Signs and Wonders

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Over the past several months, we have been fortunate to observe and participate in many new experiences while in South America.  What follows are some snippets of observations from our travels.

  • When you want to sell your car in parts of South America, put a gas can on the roof (but just when you are parked… not while you are driving).
  • One of the most poetic pieces of graffiti that I saw (and there is lots of it to choose from) was on beach in Montevideo.  It roughly translated as “a song has already been written for every day of my life.”
  • If a store chain is called “25 Hours,” it does not mean that it will be open when you go there.
  • In one city, the local wedding dress store was called “Therapy.”
  • There is a brand of toilet paper called “Soon.”  They should get together with a laxative company and sell a package of the two products together, under the same name.
  • It is always a good idea to tip washroom attendants.  They might even give you some toilet paper in return, which can come in handy.  If you’re lucky, it will be “Soon.”
  • The large inter-city bus stations here have some great technology to help you decide which of the 60 or 70 platforms your bus will be leaving from.  They are very well-adapted to tell you in great detail which buses arrived two hours ago, which company owned the buses, and which platform they stopped at.  However, if you are looking for information on where your bus (which is leaving in 5 minutes) will be, they are not as much help.  After all, history is much easier to write than prophecy.  If you want to find your bus, run up and down the platforms, looking for a bus from the company you are using, and ask the bus driver where they are heading next.  With any luck (and so far we’ve had luck), you’ll find a suitable bus and end up where your ticket says you’ll end up.
  • A note about opening hours for museums - these cannot be directly translated as hours that they will actually be unlocked and available for tours.  These are the hours when the likelihood of being open is higher than usual.  If you need more certainty than this, you should have gone to Germany.
  •  You could linger in a restaurant for a very long time waiting for your bill.  We don’t know how long yet, as we always ran out of patience before the waiters did.  Just because you have finished eating and your table is cleared does not mean that your meal is considered to be over.  It certainly puts our Canadian chains that advertise “20 minutes and you’re out of here” (or something like that) to shame (which it should).  If a restaurant is watching the clock at the same time as it is taking your money, get out of there and don’t bother going back.
  • However, if your meal is full and truly over and you do really need to get somewhere (maybe there is a museum that could possibly be open somewhere) then you try the following.  Catch the waiter’s eye and make the motion of writing on your left palm with an imaginary pen held in your right hand.  That should bring results.  For those of you who are left-handed, I’m sorry.  I’m not oppressing you, but I never saw people writing on their right palm with their left hand.  But give it a try and see what happens.
  • You can get just about anything delivered here, including ice cream.  When we moved in to our apartment in Córdoba, our landlord gave us a list of important numbers, including the delivery number for the ice cream store just around the corner.  I cannot quite imagine what ailment I would be suffering from if I was in dire need of an ice cream cone but was too sick to walk half a block to get it.  But I’m sure there’s some medical condition that would cause that, and it appears to be on the increase here.
  • For a couple of weeks, we lived in a city where Jesus was the official mayor.  Well, a statue of Jesus, but it wasn’t always clear that people made the distinction.  I’m not kidding.  We have pictures.  It came about many years ago during a colonial-era battle between the Spanish and the indigenous folks.  A priest was able to calm the warring sides.  He played them some fiddle tunes, and then convinced them to stop fighting if the current Spanish mayor was replaced by a statue of Jesus.  Both sides agreed, and the rest is history.  Every December 31st, they re-enact the event.  A group dressed like Spanish settlers and a group dressed like natives meet in the square across from the major cathedral, and both prostate themselves before the statue.  After that ritual, the statue goes back to its regular home in the oldest church in the city.  Before you judge this, remember that it has worked.  It was certainly better than the groups spending the last few centuries killing each other.  I wonder if there are any NL municipalities that would be interested in this solution.  Maybe the next time a community has a mass resignation of councillors, Municipal Affairs should step in implement a similar policy.
  • When it gets on toward mid-morning, there is the great view of bustling waiters striding down the sidewalks (or balancing trays while riding bikes) delivering drinks and snacks and full meals to folks at their offices and workplaces.  They look quite sharp in their uniforms and aprons, deftly handling their trays of food decked out with proper linens and real cutlery.  It sure beats the view in Canadian cities of office workers lumbering along with their paper bags of food and foam cups of coffee.
  • At home, we are working hard on increasing breastfeeding, and making spaces available that are more comfortable for mother and baby in that process.  Breastfeeding here is a much more open activity.  It is not unusual to see women breastfeeding while working in a store, while crossing the street, while riding on a motorcycle, while sitting in the park, pretty much wherever people are.  In one fine moment, Mary witnessed a woman breastfeeding while driving a motorcycle.  Neither mother nor baby had a helmet, in case you were wondering.  That really should be an Olympic event, given the balance and equilibrium one would need to do it successfully.
  • Sadly, I spent my whole time in Argentina coveting change.  (The money kind, not the social kind.)  It is very hard get change here.  Cashiers in grocery stores will claim not to have any change.  Taxi drivers will shake their heads when you try to hand them a 100 peso note for an 80 peso ride.  (100 pesos is worth about $23.50 Canadian, and despite being the usual denomination dispensed in ATMs, they are sometimes hard to use.)  I actually kept a stash of change in the apartment and every night added to it.  I felt a bit like Scrooge, drooling over my small wad of 2 and 5 and 10 peso notes.  But in the end, it means that I’ll make it back to Canada with a stack of small change in Argentinian pesos.  Maybe I can use them for Christmas gifts next year?  Be forewarned.

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Today’s music choice is a Córdoba band called “Los Cocineros” (“the chefs,” in English).  To fit their name, they wear aprons and chef hats for their concerts.  Their musical styles include such tasty recipes as rumba, rock, cumbia, bolero, cuarteto, ska and a few other Latin styles.   Since their formation in 2001, they have released about 7 CDs.  Their Myspace page has a number of tracks to whet your appetite: www.myspace.com/loscocineroscordoba.

And if if you want to see them live, check out: www.youtube.com/watch?v=bk345uAGxkk&feature=related

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