PaR Cooked

we need a catchy title….


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8 people, 10 days, 6 cities, 2 countries, 2451 words

Here’s the short version: Phoebe and her family came to visit. It was great. We went to the beach a lot. We traveled. We saw many sunsets. We ate. Some of the food was really good. Sometimes it was just nice to be together. Eric ate a lot of beef. We went to Buenos Aires. It was fun. They went home. That was bittersweet.

Let me back up. A lot.

On Christmas Day after months of anticipation, weeks of planning, and hours of travel (for them), Phoebe and her family arrived in Montevideo for a ten day visit. The excitement and joy of seeing dear friends after a long absence is really only surpassed by how quickly you forget how long you’ve been apart; that these people haven’t been with you all along. I don’t know exactly how to tell you about their visit. At night after the kids went to bed I jotted down notes on the day. Notes that quickly filled two pages and could have filled more if my hand hadn’t cramped and my eyes hadn’t drooped. Sometimes I want to recount every day in gratuitous detail and sometimes I can’t imagine trying to recount the experiences of eight people over ten days.

During the first few days heat followed us everywhere. My memories are of sweating. On the bus to the port where we went to find Eric’s first of many, many chivitos, I remember watching the beads of sweat form on Mette’s nose as she and all the children gradually melted into the plastic seats. When Phoebe and I finally went to get her long-promised suitcase worth of Uruguayan yarn, it seemed impossible to believe that we would ever again require woolen anything. We set up fans in our apartment and then everyone fought for space in front of them.  Everyone except Eric who was often leaning out the window admiring the heat and the view. We allotted the kids time in the air conditioned hotel room to cool off and veg out.

We rented two high-mileage, low frills,  American sedans (one with a faulty check engine light and the other with barely working air conditioning) and followed each other first east and then west down busy and empty highways.  At our destination we would trade stories of  near misses with inattentive drivers, of crossing six lane highways in the dark, of motorcycles with families of five crammed onto the seat, of roadside castles, of packed roadside restaurants, and of brush fires. We drove into the heat of the day to get places and then drove home in the cool, near black of night.

Toward the east there was a mass of other people trying to get to the beaches, to second homes, to hotels, to cabins. Out past the city in the east the there were small towns with small cement houses and dirt roads. There were grocery stores, lumber yards, and plant nurseries. Then there was nothing but scrub-filled fields, marshy patches with horses grazing, and forests of pine and eucalyptus until the next town or until a road jogged off to the right leading to the coast.

The first beach we visited was covered in rocks and deserted except for a man and woman freely exploring each other’s anatomy.  The wind here was cooler than in the city. The water crashed in foamy cold waves that the children waded into without hesitation, regardless of their ability to swim. We drove farther east to Piriápolis. Here, just a few miles down the coast, the sand was baby powder soft,  the water calm, and the beach crowded with families.

The next day a friend invited us to his beach house for an asado. He sweated over the wood-fired grill laden with various cuts of meat (and a few vegetables) while the rest of us drank and ate. We walked the red dirt roads of the town past one-story cement houses to the beach.  Following us as we walked were eerie and alarming cries that sounded like packs of kittens, or maybe feral babies. It sounded at first like the sound came from the tall roadside grasses, but we soon realized they were echoing from the storm drains. The more we listened the spookier it became. We imagined colonies of all sorts of creatures living underground and the wrath they could unleash.  Our friend told us they were toads. Not killer toads or radioactive toads. Just toads. He said this quite nonchalantly as if it would be hard to mistake the sound for anything else. I still kind of wonder, though. They sounded a lot like feral babies to me.

To get to the beach here we had to follow a path through large dunes.  Then the beach, filled with families, spread out before us.  Waves crashed huge here, though the water smelled more like the river than the ocean. Phoebe and I had somehow not connected the beach with swimming, so we stood at the water’s edge while everyone else dove through the waves.  Our friend picked up the slack for us by throwing any willing child into the waves or offering himself as a human boogie board; and when one child tired he found a better rested one.

Heading west the highway was eerily empty. It was hotter heading this way and the highway farther from the water. Phoebe has rightly pointed out that this is a serious understatement. It was hot enough that she worried that the cars would melt. Or that the faulty check engine light on their car would turn out to not be faulty and we would all melt at the side of the road.  The fields were more cultivated and dotted with cows, sheep, and, to our delight, a herd of goats. In some places cows stood under palm trees for shade; something Phoebe and I found hilariously incongruous. The towns had names like the cheeses we had sampled in the market, like Cufre and Danbo. There were honor system roadside stands, which lacked refrigeration, advertising fresh cheese and sweet cheese.  We turned off the highway around kilometer 55 driving down a sycamore lined road to a tiny town where the sand was flat and wide. People beached themselves on sand bars like seals, wallowing there in the warm water that was flat and shallow for ages. Driftwood lay on the beach and trees leaned down from jagged dunes.

Our first afternoon in western Uruguay was one those days that felt so dry and hot that spontaneous combustion wouldn’t have been surprising. The air smelled of Eucalyptus, dust, and cooking meat. Phoebe and I let Nathan and Eric sort out finding gas for the nearly empty cars while we turned up the air conditioner in the cabins to arctic blast, let the children plug into any form of technology they wanted,  put up our feet, and gently infused the afternoon with gin. Then we talked until the light started to fade, the children needed to be aired, and our husbands returned victorious.

The eight of us watched the sunset nearly every night of the trip. We watched the sky turn orange and then fade to dark from Montevideo, from eastern and western beaches, from the terrace of a pizza place in Colonia, and from the rooftop pool of our hotel in Buenos Aires. How is it that night after night that show never gets old? For me, it was the time each day when I would think, “Here we are on the other side of the world from home. Together.”  Every night I’d be amazed. Plus, they were just crazy beautiful sunsets.

On New Year’s Eve, on an empty beach in western Uruguay while the kids finished popsicles, laughed and ran, and got wetter than we had authorized we watched the sun sink on 2013. After we had trooped home, the children had gone to sleep, and our husbands had gone on to other things, Phoebe and I slipped outside in our pajamas to wait for midnight and share a bottle of champagne she had had the foresight to buy before leaving Montevideo. Fireworks, out of sight but not out of earshot, let us know when the hour finally clicked over to a new year.  Our conversation, though, continued unchanged. Before turning in for the night we passed the half-full bottle across the fence the neighbors who showed no signs of retiring anytime soon.

With ten days of meals, some are sure to be unremarkable, but on vacation in a place entirely new sometimes even boxed macaroni and cheese eaten out of a bowl balanced on your lap can feel festive. Even when the food wasn’t great, there was almost always something to make the meal memorable. At a restaurant cheerful in decor and lacking in service where we waited over an hour for mediocre food, Otto lost his second tooth.

And sometimes the most memorable food appeared where we least expected it. After a hot walk on the beach into town we stopped at the first restaurant we found. It was unassuming, but open.  We sat on a patio

Pizza place, Colonia, Uruguay

Pizza place, Colonia, Uruguay

overlooking the beach and ate one of our best meals.  Eric talked about that chivito for the rest of the trip. It’s worth saying again that Eric ate a lot of chivitos and then Argentine lomitosHe examined menus, consulted with Nathan on translations and then ordered meat, which he never failed to enjoy. I felt like I finally got to experience the much talked about South American meat dishes, thankfully without having to eat any of it myself.

In Buenos Aires Phoebe and I went out for a late night dessert date to a famous confiteria where the decor was amazing, the waiters entirely old world gangster, and where  the pies, while delicious, were weighted like bricks.

Of course, we had to eat Uruguayan pizza at least once. We took them to our favorite pizza place in Montevideo and they all tried fainá, which Nathan had been raving about for almost five years.  Then Eric found a pizza place in Colonia that had tiered patios overlooking the water and combined Uruguayan pizza with more American ideas of toppings. I still think about that pizza.

Our family almost didn’t make it to Buenos Aires for the last leg of the trip. Uruguayans, including temporary residents, have to provide birth certificates in addition to ID cards for all children.  Of course we didn’t know this and there was no budging the woman at immigration who could hardly even be bothered to come to the window.   Nathan took a wild ride in a taxi driving twice the legal limit on the Rambla to collect the birth certificates. In the end it turns out the surly woman in immigration was fairly lenient.  One birth certificate was expired (everything here expires) and one wasn’t even the right version. Finally, with the clunk of a stamp, we were cleared to leave. We made it on board with minutes to spare.  I even got to do some movie-like fist pump while Phoebe and family cheered our arrival.

We thought driving in Uruguay was pretty exciting, but the experience of riding Buenos Aires taxis made that seem tame. Taxis were inexpensive and uncrowded compared with the subway so there were many wild rides. One though, topped all others. Out of the line of waiting taxis outside a shopping mall, Phoebe, the girls and I grabbed one at random. The driver, standing outside his taxi while eating a cup of ice cream, seemed to have a bit of swagger, but it wasn’t until we were settled in the backseat that it began to dawn on us what we had gotten ourselves into.  The front of his otherwise dingy cab was decked out with faux chrome plating, a smaller sporty steering wheel, and a whole lot of nitrous gauges. He slammed the door and took off, heel-and-toe shifting his way through clogged streets.  At a traffic light he stopped short, yanked up the hand brake,  and strolled to a nearby trash can to throw away his empty ice cream cup. He slammed the door just in time to catch the changing light. This was the only traffic light he obeyed. He ran through at least eight other red lights.  He swerved sharply around cars, cutting as close to them as possible for greater dramatic effect. Just as our neighborhood drew into sight Mette fell sound asleep in what I can only assume was a slightly delayed response to terror.  While we arrived a few minutes earlier than the boys’ taxi, our wild ride, as evidenced by the higher fare, took us much farther afield.

When we weren’t being flung around inside flying taxis, we spent hours exploring the city. We spent a couple of hours in the beautifully morbid Recoleta cemetery where shiny mausoleums muscle each other for space. Evita Perón is buried here and there is always a crowd around her perfectly maintained crypt.  Phoebe and I though both found it was the crumbling tombs, where vases of fake flowers lay broken and cobwebs spread across caskets like lace doilies, that drew us in the most.

In the Japanese Gardens we  fed the giant carp that roiled in anticipation of the small food pellets. We visited the small and beautiful art museum.

We set the children loose in El Museo de los Niños where they climbed through a giant toilet, ran a bank, made a television program, and grocery shopped. None of them wanted to leave.

We visited a famous bookstore housed in a refurbished theater that Eric has been thinking about for years. The balconies, box seats, the stage, and all the period decor had been meticulously preserved.

When we needed a break from the hustle we spread out in one of our giant two bedroom apartments or lounged in the rooftop pool, which was the perfect depth for half the kids to figure out swimming, one to show off his fish-like abilities, and one to dance until exhaustion put her in danger of drowning.

Before we knew it our time was up. To spare the tears and the sadness, goodbyes are generally best kept brief.  That’s how we said goodbye at the end of ten days together and it’s how I’ll say it here.  They went home, which is a good feeling even after the best of vacations–even when it is 100 degrees colder (no, I’m not exaggerating) than where you left.  And we went back to a place that felt that much more like home for them having had been there.

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Tonight

I have reached the point of the evening where dusting the children with water from the tap feels like sprinkling them with holy water.  Instantly washing away the dirt from a days activities.
Listening to joyful laughter coming from the third floor upstairs does not motivate me to move from the couch in the kitchen (why did I think it was a good idea to put a couch in the kitchen?) to the sink to wash the dishes, to the bathroom to wash the children.
It’s a Monday night, Monday of a holiday weekend which means tomorrow is really kind of Monday all over again.  Bookbags are packed, library books have been found.  Notes to retrieve children early for dentist appointments are written, signed, sealed and delivered to the all-important yellow folder.  Looking ahead to this weeks schedule sees no week day night with less than two activities.  Somehow I have failed miserably in the “I will not overscheduled my children or family” goal.
Still it all seems a trivial nuisance when I remember that this is the week, hopefully, fingers crossed, that airline gods will come together for us and we will buy our tickets for South America.  Months before journey, let the dreams begin.
Before tickets can be purchased, before dreams become reality, there are dishes to do and childre’sn hair to scrub.  Jammies to find and bedtime stories to read. Tucking in to happen and re-tucking in along with glasses of water and reminders that even if you slept for an hour in the car ride home today it is still bedtime and tomorrow is another day.


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You know what is hard, thinking anything you write is clever or witty when you are sharing a blog with Rachel.  I have had a very busy and insane last few weeks which has led to the static silence from my end of the blog, but that’s not to say I haven’t been typing away.  Every time I think I am getting something together she goes and makes the drugstore sound witty and charming.  That is just one of the many reasons we love her.  Who else do you know that can do that?

Life here is far less exotic.  Everyone in my house spends the whole day speaking the same language, unless you count the times when Mette speaks in Mette language.  Otto started first grade last week which is new and amazing and perhaps a little bit exotic.  But it’s in the same school he went to last year, he takes the same bus, at the same time and for the most part requests I pack him the same lunch he had last year.  Change in the details is not something he handles well.  Mette is chomping at the bit to start school next week where she is graduating to the almighty afternoon class!  Every day no less!  We are counting the hours until it starts.  Each for our own reasons.

There is no exotic pharmacy filled with magical potions in glorious packaging, but they did start restocking the toothpaste I like again at the local CVS, so that’s exciting.  We, like many other readers, are living vicariously through the exotic stories of “down on the other side of the world.”

While I would be lying to say I am not jealous of the adventures, though not the germ part, I have to admit it is also a daily reminder to enjoy the slow, predictable life here in our sleepy little town.  When our family returned from 6 months abroad last year the kids and I happily spent the first two weeks home without leaving the block.  The first time I ventured three blocks downtown to the pharmacy (do we really go to pharmacies this much??) it felt like I was in a new foreign land, again.  We were so content to have our own house again nothing else.   We are lucky enough to have a core group of friends who were better able to anticipate this new lifestyle and made frequent visits to our house.  Allowing us to feel social from the safety of a pajamas that make it to the dinner table.

 

Baring the squirrel incident and a light switch event to which there are no answers, the tenant in their house has settled in well which leaves me without a reason to check on their house every day or so.  I still drive by, making sure nothing has impaled it from the outside and the roof hasn’t caved in.  I am not sure what else one can observe as you take the corner onto their street and drive past without entering oncoming traffic, but I can confidently say it is still standing.  He is bound to take a long  weekend soon and I will have my chance!

 

I keep wondering how long Rachel has to be gone before I think twice about adding chicken stock to something.  Will I possibly be having an impromptu lunch with her later this week where I might want to share this with her and family?  Perhaps I shouldn’t….

 

As I walk around town I think of things that I see I want to share with you.  But I don’t always remember when I am emailing or skyping.  Things like,

-they finally put the fence up around the president’s house and the reason they were taking so long with the corner was because they did a really nice bent section of fencing to match the new curved sidewalk.  I approve.

The guy who does the thrusting planks at the gym in the morning has a new and more robust routine.

We never all got to try the cider place before you left but I had some at a wedding recently and it was not unlike strong moonshine.  I am guessing it’s not all like that, but wowza, it was interesting.

With our new kitchen remodel I now have a bench for people to sit on and have tea and cookies after lunch.  Or anytime of course.  It really feels like you, Belinda and Megan need to break it in.

Somehow we need to get Megan to drink tea.

I went to Country Cupboard with just Mette and got new flowers for the window boxes out front.  It wasn’t as much fun as when I went with you and your mom.  Though going with Mette wanted to choose would have been exciting!

While we soak up the remaining warm days of long sunlight I promise to try and let go and send the long rays your way.  With warm sun and longer days hopefully you will all be filled with itching desires to explore the amazing world just outside the kitchen window.


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For the Record

So rachel is off in the summer hemisphere and I am left with her empty house that still smells like their family to check on and maintain.

It is nice still being able to go over to her house, even if she isn’t there.  I have met with the tenant and tried my hardest not to overwhelm him with details.  I think I talked to him for an hour at break neck speed about all things house and town.  Pretty sure he won’t be contacting me anytime soon!    I explained the dehumidifier, the fancy furnace, street cleaning, recycling, best grocery stores, markets quirks, neighbors, you name it.
He seems quite nice and is off on a trip for a month so we both have a chance to settle into our new rolls of tenant/landlord.
Him being gone for a month is giving me a bit more time to let go of her house.  A luxury i didn’t think I needed until he left.
That brings me to this week’s confession.

For the record I would like to state that never once while checking on your house did I wonder why the toilet seat in the upstairs bathroom was so dirty.  What was the tenant doing in there?  I tried standing on the seat to see if some amazing view could be had thus explaining what looked like footprints.  After determining I was clueless to the reasons, i just went ahead and cleaned it.
For the record i did not question the tenants need to haphazardly pull down the black out curtains on the third floor and leave them in a heap on the floor.  Instead I simply went about rehanging them.
For the record, I never heard movement on the third floor and left screaming.
For the record, i did not call Tasha to come over and help me be brave and see what was in there.
Nathan, for the record, I did not use a squash racket as a possible self defense weapon, nope, not once.
For the record there has never been a squirrel in your house.
For the record we did not trap one on the third floor with an open window in the hopes s/he would see him/herself out.
I am the bravest and most capable of all landlords you could have.