A lively walk

As we approached the little zoo in Atlántida, a large songbird dive-bombed Benji in the road. Twice (he might well have caught it a third time). This has never happened before. Too quick to get a picture.

A block later, Benji suddenly ran behind a car parked at the zoo, and a goose loudly launched itself into relative safety inside the short chainlink fence. This has never happened before. Too quick to get a picture. (Why are the geese outside their pen?)

On the way back, Benji encountered a dog, but didn’t notice a second one, inside a trash container. This has never happened before. Too quick to get a picture.

Dog just jumped from trash container
But honest, it really happened
So what did I get a picture of? Sticks.

dog throwing sticks on beach

Yes, those sticks from two weeks ago. The crooked one, our favorite, has gone up and down the beach a few times since then.

Clean up: public vs private

Paul asked about the end state ot the aloe vera harvesting I posted yesterday.

after aloe harvesting, Atlántida, Uruguay

The private workers actually left their work area very clean. Of course, the aesthetic appeal of the plants has been greatly reduced, but they’ll grow back.

after aloe harvesting, Atlántida, Uruguay

Much of the waste, I expect, they left around the base of the plants, but that will return nutrients to the soil. On the ground in front is a piece similar to what they were packing into crates.

Meanwhile, near Syd’s place, the public workers actually did come back, and did remove the rest of the brush pile, and the other one around the corner!

Brush, but not trash, cleanup in Uruguay

But all the trash carefully removed from the brush pile remains in its own pile on the ground, just meters from an empty trash container. Because “not their department,” no doubt.

Harvesting aloe

Aloe (pronounced as a Canadian might say, aloe, eh) vera grows in abundance here. Today I saw another first in seven years: its harvest.

Harvesting aloe vera, Uruguay

Turns out they sell it to a laboratory that turns it into a skin product. For exactly what application I couldn’t catch. Uruguayan Spanish is not generally spoken in a crisp, clear way, and the guy at the truck, while friendly, was a little hard to understand. Anyway, they get USD 0.68 per kilo. Sounds like farmers grow fields of it. It wasn’t clear the connection between these guys and this little stand of aloe, apparently on private property in town, right off the main highway, the Ruta Interbalnearia.

Aloe is all kinds of good for your skin and more. Nice plant to have in the backyard, which we do. Easily planted, like so many things here: lop off a chunk of plant and stick it in the ground.

Ain’t it good to know…

Wretched weather today. I missed a window or two of almost-not-rainy weather to walk the dog, and also our masseur was here in the afternoon, despite wind and rain, on his moto with massage table attached. Because of the “strong” (but falling) Untied Snakes dollar, our hour-long+ $37 massage now is  USD 32-33.

With evening approaching, and insufficient wine on hand, it was necessary to visit Tienda Inglesa. When we got back, I asked if Benji had howled as he has tended to do in his FOMO moments when I leave without him. No, Susan said, it was quite cute. He just nuzzled your slipper (house shoes I wear all day).

Walking into my office, I saw the shoe in the middle of the floor; returned to our shoe rack to get the other so I could put them on. Oh, it wasn’t there.

where the g=dog thinks my shoe should be

… you’ve got a friend?

Es lo que hay, ¡Uruguay!

I spent enough years in the USA to be predisposed to a gung-ho, get-it-done attitude, and a respect for quality products and services, so a couple of things here stand out for me.

  1. Tolerance of mediocrity: Chinese electric hand tools with a two-month warranty that cease operating after three, for example. Well, you might say, it’s poor country. And you’d be right. But you won’t find anyone here who disagrees that lo barato sale caro — false economy: cheap things end up being expensive. *Shrug* Es lo que hay. That’s what it is.
  2. Lack of situational awareness: as with people at peak season who pause in the exit door of the supermarket to have a conversation, or bicyclists, motos, or pedestrians who cross streets without looking. And let’s not forget cars.

Here’s a photo that presents a lovely illustration of both.

Es lo que hay, Uruguay.

The lady who apparently owns but doesn’t live at the end of Syd’s block had a hissy fit about the growing brush pile on her corner (but on the town right-of-way). She decided an appropriate response involved tearing the pile apart so that brush blocked both streets. Who did what next remains a mystery, but last week we returned from walking dogs to see two guys loading brush into a truck. Leaving Syd’s 5/6ths of the dog pack inside, we walked down to see if they’d be similarly taking away the 2+ year old brush pile next to Syd’s house. They indicated they would. Excellent!

They added that the current brush pile would require a second trip.

What you’re seeing in the photo is, left side, the remaining half of the brush pile. The blue and white stuff beyond is the non-brush trash that they carefully removed from the brush pile. The blue thing beyond that is (and was) an empty trash container that could have easily accommodated the trash they separated from the brush pile.  But apparently for them when your job is to pick up brush, it doesn’t include leaving the street clean.

The rest of the story, as you might guess, is that they haven’t been back.

I’m guessing they will. Eventually. Meanwhile, es lo que hay.

The art gallery

We normally don’t spend a lot of time in art galleries.

Contemporary ceramics on display, Montevideo, Uruguay

Yesterday was an exception.

Contemporary ceramics on display, Montevideo, Uruguay

The current show features five contemporary ceramic artists,

Contemporary ceramics on display, Montevideo, Uruguay

Contemporary ceramics on display, Montevideo, Uruguay

each with a unique “voice,” as the introduction states.

each with a unique “voice,” as the introduction stated.

The gallery has a skylight, which casts dramatic shadows.

Mexican Embassy, Montevideo, Uruguay

The setting, an old building with exposed brick and very old beams, is quite lovely. Not a bad place to spend an hour when you have no choice.

And we had no choice. We were waiting for legal papers. Specifically, a power of attorney to sell some property in Mexico.

What’s that got to do with an art gallery?

All the pictures above are from the ground floor of the Mexican Embassy in Montevideo. When we arrived, the receptionist remember who we were, and why we were there. The consul was gracious and welcoming.

Mexican Embassy, Montevideo
The Mexican Embassy in Montevideo: warm and welcoming.

Now, I have nothing bad to say about the US Embassy personnel in Montevideo. They were in fact surprisingly accommodating when I recently renewed my passport.

US Embassy, Montevideo
US Embassy in Montevideo. Not warm and welcoming.

But one can’t help but notice the contrast, even without surrendering all personal possessions and passing through several bomb-proof doors for the privilege of entering.

Construction symbolically started on July 4, 1966. US Independence day. At that time, the diplomatic pouch from Washington, DC, sometimes included fine wires that could be inserted between teeth, in order to apply an electrical charge to the gums. No, it wasn’t for oral hygiene.

Not a pleasant story, but essential reading: Uruguay, 1964 to 1970: Torture—as American as apple pie.


Electricity tends to be expensive in Uruguay, and most people where we live use gas, called “supergas,” for cooking. It’s not a good choice for heating, since it adds humidity, which, combined with temperature, is a fine recipe for unhealthy mold growth. For that reason, we chose to ignore the gas plumbing in the incomplete house we bought, and instead deal with the regular replenishment of garafas (carafes? um, thanks Google Translate).

Which replenishment has been an issue of late, because whoever delivers or refills or produces these things has apparently been on strike. I really don’t care which. Despite being pretty conversant in the language, one plus of living here (as when I lived in West Germany in the 1980s) is that a lot of (verbal/propaganda) nuance escapes me. I’m not big on “news.”

Anyway, turns out we have a lot of them, these steel pressurized containers.

The reason why is a little interesting. We bought a house with a casita (little house) for our 22-year-old son to occupy. We bought a gas heater, not trusting him (wisely) to restrain himself with electric heat which, given our “intelligent option” from UTE, the government electric company, basically triples the electric rate at peak times — 5PM-11PM, when residential heat is really nice in the winter — but makes it relatively cheap to operate an electric clothes dryer, which we really like, the other 19 hours of the day. So we needed another garafa. Then, some rather strange Americans — oy vey, whole other story — were selling shit, including several garafas for USD 50. At a time when a “new” (bear with me) garafa cost more like USD 75-80. No brainer. Why this idiot woman wouldn’t simply sell them back to the supplier baffled me. But hey.

OK (you’ve now borne), turns out you can “buy” these garafas, but you can’t sell them back. In other words, you can’t waltz into your local gas dealer, say, thanks, it’s been great, but I’m leaving and want my money back.

You’ve purchased the right to exchange gas tanks ad infinitum. You don’t actually own a specific tank, as we did in Mexico when my son got into glasswork. You own this right to exchange that which you cannot sell.

And now you barely have the ability to exchange. Hence, I feel great accomplishment that I went to Parque del Plata Norte and Marindia (opposite directions) this morning and came home with this: two exchanged 13 kg gas bottles..

bottled gas, uruguay
O frabjous day. Callooh. Callay.


A good stick is hard to find

When we began to walk with Syd’s dogs, Syd pointed to an area that would flood, come winter. That seemed unlikely at the time, but sure enough —.

For the last few months (it’s spring now) the dogs have joyfully frolicked in the water there, Benji settling in like the water dog. Yesterday he not only did that, he also rolled in it. Unfortunate, because the “pond” is drying up, and becoming mud. And, given cows that sometimes graze in the area, rather smelly mud at that. Cleaning a dog that smells of cow dung is not my favorite thing, so …

… today I took him to the beach instead. Our usual walk is about three kilometers (a bit under two miles). Depending on the hour, sunlight level, and wind, we walk one direction or the other, but one thing is certain: during the half kilometer on the beach, I will be throwing a stick for Benji, into the waves, the entire time.

But only if he drops the stick directly in front of me, or very close. Which he does. Sometimes he actually throws it in my path.

And good sticks are not always available. Much of the crap that washes up ends up breaking. So, when I get a good stick, I like to leave it in the dunes at the end of the walk. I took a picture a few days ago at the east end; thinking it remarkable that one in the foreground had been with us for at least four walks (good stick!).

sticks for the dog, Atlántida, Uruguay

Today we started again at the west end (afternoon; bright sun behind), and I was amused to find a collection of three sticks, obviously mine, at the west end, the buried boardwalk.

sticks for the dog, Atlántida, Uruguay

Here one has joined the collection at the east end.

For some reason, brings to mind T. S. Eliot, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”

No, sticks. Silly dogs and sticks.

Exciting new acquisition

bucket of fish heads and guts
It’s a perspective thing — the bucket is over half full.

I haven’t determined exactly how I’m going to incorporate fish waste into my close-to-totally-disorganized garden, but it will have to be dog-digging-proof. I have decided to make a substantial fence. But deciding is short of doing, and we happen to have a puppy who likes to dig — and meanwhile no fence.

Beyond remembered tales of American Indians dumping a fish head or carcass below each corn plant, my fish-in-the-garden story is this: shortly after arriving in Mexico in 2007, I attended an organic gardening class by a massively overweight American woman who happened to be very good at growing things. Actually, exceptionally good. She was also an outstanding cook and baker, and, unh huh, liked to eat. She had a plastic-lined pit in which she made compost tea from fish, and shared her secret source. There was, she said, at the end of a short two-block street that ended at the railroad tracks in Pátzcuaro, a place where they processed fish from the lake. You had to knock on an unmarked door, have containers, explain your request, and then, Hod willing and goods delivered, back out the two blocks, because there was no way to turn your car around.

Sorry, that’s above my pay grade.

She also explained how they cultivated contacts in the daily mercado for composting. They had to they dress down, relate to the locals, develop trusted relationships in order to get the valued vegetable waste. Wow. Heavy social investment.

Reference: there is no way a home gardener can get enough compost from home vegetable waste. You need organic materials from somewhere else.

Anyway, visiting a project of ours on Calle Independencia near the cemetery in Pátzcuaro, I discovered something amazing: garbage trucks appear there every afternoon. Guys with hand trucks and 55-gallon barrels go into the market and bring out the waste. I showed up day after day, with a plastic tub like the one I bought here, and soon they wanted to know before they went into the market: was there was anything in particular I favored? Onion greens? Carrot tops? It was deliciously ironic.

But it got better.

One day, a little truck pulled up. Fish waste. From the fish place. You know, the one where you had do a little ritual of obscure door-knocking and reverse-driving. I said to the garbage kid (remember, I’m an old fart, so everyone is a kid), fish is OK in the garden, eh? and he enthusiastically agreed and personally took my plastic tub to the truck and proudly filled it with fish heads and bones and guts, and placed it in the back of my several-years-old Toyota 4Runner.

Fortunately, I had a plastic-rubber floor liner. Because, in his enthusiasm, the kid had maximally-filled my plastic tub. And despite my caution, over the first tope — speed bump — I heard the flop of a fish carcass. On the next another. No matter. I could always hose that stuff off.

The problem arose — as today — when I realized that I had arrived home shortly before dinner time and actually had to do something with this treasure. In Mexico, it involved feverishly turning over my extensive compost pile, inserting fish waste, re-covering and weighting down plastic sheeting so our animals couldn’t get into it. It worked. And apparently fertilized magnificently, but by then we were the hell out of Mexico. Another story that I probably won’t tell here.

Meanwhile, here, a couple concrete blocks over the bucket this evening. Tomorrow? Stay tuned 😉

Thanks for reading this. Gardening is weird at times, no?