Jack of all, master of …

A German friend introduced me to the term “project fatigue,” and it describes perfectly the MEGO (my eyes glaze over) feeling I get with renovations and other work proceeding at glacial (lack of) speed.

Also, when I hire someone to do a job, it is not my job to tell them how to do it. Get on with it!

And so it was that I wasn’t paying particular attention when Martín put the sheetrock ceilings in our little country house a few years ago. He used wood instead of steel framing, which I thought poor judgment. In fact, the first batch of lumber delivered was so warped and twisted he had to send it all back. When I asked, he said that if steel framing gets bent, you can’t straighten it out again. OK, cast logic to the wind:

  1. Why should it get bent in the first place?
  2. What about the natural tendency of lumber to warp and twist – especially the low-grade stuff sold here?
  3. Oh, and what about bugs eating wood, which they really like to do here?

Anyway, I wasn’t there, and wasn’t paying attention, because I would have spotted this immediately. Anyone who has done anything with drywall would. In fact, you would find it incredible that someone would pretend to know what they were doing and do something so wrong.

Here’s one example of what’s happening everywhere:

drywall error

The long edges of a sheet of drywall are tapered. To cover that joint, you use a 6″ knife and put a thin layer of “mud” (I’ll have to find out what that’s called here), then lay on top of it paper (or plastic mesh) “tape,” then the finish layer of mud on top of that.

What you don’t do is simply put the tape in the joint, and cover it with mud. Which is exactly what Martín – the jack of all trades – did here. What hasn’t fallen down, will.

Unfortunately, this is quite common here. Everybody’s a builder. Everybody’s an electrician. Everybody’s a plumber. If drywall is a solution, everyone knows how to do drywall.

Except that they don’t.

There are exceptions, but after nine years I am still amazed at the general Uruguayan acceptance of mediocrity. Chinese power tools with two-month guarantees come to mind. Vendors who advertise online, and take money for, products they don’t have in stock. Yet another occurrence last couple days: twice charged then revoked charge on my credit card without explanation. But I have an explanation: they discovered they simply didn’t have the product they advertised.

Es lo que hay. “That’s what it is.” Mediocrity. How unfortunate.




Shopping for most things in Uruguay is not fun, given prices, lack of selection and quality, and not-quite-ready-for-first-world business practices. But recently, shopping for tile, at least I found a title amusement in these ceramic tile displays.

Tiles, Uruguay

OK, the English-sign thing. That’s definitely got appeal. Of course they’re missing out by not including possessive apostrophes, but ta.

Tiles, Uruguay

I don’t see how ceramic versions of old American license plates would find a place in too many design schemes. But then again I’m often surprised at the limits of my imagination.

Tiles, Uruguay

Which brings me to what I bought for the terrace above our dining room, in an atempt to solve the moisture/mold problems below. I found a great deal on these 50cm (almost 20″) square tiles: good albedo for summer heat deflection, nice texture. The kid at the store (at a certain age, almost everyone is a kid) advised I should take my 24 square meters in two loads of about 300 kg (660 lbs) each, given my vehicle.

The first trip went swimmingly. On the second trip, I decided I should stop at Tienda Inglesa to stock up on wine, which involved a turn to the right up a ramp. As with the first trip, the tiles were vertical in the back, leaning to the right.

Kar-umpph! Load shift to the left! I did my shopping, then carefully re-leaned the tiles, noticing that happily, few had broken, and with them just corners.

Getting off the Ruta Interbalnearia, I realized we were short on cardboard, still necessary for fire-starting (it’s been a few weeks since this happened) and provision for night time puppy “accidents.” So I pulled slightly off the road, which involved a slight incline, and kar-umpph! This time the fall wasn’t quite as drastic, seeing as it was limited by ten bottles of wine – ten because that’s what fits into a very sturdy bag we have, gift from a friend in Mexico.

And – sorry if this disappoints you – the story does NOT continue with my ruing the odor of alcohol replacing (what’s left of) our new-car smell. No bottles broke, and though significantly more tiles suffered breakage, overall it’s not as bad as you might have imagined.

And there is – at least was – plenty more where it came from.




On the walk

I’ve walked by this many times, but this day it caught my attention: burned-out (from the fire that deforested our dog-walk area) trunk of a pine tree. Charred outer bark, and inside the wood is disintegrating in rectilinear chunks. Huh?

Then, a snake. OK, just a snake – but no, the air was quite cool; the sun was quite hot, and the sky was blue dotted with puffy clouds, and it was lying still, almost into the sandy trail. We tried to keep the dogs from noticing it – and they didn’t – but because Syd and I stopped to look at it, three dogs came back, curious about the unusual human behavior. One almost danced on top of it, but amazingly none stepped on it. And still it didn’t move.

My best guess is it got to the side of the trail in lovely radiant heat from the sun, but when a cloud blocked the sun the cool air took over, its energy went away. I am not a biologist, much less a herpetologist. If you know more, I’d be interested to hear if I’ve got a handle on this.

It appears to be Lystrophis dorbignyi, or South American hognose snake.