No, not ‘mate’ as in your Australian friend, ‘mah-tay’ as in the Argentinian tea. Everybody drinks it constantly here to the extent that water dispensers have hot water so you can top up your mate on the go. The Yerba Mate plant is a species of the holly genus and is a native of southern Brazil, and the tea drunk throughout South America. It is quite bitter – a herby bitter rather than a coffee bitter – although it can be served dulce, (sweet with sugar). To make it, you put the leaves straight in the cup and add water. I bought myself a little mate cup this morning at the street market (made from a gourd) with the obligatory filtering straw to sip it through.
Buying wine is always a tricky exercise, especially when in a new country. Last night I had a very ordinary bucket of wine with my dinner (I only drank half of it) which did not make me happy. Today’s mission: acquire a decent bottle of wine. This I did, but twas with trepidation that I opened, poured and tasted it, not sure if I had just bought nasty, cheap wine in the equivalent of Aldi. Turns out that my $4 was well spent – not the best wine I’ve ever had, but quite drinkable and extremely good value. Notes of chocolate and quite fruity, but a whisker too much acid for my taste. Imagine what will happen when I double my budget for the next bottle?
This morning I found myself, an Australian in Argentina, drinking my morning coffee next to a French couple. It surprised me that I understood them and took me while to realise why – I’m used to hearing Spanish here and not understanding most of it. It then dawned on me that the funky jazz I was tapping my toe to as I drank my espresso was in fact on a French radio station. ‘Tis truly a global village this big old world we live in. Good coffee, good music, and different languages make me tick.
I can’t find the track – I know I know it, but it’s hard to google a tune – so here’s Canonball Adderly with Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. Totally smooth and groovy.
An afternoon spent learning to tango, then actually tangoing in a big old room in the centre of Buenos Aires, the home of tango. The old tango orchestras made beautiful music and the old recordings have a little crackle on the edge, which is quite charming. The music is endlessly fascinating, crisp, and full of melancholy, and a total joy to dance to. Some delightful Argentinian gents were kind enough to dance with me, despite my beginner state, and thus I feel I learned a lot. Definitely the best fun I’ve had with $5 in an awfully long time.
Buenos Aires has all the architecture of a city once rich, but she is now in decline. Thus buildings are still impressive but they’re tired and run down. The apartment I’m staying in would have once been stunning, but sadly no longer. It’s currently a share house (the other residents are four boys in their 20s – a strange revisiting of my uni days in Melbourne) with its quirks – there’s no hot water in the kitchen, the doors are sticky, the furniture is functional not beautiful second hand – but also its beauty – the wrought iron handrails in the stairwell, the hardwood floorboards, and the taps and tiling in the bathrooms are very pretty (which makes cleaning my teeth so much nicer than plain white!).
I did the grown up thing and caught a taxi from the airport to my accommodation in Buenos Aires. It was worth the extra dollars for the ease and speed after a long haul flight, particularly because my driver, Martín, was so nice. He was happy for me to converse in my very rusty Spanish and pointed out interesting things on the way. We managed quite a chat, and it transpired that he is really a journalist, but since the economic crisis in Argentina (one of many that have plagued the country for most of the last hundred years) has been driving the taxi to and from the airport ad infinitum.
Walking through the international double doors in Melbourne Airport always makes me grin like a cheshire cat. Once you’re through there’s no going back – whatever you packed is it, whatever you forgot to organise at home has to take care of itself, and the adventure has begun. The cherry on the top, however, is when you walk through duty free at 10:30am and Veuve Clicquot has the tasting cart out. Hello Holidays!
A packed suitcase holds many promises: adventure, rest, forgetfulness, and breaking free from the things that bind us.
Five weeks off work would make anyone happy, and I’m no exception. An adventure across the Pacific awaits with tango shoes and a foreign language. Sleeping in, dancing late, discovering a new city with its food, culture and songs, meeting people, having time to think, create, wonder and wander. See you Friday, Buenos Aires!