#9 Argentina, March 20, 2005

Dear Everybody,

I felt very pleased with myself when I arrived in Cordoba by plane, as I managed to find and take a public bus into town for one peso (37 cents). However, I carefully chose a stupid hotel. There was nothing really major wrong with it, but overall they sort of just didn’t get it.

Cordoba is Argentina’s second city, quite pretty with many colonial buildings. I took a city tour—something I rarely do—with a group of US missionaries that had come to save the Argentine people. The weather was perfect and the view from the top of the bus was nice.

Then I tried to look up a man that I had met at a hospital meeting in New York over 30 years ago, who lived in Cordoba. The desk clerk called a number of people in the phone book with the same last name, but nobody knew of him, and he wasn’t listed either. There was only one listing of his name in all of Argentina and it wasn’t him. I guess he would be about 74 years old by now—maybe dead—time marches on!

Tuesday I had an eight hour bus ride from Cordoba to Tucuman, the provincial capital. What a lovely city! The plaza is the nicest I’ve seen and is clearly everyone’s living room. However, I could always see at least six police in and around the plaza. Nobody paid them much attention, but why would you need six police with truncheons and handcuffs prominently displayed? They were all very young, and some were women. I spent a couple of days in Tucuman interacting with the town, including having a shoe shine.




I visited the Iramain museum and had a tour by the artist Iramain’s daughter in law. It turned out that she had gone to Breckenridge high school in Minneapolis from ’61 to ’64. Has anybody heard of that school? She still has two brothers (lawyers) in Minneapolis. We exchanged cards.






I also visited the Casa de la Independencia, a colonial house where Argentina’s independence from Spain was declared on July 9, 1816. Why in Tucuman? In the 19th century it was an important hub of sugar production and Buenos Aires was kind of a backwater then. In the 1970’s there was an uprising here against the military government that was severely put down. I returned at 8:30 PM to see the Sound and Light Show which I had inquired about earlier that day. Unfortunately for some reason in spite of promises made earlier, it wasn’t on that night.

The next day I took an early bus to Tafi del Valle. The drive was wonderful, at first through sugar cane fields and fruit orchards, then up, up a canyon with a beautiful little river at the bottom. In fact the stones in the river were arranged so perfectly to cause constant rapids that it looked contrived—kind of like one of those Kinkaid paintings. One had to have faith in the bus driver, though, as at times, only one vehicle could go and oncoming traffic had to ‘plan’ their meetings with our bus. Unfortunately it was very cloudy and rainy so Tafi, itself, was completely shut in from the snowcapped mountains that I never saw. I did visit some archeological stones and an 18th century Jesuit chapel but missed the supposedly beautiful mountains scenery.

I had cabrito for lunch (young goat) which was wonderful, and Jean Welna, it was a Very Young goat. Remember India?

The next morning the bus to Cafayate pulled up, up out of the clouds and we had specatular scenery for almost four hours, arriving in Cafayate about 12:30. I had cabrito again—what a treat, why can’t we have that in Minneapolis? This time with live guitar music and a tablefull of Argentine women my age who joined in the songs.

I enjoyed the beautiful mountainous setting in Cafayate and tried some of the local wines. I visited one bodega, simply asking to taste the wines—who needs another tour of a winery? Frankly, the Argentine wines are not very likable, I’m sorry to say—they’re kind of vinegary. My Italian son in law says that if you find yourself shutting your eyes at the first taste, that’s not a good wine. Roberto, these mostly didn’t pass the test although I did have one cabernet that was pretty good at this bodega.

Nevertheless, it’s fun to be way out in the back of beyond, and simply watch the scenery go by, looking out the bus window. Things that I saw: mud brick ovens outside the houses, huge numbers of horses, high mountains bathed in clouds, most people on the bus crossing themselves as we passed a church, the asphalt road turning to gravel off and on, lots of sheep and goats.

On Sunday (today) I arrived in Salta, another provincial capital. I decided to stay at a youth hostel so I have a lower bunk bed in a room for four. I had cabrito again for Sunday dinner, but unfortunately this had been roasted some time ago so was tough, tasteless and even lacked salt. I guess you can’t win every time. I did enjoy a half-bottle of cabernet (they call them 3/8 bottles as they are 3/8 of a liter) which was the brand that I tasted at the winery yesterday in Cafayate. It was quite good.

Some of you have asked for an update on Cookie and Ulises. They recently were invited to speak at a conference in El Paso on torture, which they did. They also held a press conference and were interviewed by local radio and newspapers. From there they went to Santa Fe to testify at a hearing for a state (New Mexico) bill against torture, and then went to Phoenix where they are now with Burt and Donna, Cookie’s father and wife. Burt had been working with the American Consulate in Juarez, asking them to go to Chihuahua City and bring Cookie and Ulises’s car back over the border to El Paso. There was lots of red tape involved and I haven’t heard if this was successful or not—hope it will be.

Coincidently my friends Susan and Vince DeSimone are in Phoenix at the moment to attend their son’s wedding. Susan emailed me that they had paid Burt and Donna a visit and had hugged Cookie and Ulises. Susan was very helpful in gaining their freedom.

Cookie and Ulises have found a house they can rent on a busy commercial street in Minneapolis (32nd and Hennepin) where they will live and also have their little store in a two-room porch area. So they’re getting their life together but it’s not easy to begin all over again.

Less than three weeks until I’ll be home again. I hope you’re all fine.


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