Wednesday, January 31, 2007



January is vacation time in Montevideo and my neighborhood has been noticeably quieter. Some restaurants are closed, sidewalks are cleaner, and traffic is much lighter. I've heard that Paris is similar in summer, but I've never lived anywhere where everyone vacations in the same month.

Apparently Argentina has a similar schedule, at least for those Argentinians who vacation in Uruguay. There are two shifts-- January 1st to the 15th and the 15th to the 1st of February. The local newspaper said the 15th is the busiest travel day of the year. The Argentinian protestors blocking the bridges between Uruguay and Argentina increase their efforts on those days to inconvenience more people.

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Yacht club

The Yacht Club Uruguayo, at Buceo harbor, is just over 100 years old. My father-in-law got thrown out of it 60-some years ago for dancing the jitterbug, which was too risque for the era.

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Monday, January 29, 2007



It's a tradition in Montevideo to eat ñoqui [gnocchi] on the 29th of the month. Some restaurants list ñoqui on their menu, with a little note saying they are only served on the 29th. The ñoquis, like the other fresh pasta, are quite good, but I've never eaten them on the 29th, so today I made a point of it.

Here's a gnocchi recipe. And here's a post about ñoqui from the Southron.

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another blog

While not specifically about Uruguay, my new blog Food and Economics, starts with a post on drinking Coke in Montevideo.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Playa Pocitos after dark

Activity along Pocitos beach doesn't stop at sunset. Families stroll along the Rambla; friends share yerba mate or beer; couples kiss. Informal soccer games last well past midnight. Summer nights are cooler, making the waterfront very pleasant after dark.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007


Desfile Inaugural del Carnaval 2007

Here's a short video from the opening parade of carnival in Montevideo, Uruguay:

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Friday, January 26, 2007


Carnaval 2007

We enjoyed the opening parade of Montevideo's carnaval last night. It started around nine and lasted longer than we did. We left after midnight, but our cabdriver said the parade would go until 2 am, or so. It looked like most of the crowd was staying for the whole show.

The parade started with the queens of carnaval and the queens of the llamadas riding on floats. Trucks advertizing Coke and Antel (the national phone company) followed. Marchers carried large horizontal banners featuring various sponsors and kids from the audience would lay down in the street so the banners would pass over them. It was fun seeing the murga groups in their elaborate costumes but the parade wasn't really the best forum for their singing. Some rock bands played amplified music from the top of trucks. The candombe drum troupes were the most exciting.

During the long spaces between groups, kids sprayed each other with foam from aerosol cans and threw confetti. The kids also sprayed foam on the floats and on the scantily-clad dancers. Performers later in the night fared better since the kids had depleted most of their ammunition.

See my video of the Desfile Inaugural.

From Uruguay has a nice post on last year's opening parade.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007


Carnaval in Montevideo

Uruguay's Carnaval isn't as famous as Brazil's, but it lasts longer. I've read that carnival celebrations in Montevideo are the longest anywhere in the world. Tonight is the opening parade.
"Montevideo has two major carnival parades. One goes down 18 De Julio Street, the main strip that goes through the old city and the downtown area, and is more of a corporate and family event. The street is wider so you feel like you have a ton of space to walk around. You get more of the larger carnival processions, the dancers and the flag carrieres, the larger groups that come out to that with men on stilts, or a band performing on a large truck. Families come out with kids and everyone is out all night drinking beer in the streets."
Rachel Terp, in a conversation with Open Source, 2/16/06
see this blog post for more descriptions and pictures of Carnaval 2006

More information on Montevideo's carnaval:

The city of Montevideo Carnaval page and complete information in an 80 page pdf

A calendar of events from Vecinet.

And, a portal on murgas.

We're planning to watch tonight's parade... details to come.



Spanish vocabulary

My daughter and I have a new blog, Palabras y Fotos, for learning Spanish. We're making a picture dictionary, of sorts. Right now it has a few Spanish words illustrated with photos. We've put links for studying Spanish on the sidebar.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Tango on the Rambla

For a few weeks in January, we've had a night market selling arts and handicrafts in Pocitos. Near the beach, they also sell food and play music. Yesterday, there was a tango performance. Here's a short video:

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Globalization in a Box

I associate the port of Montevideo with grilled meats, but it is a working port. Stacks of containers tower over the Rambla and the Río. From my apartment, I can almost always see a few big containerships waiting for a berth.

I just finished reading a book by Marc Levinson, The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, which argues that containerization made globalization possible.
"Barbie was conceived as the all-American girl. In truth, she never was... Workers in China produced her statuesque figure, using molds from the United States and other machines from Japan and Europe. Her nylon hair was Japanese, the plastic in her body from Taiwan, the pigments American, the cotton clothing from China. Barbie, simple girl though she is, had developed her very own global supply chain. Supply chains like Barbie's are a direct result of the changes wrought by the rise of container shipping."
While shipping containers don't have the same glamour as high-tech electronics, their impact on the world economy has been as big.
(If you're interested, Princeton University Press presents the first chapter of The Box free.)

Containerization could help Montevideo, but it's not a sure thing. Montevideo's port is deeper and closer to the ocean than the port in Buenos Aires. Uruguay would like it to be the center of regional shipping.
"The Port of Montevideo is located on the River Plate, and geographically positioned as the main cargo transport route of Mercosur. It has become an axis of integration for the region, due to its immersion in the area of influence of almost 200 million inhabitants with the highest per capita income of Latin America.

Since very early in its inception, the Port of Montevideo has played a key role in the country and region's development. Because of its excellent location, its competitive advantages in terms of natural characteristics and infrastructure, its services and investment opportunities, it has become a necessary reference in commercial routes."

The economics of ocean shipping have been changing in favor of mega-ports, which may limit the growth of Montevideo's port. I've read calls for a big container port on the Pacific coast (Chile) that would serve all of South America. The continuing blockade of Uruguay's bridges by Argentine protestors also hurts its potential as an intermodal freight center.

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Monday, January 22, 2007


Another Sunday in Pocitos

Pocitos beach is really full of people now. (Compare to this photo from October.) Sunday is still the most popular day, but every sunny day brings crowds. There are more structures on the beach, too. Lifeguard stations were the first to be erected, followed by porta-potties. The ministry of sports brought volleyball nets, soccer goals, a stage, and a small soccer stadium.

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Punta Carretas Shopping

Punta Carretas Shopping is one of Montevideo's three major shopping malls. In most Spanish-speaking countries it would be a centro comercial but in Uruguay the prefered term is "shopping". It's a bright modern mall built inside a former prison. I usually feel a bit lost there.

This isn't accidental. As Douglas Rushkoff notes, "today’s retail environments are selling machines engineered to extract the most money per second from your wallet. ... The first tactic is to keep people inside the mall – the longer they stay, the more they buy. The key is to disorient them." For me, the top floor of Punta Carretas is the most confusing since I can never find the single escaltor that goes down to the main floor. (The multiple escalators ascending to the top floor are very easy to find.) I usually wander around looking for an escape.

In the US, time-pressed shoppers have responded to mall design by taking their business elsewhere, particularly to the big box retailers. (Or, Big Box). Shopping mall developers, hurt by the changes in shopping habits, are building "lifestyle centers" to compete.

In Uruguay, shopping malls still seem to be something of a novelty and a luxury. Most retail is either storefronts along city streets or stalls in the open-air ferias.

Also on retailing: Malcolm Gladwell has an interesting article on The Science of Shopping

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Sunday, January 21, 2007


Feria Tristán Narvaja

It'd been a while since I'd visited the Feria Tristán Narvaja, so when some friends invited me to go, I was happy to join them. I didn't really need anything, but it's fun to see the mix of antiques, fruit, counterfeit DVDs, posters, tools, books, old clothes, live animals, and miscellaneous junk. We even saw copies of Microsoft's soon-to-be-released Vista software for sale.

I wanted to take a video of a shell game I saw there, but the swindlers didn't like that much. Later, we passed a small group of guys singing murga, and I decided to feature them in this short video:

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Shell game

Each time I've been to the Feria Tristán Narvaja, I've seen people operating the shell game. It's played with three cups and a small ball and it looks like gambling but really it's just a con.

in the hands of a skilled operator, it is not possible for the game to be won, unless the operator wants the player to win.

When someone not familiar with the shell game encounters a game on the streets, it appears that bets are being placed by numerous players, when in reality, most of the persons standing around a game are in league with the operator in a confidence gang. Shell game gangs generally prefer to swindle one player/victim at a time. The apparent players serve various roles in the swindle: they act as lookouts for the police; "muscle" to intimidate victims who become unruly and some are shills, whose job is to pretend to play the game, and entice the player/victim into betting. Once a player/victim enters the circle of apparent players and faces the operator, the gang surrounds him/her to discourage an easy exit and to keep other pedestrians from entering and disrupting the bunko gang's action on the main player (victim). The job of crowding around also protects the operator from any incriminating photographs being taken of the act. The operator and the shills will try to get the victim into a heightened state of anger or greed. Once this is accomplished, one shill will pretend to disclose a winning strategy to the victim. It is all a ruse to get the victim to place a large bet.
quoted from Wikipedia

I tried to take a video of the shell game because it's fascinating to watch the movement, but the "players" [shills] all started shouting at me. Instead, watch this Penn and Teller video to see why this "game" is impossible to win.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007



Los Mareados played a free concert at Punta del Diablo last Saturday. Because of the strong winds they couldn't sing on the beach, so they set up a couple of kilometers inland, right across from our hotel, Hostería del Pescadores. That made it very convenient for us. It was part of a music series sponsored by Uruguay's Ministry of Tourism and Sport.

Murga is a very popular type of music in Uruguay, particularly during Carnival season. Murga groups often wear elaborate make-up and costumes for their performances. I expect to see more murga during the next couple of months.

Here's a short video of Los Mareados:

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Friday, January 19, 2007


Laguna Negra

Laguna Negra is a big lake in the departamento de Rocha, near Punta del Diablo and Santa Teresa. It's surrounded by pasture and when the nearby ocean beaches were crowded (at the peak of tourist season), we only saw a handful of people at the lake. The shoreline alternates between marshgrass and rocky bluffs. Above the lake, grazing cattle created a parklike network of paths through the brush, leaving behind cactus and thorny bushes.

Laguna Negra's water was black, although the color may have been exaggerated by the strong winds. Earlier in the afternoon, huge strips of eucalyptus bark were flying across the road between Fuerte San Miguel and Chuy.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007


Music at the Primuseum

My brother, Steve Stull, and our friend María Noel Taranto met for an informal performance at the Primuseum in Monetvideo's Ciudad Vieja. María Noel is a Uruguayan jazz singer featured frequently here. Steve was trained as an opera singer and sings a wide variety of types of music. They sounded great together. Daniel Damiano Romanelli, of Montevideo's Memphis Jazz Band, was wonderful on piano. The Museo de Primus was an ideal location for the show.

Steve's CDs are available from Amazon (Opera Cowpokes and Pulse of an Irishman) or directly from him at the CRS Barn Studio.

You can watch a short video here:

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Artistic re-interpretation

Jorge Bolsoni re-edited my YouTube videos of Punta del Diablo in a very artistic way.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Fuerte San Miguel

Fuerte San Miguel is a small fort on the Brazilian-Uruguayan border about 20 minutes outside of Chuy. It was built in 1734 by the Spanish army to guard their colonies from Portugal. The fort is built on a rise, and from the walls I could see miles and miles of countryside. I had two thoughts: Brazilian pastures are indistinguishable from Uruguayan pastures and it's a really long way from Europe to rural South America. I could hardly imagine how isolated a Spanish soldier would have felt at that post.

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Monday, January 15, 2007


Punta del Diablo: a second visit

Punta del Diablo in January was much different than it was in November. Instead of a handful of visitors watching the fishing boats unload their catch of sharks, the beach was packed with young people. It seemed like all the hitchhikers we'd seen along the highway had ended up in town. Punta del Diablo had an interesting hippie vibe but it wasn't a quiet fishing village.

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Friday, January 12, 2007


More travel plans

I enjoyed the fishing village of Punta del Diablo so much on my November trip that I'm heading back with my family. This is the height of the tourist season and we don't have reservations so it's possible we'll end up somewhere else. Details early next week.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007



Colonia del Sacramento is a colonial town from the period when Spain and Portugal were maneuvering for control in South America. Colonia was founded in 1680, as a Portuguese settlement on the Río de la Plata across from Spanish-governed Buenos Aires. It's about 175 kilometers from Montevideo.

Today, it's a UNESCO Heritage site and an active tourist destination. The Buquebus ferry brings enough visitors from Argentina that the restaurants quote prices in either Uruguayan pesos or Argentinian pesos. The Barrio Histórico is the main attraction, but it also has an attractive modern centro and several kilometers of beaches. The historic neighborhood contains an attractive mix of museums, residences, restaurants, and shops. From the top of the lighthouse, you can just make out the skyline of Buenos Aires on the horizon.

We enjoyed a daytrip there, yesterday.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Plaza Zabala

Plaza Zabala is a pleasant green spot in Montevideo's Cuidad Vieja a half block from the peatonal Sarandí and about 4 blocks from the Mercado del Puerto. The plaza is named after Mauricio de Zabala, the founder of Montevideo.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Plaza Matriz

Plaza Matriz is in Montevideo's Ciudad Vieja just off the peatonal Sarandí . Restaurants, including McDonalds, have pleasant outdoor seating along the plaza. Antique vendors offer cut glass, china, silver, and old postcards from tables in the plaza. The Catedral Metropolitana [cathedral], built in 1790, is on the plaza. Plaza Matriz is officially named Plaza Constitución, but I haven't heard anyone use the official name.

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Monday, January 08, 2007


Peatonal Sarandí

The Peatonal Sarandí is a pedestrian walkway leading from Plaza Independencia through Montevideo's Ciudad Vieja. It's lined with shops and restaurants and vendors sell beads, agates, amethyst, leather bracelets, and mates from tables or blankets on the ground. The Museo Torres García is on Peatonal Sarandí. The peatonal passes through Plaza Matriz where antique vendors outnumber the handicrafts. Activity on the peatonal diminishes at the far end (away from Plaza Independencia) but Plaza Zabala is nearby. From there it's just a few blocks to the Mercado del Puerto.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007


Music on the beach

Trotsky Vengarán, a popular Uruguayan rock band, played a free concert Friday on Pocitos beach in Montevideo. The crowd wasn't as big as when the band played at the Fiesta de la X but they were loyal fans in black t-shirts who knew all the lyrics. (Trotsky Vengarán t-shirts weren't the most popular; the Ramones out-shirted them.)

Here's a short video:

For more: another blog has an MTV-style video or see the Trotsky Vengarán website for upcoming concerts, photos, etc.

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Saturday, January 06, 2007


Tres Reyes

Tres Reyes, or Three Kings Day, is an important part of Christmas for kids in Uruguay. This is the day they get their presents! Santa doesn't deliver presents Christmas morning (probably because it's too hot for reindeer) but the Three Kings bring gifts today. In Uruguay it's also called Día de los niños [Day of the Children]. In English, Three Kings Day is sometimes called Twelfth Night. I only know the Twelve days of Christmas from the carol, so this holiday is new to me.

I took this picture yesterday in Plaza Zabala in Montevideo's Cuidad Vieja. The kids were quite excited and explained that they were gathering grass to leave for the Kings' camels.

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Friday, January 05, 2007


Night at Parque Rodó

When I first visited Parque Rodó it was winter and most of the amusement park rides weren't operating. In summer, I figured the rides would be running everyday. But, as the months passed, it became apparent than even on a hot weekend afternoon, almost no one was at the amusement park. It wasn't until we went to the feria del libro that I saw that the rides run after dark.

We went last night and rode a few rides. Different rides are operated by different companies who sell tickets (15-25 pesos per ride) at separate ticket booths. Afterwards, we ate churros at one of the many stands. The park wasn't crowded and there was never a line for a ride. Maybe they do more business on weekend nights.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007



Aguaviva, or "living water" is the Spanish name for jellyfish. We saw them washed up on the beach in Piriápolis, and we saw hundreds of live ones in the yacht harbor at Punta del Este.

They're fascinating, if a bit scary. They are so different from anything found on land. Watch them move in this video.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007


A day in Piriápolis

Everyone seems to escape Montevideo during January. We decided to take a mini-vacation (one-night) up the coast at Piriápolis. The day was overcast, but the Piriápolis beach was full of people playing soccer, drinking mate, and chatting. There were a few games of bocce ball and more people were playing a related game called tejos, which uses wooden discs instead of balls. Not many people were in the water, but it was a cool afternoon. There were a lot of jellyfish washed up on the sand.

Piriápolis is a nice enough place, but a bit faded. I think Punta del Este took its glamour and wealth. Restaurants and gift shops line the street across from the beach and the sidewalks are full of vacationers. It reminded me of some of the beach towns in Florida south of Fort Lauderdale.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007



I'd read about candombe music in Uruguay and I'd heard a little at the Fiesta de la X but I hadn't seen it in its natural environment-- on the streets of Montevideo. Candombe season seems to be starting now and I've seen, or at least glimpsed, several troupes in various places.

This group was playing outside a parrilla about a week ago and the waitresses had joined in the dancing. See a video clip.

I also saw an informal group of drummers playing at midnight on New Year's Eve while their neighbors launched fireworks. See a short video of them.

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Monday, January 01, 2007


Polar Bear Club?

Today was the first time I went swimming on New Year's Day. I'd seen photos every January 1st of the Polar Bear Club diving into icy waters, but it never really appealed to me.

It's a lot easier in the Southern hemisphere. It was so hot today that the brown water of Río de la Plata was very attractive. Pocitos beach was active all day, starting before sunrise. The all-night partiers greeted the dawn with firecrackers. By mid-morning the beach was full of sunbathers and swimmers.

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