Another Theo inspired post

Those of you who have been diligently following this blog from the beginning (and, thank you!) may remember a poem sent to me by my dear friend Theo that I posted way back in March.  Once again, Theo has inspired me to post, with the following words from a wonderful email I received from her just this morning:

i need more - i want to know about food and your friends and what you're reading and seeing.  are you going through south america?  are you drinking mate?  what what what... basically i just want more nuggets from your life.  not big huge this is how it's going statements - just little bits.
So here's a little bit.

I'm sitting in Nati's house, listening to Jorge Drexler, whom I newly love.  Nati has 3 cats and 1 dog, plus 3 more cats and 7 (yes, 7) more dogs who live downstairs and frequently come to visit.  They're here, they say what's up.

That's Arturo

Yes, I bonded with a cat. This is Ralphie. She's a girl.

Last week I was adopted by a group of Nati's friends for Dia del Amigo.  That's right, a special holiday for friends.  How lovely and wonderful!  As per time-tested Argentine tradition, we went to a boliche and danced for 5 hours straight.

Really cool photog of me and Nati jumping around. Credit: Jess!

Today I spent a solid couple hours in the Centro Postal Internacional visiting various windows and waiting for various numbers to be called so that I could pick up a package of ropa abrigada (warm clothes!) sent to me by mom.  THANK YOU MOM!

I went to class and wrestled with the subjunctive some more.

Argentine movies I can recommend:
- El Secreto de Sus Ojos
- Valentin
- Plan B

Today is the anniversary of the death of Eva Peron.  RIP.

That's my nugget for today.

With love and mate.


Last night I played one of my favorite games ever: Taboo.  The rules are simple. Get your team to guess a "secret word" that's written on the game's deck of cards, without using any of the other five "taboo" words that are printed on the card. I'm a bit of a Taboo fanatic, and have played (and...ahem...won) many a game, including the epic game of Jews vs. Gentiles cerca January 1, 2010.

But this time, I played Taboo in Spanish.  At a Buenos Aires bar that serves up juegos de mesa - board games - alongside the Buenos Aires standard, liters of cold beer to share with friends.  I'm proud, and somewhat amazed, to say that I was able to play and actually score some points for my team!  And to top it all off, they spell it Tabú here, which just makes me smile.

Today I had my first Spanish class.  Three hours a day, Monday through Friday, for one month, at La Universidad de Buenos Aires.  Sounds official, no? I'm looking forward to being able to communicate more fluidly, and to curing my severe case of subjunctivitis, along with my related grammatical ailments.

Since I've been here, I have: witnessed a devastating loss the morning after having a devastatingly delicious asado at Nati's sister's place in Pilar; danced, as one does in Buenos Aires, until dawn; and I am ongoingly drinking mate, eating empanadas, and hoarding the much-coveted monedas needed to take local buses.  Yes, I'm back in Buenos Aires.

Ragazzi Report: a guest post from Mom

Beyond the impossible and astonishing beauty of the places Julia and I visited, what made our trip all and more than I had hoped for was the people, or as Julia and I came to call them, “the ragazzi”.  

In Rome we sat among the hoards of Italians who, shaking two open hands at the giant screen in the Borghese Gardens (set up by the FIFA Fan Fest for viewing the World Cup) lamented a missed shot on goal. 

Or the two-dozen tango dancers we happened upon late at night - seamlessly changing partners and performing the intricate and exquisite choreography of tango - in a breezeway on a quiet street.

Entering a tailor‘s shop in Naples to look at the beautiful bolts of wool suiting, Julia tried to explain that I too was a “tailor” from NY and could we take a picture?  Nodding, the gentleman asked me to write down my phone number, which seemed weird, but assuming the odds of him calling were pretty slim, I complied thinking it must be his way of assuring that our intentions were honorable.  After further attempts at communication, we realized why he wanted my number.  He thought I was looking for a job!

Oh so many people in Amalfi: our Australian fellow travelers who invited us for a drink on their palatial terrace cantilevered over the Mediterranean, and whose 10 year old daughter Maisie was enchanted by Julia (but who isn’t?); Marco, the host/waiter/owner/ of our favorite Amalfi café.  He’s a phys-ed teacher who owns the adjacent bed and breakfast (rated the number 1 B&B by Trip Advisor!) He explained to us that he is “the mind” and his wife is “the muscle” in their business- this as she was in perpetual motion, serving, clearing, cleaning while he sat with us, watching the American soccer team (in less than top form that day), endlessly ribbing us with the comment “they play well,  these Americans, eh?”;  and, our guide to historical Amalfi, Michelangelo.  A hydrant of a man who explained that what we commonly identify as a Maltese cross originated in Amalfi and beseeched us to henceforth use it’s correct name, the Amalfi cross. Oh, and did you know that the medical school in ancient Amalfi was the first place to accept women? And not just as students, but also as professors!  And that Flavio Gioja, a man from Amalfi, is the real inventor of the  compass, because only after he made a sea compass in the 14th century was the 2nd century Chinese invention of the regular-old compass made useful.  He also told us the pier in the pivotal ancient port of Amalfi was 12 km wide and extended 3 km into the sea… Here we invoke Gertrude Stein’s famous comment… “Interesting if true”.

Maisie shared her favorite kind of candy with Julia


And then there was Rina of Villa Rina Country House – she’s an adorable, compact bundle of energy, enthusiasm and culinary wizardry.  She welcomed us like family and treated us to the tastes of the sea, her garden and… her freezer where she kept her stash of homemade limoncello and blackberry liqueurs.  And I must mention Macho, her cautious cat, and Bonney, her German shepherd whose major pastimes are terrorizing Macho and playing with one of the huge lemons from Rina’s grove of lemon trees.  All of this, hundreds, yes, hundreds of steps above the Mediterranean Sea (where Rina swims daily).  For us it was simply the stairway to heaven.  The view was breathtaking - houses, gardens and hotels defying gravity in their perches on the cliffs, the shocking pink of lush bougainvillea spilling over walls and rocks, and the blue, blue sea. 

The view from Rina's terrace

On to the town of Lecce, in the Puglia region.  By day, Lecce is a sleepy ancient town filled with magnificently carved marble buildings and churches.  By night it turns into Times Square on New Years Eve!  Masses of people, crowding every piazza, street and alley, every restaurant and café.

Lecce ragazzi

A short drive outside of Lecce is Squinzano where we had the unique good fortune to take a cooking class with sisters Cinzia and Marika at their culinary school Stile Mediterraneo.  Cinzia a Harvard MBA who lived in New York and worked at Goldman Sachs! She now runs the the cooking school and is a professional olive oil taster (She taught us how to do it!). Marika is an MD, and when she is not working at the hospital, she assists Cinzia.  Beautiful, eloquent, cultured and sooo smart, these remarkably warm and hospitable women shared their passion for local foods and slow cooking, as well as their time honored family recipes.  We were also treated to lemon granita made from the fruit of their grandmother’s lemon trees and pear jam made from yup, grandma’s pears.

Cinzia and Marika, our fearless leaders!
more photos from the cooking class here

Arriving in Greece we received a five minute language tutorial from the man in the tourism office, getting the basics of “good morning” (kalimera) “thank you”  (efkharisto) and a swear word we had to promise we’d never utter.   Then, we met our bored (?) tired (?) receptionist in Athens. When I called from the room to ask him for the Wi-Fi password, told me to come down and get it.  And our Athenian fave, Stella. She works in her sister Ionna’s shop selling fabulously versatile clothing designed by Ioanna.  She took us under her wing and spent a long while showing us how each garment can be worn in a variety of ways (so one garment serves many purposes) and shared her “I only tell friends about this place” favorite Athens restaurant.  

In Santorini we were greeted by Vassily, the crazy Bulgarian who roots for the Argentina soccer team and whose wife cleans rooms while he lunches with a strikingly beautiful young woman.  But the star of Santorini was Dmitri, the manager of Alta Mare.  First because he rescued us from having to stay in a hellhole, but mostly because his love for and knowledge of the island were exceeded only by his charming demeanor and personalized advice on where to go and what to do.

It was difficult to leave these enchanted places and I hope I can make good on my vow to return to each of our destinations (except Naples - ugh).  But hardest of all to leave…  was Julia.  A wise and intrepid traveler, a superb photographer, a hilarious, supportive and agreeable companion, we journeyed together seamlessly.  I love her beyond the ends of the earth and my fondest wish is to return, with both Maddy and Julia to all of these places, and all of these people, and to love it all over again.