Children’s toys at the feria

Yesterday was the weekly open-air market. It can be fun after you’ve been here a while. The “seed and nut ladies” who enjoyed my account of puppy Mocha’s first encounter with the wood stove some time ago (“Heat! Ooh, I like this!) immediately pointed out that they had unsalted cashews, which they hadn’t last week. I talked briefly with a girl I’ve never seen before selling loofahs (for bath sponges) that her grandfather grows. When I mentioned that my attempts to grow them had less than stellar results (wow, it’s been over five years!), she offered an explanation I didn’t really get, concluding with a smile that it’s “medio complicado.” Fair ’nuff. I bought some cheese from a young couple who are new to the feria, telling the customer in front of me whose dog had  just caused an uproar, that the owner of the (many) “uproar” dogs told me that her dogs never bark. Got a good laugh with that.

I’m reminded that before the feria, returning from a few small chores in the campo, I stopped at the carnicería (butcher). Only Javier, the proprietor, was there, busily getting things ready. He didn’t have what I needed for the dogs – will have all tomorrow! – but found a couple kilos of bones, cut them on the band saw to a size I asked, threw them in a bag and handed them to me – see you tomorrow! No charge.

This has happened before. Nice.

feria Atlántida Uruguay

On my return, I notice a large display of toys – haven’t seen this before. However, what really struck me was this:

toy guns, Atlántida, Uruguay

toy guns. Which reminded me of a photo-op I missed a few weeks ago. A couple of kids, maybe 10 years old, passed me twice in the feria with one of the more realistic imitation guns. The second time, the kid pointed it at me again. I smiled. The thought to take a photo pf them came slowly and by then the moment had passed.

In many (most?) parts of the Untied Snakes, it would be extremely dangerous to even be near this kid. There, overzealous cops don’t have to pay for their own ammunition (as they do here, apparently!), and think nothing of firing dozens and dozens of bullets in the direction of such a grave “threat.”

When I was his age, my best friend and I, saturated with World War II movies featuring glorious American soldiers saving the world, had a contest to see who could do the best “death” from atop a pile of dirt on a construction site. Neither mother was too pleased with the cleanup that episode required. So what is a 10-year-old boy with a toy gun thinking about now? Maybe movies, but more likely his mind is orders of magnitude more saturated with first-person shooter video games.





Plumbing in Uruguay

Resolving a little plumbing issue in the country yesterday set off a cascading series of Uruguayan plumbing memories.

Some involve sheer incompetence, some … well, let’s start with the incompetence. If you’ve been with me a while, you might remember this gem from jack-of-all-trades Nestor (because anyone in Uruguay who sort of knows one trade thinks he knows every trade). The lower patch fills the first hole he made for the horizontal vent pipe above.

Uruguayan plumbing

A few years ago, a newcomer trenchantly reflected on Uruguayan plumbing, “Didn’t we see this in Pompeii?”

Yes, sweetie, just minus the PVC. Let’s trace the wastewater route from our kitchen. 1) First it goes into the 20 liter grasera that we had to buy to replace an 18 liter, perfectly functional, grasera. 2) It goes into another box. 3) It goes to another box. 4) It goes to another box. All of which are prone to clogging, of course, from grease that escapes the grasera..

Uruguayan plumbing

Before we get to box #5, I should point out that boxes 3 and 4 should not exist, but this being an owner-built house, the line went from box #2 to the big unmarked concrete top, to a septic tank not in the original plans. We only discovered this when we had to “regularize” our plans three years ago (a process which maybe will be finalized this year?).

So from there the water goes to box 5, which should have been a right angle turn, to box 6, where the downspout from the upstairs bathroom and pipe from the downstairs one join the party, to box 7 …

Uruguayan plumbing

… where it makes another turn to box 8, and finally to (9) the septic tank.

Uruguayan plumbing

Wherein lie a couple more stories. You’ll notice a dark square in the top of box 8. That is where I filled the hole in it with concrete. When our erstwhile know-everything handyman Martín cleverly used leftover tiles to cover the septic tank, he somewhat less cleverly decided that all it needed was an opening big enough for the “barométrica” (tank pumping) truck’s hose.

Uruguayan plumbing

When we launched into the above-mentioned “regularization,” we had to pay someone else to undo his handiwork, because an inspector had to stick his head in there to confirm that the septic tank was actually connected to the vent pipe in the corner.

Uruguayan plumbing

That may seem ridiculous, but the same Martín cleverly solved friends’ hideously-out-of-code plumbing inspection problem by installing a couple of plumbing boxes in the yard that made sense to the inspector, but weren’t actually connected to each other. Or anything else.

But that’s not my story to tell.


Of paltas and comedrejas

The other night, quite late, I let the dogs out to the back yard and a huge uproar. Grabbing the flashlight, I saw a “dead” comadreja (possum) on the grass. (“Dead:” of course it was gone the next morning.)

By daylight, I noticed something near one of our two very prolific (this year, at least) avocado trees.

Possum damage to avocado harvest

Look to the top left and lower right, and you’ll see what look like mushrooms, or eggs, or – you guessed it – avocado pits.

Today, under the other, which produces larger fruit, I saw more evidence of recent activity.

Possum damage to avocado harvest

That avocado skin in the foreground measures 5 inches (12.7 cm) from end to end – a serious guacamological loss.

The first tree drops fruit; this one doesn’t. Since possums are very adept climbers, I suspect this represents an unauthorized harvest.

Possum damage to avocado harvest

Which is perhaps the reason I have had little scraps of fence wire hanging on the garage wall for so long. I don’t know if this will work, but the critter will have to navigate points of wire at the top, and the boards should make it difficult to get right next to the trunk. We’ll see.

If you’ve spent time in Uruguay, you may have noticed an abundance of parrots. They are quite charming until you plant fruit trees, and you find them taking a few bites out of each pear or fig.

One person told me that there weren’t always so many. It seems that the rapid increase in eucalyptus and pine planting in the past 30-40 years has given parrots very tall trees for build their nests – above the range of possums, who presumably like parrot chicks and eggs in addition to avocados.

The great curupay cleanup

Over three years ago, I scored the better part of a deck’s worth of dense curupay boards. I did only one small project, then a picnic table which, despite complete sanding and refinishing with marine varnish after a couple years, quickly weathered again into a mottled mess. I lost interest in working with this curupay again, and have from time to time cut up some of the smaller lengths for firewood.

Today I got a load of “real” firewood delivered, which prompted me to clean up the garage where we store it, where also lived an unused bicycle,* seen below restored to its previous parking spot outside the casita.


Before today — and for three years — the space from its rear tire to the far wall has been a pile of curupay deck boards of various lengths, collecting dirt and spiders and generally being ugly.

Remembering that I have had no further woodworking interest in those boards in three years, I made an executive decision, cranked up the table saw, and rendered them.

I saved a few of the longer and nicer boards por las dudas (who knows what sudden woodworking inspiration might arise?).

curupay firewood

I put some pieces inside by the stove, and stacked the rest in the workshop. I was quite surprised how small the pile turned out. But in heat value, it’s probably the equivalent of pile four times as big of red eucalyptus (not cut into flat boards, of course).

Last winter was delightfully mild, which probably accounts for our bumper crop of avocados now, and I hope for the same this winter — so far very pleasant — but if it gets cold, we’re at least a little prepared!

*  a quality German women’s bike purchased from Syd and Gundy’s *interesting* tenant Herbert for a whopping USD 40 years ago. Interestingly, another purchase from Herbert, a hand-held circular saw, I mentioned on another post about curupay.

“Engine: start”

Chevy Aveo

A friend returning to the States for an extended period generously offered us the use of his car, and refused to accept any money for it.  I wasn’t too concerned about that, because I could tell it needed some work.

And boy, did it: entire front suspension and brake pads, rear wheel cylinders, alignment, oil change … a little over USD 700. But, seeing as we’ve had the car seven weeks and probably will need it one more, the cost will come to something like USD 12.50/day, and we “leave the campsite cleaner than we found it,” as was the goal when I was a camp counselor. Win-win.

But there is one more thing it needs: a new battery. Sometimes it doesn’t want to start, and this morning it simply didn’t, even with my command “Engine-start!” as I turned the key.

Which is from a silly 2009 movie called 2012 Apocalypse. If you have access to US Netflix, you can see it at 1:42.

2012 Apocalypse - "engine, start"

The movie has some other compelling scenes: the Vatican destroyed in an earthquake (1:30), the White House destroyed by an aircraft carrier in an immense tsunami (1:34), and helicopters flying in the Himalayas with giraffes slung beneath them (1:44) – you just can’t make this stuff up.

Anyway, maybe I’ll spring for a battery. I have to go to the supermarket now. Engine – start!