Montevideo has a lot more armored cars than I'm accustomed to. They're constantly complicating traffic when they stop in a driving lane to make a delivery or pick-up. They're usually accompanied by a small car full of guards with big guns. I've been too intimidated to get a good photo of the guys with the shotguns and assault rifles. There seem to be two main companies and several smaller operators.
I'm fairly certain that the widespread use of cash payments explains the number of armored cars.
Peñarol vs. Nacional is the classic soccer rivalry in Uruguay. We watched them compete this afternoon in Montevideo's Estadio Centenario. The game was a lopsided Peñarol victory, but to me the most interesting action happened in the stands.
Peñarol's hinchada, [hardcore fans] all dressed in their team's yellow and black occupied one end of the stadium. Nacional fans-- red, white, and blue-- were at the opposite end. Fans displayed their loyalties through banners, fireworks, flags, non-stop chanting and singing, whistles, highway flares, and smoke bombs (with smoke in the team colors).
Our seats were in the center section which was more peaceful. The fans still followed the game closely, swore at the referees, threw confetti, and cheered each successful move by their players (and each mishap of their rivals), but they didn't take the slogans "Peñarol until death" and "Nacional until death" quite as seriously. Family members could even cheer for rival teams.
We'd been warned that violence wasn't uncommon between the hinchadas. While we didn't see any clashes inside the stadium, after the game a Peñarol fan was being chased and hit by a large group of Nacional fans. A squad of mounted policemen rode over to quell the disturbance.
Sylvia Nasar, author of "A Beautiful Mind," visited Uruguay to speak at the Universidad de Montevideo. We enjoyed her talk Thursday evening and had the pleasure of accompanying her and her son on an afternoon at the San Pedro de Timote estancia.
Kids in Uruguay's public schools wear the old-fashioned white tunica with a big black bow. Private school kids wear uniforms,too, either dress uniforms (sweaters and ties in the school colors) or gym uniforms (sweats in the school colors).
The kids shown here are on a field trip to see the photo display by Frances Yann Arthus-Bertrand on Montevideo's Rambla.
Today I saw another sign that summer is over. A front-end loader was removing the lifeguard huts from Pocitos beach. People were still on the beach-- jogging,walking dogs, and playing soccer-- but I guess at 60 degrees no one's planning to swim.
The Museo del Gaucho and the Museo de la Moneda occupy separate floors in the same late-nineteenth century mansion in Montevideo's Centro, so you get two museums for one price-- free. Both collections are fairly small but interesting.
The gaucho museum showcases the elaborate silverwork used by the caballeros on saddles, belts, knives, whips, and bridles. It also displays weapons, mates, canteens made from horns, and traditional clothing of the countryside.
As an economist, I was fascinated by the display of currency from the early 1990s. Those bills looked just like the ones in circulation today but they had a lot more zeros: today's 20 peso note was 20,000 nuevo pesos at that time. All the bills kept the same design: colors, portrait, artwork but with three fewer zeros. Another display case had currency from the 1970s before the introduction of the nuevo peso-- and again those bills had an extra 3 zeros. My favorite was this one where they changed a 5000 peso note to a 5 nuevo peso note using a rubber stamp.
As a result of these currency changes, today's 1 peso coin represents one million old pesos. This made the old pesos (through the 1970s) and the nuevo pesos (through the early 1990s) essentially worthless. (I have seen people use them as chips when playing truco and the Almacén del Hacha has jars full of them as decoration.) Why? Uruguay, like other countries in the region, experienced runaway inflation.
If you're not interested in money or gauchos, you might still enjoy visiting the museum to see the elaborate housing that Uruguay's elite enjoyed a century ago.
Avenida 18 de Julio 998. Open Monday-Friday 10 am - 5 pm. Free.
The Palo Borracho trees are losing their leaves and setting fruit. The big seedpods hang from the spiky branches in clusters. Some are as long as footballs but skinnier. Somehow the fruits seem more in character with the swollen trunk and thorns than the pink flowers of late summer.
This branch of the National Historic Museum is in Montevideo's Cuidad Vieja a few blocks from the Palacio Taranco and the Plaza Zabala. It's the former home of General Fructoso Rivera, the first president of the Uruguayan republic and the founder of the Colorado Party. Inside, there are big paintings of generals and soldiers and displays of swords and guns from the period .
Open afternoons: Tuesday-Friday & Sunday. Address: Rincón 437. Free admission.
Dark beer isn't very common in Uruguay although Negra Modela from Mexico and Isenbeck Dark from Argentina have been available in the bigger supermarkets. Today, I saw a locally-brewed dark beer for the first time: Patricia Salus Porter. As the name indicates, it's a porter-style beer-- dark and rich but not as thick as a stout. It's tasty: a nice change from the usual lager-style cervezas and just right for today's cool Fall weather. The label says Edición Limitada so I don't know how long it will be available but I plan to enjoy more before it's gone.
I'd seen ñandú several times in Uruguay (photo) and its relatives in Argentina but I hadn't had the chance to try it until Wednesday night at the Club de Pesca. We had ñandú from the estancia I visited in November.
I liked it a lot. The taste is very much like beef, nothing like poultry. It made a very flavourful stew. I haven't noticed it on restaurant menus but I have seen it for sale (frozen) at some of the big supermarkets. I think we only eat the meat from the legs, so the ostrich yields less meat than a big Thanksgiving turkey. If you get a chance, I'd recommend it.
update: (after another great meal at the Club de Pesca)
April 19th commemorates the Desembarco de los 33 Orientales when Uruguay's independence fighters, led by Juan Antonio Lavalleja, landed at the Playa de la Agraciada on the banks of the Río Uruguay. Uruguay, after successfully rebelling against Spanish rule, was invaded by Portugal and had been annexed to Brazil in 1821 so the struggle for independence continued.
This date marks an important point in Uruguay's history. It's still celebrated as a holiday, but the actual day of vacation is Monday so people can enjoy a long weekend.
Ricci is a new restaurant near Punta Carretas Shopping in a beautifully restored building. For years, the building had been a private home and the restoration process preserved much of the architectural detail. In the cueva [wine cellar] they have a framed blueprint showing that it was originally built as a hotel-- but it couldn't have had more than 5 or 6 rooms.
The food is artfully prepared variations on the traditional Uruguyan menu-- beef, lamb, fish, and pasta. Very nice.
Open for lunch and dinner. It's at the corner of Joaquim Nuñez and Miñones
Yesterday we saw a couple of hang gliders launch from Punta Ballena. It was a beautiful spot high on the crest across from Punta del Este. The gliders seem effortless-- a few steps and they launched into the air, then soared above the coast. No engine, no fuel, no exhaust. After 15 or 20 minutes they landed on the beach.
La Mano is the symbol of Punta del Este. It's by Chilean sculptor Mario Irrarazabal (according to the plaque at the site, although a Google search suggests his name is spelled Irarrazabal). It's one of the most popular pieces of art that I've seen-- people are always climbing the thumb or having their photograph taken by the fingers. It also attracts graffiti. Eight years ago the fingers proclaimed "Vegetarian Resistance" and "Carne es Crimen" ["meat is crime"]--definitely out-of-step with Uruguayan society.
Punta del Este was pretty quiet this weekend, which is typical of its season.
The Palacio Taranco (Museo de Artes Decorativas) is an early twentieth century mansion near Plaza Zabala. The high ceilinged rooms (nearly 20 feet high) are full of ornate furniture and paintings from the period. Even the window latches are intricate. Unfortunately, they prohibit photography inside the building, but you can see a few photos on their website. The basement (accessible from an unmarked door in the entryway) has a collection of archaeological findings from Italy.
The Museo de Arte Precolombino e Indigena (MAPI) is in a magnificent old building in Montevideo's Ciudad Vieja. The upper floors are still being restored so currently there are only limited exhibits on the ground floor. It's worth going in to see the turn-of-the-century architectural detail. Admission is Free. Open Tuesday-Saturday afternoons.
The Museo del Azulejo is a small museum in the Pocitos neighborhood [address: Cavia 3080] featuring a collection of over 3000 decorative tiles. Azulejos have an interesting history, going back to the era of Moorish rule in the Iberian peninsula. (The word azulejo comes from an Arabic phrase meaning polished stone.) The tiles arrived in the Americas with Spanish and Portuguese settlers. Azulejos aren't nearly as popular in Montevideo as they are in Seville but there are some interesting examples here.
The museum has 5 or 6 rooms in a neat old house displaying tiles from various countries. It's open Tuesday-Sunday afternoons and admission is free.
Pocitos beach is no longer packed like it was in summer . The soccer stadium is gone, as are the volleyball nets and port-a-potties and the beach cleaning seems much less frequent. I'm sure there will be more nice days full of sunbathers but today the beach had a real off-season feel.
Although 2007 began a few months ago, in Uruguay the new year doesn't really start until after the last bicyclist crosses the finish line in the Vuelta Ciclista del Uruguay [Uruguay's equivalent of the Tour de France] at the end of Semana de Turismo. December was the season of fiestas, starting with the La Noche de las Luces; January was vacation, and February was carnaval. School did start in March, but carnaval was still going on and then everyone was looking forward to another week of vacation.
Semana Criolla at Parque Prado seems to get all the attention but for 30 years there's been a second Semana Criolla festival at Parque Roosevelt. This location also features wild horses and jinetes, music, food and shopping. In addition they bring amusement park rides to Parque Roosevelt. The Lion's Club started the festival for people in Montevideo who couldn't afford to travel during Semana de Turismo.
Parque Roosevelt doesn't have the fairground infrastructure that the Prado has, so the event seemed more casual. Admission was free; parking cost 50 pesos and most people seemed to arrive by bus. The bleachers at the rueda were smaller so the audience was closer to the competition. We didn't stay for the evening entertainment but Araka la Kana was scheduled to perform on the outdoor stage that night.
Salus is the dominant brand of mineral water in Uruguay. The source is a spring in the hills outside of Minas, about 130 kilometers from Montevideo. The company has created a park around the source with gardens, nature trails, and a nice playground. Admission is free. We enjoyed a pleasant couple of hours there yesterday afternoon.
At the spring, they have a puma statue spouting water to feed a little pool. Plastic cups are provided for the visitors to drink from the lion's mouth. The plant itself is just across a courtyard with the bottling equipment visible through big glass windows.
The Patricia brewery is also on the grounds of the park.
The horseback competition is the biggest attraction at the Semana Criolla. Riders compete in three categories a pelo [bareback], a basto [saddle] and a basto argentino [a mimimalist saddle]. The object is to stay on a wild horse for 12 seconds (or 10 seconds, if bareback) while the horse bucks and runs and tries to throw the rider. Jinetes [the riders] are judged on the quality of the ride-- my impression is the wilder the better. At times, the horse rolls on its back in an attempt to dismount the rider. More than half of the riders we saw were thrown before the time limit.
Jineteada was declared Uruguay's national sport in 2006.
101 years ago, a group from Cádiz, España named "La Gaditana" spent a year performing in Uruguay because they didn't have enough money to return to Europe. The next year, a local group called "Murga La Gaditana que se va" ["La Gaditana That Went"] parodied them and Uruguay's tradition of murga was born.
The music diverged over the years but recently groups from Uruguay have performed in Cadiz and Spanish groups have performed in Montevideo. Araka la Kana won first place comparsa in this year's carnival in Cadiz.
We saw them at the Semana Criolla. Here's a video from Araka la Kana's performance:
On a somewhat related note: The Miami Herald recently ran an article on murga in Uruguay.
La Semana Criolla is Montevideo's main attraction during Semana de Turismo. It has rodeo events during the day and music in the evening. Like the Expo Rural, it's held in Montevideo's Parque Prado. We went in the evening, so the animals were in their stalls, but there was plenty of Uruguyan folk music and plenty of food.
The admission "fee" to this big-- maybe 100 feet high-- climbing wall near Pocitos beach was 1 kilo of non-perishable food. On Sunday there was a long line of participants bringing bags of rice, lentils, and noodles. The "proceeds" were donated to the Ministry of Social Development.
Unlike some US cities, public places in Montevideo are used continuously. There's a little green space near Pocitos beach and for the last few weeks it's been full of kids enjoying this little fair. In January, the same area was used for tango.
I teach economics at Kalamazoo College. My wife is also an economist. We have a daughter who doesn't want to be an economist. We were in Uruguay for the 2006-7 academic year. My step-son majored in economics in college and is now studying accounting.