Tell your friends about our blog and help build our community!
Happy one year anniversary, readers! What began as a cool project to connect friends has transformed into one of the world’s most popular blogs that my parents read! Did you know that, each week, over 1.5 million blogs are updated on planet Earth? Well, The Daily Gumboot is most certainly one of those blogs. And we’re pretty proud of what we’ve accomplished over the past year.
Speaking of which, here is a list of each contributor’s favourite article(s) that they have submitted since The DG was launched on December 1, 2008.
Michelle and I, as we tend to do, have collaborated on our favourite post(s) from the past year. During July 2009 The Bornks! traveled to South America to conduct some investigative journa-blog-ism of Latin American Communities. For your reading pleasure, we have arranged the stories in chapters. Chapter One sets up the trip and makes some predictions. Chapter Two introduces some key characters, Ximen and Martana. Chapter Three discusses the expansive community of Argentina – from East to West and back again. And Chapter Four details the journey home and why people should never, ever go to Lima.
Next up is Editor-in-Controversy, Kurt Heinrich, who selected Part One of his Expat Communities series, which presents some interesting stories about his trip to Japan and, I must say, has inspired some very cool discussion from our readers. Enjoy yourselves.
Ms. Theodora Lamb is right behind Kurt (after all she, not he, is Kurt’s “red-headed partner,” Pete). Theo’s post about nudity in female locker rooms at community centres, well, let’s just say that before we wrote about Stephen Colbert (about his nudity in female locker rooms, actually) Theo’s article was by far this blog’s most popular. The article is called “Let’s Get Naked!” Have fun with it!
When I asked Stewart Burgess – Stewartworks - which article he liked the most, he said something about having “pitifully few opportunities to post because of the Editorial staff’s stance on architecture.” Well, Stewart, that’s why we love your favourite post so much. It’s about you riding a bus!
Our back-end guy (who, yes, has a nice back-end, too), Mike Boronowski, presented an interesting piece on expanding the greyon our local, regional, national, and, yes, global communities.
Finally, this one time, our Man in Nairobi, Kenya Correspondent, Martin Muli, wrote a piece about a seven-day-sex boycott. It is as fascinating as it is fascinating!
Undoubtedly you can see that The Daily Gumboot truly does strive to collect ideas from everywhere. My mission to you, readers, is to check out the articles above and let us know which one you like the best and why. And, after you’ve perused all the supercool words and pictures above, be sure to tell 10 of your friends and colleagues about The Daily Gumboot. After all, we’re all about building community!
Thanks for your support and contributions over our first year. We look forward to it continuing for years to come!
The traditional role of a writer is pretty straight forward: write a book, get it published, go to a few signings, and move on to the next. However, in this new media, new technology savvy world, this traditional role is sure to be a-changing. Take for instance, the blog-turned-novel overnight success of Julie Powell, the self-proclaimed “government drone” who spent a year cooking and blogging about her adventures Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a la Julia Child. Not surprisingly, she’s received some backlash: some more “traditionalist” writers do not see any room in their art for a *gasp* blogger. Going a step farther - a year’s worth of blog content has now been turned into a major motion picture, Julie & Julia, starring Meryl Streep. Talk about culture clash.
What is a writer to do? Jump in to these new-fangled worlds of blogs and tweets and risk being ostrasized by the ‘traditionalists’? Take the plunge and hope your fans and fellow writers will maintain their respect for you as an artist (and perhaps, just maybe, have it increase a little?).
And herein comes my (very reverant) tip o’ the hat to our (my) favourite Canadian author, Margaret Atwood.
Ms. Atwood has bestowed upon the world a remarkable amount (over 25 volumes) of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction. She is not afraid to broach difficult or controversial subjects (just Google search ‘The Handmaid’sTale’ and ’Banned’ and see what comes up …), or advocate for the rights of underfunded or marginalized groups (check out Ms. Atwood’s scathing critique of Mr. Harper and his decision to cut funding for the arts). Oh, and given the timely release of her latest nonfiction Payback during the crux of the global economic meltdown, she’s also been touted as a fortune teller of sorts.
Indeed, Ms. Atwood is one cool and talented (and potentially psychic) lady. What makes her even cooler and talented (but perhaps not more psychic) is the fact that she is blogging and tweeting throughout the duration of her current promotional tour for her latest novel, The Year of The Flood. Not only is Ms. Atwood embracing these new technologies that so many others have been too afraid or too snobby to embrace, but she is also building and expanding ethical, sustainable, and relevant community in other ways. For instance, she’s making her current tour as green as possible – eating local and vegetarian food, purchasing carbon offset for travel, and staying in hotels with stellar environmental policies. She’s also challenging traditional assumptions of ‘the novel’, incorporating music and plays performed by local musicians and artists into her readings.
Margaret Atwood – a tip o’ the hat to you for challenging traditional norms, embarking unafraid into strange, new, online worlds, living by exemplary sustainable means, and staying true to your delightful, eccentric self.
[Editor's note: Aboard the Editor's Pirate Ship is pretty similar to "from the Editor's desk" or "The Editorial Section" of a "newspaper" (remember those, kids?) - thing is, I spend a lot of my day at a desk, so, when I get to twitblogging, it takes place on a creativity-inducing pirate ship where I can stretch my legs as I expand my mind. To you, dear readers, I say "Welcome Aboard!"]
Ideology just got exclusive, ridiculous and so much cooler!
Militarism. Communism. Conservatism. Fascism. Socialism. Liberalism. Pansexualism. Capitalism. Bullionism. Humanitarianism. Modernism. Post-Modernism. Cannibalism. Existentialism. Hylomorphism. Environmentalism. Idealism. Primitivism. Realism. Terrorism. Zoomorphism. Relativism. There is a long list of ideological isms out there. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. For example, people are very, very delicious. They also control the universe through their sexual energy, but need to be cared for by the State lest their hedonistic ways destroy the environment to the detriment of exponential, free market growth! Or take democracy – democratism – as a great example of a fantastic, but horribly flawed, ideological system. As up-and-coming historical figure Winston Churchill, and his glass of whiskey, pointed out: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried.” Zing, Winnie! In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville even warned America about “the tyranny of the majority” as a veritable Achilles-heal of our favourite social system. Democracy, claimed de Tocqueville, had the potential to marginalize minorities, fix peoples’ pursuits on material pleasures and/or relax people into seeking “to use government to protect them in their mediocrity by restricting the freedom of any who might challenge or endanger them” (evidently, Iraq didn’t get de Tocqueville’s memo).
Needless to say, whether it’s Vancouver Parks Board Commissioners using taxpayer dollars to pay for rehab or 3 New Jersey mayors (and 5 Rabbis) being arrested on international money-laundering charges or HST and BC Rail – ahem - irregularities or the Shenzhen Construction Bureau spending much of their coffers on massages, foot rubs and other spa treatments or Obama being the re-incarnation of Hitler, well, democracy just doesn’t seem to be working too well these days. Voter turnout around the world is a shadow of its former self. People are cynical and uninspired. But with all the other ideologies being even more terrible than democracy we’re pretty much stuck with what we have, right?
There is an answer. There is a solution. It couldn’t be simpler. And it’s called Johnism.
John in Chinese
Like I said, it’s simple. See, fueled by democracy, the global political system is still built in a way that attracts and enables people who want to be the world’s powerbrokers and reap all the delicious, material, ill-gotten/gettin’ goodies that such power allows. So, we need leaders for our communities – from local to global – but we need a new selection process. Enter Johnism. Recent findings show that there are approximately 942,564,723 people on the planet named “John” (translation and regional dialects were taken into account during this study). So, this up-and-coming ideology isn’t based on status or age or experience or ability or education or qualification or being good at anything. It’s based on having a really common name. A name so common that, when the random, name-based selection of global leadership takes place, we can be sure that the new team in charge are truly drawn from all parts and places of society. Wow – think of how much extra cash we can spread around when credentials do not include the ability to raise $1 billion in campaign funds! People not last-named “Bush” or “Clinton” might be in the running.
The name “John” – after all – transcends all social classes, ethnicity and lines on a map. People named John are everywhere. Check this out:
Terrorism or Johnism? We know where John McClane stands.
…in Germany – Johann or Johannes
…in France – Jean
…in Denmark – Jens
…in Holland – Jan
…in Spain and Latin America – Juan
…in Italy – Giovanni
…in Russia, the Ukraine, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Serbia, and Croatia – Ivan
…in Estonia – Jaan
…in Israel – Yochanan
…in China (see named image)
…in the Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Sudan, Libya, Syria, Morocco, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates – Yahya
…and, finally, in Armenia – Hovhannes
Clearly, when it comes to ideas from, literally, everywhere, Johnism has Planet Earth covered (I could’ve listed more countries, but my market research has determined that Scandinavia and most of Africa is a veritable lock for this idea). And that’s just the name John today. In the present. Let’s look to the past to get a bit of a sense of some of the more famous and “leadership-capable” Johns throughout history. This cross-section, when taken in an active historicalmanner, allows us to learn from the past as we plan for the future. The historical success of the name “John” logically determines that such success will continue into the future.
In no particular order, here are some Johns (multiple cultures acknowledged) of note:
Political figures, writers, kingmakers, pirates, popes, entertainers, cowboys, revolutionaries, scientists, religious leaders, sex symbols. The name John/Johnny/Jonathan covers ‘em all and then some! Keep in mind this list doesn’t do justice to all the teachers, plumbers, architects, ninjas, fishers, businesspeople, doctors, lawyers, athletes, engineers, and community organizers who have made an impact on humanity but don’t appear on the list. Needless to say, if the past is any indication of the future (and it totally is) I think the world will be in good hands.
Does Kurt Heinrich support Johnism? Probably not, but he's giving a big "thumbs up" here!
So, what are the tenets of Johnism? Well, they’re pretty similar to those of The Daily Gumboot. The ideology’s mandate is to “collect ideas from everywhere and use them to build community.” Other than that, no structure has been hammered out; however, should Johnism get picked up by the people of the planet, the upcoming Summit of John will see the collaborative development of a vision for the future and a strategic plan to carry it out. When it all comes together, I’m confident that you will be impressed. And, hey, people who aren’t Prime Ministers or Mayors or Aldermen or Premiers or Governors or Presidents or Ayatollahs or Dictators for Life or Directors get involved in their communities all the time in organic, contagious and meaningful ways. Just ask Paul Hawken. Like Paul, you folks not named John will totally have a role in the new way of doing things. We’re all part of the same team, after all.
Oh, one other thing. At this point the female readers are probably losing their minds (sorry, mom). Relax, ladies. Johnism is merely a well-thought-out selection process. As part of my very strong belief that women are smarter than men it should also be noted that each John will bring two women to the collaborative, visionary and strategic Summit of John [insert lewd comment here if you so choose]. For example, I will bring Michelle Burtnyk and Naomi Klein [again, insert lewd comment here if you so choose]. Savvy?
I don’t know about you, readers, but I find this all pretty exciting. And, really, what’s the alternative? Should we just exercise our collective voice in demonstrations of mass democracy in an effort to clean up our current social and political systems so they evoke an efficient, egalitarian and productive triple-bottom-line mandate that defines the true ideal of liberated human progress in a way that creates a healthy and happy global community in which we can all thrive? Man, that’s ridiculous!
Billy Shakes once asked, “what’s in a name?” As it turns out, a lot’s in a name. And the name is John. So, Johns, Ivans, Juans, Jeans, and Yahyas of the world: I look forward to working with you soon.
This has been from Aboard the Editor’s Pirate Ship. Thanks for your time.
The cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead was on to something when she expressed the importance of “never doubt[ing] that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”. In such a way did Martin Luther King Jr. create equal opportunity for African Americans, Harvey Milk provide a forum for gays and lesbians to demand their rights (did you know that in the state of California, tenants used to face eviction if caught having homosexual sex in a rented apartment?), Mothers of East L.A. (MELA) successfully fought against the opening of a state prison, incinerator, and chemical plant close to their childrens’ schools (what the hell, East L.A.?), and Vancouverites triumphed in the abolishment of the HST (there’s nothing wrong with wishful thinking, right?).
In order to effect such change, citizens need to feel empowered to do so – this is often referred to as community capacity. The most basic and necessary component of community capacity is participation. I know you’re thinking that this is fairly obvious – and I agree it is kinda common sense – but far too often it does not occur, and a façade of capacity creates a sham pall over a community.
A Canadian non-profit organization, created by a group of individuals who felt impassioned to make a difference, deserve mentioning on this Obama-endorsed, world-renowned blog (See our established editor-in-chief’s post for details). They’ve successfully embraced the notion of participation within their charitable work in the horn of Africa (primarily, Ethiopia).
Many of their projects focus on bringing clean water and sanitation facilities to Ethiopia. Often, consultations within communities as to what projects or resources are needed are run and dictated by the NGOs, local officials, chiefs, and a few key influential citizens. Marginalized members of the community, such as women and the poor, are often not able to participate in any community decision-making – hence the sham pall. Even if marginalized citizens are able to attend such forums (difficult, given the fact that much of their day is spent working, looking after children or completing domestic chores), other factors such as societal structures and norms (do women feel comfortable speaking publicly in front of men?), and power dynamics (are poor citizens able to express their views in front of their wealthier neighbours?) play a role.
Given all of this, in what way is Partners in the Horn of Africa accomplishing the difficult feat of attaining true capacity? Partners in the Horn is so very different because it works with Ethiopians – many of them women who have come from a disadvantaged background – to gain trust within communities, and obtain information from all citizens (which sometimes means travelling to homes and small villages). They also work with local chiefs towards creating a culture of inclusion and participation – a much loftier and long-term goal. In such a way, they gain community consensus as to what is most necessary within that community. The community then participates even further by helping to see the project come to fruition – by contributing 10-15% of the projects cost (in labour and materials, when available). From start to finish, community members are involved and feel a sense of ownership over the project they’ve chosen. One of my favourite projects involves building pit latrines in rural elementary schools. The absence of latrines means children must relieve themselves on the school grounds – a major reason why some girls stop attending school. Waste from latrines then drain into an underground bio-gas tank, creating methane gas which is transmitted through a copper line to the cafeteria where methane fire burners heat meals AND is also neutralized and applied to vegetable gardens. Really, how cool is that?
Partners was started by a very small group of Canadians who visited Ethiopia and wanted to make a difference. They’ve embraced the notion of participation-founded community capacity, with admirable results. Bravo, thumbs-up, tip o’ the hat, and a round of applause to you, Partners!
In 1998, the Canadian government mandated folic acid fortification of certain food products in Canada – namely, all white flour and enriched grain products. This, in theory, is fantastic. Folic acid (a synthetic form of the B-vitamin folate) is necessary for proper neural tube development, which occurs early after conception when most women are still unaware they’re pregnant. Subsequent data, 11 years onwards, shows seemingly successful results: since fortification became mandatory, neural tube defects (such as spinal bifida) have declined in Canada by approximately 50% (Canadian Journal of Public Health, 2009).
Now, one would think that when introducing such a large-scale, population level intervention, one would do their homework. Such questions as, ‘Is there a risk if one has too much folic acid? How will folic acid quantities be regulated once in the food supply? Who will be responsible for such regulation?’ come to mind. What is fairly disturbing is that, until recently, the actual amount of folate in Canadian food has been unknown. A recent report (Shakur et al, 2009) published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health is, as far as the researchers are aware, the first direct assessment of actual folate amounts in the Canadian food supply. It found that label values did not accurately reflect actual amounts of folate in foods – and were on average 50% higher than the stated value. This wouldn’t be such a concern if having too much folic acid didn’t pose a health risk. Problem is – a growing body of literature seems to suggest it may. Consuming high levels of folic acid has been found to mask Vitamin B12 deficiency, increase cognitive impairment in seniors, and increase insulin resistance in unborn children. A recent report in the Globe and Mail cited some new research suggesting high levels of folic acid may accelerate cancer growth in at-risk individuals.
As concerning as these findings are, what’s even more troubling is the current call in Canada to increase the level of folic acid fortification, with the aim of reducing neural tube defects a further 25%, without any further research into potential health risks.
Compare the Canadian government’s approach to fortification with that of England’s, who currently do not mandate folic acid fortification: recently confronted with calls to institute mandatory fortification, England’s Chief Medical Officer has delayed making a final decision until the risks and the benefits have been carefully researched and weighed.
Undeniably, folic acid is incredibly important for proper neural tube development in unborn children. And, as this occurs very early in pregnancy, it does make sense to fortify the general food supply with it in order to ensure women who may not be taking supplements or getting adequate amounts do. However, the Canadian government has the responsibility to research and weigh all of the risks and benefits of instituting such a large-scale intervention before it is introduced, and properly monitor levels in a timely, scheduled, and scientifically sound manner.
Well, Michellé y Juan have returned home to Downtown Canada (Editor’s note: on Sunday night, we flew over mountains and ocean and rivers and green space into Vancouver…and then we were lucky enough to meander up and down The Drive during the tail-end of Summer Days – people, we are so, so fortunate to live where we do…tourists must orgasm when they arrive in this part of the world!).
But enough about Vancouver and beautiful British Columbia. Let’s get back to Downtown South America! So, the last time we checked in with Juan y Michellé, we had thrived in the Andes, learned about olive oil, defended against nuclear zombies at the Difunta Correa, and survived precarious paragliding. The next challenge for this delightful power couple: smog, traffic, rain, and a hospital in Buenos Aires!
So, Buenos Aires is a city of 13 million people (give or take a dozen). Some of the city’s highlights include the world’s largest street, 9 de Julio, and Christianity’s answer to Disneyland, the Parque Tierra Santa. According to the country’s maps, Argentina, not Britain, owns the Malvinas, not Falklands (shhh, don’t tell the United Kingdom!). Argentinians, as described by the “rest of South America” and “Lonely Planet” are “Italians who speak Spanish, want to be French and behave like the English.” One travel writer also used the term “a-hole” to depict these “Europeans of the Third World.” In the experience of Juan y Michellé, the Canadian travelers were discriminated against more by French Canadians named Martin than by Argentinians; everyone was pretty darn nice, in spite of the hazy busyness of the city. In the end, Buenos Aires grew on us.
First highlight, Caminito: ladies and gentlemen, welcome to La Boca, a neighbourhood built on Italian immigrants (not literally), tango and Maradona’s football club, Boca Juniors, where the now coach of Argentina’s National Men’s Club played his career. Caminito was/is a tourist mecca.
Throughout our travels, Juan typically looked out of place with his Panasonic Lumix draped around his neck; however, amongst the restaurants, souvenir shops, cheesy tango dancers, and colourful buildings of Caminito he was right at home. Besides, dozens of Argentinian tourists had, ahem, much longer lenses than he did.
Fun fact about tango: contrary to popular belief, tango is actually not at all about dancing; originally, the art form was created as a comment on class-romance-relations, where a man would sing to a woman about, well, forbidden-esque love. For questions about tango, please email Martin Renauld at renauld14(at)hotmail.com.
Probably the most hilarious part of the Caminito trip was the Maradona impersonator.For a modest price of, we think, 10 pesos, you – yes, you - can have your photo taken with a guy who looks like Maradona. Again. He’s not Maradona, but he kinda sorta maybe looks like him. Needless to say, we don’t have a photo of this gent. But we do have a great idea. A “business venture” if you will. Would you rather pay 10 pesos for a picture with a fake Maradona, or 8 pesos for a picture of the real Martin Renauld. We know the answer… Second highlight, San Telmo Market: as Summer Days in Vancouver sputter towards cancellation (such is the word on the street about carless streets), the San Telmo Market, which is exactly where the thoughtful, visionary, humble, street-savvy, and amazing Andrea Reimer will be taking Vancouver in the years ahead, will be the vibrant, colourful and, yes, carless Sunday street market that it has been for decades.
Hey, man, Buenos Aires defines itself as a “European City,” so it’s understandable that such street culture survives and thrives amidst the rise of the automobile in the Southern hemisphere. Argentinians see cars as a status symbol, sure, but having a street or two closed in a neighbourhood will never deter people (most of whom still walk everywhere, which is why the wine and meat can’t make ‘em all fat!) from visiting the neighbourhood.
From the locally made crafts (most of Argentina’s consumer products are also local) to the amazing street performers (see video and prepare to dance!) the market was a delightful romp that was so extensive that it took up all of Sunday afternoon and most of the evening.
Third “highlight,” public health care in Argentina: nothing says “adventure” like heading to one of Buenos Aires’s hospitals during a swine flu epidemic that has inspired a “state of emergency” from the city’s mayor, Mauricio Marci.
While free health care for all is certainly admirable, in a city of 13 million with a 51% poverty rate, it obviously comes with a fair share of challenges. One such challenge is limited resources coupled with high demand: there’s nothing quite like waiting 2 hours in a crowded waiting room only to share a 6×8 ft doctor’s office with three other individuals, each suffering from a different ailment.
Despite the ‘health care for all’ mantra, a tiered system was still fairly obvious: one of the first questions Michellé was asked was why she had come to the public hospital and not the nearby private hospital. With symptoms that some sources (mostly questionable organizations like the WHO) say represent the swine flu (5 out of 6 symptoms isn’t that bad, right?) Michellé was lucky to have made it out alive two x-rays, one ventilator, numerous threats of quarantine, and 5 hours later. Fourth highlight, artful museums, cemetaries and freezing rain: for two days in Buenos Aires it rained like it was November in the Pacific Northwest.
And we took the bus.
First, buses in Argentina are superfun, because they only stop for, like, 30 seconds to let people on. And, when you get off, sometimes you just have time to jump off the back as the bus slows down. Needless to say, a fun time. What is not fun is putting 2.50 pesos in change (biggest coin in Juan’s hand was 25 cents) into a rickety old machine that eats a lot of them (bus companies may or may not be a leading cause of Argentina’s coin shortage).
And what is hilarious is when a five-person line up forms behind Juan as the bus careens around Buenos Aires streets and he tries – with little success – to pay for the tickets from 10 blocks ago.
And what is amazing and community-inspirational is when the five-person line-up cheers Juan on and gives him high-fives when the tickets finally spit out of the machine. And then the unraveling travelers got off the bus at the next stop…
So, we nerded out in a couple of musems, including the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (picture), and then braved the chilly weather in one of Buesnos Aires’s coolest, and creepiest, attractions: the La Recoleta Cemetery. Some of the famous burials include Eva Peron, Domingo Sarmiento and Isabel Walewski Colonna (grandchild of Napoleon Boneparte).
After walking for 20 minutes in the wrong direction, Juan y Michelle arrived a little later than expected at the cemetery, which inspired them to split up – each with a camera – and document the amazing history of the site. Soon, we were approached by security guards who were understandably cold and ready to shut things down. And so began a giant game of hide-and-seek.
Basically, there were two strategies: first, Michellé pretended to not understand what anyone was saying (which she took to quite naturally); second, Juan just ran, man. The game was highlighted by pointing, shrugging and yelling of infinitives and nouns: “Amigo?! Amigo?!”
That’s right, Recoleta Cemetary Security, Juan leaves on his own accord…and because hypothermia was setting in. Oh, and, needless to say, given how the journey began, we took a taxi back to Ximen and Martana’s place… Fifth highlight, Tigre on the Delta: one can only imagine how excited Michellé was to travel into the river delta of Buenos Aires on a train and a boat!
While the train was, well, a jam-packed, uncomfortable commuter train that makes the B-Line look spacious, the boat-ride was enjoyable and adventurous (see “transportation culture” community-takeaway below), mostly because the boat doesn’t really “stop” for you to get off; the Captain (we’re nautical now, people) sorta backs up, the First Mate loosely wraps a rope around the “dock” and then you hop off as the boat pulls away.
Making the day even more enjoyable was the delicious lunch we had on one of the islands. Perhaps it was our nautical savvy, or our delightful Canadian air, but somehow we even managed to score free drinks at the end of the meal. We later learned that such drinks are given to customers when they (a) spend a larger-than-normal amount on a meal or (b) are well liked by their patrons.
Given that Juan’s meal consisted of “Provaletta El Hornero” – fried cheese – it was probably mostly column b that earned us the drinks. Top score for efficiency. Top score for deliciousness and customer service. Top score for adventure. Low score for safety. Still, well played, Argentina.
Our big night out with Ximen and Martana: finally, we experienced an authentic tango show. Ximena, breaking with Argentinian culture and social norms, called out to the singers with requests for songs. People turned and sent curious looks her way, but the performer totally got it: “this is normal in Uruguay,” she explained to the audience. You’re darn right it is! After several bottles of delicious malbec and the best steak Juan has ever had, Martin and Juan bid goodnight to the ladies and ventured out into the chilly San Telmo, well, morning. [INSERT YOUR GUESS ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED BETWEEN 3AM AND 6:30AM HERE]. And then we meandered home to get a restful few hours of sleep before striking out into the city in search of delightful goods to smuggle into Canada. (Editor’s note: look, Canada Border Services, we might’ve brought a green herb back into the country, but, relax, it’s only maté.) In any case, Monsieur Renauld, you got it like you did in our Bishop`s University days, good sir. And then we came home. As it turns out, South America is far from the West Coast. But after 36 hours of traveling, which included extended stopovers in Santiago and LA, we made it home.
Terrifying fact about LAX: you can buy iPods and digital cameras in vending machines.
On the way home, there was really only one glitch.We had an unannounced two hour stopover in Lima, Peru. It was almost that medium-sized, um, thing that makes travelers lose it, break down and get a little nuts. Luckily, we channeled our craziness through humour.
And, so, here is an excerpt of our “things we hate about Lima” list:
1. The “L” has something to hide.
2. Alpaccas, unlike sharks and bears, are naturally violent, aggressive and angry creatures.
3. In Lima, terrorists outnumber teachers 11:1.
4. Machu Pichu was actually built in 1987.
5. We had to go there.
Luckily, Limans (number six on the list) have a good sense of humour.
As you, the readers, know, The Weekly Gumboot is both about community and the actionable steps/tips/ideas that can be implemented to build said community(ies). So, in no particular order, here are the five things Juan y Michellé would like to share about the Argentinian/Urugyuan community that, well, we North Americans can certainly learn from:
1.Maté – the green herb of which we spoke. This warm drink is all about community. It is commonly shared between family and friends over stories and laughs. Here are some rules about mate: only the server can touch the straw or “re-arrange” the maté; drinkers must drink until a slurping sound is made; once you finish your turn you must return it directly to the server. If anyone wants to stop by commercial drive for a little maté-party, like we said, we smuggled some back.
2.Transportation Culture – imagine how much fun it would be to take the 99 B-Line if, say, it only slowed down at Commercial and Broadway. And, hey, imagine if the bus from Vancouver to Calgary served champagne, unlimited wine and the biggest glass of whiskey you’ve ever seen. Not only that, imagine if, for a few dollars extra, you could lie down and sleep in a full sized bed the whole way. People in Canada don’t take the bus over long distances because, well, they’re shabby. But recent findings show that, because of things like oil disappearing, traveling by plane as we do will most certainly change. Don’t worry. There’s a large reserve of whiskey and 1980s music videos in supply.
3. Eating – like maté-drinking, meals are typically a time when families and friends share moments and community is built. So, what better way to widen and deepen the community net than, well, adding another meal to the day? In Argentina, like in many South American countries, dinner is eaten much later in the evening – as late as 11pm – with a smaller meal eaten at about 6pm. While indulging in a small-child sized steak and a bottle of wine close to midnight takes some getting used to, the opportunities for community this tradition brings with it does not.
4. Coins (even if they are part of a black market racket) – if one stereotype can be said to be true about Argentinians – from the perspective of two humble Canadians – it’s that they’re laid-back. Symbolic of this laid-back lifestyle is the Argentinian attitude towards coins. With a low-supply-high-demand situation on their hands, the laissez faire Argentine solution is not to fight over limited resources (which cannot, sadly, be said about much of the world’s population), but to instead not worry about the details and round up or round down to the nearest peso.
5. Martana y Ximen – it is Canada’s loss that one of its greatest revolutionaries left Quebec in search of a “real” revolution in Argentina (without Che the place is pretty calm, though, Martin). And Ximena, well, she’s just hilarious and makes up for any lack of English-speaking with dramatic flare. When asked what her favourite part of Juan y Michellé’s visit was she said, “when you left and went to Cordoba.” The delivery was deadpan, too. In all seriousness, our hosts defined friendship and community, constantly putting themselves out to welcome us in. If Martin’s PhD dissertation doesn’t get finished on time, we are partly to blame. But, then again, it is South America. Being on time is just a little bit different in that neck of the woods.
So, Martana y Ximen, muchas gracias!
So there it is. The end of the unraveling travels of Juan y Michelle. Keep your eyes open for The Unraveling Traveler, our new adventure guide for community minded travelers (appendix on shade-finding included for free). We hope you’ve had as much fun reading as we have writing. So you know, we did our writing in installments… Our final tip: if and when all else fails, just say ‘si’…
As Juan and Michellé ventured out on our own for the first time in Argentina, without the wise advice and watchful eye of our trusted friend and guide Martin Martin (who taught us, among other things, the intricacies of bus riding and peso procurement) a few questions crossed our minds – will our combined knowledge of about 50 words en éspanol get us across the country and back? Will Michellè’s vegetarianism be compromized due to a lack of sin carne options? Are we unknowingly venturing into a fire-ridden, flu-ravaged pool of terror and disease? Ah – fear not, friends! With a combination of luck, wit, and a few uttered threats from a tall, bearded Canadian who constantly boasts a sun-inspired-scowl, it was pretty darn certain that everything would be perfecto. I mean, hey, we made it back to write the blog post, right?
Our adventure started before we even left Buenos Aires. With four minutes to go before our bus departed for Mendoza, we found ourselves madly rushing from one end of the terminal to the other, attempting to figure out how and where to catch a bus that wasn’t registering on any of the schedule boards. Luckily, we made it. Not only was this good because it allowed us to, you know, reach our destination, but it also afforded us an opportunity to experience the unexpected bus culture in Argentina. In just a few words: champagne, wine, whiskey, and blaring 80s music videos. 10 hours and some Tears for Fears later, we found ourselves stumbling off the party bus and watching the sun rise in Mendoza province …
First stop, Uspallata: the town of Uspallata is located in the province of Mendoza and finds itself nestled in the Andes in the middle of the Argentine and Chilean frontiers. Upon arriving, we naturally started looking for a taxi to get to our hotel. Without a taxi in sight, we walked a block and found ourselves smack dab in the middle of town. Town, of course, being one street. Lucky for us, the beautiful landscape more than made up for the lack of cityscape. Our time in Uspallata was spent mountain biking in the Andes, walking through fields and streets with our adopted dog, Carlos, and musing over the inexplicably large and rather threatening military presence in town (It was quite an experience to have a fully armed and camouflaged military batallion pointing guns at us – Argentinians can sleep soundly knowning that the Grupa de Artilleria de Montaña is prepared to defend a Chilean advance through the Andes!). Hey, Lonely Planet and Fodor’s, why no love for the Pizzaria?! The two “travel guides”totally sidestepped what is clearly the best kept culinary secret in Uspallata. Folks, if you happen to be in the Andes, stop off at La Pizzaria on Uspallata’s main street. For 60 pesos you can dabble in some delicious pizza (vegetarian options available if pre-beginner Spanish spoken), a bottle of outstanding Malbec and a healthy, tasty salad that will leave you stuffed. The tolerant staff even let two talkative – and slightly oblivious – foreigners remain in the restaurant well after closing time. Well played, Uspallata, well played.
Second stop, Mendoza City: welcome to wine country! Mendoza accounts for 70% of Argentina’s wine production, and recent findings show that the province exports nearly 95% of it’s wine around the world. The city of Mendoza is kinda like the West Coast Canadian city of Victoria – it is quaint, quiet and sanitized for the millions of tourists who flock their from around the world. The city was actually destroyed in 1861 by an earthquake that levelled the city and killed over 11, 000 people. By the end of the 19th century, Mendoza was “reconstructed on a grid, making it easy to explore on foot.” Well said, Fodor’s. But you forgot to mention the five outstanding and community-centred plazas (Espana, San Martin, Italia, Chile, and Independencia) that create a vibrant hang-out for youth, seniors, senors, police, philosophers, luncheoning businesspeople, and folks who just wanna make out (there was and is a lot of love in Mendoza). Our hotel – La Hotel Zamora – was located right in the centre of town and had a garden-hallway (complete with koi pond) that made my dad smile just by being there. We toured two wineries (Vistandes and Granata) as well as the Laur olive oil factory. Good times were had by a lot of Argentinians, some Dutch, a Swiss fellow, a Columbian, some Irish lasses, and a couple of Canadians who, after some direction, stopped drinking the olive oil and putting wine on all their bread. Just kidding, we’re totally cultured. In fact, Brenda Enegren, my co-worker/sommelier/friend, would’ve been proud of us. Michellé even caught the hint of red peppers in the Granata Malbec! Mendoza also offered a range of culinary experiences. First, there was La Florenica, a Boston Pizza of a place that got Juan’s order wrong and proceeded to drench Michellé’s rice and chicken in enough oil to put the Laur factory out of business. The kitchsy ambiance was great, but it wasn’t enough. And then there was La Tasca de Plaza España. Amazing atmosphere (we even got an intimate table in the back), amazing tolerance of our limited Spanish and, most importantly, amazing vegetarian-sensitive food. The fish au gratin was out of this world in a way that matched the tastiness of the torrentes wine with which it was paired. Mendoza, it was a pleasure.
Third stop, San Juan: oh my God!!! Nuclear Zombies have attacked the town of San Juan and no one in the city survived!!! Oh wait, it’s Sunday in Argentina. Let’s back-track, though. The visit to San Juan started with a rather eccentric and risk-taking taxi driver, who chucked our backpacks in his trunk and, well, didn’t close it. We sped off into the dusty, cold night with the trunk’s lid bouncing up and down. Further to this, we also stopped next to some rather seedy characters who sneakily eyed our bags. Juan was perched on the edge of his seat, ready to burst out the door and chase down any theives, but it never came to that. Now, back to the zombies. Okay, so there weren’t any zombies. More likely, a combined love of rest, family, markets, sport, and Jesus kept 99.9% of San Juanians off the streets on our first day in the town, Sunday, which made searching for food and drink slightly challenging. Speaking of food and drink, San Juan, of all places, possessed a leafy green vegetarian buffet called Soychu. It was delicious and yielded a wide range of vegetarian dishes that ranged from quiche to homemade pasta to stuffed peppers to, thank heaven, a salad bar!!! But, dear readers, the piece de resistance for San Juan province was, without a doubt, the Difunta Correa shrine in Vallecito. Pictures say more than words, and we added a few of em. Here are some words, though: Correa was following her husband, a soldier fighting in the civil wars of the 1840s, through San Juan when she died; her baby, however, lived by suckling on her breast and this has been declared a miracle by a grassroots community (ironically enough led by long-haul truck drivers) that has, for over a hundred years, championed her cause in, well, one of the weirdest and most amazing displays of spirituality that anyone has ever seen. Michellé and Juan walked around like this [insert image gaping, awestruck face here] the entire time. All the license plates, bottles of water, trophies, model houses, plaques, and countless other trinkets are purposed to thank Correa for creating miracles (like cars, houses, success). The Catholic Church, officially, doesn’t like it, either. Perhaps they are displeased with a massive grassroots movement that represents a fusion of Catholic and indigenous beliefs. Oh, be sure to pee before arriving in Vallecito, as bathrooms are hidden and the bus ride is two hours. San Juan, you started off with mixed reviews but came through strong in the end – it might have been, um, a miracle!
Last stop, Cordoba: worst. Bus ride. Ever. After the initial party bus to Mendoza, we were pretty excited about spending the night in gluttunous bus glory. One can only imagine how disappointed we were to spend the night on a cold bus with – no lie – only Ricki Lake in a horrid 1984 film to keep us company. No champagne, no whiskey. Life was hard. Luckily, Cordoba was amazing and well worth the torturous journey. The vibrant city was chok-a-block full of university students and colonial architecture. The final leg of the journey was spent exploring the numerous museums and art galleries (since when do notebook scribbles classify as post-modern art?), and marvelling at neo-gothic cathedrals. A highlight includes the Parroquia Sagrado Corazon de Jesus cathedral, which boasts a missing steeple to symbolize human imperfection. Speaking of human imperfection, we capped off our journey with a trip to La Cumbre to go paragliding. After nearly missing our bus after two individuals guided us incorrectly to a nonexistent ticket booth at the bus stop (44 is pretty close to 68, right?), we made our way up to one of the world’s top paragliding destinations. Despite some human error in misjudging Juan’s weight (it’s okay, Pablo, you landed us safely after a scary few minutes caught in an updraft) and resultant free spin in the clouds (oh, the joys of human imperfection!), we experienced other-wordly beauty as we flew with the Condor’s through the Sierras. If you’re ever in the neighbourhood, look up Fechu – a former Argentine paragliding champion who showed us a very wicked and adventurous time. Food, architecture, culture, adventure, young people; Cordoba had it all, baby!
Juan’s reflections: “If I had to rank the cities I would probably do it this way: Uspallata, Cordoba, Mendoza, and San Juan. It’s the rural hick in me, man. The rugged outdoorsy-ness of the frontier town just made me feel right at home. The cultural highlight was definitely Difunta Correa – never seen anything like it, and probably never will again. And, hey, I gotta say that I was pretty impressed with my ability to ‘speak Spanish’ throughout the journey. Mostly, though, I was impressed by my ability to consume an entire cow over the course of 10 days…thanks for that, Argentina. And Michelle was and is a terrific travel companion who tolerated my saying ‘si’ over and over as ‘speaking Spanish’ as well as my shoes, which rightfully lived in the closet of our hotel rooms following our mountainbiking through the Andes.”
Michellé’s reflections: “The trip really couldn’t have offered any more. Nature, adventure, culture, and delicious food! Mountain biking through the Andes was definitely a highlight for me – although it’s annoying to hear, it really is one of those ‘have to be there to believe it’ experiences. the scope and scale were unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Regrets? Well, there were a few ridiculously cute babies and dogs (Carlos!) and many bottles of wine that I would have like to bring back with me. Alas, they must live on in photos (or must they?? insert evil laughter here…). In all seriousness, a fantastic trip with a fantastic travel partner. Despite signing up for an annual membership at a Cordoban grocery strore and possibly offering to sell me, Juan’s Spanish savvy was superb (si!), and his humour and sense of adventure were unparalleled.”
After a Suite Class bus ride home, which saw our seats turn into beds that even Juan, the tallest person in Argentina, could sprawl out on (Canada, we can learn something from South American bus culture) our unravelling travelers arrived in Buenos Aires a little tired, pretty smelly and ready to relax before living it up in the big city on their last week of vacation. The final chapter will tell such tales!
¨¡Hola! Mi llamo Juan. Yo soy Canadiense. El nombre es Michelle y el es vegetariano. Nosotros hablamos un poquito de espanól. ¡No como la carne roja!¨And so concludes the Spanish portion of this update; not because we don´t like Spanish (far from it) – it´s just that we don´t really speak much more. Given Michelle´s vegetarian status, we figured this would be an important sentence to weave into our lexicon as soon as possible.
First, let´s introduce each other. You see, dear readers, this is the first time that we (Michelle and John) have traveled together; so, while we know each other well, there are always a few new things that arise during adventures. So, here we go:
John introducing Michelle: ¨Michelle, or Michellé, as she is called in South America, slept for the first four days in Buenos Aires/Montevideo. Fair enough, as the 27 hour flight and lack of non-steak-protein would be enough to hamper even the toughest vegetarian traveler. Michellé is exciting, curious, fearless, and provides energy and laughter to those lucky enough to travel with her. She also falls down out of nowhere, which is hilarious.¨
Michelle introducing John: ¨John, or Juan, as he is referred to down in South America, is a clever and thoughtful traveller. When I would, say, forget my glasses on a 27 hour flight or bring shoes that were falling apart to Uruguay, Juan would be there to help me, you know, see or walk. Besides piggybacking a blind companion through Uruguay, Juan is very good at picking out wine – and drinking it. And he´s always up for joining me in some tomfoolery, such as salsa dancing in a tango bar.¨
Let´s start at the beginning, with our journey from YVR to EZE. It took two transfers, two airlines, three flights, and 27 hours. We were both a little crazy by the end of it, but that might´ve been due to the nerves we were feeling because of the peanut butter smuggling operation we were also running. Speaking of nerves, Mexicana Airlines almost left our bags in Mexico City, a quaint, quiet and clean town in the middle of Mexico. So, unscathed and with contraband peanut butter in-bag, we arrived in Buenos Aires.
Soon we were met by our hosts/tour guides, Martin Martin and Ximena Ferrer (pictured), or, as they were called two nights ago after some delicious Malbec, ¨Martana and Ximin¨- amazing. Martin is a PhD student and Freedom Fighter at the University of Buenos Aires. He comes from a long line of Coureurs de Bois and sports charming wool socks year round. Ximena is an Actress and peddler of Argentine leather. She also makes outstanding chop suey and brings a dramatic flare to all the backstories and context-providing she does.
Our first little tourist-jaunt saw us meander through the streets of Buenos Aires. It was like 19th century Europe meeting 21st century USA, with a lot of dirt, smog, traffic, congestion, businesspeople, and the seven bicyclists who are brave enough to ride through the streets of the city. We also came across a few South American emo-hipsters; however, unlike many of the hipsters who frequent our neighbourhood of Commercial Drive, Canada, these folks were not douchebags. Also, Buenos Aires has, so far, yielded no fewer than 37 different hairstyle-types. Recent findings show that this is well above the international average. One particular point of interest in Buenos Aires are the cirujas, who make up a union-organized social class of collectors of raw materials that people throw away. They´re a lot like the recyling leaders in Vancouver – homeless people – but there are just, like, way, way, way more and they´re organized.
And then we moved on to Montevideo, Uruguay! Like Canadians, who are generally well liked and respected around the world, Uruguayans are similarly percieved. Kinda like how American travellers often say they´re Canadian to avoid a doubled taxi fare, Argentinians tend to say they´re Uruguayan when visiting neighboring Brazil (this is all, of course, according to some lovely Uruguayans we met on our journey, which may or may not make this a biased account of Latin American relations). Needless to say, we noticed a difference between Buenos Aireans and Montevideans, and felt a bond with the kind, well-liked Uruguayans. In Montevideo we stayed at Ximena´s mother´s house – she will hereby be referred to as our ´Uruguayan mom´. Despite the language barrier that existed between us (not getting very far passed ´Ola!´ or ´Ciao!´) we formed a bond laughing at a ridiculous Canadian travel book with 80s-era photos. Oh, those poor Uruguayans thinking us Canadians still sport one-piece neon ski suits and handlebar mustaches. Even though it´s winter here, one can still appreciate the spectacular beauty of Montevideo, which is a city that wraps itself around a flawless sandy beach. La Rambla, a sidewalk that spans the entire beach/city, provides everything from a space for young people to drink/make-out to safety-seeking bicyclists to maté drinking joggers to tired Canadian tourists wishing they had worn better shoes for a long, long walk around a city. It´s a beautiful thing, La Rambla!
John´s observations on the journey thus far: ¨Argentina´s flag has a giant, angry Sun in the middle of it, and I don´t like it one bit. For a porphyria-riddled traveler, this omen does not bode well. This being said, the wine is the best I´ve tasted (many kinds are never exported to Canada, so it´s quite a treat to experience them here) and the meat is plentiful and delicious. People are friendly and tolerate us butchering their language while we point to things. I also really missed Martin´s beard and his Quebecois shenanigans; it´s good to see them again! Finally, I´ve yet to meet an Argentine and/or Uruguayan person who is taller than me; therefore, I am officially declaring myself the tallest person in South America. Please keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming parade on 9 de Julio in Buenos Aires in the coming days. Thanks.¨
Michelle´s observations on the journey thus far: Okay, so I don´t really `get´ the food culture down here, seeing as I don´t eat meat. However, I have been lucky enough to experience another facet of the culture that is as ingrained as meat and futbol (which, sadly, I don´t really `get´ either): Maté. A tea
drunk out of a small container (the maté), the traditions surrounding maté drinking are deeply ingrained within the culture, and involve strict rules: when drinking maté in a group, it must be returned to the initiating person between drinks. All tea must be finished before being returned. And the water must be boiled to just the right temperature before being poured over the tea. Sharing food and drink is a defining aspect of any culture, and I feel lucky to have experienced it.
Coming soon …
Juan y Michellé venture out on their own (sin guia) … with limited Spanish but big hearts and adventurous souls, what shenanigans will they find themselves involved in? Whatever happens, these two correspondents from the Weekly Gumboot will be back with reviews, critiques, questions and stories that will give Fodor´s and Lonely Planet a run for their money …
Good day, good readers! In a matter of moments, a couple of The Gumboot‘s contributors – Michelle Burtnyk and, well, yours truly – will be heading way, way down South to the country of South America! Crap, I know better than that. After all, I am an historian. Michelle and I will be visiting our Latin America Correspondent, Martin Martin. He lives in BuenosAires, Argentina.
Funny story about BuenosAires. The city’s mayor, Mauricio Macri, just declared a state of emergency in Argentina’s capital. Now, pessimists will tell you that traveling through a city and/or country during a state of emergency will doubtlessly present problems. But I beg to differ. There will be fewer tourists jamming the streets downtown area. The many rides in BuenosAires will be free (I’ve been told/promised that there are several fun rides throughout the city). And here’s the biggest positive as I see it. Two words: discount pork.
In all seriousness for any of our friends and family who are seriously concerned, we’ll be fine. Michelle speaks fluent Portuguese and is a vegetarian (“Yo soy vegetariano!”). In 2004, she also, I kid you not, was teaching English in Guang Dong, the Chinese town that was where SARS started. She’s got street cred in spades, people. And, hey, even though I’m allergic to the Sun I went to Africa and survived – if not thrived – in the Dark Continent (which isn’t really dark at all, is it, misguided European colonial storytellers?!). And, much to my surprise, it turned out that I traveled through Northern Uganda during a civil war. Has Argentina been in a civil war since the early 1980s? I don’t think it has. But do you know what China, Uganda and Argentina do have? Adventure.
We will keep you abreast of our story-filled travels. Not swine flu nor revolution nor Sun nor emergency dental surgery will stop us from calling it as we see it and telling it like it is. We will collect stories from South America and use them to build community. At home, and abroad.
Does our community need cars? Sure it does! I mean, we’re reliant on all kinds of stuff from far, far away. And we live in places that, for a lot of us, are far, far away from where we work. And we can’t always twitblog to our friends; we need to go and see them – you know, to personalize the experience in a way that pressing yourself against a computer screen just doesn’t quite pull off.
So, yes, in today’s big picture, we need cars. But on a glorious Sunday (June 14, 2009 to be specific), the people who visited Commercial Drive shared a common experience of, um, experiencing of a carless (not careless) community. But that’s enough from me. Let’s see what World Renowned Health Promotion Specialist, Michelle Burtnyk, has to say about the Car Free Community.