“Railway termini are our gates to the glorious and the unknown. Through them we pass out into adventure and sunshine, to them, alas! we return.”
– E.M. Forster, author
A recent bout with the vagaries of Argentine supply and demand led me far afield. It was the sort of thing that would simply not have occurred to me before moving here, but has now become commonplace. You know that plastic tray that doubles as both the last shelf in the refrigerator and as the top for the vegetable drawer? Of course you do. Well, ours cracked. Slowly and surely it reached the point of in-utility. And so, I stopped by the store where we’d bought it four years and some ago, one of the major suppliers of home appliances here in town, and was told, “we only deal with the appliances, not the parts”. The salesman did scribble down an 800 number and suggested I call, it being the number for “the manufacturer’s customer service line”.
But, that was not to be so. Not only was it not a number for that, it wasn’t even a number that was at the manufacturer, nor a customer service line of any sort. It was a warehouse for a distributorship, the man who answered informed me, adding that they had, at one time, maybe 12-15 years before, had a contract for distributing those refrigerators. He had no further information. Enter the internet. A complicated search as it turned out, as the manufacturer turns out to be an Argentine subsidiary of an Argentine subsidiary of a European company. But I eventually tracked down a customer service number and called it, and, surprisingly, it was answered immediately. They informed me that they only dealt “with the appliances, not the parts”. That sounded so… familiar. But, they “knew of” a service company in the city that handled the parts. Only one.
A phone call, also answered quickly, resulted in the information that while, indeed, this appliance repair company did deal in parts, they had none of the tray I needed. However, they’d be coming back into stock in two days when they received their next order. I called back in two days. Nope, none had arrived, but definitely in next week’s shipment. A week passed, and no, perhaps the following week. This went on for five weeks, at which time they allowed that they really had no idea when or if ever they would have the trays back in stock. I called back to the manufacturer, perhaps there was another service company, outside of Buenos Aires, that could ship the tray to me. Well, there is one out in Caseros, in the province, about an hour away. I called. The man who answered informed me that he had “stacks” of the trays, but no, no shipping, they simply don’t do that. The trays either come with a technician to “install” them, a prohibitively expensive venture of several hundred pesos given the distance, or I could come pick one up, 40 pesos.
And so I found myself on a suburban train line out to the quiet little town of Caseros (when I mentioned I was headed that way to a local friend, who found the whole experience quite amusing, his only comment was, “they have the best marijuana out there”). From the train station it was a half hour walk through sleepy residential streets and on to the industrial section of town. There I found a high, unmarked door, looking more or less like the entrance to Sanford & Son’s junkyard. Locked. No sign. There was, off to the side, a buzzer, which I pressed. I waited, and waited. Luckily, I’d brought he phone number, and, just as I was calling it, the door slid slightly open and a surly young man looked out and asked what I wanted. Turned out he was the guy I’d talked to, and he immediately changed his demeanor to friendly, invited me in, showed me the “stacks” of trays (okay, there were three – trays, not stacks) that were there amongst what looked like, well, the Sanford & Son’s junkyard. I paid, he found some change, a plastic bag to put it in, and I was back on the street in… 15 minutes. A return walk to the station, and getting hungry.
Right at the train station in Caseros there is a charming looking restaurant that lies alongside the tracks. It’s called D’Carmen. Actually, the inside of the place is not overly charming, it’s just sort of cafe-ish. But, there’s an outdoor garden with a dozen tables, spaced well apart, each shaded by a glowing red umbrella. Trees, flowers, birds. It’s actually quite lovely. And the menu looked rather interesting – usual suspects sort of stuff, but each with some tasty sounding twists. And, in the end, it was a tasty little lunch, if not quite what they promised. The fried squid rings, in and of themselves, quite good. Missing, however, the lemon-garlic aioli, as, well, the waitress wasn’t quite sure what that was. I explained, she assured me that no such thing had ever been served on the plate with the rings, it was clearly a “typo”. But, lemon wedges provided a bit of zing.
The “grilled, fresh red tuna steak” was an eye-popper, though only, it turned out, as a menu listing. It’s so hard to get fresh tuna here, and it really isn’t the season, but okay, they might have some frozen steaks. I asked, however, to be sure, if it was actually red tuna, the waitress had no idea, but went to ask, returning to inform me that yes, the chef said it was. Whether or not she ever actually asked I have no idea, but the fish that arrived was a steak of some sort of white-fish, certainly not tuna in texture. Nonetheless, it was good, if faintly over-cooked. It was sort of drowning in a soy-mushroom medley that really needed to be… somewhere else. On the other hand, the vegetable medley accompanying it (look at that, an actual vegetable medley, with fresh vegetables!) was delicious.
So, if you find yourself in Caseros, and are looking for something other than one of the ubiquitous pizza places or standard issue local fare sorts, D’Carmen makes for an interesting departure. It’s not spectacular, but it’s good, and it’s definitely something a little bit different.