Manteca de mani: In search of peanut butter in Argentina

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Do you know where the peanut capital of Argentina is? According to the jar of “La Campiña” I have safely stowed in my cupboard, it is Hernando, Córdoba. Hernando is around 100km from the city of Córdoba itself. I’ve driven through it, and it’s a non-descript little place that is entirely forgettable. Non-descript aside from the fact that it is the peanut capital of Argentina, and it produces this beauty of a jar of peanut butter which we picked up on the shelves of an ordinary supermarket in Monte Buey.

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OK, so what’s all the fuss about? For a start, the jar cost just $23 pesos. A jar of peanut butter – imported – on the shelves of Jumbo cost around twice that 2 years ago. Now, if it is even available in Jumbo, the price will be around $100 pesos. (Guessing. Let me know….) You can also find peanut butter in Barrio Chino, but it’salso expensive. Plus, “La Campiña” tastes just like peanut butter should – overly sticky, overpoweringly peanutty, and deliciously sweet. We stocked up.

So if you want peanut butter in Argentina, go to Córdoba. It’s a bit of a drive. Only you can judge whether it’s worth it.

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Picaflor: Finding Home in South America

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“I think this whole “being a foreigner” thing feels consistent, somehow. It’s like my inner world and the outer one are in alignment. I’ve felt kind of foreign all my life, now I truly am.”

All too often travel memoirs make me feel inadequate, jealous or annoyed. The problem is either a lack of authenticity or an unlikeable narrator. Thankfully Picaflor suffers neither of these faults. Picaflor: Finding Home in South America relates the journey of New Zealand-born Jessica Talbot, whose restless travels start with a tattoo of a hummingbird in Peru and leads her to Buenos Aires in a quest to discover what it means to feel at home.

PicaflorPicaflor is about searching.

Jessica’s descriptions of the transitory characters, long-time travellers and expats “drifting, like little white parachuted dandelion seeds in the wind” are spot-on. After traveling solo in Central and South America for months I can relate to descriptions like “the eerie atmosphere that hovers in Cusco’s valleys seems to attract people who are searching…” and that “everyone I meet is struggling with something.”

It’s about a search for love.

Expats and long-term travellers have all experienced a version of Jessica’s Paco, the enigmatic one-that-got-away who, on reflection, was no real catch. Negotiated a confusing set of dating rules and etiquette often in a different language. Suffered the fly-by-night chancers, and maybe, if they’re lucky, found their quiet and dependable true love like Jessica’s Diego.

But Picaflor is more than your average “girl goes travelling, girl looks for boy, finds boy” travelogue shallowness. Jessica’s journey is a search for meaning, for family, for her place in the world. Picaflor is intimately revealing; reading snippets of a haunted childhood, exploration of the grief following the loss of a true love, macabre incidents like the death of a drunken tour guide, and her always candid exploration of her feelings, it feels like you’ve stumbled across a diary rather than your regular travel blog post.

Jessica TalbotJessica Talbot

Authenticity of voice and a refreshing parity of description make this book memorable. Just enough detail to pick you up and deposit you in a dusty Peruvian plaza, gazing at an open-mouthed church, but not too much that it reads like a guidebook. And anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in Argentina will appreciate the insight into this fascinating country’s psyche from an outsider’s perspective.

Thanks, Jessica, for Picaflor. Aside from identifying with the story, I thought the book was a beautiful read and a moving – brave – account of universal themes of longing, loss and acceptance told with warmth and style.

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Picaflor is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Book Depository and most online bookstores. Ebooks are also available from iBooks, Kobo, Copia, Gardners Books, Scribd. and more. Paperbacks are available in Argentina from Walrus Books (San Telmo) and Kel Ediciones bookstores in BA (and online).

Read more from Jessica and other nomadic searchers here at Finding Home

All quotes from Picaflor: Finding Home in South America. Photos from Hummingbird Book on Facebook

Cafes for families in BA: #1 Casa Muamor

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The ideal café pre-kids has four things: 1 – Great coffee. 2 – Comfy seats. 3 – Cool/ cosy/ creative/ delete-as-appropriate atmosphere. 4 – Wi-Fi. Once children come along the list lengthens to include at least another five must-haves including play area, restrooms with changing space, children’s menu (not counting chicken nuggets or other variously shaped regurgitated chicken pieces), non-judgemental and welcoming staff and patrons, lack of sharp-edged glass tables, unbreakable modern art….

I’m going to say now that no café in Buenos Aires (or possibly the world) ticks all these boxes for me. But some score higher on the child-friendly scale than others. These cafes give you a caffeine/ muffin fix with a side order of good times for the little people – first on the list: Casa Muamor.

Casa Muamor, Palermo, Buenos Aires

Muamor High-ceilinged, wood-panelled, with light flooding in and quirky art on the walls, Casa Muamor is pure rustic-chic. On the plus side for those with little people in tow, this café in Buenos Aires’s chic barrio of Palermo Soho has a small playroom with spinning toys, wooden tables, dolls, bricks, a seesaw and a playhouse, attached to the main room with windows for parents to watch through. Muamor also offers a small but well-formed kids menu, strong coffee for the mums and dads, and some seriously delish artisan breads.

Cafe for kids BA“Don’t forget to be happy” – someone should tell that to the waiter…..

On the minus side, whoever located the door to the playroom right next to the entrance to the kitchen was clearly untroubled by the consequences of speeding toddler meets waitress carrying plates of food. The stairs to the restrooms are steep enough to cause a panic attack when carrying a baby upstairs, and the service was slow and indifferent to the point of rudeness when I last visited. Judging by the cold eyes I got from the staff I thought I’d mistakenly pushed my stroller into Claridge’s, not a kid-friendly café with a playroom. My order of a coffee was met with a harsh “is that ALL?” and my place was cleared – biscuits taken away and everything – as I carried said coffee into the playroom to check on G. I ended up ordering two coffees and drinks for baby but the service didn’t warm up. Kids are tolerated – mums ordering just drinks? Not so much.

Casa Muamor PalermoPlenty to do in the playroom, although the toys are showing their age

The very existence of a kid-friendly place with character and individuality, which isn’t filled with plastic balls and crazy-loud music, is refreshing. Casa Muamor is a pretty place to sit awhile with a cafecito while watching your little darlings attempt to escape from the playroom while carrying an armful of baby dolls. However, this place needs to improve its service and attitude to mums (and dads) if it is going to keep advertising itself as a family-friendly location.

Casa Muamor, Soler 4202

Argentina Writing Scenes: How the great authors create

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I’m fascinated by the writing process. I love finding out how writers work; how they transform disordered notes into immaculate works of fiction, how their notebooks look covered with brainstorms and doodles and frustrated crossings-out. And I love fiction by Argentine authors.

 Manuscritos literarios argentinosSo when I came across this exhibition “Manuscritos Literarios Argentinos: Escenas de Escritura” (Argentine Literary Manuscripts: Writing Scenes) in the Biblioteca Nacional, it was like stumbling into a treasure trove. Original manuscripts from Borges, Cortázar, Bioy Casares, Lugones, Walsh, Viñas and more, drafts of novels and short stories, corrected texts, notebooks, letters, unpublished writing and illegible scribblings, are all displayed in this unassuming space in the national library.

Cesar Aira quoteTogether these literary treasures demonstrate the fascinating process of constructing fundamental works of Argentinean prose. The mini-exhibition peeks into those moments when inspiration strikes, when work takes place over coffee or in bed, and when it’s time to correct and correct again, which usually remain hidden in privacy.

The presentation includes three archetypical writing spaces; the bedroom, the coffee shop, and the desk, where visitors are invited to stop, sit and contribute their own private musings to the public copy books.

Julio Cortazar quoteEven if you don’t speak Spanish, you can still get a lot out of the exhibition if you love literature. You don’t need to understand everything: just by looking at the drafts and corrections you can experience something of how these great authors worked.

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Manuscritos literarios argentinos. Escenas de escritura

September to December 2014, Monday to Friday from 9am to 9pm, Saturday and Sunday from 12 noon to 7pm

Sala Leopoldo Marechal, Biblioteca Nacional, Agüero 2502

Celebrating Babywearing in Buenos Aires

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International Babywearing Week is here and in Argentina the babywearing movement is going strong. Thanks in part to entrepreneurial mums like Lindsay Olson who developed Llevame Cerca, a company selling custom-designed baby carriers, babywearing is increasingly stress-free (and stylish) in Buenos Aires.

The Llevame Cerca familyBabywearing – carrying your little one close to you for large parts of the day while you get on with everyday tasks, or when you are out and about – is a traditional practice that is gaining momentum in industrialized societies and is picking up popularity in BA. Babywearing helps caregivers and babies bond, supports simpler breastfeeding, and allows you to get on with things with a free pair of hands while baby is safely carried. Here’s how to wear your baby, BA-style.

Where to Buy Baby Carriers in BA

You can pick up baby carriers (portabebés), which are structured with straps and clips, at the bigger baby stores in BA like Creciendo. There’s not much choice, however, and they tend to be bulky and in basic black or blue. Ours required skills in advanced structural engineering to untangle and put on – not ideal when baby is only a few months old and mum has the mental faculties of a gnat.

Wraps are simpler to wear and popular in BA. Creciendo has started selling a few. You could also make your own wrap – there are links online for making a safe and simple wrap carrier. However, the best way in BA to get a chic and practical wrap-style baby carrier is to pay Llevame Cerca a virtual visit.

Llevame Cerca baby carriers

Llevame Cerca makes “custom-designed reversible Mei Tais and stretchy baby wraps using the highest quality designer fabrics.” Mei Tais have a panel of fabric and wide straps that wrap around the waist and over the shoulder. I love the look of the Llevame Cerca Mei Tais – vibrant, joyful patterns in plenty of options so you can wear your baby in something that suits your outfit and your personality. Because these are made of breathable fabric they are also better for mum/dad and baby in the hot Buenos Aires summer – my harness was a little too sweaty when the temperature rose.

How to Travel with a Baby in Buenos Aires

I’ve carried Baby G all over the place in Buenos Aires in his harness, from a boat trip in Tigre to strolling round Palermo, on the 166 bus downown from my house, and shopping in the local stores. Babywearing is highly practical for traveling with a baby in this hectic city. Daddy carries baby a lot (especially now baby is so much heavier), and this is what has gotten us the most comments – it is still much less common to see a man babywearing in Argentina than it is in the UK.

Babywearing in the city

Baby G at the zoo (Grandpa is wearing the harness)

Lindsay from Llevame Cerca says, “Babywearing really helped me as a mother of two. It’s extremely practical for getting around and getting things done, especially in a city like Buenos Aires. You quickly realize it’s not a very stroller-friendly place. The uneven and torn up sidewalks aren’t very easy to manoeuvre with a stroller, it’s a bouncy ride for a little one, and let’s not even talk about the hazards when trying to cross the street. Forget about traveling on the subway or the bus on a regular basis if you have to fold and lug around a 10+ kg stroller, a baby and your personal belongings. You can’t really beat the benefits of wearing your baby – it’s economical, practical, and healthy.”

International Babywearing Week 2014

Babywearing gives little ones a great view of the world

According to Babywearing International: “International Babywearing Week is a focused opportunity to celebrate, promote and advocate the many benefits of babywearing. International Babywearing Week is also an occasion to focus media attention on this beautiful and beneficial practice.”

Moms, dads and caregivers here in BA and across the world are increasingly realising that, as Lindsay remarks, “The benefits of babywearing are endless: worn babies cry less, sleep more, and experience and learn about the world around them. It helps with nursing and strengthens the caregiver/child bond.”

Big cheer to all the babywearing mums in Buenos Aires!

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International Babywearing Week info: http://www.babywearinginternational.org/events/international-babywearing-week/

Llevame Cerca online store: http://llevamecerca.com/

Buenos Aires travel icons #2: San Telmo

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The panelled door of the city mansion swings open and a man steps out onto the cracked pavement, cigarette drooping from his lips and newspaper folded in the crook of his arm. He hooks wire glasses onto his nose and murmurs a buen dia to the newspaper sellers across the street and to you as you wander past the kiosk. As the door creaks closed you catch a glimpse of not one room but a collection of misshapen coventillo apartments leading off a dusty alleyway, open to the bright blue sky. He saunters off towards the plaza to begin his day, the door locked on its hidden warren of sun-baked rooms.

This is his barrio; this is San Telmo, Buenos Aires. Spend some time here and you’ll come to look on it as yours, too. San Telmo is a proud neighbourhood with strong working-class roots. It captivates with its cobblestones and crumbling grandeur while surprising you with its rough, vivacious confidence. It is the barrio of seduction; the area of Buenos Aires most associated with tango. This dusty neighbourhood is made for wandering.San Telmo Buenos AiresSan Telmo is the city’s oldest neighbourhood, bounded to the north by Avenida Chile and the south by Parque Lezama. San Telmo was part of the city’s first industrial area, home to windmills, brick kilns and warehouses and a brisk business exporting leather, wood and hides. It benefitted from renovation and improvements until a catastrophic yellow fever epidemic in 1871 changed its fortunes. Wealthy porteños fled the area and the city. Most of the grand mansions they left behind were cut up into coventillos, or tenement housing, for the immigrants that began to arrive in their place.

IMG_3262As a result, San Telmo became Buenos Aires’ most multi-cultural neighbourhood, housing the British, Italians, Russians and many others within its walls. Its cheap accommodation and liberal spirit also attracted artists and writers and San Telmo still retains a creative vitality. You’ll hear the samba beat before turning a corner to see the procession of drummers stamping and dancing down the street. Stop and listen to a folkloric melody from a guitar at the corner of the plaza. Walk past florescent street art peeling from the walls and step into an elegant apartment block for an evening of story-telling and electro-tango.

Tango in San TelmoThis passion, this adventure that hangs in the air is suffused with the rhythm of tango. Tango is one of San Telmo’s major attractions. In 1968 Edmundo Rivero, a respected tango singer, founded the El Viejo Almacén (on the corner of Independencia and Balcarce), now just one of many tanguerías; bars and clubs dedicated to the art. Tango is the soul of San Telmo and it frequently spills out into its streets. If you’ve got only limited time, Sunday is the most rewarding day to visit. On Sunday evenings Plaza Dorrego hosts an outdoor milonga where, if you have the passion, your dancing skills will be welcome and you won’t be without a partner for long.

Dancers in Plaza Dorrego Milonga San TelmoEarlier on Sunday the plaza is home to the Feria de San Telmo, a street market that cascades down Calle Defensa and into the surrounding blocks. If you’re not dancing there are many opportunities for shopping. Browse antique silverware, brightly painted filete artwork, jewel-coloured glass bottles and old advertising posters.

San Telmo antiquesA recent surge of gentrification – designer T-shirt shops and homeware boutiques have sprung up on many corners – may have altered its original character but it hasn’t totally extinguished San Telmo’s style. Spend time in its streets, in its dark panelled coffee houses and its tango bars and this barrio will seduce you. Soon you’ll want a key to your own latticed door, and the chance to wile away the hours sipping Malbec in the sunshine as the music dances through your own open window.

Doorway Buenos AiresSan Telmo at night

4 Outdoorsy Ways to Welcome Spring in Buenos Aires

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¡Feliz Primavera! Sunday is Spring Day in Argentina and if the glorious sunshine continues through the weekend it’s the perfect time to get outdoors and soak up the spring love. Here are a few ideas for enjoying the city from the outside.

Puerto Madero spring sky1. Complete 108 sun salutations

Yogis and the yoga-curious…. join the friendly folks at Buena Onda Yoga for a free outdoor event entitled the “Sun Salutation Spring Equinox Celebration”. On September 20th at 2pm you can join in the collective 108 sun salutations (resting at any time you wish, of course) then enjoy a pot-luck picnic afterwards (bring a healthy dish or snack to share). Here’s the detail on the location from the Buena Onda Yoga Facebook page: “WHERE: Rosario Vera Peñaloza and Av Calabria in Puerto Madero. You go up the huge set of stairs from there and will find a big flat area between 2 rows of low benches. In the Guia T there’s a great little detail map of the area on Plano 18.”

2. Investigate the botanicals (and bring the kids for art play)

Spring in the Botanical GardensJardín Botánico Carlos Thay (Buenos Aires Botanical Garden, Av. Santa Fe 3951) is the perfect place to breathe in the scents of spring – mulchy earth, crushed berries, damp leaves and mauve blossoms. Skulk under the trees to escape the sun that’s getting stronger and stronger, and spot the snoozing cats.

If you have kids, bring them along to the Botanical Garden tomorrow, Saturday 20th September, for an art/play event celebrating spring. Games, activities, art installations and more, from 14.30 to 18.30. Free to get in.

  1. Stroll around the Japanese Garden

Japanese Garden PalermoOrchids take centre stage this weekend in the serene surroundings of the Japanese Garden. There are guided visits, talks, and all sorts of orchid-related activities in the garden between 19th (today) and Sunday 21st September. Take a look at the website for more details.

  1. Walk on the wild side

Reserva Ecologica Puerto MaderoIf you’re looking for wilderness you’re in the wrong part of Argentina. But it is possible to escape the cars, crowds, high-rises and homeless street dogs for a few hours in Buenos Aires – take a trip to the Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur. Lose sight of the city and recharge your batteries in this marshy reserve, home to hundreds of bird species, lizards, turtles, and more. The Reserve is a quiet place to be during the week but it does attract lots of people on sunny weekends.

For more inspiration, see this article I wrote for The Real Argentina on parks and open spaces in Buenos Aires – detail on the Costanera Sur, Botanical Garden and more.

Nature reserve in Buenos Aires

Indestructible baby books in Buenos Aires?

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Books are fast becoming luxury items in Argentina. While books in English have always been difficult and expensive to buy, books in Spanish are heading in the same direction. When you have a book-hungry baby, paying upwards of $100 pesos (around US$12) per kids’ title hurts.

Baby G is over the stage of putting books in his mouth but he still loves to dig into books with such enthusiasm that the covers end up detached and the pages falling out after a few weeks of reading. And we’re talking about baby board books here; I haven’t given him a delicate copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude to play with or anything like that.

That’s why I really want to buy G some of these Indestructibles – “water-proof, tear-resistant, and baby-durable” books that – best of all – look and feel like “real” paper books with thin, flexible pages (G knows the difference between bath books and real books and, believe me, he’s not happy reading a bath book unless he’s actually in the bath.)

Any available in Argentina? Any other ideas for the strongest baby books on the market (Spanish or English)?

Running with the dogs in BA

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On a chilly BA day, what you need is a little colour and a whole heap of bounding dogs. These pictures from Sunday’s BA DogRun provide exactly that. Happy Friday!

DOGS DOGS DOGS

On Sunday 18th May more than 3000 people ran, walked or generally tripped over their dogs at the annual Eukanuba DogRun Revolution Buenos Aires 2014.

DogRun@dwphotographerDogRun@dwphotographerDogRun@dwphotographerAll photographs by Diego Winitzky FB: DW Photographer