Celebrations on the other side of the world
22.12.2007 - 25.12.2007 26 °C
Christmas was just around the corner. It is not a holiday that I particularly follow with the greatest fervour, partly because I am not religious, and partly because of its rampant over-commercialisation. But I do like a good excuse to party, and the holiday period, that week or more of indulging in food and alcohol with friends and family, may be the best excuse we English-speakers have. Especially I might add, in the Southern Hemisphere, where things begin to heat up weather-wise. The temperature in Buenos Aires was rising too, but something was amiss. I realised there is an air about this time which makes it special, and it's probably due to being surrounded (and sometimes hounded) by loved ones. In short, I was missing my family and friends back in Australia. Nevertheless, I had a family in Buenos Aires with which to celebrate, and this passage is about how we passed that time in Argentina.
On the eve of the aforementioned feast, I was finally moving out of the Lime House hostel into an apartment in the inner-city barrio of San Telmo. When the previous tenants of the house, a couple of Ecuadorian friends of Anahí had left the house in a shocking mess I was more than a little annoyed, and Christmas was off to a shaky start. With her mother Maria, sister Carolina and Carolina's boyfriend Nico, we went to her aunt's apartment in Palermo after nightfall. I had the pleasure of discovering not only that Christmas is a very similar occasion in our two countries in regards to general table banter and laughs, but also that Argentineans have some unique interpretations of Christmas cuisine. Featuring strongly was Matambre (mystery processed meat with egg and traces of vegetables) and Vitel Toné (thin beef medallions in a tuna sauce). These eccentric but tasty offerings were washed down with glass after glass of bubbly sidra (cider).
Christmas Day we met Carolina and Nico and the four of us made our way out to a house in the pueblo of Marcos Paz, hanging a little like a loose thread off one of Buenos Aires' outer skirts. This triple-tiered trip included my first ride on the Subte Linea A, which is what you would get if you put the ancient W-Class trams on the City Loop. When we arrived two and a half hours later, I discovered that the girls' extended family were talking over the top of one another with such incredible pitch and tempo that I couldn't understand a word that was being said. I instead busied myself with much the same food and sidra as I'd indulged in the night before, and discovered Nico, an Argentine himself was also completely lost in the cacophony. After another two and a half hours, bone-tired and bulging unattractively, it was time to make the long ride home, similar in duration to the journey out, if not longer.
Beige is not the kind of colour to stir up the deepest of desires. It's not the colour of the flag you would display proudly from the top of your mast, nor can it be described as dazzling, devilish or even dangerous. It is just well, beige. Argentinean cuisine is decidedly beige, but that's not to say it can't be delicious. I have mentioned in previous passages the two most succulent steaks which have ever crossed this critic's lips had been born and bred in Argentina, and of course Argentina's pastries, from sweet facturas to savoury empanadas also taste wonderful. It's just that you hope they would throw a vegetable or fruit into the mix now and then. And a bit of spice wouldn't go astray either. It appears at least the porteños are beginning to branch out a little, as the growing popularity of international fare like sushi may attest.
Alfajores are one such beige delicacy that won't blend into the background. Every country has its vices. Australians are fanatics about chocolate, crisps and biscuits to name a few. Argentineans have Alfajores. They are best described as regular Wagon Wheels, stacked three high and the jam substituted for dulce de leche. There can be found a mucus-secreting selection of these treats just in front of the counter at every corner store, and due to overwhelming popularity, chocolaty giants such as Oreo, Cadbury and Chips Ahoy! have jumped in and produced their own lines. By far the most popular is the ubiquitous Havanna, hailing originally from Mar del Plata and available for purchase by the boxload in seemingly every fifth store in the Microcentro. It was to Mar del Plata that we would be sojourning next, not in search of the humble Alfajor, but of salt and sand and fresh air and everything that wasn't available in Buenos Aires.