Last August when we were packing to come to Montevideo, my wife said, "be sure to bring a suit for when we're invited to tea with the Ambassador." I didn't think it would happen, but today we-- along with a few hundred other Americans living in Uruguay-- did visit the Ambassador at his official residence near Parque Batlle. I didn't drink tea or wear my suit, but I enjoyed fresh pineapple juice and bagels followed by a frothy beer. The occasion was an early Fourth of July celebration highlighted by the Marine color guard presenting the flag.
Today was the last day of school before Winter vacation in Uruguay. The kids can now enjoy two weeks free of classes and homework. (University students, on the other hand are preparing for their exams.)
Rolling billboards are common in Montevideo. We see them a lot on the Rambla-- either parked along the side or moving down the road. My favorites are the bike-powered billboards, which make a lot of sense given the price of gasoline in Uruguay.
Mollejas, typically cooked on the parrilla, are popular in Montevideo. In English, they're called sweetbreads [the thymus gland]. I'd never had them before coming to Uruguay but I've eaten them several times in the last year. Unlike some organ meats, mollejas have a very mild flavor. They can be a little fatty, so they are frequently served with lemon.
These are some of the most impressive winter plants in Montevideo. In the summer they are bush-sized succulents. In June, they have bright torch-shaped flowers. I'm not sure what they're called but I like them.
A few days ago some friends and I went toCastells & Castells Casa de Remates [Galicia 1069], a big auction house in Montevideo near the old train station. They went to bid on a marble dining room table and I went to watch. It was interesting to see all the different things for sale and to watch the bidders.
It's a rainy day in Montevideo so I decided to put together a little video from Uruguay's countryside. The clips are from my visits to two working estancias: Estancia Las Cecilias and Estancia Los Morteros. Like my Montevideo series, this video isn't of a particular event but rather a general look at the campo.
Today marks the beginning of winter in Montevideo (and the rest of the southern hemisphere). The weather was pretty mild (low 50s) compared to Michigan winters. After yesterday's fog and rain, today's sun was very welcome.
The Palermo neighborhood (along with Barrio Sur) is the traditional home to candombe drum troupes. It's along the Rio between Parque Rodo and downtown Montevideo. It's one of the few places in Montevideo where I've seen wall murals.
Today was a national holiday in Uruguay celebrating the birthday of José Gervasio Artigas. Artigas was born in Montevideo on June 19, 1764 and he led the 1811 fight for independence from Spain. His victory against Spanish troops in the battle of Las Piedras was an important first step towards nationhood for Uruguay. The path wasn't straightforward, since Portugal and then Brazil ruled the territory after Spain withdrew. At the time Uruguay became independent, Artigas was living in Paraguay, where he died in 1850. Despite never being president of Uruguay, Artigas is Uruguay's national hero.
Artigas is commemorated in Montevideo's Plaza Independencia. Statues of Artigas are common in buildings and plazas throughout Uruguay. [The statue in the photo is in Paysandu.]
School was out today and government offices were closed.
Piña means pineapple in most Spanish speaking countries, but in Uruguay pineapple is anana and piña refers to pine cones. Convenience stores in the US don't typically sell pine cones but many neighborhood shops in Montevideo do. Pine cones are used for cooking-- not as an ingredient, but as fuel for the parrilla. Wood is the primary fuel but the fast-burning piñas are added when the cook wants a particularly hot fire.
Empanadas are a popular snack throughout Latin America and different countries interpret the empanada in various ways. In Uruguay, the classic empanadas seem to be ham & cheese or carne (ground beef) but our local purveyor lists 23 different fillings from chicken curry to dulce de leche. The pastries are coded by punching holes in the dough so you can identify the filling before biting into it.
Thanks to the blog reader who recommended La Chacha (Marti 3379); it's become our regular source for empanadas.
Cuidacoches are very common in Montevideo. I think it's the combination of low levels of employment and high levels of petty theft. Cuidacoches watch the cars parked on a particular block in exchange for a small tip (5-10 pesos, 20-40 cents) from the car owners. They frequently help drivers pull into or out of parking spots. The same cuidacoche works the same street every day, like a regular job. Some of them sleep on the streets, as well.
Beef gets most of the attention in Uruguay, but the seafood is also good. Last night I had calamares en su tinta at the Club de Pesca. I'd eaten squid many times but never cooked in its ink. It was tasty. If you're interested, you might try this recipe.
A few months ago I posted on the difference between prescription drug prices in Uruguay and the United States. Here's a different example:
I wear a lot of casual clothes from Columbia Sportswear. They're durable, relaxed, and good for camping and traveling. In the US, I can buy a pair of Columbia pants for about $30 at Kohls. In Montevideo, there's a Columbia store right around the corner from my apartment. Same rugged outdoor clothing, but the prices are different. Instead of $30-$40, the pants cost $90 or $100.
Why such a big difference? Part of it is taxes. In Michigan the price doesn't include sales tax, so I could add a couple of dollars to adjust for that. Uruguay's IVA is higher, so it probably accounts for $20 of the price differential, but that still leaves a 100% difference. Why?
Production costs won't explain the difference-- the clothes are imports to both countries. We could look at differences in demand. But here the story becomes less simple, why charge a substantially higher price in a poorer country?
I'd suggest it has to do with an absence of competition. In the US, Patagonia dominates the high-end outdoor clothing market but they have little presence in Uruguay. That lets Columbia re-position itself locally to become the luxury outdoor brand. Rather than compete against LL Bean and Woolrich in the middle-price market segment like they do in the US, they hope to command a premium price in Uruguay. Will it work? I'm not sure. I don't see a lot of traffic in their boutique, but their pricing would allow them to profit on low volume.
Would I pay $100? No, I'm not that loyal a customer. But if I were staying here longer, they might be a pedido.
Montevideo has had a lot of fog over the last week. Both the port and airport have been closed. Our friends were stuck in the Buenos Aires airport for over 24 hours before they could fly back to the U.S. This weekend was sunny and warm but today the fog is back. I'm not sure if this is normal winter weather or if we are just having an unusual spell.
The panoramic view from my apartment has ben replaced with all white. Right now, I can barely see across the street to the beach. In Spanish, it's "un día de niebla."
The Punta Gorda barrio is very similar to neighboring Carrasco with single family homes on landscaped lots. I particularly like the point itself where traffic diverts off the Rambla for a few blocks, allowing for a quiet walk along the Rio, past grand mansions. The architecture is more interesting than my neighborhood, Pocitos, where a wall of apartments define the waterfront.
The Hipódromo de Maroñas is Montevideo's racetrack. The track is on the city's gritty northwest side, but the facilities are luxurious. We enjoyed a lunch of beef loin in Tannat sauce, in their fine dining restaurant looking over the track. (They also have a buffet restaurant and food stands.) The track is very family-friendly with free admission for kids under 12 and childcare for young ones. (Minors aren't allowed to bet.)
Today's races started at 2:15 in the afternoon. We left after the 8th race, as the sun set, but there were a half dozen races yet to be run.
Patio Andaluz, in Parque Rodó, reminds me, on a smaller scale, of public parks in southern Spain. An allée of tall palms leads to the patio which overlooks the Río. It was built in 1930 and restored in 1995. Montevideo's Museo del Azulejo features similar tiles.
La Corte is a popular restaurant on the Peatonal Sarandí at Plaza Matriz. It came to my attention when President Bush ate there during his visit to Uruguay. In general, the kinds of restaurants where presidents eat are too luxurious for my budget, but I thought it would be interesting to see.
La Corte turned out to be very affordable; nearly all the main dishes cost less than 200 pesos ($8). Like many Montevideo restaurants they offer daily specials, a complete meal-- main dish, side, glass of wine, and dessert-- for about $6. The menu was very typically Uruguayan: meat from the parrilla, milanesas, pasta, simple salads, desserts made with dulce de leche, etc. It's very representative of the local cuisine.
By the calendar, it's nearly winter in Uruguay but to the trees it's fall. There isn't a lot of color-- many of the deciduous trees simply fade to brown and there are a lot of evergreens, but there's an occasional maple or ginkgo with yellow leaves or a reddish oak or a purple gum. People burn small piles of leaves on the curb. The weather makes it feel like Halloween should be coming but that's a spring holiday in Montevideo.
San José de Mayo is the capital of the departamento of San José. It's a town of nearly 40,000 residents about an hour's drive west of Montevideo. It has an interesting cathedral and a short pedestrian mall near its main plaza.
Most of the countryside that I'd seen in Uruguay was cattle land, except for some vegetable farms and vineyards close to Montevideo, so I was somewhat surprised to see orange groves near Salto. Apparently the area is known for growing citrus, particularly oranges. The trees were full of healthy-looking fruit.
Here's my latest video in what seems to be something of a series. Like Part I and Part II, this video isn't about a specific thing but instead it presents scenes from everyday life in Uruguay's capital city.
Zooilógico del Futuro is a group of scuptures by Martín Arreguí installed on each side of Ruta 3 in the departamento de Flores. The pieces show Uruguay's native fauna-- ñandú, carpincho, puma, zorro-- and the threats they face. The setting is an interesting choice-- a traffic circle in the middle of miles and miles of open country.
The Represa Salto Grande is a dam on the Rio Uruguay just north of Salto. Construction of the dam, a joint Argentine-Uruguayan project, started in 1974 and was completed in 1979.
We didn't have time to take the guided tour to see the hydroelectric generators inside the dam, but we drove across it into Argentina. (Both Uruguay's and Argentina's Customs facilities are on the Argentine side of the river now, so it's possible to cross the bridge without going through Immigration.) Argentinian protesters, who have closed the southernmost bridge between the countries for nearly two years, only occasionally block the bridge at Salto.
The huge reservoir behind the dam in known as Lago Salto Grande.
Wednesday morning at 4 am I left Montevideo in order to visit a frigorífico in Paso de los Toros. We arrived at the meat packing plant just after sunrise, around eight in the morning. We changed into white pants, white tunics, white rubber boots, and blue hardhats before entering the plant. In the entryway, everyone scrubbed their boots and washed their hands before going into the packing room.
The plant was much smaller than the typical Uruguayan frigorífico and it was designed for processing liebre (hare) and later expanded to sheep. The day we were there they were packing lamb for sale in Africa.
I'd never been to a slaughterhouse so I didn't know what to expect. The part of the plant we were in was like a big busy butchershop-- very clean, very bright-- meat being cut, packaged, vacuum sealed, and boxed
I teach economics at Kalamazoo College. My wife is also an economist. We were on sabbatical in Europe for the 2014-15 academic year. (Salamanca, Spain, followed by Oxford, UK.) We were in Uruguay for the 2006-7 academic year.