The unlikely tools

It was a little past four in the afternoon. I was driving the dogs back from walking with Syd and his dogs. Since my wife has been under the weather and not feeling much like cooking, I stopped in a place I had found to buy a rotisserie chicken. No sooner had I gotten into the car with it, than a rental car pulled up next to us. The dogs started barking like crazy, so I got out of the car to find out what they needed. When they learned my nationality, they started speaking in English, telling me about various relatives in America.

So far, so good.

They said they were Italians. The driver’s name was Marco. The passenger might have been Giulio, but I’ll call him Guido because it sounds sleazier. As you’ll see, that serves.

They worked for a company called Telarini, I think he said. Something about steel. Had I heard of it? No.

(Doesn’t matter; it doesn’t exist.)

They had a flight out tonight, and their manager had given them a parting gift of two boxes of tools their company manufactured for German companies – or something–, telling them they could sell them for [whatever they wanted]. They couldn’t take them on the plane tonight, they said, so they needed to sell them first.

OK, why? Even if they had to pay for extra luggage, if these tools were worth what they said, why wouldn’t they? And why are they waiting until the last minute to try to sell them?

They were looking for people who spoke Italian or English. Because they didn’t speak good Spanish, they didn’t want to just sell them on the street.

Umm, so what exactly are you trying to do here?

The boxes were in the back seat. He opened the first one, which had a very impressive looking hammer drill and cordless dril, with just enough charge to make it turn a bit. “It even has the diamond bits,” he told me.


He then opened the second box, with several shelves, which he said contained 200 tools of Vanadian steel. I think the number was a tad exaggerated, but the tools – as with the drills – certainly did look good. Better quality, at least, than 95% of what you can buy in Uruguay.


The he pulled out a “factura” (invoice; he had previously waved a piece of paper in the shape of an airline boarding pass to underscore their desperation), “since we’re gentleman.”

Yes, we’ve just met for the first time on a dirt road alongside a highway, so of course we’re gentlemen. Got it.

The “factura” had no currency indicated, and showed a total, with 23% IVA, of 2,800+. He said this is the dollar amount the  Sheraton sells them for.

Aha! So now Sheraton Hotels sell tools, and your manager gave you a gift with an invoice? This narrative is getting rich!

Did I want to help them out by buying both toolboxes for $2,000 US?

Uh, no. The tools look impressive (that price is outrageous), but regardless, I need few tools, and don’t collect tools (or anything, including carcasses of ancient cars) for fun.

But I know someone who does! That guy could also evaluate their quality better than I. And he’d know what to really pay.

Enter Burkhard. I called. He was in the middle of something – slaughtering and dressing out a sheep, it turns out* – and couldn’t make it for an hour. Can I just lead them out there now? I asked. Sure: so ten minutes later, I pull off Ruta 11 and beckon them to turn in the driveway. I don’t plan on hanging around for long. We wave at Burkhard, who’s maybe a hundred meters away with a couple of people with a pickup truck, a carcass hanging from the raised front end of his tractor. With the remote, he opens the gate to the driveway and starts up the rise. Guido yells to Marco to pull the car in. More than once. Marco is busy playing with his cell phone.

Hey Marco, you’re going off script here – we’re supposed to be eager to sell some tools. Pay attention!

When Guido walks down and taps on the hood of the car, Marco snaps back into character. Within a minute, he’s got the car pulled in, Burkhard joins us, and Guido’s got the back door of the car open, displaying the tools. I bid them adieu, and Marco thanks me, calling me a real gentleman. But of course.

*Burkhard had sold some sheep to a pig farmer, and was amazed to learn that guy could skin a sheep in five minutes, something that took Burkhard an hour. So he arranged for him to help with this slaughter, and learn some new skills.

Back home, a while after dark (we’re at winter solstice, so that’s fairly early), when I figured they must be through, I called Burkhard on our land line. No answer.

After a while more, I get a little apprehensive. As I reach for my cell phone to send him a text message, our land line (with no caller ID) rings, and I pick it up saying, “I was just about to send you a text message. What happened?”

He told me that a couple of years ago, in the process of trading his chacra in the boonies (Lavalleja) for a gorgeous hilltop property on Ruta 11, and there talking to Sr. Fiore, the seller, one of these same two guys came by, also in a rental car, with the same story about the airport et al, and tools to sell.

“Incredible!” I said. “So did you send these guys packing?

No, he replied, I bought them for USD 500.

In fact, during the previous encounter, he had wanted to buy the tools, but so had Fiore, and Burkhard didn’t feel he should upstage him.

In this encounter, when Burkhard told Guido that they’d met before, Guido insisted it was impossible – before taking the cash, and returning to whence they came, to emerge another time with (smuggled? stolen? counterfeit?) tools they have to sell “before their flight tonight.”

Sounds legit to me, eh? FWIW, I find no evidence that a company called CAM Germany exists.


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.





You can’t make this stuff up

You’ll recall that I (charitably, I now think) attributed a botched attempt to buy a mattress on Mercado Libre to retrograde Mercury. I’ll get back to that.*

When we arrived in Uruguay in September 2009, we had bought an unfinished house. By the time we were ready for furnishings, there happened to be a sales-tax-free (at some places) weekend. We took advantage of it to avoid an involuntary 23% donation to the government. Turns out the stove we bought was 50 cm wide, but the opening in the countertop 60 cm. Since we had kitchen cabinets built a little taller than standard, the stove was also a bit short. I may lack the resources (and motivation) to restore an antique car, but I have no problem cranking up the table saw and making a little riser and side shelf for the stove.


However, after over eight years, with paint wearing off the front, and the mechanical connection that pulls out oven shelves when you open the door completely shot, I decided it was time for one that both fit the space, and looked good.** And I found one on Mercado Libre:


So I ordered it, said I’d like to pick it up myself in Montevideo (after the mattress fiasco, I don’t want the wrong product delivered to my door).

The seller sent me instructions how to pay. And asked for my phone number to coordinate delivery.

So I went to the bank, withdrew cash, took it to Abitab and paid.

And they called. I asked if I could pick it up the next day. Since they apparently had to deliver to a third-party warehouse, the woman said she’d call me tomorrow with more info.

She didn’t (BTW this is a common theme in Uruguay), so I sent a reminder email that evening. The next morning, I get a message from them: lamentablemente (also a common theme here) we don’t have this stove, but for USD 30 more we can sell you one similar. Or refund your money.

Incompetence and passive acceptance of mediocrity comprise the warp and weft of many, if not most, economic transactions in Uruguay, at least at the retail level. I’ve had years to get used to this. Even so, I was irate. Rather than tell them to give me my money back and insist that I would never buy something else from pond scum like them, I filed a complaint. Said they were doing false advertising, and should not be allowed on Mercado Libre. Maybe someone at Mercado Libre will read it some day, but in the end the message went straight to the vendor.

Before getting to their response, let’s review:

  1. Vendor offered an item for sale
  2. I ordered it (“bid on it” in their terminology for some reason)
  3. They sent payment instructions and accepted payment
  4. They contacted me to coordinate delivery
  5. Two days later, tell me they don’t have the product but offer to upsell me something else

And so, what is their response?

– It’s a shame the customer has to have this attitude. After all, he never asked us if we actually had the item in stock.

With that, the issue was closed; I couldn’t reply. So I went back to their listing page, and posted that I’m sorry to have caused a problem. I’m not from the Third World, and in other places companies don’t advertise and accept payment for products they don’t have.

Too harsh? You tell me.

More likely – if you live here – you’ll have similar horror stories. Feel free to vent– beyond having a heroic sense of humor, or devolving to subservient acceptance of abuse and mediocrity, what else do you have besides wanting to break things?

* I now tend to think the vendor never had the mattress he advertised, but hoped we’d be the “acceptance of mediocrity” part of the warp and weft and accept whatever he sent us.

** regarding the stove we now have: between our house, casita, and the house in the country, we have three kitchens to furnish and only two stoves, so the replaced stove will fill a personal need.



Finally, a break from dreary weather

To be fair, we have had some episodes of sunshine during the last five or six days, but the overall weather theme has been dreariness. Today we had scattered clouds and bright (but not warm!) sun.

Interestingly, several years ago we were told by a solar guy that with a hot water system in Uruguay, you need to plan your tank capacity for three days without sun, on average the longest you’d need. In the short time since then, several winters have proved that quite inaccurate. We never got a solar hot water system installed – a little complicated on our house – so I don’t pay particular attention, but it seems to me there have been many stretches longer than three days without sunshine.

Anyway, a new sight today, several blocks from the end of the feria:

cany sweet, whatever that means

“Candy sweet.” A ladder up a tree, and further to the left, a gas-powered electrical generator. Since it was chilly, I didn’t hang around to learn more of the nature of the (presumed) business. There will be time, if it becomes a regular feature. More likely, though, is that it will simply go away, maybe after a couple more appearances.

sunset, Atlántida, Uruguay

And a lovely sunset, with a clear sky undimmed by criss-crossing “persistent contrails” (nudge nudge wink wink) that mar the sky almost always and almost everywhere in North America and Europe.


Opening the wine

We were recently the recipients of a couple of bottles of excellent Swiss white wine (thanks Syd and Gundy!), a Humagne Blanche (fascinating: according to Wikipedia, “the total Swiss plantations of the variety in 2009 stood at 30 hectares (74 acres).” And a bottle of Aigle les Murailles. Both excellent, and mostly unknown outside of Switzerland.

These bottles had corks. I generally do not rue the transition to screw tops for wine, though I admit I don’t completely understand the ecological implications.

So, translate to Uruguay (and notice this has only been a recent issue): a nice Stagnari Chardonnay, produced maybe 45 km (28 miles) away, accompanied by Camembert and blue cheese. Sounds good, eh?

Stagnari Chardonnay - pliers required to remove top
Sorry for the ill-exposed photo 🙁

Well, yeah, except for one thing: can’t unscrew the top because it doesn’t separate from the part below. Hence, we have now as Essential Kitchen Equipment a pair of needle-nosed pliers to tear the top off in, inevitably, a half-dozen or more pieces.

Q: How do you say quality control in Latin America?
A: ¿Qué?