When I studied  Cultural Conservation at the University of Victoria many years ago, one of the assignments was to complete an inventory of buildings.  The houses on one city block were recorded, photographed and evaluated using a weighted scoring system.  A building's significance was determined according to criteria such as historic features, style, condition, authenticity and age.   This exercise was a preliminary step in the process of heritage designation and long-term preservation of the city's architectural gems.   The lesson learned was that you have to know  and understand what is out there before you can protect it.
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I read with interest an article in Los Andes newspaper reporting that a team of high school students is creating an inventory of trees in the district of Guaymallen, near Mendoza city.   The students each have a section of the city to work on, and are busy recording location,  identifying species and evaluating the overall condition of individual trees.   What a great project for raising environmental awareness and laying the groundwork for an arboreal preservation plan!

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Trees at the edge of the canal on our finca
Canadian scientist Diane Beresford-Kroeger would applaud this endeavour.  In her 2010 book "The Global Forest" she stresses the importance of trees as "healers" of the planet, while explaining their vital role as hosts for diverse insect and bird life, and as anti-erosion and anti-famine plants.    She states that the Western forest has not been intelligently managed since the Middle Ages, when a seven-year renewable cycle meant continuity, and 64 items of market value were carefully harvested from the sustainable woodlot.   Beresford-Kroeger promotes the idea of creating a bioplan for one's farm that includes the addition of trees at the edges of the cultivated agricultural field.  


"A bioplan will walk organic farming one step further to increase the biodiversity of native species of plants and animals.  Quite often an organic farm, good though it may be, can be a desert, too, if the farm is just composed of mile upon mile of crops in an empty acreage.  The forest must come back to the farm in the form of an orchard, nut orchards and set-asides of select trees. "

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If you want to reintroduce a forest to your property, Beresford-Kroeger has these suggestions: 
  • Choose quality seeds or saplings  of species native to the local area, selected from the oldest, healthiest specimens.  These epicenter trees are the most resistant to drought, climate change, and pestilence.
  • Mix deciduous and coniferous trees.
  • Post bird boxes to encourage wildlife presence, (their manure adds necessary nitrogen and an assortment of plant seeds to the forest floor).
  • Allow wind to pass through, bringing spores for lichens, mosses, ferns and mushrooms.

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Alamos, a windbreak for the vineyards
Beresford-Kroeger would also be pleased to know that I am reading  the Kindle version of "The Global Forest" which was delivered in paperless format.   She points out that the sex hormones in trees called "gibberellins" are bleeding into the large bodies of water where trees are milled for the pulp and paper industry.  This huge  hormonal load is being dumped directly into our drinking water and xenochemicals  can now be found in the bodies of all mammals, including humans.   As she so eloquently says, "The broken forest is in our children's tears."

At her country home near Ottawa, Ontario,  Beresford-Kroeger has planted and cultivated, over a 30 year period, an incredible garden comprised of over 6000 species of trees, shrubs and flowers.  She also maintains a seed bank for the future, and is actively working to educate people about methods for the renewal and preservation of biodiversity.  


"The civilized world has not put a finger on the pulse of nature. It has ignored the pattern in which nature works, as if man himself is an independent species apart from the web of it.  The truth is that man is only one species and he stands on a fragile platform of life that is but a whisper away from death.  There is some time left.  There is time for a different way of thinking in which man can rethread the needle and sew a life for the future."

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Bodegas Los Toneles ( the barrels)  is located in Guaymallen at Bandera de los Andes 1393.  The winery boasts an excellent restaurant and conducts guided tours of their facility with wine-tastings.   Owned by the Millan family, Los Toneles  produced this bottle of  2 Estacas Chardonnay 2008, with its aroma of tropical fruit and toasted bread, a medium body and a pineapple finish.   We paired the wine with a citrus salad that celebrates the fruit of our trees -  grapefruit and orange segments, walnuts and green olives -  tossed with arugula, butter lettuce, endive and thin slices of goat cheese.   A bottle of 2 Estacas sells for 15 pesos.

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Citrus Salad
 
 
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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Spanish artist Antonio Camba is showing a new series of paintings entitled "Fronteras" at the PHI Espacio de Arte in General Alvear.  The abstract canvases  are polychromatic and white-on-white  compositions that refer to the experience of being a foreigner in a new country.  
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Antonio Camba
The layers of colour in each work vary from clean-edged stripes achieved with masking tape, to blended areas of scumbled colour.  The strata can be read as the individual's borders or limitations in the face of new experiences; the lines defining character pressured into direct contact with an unfamiliar environment, mindset and lifestyle.   There are instances where colours harmonize and other areas where tension is tangible, a dialogue represented by the formal juxtaposition of old and new, warm and cold, flexible and rigid, ragged and exact.  

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The Camba series reminds me of handmade Argentine textiles traditionally patterned with irregular striped sections of colour punctuated with white lines.  We have a rug in our livingroom  from Salta that is made from organically dyed wool, handwoven by a native artisan.  The design is asymmetrical and non-conforming, with the occasional protruding knot of wool adding texture to the piece.  It's as if the maker was playing by ear, improvising as the threads were added and used up.  Weaving requires the binding together of a warp (long vertical threads) and a weft (threads woven horizontally) to make a unified fabric.  As foreigners we sometimes assume that assimilation means a loss of identity or a challenge to totally re-invent one's self.  Perhaps our adaptation to a new place should be more like the process of weaving, where each thread is integrated into the whole cloth, but still retains distinct and meaningful characteristics.  

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After attending the vernissage in General Alvear, we enjoyed a slice of Squash Strata, a dish made from butternut squash layered with cheese and bound together  with an egg and milk wash.  This oven-baked vegetarian casserole paired well with a glass of Castel Semillon-Chardonnay 2008, a white blend that combines the lively citrus notes of Semillon woven into the fig and honey flavours of Chardonnay.  The Semillon provides a long finish with reduced acidity.  This wine agrees with seafood, eggs and subtle rice or vegetable-based meals.  A bottle of Castel costs 13.50 pesos at Vea supermarket.

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Antonio Camba's exhibition continues until May 17th at the PHI Espacio de Arte, at Zamenhof 46 in General Alvear.  Hours for viewing  are Wednesday to Saturday 10:00 am -12 noon and after siesta from 6:00-8:00 pm.    A farming community located about an hour's drive  southeast of San Rafael, General Alvear is home to the descendants of Russian, Polish, Japanese, Italian and Spanish immigrants.  Like the Camba paintings, the town is a fine example of a cultural tapestry woven from varied threads.  

 
 
Learning a foreign language can be a frustrating and humbling experience.  When we first arrived in San Rafael,  even a trip to the corner fruitstand was a challenge in communication.  How to ask for avocados, for instance?
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"Tiene aguacates?" I ventured.  I had looked up the word in my Spanish/English dictionary, and was quite confident that this would work, but the grocer gave me a blank stare.  Remembering that the "v" is pronounced as a "b" in Spanish, I tried again.  
"Tiene abogados?"  This time the grocer burst out laughing, and so did the other customers in the store.   An abogado is a lawyer, not a fruit.  

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The correct word for avocado in Argentina is "palta" which bears no resemblance to either its English or Spanish equivalent, but does start with the same letter as "pear".  The ones we buy at the fruitstand  are exceptionally large and delicious , either served raw in a salad or cooked in a soup.  Today we made avocado soup for lunch  with four paltas, chicken broth, a carrot, some green onions and parsley.  The ingredients were simmered for 10 minutes and then pureed with my hand blender to a creamy smooth consistency.  I reserved some of the avocado chunks to add back to the soup, for a more interesting texture.  

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We paired our recipe for  Lawyer Soup with Latitud 33 Chardonnay 2008 from Bodegas Chandon.  This is the South American branch of Moet & Chandon, the French champagne makers.  In the mid-1950s Robert Jean de Voye decided to explore the possibility of expanding the company to the southern hemisphere, and travelled to Rio Negro, Salta and Mendoza, Argentina.  He selected Mendoza province, with its desert climate and volcanic ash soil,  as the perfect spot for growing grapes for champagne.  In 1959 Chandon produced its first bottles of South American champagne.   The Chardonnay has a tropical fruit flavour, with suggestions of banana and pineapple, and a crisp, clean finish.  It can be purchased at Vea supermarket for 17.90 pesos.