As Canadians, we are no strangers to winter.  Our acreage in Alberta looked like this for six months of the year:
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It was a frosty -42 degrees Celsius one January morning in 2005.  The CBC radio announcer warned that exposed skin would freeze instantly at that temperature, a pleasant thought to start the day with.  Confronting severe cold meant a careful layering of thermal underwear, sweater, jeans, parka, boots, hat, scarf and gloves before stepping outside.  It was hard to hear our muffled voices under all that protective gear, but as we walked with our dog through the frigid forest, we sang Gilles Vigneaults' Canadian anthem.  
"Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver,
Mon jardin, ce n'est pas un jardin, c'est la plaine,
Mon chemin ce n'est pas un chemin, c'est la neige,
Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver."
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Even the dog wore boots
Despite the past two weeks of unusually cold weather across South America, our winter experience here in Argentina has been a welcome change from the harsh Alberta climate.  Cold means -3 degrees C at night and 17 degrees C  at noon.  We had one snowfall this month, but the insignificant dusting of white stuff disappeared by midday.  The hardy greens that we planted in the vegetable garden late in the fall continue to thrive through the winter months and look like this:
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Salad greens
We do have winter jackets, but like our electric heating units, we only need them on for part of the day.  It's not unusual to wear a heavy wool coat in the morning and a t-shirt at lunch.  Today we sat outside on the terrace and enjoyed French onion soup,  a shish kebab of grilled beef and a green salad combining arugula, spinach and lettuce from the garden.  
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We paired our meal with Clos du Moulin Cabernet/Pinot Noir 2008, a fine blend elaborated by the French connection -  Bodegas Chandon - in Lujan de Cuyo.  Aromas of ripe fruit, prunes and jam are followed by a smooth, silky mouth texture that finishes with tobacco and spice flavours.  A bottle of Clos du Moulin costs 25 pesos at Vea supermarket.
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"In the depths of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer." - Albert Camus
 

Faux Pas

07/22/2010

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I have been working on a series of photographs documenting the children who live on fincas in this area.  The style of photography I am aiming for is candid and natural, with the goal of showing the lifestyle of kids in rural Rama Caida; how they play, go to school and interact with friends and family.  My original  intent was to be objective, but I'm finding out just how hard (if not impossible) that is.
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Every farm household on our street has children, so my subjects are close at hand.   Driving home the other day, we passed a pair of boys playing in their front yard, and when they waved eagerly at us,  I decided to take out my camera and photograph them.   They were with a family member who was babysitting, so of course I explained the project I was working on and asked her for permission to take some pictures of the brothers.  She was intrigued to hear that I will be exhibiting the series of photos in Canada, and gladly gave her consent.  

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Shortly after I arrived home, I heard a horn honking at the gate.  The boys' parents Erica and Leo wanted to speak to me.  They were not at all concerned about the fact that I had taken a few photographs of their two sons, but were upset that the boys had not been cleaned up and properly dressed beforehand.  Embarrassed by the childrens' soiled jeans and casual sweatshirts, Erica invited  me to come over to her house later in the day to re-shoot my photos.  She also wanted to make sure that her newborn baby would be included in my pictures.  

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Waldemar children 1906
"The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people's reality, and eventually in one's own," wrote Susan Sontag in the 1977 collection of essays entitled "On Photography."   My concept of photography was clearly not the same as my neighbours', and my spontaneous timing  had offended her.    She would have preferred advance warning, allowing time to formally prepare the scene and present a cleaned-up version of her boys, ready to pose for a studio portrait.  Like any mother, she wanted her children to be presented in the best light.   I was guilty of behaving like a tourist,  seeking a personal souvenir to take home and show off.  

I apologized to Erica, and arranged a time to visit her house for another photography session.  I have little or no interest in creating the kind of photo she has in mind, but I have to make amends for my impropriety.  I'll have an extra portrait printed and framed for her to hang on the livingroom wall - not the one with the children playing freely in the dirt, but the other indoor shot with clean, pressed Sunday clothes, shiny shoes, combed hair and bright, smiling faces.  A photograph that reflects her perfectly valid version of reality, not my own.  

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"Even when photographers are most concerned with mirroring reality, they are still haunted by tacit imperatives of taste and conscience." 
                                                                           - Susan Sontag
 

Signs

07/16/2010

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Slick digital images are the norm in advertising today, but many San Rafael storefronts display hand-painted signs that are whimsical,  attractive and one-of-a-kind.   I toured the city with my camera to photograph some of the retro signs that liven up the streetscape.
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The anthropomorphic key is featured in several of the cerrajerias in town.  This one looks like a legless distant cousin of Mr. Peanut circa 1920, with characteristic gloved hands and stick limbs. 

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Another version on Rivadavia
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The scale of the faucet and bathroom fixtures makes these graphics stand out, even from a drive-by perspective. The images cover the exterior walls of the store and are signed by the artist, Mauro, in the lower righthand corner.  

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Mauro also created this smiling octopus whose legs surround the doorway of the pescaderia like brackets.  When the door is shut, it actually looks as if one tentacle is stuck inside!

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The giant sparky battery at Mario Stilo's has genuine 50s kitsch style.  It covers the garage door while overhead the catchy slogan reads "The battery of the future."

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A rather naive rendering of fruit fills in for the real thing during siesta time and after hours.  The produce has been painted directly on the surface of the security gate that covers the shop facade when the store is closed.  

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Sometimes the design of the hand-lettering is enough, without additional illustration.  This hardware store has a fine logo, with a bold typeface and a powerful uppercase "M".  It's just missing an "h" after the "c".   

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We went to the Tower Hotel for lunch,  ordered veal cutlet and laughed out loud when the meat arrived with a cheesy happy face on it!  

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Only the wine pairing presented a serious dining decision.  We sobered up and chose Infinitus Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2008, an excellent blend from Patagonia.  This wine announces its arrival with a strong aroma of cassis, raspberries and cranberries and offers medium body and smooth tannins.    The Domaine Vista Alba, owned by Frenchman Herve Joyaux Fabre, produces grapes in Alto Valley,  Rio Negro,  a cooler zone than Mendoza province's fruit-growing region.   A bottle of Infinitus Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot costs 19.50 pesos.

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Mendoza's irrigation system is unique in all of Argentina.  Water supplied by glacial run-off from the Andes  flows through a system of reservoirs and dams, canals and ditches to convey moisture to fields, orchards and vineyards.  Gravity driven flood irrigation was the brainchild of the Incas,  whose basic engineering concepts still work today to facilitate agriculture in a dry desert zone.
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Steel gates control the flow
Written into  the deed to our property of 7.5 hectares, is a clause that allows us 9.5 hours per week of irrigation time.  We pay an annual fee for water usage and must keep our bill up-to-date, otherwise the water rights can be reallocated to another finca.  A schedule of hours distributed by the Water Co-operative outlines start and finish times for all of the farmers on this  street who access water from the roadside riego.  Sometimes  our turn for irrigation occurs during the middle of the night, and at other times it takes place during the day.  Our worker is responsible for closing off the neighbour's gate and opening our own to allow water to flow onto our alfalfa field.  There is a spirit of mutual respect and co-operation inherent in the whole  system. If your crop needs extra water, you can usually find someone down the road who is not using their turn and will gladly give you additional hours.  If you're not available to irrigate during your specified time, you can work out a trade with another farmer.   The weekly give and take of such a vital resource keeps neighbours on good terms.  

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Winter riego, clean and dry
At the beginning of June the water is completely shut off at the dams.  The imposed dry spell of about 6 weeks is an opportunity for cleaning the system and making any necessary repairs.  Each finca owner is required by law to clean the riego of the immediate upstream neighbour, clearing any weeds and debris that might obstruct the flow of water onto the land.  This is  usually done by burning the vegetation in and around the canal, and working the channel smooth with a hoe.  An inspector of waterworks comes around to each finca to  make sure that the cleaning has been completed.

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Summer riego, flowing


We look forward to July 14th, the day when the water returns.  The babbling of the stream that fills the canal is a welcome sound, a harbinger of spring and renewed growth.  It is a gentle assurance that the cycle of the growing season will soon start all over again, and the land will produce an income.  

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We buy fish during the dry times at Pescaderia Puerto Deseado on Av. Balloffet.   The most economical  fish to buy in this shop is merluza or hake.  Our South African friends tell us that hake is used for bait in their country, but it's the only fresh fish available in San Rafael.   We purchase four milanesas, which are filets covered with a seasoned breadcrumb mixture, ready to be fried.   

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The fish dinner pairs well with Cabrini Chardonnay 2005.  This wine has notes of green apple, mushrooms and damp vegetation,  followed by an acidic finish.  It comes from Perdriel, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, from a bodega established in 1918 and operated today by the fourth generation of the Cabrini family.    A bottle of Cabrini Chardonnay costs  19.90 pesos.  Four milanesas de merluza cost 14.99 pesos.

Here's a link to an excellent seafood cookbook entitled "A Good Catch" by Jill Lambert.   I picked up a copy during a trip to Wolfville, Nova Scotia and was delighted to find my son Nick Nutting listed as a contributing chef, with his recipe for octopus included in the collection.  This book offers sustainable seafood recipes from the top chefs in Canada, while promoting the idea of eating locally harvested,  fresh, nutritious fruits de mer.  

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BsAs

07/02/2010

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In need of a cultural break, we visited Buenos Aires for a few days to enjoy some music, dance, fine art, film and theatre.  There is a daily flight with Aerolineas Argentina from teeny tiny San Rafael airport to the big city.  It takes only an hour and a half to travel from quiet campo to bustling metropolis for a weekend of entertainment.
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The most exciting event of our recent trip was the arteBA '10 contemporary art fair held at La Rural exhibition space.   Over the years we have attended art fairs in Frankfurt, Maastricht, Amsterdam and Toronto, so we have several models for comparison when it comes to rating the Buenos Aires event.  This  fair was first class all the way - from curatorship to lighting to visual presentation.  The artworks, drawn from commercial  galleries all over South America, ranged from representational  to abstract and included photography, installation pieces and video, as well as more traditional paintings and sculptures.  

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Anzizar with his painting
"Urban Birdwatching" by Jose Luis Anzizar appealed to me as a joyous and elegant series of canvases created with collaged elements cut out and applied to the surface.  The artist's catalogue quotes him as  saying that this group of paintings,"rescues the surrounding visual chaos which we usually overlook."  The random nature of the squiggled lines suggests a haphazard flight path, or the casual doodles of a wandering mind,  intercepted every now and then with an image of a bird or the silhouette of an aircraft.  These paintings, presented by Elsi del Rio gallery, seem to capture the buzz of Buenos Aires.

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VO4 by Ventoso
A fascinating series of wall-mounted sculptures caught my eye in Renoir Galeria de Arte's booth.  These works, created by Abel H.Ventoso combine forms and linear patterns made from chunks of high density foam. The artist's background as an architect clearly informs his refined volumetric compositions.  I like the  way subtle tonal variations of black and grey affect the spatial relationships in this piece.

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Magdalena Murua's black and white
Artist Magdalena Murua's work was presented at the fair by Praxis International Art.  Murua cuts and pastes minute pieces of comic books, creating a mosaic effect from the small bits of colour or black and white cartoons.  She starts with a grid and then applies the segments intuitively in stripes or waves.  These works read as op art abstracts from a distance, and collage at close range, where graphic traces and fragments of text from the comics are visible.  

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The only questionable aspect of the BA fair was the pricing of the art.  When I asked gallery owners for prices, every small work was $3,500 U.S. and every large work was $10,000 U.S.  I assume that this was a starting price point, meant to be negotiated.  We are used to a North American square inch price formula that's objective and consistent with the size of the canvas.   Nevertheless, the values at arteBA appeared to be quite reasonable for both emerging and mid-career artists, and any serious collector could find high quality work here at a good price.  

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After the show, while waiting for a cab to take us back to our hotel, we couldn't help but notice multiple graffiti stencils decorating the streetscape.  This artist's message certainly hits home.   

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Empire Thai
Looking at art does work up an appetite, so we headed for Empire Thai on Tres Sargentos.  Owner Kevin Rodriguez, a banker from New Jersey, moved to Buenos Aires in 1996 and established a Thai restaurant as an alternative to what he describes as "the city's three p's - pizza, pasta and parrilla."  And what a welcome dining experience it is!   The  coconut soup served here is absolutely the best we've ever eaten, and accompanied by a dish of Pad Thai with krupuk and a plate of tender beef satay, makes a satisfying meal.  Kevin lets me in on the chef's secret -  he makes his own coconut milk from scratch.

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Galerias Pacifico




Just around the corner on San Martin is the luxury shopping mall Galerias Pacifico, which offers a wide range of leather goods, cashmere sweaters, cosmetics, fragrances, jewels, designer purses and electronics.  On the upper floor is the Borges Cultural Centre, which houses a small auditorium.  We enjoyed a Sunday evening performance of Evolutionarte, a dynamic flamenco show directed by Marcela Rodriquez.  

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The streets of Buenos Aires reflect all the contrasts of life in Latin America.  The well-to-do casually step over the poor souls who sleep on the sidewalk.  The city is both charming and harsh, beautiful and ugly, with a veneer of extravagant wealth and an underbelly of desperate poverty.    It is an eye-opener. 

Buenos Aires' beautiful Teatro Colon offers the ultimate theatre experience:  see my article on Hubpages.