My trip to Mendoza has most definitely been during the best time of year. I left the United States in the beginning of Fall and arrived during Argentina’s Spring. We have had warm, sunny days lately – This is my kind of weather!
Bodega Norton was quite the outing! Founded by Sir Edmund Norton of England in 1895, today it is one of the biggest wineries in Mendoza. My program and I were able to see the whole process of wine from the grape to right before it is exported.
Our day began with a lunch assortment of exquisite meats and cheeses. Wine was included, but little did we know this was not the wine tasting portion of the tour! At lunch we helped ourselves to red, white, and rosé wine. Dessert was a hybrid of flan and dulce de leche (of course) which was incredibly rich and smooth. It was accompanied by a dessert wine. As you can imagine, our group which primarily ranges from 20-23 year olds, was quite tipsy after all this “help yourself” wine. By the time it was time to start the tour and actual wine tasting, some of us weren’t sure if we could get up! We might have concerned the coordinators a twee bit, but hey, we’re newbies!
We were able to see the big tanks where grapes are first compressed into wine. After the process of the grape skin and seeds floating to the top, it is moved over to a wooden barrel. It will sit here for a few weeks until it is bottled. We were able to taste the difference of when it is in the tank versus barrel. There is a more bitter taste when it is in the tank which makes you think the alcohol content is higher. In actuality, there is more alcohol when it reaches the barrel stage, although the taste is much smoother. This leads me to believe good wine has a higher alcohol content, but makes you think there’s no way you can get tipsy off of it 😉
This past Friday, I organized a day for us to go to the Mendoza Zoologico and Museo de Arte Moderno. The zoo was really big and had some animals I hadn’t seen before, such as the vicuña which sort of looks like a four-legged kangaroo. It is native to the Andes region and only found in South America. There is a big controversy about one animal in specific that is in the care of the zoo: Arturo. Mendoza is located in a desert region, so the weather here is very dry and tends to get very hot in the summer. As you can see, this is no place for a polar bear, such as Arturo. Arturo has been at the zoo for close to 25 years now, but his quality of life here is very sad in my opinion. When we came across his habitat we were appalled. He has a small swimming pool, two fans overhead and a carp that keeps out some sun. He was hiding when we came by, and good thing too because it was hot! He is too old to sedate and move, so he will be staying here for the remainder of his life. Apart from the sad story of Arturo, we really enjoyed seeing other exotic animals such as an African elephant, camels, and more. We then took a bus to the museum of modern art located undergound of Plaza de la Independencia. It was fairly small, but only about a dollar to enter. It had some very interesting pieces of modern art, some of which were very abstract for my liking, but nonetheless intriguing.
Yesterday was Argentine Mother’s Day. I had been looking forward to it for the following reason: My Argentine dad is a plastic artist who on the side works for the government and makes weekly visits to the local penitentiary (yes, as in prison). He made close to 300 small abstract paintings for the inmates to give to their moms on “Dia de la Madre.” Nerea and I went to support him. With the permission of the prison and handing over two forms of identification, we were allowed to enter. We set up outside of a visiting area where there was heavy foot track. I felt safe despite the fact that I was surrounded by delinquents. Interestingly enough, Argentina grants them the human right to wear their own clothes. I was a little confused as to where the prisoners were (ha-ha) since I didn’t see anyone in uniform, but then my dad explained it to me.
It was lovely to see how happy the moms were as Norberto would personally sign their gift. I sat next to him passing him the paintings and then envelope. Each mom would also get a potted flower. Such a nice gesture from my Argentine dad. I was glad we had this activity, because my Argentine sister doesn’t have her mom in her life, so participating in this thoughtful act was great for both of us.
The food here hasn’t been everything I’ve expected it to be. The European influence here is very strong, specifically the Italian influence. Hence, the food more than anything is Italian – there’s all sorts of pasta, raviolis, white breads such as baguettes, and pizza. I’m honestly getting really tired of eating pasta at home and might have to say something soon! I don’t know how these Argentines manage to stay skinny but all this white carb will probably be leaving with me on my hips and thighs! They also eat a lot of “milanesa” which is a thin, breaded meat (usually chicken from what I’ve seen). I have liked this and personally prefer chicken to red meat milanesa. My Argentine dad makes the best one from what I’ve tried so far. The other thing I have liked are their “caprese” empanadas which are like a spring mix (tomatoes, mozarella, basil, etc.) empanadas. See what I mean when I refer to the Italian presence here? You can’t avoid it. Not to mention just about everyone has an Italian last name. Yesterday I learned that my Argentine dad is first generation in Argentina and speaks fluent Italian. His parents emigrated from Italy shortly after they married and now reside in Buenos Aires, where he was born. It’s been really interesting to experience how prevalent the European influence is in Argentine society still today.
(1) When in Mendoza, Malbec is the best red and Torrontes is the best white wine type. We were able to try both of these at Bodega Norton.
(2) I’ve finally got the hang of military time which is what they use here.
(3) I’m really proud of myself because I’ve managed to not to fall into an “acequia” quite yet. Acequias are water canals that run through the whole city to transport water since Mendoza is in the desert. They are very inconveniently placed between sidewalks and streets, so when you get off a car parked along the street you better watch your step!
(4) I bought a mate! I absolutely love the embroidery work on it. The inside is “calabaza” and outside is leather. Now I can get on those Mendocinos level and start passing around my cool new mate.