2006.Sep.04 Monday · 4 comments

in Life

“I find the great thing in this world is, not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.”

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, poet, novelist, dramatist, humanist, scientist, theorist, painter, and for ten years a chief minister of state… and I think I’m busy

Buenos Aires – Today, I’m going to reveal a secret or two. Roughly half the population of the planet knows each of these secrets, and the other half suspects, but it’s one of those men are from Mars, women are from Venus things – which, by the way, we’re not. It’s about directions. There’s the old running saw about how men will never stop and ask someone for directions. That much is true. The psychology behind it has always been assumed by women to be that we have some sort of macho thing going about asking for help. Here’s the secret… that’s not why. Have you ever noticed how good men are with a map? They can look at it, plan a route, follow it, figure out shortcuts, all that good stuff. Take away our map, and we’re lost. We’re always muttering about “if you hadn’t left the map on the kitchen table…” – it’s not an excuse, nor really an attempt to blame women, it’s that we’re actually, truly lost without our map. Really. And we know, deep in our brains, that if we were to pull into the closest gas station and ask the guy there… if he doesn’t have a map, and just starts rattling things off and pointing, he doesn’t really know either. Because he doesn’t have a map in front of him.

Now, women take the opposite tack. We, the men, all know that they’re clueless about how to use a map. They turn it this way and that, they try to “line it up” with the way we’re going, they call out turns that don’t exist that somehow only appear to them on the paper, they’re off in G-6 when they should be in D-4. But give them detailed instructions, even long convoluted ones, upfront, and they can remember them and follow them – somehow finding that little cottage by the lake from someone else’s memory of how to get there. Just don’t put a map in front of them. They always want to ask “the guy” for directions. And that’s how we all end up lost, because “the guy” doesn’t really know.

I met up with my friend Elizabeth at Retiro station. She had a day off from work, and we’d decided to go out and wander one of the northern suburbs in search of something interesting – maybe Martinez, or San Isidro. We bought our tickets, and I headed over to the big board that shows each train, when it’s leaving, and what stops it makes. I had my map in front of me. She disappeared. The board said it was about 15 minutes until the next train heading to where we were going. She came running back shouting, “the train is about to leave, come quickly”. She was pointing at a train on another track… “that one, it’s leaving in one minute and it goes to San Isidro!” We jumped on board just as the doors started to close. She’s lived here for over a decade, she takes trains and buses all the time. A couple of stations into the trip, as we were chatting, I noticed the name on the station wasn’t one I recognized from my mapped out route. I pulled out the map. We were going in a different direction. “No, no, the guy at the gate told me this was the train to take.” I had that sinking feeling – she’d asked “the guy”. We had options, we could get off at the next station, go back, and get on the right train, or we could continue on into the unknown. We decided on the latter – and after having consulted the map (which she didn’t believe was correct), decided to exit at the next interesting looking station.

Villa Ballester - winning sculpturesAnd so, we found ourselves in the municipality of San Martin, and more specifically in the town of Villa Ballester, population 35,000 and some. It’s a pretty little town, lots of old Spanish style homes with tile roofs. We wandered a bit near to the train station, and then headed into the center of town, where we found a cute little plaza and playground. At the entrance were these three graffiti covered sculptures – the winners of the National Open Air Arts competition in 1988… so they’ve been there for a bit. A shame that the town doesn’t keep them cleaned of the graffiti – a lot of it had clearly been there for awhile. There are lots of signs for various chess tournaments and classes posted about town, and a google search on Villa Ballester pops up with various chess related things, including a town chess club – apparently a strong local passtime.

Villa Ballester - old water towerOn the far side of the plaza we spotted this sort of spaceship lifting off looking tower. My guess, some sort of municipal water tower. As we approached it though, we could see little windows spiraling up the column – some sort of winding staircase inside apparently. It was all locked up tight, and also graffiti covered. Elizabeth went over and asked another “guy” about it – okay, it’s not directions, we should be allright. He started in on a story about it having been a military water tower, that then later was open to the public, and you used to be able to go up inside it, but the staircase had no real railing and a little girl fell and was killed so the government closed it up. Then he ended the discourse with a sort of “I think, it was a long time ago, before I was born, I don’t really know…” She asked him if there was anything else of interest to see in town – he thought a moment and decided that not really, but we could go back a few train stops to the San Martin stop and see the beautiful town plaza. He started pointing in directions that didn’t relate to the train. She started that direction. I pulled her towards the train station… I had my map with me.

San Martin pedestrian mallNot more than fifteen minutes later found us alighting from the train in the heart of San Martin. That put us directly facing onto a pedestrian mall, which seems to be the core of the town. Knowing nothing about the town or what to see and do, other than “the beautiful town plaza”, we just decided to wander the length of the mall. Lots of small shops, cheap prices, covering the gamut of everything you might find in typical strip shopping here. As a guess, we both figured the pedestrian mall might very well at some point connect with the plaza. We didn’t have a map, so we’d have to ask, if not.

But, sure enough, a half dozen blocks or so along the mall, it opened up into what is, indeed, a quite beautiful town plaza. Fountains, playground, lots of trees and benches, a small church, and a dominating central statue of San Martin himself. It was beautiful weather, so we sat in the park for a bit, and just enjoyed. Strange trees, big bulging trunks and a bark covered with large bumps, almost like short horns… some kind of palm perhaps?

San Martin - statue in the town plaza San Martin - strange trees in the central plaza
Of course, a wander through suburbia (or anywhere) wouldn’t be complete without a stop for a bite to eat. San Martin - San Antonio pizzeria - cabrese pizzaInterestingly, like many a suburban town, the center of town had little to offer other than some sandwich shops and places like McD’s. We finally ended up on a parallel street a block or two away where we had a choice between a parrilla and a pizzeria. We went with the later, Don Antonio pizzeria, Pueyrredón 2513, they were offering what turned out to be quite good pizzas out of a quebracho wood fired oven – this one a Calabrese, topped with longaniza sausage, tomatoes, green olives, and mozzarella. I still can’t quite get my tastebuds around what to say the smoke from quebracho, a resinous evergreen tree, tastes like – it’s definite that there’s something different, but it’s very subtle and elusive. Perhaps our friend Mark from Asado Argentina can chime in and give us his thoughts?


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

asadoarg September 4, 2006 at 19:23

I think I found a place that sells quebracho blanco. Doesn’t say on the bag but sure looks like it. However, I think much of what you’ll find in many lump charcoal brands is the same. Hard to tell because they never label the various wood content.

I have a bag of quebracho colorado. Took a pic of one here.

Resinous indeed! I wonder if the brand that offers this wood must dry cure it somehow because it doesn’t have a sticky texture at all. Maybe that is just how the wood is though or well seasoned. Never encountered a “fresh” piece. The resin, if you look at the right side of the pic, looks like a sugar that has been torched for a couple minutes. I popped one on the fire once and black tarry resin bubbled out of the middle. It is definitely a wood for outdoor use or within a well ventilated indoor area. My little test brought on a light smoky haze in the quincho and for a day or two I thought I was living in a virginia ham smokehouse. But I think another challenge is in order, maybe if the wind is good.

There is something different about the smokiness. Very rich and heavy smoke smell. To me it is like multiplying the smokiness of oak a few times with a touch of hickory. The reason why I say oak is that it really reminds of an oak fueled fireplace. For how resinous it is I’m surprised it doesn’t have deep acidic sour notes, it is there, but not overbearing. I don’t think it would be a good base wood for long term smoking but maybe I’ll give it a try some day as smoke chips whenever I get around to having a smoker built.

Paz September 5, 2006 at 08:26

Nice looking pizza.


schussheim September 5, 2006 at 10:27

Hey, greengo! It is “quebracho” and “calabrese”.
You can find quebracho colorado (best then quebracho blanco) at a grocery-fruits,vegetables-coal-wood store under the bridge of Juan B. Justo avenue and Paraguay street.

dan September 5, 2006 at 11:32

Calabrese, correct, that was just a typo. But I have the flyer from the restaurant, and they advertise “pizzas al horno de leña quebracha”, so I’ll pass the buck to them if they got their genders wrong. Either way, both corrected. Oh, and it’s “gringo”, not “greengo”… 😉

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