Requisite autumn photo

autumn tree

Lovely, sunny, crisp autumn day. I walked into town to pick up a $3,000 Western Union transfer (cost: $6) so that now we officially have enough money in the bank here to pay for our new car, which should arrive in the next few days. From where, I have no idea. We ended up with the Meriva in 2009 because it was available: with other makes and models we might have preferred, we were told to “come back in January when the new cars arrive.” At $1,000+ per month for a nothing-special rental car, we did not like that idea.


Maybe, maybe not.

pesticides sign, Tienda Inglesa, Atlántida, Uruguay

Pesticides? No thanks! Tienda Inglesa looks out for you. We monitor for the presence of pesticide residues in the fruits and vegetables that we offer.

Sorry: no you don’t. Now that you’re owned by Americans, your marketing people have determined that pesticides are becoming a concern to hoi polloi, so you pretend you’re concerned and looking after your customers. You’re not. It’s simply bullshit.

Oh but wait! There’s a Gmail email address. That somehow lends legitimacy?

OK, I will write them for specifics. But I just spotted this today, and I’m calling bullshit.


Paper or plastic?

Sometime last week, I had to pick up something at our friendly local pharmacy. Almost everywhere I shop other than supermarkets, people know I prefer not to take a plastic bag if I can avoid it. So I prepared to put in my pocket the “puppy aspirin” I had just bought (can’t bring myself to tell that story just yet), the smiling little man behind the counter proudly waved a paper bag, something I’d never seen before!

Then, at the farmacia in Tienda Inglesa, the same thing, again first paper bag I’ve ever seen there.

paper bag from pharmacy, Uruguay

I was reminded of the early 80s in the US, and the supermarket checkout question: paper or plastic?

Was it the same in Uruguay? Did there used to be paper bags for groceries?

Because here’s a strange thing: Plastic bags are made from oil. Uruguay has no oil. Paper bags are made from trees. Uruguay has not only an abundance of trees; it also has pulp mills.

So why are plastic bags ubiquitous in Uruguay “Natural?”


The retrograde mattress

Three or four times a year, an astronomical event occurs that I’ve learned to take seriously: Mercury going retrograde, meaning it appears to reverse its course for three weeks.

Mars retrograde – source:

It’s not because of the astronomical aspect, but the astrological. It’s a good time to make plans, but NOT arrange them, a good time NOT to buy anything mechanical or electronic, to be prepared for all kinds of communications snafus, on and on. And good luck if you sign a contract without reading the fine print five times. Here’s more.

In the early 2000s, I had two distinct related experiences.In one case, I had been on the phone with customers all week, but Thursday afternoon, all of a sudden I might a well have been speaking Urdu: communication simply ceased as conversation continued. Sure enough, Mercury had gone retrograde.

I had become frustrated with the limitations of my Macintosh, poring over the monstrous Computer Shopper magazine every month. One day I said to myself, just pick up the phone and order a PC! No sooner had I picked up the phone than I put it down again, checked online, and sure enough, Mercury had just gone retrograde. The purchase would most likely have been a disaster.

Similarly, friends here suddenly felt compelled to plan a holiday in Europe during the last retrograde Mercury period (22 March – 15 April). I warned them, but they were thrilled how easily all the plans fell together. Less thrilled when the plans started falling apart within a few days: rail strikes in France coincided with their bookings to and from Switzerland, and to add injury to insult, they were only able to get a 65% refund. Then airline strikes in Latin and America loomed, and Air France strikes threatened the flights they had booked in lieu of train tickets. Alas, all seems to be going well for them now.


Anyway, also ignoring my own advice, I purchased a mattress online during retrograde Mercury. It arrived two days later, and we struggled up the spiral staircase with it, started to remove the plastic, only to realize it was not what we ordered. And in fact, an un-flippable “pillow” mattress that we specifically did not want. The man who we phoned at the vendor’s showed absolutely no interest in finding a solution. Finally I reached a woman there, after seeing that a flete to return it would cost 1,500 pesos (USD 50+). She helpfully connected me with their flete operators, who quoted me 650 pesos. Mercado Libre was now involved, and assured me that the flete expense would be reimbursed. I wasn’t so sure.

The nice couple with their miniature van showed, strapped the mattress on the roof, and drove it back to Montevideo between rain showers. They assured me I didn’t need to pay, since it wasn’t my fault. So far, so good! I was a little concerned by the almost complete illegibility of the receipt they left.

illegible receipt, Uruguay

But it worked! A few days later, they showed up again, mattress strapped to the roof. And – drum roll please – again not the mattress we ordered! Knowing my wife didn’t speak much Spanish, the woman called the vendor, and hung up rolling her eyes. The “no help” man wanted her to convince us to accept the wrong mattress.

Finally, a month after the purchase, we did get a complete refund (less $17 exchange rate loss; the USD had gained in the meantime) with the help of Mercado Libre.

So, I hope I’ve caught your attention. Next occurrences of retrograde Mercury:

  • 26 July – 18 August 2018
  • 16 November – 6 December 2018

You can easily find them online.