Monday, September 18, 2006

First Sight of Spring

The weekend was all clear blue sky and sunlight in Buenos Aires; this first sign of a new season seemed to have helped Guillermo and me see our future with increasing clarity.
Beside hatching exciting plans for the future, we were quite busy; our young nephews' party was on Saturday and we were invited to lunch at our close friends' the following day.

The party on Saturday, at a recreational club in Villa Martelli, was a real eye-opener. Not only did I realise there is a big market for plastic Barney's tablecloths, the experience also shattered various myths such as the much touted beauty and slimness of Argentine women, only the Japanese are inseparable from their cam-recorder or digital camera, and a licensed nutritionist should know better than to push junk food on her guests.

If you think outdoor parties hosted by Argentines are all asados, you are wrong, just like I was wrong. At this party, we had pizzas coming around every 5 minutes until Guillermo and I asked "when is the meat coming?" only to realise that pizzas were all we were having.

It was a steady procession of cheese pizza, cheese and tomato sauce pizza, cheese and onion pizza, more cheese pizza, then cheese and actual tomato pizza. When our stomachs were about to split they brought out one more topped with rocket leaves and ham. Although I could barely eat, I asked for a slice just so I could have the couple of green leaves on top.

Unlike most other guests who were young parents glad to be leaving their kids in the company of other kids so they could turn their backs and enjoy themselves, Guillermo and I decided to kick a football around with a couple of the young boys. It was a beautiful day to be out in the sun and running after a ball helped us digest all that clogging fats and refined carbohydrates.

The club was obviously a family place packed with grandparents, parents and their kids having a day out in the fresh air. I looked around, not one yummy mummy in sight. All the young mothers were just like any young suburban mother one would see anywhere. So to all the insanely biased porteñas telling those expats who would listen to their self-perpetuated myth that Argentine women were the most beautiful in the world; I say only this, these ladies obviously have not seen much of the world.

Once the pizzas had been cleared, ice cream was served and giant alfajores (corn flour biscuits sandwiched with ducle de leche) were passed around with Nescafe and Coffee Mate. It was also piñata time for the kids. All of them gathered around a paper drum filled with boiled lollies, lolly-pops, multi-coloured soft chews (caramellos). Each had to pull an attached ribbon to release the spoil.

As if the kids didn't get enough rubbish throughout the day, the nutritionist hostess went around afterwards, offering everyone even more compounded chocolates (chocolate-coloured rubbish packed with sugar and hydrogenated vegetable fat), bright red lolly-pops and some diabolical and brown soft chews named Holanda. Then out came the cakes, all meringue and dulce de leche, with Barney and the cars perched on top. We sang happy birthday three times, two Argentine versions and a Mexican one, although it really was no one's birthday.

A man, who was definitely not a hired photographer for the day, had been shooting everything in sight with a digital recorder as well as a digital camera throughout the entire party. He finally caught our attention, or more accurately, our fascination. Guillermo's brother mused that this guy probably couldn't recognise his own kids outside the frame of a recorder or camera. I was simply in awe of his agility which would have out-manoeuvred the most able and determined Japanese tourist.

We left the party early, at around six in the afternoon. Both Guillermo and I felt physically uncomfortable from all the greasy junk food we had eaten. As soon as we got home, we had to have some soothing jasmine tea. We skipped dinner altogether. Guillermo still had no appetite for breakfast the following morning.

Sunday lunch was a completely different affair. We had been looking forward to this lunch. Miguel and Paula are great friends with Guillermo and I've grown to love them just as much. In addition, their two young daughters (age 2 and 3) are absolutely adorable angels. I won't be far wrong in saying these two girls are probably the most well brought-up kids in Buenos Aires. There is no magic to it; the parents are loving yet disciplined with them. The girls eat a balanced diet packed with fruits and vegetables, have plenty of sleep and are intellectually engaged by their parents.

Spending time with this family is a real treat for Guillermo and me; especially this Sunday as it helped to wash away the vulgarity of the previous day. Our gracious host and hostess cooked a delicious meal of roast chicken and potatoes. I brought along a dark chocolate mousse made with nothing else but chocolate and organic eggs.
During the entire lunch, the girls never wandered off the dining table and ate more or less independently. They enjoyed a reasonable portion of dessert; then, although reluctantly, kissed us goodbye, brushed their teeth and went for their routine afternoon nap. In this land populated with kids drugged up with sugar and coke by their ignorant parents, let me assure you just how rare this family is.

Guillermo and I came out of our friends' home feeling refreshed and positive. It was a warm spring day; Colegiales, where they live, is close to Palermo so we decided to take a long walk through Colegiales, Chacarita and Villa Crespo, all the up and coming suburbs surrounding the original Cinderella barrio of Palermo Hollywood and SoHo.

By the time we reached Palermo SoHo, we were ready for a coffee. As if by reflex, we ended up back in a cafe we found when it first opened last year. It is literally the size of a car space, no more than 2 metres wide.

El Federal is a down home place which serves honest good food in big portions. Lunch ranges from 8 pesos to 12 pesos, including a soft drink and coffee. There are always a good selection of breads, savoury and sweet tarts.

We chose a lemon ricotta tart (4 pesos), a lemon curd filled biscuit or rellenito de limon (2 pesos). Both were really very tasty, not too sweet, and the portions were generous. However, it was a real pity that the coffee didn't match in quality.

It was an interesting weekend and I think one that we would reflect upon in the future as a watershed moment.

El Federal, Serrano 1507

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