Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Uruguay At Last!

I don’t cry for Argentina
with its Torres de Paines,
its profitable Mendoza vineyards,
its Ushuaia at the end of the world launching ships to Antarctica
its thoroughbred supremacy at the race track;
its polo superstars - handsome men, model prospects,
its carpincho (pig) fashions and art galleries,
its Sunday flea markets
its great trout fishing in Bariloche
its balsa animal masks tossed after one use in pagan ceremony
its Evitas continuing to splash political pages
its Suzannas molding bodies into endless youth under unnatural long blonde (dyed) hair, straight, please, no curls.
Give me, let me cry for, Uruguay any day
the streets of Salto pebbled with precious rocks;
Artigas amethyst set in underground coves transform into exotic balls of stone in the hand of my friend Maria Sara;
Rock free beaches on which you can walk forever border the entire city of Montevideo where the Rio Plata enters into the Atlantic..
Amazing dog walkers of Pocitos corral a group of up to 20 dogs on a single strong leash.
Montevideo’s El Puerto barbecue pits and bars where media media is a must-try entry into a saborous world houses also the best apple pancake in the world is tossed in an old iron skillet.
Mercedes tannat wine marches quickly into vineyard fame;
Pasayandu cattle and sheep is exported around the world;
Sturgeon bred for caviar is boxed in its lakes and rivers;
A large port stacked with containers being moved like giant legos by enormous metal monsters greets enormous cruise ships.
Uruguay-born thoroughbreds race a Triple Crown series and 6 de Enero marks the best as the year opens up for a run. Races in Marones are every Saturday and Sunday.
It’s the first country in Latin America to import the antique horse breed - Akah-teke - for endurance racing and dressage thanks to my friend Willie.
Here birth champions of bicycle races, swimmers, tennis professionals, soccer maestros, and poets. Memphis gets Steven Segal. Uruguay gets Robert Duvall.
Architects exploit summer wealth sneaking across borders for a respite from Argentine and Brazilian politics and weather. And instant gardens appear in Punta del Este homes from the tools of my friend Gabriela Verdier who knows how to turn a rose. There are more than 45 garden clubs in Uruguay.
The international jet set hogs waves in Punta each summer, and now the pure beaches of Rocha about to be exploited.
Minas and Mercedes are famous for their meringue cakes and confiterias
and there is nothing like home made fresh semi-hard cheese and dulce y leche that most farms produce and you can eat on the spot when you visit. Lapateria outside Punta produces the best dulce y leche and summer nights of jazz and blues. It’s owned by a Princess.
Give me media lunas for breakfast (a solid croissant that doesn’t crumble with just the right amount of cheese, ham and butter) and coffee, well Uruguayan coffee whether it is glaciada or not, is hard to beat - as are the pastries and cakes of Oro del Rhin and Lion de Or.
And tea sandwiches - I’m nuts for Tienda Inglesa’s tri-color (a layer of pimiento cheese, a layer of greens mixed with mayo, a layer of pureed chicken mixed with cream cheese and all on fresh thin bread. Olympicas too make me feel healthy (eggs, tomato, lettuce, cucumber, tuna) and at the Belmont House hotel (the best in South America for me) try the Omelette Surprise (a scoop of chocolate ice cream completely covered with toasted meringue.)
Most people sing praises of the naturally fed beef. It’s a meat nation. Asados fill the bellies of the nation added to a "traigo" of Whiskey or a sip of mate.
Uruguay produced Carlos Gadel, the most famous of tango singers, and a reporter who was the face of CNN Espanol from earliest times. It produced Torres Garcia, Figari and Ignacio Iturria - all big time artist who have influenced generations in all parts of the world. There is a jazz group called Memphis and once the Harlem Gospel Choir preformed here and afterwards partied and sang in my home on the Rambla. Madonna chose the more populus Maradona’s homeland for her concerts last fall (Argentina.)
Morning beach walks are often jolted by macumbra y umbama offerings to the sea, curses, blessings, red or sky blue, seemingly placed on the sand by ghosts.
Carnival in Uruguay has started and lasts the month of February - the parades are called "llamadas" and mimic anything Rio has to offer without such extravagant outlays of money. A hip sambaing dance is a hip sambaing dance no matter what place you are in. It’s awesome.
The murgas preform in Teatro de Verano singing original acapella political scripts, competitive propaganda for monetary prizes.
Soccer lasts all year and if Penarol (yellow and black) doesn’t reinvent itself it’ll be on the same road as the Memphis Grizzlies. Soccer’s the exit mechanism for so many young players and Uruguay products have incorporated in the best teams of Europe. Tennis has a big spread in Montevideo and sends players to the international circuit.
And theater thrives here too. My Teatro Experimental Audrey Taylor continues in the prisons of Uruguay, usually attempting plays by Uruguayan playwrites.
Uruguay (population about 3 million) has no industry but milks the tourists in Punta and in Colonia, the most preserved antiquated pueblo in Uruguay that rests along the Rio Plata. The hot springs of Salto run through everybody’s pipes and a bathe in that water is supposed to heal sore muscles while you drink fresh squeezed Salto orange juice.
There is a delicacy in Uruguay called respect. Friend or enemy, known or unknown, when a person greets you, he/she really greets you and asks about your family, friends, and a number of graces before getting down to the question or the business at hand. There is gracefulness here and yet there is a growing violence among the youngsters who have addicted themselves to a deadly drug called pasto baso made from the residue of cocaine. It eats a lung in three months and wastes the person forever.
I tried to escape the pull of Uruguay, having lived here 18 years married to an Uruguayan and having anchored my soul in ministry on the streets, in hospitals and in prisons of Uruguay in the nineties and up til 2002. I left abruptly and with pain in my heart. It hasn’t changed much, only there is more violence coming out of the young people, as in Memphis. Guns are in the fingers of young "wachos". Drug markets are brutal. But the people and the place grab your shoulders and heart once you give them a chance. One cheek kissing is still the greeting. And you can always come back having not missed much in the interim but cafĂ© cortado y sandwich caliente and that crunchy pancake.