Tuesday, October 27, 2009

El Milongón

When my aunt was in Montevideo visiting me, we went to a dinner show--El Milongón. Although it was as touristy as touristy can get, it was a nice overview of the musical styles of Uruguay.

There was folk dancing, candombe, tango, fire spinning, and gaucho stomping. For a show in Uruguay it was ridiculously pricey (about 21 US dollars), but for a comparable 1.5 hour show of live music and dancing in the US you couldn't even come close to the price.

Enjoy a short video from the evening:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Election Results

Excitement is in the air. Even though Uruguay's presidential elections were yesterday, we still don't know who will be president next year. None of the candidates won a majority (50 percent plus 1 vote) to win the first round of elections, which means there will be a "balotaje" (runoff) in November.

Pepe Mujica from the Frente Amplio got 47.5% of the votes, Luis Lacalle from Partido Nacional (or Blanco) got 28.5%, Pedro Bordaberry from the Colorados got 16.7%.

I happened to make it to both the Frente Amplio and Partido Nacional celebrations in Ciudad Vieja. Kudos to the Frente for more fun-ness. Their supporters were a bit more in number and animation. People were chanting, waving flags, jumping, painting faces, parading down the street, and watching fireworks. They expected a big win last night, and were slightly disappointed to have to wait till the runoff to vote Pepe again. The Colorado celebration was a little more low-key, largely reflective of their typical demographic. I'm excited to see if the November 29th election will be a close one or not.

As with the presidential vote, neither of the 2 referendums (to annul the amnesty law or to let Uruguayans living abroad vote) got a majority either which means neither of them will pass. I am actually really surprised that the amnesty law will remain intact. It seemed like public sentiment swayed toward repealling the law, yet it only received a 47.36% yes-vote. I suppose visibility isn't always the most accurate indicator of voting behavior. Seems like most Uruguayans want to keep the past in the past, even if it means leaving a few human rights violations go unpunished. If the law were repealed there would be a BIG mess to sort out. (A mess just as problematic as not repealing the law? We'll never know.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Election Day

Today is election day in Uruguay!

After months and months of campaigning, we shall finally see which party wins the election. Lately, there have been rallies all over Montevideo for each of the different political parties, and volunteers handing out brochures like crazy. I don't think I'll miss receiving 20 pamphlets after a short two-block walk down 18 de Julio.

It appears that there will be no clear winner in the election today. The race is largely between the two frontrunners, Pepe Mujica, former Tupamaros guerrilla fighter and part of the current ruling party, the Frente Amplio, and Luis Lacalle, former president and representative from the Partido Blanco. Elections in Uruguay are compulsory so everyone has to vote or face undesirable consequences.

In addition to selecting a president and a new legislature (through the system of a bunch of really long lists labeled with a number) Uruguayans will also vote on two "plebiscitos," namely whether to repeal the 1986 amnesty law and whether to allow Uruguayans living abroad to vote.

There have been many signs, graffiti, pins, shirts, posters, and whatnot encouraging people to vote "si" to annul the "Ley de Caducidad" which granted amnesty to those accused of human rights abuses during the dictatorship.

I am so excited to see the result of the election. The future of Uruguay will be decided today.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Way Up in the Sky

The Torre de las Telecomunicaciones is the tallest building in Montevideo, and in all of Uruguay for that matter. It towers over the rest of city and can be seen from quite a distance. The tower belongs to ANTEL, the state-run national telecommunications company.

From the tower you can see a beautiful overview of the city, port, and river. Every so often they give free tours to the public and let you ride up the elevator to the 20th floor where you can look out the massive windows from to see Montevideo on all sides down below.

The windows often reflect light and, at some points, make it seem like you are walking into an optical illusion. It is well worth the visit if you come visit Uruguay.

In the adjacent building there is the Museo de las Telecomunicaciones y el Auditorio which more or less takes you on a tour of telephones throughout the ages. I wouldn't recommend the museum unless you are telecommunications junkie, but the tower is worthwhile.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sunday on the Golf Course

On Sunday, the Club de Golf de Uruguay opens its doors to the public--only not for golf.

The golf course is in the Punta Carretas neighborhood and you can see the Ciudad Vieja part of the Montevideo skyline from some of the greens and the beach as well. The course was impeccable, yet anyone (golfer or not) can visit on Sundays just to lounge around.

I could hardly believe it. At first I felt like I was desecrating holy ground by walking on a golf course with no golf clubs, no golf shoes, and no golf attire. But you don't need those things on Sundays! We came with only a bag full of bizcochos (bakery sweets) and yerba mate.

On Sundays families come to have picnics by the sand traps. Friends come to loaf around the greens. Students come to study in the grass. Nature enthusiasts come to spot newly hatched baby birds and watch bright green parrots fly from tree to tree.

I like the idea that an exclusive golf club lets people use their facilities like a park. It's a public good that just doesn't exist in the culture I come from.

Friday, October 16, 2009

86 kilos of meat

Seriously Uruguayans. How do you eat so much meat?

This article says the expected number of slaughtered cattle for this year will be around 2.21 million. Whoooah. That's a lot of cows. Further more:
Uruguay's beef consumption per capita in 2009 is expected to reach 58 kilos and 86 kilos of all types of meat according to the latest estimates from the National Meat Institute (INAC).
86 kilos of meat per capita??!!

No wonder why you can't walk into a restaurant around here and not find some form of beef on the menu. A lot of Uruguayans have told me they eat beef everyday of the week, and I'm not surprised after living here for 7 months. Apparently you can never have too much beef.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Alpargatas are the traditional shoe of the gauchos (cowboys) in Uruguay. The soles are made of jute and the uppers of canvas. I discovered (with the help of Google) that "alpargatas" are the Rioplatense way of saying "espadrilles." And as we all know, every fashion guru owns a pair of espadrilles.

I gave my students the assignment to create an advertisement for something typically Uruguayan based on all of the principles we've been discussing regarding discourse analysis. Their ads were great. Among others I got ads for dulce de leche, towns to visit in Uruguay, beer, sneakers, a hotline, and alpargatas. The two students who created the alpargatas advertisment, also gifted me a pair of these traditional shoes. Thanks guys!

Apparently you can't get alpargatas wet or they will become too stiff, and then they are basically useless. So now I'm nervous to wear them. How can you not get shoes wet? Puddles have a way of finding me.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Uruguayan Sunsets

I've never seen sunsets anywhere in the world more beautiful than the sunsets I've seen in Uruguay, first in Salto then in Montevideo.

Here are two photos right from our living room window as the sun began to sink. Both were taken on different days. Sheer magnificence!


Chivitos (literally translated, little goats) are anything but little sandwiches that are 100% Uruguayan.

They include beef, bacon, ham, fried egg, cheese, mayo, tomato, lettuce, olives, ketchup, and mustard all smooshed between two giant pieces of bread. Or, if you are feeling less sandwhichy, you can order them "al plato" which is the same thing just layered right on the plate. Your arteries will feel like they are going to explode after eating these, so don't say you haven't been warned.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

An Escape from the City: Villa Serrana

The small little town of Villa Serrana is about as far from the hustle and bustle of the city as you can possibly get. Located 145 Km away from Montevideo in the Lavalleja Deparment--it's a great place to get back in touch with nature.

For Columbus day or "Dia de la Raza" we took a trip to itty bitty Villa Serrana. This was another one of those towns where the bus driver calls out the name of the town and you hop off on the side of the highway. Fortunately this time there were signs pointing to the village. It was about a 4 kilometer walk to even see any sign of civilization, and even then, we saw more animals than humans (Including ants, haha, but this time they weren't crawling on me but rather carrying blades of grass 3 times their body weight to who-knows-where).

We stopped by the Baño de la India, the observatory, and a few other points of interest, but mostly we just hiked around and breathed in the fresh air. Other than waiting forever for a bus to take us back to Montevideo and not having a seat for the 2.5 hour bus ride, the trip was great success.

One this is for sure: the Uruguayan countryside is breathtaking. cattle, horses, and sheep graze in open free-range pastures, gurgling springs trickle down green fields, rolling hills sweep along the horizon, and white clouds dot the brilliant blue skies. Villa Serrana is all nature.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Thongs in Public

Yes, this post might be slightly scandalous.

I was at pool today and saw something that struck me as quite strange. Another girl came to swim laps the wearing a one piece thong bathing suit. Seriously? A thong one-piece? To swim laps at the gym? How impractical. It can neither be modest nor comfortable. Why would anyone even own such a swimsuit?

Furthermore, I've noticed that a lot of women wear thongs at the beach. Old and young. Fat or skinny. They aren't usually topless like I found in Spain, but still as scantily clad as possible. And women wear thongs to dance to carnaval music which often involves shaking your booty, if you will. It's the land of thongs over here!

I recognize this is just a cultural difference, but public displays of thong-covered rear ends make this stuffy American feel uncomfortable.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Bus Ride to Remember

Yesterday I rode the bus with spiderman. No really. I got on the bus. Sat down. Two stops later, none other than spiderman himself got on the bus, paid his fare, and stood there as if nothing was out of the ordinary. I pretended to text on my phone, but snapped a photo instead, because I knew no one would believe that I rode the bus with a super hero.

I think the strangest thing was that other people on the bus didn't seem to be fazed at all by the fact that Hombre Araña was riding the bus with us. I've come to expect peddlars, musicians, and beggars to board the bus, but not super heroes.

I've been on the bus with men playing tango music, children selling alfajores con dulce de leche, a man selling spot cleaner, women selling chocolate, a spanish rapper, numerous vendors, and now with spiderman too. Somehow riding the bus is always an experience.

And P.S. if you ever need to figure out how to get somewhere in Montevideo, montevideobus.com will save your life, because the system is impossible to navigate with out this website. There are no schedules. And there are no routes printed at the bus stops. If you want to go somewhere in the city you either walk, take a taxi, ask somebody which bus to take, or find internet connection and check out this website. You click on your origin and it will tell you which buses you can take to get to your destination. Another piece of advice, which I had to learn the hard way, you have to hail the bus, even if you are at a marked bus stop it won't stop unless you stick out your hand and start waving. You also need to push a button to get off the bus at your stop, or once again, the driver will just keep on going. There are many unspoken rules of bus-riding here, and the only way to learn is to get on and go.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Mate Man-Purse

"Why are all of the men carrying man-purses?" my friend Emily asked me when she was visiting for a week.

"Ha, ha, ha, man-purses?" I laughed, "they aren't man-purses, they're materas (or mate bags). That is the container they use to carry their mate cup, straw, thermos, and yerba mate. Silly Emily. They are unisex carrying devices, not man-purses."

Ahhh, yes, but time would prove me wrong. We happened to befriend a few waiters at the Mercado Del Puerto who we met up with after they got off of work, and lo-and-behold eventually the conversation turned to Uruguay's favorite drink and pastime--mate." Our new friend said, "Oh well, I would let you try mate, but here in my mate bag I don't have mate."

"Oh really, you don't have mate in your mate bag? So what do you have in there?"

"Well, let me show you," he says as he opens up his leather bag strung over his shoulder. Gasp. Inside he had a gigantic bottle of hair gel, deodorant, cologne (ironically pronounced "perfume" in Spanish), and other beauty supplies.

One word: deception.

Now I know Uruguayan men, now I know what you carry in your mate bag man purse!