Saturday, August 15, 2009

un día en el campo, part 2

These two men were charlando- across the tables - over a choripan. Classic.

I really wish I could sleep like this...

This guy drew the short straw and was in the cage next to the peacocks.

¡Que rico! Chocolate-covered, dulce de leche filled churros...

Boina? Check. Impressive moustache? Check.

Yes, that's a sheep.

Oh, and I completely forgot to mention another favourite part of the fair - the propinquity of the cows to the parrilla (Argentina BBQ). I tried to capture just how close the live cows were to their less fortunate brethren...

On the left, the parrilla; on the right, the cows. The journey from "field" to plate has never been so short.

The complete bizarre-ness of the scene seemed to be completely lost on the argentinos. Maybe it was just weird for me, a former vegetarian, for people to be eating bife while 10 feet away, this was staring at you:

And yes, I know it's just part of life, the Circle of Life, if you will (cue Mufasa's monologue.) People eat animals. I would even say it's natural. But still, I prefer not to have my meal-in-its-former-life stare at me. Sure, it's just a cow, but I could see it in his eyes - he was judging me. 

un día en el campo

About a week and half ago I went to La Rural for the “fair.”

Every year prize-winning animals from across Argentina are brought to La Rural for an “Exposición de Ganadería, Agricultura, e Industria Internacional”, or a sort of state fair-esque event. Cows, horses, chickens, sheep, and the like are brought on display for porteños and their children to gawk at. Or so I thought.

I initially had no intention of going – the thought of thousands of loud kids running around barnyard animals had no appeal to me. But after several of my students had explained that it was typically Argentine event and represented a different part of Argentine society, I thought I would give it a go.

Ok, in reality I heard that in addition to the animals, there were vendors selling artisanal cheese, cured meats, dulce de leche and other sweets. Moreover I was told that free samples were involved, and lots of ‘em. I’m convinced that there are certain universal pleasures in this world, things that are guaranteed to bring a smile to your face, no matter your circumstances. And no, I’m not waxing profound…I’m simply alluding to things like bubbles, magnets, miniature horses, and free samples. Seriously, if you randomly saw a miniature horse walking on the sidewalk (as I did on my way to La Rural), would you not fail to smile? As for bubbles and magnets, maybe that’s a bit puerile, but come on – how cool are magnets?

But I digress. So it was the prospect of free samples more so than animal-gawking that drew me to La Rural, but I was extremely glad that I went. I had tried to go on Sunday, but upon seeing the 5-block-long line, I decided against it. (I later read in a newspaper that around 100,000 people attended La Rural on Sunday alone.) I tried again on Tuesday, and despite it being the last day, it was not too crowded.

And for me, it was magical.

Perhaps it’s the fact that I’ve been in the concrete jungle of Buenos Aires for too long, or perhaps it’s because I’m from the suburbs and have some glorified notion of farms, but it was refreshing (metaphorically, not literally; the entire place smelled of hay/shit) to see the animals. I’m not a big fan of zoos or spending an afternoon staring at caged animals, so initially I was a bit turned off by the whole set-up. But this repugnance was quickly taken over by sheer wonder. Yes, I’m just talking about cows, but these were cows. Not just any ol’ Bessie. While I had thought that I would brush quickly by the animals and head straight for the food, I found myself gawking and pointing in amazement along with all the porteño children I had intended to avoid.

Looking back, I’m not sure why I expected the animals would be such a bore. El campo – the farms and countryside – has always been the heart of Argentina, a country which is, to a great extent, an agricultural country. Argentine beef is renowned throughout the world, so it’s no surprise that the country’s most-prized animals are impressive. And fuckin’ huge!

I would have to say that the cows were my favourite, followed by the sheep – all different varieties – and chickens. Again, barnyard animals can seem so mundane, but these animals were truly beautiful (and it’s not just because of my untrained eye.) Here are some photos, though as always, I don’t think they do the animals justice (but I’ll blame that on the cages and not my mediocre photography skills.)

(Ok, scratch that, I'll do a separate post with pictures; my computer is acting up.)

Beyond the animals, the people were my favourite part of the fair. So I have this weird thing about taking candid pictures of old and interesting looking people…it’s a bit creepy, I know, but it’s what I do. And La Rural was full of just those kind of people. Many were older and wealthy - I assume they own a lot of land. With their fur coats and multiple diamonds, they reminded me, to a certain extent, of the country club crowd back in the States (not that I have frequented a country club.) Others, however, were the more traditional farmhands and workers. Here are some candid pictures – pardon the blurriness, I was trying to be stealthy (although I almost always failed and was noticed, but the men didn’t seem to mind that I was taking their picture.)

Again, I'll post them later...

As strange as it sounds, I was completely inspired by the fashion…at the agricultural fair. Seriously. If I were a dude, I’m pretty sure I would grow a thick mustache, don a boina (beret), some bombachas de campo (gaucho pants), thick leather boots, a poncho, and look like these guys:

I did buy myself a boina, and I’m determined to make it work. There are some people who wear hats and look impeccably chic, and others who look tragic in hats, no matter the style. I unfortunately fall into the latter group. But these boinas were adjustable, meaning it actually fits my big head, so I haven’t given up hope…yet. I will rock a boina, it’s just a matter of time. 

The free food samples did not disappoint, either. I’m pretty sure my new favourite words en castellano are “Vení a probar!” (Come and try!) And come and try I did…several times. Outside were the cheese, cured meats, and pastry vendors. After making the rounds – several times over – I decided to actually sit and have a choripan. Oh, how I loves the choripan. It’s so simple – a chorizo (sausage), bland white bread (which I otherwise dislike and avoid) and chimichurri….lots of it. I topped it off with a dulce de leche-filled, chocolate-covered churro. Divine. After which, I felt like this:

So all in all, a wonderful afternoon. It fit in well with the book I am currently reading, Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America, a fascinating account of the state of crisis in American agriculture and how this crisis reflects a broader crisis of values in American society. Though it was originally published around 30 years ago, its themes still resonate today.

Oh, and did I mention that my wonderful cousin Sam is in town? Look, Sam, you’re on my blog!

But seriously, it’s great to have some family in town (and not just because she has treated me to dinner several times…and by ‘she’ I mean my aunt and uncle – thanks, Ro & Jeff!)

She’s studying abroad here, and listening to her talk about her experience thus far makes me nostalgic for my year in Bologna. Today I’m even more nostalgic, as one year ago today I left Bologna…but enough of that. I’m going to check out Caminos y Sabores (another foodie event at La Rural) and Terra Madre Argentina…