Thursday, January 24, 2008

Day 21

Day 21  January 24, 2008   


     The ocean runs brown as the silt from the great basin of South America pours into the Atlantic.  As our ship pulled away from Buenos Aires harbor the water was a dark brown, flowing from the Rio de la Plata.  The original European settlers in the 1500's called the river the "Plata" as it is the Spanish word for silver.  But the water does not really look silver, it just looks muddy and dirty to us. 

     The ship was named the Sylvia Ana and she was big and new, like a Washington State Ferry. We entered a room with about 40 comfortable leather seats and six tables and chairs.  The steward came up and offered us a cappuccino, croissants and newspapers.  We only had about 20 people in that cabin, it was a nice place to ride across the ocean.

     We arrived in three hours, a smooth and pleasant ocean voyage.   After clearing customs we took a cab to the Sheraton Montevideo.  It is a new hotel, according to the guidebooks the best in the city.  From our room on the 23rd floor we can see the entire city and a great view of the ocean.  We took a walk around the neighborhood and went to El Viejo y la Mar, a blatant rip off of the name of Ernest Hemingway's prize winning book that every American high school student is required to read.  (I wonder how many of those students can actually recall any important theme from the novel?)  The menu has two photos of Hemingway and a quotation from the book in English.  The Old Man and the Sea is built right on the beach and the bar is the reconstructed hull of an old fishing boat.  It is actually very well done and the food was great.  We tried the Paella, saffron rice and seafood. The people here have a very pronounced accent; some words easy and some difficult to understand.  For "pollo" or chicken, they say "pojo." In fact any word with a double "ll" becomes a "j." I asked for "payeya" for lunch and the waitress replied, you mean "payeja."   For good bye "chow,chow."  A regular Coke is "commun" and a Diet Coke is "coca lite."

      One of our reasons for coming to this country was to investigate the Tannat grape, the mysterious wine grape from the Cahors region of Southwest France.  This grape is grown in only two places on earth:  Southwest France and Uruguay.  According to the Harvard Medical School study released last year, these grapes are the healthiest on earth, full of antioxidant powers even greater than the blueberry.  Sadly the grape has not been a winner on taste, seeming harsh and tannic to the modern taste.  During the middle ages it was reputed to be a strong and vital wine that was very popular in Europe.  We tried a blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Tannat.  It was fine, but not our favorite.  Will there be a huge market in the US for a "healthy" wine?  Probably not unless it also tastes great. 

    After a pleasant lunch we walked along the shoreline.  Most of the beach here is rocky but that did not stop dozens of local folks from sun bathing on rocks or swimming.  The guidebooks says there are great beaches about 30 minutes east of the city.  There are 3 million people who live in this country and nearly half of them live in the capital.  It looks modern and clean, but not nearly as prosperous as Buenos Aires.  Tomorrow we go touring orchards and vineyards with Rodolfo Fitipaldo. The two guys yesterday laughed when I told them we were going to meet Fitipaldo as they said he not only does not speak English, but he doesn't even speak their kind of Spanish.  Hope we can communicate.

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