Travels in Cordoba

After an amazing side trip to Iguazu Falls, we arrived in Argentina’s second largest city on December 2. What a contrast to the craziness of Buenos Aires! Cordoba is still a late-night culture and the people still warm and beautiful, but everything is dialed down a notch to a more sustainable level.

General Impression

This is interior Argentina. There is no port and very few foreign tourists, so our group was a bit of an anomaly and we were very well treated. Everyone seemed to be looking for opportunities to practice their English, and would frequently talk to us for no particular reason other than friendliness.

By far, what we will remember from our month here is the overwhelming warmth of the people. We felt welcome, safe and a part of things. Whenever we went to the same restaurant more than once and were served by the same waiter, we were usually recognized and welcomed back, sometimes with an Argentinian kiss on the right cheek.

There are several universities here. We were told that some offer free higher education to citizens and that there are possibly 300,000 students here in this city of about 1.5 million. Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, one of South America’s oldest universities, is located here.

Although very different from Buenos Aires in many ways, it’s still Argentina so the Cordobes still have much in common, such as inflation, cash issues, a history of political strife and, of course, the same language (Spanish).

Working

Our workspace was called La Maquinita, a 15-minute walk from our apartment, in the business district of Nuevo Cordoba. The view from there included a massive cathedral and a former women’s prison that has been converted into a public display space and plaza. Cordoba is a hardworking city with a business attitude and strong commercial core.

Local Flavor

Somehow I got sucked into drinking a local favorite – Fernet and Coke. Fernet is a bitter, syrupy spirit from Italy.   It is definitely an acquired taste – the first sip or two are bitter, even through the sweetness of the Coke, but it grew on me! Photo is from a class in making cocktails with local ingredients.

There’s an energetic vibe, driven by the high student population, many of whom remain here to live and work. Similar to Austin!

Christmas

We spent Christmas in Cordoba with our traveling family. Gift-giving, decorating and other normal holiday activities were minimal due to our mobile circumstances, so It was a relaxed and enjoyable period. The local population celebrates quietly with family and friends without the blatant consumerism of the US observance, so we did too!

Nightlife

We spent most of our time in Nuevo Cordoba, which is simply a newer section of the city than the traditional downtown. Our apartment was in a neighborhood called “Guemes”, popular with the younger crowd, with endless bars and restaurants that provided a wide range of nightlife options. Except on Monday nights when, for some reason, most establishments were closed.

There are several former alleys and courtyards that have been renovated into what are called Gallerias – basically small clusters of 8 to 10 bars and restaurants that can only be accessed by one point on the street. The access is typically gated in the daytime and you don’t even realize the Gallerias exist until everything comes alive between 6 and 7 pm.

Other Stuff We Did

We visited the Sierras, mountains east of the Andes, and saw several condors. In the Quebrada del Condorito park we also saw areas where indigenous vegetation had been devastated by a non-native feral hog population, very similar to the problems Texas has. They trap them, but it’s impossible to keep up.

Barbara also took an overnight trip to the wine country in Mendoza, but I skipped it due to the long bus ride.

We also volunteered with a charitable organization, Los Josefinos, that works with intercity kids to tutor them and coach them in rugby and field hockey.

Tidbits

There is a good bus system, although we used it only a few times. Taxis are plentiful and affordable. Uber is not officially sanctioned. There is no commuter rail system.

December in Cordoba is equivalent to June in the USA. It sometimes got quite hot at the peak of the day, low nineties for most of the days we were there, but with low humidity. There were also some days in the seventies. It rained several times during our visit. Winters are quite mild, and snow is rare.

Costs were just slightly less than they were in Buenos Aires – high by South American standards, but reasonable by US standards. A glass of house wine typically ran $4 or less, which seems cheap, but you could get a whole bottle of Malbec at the liquor store for not much more than that. Apartment rents in the Guemes neighborhood where we stayed seemed to be in the $600-$1000 USD per month range, for a lease (not AirBnB). Leases in pesos usually have escalation built in – inflation is between 20 and 30% per year.

We didn’t experience much “fine dining”. The beef culture in Buenos Aires didn’t seem to be present in Cordoba. Our best food experiences were typically lomo (beef loin) and Choripan (also beef) sandwiches. Empanadas are the local finger food of choice and are also very good.

The Ugly

Because of the financial issues, the amount of cash that can be withdrawn per day is limited, and we saw some long ATM lines – 25 or 30 people in line was not uncommon. However, unlike Buenos Aires, in Cordoba the banks have adopted a two-tier ATM fee system. If you want to pay the minimum ATM fee you can wait in line. If you are willing to pay a higher fee (about a 50% premium over the minimum) there was typically no line and the machines did not run out of cash. We just paid the higher fee.

The other drawback we experienced was the aforementioned lack of fine dining options. We don’t go 5 star every night, but sometimes it’s nice to find a 4!

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Resolved

Colton woke up on January 1st with a slight hangover, but didn’t feel too bad, all things considered. Not bad at all.

It was a new day, and a new year. Colton had resolved to start fresh. The drinking – done. The fights with Amy – finished. The late nights – over. He knew he’d gotten out of control during the past year. And things were going to change, starting today. Amy had been really excited when he’d told her about his resolutions.

Amy was already up making coffee when Colton made it downstairs. He poured himself a cup. It tasted bitter. Colton was lactose intolerant, so milk wasn’t an option. Neither was sugar – Colton liked to think of himself as a health buff, and that stuff was just poison.

Colton looked at his phone. It WAS after noon. There WAS half a bottle of Irish Whiskey in the cupboard over the refrigerator. And the coffee WAS very bitter – undrinkable, really. It wasn’t like a shot of whiskey in your coffee counted as drinking, if it were only to take the edge off the bitterness.

Colton waited until Amy left the room before adding some whiskey to his cup, and he returned the bottle to the cupboard before she got back. It really did the trick. His coffee tasted great – hardly bitter at all with the whiskey in it. So great Colton drank four or five cups.

Before Colton knew it, some friends arrived to watch the game. The friends brought refreshments – an assortment of new local craft beers, most of which Colton hadn’t tried before. Colton thought he’d try a taste of a few of them, that certainly couldn’t be considered drinking if he only tasted. It was all above board, like going to a wine tasting, right? Colton tasted several, several times.

By eleven their friends had cleared out, and Colton and Amy were alone. He snuck up behind her and nuzzled her neck. A little romance on New Year’s Day was a good way to start off the new year. At least, Colton thought it would be. But Amy stiffened when he touched her. She said something about being tired. Colton put his arms around her, hugged her tightly and ground himself against her anyway. She only needed a bit of foreplay to get in the mood.

When Amy struggled against his embrace and moved away, Colton grabbed her arm and jerked it, just to pull her back to him. A tiny jerk, but of course Amy overreacted and let out a yelp, like it really hurt. He tried to diffuse the situation by hugging her again, but then Amy pushed him away with her hands on his chest. So, Colton pushed back in the same manner, slightly harder than she had. But only slightly. Again, Amy overreacted and started crying.

Colton stormed out of the house toward Sullivan’s Pub. He thought Sullivan’s would be open until at least two, and then he could hit an after-hours place if he still felt like it. There was no reasoning with Amy when she got like this. She was really acting badly. And after he’d made all those resolutions, just for her.

Colton nodded at the bartender at Sullivan’s and ordered a beer. It was after midnight, so technically he’d made it through one whole day without drinking. He hadn’t even raised his voice at Amy, so they hadn’t had an actual fight. And he decided he’d skip the after-hours place, so he’d be home by a few minutes after two. No more late nights for him. Check, check and check – all three resolutions in the bag.

Colton didn’t think that was too bad for his first day, all things considered.

Photo Credit: Juniper Photon on Beautiful Free Images | Unsplash

 

 

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Fifty Euros

Tony looked through his computer bag for a five-euro note to give the old woman who always occupied the same spot on the pedestrian shopping street he took to and from work every day.

Tony didn’t often give anything to panhandlers. It was too easy for them to fake their seemingly pitiful ailments, and he didn’t like to encourage substance abuse or idleness. Last month he’d seen a guy hopping effortlessly into a taxi, tossing his crutch and cardboard sign into the back seat, somehow miraculously cured of his stoop and limp.

But, as far as Tony could tell from the many times he’d walked past her, this woman looked legitimately needy. There was no telling how old she was – even a Hollywood make-up artist couldn’t have created such a face. A face lined with the cares of the world, yet dignified. And it was Christmas Eve. Severe winter weather had been late in coming this year, but the streets were still cold, and the woman didn’t look that warmly dressed.

He rifled through his bag, but all Tony had was a fifty-euro note. While five, or even ten, euros were manageable, Tony just couldn’t see giving the old woman fifty euros. He needed to stop and pick up a couple grocery items on the way home – most stores would be closed tomorrow. And he didn’t have his credit card with him. Maybe he’d do something for her next week. Tony walked on.

A few minutes later, Tony turned into the narrow alley behind his apartment building. The light was starting to fade – sunset came early this time of year. Tony didn’t hear the mugger or even feel anything until he came to. It was dark, his head hurt, and his computer bag was gone. Along with his laptop, keys, cell phone, and the fifty-euro note.

Tony thought a minute, and decided his best bet would be to return to his office for help. His knee had been wrenched badly in the attack, but Tony thought he’d be able to make it back. There’d been several people still at work when he’d left, trying to wrap up various assignments before taking time off. Hopefully, someone would still be around. Tony could call his building super to let him into his apartment, and maybe borrow a few euros to tide him over.

As Tony limped back along the pedestrian shopping street, he noticed the old woman was still there. A man was standing next to her, and was reaching into a computer bag that looked a lot like Tony’s. Tony drew closer, until he was standing right next to the man, intending to confront him. Then, Tony saw him hand the old woman a fifty-euro note.

“Bless you, my son,” Tony heard the woman whisper.

“Merry Christmas to you, ma’am,” the man responded, with tenderness in his voice. “Eat well tonight.”

The man ducked quickly away down a nearby alley, while Tony caught the old woman’s eye. It was an eye cloudy with age. A small tear trickled from its corner and caught the faint light.

“Merry Christmas,” Tony stuttered at her, with as much enthusiasm as he could muster. He winced as he started to limp away.

“Sir,” the woman called to him, and Tony turned back toward her.

“Merry Christmas,” she said, and handed him her cane.

 

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Clones

Evelyn’s date was very handsome, and they’d had a nice time, but she was pretty sure he was a clone. Paul had that slightly off feel most clones had. And when people were too good looking you always wondered. She knew it shouldn’t make a difference – clones were born that way and it wasn’t their fault. But still.

Evelyn and Paul had been set up by their mutual friend, Kim. Evelyn considered whether she knew Kim well enough to broach the clone question about Paul, without being judged. But it was hard to come right out and ask that kind of thing, so she decided to let it go. She just wouldn’t see Paul again.

As they parted, Paul was glad there was no mention of a second date.   Paul was pretty sure Evelyn was a clone. She had that slightly off feel most clones had. And when people were too good looking you always wondered.

Photo Credit: Nigel Tadyanehondo on Unsplash

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