve signed the attendance list after the 10-minute ¨corte¨(recess break). They´ve given me time to start organizing a band and thinking about rehearsal times at least. I just need some keys and then the cat´s in the bag…

Any Uruguayans who happen to read this, there´s a classic this Sunday: Nacional vs. Peñarol. Two questions: why did you leave the country and who are you rooting for?

Now back to my trannies.

 

Posted by: Jeremy Martin | May 6, 2008

Uruguay vs Argentina

Sounds like a classic fútbol match, right?

Well, it is. But after my recent blurry stint in Córdoba, it´s becoming impossible not to put Uruguay against Argentina in other walks of life as well. 

Ever since the early 18th century, Uruguay – a.k.a. La República Oriental de Uruguay to encyclopedias – has competed and been compared to Argentina. Uruguay´s capital city, Montevideo, was once a military base for the Spanish centuries ago but soon began fighting hard for another cause, too: staying above Buenos Aire´s high commerical waters. To make a long historical story short, Uruguay used to represent, and was identified as, the Eastern Province of Argentina. Upon gaining independence and autonomy, however, Uruguay has distinguished itself in more ways than one. Nonetheless, it continues sharing much in common with its western neighbor…

How so? Vocabulary and grammar for starters. Here´s a concise list of some words and phrases in this part of the southern cone for any interested:

Ché – translated loosely in english as ¨hey, you¨. It can be interpreted as a way to get someone´s attention also. More often than not, when usd among friends, ché is more like saying ¨dude¨.

Salado – literally, ¨salty¨, but figuratively, this word occupies a number of definitions when placed in different contexts. For example, after walking out of a hard test you could say ¨ese examen estuvo salado¨. But just as U.S. slang has a knack for calling something ¨sick¨ or ¨nasty¨, when someone says ¨¡qué salado!¨, take the phrase as a sign of something cool or impressive.   

Vos – basically the comfortable tú form here. But don´t be fooled by outsiders telling you that Argentina and Uruguay don´t use tú because it still remains in full force. Also, what a lot of people don´t know is that when natives drop the ´s´ in the pronunciation, which makes the word sound a lot like ¨bo¨, it then becomes more like saying ¨man¨, ¨dude¨, or ¨guy¨.

Dale – alright, well, gotcha, sure, fine, do it, go. The expression ¨dale¨ certainly has other meanings in the entire spanish speaking world. ¨Dale, te toca a ti¨ (it´s your turn) or ¨dale, gracias¨ (nice, thanks) are just a few examples. Yet in this part of the world, dale is used very often in social situations and is not thought of as slang or abrasive language.

Bárbaro – great; nice; ¨sweet¨. Again, not unique to the region, but definitely more spoken in the region and diverse when in practice. 

Tá – okay; yeah. This is a personal favorite of mine in Uruguay because they say it all the time. Tracing the word´s roots, tá was shortened from ¨ahí estᨠ(there it is) but has come to mean okay in most instances. Besides ¨okay¨and ¨yeah¨, if you hear someone talking on the phone, it´s not surprising to listen to a seemingly infinite list of ¨tá, tá, tá´s¨ when  someone is probably not paying attention or simply in full agreement (much like when you say ¨mhm¨ or ¨uh huh¨ when you can´t get a word in edgewise).

Copado – cool. Very argentine, but near the Río de la Plata coast of Uruguay you´ll hear it a bunch.

Viste – from the verb ver it´s literally ¨you saw¨ or when used in a question ¨did you see…?¨. Figuratively speaking, though, viste is exactly like saying ¨ya know?¨ to someone at the end of a sentence, you know?

Also, anyone looking to voyage to this area of the world, conjugation has an attitude. Accents make the Spanish sound kind of Italian in intonation. Examples?

Sabes = sabés; quieres = querés; entiendes = entendés; and so on for basically every verb… 

Cheers      

Posted by: Jeremy Martin | April 28, 2008

Montevideo: It´s Like a Really Big Dorm…(dude).

Fuck. I´m sick.

Uruguay for sure takes the S.A. cake in friendliness, most likely from its small size and concentrated culture. But with this also comes a new development: everyone sneezes at the same time.

I explain this phenomenon in a fairly straightforward fashion: with the changing of the season, your immune system weakens and viruses spread more easily. The problem exacerbates itself further especially when there are fewer than 4 million people living in the entire country, all of whom kiss each other upon entering or leaving somewhere.

In this manner I guess Montevideo truly likens itself to like, a really really large dorm while like, Uruguay resembles a grossly oversized college campus… (insert ´dude´).

I thought my getting sick was either for these reasons or, perhaps slightly more archaic in form, because of all these yerba maté bombillas going around and the ill-steaze smoke floating over from Argentina. Uruguyans agree to disagree.

All of Brecha thinks its from sitting around newspapers, which sometimes can be sickening when you read the front (or any) page nowadays. The gang at school has told me its because I don´t wear a winter coat even when it´s 65 degrees and sunny out. Diego thinks its because I know the Celts lost game 3. And my host mom is uberly bent on it being because I take my socks off when I go to bed, which constitutes an immediate and violent viral hotzone.

And it doesn´t stop there. Their cures are curious, too. My host family begs me to go to Abitab and buy a tea that you put an egg into. I told them I prefer to have the sniffles than gurgle raw yoke. My friend Mateas says if I air out the apartment I live in the virus will fly out of the windows. I said maybe – actually absolutely not. And to boot, Gonzalo thinks I can kill it with enough whiskey to which I replied quickly, ¨you should be a doctor.¨

All the while, this talk has made me feel much better.

Posted by: Jeremy Martin | April 25, 2008

A Queue of Q and A

Who is more of a woman? Hillary or Barack?

Why do people remind you that you´re older than before?

What is going on with the U.S. dollar? That is, why does it suck so badly?

Where do you pack your toothpaste on trips so it doesn´t get all over your bag?

When will there ever be enough time?

Just questions. No answers.

Posted by: Jeremy Martin | April 23, 2008

Dehydrated Vegetables Rock (So Squeeze the Orange)

It’s stiflingly hot in Endeavor’s office today. I’m sweating bullets (shotgun shells, in fact). But somehow people here are wearing long sleeves and scarves. I guess it goes without saying – although I’ll say it anyway – that the soupy air makes my investigation of clients and dehydrated vegetable prices in the foreign market much tougher.

The advantage of all this? Doing these kind of gigs has been giving big ups to my spanish. Especially of the technical, work-force type. How else do you learn to say ‘entrepreneur’ or ‘board meeting’? I’ll tell you, the first couple weeks of spanish had my head in a vice. Somone would say something and my brain wanted to curl up in a ball. Now I’m hitting the ball back with some umph.

Why the change? Making a conscious effort to speak and hang out with natives and not of gringos, which aren’t even called gringos in this part of latin america (Instead they say “yankees” to refer to north americans. Why? Not exactly sure, but you’re definitely asking great questions. If it were up to me, I’d rather be called a “red sox” or “celtic”.)   

I had a solid conversation with my buddy Eric last night about language frustration. Throughout big E’s little adventures, he confessed that he didn’t feel his spanish had improved that much – in terms of speaking and comprehension. “I’ve been here a month and a half,” he said, “and it doesn’t appear to be getting better.” 

I tossed a frown. Upset to hear that. Then I asked Eric how he spent his days. He responded, “well drinkin gmate, of course. Cooking, Mercosur, parques, rambla, and classes after”. Then I asked him who he socialized with. And that’s when the godzilla truth revealed itself: Too much time passed around the group and isolated, with not enough spent getting closer to locals. How else do you learn another language?

It made perfect sense. After all, the same happened to me the first few weeks here. In orientation week, we had listened to each other bumble over syllables and ask textbook questions to our directors. The next week we knew nobody of course and classes were off because of la Semana de Turismo, so we did the feel-good thing and stuck together. The third week our classes, internships, and “normal” life routines began. A lot of routines did not get off to the best start; internships delayed or got screwed up, classes needed to get sorted out and chosen, all while miscellaneous hassles filled the air. Hell, one girl even got surgery that week after a glass broke on her leg, cutting part of her tendon. Consequently, in just under a month, the yankee paste held firm.

At least for some.

This kind of trend of sticking together had grown slowly but surely and was hard for me to take note of at first. The natural tendency when you’re foreign is to hang juntos (together). You can see this pattern back in the States: China towns, Brazilian neighborhoods in northern Massachusetts, or international student cliques at most universities or colleges. Simply put, people like what feels comfortable and what comes easy. Or what feels instinctually natural.

But none of this is natural. And I told Eric that in so many words. This semester  (or for him, a year) is a total college curveball. Once we’re out of here, it’s back to the real world grind. So?

Squeeze the orange.

Corny, I know (even though its an orange). But that was the phrase I heard in Mexico years back. Plus it sounded fruitier than ‘carpe diem’ (in more ways than one) so I remembered it. I told Eric that I had felt the same way a few weeks before. Sometimes I closed myself off in my room to read “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest”. I even started my internship typing away in the corner with headphones on. Pretty anti-social actually.

Then I realized being in the basement of Brecha wasn’t a problem, it was an opportunity. I quit listening to music while I was writing and started talking and asking questions. Stupid ones at first, just to get conversation started and get to know other people. And I took that attitude everywhere. I purposefully went a few hours early to La Facultad to hang out with the lady who makes delicious pizza and microwaves my empanadas. I’d stay up late listening to my host mother drone on about relatively unimportant stuff when I just wanted to go to bed. Or I’d go to the supermarket with Leticia to talk more.

And as they say, the rest is history. So here’s to the future…   

Posted by: Jeremy Martin | April 18, 2008

Where is my mind? Where is my…

T.G.I.F.? That’s not needed. Every weekday here is like a Friday.

Although it started with a bang, the Fray Bentos excursion turned out to very tranquilo. After a mixed drink mixed culture party – brimming with brazilians, chileans, uruguayans, and norteamericanos (yet no white nor black russians) – it seems that staying out until 5 am isn’t such a good idea when you have an 8 o’clock bus to catch. It goes without saying that my head didn’t respond to the first or second alarm. Instead I woke at 7:51am to Matt’s text reading “donde andas” (where are you). I didn’t respond immediately since his guess would have been better than mine.  

After the afternoon hangover subsided, I found myself breezing through the countryside. Luckily there was no need to buy another ticket since the man in charge of printing tickets had a knack for niceties. “Pero solo esta vez te lo regalo, ta?” (I’ll get another one for you now, but only this time ok?). It was as if he thought I tried to miss my bus but wanted to forgive me.  

Uruguay’s land has little use – farming, a house here and there, and plots of eucalyptus plantations constitute the main attractions. But the scenery looks bucolic through large glass panes and helps soothe your nerves before arriving.

Matt already looked settled into the slow Fray Bentos lifestyle when I stepped out of the bus. He was probably high (film kids, you know?) or at least dazed by the town’s incredible amount of scooters. We took a walk to see the wide stretch of Rio Uruguay, got a bite, and reserved a double in a quaint hotel. The rest of the day, we took some pictures and wrotes notes before the sunset.

Although 4 km away from the center of town, the Botnia smokestack sticks its neck out high enough to see over two story buildings. The next day we visited the plant, amazed at the frequency of trucks flowing in with wood and out with nothing. The scale that Botnia’s cellulose plant takes up – not bearing in mind thousands of hectares of genetic forestland – likens itself to the size of a small airport or prison. Matt and I talked to some of the few Sunday workers and soon shimmied our way towards El Puente Internacional de General San Martin, the bridge that connects both country’s shores. In November the bridge and airspace over the cellulose paper plant were closed due to the 40,000 some-odd environmental protesters from Gualeguaychu, Argentina. Since we walked to the bridge and Matt had his camera in hand, it didn’t surprise us that the guards wouldn’t allow passage.

It’s truly amazing the controversial impact this company has had on the country – environmental, economic, political, and social. Nonetheless roughly 90-95% of Fray Bentinos favor the plant with the same amount of Argentines against it. For the sake of blogosphere curtness and courtesy, I recommend you read the final grant report if you’re interested in learning more. The topic fascinates. But if you do read it, please don’t print it. That’d just add salt to the wound.

After our fair share of interviews and footage, Matt and I headed back on Monday in time for night class. The rest of the week has been eventful, beginning my investigation at Endeavor and dreaming a bunch in spanish. Yesterday I gave my 50-something friend, Sergio, a tutor lesson over some chivito and delicious picada. Making Uruguayan friends prooves tougher than my stint in Mexico and requires much more effort. Half of the people in my classes are 30 years old or more with real jobs and/or families. But little by little I’ve been forming buddies and seeing more and more familiar faces.

Last night I walked to the bus station around 10:15 as I always do. This time it was a little more surreal – besides the modest nocturnal protest taking place on the main drag of 18 de Julio, I noticed something funny. Headlights shot out more than usual. The air seemed thicker and opaque. Was it mist? Fog? Nah, it ouldn’t be, I thought. The air felt dry. Was it the beginning of cataracts? Nah, too young for that.

That night I watched a futbol match with Diego. The field the two teams were playing on was obscured by a dense white froth. Since both were Argentine teams and Diego said nothing, I just assumed I was going crazy or hallucinating. That could be fun, I thought, so better not to ask.

The next morning I discovered the real culprit upon turning on the Channel 5 news (yeah, canal 5). Argentines were burning their fields outside of Buenos Aires. Traffic accidents and facemasks consumed Buenos Aires. And 400 kilometers away, Uruguay could see and touch the smoke.  Both countries really enjoy sharing filth, depending on which way the wind blows and current flows. I guess I wasn’t going crazy. Damn. I’ll just have to eat more empanadas.

Posted by: Jeremy Martin | April 11, 2008

And they´re off

I myself am racing somewhere.

Compatriot Matt and I bought our tickets for Fray Bentos this weekend. We leave Saturday at dawn to make the most of the day, returning Monday sometime during the afternoon. Should be nice to go with someone the first trip and especially him since he´s bringing some of his media goodies.

Here´s Matt in a nutshell: when we completely ran out of money due to the shitty combination of lack of cash and broken ATMs in the middle of nowhere, he could only laugh, ¨great I´m broke with a $5000 camera.¨

His reason for coming? Filming a documentary for one of his classes at La ECU (Escuela del Cine Uruguayo). The same footage will be used for his cultural project and hopefully some clips for my grant presentation that I can subtitle (or hilariously dub). So it´s a win-win-win situation.

One MAJOR downside of going away for this weekend: I´m missing the largest asado (bbq) in the world. Montevideo is attempting to break the guinness book of world records for this. Man this countryloves its meat.

A couple days ago I went to visit Guillermo´s plant. Not only did I learn a lot about dehydrated and frozen vegetables, but took in just how difficult it can be to run your own business. You can really see how world issues come into play as well. For example, the fall of the US dollar´s value has taken away from El Rincón´s profitability and production cycles are growing increasingly shorter from climate problems, which is why he needs someone (me) to do research on the tendencies of the market and new technology to keep up with the times. As a 30% raw material extractor and 70% final product industrialist, his quality is great but it needs more prestige and better regional references. In short, I´ll be investigating competitors, prices, products (raw and final materials), technology, potential clients, and the costs of importing and exporting around the world (although mainly the southern cone). Did anyone tell them that I haven´t earned an MBA or even finished undergrad yet? Hmmm, maybe ignorance is bliss…

As for the host family, I think we have a pretty good flow going. Although we see each other very little, the time that we do seems to be working swell. The other day I went grocery shopping with Loli, which was fun, although the way she went about getting errands done made absolutely no sense at all. We must have gone to 6 or 7 different stores – all of which had the exact same things at the same values – before heading back to our complex near canal cinco . (Sidenote: I live near a robust media tower known in all it´s beautiful glory as Canal 5. It´s great. And when you´re living near Boulevard Artigas, you need all the metal structure pride you can muster).  

After I get home around 10:30 pm, the four of us eat and then Diego and his woman Leticia hit the sack because they wake up early to work. Following dinner I´m usually feeling the deadly combination of ¨food coma¨ and ¨bone-tired¨ because of spending the day running around the city. This does not deter Loli, however. After dinner dynamics can be easily summed up as me trying my hardest to let Loli know that I need to go to bed or else I´ll pass out standing up, and her talking for hours on end. This happened until 2:30 am a couple times before I learned better to make myself clear. The advantage, however: I´ve come to realize the woman knows a lot about some pretty random stuff. I´m also pretty sure she´s selectively unaware of body language. Loli doesn´t detect yawning and droopy eyes, but has a loud radar for not diving into veggie paradise (don´t try to google earth this place, it doesn´t exist). Yet despite such facts, I definitely find the whole routine quite entertaining and very endearing. 

For all of you up north, enjoy the spring time weather. It´s a true soul-lifter. And for all you down south, keep on being culturally awkward.

Posted by: Jeremy Martin | April 8, 2008

Hi, New Lifestyle

I can only imagine what culture shock will be like in August.

Besides the fact that stress really has not entered into my vocabulary for months now – (and for you hispanohablantes, nor have the words estresante, estres, or estresado) – I have also come to realize that Uruguay represents all things bogus.

First off, the impression that Latin America smokes just as willingly as Europe definitely warrants an exception in this part of the southern hemisphere. For those Uruguayans who prefer to avoid busted lighters and signs that say “prohibido fumar”, the mate tradition constitutes a clear and healthy alternative. For Uruguay, mate is life. Just like smokers in Europe, it is easy to spot drinkers everywhere. Mate on the boardwalk! on the bus! in big fancy office buildings! Taking sips from my gord on the beach, a Columbian girl approached me and asked if I would be willing to help her with a documentary she was making on the pervasiveness of mate and its cultural depths in Uruguay especially. Listening to her pitch for my voluntary help, I realized quickly that she thought I was Uruguayan. And naturally so, because I did have mate in hand after all.  Once I told her I was just a silly half-year tourist trying to be someone else, I’m pretty sure she was less excited about interviewing me. But that fact remains a mystery. 

Needless to say, I spoke to the camera (which you’re never supposed to do unless you’re Ron Burgondy or an amateur). Her face perked a little when I said that the only Uruguayan Ive met so far in over a month has been my host mother. What I forgot to tell her was that she is also a bonified chain smoker.

Quotidian observations make double-takes pretty common in Montevideo, especially if you are looking close enough. Yesterday, for exampe, I noticed that almost all dumpsters and trash cans contain the phrase *que dios te bendiga*, or, “may god bless you”. Jesus Christ, what a place to recruit the unholy! Either that’s blasphemy or God really does exist in all places…

Uruguay is full of all such quirks. Looking out onto Rio de La Plata, its hard to be convinced that she isn’t ocean (it’s the widest river in the world). The spanish here mixes with italian and portuguese. Some people are whiter than I am. Classes are almost longer than the SAT (and I’m referring to the new version, too). Spicy for them is mild. And to finish things off, consumption of marijuana is legal in Uruguay – not that there are any cops around to control it anyway. All I have to say is if this were VT it would be very high down here.

This week, Im doing the Brecha gig Monday and Tuesday, visiting the entrepreneur’s plant on Wednesday to begin my consulting report, and have classes every day except Wednesday. Brecha has many a chill moment. I still can’t get used to the fact that everyone gets here around noon and reads the paper for work. Pretty, pretty, pretty good work if you can get it. I sit next to Mateas and Lucia (cute, but 27, damn) for most of the day chatting about the news and learning new phrases. We’re near the physical archives – which date back to the period of dictatorships here – that have dusty photos of the President of the Frente Amplio and articles relating to Peron and Pinochet.

This weekend I plan on heading to Fray Bentos, which is complicated since I have to request and get approval from the International Review Board of Human Subjects Research. This requires applications, consent forms, and formulating lists of interview questions before heading out. Whatever the case, I plan on checking out the eucalyptus plantations that have dried wells and changed the landscape. I hope to get to the river, maybe across into neighboring Gualeguaychu if protesters aren’t around, and definitely want to take some photos of the plant in between interviews with locals. The first trip will be basic, so I can get a genearl panorama and idea of what the area and environment is like. I’m 15 pages deep so far; and counting…

The weather has been beautiful so far. Much akin to New Hampshire in mid-September with warm days and cool, comfortable sleeping nights. It’s perfect. But still, Uruguayans are blown away that you leave the house without a coat if it’s 65 degrees in the morning. “Hace frio”, Diego says shivering. Don’t you want a coat? But by 10:00 pm, when my classes let out, all I want to do is bolt from the room because there’s no ventilation. After three hours the air is hot, 800 times exhaled, stuffy, and to be honest, definitely makes class kind of boring by the end.

It’s taken a month to adjust to the vrooming traffic outside my window. Although they say there are no highways here, I think four lanes fits the definition, right? It’s so loud that I have gotten good at telling when the traffic lights turn from red to green thousands of meters away. It’s off to the races outside. But I sleep well through a race which pulses all night long…  

 

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