Thursday, January 27, 2011

Nina's Argentine Adventure

The Perito Moreno glacier, located in the Los Glaciares National Park, photographed by my daughter Lily.
by Nina Griscom

I am married to an Argentine, and one of the many benefits of this union is the annual trip we take to Buenos Aires to visit his family and friends. Each time we go to Argentina, Leonel and I take a few days away from his family in B.A., to explore a different region of the country.

Argentina is similar to America in the scale of its geographical diversity, which has made it an increasingly popular destination for Americans. Fifty years ago, under the Peronista regime, Argentina was the eighth largest economy in the world, famous for its cosmopolitan life style, gorgeous estancias and all of the elements required for a well lubricated existence.

Sadly, due to decades of overwhelming and pervasive corruption, coupled with the financial spanking (devaluation) of the Argentine peso in 2001, Argentina has been chastened, and is struggling to find her way out of an abyss of sorts.

Lily, curbside at the airport.
The abyss lies in the form of a political Octopus which seems to grow new tentacles with every passing day, strangling the current government of Christina Kitchner; leaving her politically adrift, yet without a viable candidate from the Opposition to challenge her.

Having said all this, Argentina is still a fabulous playground, with copious amounts of its former glamour ... One look at a polo match, with Fito Cambiaso mounted on a pony ( if you are lucky enough to see him play), is all you need to know that Argentina still = SEXY!

My handsome husband played polo when he was younger, and I maintain there is no better sight than an Argie suited up for a polo match. But I digress.

Leo and I decided to visit Argentina at Christmas and New Year’s this time, and to bring along my daughter Lily, age 18.

Lily visited Argentina two years ago, on a Spring Break, alone with me, where we traveled through Salta. It was an incredible adventure and we loved every minute of it, except for the episode where she got a severe sunburn, and the concierge sent a maid to our room with fresh sliced tomatoes (local “compresses”) to apply to the burns ... NOT a huge success, but charming all the same ... looking back.

This year, we decided to spend a total of 11 days in Argentina with Lily, divided between 8 days in Buenos Aires, and a side trip of 3 days to El Calafate, in the south, to visit the glaciers.

Wednesday, Dec 22

Flights to Argentina leave in the late afternoon or evening from New York. My husband had gone to Buenos Aires a few days ahead of us to see his parents and do the “Prodigal Son” thing.

Lily and me relaxing by the pool after our eventful 12-hour flight.
In the past, I have had herniated discs in my back when traveling the 12-hour flight to Argentina with Lily. I was in so much pain, I had to lie flat on the floor of the cabin. It was midnight with not a lot of foot travel in the aisle. Nevertheless, the flight attendant was not having it. She demanded that I return to my seat. I replied that I simply could NOT. She then asked me if she should request the pilot to land the plane. I was somewhat bemused by this, as we were four hours over the Atlantic Ocean ... so I told her that if the pilot could find a runway he should by all means do so.

She marched up to the cockpit and informed the pilot that there was a woman lying on the floor with a bad back, and could he please intervene and insist that I return to my seat.

Being an intelligent person, he told her to shut up and leave me alone. I have always loved Delta pilots since that day!

This trip, Lily and I boarded on time, slept fitfully, and arrived in B.A. at 8ish AM, smoothly (on Delta) and safely without any episodes.

Thursday, Dec 23

December is summer in South America. The temperature is a sultry 95 degrees. The driver from the hotel was there to meet us and drive us the 40-minute trip into town to meet up with Leonel.

Despite the 12-hour flight, Argentina is only two hours ahead of New York time, so jet lag is not a factor. That is a huge benefit as anyone knows who suffers from adjusting to foreign time zones. On the other hand, it means no excuses regarding “resting” upon arrival!

Lily was bent upon getting a tan, so once we had unpacked, we proceeded to the pool. Not exactly a cultural beginning, but there would be plenty of time for that.
Leo, feeling right at home.
After roasting ourselves, we set off to San Telmo, a district which is now known for its antiques shops, and boho sensibility. It was formerly a rundown neighborhood, without much appeal, until the antiquaires arrived, giving it a certain allure.

Five years ago, I bought many things there and shipped them home, but the pickings are slim now due to an irony of history. During the past several years European decorators and tourists have bought up all the best stock (that being 19th century European pieces), and shipped them back to Europe ... Quid Pro Quo ...

San Telmo on the surface is a tourist mecca -- a large central square, filled with café tables and street vendors selling local junk. On weekends, you will see tango dancers, which can be charming or ridiculous, depending on your point of view.

The Plaza Dorrego Bar for coffee.
We stopped at the Plaza Dorrego Bar, a total tourist trap by day, and an Argie hangout by night, for coffee. This café is all about the culture of Tango, with wonderful old black and white photographs of Carlos Gardel on the walls, peanut shells on the tiled floors, and scarred wooden tables. I have always loved this joint, and don’t mind the fact that it is unabashedly tourista!

For dinner, we ventured out to my FAVORITE place in the world for dinner: Don Carlos, in La Bocca, a B.A. neighborhood, somewhat akin to a softer version of a burned out Bronx.

9:30 PM is not late for Argie’s to have dinner. I don’t know how they do it: dinner at 10 PM, lasting for several hours, and then up for work at 8 AM. God Bless them.

La Bocca is a slum. There is no other way to put it. If you go there at night, beware. In the day, it is OK to walk around, though not many people do. It is home to one of the largest football stadiums and a local team which breeds passion in all of its fans.

We drove there with a friend in his car, who negotiated the roads like a bat out of Hell. I suggest employing seat belts when an Argie is behind the wheel! He parked within sight of the restaurant, and paid a street guy 20 pesos to watch it while we were eating (in lieu of returning to a fully stripped vehicle). A simple economy to insure happiness for all parties concerned ...

Don Carlos has superb, home cooked food from the heart, in a simple relaxed atmosphere: 6 tables, family owned (40 years in the same location), family style service, dishes brought from the kitchen on a continual basis in small portions for the table to share.
Lily and me at Don Carlos.
We had 14 or so amazing dishes, which at the end of the day, left us itching for more ... note to self: eat small portions!
"Lomo," filet mignon.
Crespelle with spinach and cheese.
Fried potatoes.
Grilled squid.
Hiding the squid.
No Argentine goes home at 11:30 PM, the hour we had licked the last sauce from its dish…

We returned to our unmolested car and set off for the Faena Hotel, located in the Puerto Madero, the most expensive and well guarded residential district, located on the River.

The Faena, decorated by Andrée Putman, is Argentina’s answer to an Andre Balazs hotel. I may be shot for saying that, but there it is ... very Phantom of the Opera décor. It is a Queen of the Night in B.A., attracting a well-heeled crowd who come for the live music, and drink champagne with equally sequined patrons. Ladies should dress up a bit when going to the Faena.
The band at the Faena Hotel.
Friday, December 24

Try keeping an 18-year-old girl happy on a vacation with the parents, when there is no boyfriend (he was in Anguilla), nor girlfriends around. It can get ugly very quickly, unless ... you go shopping!

This morning, Lily and I went to Recoleta, B.A.’s version of Madison Avenue, for a shopping spree.

Recoleta, starting at the Four Seasons Hotel, continuing up to the Alvear Hotel, is a beautiful tree-lined area, informed by limestone townhouses, shops, and restaurants. It is an easy walk. Though high priced, it has fashions for both young and old -- artisanal products, beautiful furs and leather goods, polo and sporting equipment, jewelry, and Argentine designer fashion.
Alvear Palace Hotel.
The Alvear is a classic, luxurious, grand hotel, where you are likely to run into friends having a drink at the beautiful bar. We’ve stayed there several times, and love its old world charm. It also boasts the largest and most international news kiosk just outside the entrance where you can spend all your pesos on magazines and newspapers from all over the world.

Another nearby attraction, though of a totally different persuasion, is Black’s, a famous high end bordello, conveniently located across the avenue, where the lined up (for selection) girls -- rumored to be as beautiful and elegant as at the former Madame Claude’s in Paris. Legions of husbands “gone missing” have been found whiling away the evening hours at Black’s. \

Sottovoce in Puerto Madero.
Meanwhile, after two hours of exploring the shops, we met up with Leonel at Sottovoce, an Italian restaurant in Puerto Madero, for a wonderful lunch on the terrace overlooking the piers where the sailboats are tied up.

Argentina is not a great place to visit if you are watching your weight (I am). The ubiquitous bread basket is always filled with temptations which scream EAT ME; thin strips of white pizza covered with oregano and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese, crusty hot rolls, small buns filled with olives and fennel seeds, and sliced freshly baked baguettes. Our basket was always empty before we even placed our orders.

After a wonderful meal of White Salmon, pasta cooked in squid ink, croquettas filled with a creamy mixture of spinach and cheese (ok, maybe not the most balanced meal on the nutrition pyramid), it was back to the hotel for a post prandial nap.

Christmas Eve is a big deal, the number one occasion to come together with family and friends. Ours was a rowdy gang of 15, for dinner at Filo, a popular, casual Pizza restaurant in the downtown area of B.A.
Filo for Christmas Eve.
Despite the superb wines Argentina produces, the population is extremely moderate in terms of consumption! We are talking, as a rule, maybe one glass of wine with dinner, maybe two. A local friend told me her family thinks she’s practically an alcoholic because she has a cocktail before dinner, and several glasses of wine with dinner (over a long night of dining).

Having said this, our bill at Filo told us that there are still some hold outs to that rule. Aside from all the wine we consumed, we dined on several fabulous pizzas (my favorite had a topping of smoked salmon and brie cheese), a main course of meat or chicken, followed by dolce and champagne.
Inside Filo.
Family is paramount in this country. One can NEVER devote enough time to one’s family! That is both wonderful, and exhausting ... so people are very good at inventing little white lies in order to jettison family after a 5-hour meal -- in the name of escaping to sleep, or to go on to a lounge or club. In our case, it was for sleep, and the HUGE desire to push away from the table and stop talking!!

We finally tucked in around 2 AM ...

Saturday, December 25

I felt like a total hedonista going to the hotel pool on Christmas morning. But Lily was bent upon getting a tan. Somewhat chastened by the episode in Salta, we lubed up with block and put in our tanning time. I saw the gym out of the corner of my eye, and was SO happy not to be in it! That resolution could wait until the new year!

Marcello in Puerto Madero.
Lunch time with Leonel’s family, though a smaller rendition than the night before -- just his parents and the 3 of us. A beautiful, fun meal at Marcello in Puerto Madero.

Again the dreaded bread basket, followed by delicious pasta dishes as a first course, and then carne (fish for me as a pathetic attempt at weight control), and a huge crème caramel, shared by all of us.

A side note: the weather has been perfect every day -- sunny, hot (92 degrees) and not humid. I almost need a bolt of lightning and a flash flood.

For dinner from room service and a quiet night in our rooms. The following morning involved a flight to El Calafate, where we were traveling to see the famous glaciers.

Sunday, December 26

5:30 AM checked out, and head to the airport for the 7 AM to El Calafate. The domestic airport is only 15 minutes from the center of Buenos Aires.
Upon arriving close to the center of El Calafate, we saw millions of plastic bags flying around, littering a large area.
Argentina has not yet been hit with global terrorist activity. The security at its airports reflects that. No taking off of shoes or full strip; a reasonably easy passage through security to the gate.

I had somehow thought that our destination would be extremely cold, and so I had Lily trussed up like a Winter Lamb, in fleece and a down vest. Total overkill on my part. It was a balmy 62 degrees, and she began unpeeling the onion of layers I had insisted she wear. Too much mothering ...
The town of El Calafate, 20 minutes by car from the airport, looks like almost an afterthought concocted by “planners.” A farflung outpost; buildings haphazard in their design, scattered about a landscape part Montana, and part End of the World ...

A far flung out post if ever I saw one. Upon arriving close to the center, we saw millions of plastic bags flying around, littering a large area. An odd view to say the least. It was explained to me that the town’s landfill had been accidentally exposed when development set in. Due to the high winds in the area, the bags were left to float about on a daily basis.

Not exactly the normal vista leading up to a “5 star hotel.” I was happy not to be a member of the Town Planning Board.

Our hotel -- The Design -- a large modern, wood and glass structure located on the edge of town. An incredible panoramic view of the Lake of Argentina and the glaciers looming beyond.

After a lackluster lunch in the dining room, we checked into our rooms. The décor best described as listless -- not dreadful, but lacking in charm. I later found there is ONE fabulous hotel in El Calafate, called the Eolo. I only wish we had known before we arrived. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride!
The Design, a large modern, wood and glass structure located at the edge of town, with an incredible panoramic view onto the Lake of Argentina.
Cordero at The Design.
After unpacking, we ventured into town, a 10-minute taxi ride. This part of the world remains light until 11 PM in the summer months. Shops remain open until midnight. Most restaurants serve dinner until 10-ish PM, which is not late for Argentina, but given that visitors are there for hiking and early morning trips to the glaciers, they close early.

The shops were filled mostly with tourist memorabilia. There was the odd place which had good artisanal stuff. I bought several beautiful cactus picture frames and a lovely leather cuff bracelet with an alpaca (silver and nickel) closure band. Cactus is becoming hard to find, so snap up boxes or frames when you can find them!

We walked down to Las Barricas, recommended as a good Asador (grill), located several blocks out of the main shopping area. A lovely meal together. Had a favorite local dish of mine: Provoleta, a circular piece of Provolone cheese sprinkled with dried oregano and olive oil and then placed under the grill. To die for!
Dinner with Leo and Lily at Las Barricas. Inset: Cordero grilling on the restaurant terrace.
Patagonia is universally known for its delicious roasted lamb (Cordero). So of course we ordered that, along with some sinful, thinly sliced potatoes, lightly fried. All perfectly and simply prepared.

There is a casino in town. We elected to skip the gambling and get a good night’s sleep.

Monday, December 27

We were sound asleep when the windows began to tremble, and the shriek of the howling wind became fierce. It was the strongest gale I have ever heard, yet quite beautiful in its ferocity. I hugged Leonel and felt safe in our feathers, hoping that Lily’s room across the hall was not as loud or windy as ours, which looked out on the lake.
After a quick breakfast, we were picked up at 7:15 AM for the 45-minute drive to the cruise boat that would take us to the glaciers. Not a lot of chatting at that hour. Thank God!
Being Argentine, Leonel knew the ropes and managed to get us first in line, so we were able to poach the front row of seats once on the ship. We were right behind the huge window allowing a prime vista of the Lake and the glaciers. Lily snuck out on the deck and snapped this shot of Leo and me.
I was struck by the INCREDIBLE milky blue color of the lake, like a glimmering aqua moonstone. The locals call it “glacial milk,” its color derived from the sediment of mineral deposits from the adjacent mountains washed into the lake. Oh, for a pair of eyes this color!!
Views of the Perito Moreno glacier, located in the Los Glaciares National Park, taken by budding photographer Lily.
The boat was fast. We cruised across the lake quickly arriving at the first point of glacial viewing within an hour and a half. When the boat stopped, everyone stampeded onto the decks and began a frenzy of picture-taking.

The Moreno Glaciers are remarkable -- craggy formations immense beyond belief, towering above the landscape. With interior hues of icy blue, they stand for all that is barren and untouched by human intervention. The concern of global warming is ever present, evidenced by the chunks of floating icebergs in the lake; a sure sign of encroaching disaster.
Wildlife is not visible to casual interlopers, but pumas, condors, and Red and Grey Fox call this area home -- not exactly a large animal population, which spells out the remote nature of this barren terrain.

After an hour or so of admiring and photographing, we set off to see yet another perspective, giving us time to have lunch (which we had brought) and rest.

Next stop: a visit to a channel of the lake blocked off by a glacial flow of ice ... resembling a gorgeous ski piste. Again, more picture taking, and much ado on deck.
It is hard to say what was the most glorious, the glaciers, or the extraordinary lake. All breathtaking, and so exciting to see together!

Around 5 pm, we were driven back to the Design, happy to have downtime to reflect, before DINNER ... ugh!

We dined at the Los Alamos Hotel, which was meant to have a great restaurant. It was OK. More Provoleta, Cordero, salad, and coffee. The subject of hitting the casino was broached, but we opted for a good night’s sleep. No winds tonight.
Dinner at Los Alamos.
Tuesday, December 28

All activities in Patagonia involve some type of outdoor sport. Today, Leo opted for climbing the glaciers with crampons. Lily opted for horseback riding. I could have gone either way, but knowing Argies, and a beautiful 18-year-old is manna from heaven to these boys, I felt I should ride herd so to speak, and went with my daughter.

Lily riding at the Gold Ranch in El Calafate.
We were picked up early and driven in a 4x4 to an estancia 45 minutes away. There were several other people in our group. It immediately became clear to me that we were not among “equestrians” in any sense of the word!

Lily is a beautiful rider. When Tito, the very handsome head gaucho on the ranch asked if anyone had ever been on a horse, I knew this was going to be a slow walk about on a well worn trail, as opposed to a gallop through the hillsides. I was worried Lily would be bored but she was a good sport and happy to be on a horse and in nature. She mounted up on Piru, a Bay, and I had Sophia, a Pinto.

For a tranquil 2 hours we meandered (no other way to describe the pace) through the beautiful, verdant countryside. One could literally fall asleep in the saddle and these horses would never notice!

We saw the odd jack rabbit, several calves and their mothers loping across the trail in mute submission, and a few hawks taking advantage of the vectoring winds.

The only moment of drama involved an errant horse who had refused his mount, one of the new gauchos on the estancia. The horse had his head up and came close to biting Piru. Lily looked him in the eye and made it clear she was having none of it. He bucked off in another direction and was eventually captured.
The ranch from a distance.
Idyllic scenery at the ranch.
The resident cat.
After our little sojourn, we dismounted and returned to the dining house. Before setting out, I had spied an elderly gentleman preparing the asado, the Argentine barbecue, albeit an abbreviated one, so I had known what to expect for lunch!

We sat down to a family style table and were served a delicious pumpkin soup, followed by a platter heaped with carne, chicken, roasted potatoes, and more pumpkin, roasted.
Preparing the asado, the Argentine barbecue.
3 PM brought an end to our time at the estancia, and we were driven back to the not-so-divine Design Hotel for reading and naps! Leonel returned much later from his more rigorous day on the glaciers.

We had dinner at the Esplendor, a hotel slightly away from the main part of town. It was a cooler hotel, with a better sense of modern design. More Andrée Putman. Sort of. We ordered a local specialty: Trout from the lake.
A visit to the serene Esplendor El Calafate for dinner.
Wednesday, December 29

The trip to Patagonia, and its extraordinary sights was wonderful, but we were feeling the itch to get back to civilization ... a BIG itch!

This time the 3-hour flight went directly to B.A.; no stopping in Bariloche. Anyone who travels a lot, knows a good landing from a bad one, so it was clear, upon approach, that our pilots were coming in too fast. Sure enough, we hit the run way too hard, and had less pavement than desired to come to an elegant end to the flight. But we were alive, always something to be grateful for! Another example of Argies behind the wheel ...

Back at our hotel, we met up with Sebastian, Leonel’s dear friend, and set off for dinner (by now I was DYING to eliminate a meal or two).

Our dining adventure took us to Des Vivel at 855 Defensa. The drive there involved all manner of high speed and cursing on the part of our driver. I saw the origins of Leonel’s driving habits -- Argie males drive with a tank full of testosterone, and trust me when I say that is putting it kindly. For them, it’s somewhat like playing Pac Man; all about obliterating the “opponent,” meaning anyone else on the road.
Des Vivel offered authentic Argentine food.
Des Vivel is a low key Parilla; authentic Argentine food. 3 seatings: Tourists and Gringos early (8pm-ish); the Argies begin to stream in for the 2 later.

By 9:30 PM, a long line outside. Blessed to be with locals, we got the attention of the old and harried waiters, clearly attuned to who was Argentine, and who wasn’t.

A huge dinner: Provoleta and homemade empanadas (filled with a choice of carne, or ham and cheese); and a green salad (an afterthought), followed by the main course -- roasted carne, chicken milanese, and roasted potatoes, and the grand finale -- crème caramel topped with dulce de leche (Argentines’s manna from heaven made of condensed milk and caramel).

Inside Des Vivel.
Outside Club del Progresso.
After another drive from Hell, we were deposited back to the hotel, and our feathers, just glad to be alive ...

Thursday, December 30

Today was MY day. Lily opted out of my plan in lieu of going to the pool. Last summer, Leonel and I had met my stepbrother’s Argentine partner, Miguel Gutierrez and his divine wife, Alixandre Schijman in Southampton, N.Y.

Alixandre had kindly offered to show me around B.A. when Leo and I were there at Christmas time, I emailed her and made a date to get together.

She had done her research, and made a “Go To” list of insider fashion designers, textile dealers, and interior design emporiums for us to visit.

First: a wonderful lunch at Club del Progresso, a beautiful old world colonial structure located on a side street in San Telmo.

She told me interesting stories about life in Buenos Aires. Doctors still make house calls at any and all times of day, no matter how prestigious they may be. Plastic surgery is booming. Hollywood actors come down to have procedures done, which are less expensive, but as good as in the U.S. Doctors are U.S. trained, but staffs are on a peso pay scale, thus lower fees. Sounded good!

Politics plays a huge role in daily conversation, and is the sole focus at virtually all dinner parties.

We had a fabulous time visiting all her favorite places, and I dropped her off at home at 5 PM. Lily was fully bronzed and Leonel was in the sack, having a little siesta before our next feeding.

Friday, December 31

On the last day of the year all business offices shred, and toss their prior year’s paper work (given that no one bothers to pay taxes, nor to subscribe to any given governmental regulations, this is not surprising) ... so downtown B.A. resembled a ticker tape parade.

The day before New Year’s Eve, B.A. is DEAD. Everyone’s home “getting ready.” People in South America dress in white (head to toe) for the celebration.

I headed out to various shopping destinations I was researching for an article I was writing for Departures. The lure of the pool held more currency for Lily so she remained at the hotel.
A sliver of Palermo Hollywood.
I set out for Palermo Hollywood, the Soho of B.A. Palermo Hollywood is definitely geared towards young people -- fashion shops, cafes, street fairs selling artisanal products, all lend the neighborhood a certain vibrancy. Streets are cobbled and give an “old” feeling to the area. It is a pleasant place to walk and explore all the galleries and shops.

After checking out all the boutiques on my list, lunchtime arrived. I landed up at “Cluny,” a charming café where I sat outside under an umbrella shading me from the midday heat. It had a perfect mix of elegant locals and well dressed tourists.

I am of the age where I am totally comfortable dining alone. I had my Kindle with me, and that was all I needed!

I ordered a bottle of Pellegrino, and a cold gazpacho, followed by risotto with parmesan cheese. Totally delicious, and by the way, peaceful! I read a bit of Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra, perfectly content to be in such a lovely city; undisturbed and yet attended to.

After lunch, I hailed a cab to the Malba Museum. My Spanish is not quite up to par (a euphemism for LOUSY). As such the Bumble Bee driver (the taxi cabs are black and yellow) had no clue what I was talking about when I asked him to take me to the Malba. But he was adorable, and more than willing to try to decipher my Spanglish.
The Malba Museum.
There was a show on Marta Minujin, a well known Argentine artist of the 1960s and '70s; a real wild child, something akin to Jane Holzer or Edie Sedgwick in terms of being on the scene at the time. Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger were in the landscape of her work, along with many other images of that era.

I also visited the permanent Latin American Collection, with paintings by Frieda Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and countless other Latin luminaries. It was a real treat to see all this work, well curated, and in beautiful surroundings.

New Year’s Eve is sacrosanct among Argentine families. Leonel was an angel and made the call that Lily (who had a severe sore throat) and I could remain in the hotel if we wished, in lieu of accompanying him to another 20-course, 5-hour family meal. Though I ADORE my in laws, I was more than ready to collapse and ordered room service. Maybe not everyone’s notion of New Year’s Eve, but we ordered a bottle of Pink Moet and Chandon, along with a delicious meal, and hunkered down together.

Leonel returned at midnight to ring in the New Year -- a peaceful and Happy New Year for us!!!

Saturday, January 1

New Year’s Day. Time to act on resolutions! (I was definitely NOT hung over, unlike half of the population in Buenos Aires). So in the name of resolutions, I ventured down to the god-awful gym, and hit the long avoided treadmill.

Lily was in shock when she arrived at the pool and saw me sweating on the ghastly machine.

After Leonel and Lily had finished laughing and pointing at me through the window of the gym, I finished, and found my way to a chaise next to them. I have to say, I felt good! Weird (Que Rarro), but yes, GOOD.
The Burma.
Our afternoon activity: a boat ride through the channels of the El Tigre River in the outlying area of San Fernando, a 45-minute drive north of town, with another dear friend, E, who appeared to have attended the Mr. Magoo School of Driving. E. had a friend who owned a boat, The Burma. We prevailed on him to take us out for an afternoon cruise.

Once under way, the beautiful surroundings reminded me of the Florida Everglades. Lots of avian life and natural beauty along the sunlit grassy banks of the channels. Our host broke out some foie gras and wine, and we all dug in!
Leo and Lily on The Burma.
We weren’t the only ones on the water. I was highly amused to see a boat racing past us, with the moniker of Flying Cock. I only hoped some beloved family rooster had inspired the name. Right. Only in Argentina.

After four tranquil hours of motoring about, we headed back to the dock. The drive home was comedic at best: several wrong turns, lengthy retracing of routes, and even a double tour around the same round about. Eventually, we arrived at our hotel ... with a migraine.
The Flying Cock.
Sunday, January 2

As much as we had enjoyed Argentina, I was ready to get on the plane (Delta), and back to life on my own turf.

All packed and ready, my in-laws were waiting in the lobby to say good-bye. After our goodbyes, we departed for the airport.

Our flight was not direct to New York, but routed through Atlanta. We hunkered down and slept the whole way to Atlanta where, with a three-hour layover, we would clear customs. After checking in to the not so luxurious Delta First Class Lounge, Lily and I did a quick tour of the duty free area.

Very familiar ground with said shopping in many a far flung airport, I can almost tell you what stock a given Hermes shop has. I purchased two mega cartons of cigarettes (each containing 3 cartons). Cigarettes in Argentina cost approximately 1.50 USD per pack, compared with roughly 14 USD here. None of us smoke, but a it’s great gift for friends. As I said, Argies aren’t into taxation!

Note to self: NEVER EVER argue with U.S. customs agents! They rule.
Clearing customs, at the last second the agent asked if we were bringing in any cigarettes. I answered truthfully, which resulted in his telling us we had to pay duty on the extra cartons and to go to a certain LONG line in the corner.

I had a fit when I saw the line, and said that I wanted to throw away the damn things and avoid the whole tax situation. I was told NO by very stern looking agents. There was no throwing away of anything!! I must line up and pay!

I asked another agent if I couldn’t simply “ surrender” this contraband and opt out of the entire situation. He was somewhat nicer and directed me to yet another person. I made the fatal mistake of tossing the cartons into a trash basket and marching towards the exit. You would have thought I was a criminal! They came down on me like white on rice, and I found myself facing a Val Kilmer look-alike with a tight uniform, and a BIG badge. All for a few cartons of cigarettes I didn’t even want!

Somehow in the course of our conversation I said something to the effect that I couldn’t BELIEVE how impossible it was to simply surrender a few cartons of goddamn cigarettes.

This was a HUGE mistake! The agent became quite serious and told me that I was cursing at a Federal Agent. I replied that I had never cursed AT him. He responded that employing ANY curse word when addressing a Federal Agent was unacceptable.
Needless to say, I did not wish to further escalate the situation, and saw that I was now skating on very thin ice! I backed down, and meekly retracted my words. He was actually a very nice guy, and let us through, with the cigarettes, after a stern lecture to me, which I suspect thrilled Lily to no end ...

We made our flight to New York and upon arrival, I sat back in the awaiting car at LaGuardia, with a huge sigh of relief that I had avoided all manner of dangerous situations on this trip! Happy to be back in New York, where they understand people like me ...

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