Sunday, June 25, 2017

Argentina's Black Snow (A Film Review)

Ski season started early in South America this year, as Pacific storms blanketed Chile’s side of the Andes with snow, and more than enough made it across the cordillera into Argentina. Skiing, though, is not the theme behind Argentine director Martín Hodara’s Nieve Negra (“Black Snow”), which has recently turned up on Netflix (while the trailer below is in Spanish, the Netflix version has subtitles). Rather, to make a somewhat misleading generalization, it’s a family drama about an inheritance. In fact, it’s more than that, and I’ll try to suggest that without revealing any spoilers.
Presumably set in Patagonia’s “Lakes District”—the film never mentions a specific location—the story centers around a forested property owned by a family whose father has died. In any film about southernmost South America, I always try to identify the locale but, in this case, I noted that the trees along the road to the homestead appeared to be pines or other Northern Hemisphere conifers. Later, researching the film’s antecedents, I learned that it was shot at least partly in the Pyrenees of Andorra and Spain, whose terrain resembles that around Bariloche or San Martín de los Andes, which I expected to be the likely setting.

In the aftermath of the patriarch’s death, the younger brother Marcos (Leonardo Sbaraglia) has returned from Buenos Aires, with his Spanish wife Laura (Laia Costa), to try to convince the rest of the family—including his mentally disturbed sister Sabrina (Dolores Fonzi, in what is barely a cameo)—to sell the property to a forestry company. However, the family lawyer Sepia (a small but noteworthy role played by Federico Luppi) also obliges him to try to obtain the consent of his older brother Salvador (Ricardo Darín), whom Marcos prefers to avoid.

Darín, probably Argentina’s best known contemporary actor, plays a role far removed from his early romantic leads (mind you, at age 60 he’s certainly reached the upper limit for that). Here, instead, he’s a scruffy hermit who has issues with his siblings, particularly his brother. There are issues that deal not just with family secrets, but also on how those secrets fit into a larger context—in this case, I would suggest, the context of public and private corruption in Argentina.


Saying anything more might give away the ending but, in my judgement, it’s more than just a tale of sibling rivalry. Arguably, one might say, it’s an allegory of how Argentine society works, at several levels—until it doesn’t—and its victims are not always obvious at first. In the end, co-optation becomes the default option.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Patagonian Pinot Noir.. and Other Oddities

In mid-summer, the vines are lush at Nant-y-Fall
Last year, I wrote about what was then (and still is, for the time being), the world’s southernmost winery. In Argentina’s Chubut province, Viña Nant y Fall lies just across the border from Chile’s whitewater Mecca of Futaleufú but, at that time, its owner/founder Sergio Rodríguez could not yet offer any wines from the young Pinot Noir vines. Everything was in place, but the first harvest was still aging in the tanks.
A roadside sign points the way to Nant-y-Fall
While driving from Argentina into Chile, I first saw Nant y Fall in 2014, when its roadside sign drew my attention. It was, it turned out, was more than just a winery—it was also an offbeat hybrid of motorhome park, campground and farm that stocked and sold products from throughout the area. While its owner/founder Sergio Rodríguez could not yet provide wine on my previous visits, this time I anticipated tasting the product, though there was one glitch—actually getting there from Futaleufú, as I had driven north along Chile’s Carretera Austral.
In early 2014, the vines at Nant-y-Fall were sparse.
A couple weeks earlier, I had walked from Chile Chico to Los Antiguos, Argentina, because a bureaucratic glitch would not allow me to take my car across the border, and the same was true for this visit to the Argentine side of the border. In this case, though Nant y Fall, unlike Los Antiguos, was some 30 kilometers from the border post—not a distance I could walk in an hour or so. I can cycle that distance on pavement but, on an undulating gravel road, it would have taken me several hours.
The Argentine border post at Futaleufú is barely 100 meters from the Chilean side.
Fortunately, after I spoke with Sergio, he recruited his father to pick me up at the border. After leaving my car on the Chilean side and passing through Chilean and Argentine immigration, it was only a few minutes before he appeared. Within half an hour, we arrived at Nant y Fall, where the vines now covered four hectares of low rounded hills and a narrow road led to its namesake arroyo.
Creekside campsite at Nant-y-Fall
Here there are several parking sites for RVs, with picnic tables and grills, and grassy sites for tents that would make it an ideal stopover for cyclists bound to or from Futaleufú (Nant y Fall is only half a kilometer north of the international highway between the Argentine town of Trevelin and the Chilean side), especially if the border’s closed (hours are 8am-9pm in summer, to 8pm the rest of the year). There’s a freestanding building with showers and toilets for campers and RVers, and also a couple rooms—one double with a private bath and a four-bed dorm with shared bath—in the nearby showroom/workshop/garage.
Family suite at Nant-y-Fall
Before returning to Futaleufú, I had a look at other regional products that the winery sells and here, and lunch with a taste of the 2016 Pinot Noir—and then bought a bottle to take back across the border and home to California. It was so recently commercialized that no labels were yet available, so I’ve had to improvise one.
This pioneer Patagonian Pinot awaits the proper occasion.

In March, the winery hosted its initial Fiesta de la Vendimia en Chubut, the showcase for the province’s small but growing wine industry. It’s worth adding that, although Nant y Fall is presently the world’s southernmost winery that may change—on the south side of the international highway there are newly planted vines, though no new winery is yet under construction.
Sergio Rodríguez with visitors at Nant-y-Fall

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Use (and Abuse?) of English in Argentina

The London City cafe is a landmark of Buenos Aires's downtown financial district.
According to a recent survey, Argentines are the most proficient English speakers in Latin America. That said, Argentines have an ambivalent attitude toward the English and their language that started, probably, with the British invasions of Buenos Aires in the early 19th century. After independence, the commercial influence of the British became pronounced—the Argentine capital’s financial district is called “La City”—recalling the City of London—and major infrastructure still bears a British stamp. Trains, such as the Subte (Underground) move on the left, and signs remind passengers to keep left (in Spanish, however).
Signs on the Buenos Aires subway remind passengers to keep left.
There are many landmarks associated with the British, most notably the Anglo-Argentine community’s Torre Monumental (renamed from the Torre de los Ingleses after the Falklands War of 1982). There are lesser commercial locales, such as San Telmo’s Gibraltar Pub and Retiro’s Tabaquería Inglesa, but today I’d like to focus on something different—the sometimes quirky English of Buenos Aires (and elsewhere in Argentina).
San Telmo's Gibraltar pub is bilingually Anglophile.
In California, where I live permanently (though I also own an apartment in Buenos Aires), we often see what I like to call “real estate Spanish,” residential complexes with Spanish names of dubious authenticity—despite the state’s Hispanic tradition. One of my favorites is the Berkeley Hills street name “Lomas Cantadas,” which I can only presume is a mutilated translation of lomas encantadas, which would mean “enchanted hills” (as written, the actual name would mean "sung hills," which obviously makes no sense).
The name of this Recoleta clothing store suggests the British origins on Argentine English.
In that context, I’d like to offer, anecdotally, some of the most amusing Anglicisms I’ve found in Buenos Aires. It’s worth adding that, though British English is the default option for students in Argentina, some of the more commercial phrases may correspond more closely to US English—perhaps acquired from Miami, where many prosperous Argentines take shopping trips.

Summer Sale!
In trendy Buenos Aires boroughs such as Palermo (where our apartment is), English apparently lends your business a certain cachet. At least the operators of this lingerie shop appear to think it’s better than ofertas de verano.
This Palermo lingerie outlet lets you know their wares are suitable for the season.
20% Off!
A hybrid sale sign in our Palermo neighborhood
In our own Palermo neighborhood, this household goods retailer forgoes descuento del 20 por ciento in favor of its English equivalent—a phrase that’s a common sight around town. Unusually, this particular shop provides discounts for credit card purchases, even though Argentina remains a cash economy, but apparently does not feel confident enough in its customers to provide that information in English.
Though no longer in Buenos Aires, Citibank was a US company.
If you prefer to pay in cash, though, you can still take advantage of 24-hour banking.

Delivery
This Palermo grill will bring the barbecue to your house or hotel.
Many Buenos Aires restaurants, even some high-end places, will prepare your dinner and bring it to your home or hotel. There’s a perfectly good Spanish-language phrase for this, reparto a domicilio, but “delivery” is now almost universaleven in the provinces. Whether they’ll provide a cooler bag, though, is questionable.

Our Specials
This Palermo restaurant serves a diversity of lunchtime dishes.
Platos del día would be the Spanish equivalent but, considering that all the dishes here are in Spanish, the English phrase appears to be an affectation.

Tickeadora
Purchase your parking permission at this streetside vending machine.

Spanglish seems less frequent in Argentina than in the US or Mexico, but this parking dispenser is an exception (a parking ticket, by the way, would be a multa).
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