Tuesday, October 31, 2006



Halloween isn't a traditional holiday in Uruguay, but it's becoming more popular. The Superfiestas store in Punta Carretas Shopping was doing brisk business the weekend before Halloween. Many stores offered a few masks and candies and decorations. Several clothing stores had dressed their mannequins in orange and black.

At my daughter's school, the kids wore costumes today, instead of their usual uniforms. I've heard there is even some trick-or-treating in Montevideo.

Dulce o Truco!

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Monday, October 30, 2006


Made in USA

A comment on an old post on the From Uruguay blog got me thinking.

Anonymous said...

Another good thing about an FTA with the states for Uruguay is that hardly any products are made in the US any more. We buy everything from other places, mostly China...

As an economist, I know this statement isn't true. Imports are only about 14% of US national income. In the US, most spending is on US-produced goods and services. European countries, by comparison, spend substantially more on imports: France 24%, Germany 29%, Spain 27%. It’s true that imports have increased in recent decades, but the US is still a domestically-focused economy.

Living in Uruguay, when I read the comment, made me realize how few US-made products are available here. While I can buy lots of US brands, they are manufactured in other countries: Oreo cookies from Argentina or Coca-Cola bottled in Uruguay. Kellogg’s cereal, Lay’s potato chips, Ford cars, Budweiser beer, and M&M candies are all available in Montevideo, but they aren’t imported from the US. They are produced by foreign subsidiaries of the US companies.

I started looking, in Uruguay, for products made in the US. I ran into many other familiar brands: Canon, Nestlé’s, Hellman’s, VW, SONY— but these aren’t even US brands, just well-known global brands. There’s a Nike shop selling sneakers at the mall, but Nike outsources all of its manufacturing, so I didn’t even look for a “Made in USA” label there. The old cars on the streets— a 1968 Dodge Polara, Pre-WWII Chevy trucks, Ford Model A’s— may have been produced in the US, but that’s economic history. I wanted to find something produced in 2006.

This sign at the shopping mall woke me up. I’d been making the same mistake the anonymous commenter made— thinking inside the box. Huge amounts of what we consume aren’t physical things and they don’t come in boxes. Everyday, I see US shows on Uruguayan TV. The theaters in Montevideo show the latest Hollywood releases. There are US banks throughout the city. Of course this is true in the US as well. Walk into a Walmart and you could get the impression that the US doesn't make anything. But we spend more on housing, education, and entertainment than we do at Walmart. Former Fed chairman, Alan Greenpan spoke famously about the "dematerialization" of the US economy. While, I wouldn't want to push this too far, it is important to remember that not everything of value fits in a shopping bag.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006


Daylight Savings Time, part 2

Uruguay went to daylight savings time at the beginning of the month. (See this post.) Now that the US is going off daylight savings time, there will be a three hour time difference between Uruguay and Eastern Time. When we arrived in August, there was only an hour difference.

Seth Godin re-visits Daylight Savings Time
Lobbying for DST started in earnest about 100 years ago. (Only 80 years after time was standardized--before trains, it didn't really matter that the time was different in different towns.) It if hadn't been for the need to save energy during WWI, it never would have been instituted--the forces against change refused to accept how much money would be saved (turns out it is millions and millions of dollars a year, probably billions by now) and were against it in general principle.

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Saturday, October 28, 2006


Not beef alone...

Beef dominates the menu in Uruguay but other dishes are worth trying as well. I had this brochette de pollo for lunch today. Chicken, onion, green pepper, red pepper, and thick-cut bacon skewered and grilled on the parilla. Very tasty.

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Friday, October 27, 2006


Parque Rodó

Parque Rodó is a pleasant place to spend an afternoon. You can stroll through the gardens, drink mate, or play tennis. Kids run around the playground. Lovers kiss under the trees. It's early in the season for the amusement park, but several of the rides were running yesterday.

See the video:

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The Latin Americanist: Dubya bought land in Paraguay, says L. American press
Rumors have appeared over the past week alleging that George W. Bush purchased 100,000 acres of land in northern Paraguay near the border of Brazil and Bolivia. The rumors started with daughter Jenna Bush’s diplomatic visit earlier this month with UNICEF where she also met with Paraguay’s president.

I'd heard rumors a couple of weeks ago, here in Uruguay, that George W. Bush was planning to go into exhile in Paraguay after he left office. Apparently those rumors are widespread

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Thursday, October 26, 2006


Benefits of immigration

A substantial number of people in Montevideo are of Italian descent. This has decided culinary benefits: fresh mozzarella, with basil and tomatoes from the farmers' market.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Baking soda

While the pastries in Montevideo are delicious, my daughter has missed homemade chocolate chip cookies. No problem, I thought. There is excellent local chocolate that I can break into chunks. We already had eggs, sugar, butter, salt, and flour. I found brown sugar and vanilla extract easily enough. All that was left was baking soda. At this point I was stumped.

We bought some baking powder and my wife said I should just substitute baking powder for the soda. I don't remember much from my college chemistry classes, but I do recall that not all white powders are identical. I even remembered that baking powder was baking soda with another chemical. Anyway, I wasn't willing to make the substitution, even after I found this web advice.

So, it was back to the store. I went up and down every aisle looking for bicarbonato de sodio. It wasn't with the flour, or the sugar, or the salt, or the baking powder. I realized how much I rely on stores in the US to follow the same basic layout. In Uruguay, not surprisingly, the layout was different. The other thing I realized how much I looked for the yellow Arm & Hammer box to signal baking soda. Even if I was going to buy the store brand, I'd find it next to the Arm & Hammer. Packaging is an important form of communication, but I'm usually not conscious of it.

It turns out that most grocery stores in Uruguay don't carry baking soda because it's sold at the pharmacies. (Although this package is from the Disco supermarket in Punta Carretas.)

Baking powder is easy to find. Notice the illustration on the bag-- it's a picture of another container. The package becomes the information.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006


UNESCO in Montevideo

We got a note saying that UNESCO will be testing the students at my daughter's school this week, as part of a study of educational achievement in Latin America. The tests will be administered by technicians from the UN agency. I'm sure the results won't be ready for a year or more, but I was curious to see what else UNESCO had done.

I found this page on education Statistics on Uruguay.

And a map comparing high-school enrollment across the world. Uruguay, Brazil, and Chile are in the second-highest tier (along with the US) at 80-95%. Most other Latin American countries are a level, or two, lower. Western Europe, Canada, Australia, and Japan are at the highest level (above 95%.)

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Monday, October 23, 2006



While I have lots of trouble with verb conjugation in Spanish, I'm better with nouns. But, in Uruguay, many things have different names than the ones I'd learned. One of my students, who has very good command of Spanish, told me he spent an entire year in Chile learning the local vocabulary.

In any case, here are a few things I've learned:

It's frutilla not fresa, for strawberry (and the double 'll' is always pronounced "zh" [half-way between "sh" and "j"] in Uruguay.)

Pineapple is anana not piña.

Carros are not cars in Uruguay; carros are the horse-drawn carts. Auto is the appropriate name for a car.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006



This hotel overlooks the beach in Atlántida, a small resort town about 50 kilometers from Montevideo. We spent Saturday with friends, eating asado, walking the beach at Marindia, visiting the feria at Atlántida, and eating bizcochos. Small beach towns run all along the coast outside of Montevideo.

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Saturday, October 21, 2006


Palacio Salvo

Palacio Salvo is likely the best-known building in Montevideo. When it was built in 1927, it was the tallest building in South America. Building codes in Montevideo prevented new construction from exceeding the height of Palacio Salvo, so, for decades, it was the tallest building in Uruguay. New rules have allowed taller buildings; currently, the Antel (telephone company) tower is the tallest. The Palacio Salvo is on the Plaza Indepedencia.

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Friday, October 20, 2006



At the beach, it's 60 degrees, with a stiff breeze: a good season for kites. We bought a stunt kite-- controlled by two lines-- at Tienda Inglesa. Single line kites are much easier to fly, but we had fun with this one, despite our lack of expertise.

See the video:

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Thursday, October 19, 2006


Sign of the times

Posters cover the fences at construction sites in Montevideo. Since there are so many pedestrians, it's an effective method of advertising. In the US suburbs, where no one walks, the posters would be invisible.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Tortas Fritas

I'd seen a reference to tortas fritas on an Uruguay forum. "Fried cakes" sounded like something I would like, but I didn't know what they were. I had one this morning at the neighborhood farmers market. It's a simple dough the size of a dinner plate, deep-fried in oil. It's similar to Native American frybread. They're good.

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Peanut butter

Peanut butter is available in Uruguay at the larger stores, but it took me a long time to recognize it. I was looking for puré de mani or manteca de cacahuetes but the peanut butter in Montevideo is imported from Germany, so it's labeled Erdnuss Creme. You'll find it in the dulce de leche aisle. It's expensive: 127 pesos (about $5) for a small jar.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006


To Canelones

Monday was a national holiday, Día de la Raza (Columbus Day), and the Secretariat of Sports and the Secretariat of Women organized a girls' soccer tournament in Canelones, a small city about 45 kilometers from Montevideo. They reserved a special train for the players and their families.

Passenger train service in Uruguay stopped about 30 years ago. The huge Central Station in Montevideo is empty, and has a beautiful, haunted ambiance. A couple of years ago, the government re-started train service on a limited basis. The new station is a few blocks away in a light-filled modern building.

The girls were in high spirits and sang team songs and banged improvised drums for the entire ride. We stopped at several towns picking up more players. We passed blooming orchards, vineyards, and a few eucalyptus groves. It wasn't really gaucho territory, but we did see some cows.

Canelones seems like a quiet town compared to Montevideo. The stadium was about a mile from the train station and we saw very little traffic. Local residents came outside to watch the soccer players parade past. There was a nice park near the stadium and, in the afternoon, it was full of people chatting and drinking mate, as Montevideans do on the Rambla.

We enjoyed the tournament. The girls played in the town stadium, playing half-court for the early rounds and full cancha for the later games. All the teams hung banners in their team colors on the fences and continued to sing team songs throughout the day. My daughter's team, Club Nacional, won one, lost one (on penalty kicks, after 2 periods without a score), and tied the final game (when time ran out.)

Here's a short video of the train trip.

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Monday, October 16, 2006



It's not often that the view from the back of our apartment is more interesting than the view from the front. Saturday evening, the rain cleared to give this nice sunset.

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Uruguay: NY Times Travel

Our friends at Uruguayan Adventure point us to this article in Sunday's New York Times

Uruguay: In Relaxed Montevideo, the Past Lives On in Style
FOR many tourists, there are only two reasons to visit Uruguay: beachy, clubby Punta del Este and quaint, historic Colonia del Sacramento. Montevideo, the nation’s relaxed capital on the banks of the Río de la Plata, offers an eclectic mix of architecture and culture, but is often relegated to the status of stopover.

Perhaps that is because the city doesn’t exactly reach out to grab you. Like Uruguayans, it sits back and reveals itself little by little. There is much of the old, and a small but slowly growing dose of the new.

The past lives on in style, though. Back in 1870, the average living standards there were higher than in the United States, and it shows. Take a walk through the Old City, where almost every street has a view of the water, sometimes at both ends, and you’ll discover a bounty of architectural treasures from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The surrounding downtown area is dotted with restaurants serving the unofficial national dish, the chivito, perhaps the world’s most extravagant steak sandwich. One is the Manchester, a vintage diner at the corner of 18th of July and Convención whose logo, perplexingly, includes London’s Big Ben. Its chivito consists of a tender fillet on homestyle bread with cheese, bacon, tomato, lettuce, roasted red peppers, palm hearts, hard-boiled egg and olives on top — for 95 pesos ($3.80, at 25 pesos to the dollar).

On Sundays, a short walk up 18th of July brings you to one of the wildest street markets you’ll ever see, the Tristán Narvaja Fair. The fair takes places on Tristán Narvaja Street, but its stalls, selling everything from live tarantulas to tiny clay ocarinas, spill out onto all the surrounding byways.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006


Worst choice for a tree house

I don't know the name of this tree, in either English or Spanish, but it has an impressive protection system. Inch-long spikes protrude from the trunk and completely cover the branches. It's a common tree in Montevideo parks and along streets. It looks like something from the Spanish inquisition.

update: Thanks to the comments I now know two names for this tree, palo borracho and floss silk tree, and learned more about it from this article in the LA Times

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Saturday, October 14, 2006


Spring cleaning

The plane trees (or sycamores) are leafing out. Yesterday, a crew was trimming branches near our apartment. This street is normally full of cars and busses. I'm not sure where the traffic went while they worked.

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Friday, October 13, 2006


More Nobel news

The 2006 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is economist Muhammad Yunus. Professor Yunus created the Grameen bank in Bangladesh giving very small loans to very poor people. This started the microcredit movement that has spread throughout the world. Unlike some multimillion dollar development projects, microcredit has proved effective at alleviating poverty for some of the poorest of the poor.

Paul Sinclair describes how Professor Yunus began:

One day he met an impoverished single mother of three named Sufia Begum, working to weave bamboo stools, morning to night whilst living in utter destitution.

“Do you own this bamboo?” he asked her.
“How do you get it?”
“ I buy it.”
“ How much does the bamboo cost you?”
“5 Taka” (22 cents US).
“Do you have 5 Taka?”
“No, I borrow it from the Paikars.”
“The middlemen?” he asked. “What is your arrangement with them?”
“I must sell my bamboo stools back to them at the end of the day so as to repay my loan. That way what is left over to me is my profit"
“How much do you sell it for?”
“Five Taka and 50 Paisa.”
“So you make 50 Paisa profit?"
She nodded. That came to a profit of just over 2 US cents.
"And could you borrow the cash and buy your own raw material?"
"Yes but the money lender would demand a lot. And people who start with them only get poorer."
“How much do the money lenders charge?”
“It depends. Sometimes they charge 10 percent per week. I even have a neighbour who is paying 10 percent per day".
“And that is all you earn from making these beautiful bamboo stools, 50 Paisa?

The Professor watched as Sufia set to work again, because she did not want to lose any time, her small brown hands plaiting the strands of bamboo as they had every day for months and years on end.

He had never heard of someone suffering so much for the lack of 22 US cents. The Professor thought Sufia’s status as virtually a bonded slave was never going to change if she could not find that five taka to start with. Credit could bring her that money. She could then sell her products in a free market and she could get a much better spread between the cost of her materials and her sale price.

The Grameen bank has grown to be an international network, including Grameen Uruguay. Other organizations have been inspired by the Grameen model and there are even commercial banks making microcredit loans.

update: Read an opinion piece by Muhammad Yunus in the Wall Street Journal

[see this post on Monday's Economics Prize.]

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The check still isn't in the mail

More bills to pay, but Redpagos payment centers [see this post] aren't for all the bills. Today I had to pay gastos comunes (condo fees), the Montevideo "door tax", and the phone/Internet bills. These are all paid, in cash, at the Abitab office, just up the street. I'm not sure why there are two payment networks, but I noticed one difference. At Redpagos, you can exchange dollars for pesos. At Abitab, you can buy lottery tickets.

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Plaza Independencia

Plaza Independencia is located between the Centro (Downtown) and the Ciudad Vieja (Old City). Originally the site of a Spanish fort, and later the old city's market, it now commemorates Uruguay's national hero, José Gervasio Artigas, with a huge statue of the General on horseback. Around the plaza you'll find the ornate Palacio Salvo, the Radison hotel, the old gate to the city, and the Teatro Solís. The original La Pasiva restaurant is here. Tourist shops offer mate gourds, soccer jerseys, and full-size cowhides.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006


Price of sugar

I bought a kilo bag of sugar at a street market yesterday priced at 19.90 pesos (just under $1). It was kind of a strange price since I haven't seen any .10 coins in Uruguay. The smallest seems to be .50 and even then prices are often rounded off to the nearest peso, so 19.90 is really 20 pesos. Later in the afternoon, I saw the same sugar at the Disco supermarket for 19.90 pesos. Disco also carried another brand, also priced at 19.90 pesos per kilo. Curious...

I asked myself, "does the Uruguayan government control the price of sugar?" Investigating a bit, I found the Tienda Inglesa website was offering Bella Union sugar at 19.50 per kilo. Close, but not identical pricing.

I asked a local economist about sugar in Uruguay and heard an interesting story. Bella Union sugar is a new brand, produced by a new government-owned sugar business. Their slogan is "planted, harvested, and refined in Uruguay." The other brand of sugar sold here is also Uruguayan.

Now Uruguay isn't really a tropical country. It's cold here in winter, usually above freezing, but still too cold for sugar. Apparently in northern Uruguay, near the Brazilian border, it's a bit warmer making it possible to grow sugar cane. Not necessarily desirable, but possible.

Brazil, on the other hand, is a very efficient producer of sugar. Efficient enough to produce fuel alcohol from sugar and still be a major sugar exporter. Since Brazil and Uruguay are both members of the Mercosur trading alliance, it would seem natural for Uruguay to import sugar from Brazil. But it doesn't. Uruguay blocks sugar imports.

As a result, sugar is expensive here-- even more expensive than the US which is infamous for sugar protectionism. (US barriers to sugar imports explain why Coke contains corn syrup in the US and why Michigan grows sugar beets.) In the US, sugar protection costs consumers billions of dollars. Uruguayan consumers bear similar costs. Free trade in agriculture could feed more people at lower cost, but politically it's difficult.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Hormigas/Amigos 2

Unlike the tiny ants we sometimes find in our apartment [see this post], the park near the harbor has some substantial ants. Their trail runs for yards through the grass and is about a 1/2 inch wide. These ants were big enough to photograph without any special equipment.

For a low-quality, but short, video see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvR3AW0Njm8

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006



I bought an inexpensive bike at the Tienda Inglesa (about $80 US). It's made in China and it's about the same quality bike you would find at K-Mart. There are excellent bikes available here (Trek, Giant) but they are much more expensive. I don't like the typical hobbyist advice, "buy the most expensive _______ you can afford." I've heard this advice for cameras, binoculars, camping equipment, kayaks, bikes, etc. An economist would advise, "buy the cheapest __________ that will work for you." This saves money and saves resources for society as a whole. The problem is misjudging how cheap you can go; if it doesn't work you've wasted both money and resources. Anyway, this bike seems like it will work for the time I'm in Uruguay.

I took a nice long ride along the Rambla this afternoon, 20 kilometers round-trip. The sidewalk is wide and smooth. I think there are only 2 or 3 driveways to cross in that entire distance. The shore alternates between sandy beaches, low dunes, and outcroppings of rock. Fishing boats are hauled up behind small markets offering fresh fish. It's been a few years since I've been on a bike for that distance. I think I'm going to be sore.

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Monday, October 09, 2006


Nobel Prize in Economics

Edmund Phelps is the 2006 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics. The Nobel press release describes his contribution:

Low unemployment and low inflation are central goals of stabilization policy. During the 1950s and 1960s the view of a stable tradeoff between inflation and unemployment was established, the so-called Phillips curve. According to this, the price for reduced unemployment was a one-time increase of the inflation rate. Phelps challenged this view through a more fundamental analysis of the determination of wages and prices, taking into account problems of information in the economy. Individual agents have incomplete knowledge about the actions of others and must base their decisions on expectations. Phelps formulated the hypothesis of the expectations-augmented Phillips curve, according to which inflation depends on both unemployment and inflation expectations.

Essentially, Phelps said there is no long-run trade-off between unemployment and inflation. (Milton Friedman, the 1976 Nobel laureate, developed a similar argument. Their ideas are often combined as the Friedman-Phelps hypothesis.) This has had a great impact on macroeconomic policy, since most policy tools exploit the short-run trade-off between inflation and unemployment. Stimulative fiscal or monetary policies tend to increase inflation in order to reduce unemployment. Phelps argues these policies are only effective when people don't expect inflation. As people experience high inflation rates, they anticipate continuing high inflation rates. Policy-makers are then in a worse position-- spiraling inflation even with high rates of unemployment.

This a situation that many South American countries faced during the 1970s and 1980s. Ben Bernanke, now the Chair of the US Federal Reserve, wrote:
For those of us here in the United States, acclimated as we have become to price stability, the severity of inflation in many Latin American countries in recent decades may be difficult to comprehend. A measure of price changes in nine of the most populous Latin American countries shows that inflation in the region averaged nearly 160 percent per year in the 1980s and 235 percent per year in the first half of the 1990s. Indeed, high inflation morphed into hyperinflation--conventionally defined as inflation exceeding 50 percent per month (Cagan, 1956)--in a number of Latin countries during the latter part of the 1980s and in the early 1990s. Brazil's inflation rate, for example, exceeded 1,000 percent per year in four of the five years between 1989 and 1993. Other Latin American countries suffering hyperinflations at about that time included Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Peru. A particularly striking aspect of this poor inflation performance is that it occurred while most of the rest of the world was reducing inflation to low levels.
[See Inflation in Latin America: A New Era?]

This level of inflation is unsustainable and usually leads to some kind of economic crisis. Policies designed to control this inflation can also cause tremendous economic hardship. Uruguay, like many of its neighbors, has suffered from both.

According to Phelp's work, low-inflation policies, while painful, may be a worthwhile long term investment. Whether populist governments are willing to make that investment remains to be seen.

update: The Wall Street Journal has a new opinion piece by Phelps on Dynamic Capitalism

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The morning after

On Monday morning, a crew rakes the beach for debris left by Sunday's beachgoers. Empty bottles and plastic bags are heavily represented. I think some of the bags wash in from the Rio, since they are always present at the surf line.

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Sunday, October 08, 2006


Sunday in Pocitos

Many people in Montevideo work Monday to Friday plus a half-day on Saturday, so Sunday is the main day for relaxation. It's now warm enough for people to really enjoy the beach. Sitting on the low wall between the sidewalk and the beach is even more popular than sunbathing. People chat and share gourds of mate or big bottles of beer. In the afternoon, bags of bizcochos (pastries) are passed among friends. It's very socialable.

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Saturday, October 07, 2006


Old Montevideo

This picture shows Pocitos beach in 1896. While fashions have changed, walking along this beach is still a popular pastime 110 years later.

Thanks to Amparo, who sent links to historic photos of Montevideo in a comment on this post.

You may find some old pictures of Pocitos in the following address:
For a whole outlook of the old time city, you may see:
and there may be a lot of others, even older, like this: http://enlacesuruguayos.com/montevideo_antiguo.htm

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Friday, October 06, 2006


Ficha Medica

A ficha medica is required to compete in any sport in Uruguay, from fútbol to competitive fishing. The cards are issued by the Centro Médico Deportivo, part of the national sports and tourism ministry. My daughter needed one before she could play soccer. She had her appointment Tuesday morning and we picked up the card Friday morning. As a kid, her dental and medical exams were free. We did go to another ministry to have her US vaccination records transferred onto the Uruguayan form.

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Broadway in Montevideo

Last night we enjoyed a show at La Colmena, a small theater and gallery in Montevideo. The program featured hit songs from Broadway shows: Phantom of the Opera, Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Jesus Christ Superstar, Hello Dolly, and more. We are friends with one of the three singers, so we got to meet them all backstage. It was a fun evening.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006


Energy diet

Andrew Postman writes in today's New York Times:
Flipping channels, I came across the news that Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative had just ended with Richard Branson, the British mogul, pledging $3 billion to fight climate change over the next decade. On another channel, Mayor Bloomberg stood at a podium in California and announced, to my pride and delight, his sweeping eco-initiative for New York: the city’s carbon emissions would be measured, an Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability would be created. Meanwhile, the man standing next to him, Governor Schwarzenegger, was set to sign legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for his state — the world’s 12th largest contributor of such gases — at a level the federal government had continually rejected. Everyone was chipping in, even Arnold, the first civilian ever to drive a Hummer. I took another bite of doughnut.

And that’s when it came to me. I should go on a diet.

A half-ton diet.

I knew, having taken the “Calculate Your Impact” survey on climatecrisis.net, the companion Web site for the Gore movie, that our household produced some 19,100 pounds of CO2 last year, 4,100 pounds more than the national average...

As a family, as a household, couldn’t we drop a half-ton, a mere 5 percent of our weight?

Andrew Postman's attempts to reduce his energy consumption made me think about how much less energy my family uses in Uruguay. We've gone from two cars to none (at least for now). Our apartment is maybe a third the size of our house in Kalamazoo, so heating costs are lower. Radiant slab heating is more efficient than forced-air heat and winter in Uruguay is much, much milder than winter in Michigan. The oven here is less than half the size of our Kalamazoo oven-- again more efficient. Our refrigerator, big by local standards, is about two-thirds the size of the fridge in our kitchen (and we have a second full-size fridge in the basement there). The washer here is a tiny front-loader. No dryer, so a big energy savings. In Michigan, we usually have 3 desktop computers running (between home and offices); now we just turn on the laptops when we need them.

Energy conservation is the norm in Montevideo. Motion sensors control the hall light outside my apartment door. Compact florescent bulbs are common. Nearly all the cars are small and many residents rely on public transportation. I can't claim to be doing anything special.

And, the flight to Montevideo wipes out much of the savings. According to the “Calculate Your Impact” survey, my flight (one-way) created a full ton of carbon dioxide per passenger.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006


At the market

I enjoy the local markets. This one sets up every Wednesday two blocks from our apartment. In China, the markets featured exotic offerings: dried snakes, live frogs, cooked beatles. In Uruguay, the produce is familiar: potatoes, summer squash, oranges, apples. Other stands sell cheeses, meat, or fish.

Here's a short video from this morning's market.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006



My neighborhood in Montevideo, Pocitos, is dominated by 10 story apartment buildings in the "Modern" or "International" style. There's no separation between buildings so together they form a solid wall of rectangular boxes for block after block. Architecturally, it's not very interesting.

There are still a few single family houses from early in the twentieth century. These have rich architectural detail: stained glass windows, colonnades, decorative ironwork, floral friezes, rusticated stonework, arches, cornices, and moldings in a wide variety of motifs. This must have been a beautiful neighborhood for a stroll. (See the Bello y Reborati blog for photos of many houses built by a local architectural team, with text in Spanish.)

I'm a bit conflicted over the loss of these beautiful homes, particularly since I live in one of the modern apartments. I don't know what kind of historical preservation movement, if any, exists in Uruguay. Given Montevideo's age, preservationists might concentrate on buildings from earlier centuries in the Ciudad Vieja. I just don't know.

The apartments do allow more people to live in this neighborhood, which creates the density to support all the local restaurants and shops. The increased density also reduces urban sprawl, since middle class families aren't off constructing houses in the suburbs.

There's one house remaining on our block. I enjoy seeing it when I walk past. It also opens the view from our kitchen window because we can see over the top of it. Otherwise, we would only see the bare concrete back walls of neighboring apartments.

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Monday, October 02, 2006


The check is in the mail...

Of course, the check isn't in the mail. I'm not sure what excuse gets used for delinquent payments in Uruguay, but it's not that one. Checks have weak legal status here and I get the impression that the mail service isn't widely used.

It's the beginning of the month and we had a few bills to pay and no checks. Fortunately, Uruguayans have developed alternative payment systems. Rent gets paid in-person, in cash, at the real estate office around the corner. Utility bills are paid, in cash, at any payment office, which are on nearly every block in our neighborhood. Redpagos is one of the major payment networks. (See their website for an example of truly gratuitous computer graphics.) The process is easy enough but it does take longer than writing a check and it seems like their processing costs would be substantially higher. It is possible to arrange for automatic electronic bill-paying from a bank account.

We do have a bank account here but it wasn't easy to get. In Kalamazoo, we have an account at LaSalle Bank which is owned by ABN-AMBRO which has branches all over Montevideo, so we thought that might be easiest, but no. Then we tried Citibank, Bank of Boston, etc, with no luck. It turns out that some part of the Homeland Security laws in the US makes it nearly impossible for a U.S. citizen to open a bank account overseas. (Apparently the US government believes that suitcases full of $100 bills are preferable to bank-to-bank transfers.) We eventually opened an account with a Spanish bank.

I'm not used to dealing with so much cash. Signing a lease requires four month's rent as a security deposit, plus the first month's rent, plus another month's rent in commission to our real estate agent. All in US dollars. I've never had so much cash on the table.

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Expo Prado 2006

Uruguay's Expo Prado ended a couple of weeks ago and I posted descriptions earlier (See this post and this one.) If you're interested, you may like this short video/slideshow.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006


Daylight Savings Time

Uruguay switched to daylight savings time early this morning. It's Spring here, so we move our clocks forward. Now there is a two hour time difference with the Eastern U.S. Argentina doesn't participate in daylight savings, so now there's an hour time difference between the neighboring countries.

California's Department of Energy has an interesting history of daylight time.

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