Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha

I saw the cutest little girl today at the Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha in Tacuarembó, Uruguay. I would say she was about eight years old, and she had on a white, frilly cowgirl dress with a blue vest, a blue and white cowgirl hat, and blue and white cowgirl shoes. When I tell you this girl was dressed to the nines, I mean she was fully coordinated from head to toe.

The little girl happened to be adorable, but she wasn’t the only one dressed like that. We were at a gaucho festival, so everyone was dressed like her. Gauchos are the cowboys of South America. It just so happens that they come from all over South America to this festival. It’s like a fair, but for cowboys.

There were all kinds of foods, games, and rides at this rodeo stadium. I had to laugh at the man at the barbeque pit because he was cooking huge cuts of steak, the sun was blazing, there was a ton of smoke blowing in his face, he was sweating profusely, yet he refused to take off, or even unbutton, his long-sleeved white shirt, his black vest, or his cowboy hat. I thought he was going to pass out, but every time I walked by him, he was still standing over the pit.

Some of the shows were pretty cool. A guy on a horse was doing tricks with a lasso. Women sang and danced to traditional gaucho songs. Most of the people in the audience sang along, so at some points, it became one big sing-along. I didn’t know any of the words, but I put my arm around the guy’s shoulder next to me and rocked back and forth mimicking the words. Everyone got a kick out of the fact that I clearly didn’t belong, but I was out there singing and rocking with the best of them anyway.

fiesta-de-la-patria-gaucha

I was about to leave, but I ran into some kind of parade. I swear there were about 3000 gauchos and gauchettes (yes, I made up that word!) on horses, coming down the street into the center of the stadium. The horses pranced into the stadium with just as much pride as the people riding them. It was a majestic sight to see. Maybe next year I’ll come back in gaucho gear, prance in with the parade, and learn the songs for the sing-along.

Activities:

  1. What is a gaucho?
  2. What do a gaucho’s clothes look like?
  3. ¡A escribir! Gauchos are not unique to Uruguay. There are also gauchos in Argentina. Watch this video from National Geographic https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7KovwMiHJ4 and write a short summary about the gaucho lifestyle.
Read More...

El cementerio de La Recoleta

Most people find cemeteries morbid and depressing, but I find them extremely fascinating. As long as no one I know is buried there and the cemetery isn’t anywhere near where I live, I’m usually not freaked out. So when we pulled up to the Recoleta Cemetery as a part of the Buenos Aires tour, I wasn’t bothered one bit.

I looked up at the words on the gate as we were pulling up and it didn’t say El cementerio de La Recoleta, it said “Requiescant in Pace.” Requiescant in Pace? I used a search engine on my phone to look it up and results said the phrase is what appears on headstones as RIP. I thought it was Rest in Peace, but that’s the translation from the end of the Roman Catholic prayer at a burial service. That was an interesting little fact, so I knew the cemetery must have lots more to offer.

recoleta-cementery-buenos-aires-argentina

This place was like a little city in the middle of a BIG city! I knew this was the final resting place for Eva Perón, but there were also lots of other famous people buried here. There were ex-presidents, high-ranking military and political officials, celebrities, just all kinds of people. The most interesting part was that there were a lot of headstones that dated back to the 1700s. People have been buried here for almost four centuries. I wonder if there’s anything left in the caskets besides dust.

As we continued walking, the headstones became more elaborate. The most memorable was the Tomb of Liliana Crociati. Hers has a life-sized statue of Liliana petting her dog. She was really loved and missed by her family! But trust me, Liliana’s wasn’t the only over-the-top spot. Some memorials were made of marble or bronze, some were as tall as buildings, and some were like houses. I believe the house-style sites were for entire families.

sculpted-angel-at-la-recoleta-cemenetery

Of course the tour guides want to tell you about the ghost stories as they take you around the cemetery. They said the night watchman built his own tomb here at the cemetery, and then when it was complete, he killed himself in the tomb. To this day he can be seen at night, guarding the cemetery. Some stories included people being buried alive. Others included people going in and never coming out. The sillier ones included tourists. You know, stories to scare us before we went home. I didn’t buy into any of that though. I knew they were just stories. I was, however, thoroughly entertained. Now I have some more stories to tell around the campfire!

recoleta-cementery-Mausoleums

Activities:

  1. Who was Eva Perón?
  2. ¡A investigar! Visit the website https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tumba_de_Liliana_Crociati_de_Szaszak to see Liliana’s Crociati’s tomb. Try to find her dog’s name in the text.
Read More...

Candombe

I hear the beat when I first hear a song. The beat of the drum will determine if the song is good or not. Have you ever heard a great song with a lousy beat? Nope! No matter how hot the lyrics are, you’ll never hear a hit song without a good beat. My theory was proved right again when I heard Candombe music and saw the Candombe dances.

It was important to me to hear the music while I was here because, although it has spread worldwide, Candombe is very unique to the Río de la Plata region, specifically Uruguay and Argentina. These two places were active participants in the slave trade, which created entire communities of African descendants left behind after the slaves were freed. Bored with the traditional European dances, the people here created their own genre of music and dance. First the Afro-Argentineans used hip motions to go along with the beat of the drums. Then the Afro-Uruguayans added a shoulder motion. Today, all the people who dance to the Candombe beat move both their shoulders and their hips.

candombe-at-montevideo-uruguay

This musical style has gotten so big that there’s even a website you can visit to learn more. But if you’d rather learn about it in person, just wait until nightfall in Montevideo. On any given night, (it’s never planned) people have these Candombe parties in the street. It’s like a night parade during Mardi Gras. All it takes is one drum, and the people know what time it is. Party time!!!!!!

I sat on my balcony every night in hopes of catching a Candombe party, but it didn’t happen on my block. I tried playing the music on my radio loud so people would think it was time to come out, but that didn’t work. I don’t know who wrangles up the gang or how the party normally gets started, but I really wanted it to happen. Oh well. I guess I’ll have better luck next time. I hear the best time to come is during Carnaval in Montevideo.

Another thing I love is how Candombe is depicted in different works of art. Sometimes you’ll see a Candombe band playing as artwork on a wall in a restaurant, or you’ll see a mural on the side of the building. My favorite is the man playing the drum painted on the side of a drum. Sweet! When is Carnaval again? I can’t wait to come back!

Activities:

  1. What is candombe and where does it come from?
  2. Who invented candombe?
  3. Would you like to attend the Carnaval in Montevideo and hear candombe music live? Why?
Read More...

Cassava

I saw a sign that said “Yuca do it! 7 p.m.” when I went down the hall for breakfast this morning. Our day was jam packed, but I knew we would be back at the hotel in time for whatever it was I could do at 7:00.

We got back to the hotel at 6:30ish, so we went directly to where the sign was. A guy named Mr. Smith was standing there with a clipboard to sign in the participants. I put my name on the list, and he pointed me to the room next to the sign, which was set up like a classroom.
Mr. Smith entered the room, closed the door, and walked to the front, where there was a lone desk and chair. He sat on the table and gave us a lecture on the history and importance of cassava in Paraguay. Mr. Smith only talked for about twenty minutes, but I was captivated by his every word. I now feel it is my responsibility to educate you on the vegetable I learned about today. It has many names, but we know it best as cassava, and it grows in tropical areas. Paraguay is one of the places it grows the best, and it’s a must-have on every Paraguayan dinner table.

cassava

It’s hard to describe, so I’ll say it looks like a cross between a carrot and a sweet potato (with brown skin) but longer and wrinklier. On the inside, the cassava looks like a regular white potato. It grows on trees though. It’s not like the potato that comes out of the ground. Mr. Smith said this vegetable has been growing wild for 10,000 years, but the Incas and the Maya began to cultivate it in the centuries before Columbus. These peoples learned how to prepare it in different ways. Like they would grind it into flour or use some parts as medicine. The vegetable can actually be toxic if it’s not cooked properly. Scary huh?

OK, that’s a description and the history of cassava, but I bet you’re wondering how it tastes. OMG, it’s delicious. When Mr. Smith finished his lecture, a gang of servers came in with trays, each filled with a different way to prepare cassava. First, I tried the fried one. It looked like a potato wedge. It tasted like a French fry but with a smoother, creamier texture. . Second, I tried a piece of bread that was made from the cassava flour. Mr. Smith said this was very popular at the Paraguayan dinner table. It looked like a donut or a bagel. I would think they’d eat it at breakfast. Third, I tried the boiled version. I didn’t like it very much. It tasted too slimy to me. Finally, I tried it in a dessert. I thought I’d never say this, but I love tapioca pudding. Did you know tapioca was made with cassava?

cassava-plants

There was plenty more to try: cakes, candy, roasted cassava, cassava chips, cassava stew, empanada-looking things, and much more. I was getting full and I wanted to eat a meal with some meat. I shook Mr. Smith’s hand then went to find the rest of the group for dinner. I’m glad I found that great lesson in cassava, though!

Activities:

  1. What is cassava?
  2. What different dishes can be prepared using cassava as an ingredient?
  3. ¡A investigar! Cassava is very popular in Paraguay. Find Paraguay in Google maps (https://www.google.es/maps) and describe where the country is located. What is the name of the capital?
Read More...