Jun 272021

On this same date in both 1806 and 1807 British forces attempted the capture of Buenos Aires, a chapter in the 6 – yes SIX – Anglo-Argentine wars up to that point. If nothing else does, these wars prove that British worldwide imperial aggression was not about “civilizing” other nations or any other such nonsense. It was outright territorial expansion – something they decried in Napoleon, yet had no trouble doing themselves. On the second attempt, the heavily armed and disciplined British army was beaten back by Argentinos armed with sticks. When we drink mate we have to change the yerba when it gets weak and mate palitos (little sticks) rise to the surface. We say at that point, “the British are coming.” I rarely post about battles on this blog, but as a proud Argentino I feel the need to make a point about British colonialism in the region.

There were many Anglo-Spanish Wars between 1585 and 1808, most of which lasted for several years with Britain harboring interests in taking control of Spanish colonies in South America. Many attempts had been made by the British in past conflicts to establish a foothold in South America such as in the disastrous battle of Cartagena de Indias (1740-41).

As early as 1711, the British colonial administrator, John Pullen, had sent a memorandum to Whitehall stating that the Río de la Plata, the estuary on which Buenos Aires was located, was the best place in the world for making a British colony. His proposal also included Santa Fe and Asunción, and would have generated an agricultural area with Buenos Aires as the main port. Admiral Vernon also declared the benefit of opening markets in those areas in 1741. By 1780 the British government approved a project of colonel William Fullarton to take the Americas with attacks from both the Atlantic (from Europe) and the Pacific (from India), but this project was cancelled.

In 1789 war between Britain and Spain seemed imminent after the Nootka Crisis of 1789 involving clashes between British and Spanish colonists in the Pacific Northwest of North America. The Venezuelan revolutionary Francisco de Miranda took the opportunity to appear before prime minister William Pitt with his proposal to emancipate the New World territories under Portuguese and Spanish rule and turn them into a giant independent empire governed by a descendant of the Incas. Not sure how well this plan would have gone down in indigenous South America! The plan presented in London requested the assistance of the United Kingdom and the United States to militarily occupy the major South American cities, ensuring that the people would greet the British cordially and would be rushing to organize sovereign governments. In return for this help, Britain would receive the benefits of unrestricted trade and usufruct of the Isthmus of Panama, in order to build a channel for the passage of ships. Pitt accepted the proposal and began to organize the expedition. The Nootka Convention in 1790 ended hostilities, and the Miranda mission was canceled.

Chancellor of the exchequer, Nicholas Vansittart, made a new proposal in 1796: the plan was to take Buenos Aires, then move to Chile and attack from there the Spanish stronghold of El Callao in Peru. This proposal was canceled the following year, but was reinvigorated by Thomas Maitland in 1800 as the Maitland Plan. The new plan was to seize control of Buenos Aires with 4,000 soldiers and 1,500 cavalry, move to Mendoza, and prepare a military expedition to cross the Andes and conquer Chile. From there, the British would move to seize Peru and then Quito.

All these proposals were discussed in 1804 by William Pitt, Lord Henry Melville, Francisco de Miranda and admiral Home Riggs Popham. Popham did not believe a complete military occupation of South America was practical but argued for taking control of key locations to allow the main objective, to open new markets for the British economy. Although there was consensus for weakening Spanish control over its South American colonies, there was no agreement as to how and when to take such action. For instance, it was not even agreed whether the cities be turned into British colonies after their capture or just be made into British protectorates.

In 1805 Popham received orders to escort a military expedition against the Dutch colony of the Cape of Good Hope, which was allied with Napoleon. With nearly 6,300 men they took it in January 1806. Popham received new orders from the admiralty to patrol the east coast of South America, from Rio de Janeiro to the Río de la Plata, in order to detect any attempt to counterattack the Cape. However, Popham had the idea of taking the Río de la Plata with a military action similar to the one made at the Cape. His agent William White had informed him about the local politics of the region, such as the discontent among some groups about the restrictive regulations enforced by Spain concerning international commerce. Popham took the 71st Regiment of Infantry, artillery and 1,000 men, to attempt the invasion. On the way, the expedition got reinforcements of 300 men from the St Helena Regiment.


The Spanish Viceroy, Rafael de Sobremonte, had asked the Spanish Crown for reinforcements many times, but received only a shipment of several thousand muskets and instructions to form a militia. Buenos Aires was then a large settlement housing approximately 45,000, but the Viceroy was reluctant to give weapons to the Criollos (Spanish colonists born in South America). His best troops had been dispatched to Upper Peru, now Bolivia, to guard the frontiers from Túpac Amaru II’s revolt, and when Sobremonte learned of the British presence in the area he dispatched the remaining troops to Montevideo, considering that the main attack would be in that city. Thus, the British found Buenos Aires almost defenseless.

The British took Quilmes, near Buenos Aires, on 25 June 1806, and reached and occupied Buenos Aires on 27 June. Initially the British forces were met with a somewhat lukewarm welcome by the residents of the city, with some wealthy families throwing feasts in honor of the British officers. Nevertheless, some political figures remained antagonistic. Manuel Belgrano said “Queremos al antiguo amo o a ninguno” (we want the old Master or none at all) before leaving for Uruguay. Religious leaders swore loyalty as well, after the promise that the Catholic religion would be respected. Some merchants were displeased by the repeal of the Spanish monopoly and the opening to British trade, as it harmed their interests.


Juan Martín de Pueyrredón organized a militia near Buenos Aires, but was discovered before being ready, and his troops were defeated. Santiago de Liniers, who was assigned to guard a nearby coast defense, got into the city and weighed the situation. He convinced Spanish merchant, Martín de Álzaga, to continue resistance to the British plans, and moved to Montevideo. The governor Ruiz Huidobro gave him command of 550 veterans and 400 soldiers to return to Buenos Aires and attempt the re-conquest. On 4 August 1806, Liniers landed at Las Conchas, north of Buenos Aires, and advanced with a mixed force of Buenos Aires line troops and Montevideo militia toward the city. On 10 August he took control of the strategic points of Miserere and El Retiro, holding the north and west entries to the city. The British finally surrendered on 14 August.

On 3 February 1807, the British attacked the region again.  They conquered Montevideo and then, under the command of general John Whitelocke, 13,000 troops sailed to Buenos Aires, landing on June 27 (fateful anniversary !!). On 1 July, a Spanish force led by Liniers fought but was overwhelmed by superior numbers in the city environs. At this crucial moment, Whitelocke did not attempt to enter the city, but twice demanded the city’s surrender. Meanwhile, Buenos Aires’ mayor Martín de Álzaga organized the defense of the city by digging trenches, fortifying buildings and erecting fences with great popular support from the Criollos who by this time were seeking their independence from Spain and were not interested in being colonized by Britain. Finally, 3 days after forcing the troops under Liniers to retreat, Whitelocke resolved to attack Buenos Aires. Trusting in the superiority of his soldiers, he divided his army into 12 columns and advanced without the protection of the artillery. His army was met on the streets by a militia, including 686 African slaves, stiffened by the local 1st Naval Infantry Battalion and 1st ‘Los Patricios’ Infantry Regiment (still the elite guard of Argentina) and fighting continued on the streets of Buenos Aires on 4 July and 5 July. Whitelocke underestimated the difficulty of urban combat, in which the inhabitants threw cooking pots filled with burning oil and boiling water from rooftops, injuring many soldiers of the 88th Regiment. Meanwhile the locals fought hand to hand in the streets with rakes, clubs, sticks, and whatever else they could find, eventually overwhelming the British troops.

By the end of 5 July, the British controlled Retiro and Residencia at the cost of about 70 officers and 1,000 other ranks killed or wounded, but the city’s center was still in the hands of the defenders, and the invaders were now demoralized. At this point, a counter-attack by the militias and colonial troops present, defeated many British commanders, including Robert Craufurd and Denis Pack. Then Whitelocke proposed a 24-hour truce, which was rejected by Liniers, who ordered an artillery attack. After suffering 311 killed, 679 wounded and 1,808 captured or missing, Whitelocke signed an armistice with Liniers on 12 August. Whitelocke left the Río de la Plata basin taking with him the British forces in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Colonia, but leaving behind 400 seriously wounded. On his return to Great Britain, he was court-martialed and cashiered.

My “recipe” of the day has to be yerba mate with paulitos (little sticks).  Mate (note the spelling – no accent) is the national drink of Argentina, and has been since even before Spanish colonization.  Yerba mate was first consumed by the indigenous Guaraní people and also spread among the Tupí people that lived in the departments of Amambay and Alto Paraná in the territory of Paraguay. Its consumption became widespread during European colonization, particularly in Paraguay in the late 16th century, among both Spanish settlers and indigenous Guaraní, who had drunk it, to some extent, before the Spanish arrival, more for medicinal purposes than as a social drink. This widespread consumption turned mate into Paraguay’s main commodity with the labor of indigenous peoples being used to harvest wild stands.

In the mid-17th century, Jesuits managed to domesticate the plant (Ilex paraguariensis) and established plantations in their Indio “reductions” in Misiones, Argentina, sparking severe competition with the Paraguayan harvesters of wild stands. After the expulsion of the Jesuits in the 1770s, their plantations fell into decay, as did their domestication secrets. The industry continued to be of prime importance for the Paraguayan economy after independence, but development in benefit of the Paraguayan state halted after the War of the Triple Alliance (1864–1870) that devastated the country both economically and demographically. Some regions with mate plantations in Paraguay became Argentine territory, and Argentina took over as the major producer. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, domestication of mate was reinvented, with Misiones as the center of production – and remains so to this day.

Different countries process yerba mate in different ways — and for me the Argentine way is the only way!  In Argentina, the best mature leaves are picked by hand, dried in a special oven under high, dry heat, left to mature in flavor, then milled into a mix of leaves and stems (paulitos). An average supermarket in Buenos Aires has at least one aisle devoted exclusively to brands of mate from strong to mild, and with or without other flavorings.  I drink Rosamonte (strong) most of the time, when I can get it, or Cruz de Malta (mild). Importing supplies into Cambodia during the pandemic is a sore trial.  But . . . I drink around 1 kilo per month (from early morning to late evening).

In Argentina mate is normally shared.  The designated host boils water. Loads a gourd or container (also called a mate) about ¾ full of yerba, adds hot, not boiling, water, tests for taste, and then refills the mate with hot water and begins sharing.  The mate gets handed to the person on the left of the server who drinks and hands it back to the server, who refills it and hands it around the guests – clockwise.  Holding on to the mate too long is likely to elicit “no es microfono” (it is not a microphone) from one of the impatient guests.  While drinking the host will also serve little biscuits (galletas) or pastries (facturas). My friends in Argentina get a doleful tone when I tell them I drink my mate alone these days – se tiene compartir los mates, gitano (mate must be shared, gypsy – my nickname).


Jul 112017

Today has been designated the day of the bandoneon in Argentina by official law of Congress.  This date was chosen because it is the birthday of (1914) Aníbal Carmelo Troilo, much loved and revered bandoneon player, composer, and orchestra leader in the 1930s and 1940s in the heyday of tango in Buenos Aires.  The bandoneon is the quintessential tango instrument even though it was invented in Germany and produced there exclusively until the 1940s. Subsequently classic bandoneons became rarer and rarer in Argentina and helped contribute to the slow death of traditional tango.  Here’s a link to a documentary that, in my opinion, is the best single review of the history and current status of the bandoneon in Argentina. It follows the fortunes of a young woman who is attempting to join an orquesta tipica (tango band) and learn from one of the masters.  It also talks about the slow demise of the bandoneon in Buenos Aires and has interviews with famous older players (as well as many full-length performances and discussions of playing style).  It is around 90 minutes long, so I have not embedded it here for the sake of conserving disc space. It is in Argentine Spanish with English subtitles and is well worth your time if you want a really comprehensive understanding of the instrument:


Here is Troilo playing his own composition“Sur” in rare live footage:

The bandoneon is named for its inventor, Heinrich Band (1821–1860), and was originally intended as an instrument for religious and popular music of the day, in contrast to its free reed predecessors the concertina and the button accordion which were largely used for folk music. Around 1870, German and Italian emigrants and sailors brought the instrument to Argentina, where it was adopted into the nascent genre of tango music which was slowly emerging as a distinct musical and dance form at the time, particularly (but not exclusively) in the docklands of my old barrio, san Telmo.

By 1910 bandoneons were being produced expressly for the Argentine and Uruguayan markets, with 25,000 shipping to Argentina in 1930 alone. However, declining popularity and the disruption of German manufacturing in World War II led to an end of bandoneon mass-production. Bandoneons were never produced in Argentina itself despite their popularity. As a result, by the 2000s, vintage bandoneons had become rare and expensive limiting prospective bandeonistas. In 2014, the National University of Lanús announced their development of an affordable Argentine-made bandoneon, which they hope to market for one-third to one-half of the cost of vintage instruments.

The bandoneon is like a concertina in that it has buttons on the left and right hand, but it has many more than a typical concertina so that it can play completely chromatically over a number of octaves. Typically bandoneons are bisonic, meaning that each button produces one note when the bellows are pushed, and a different note when they are pulled.  Here’s a fairly standard layout (click to enlarge):

The bandoneon is not an enormously difficult instrument to play if all you want to do is bang out a simple tune with a few chords. That was its original intention. But to master the instrument for tango is a lifetime’s occupation, and very few people succeed. You really have to start at 5 or 6 years old, and even then, with constant practice, you are not ready to join an orquesta until your 20s at the earliest. The bandoneon in this respect is like any classical orchestral instruments. It’s not just a matter of playing the notes, but of understanding the subtleties of rhythm and intonation that are unique to the instrument and to tango itself.

As Argentina modernizes, classic tango and bandoneon playing are seen as old fashioned, and, consequently, are dying as younger people embrace pop, rock, and hip-hop. To my mind, and to the minds of many Argentinos, this state of affairs is a tragedy because tango is truly Argentine grown. It has some roots in European musical style, to be sure, but what it evolved into is uniquely Argentino. Even attempts to modernize it by the likes of Ástor Piazzolla, (who played with Troilo before branching out), weaken the spirit of tango, in my oh-so-humble opinion, by introducing elements of blues, jazz, etc. which are not Argentine products at all. For me, nuevo tango is simply not tango. Most foreigners don’t get it because they don’t know real tango to begin with. If you go to plaza Dorrego in san Telmo on a Sunday afternoon, chances are you’ll run into one of my favorite tango orquestas, playing down a side street opposite iglesia san Pedro. They are young enthusiasts keeping the tradition alive.

Over 4 years of posting I’ve pretty much covered the waterfront when it comes to Buenos Aires cooking.  There’s not a whole lot to it to begin with. Some regional recipes find their way into Capital’s kitchens, however.  Here’s a recipe for Patagonian Carbonada Criolla which I’ve had once or twice made by local cooks. Its origins in European stews are obvious but the ingredients are a little different – especially the dried apricots. Argentine beef is best of course. Even stewing beef is a lot tenderer there. You may have to adjust cooking times if you use your local beef.

Carbonada Criolla


⅓ cup olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 ½ lbs stewing beef, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 28 oz can stewed tomatoes
2 cups beef broth
3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 white potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 tbspn sugar(optional)
1 large winter squash, peeled and cubed
7 oz dried apricots, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
2 ears sweetcorn, sliced in 1” rounds


Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat and sauté the peppers and onions until they are lightly golden.

Add the beef and brown on all sides.

Add the stewed tomatoes, beef broth, potatoes, sugar (if used), squash and apricots plus salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a slow simmer, cover and cook for an hour. Check periodically to make sure the stew is not too dry.  If so add a little more beef broth. Simmer longer is the beef is not tender.

Add the corn and cook for 15 minutes longer.

Serve hot in soup dishes.

Apr 072017

Today is the birthday (1890) of Victoria Ocampo, an Argentine writer and intellectual, who was described by Jorge Luis Borges as La mujer más argentina (“The most Argentine of women”). She is mostly known now in Argentina as an advocate for others and as publisher of the legendary literary magazine Sur, which helped launch the literary careers of many writers (including Borges). She was also a writer and critic in her own right and one of the most prominent South American women of her time. Borges admired her as a rare women who stood up for what is right at a time when women’s voices were largely silenced in Argentina, and who was fiercely independent.

She was born Ramona Victoria Epifanía Rufina Ocampo in Buenos Aires into a high society family and educated at home by a French governess. During her family’s 1906–1907 trip to Paris, her parents  allowed the 17-year-old Victoria, “well-chaperoned”, to audit some lectures at the Sorbonne and at the Collège de France. She remembered particularly enjoying Henri Bergson’s lectures at the latter. She never matriculated at either. Her old traditional wealthy family frowned on formal education for women. In 1912, Ocampo married Bernando de Estrada (aka Monaco Estrada). The marriage was not happy, and in 1920, the couple separated, and Ocampo began a long–lasting affair with her husband’s cousin Julián Martínez, a diplomat.

In Buenos Aires, she was a lynchpin of the intellectual scene of the 1920s and 1930s. Her first book, written in French, was De Francesca à Beatrice (1923), a commentary on Dante’s Divine Comedy. Other works include Domingos en Hyde Park; El Hamlet de Laurence Olivier; Emily Brontë (Terra incógnita); a series called Testimonios (ten volumes); Virginia Woolf, Orlando y Cía; San Isidro; 338171 T.E. (Lawrence of Arabia) (a biography of T. E. Lawrence) and a posthumously published autobiography. There is also an edited book of dialogues between Ocampo and Borges.

Her own writing is arguably derivative, but she was founder (1931) and publisher of the magazine Sur, which became the most important literary magazine of its time in Latin America. Among the writers published in Sur were Jorge Luis Borges, Ernesto Sabato, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Julio Cortázar, José Ortega y Gasset, Manuel Peyrou, Albert Camus, Enrique Anderson Imbert, José Bianco, Ezequiel Martínez Estrada, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, Waldo Frank, Gabriela Mistral, and Eduardo Mallea.

During the 1930s, Ocampo grew to be an ardent admirer of Benito Mussolini whom she met in person in March 1935 in Rome, hailing him then as “genius” and Caesar reborn. “I have seen Italy in blossom turn its face towards him.” With the start of World War II, however, Ocampo became disenchanted with fascism. She supported and edited from Argentina in collaboration with her friend and translator, Pelegrina Pastorino, the anti-Nazi magazine Lettres Francaises, directed by Roger Caillois and in 1946 she was the only Argentinean who attended the Nuremberg Trials. In 1953, Ocampo was briefly imprisoned for her open opposition to the regime of Juan Domingo Perón.

She was made a member of the Argentine Academy of Letters in 1976 (the first woman ever admitted to the Academy). The “cultural dialog”, initiated in 1977 by the de facto government but organized by UNESCO, was held in her home, Villa Ocampo, in San Isidro, Buenos Aires Province; she eventually donated the house to UNESCO in 1943.

All manner of people stayed at “Villa Ocampo” including Igor Stravinsky, André Malraux, Rabindranath Tagore, Indira Gandhi, José Ortega y Gasset, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Ernest Ansermet, Rafael Alberti, Graham Greene etc. Here’s a small gallery. Spot the celebrity:

Ocampo died in Buenos Aires in 1979, and is buried in La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires.

To celebrate Ocampo I have chosen sandwiches de miga – a common party food in Argentina. There is some debate as to how they came to Argentina mainly because of partisan pride. Are they English, Italian, or home grown? The argument is silly, in my opinion, but I strongly suspect that this type of sandwich was introduced into Argentina by the English. Simple, yet elegant, crustless thin sandwiches are a staple of the tea table in England. The word “miga” means “crumb” and refers to the center part of pan de miga – a large white loaf.

Cut the crust off a large loaf and then slice it thinly. In Argentina thin slices of bread without crusts are available in markets ready made. You can make a single or triple sandwich. The single is a conventional sandwich, but a triple has three slices of bread with fillings in two sections. You should spread the inner parts of the sandwich with mayonnaise or butter and then choose your fillings.  You can use any meats common in Argentina such as ham, prosciutto, cantimpalo (smoky sausage) or the like, cheeses including Roquefort, brie, or provolone (which are produced in Argentina), and other ingredients such as tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, olives (green or black), hearts of palm, roasted red peppers, peaches, pineapple, cooked asparagus, and lettuce.

To make a sandwich de miga worthy of Ocampo I suggest you get really creative with your choice of ingredients. I’ve always liked fresh figs and prosciutto, as well as Roquefort and thinly sliced hard-boiled eggs. Of course, to get authentic ingredients you will need to travel to Argentina. But either way, whether you stay home or make a trip to South America, don’t be boring.

Dec 082016


Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Roman Catholic tradition and is an extremely important day in the church and in Catholic countries in general. Here in Italy and in Argentina it is a national holiday, and it is a day of obligation in the church. According to the teaching of the Catholic Church, Mary could not have been worthy of the Virgin Birth unless she herself was free of Original Sin. That means that, although Mary was conceived in the normal way, her conception was “immaculate” (i.e. free from sin). This makes no sense to me whatsoever, but I understand why it is an important dogma for the church. It’s what happens when people start applying logic to faith. Personally, I think the dogma of the Virgin Birth (let alone the whole Bethlehem tale), was invented by the early church to make sense of actual events versus Hebrew prophecy. The Immaculate Conception is one more brick in the wall.


The Immaculate Conception is commonly mistaken to be the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb which is a complete misunderstanding of the dogma, which refers only to Mary and her mother. Although the belief that Mary was sinless and conceived immaculately has been widely held since Late Antiquity, the doctrine was not dogmatically defined until 1854, by Pope Pius IX in his papal bull Ineffabilis Deus.

A feast of the Conception of the Most Holy and All Pure Mother of God was celebrated in Syria on 8 December perhaps as early as the 5th century. Note that her Greek title of achrantos (spotless, immaculate, all-pure) refers to her supposed perpetual holiness, not specifically to the holiness of her conception. Mary’s complete sinlessness and concomitant exemption from any taint from the first moment of her existence was a doctrine familiar to Greek theologians of Byzantium. Beginning with St. Gregory Nazianzen, his explanation of the “purification” of Jesus and Mary at the circumcision (Luke 2:22) prompted him to consider the primary meaning of “purification” in Christology (and by extension in Mariology) to refer to a perfectly sinless nature that manifested itself in glory in a moment of grace (e.g., Jesus at his Baptism). St. Gregory Nazianzen designated Mary as “prokathartheisa (prepurified).” Gregory likely attempted to solve the riddle of the Purification of Jesus and Mary in the Temple through considering the human natures of Jesus and Mary as equally holy and therefore both purified in this manner of grace and glory. Gregory’s doctrines surrounding Mary’s purification were likely related to the burgeoning commemoration of the Mother of God in and around Constantinople very close to the date of Christmas. Nazianzen’s title of Mary at the Annunciation as “prepurified” was subsequently adopted by all theologians interested in his Mariology to justify the Byzantine equivalent of the Immaculate Conception. The public celebration of the “Conception of St. Ann [i.e., of the Theotokos in her womb]” was becoming popular. After this period, the “purification” of the perfect natures of Jesus and Mary would not only mean moments of grace and glory at the Incarnation and Baptism and other public Byzantine liturgical feasts, but purification was eventually associated with the feast of Mary’s very conception (along with her Presentation in the Temple as a toddler) by Orthodox authors of the early 2nd  millennium (e.g., St. Nicholas Cabasilas and Joseph Bryennius).


Enough theology. Today is a big day in the church as well as in the secular culture of Catholic countries. I get a day off work, and in Argentina today was the official start of Christmas celebrations in Argentina, even though we are well into Advent. Here’s a gallery from Immaculate Conception 2013 in Buenos Aires. The church of the Immaculate Conception was just a few blocks from my apartment in san Telmo, and each year they have an evening mass on this day preceded by a procession around the church carrying an image of the Virgin and accompanied by an assortment of people, including young girls in white and street musicians.

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In Buenos Aires on this date I always made the Argentine/Italian lentil stew guiso de lentejas. You really don’t need a recipe; I never use one. The main thing is that the lentils have to simmer with at least one pig’s foot. Pork is not common in Buenos Aires most of the year because beef is king. But at Christmas pork is traditional (including whole roast pig on Christmas Eve). Start by soaking some lentils overnight in cold water. Drain them and put them in a pot with at least one pig’s trotter. Bring to a boil and simmer until the lentils are almost fully cooked. Then add chopped bell pepper, chopped onions (or leeks), a can of whole tomatoes, and season with oregano, salt, and pepper. You should also add a few pork sausages of your choice. Continue simmering for about 40 minutes, until the vegetables and sausages are cooked. The thing about this soup/stew is that the meat and vegetables should be served as is with the lentils in deep bowls. Don’t cut any of the meats up. It’s meant to look like a traffic accident. My pictures tell the story.

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Apr 242016


International Sculpture (IS) Day, is a worldwide annual celebration of sculpture on April 24 that was established by the International Sculpture Center in 2015 and is meant to raise awareness, appreciation and enjoyment of sculpture in communities across the globe. During the inaugural IS Day last year, over 50 events were held in 12 countries including Switzerland, China, Germany, England, Australia, Austria, Canada, Spain, New Zealand, and the USA. IS Day events include open studios, demonstrations, workshops, public art tours, open museums, brown bag lunches, sculpture scavenger hunts, book signings, foundry pours, pop up exhibitions, opening receptions, competitions, artist talks, and more. The International Sculpture Center website is here — http://www.sculpture.org/isday/

All my life I’ve lived and worked in places where public sculpture was the norm, and I’ll put a gallery of the pieces that have been an integral part of my life, at various times, at the end of my brief comments. Public sculpture as a fact of life reaches back into antiquity.  For me it’s not a question of promoting sculpture, so much as getting the public to PAY ATTENTION. But, I suspect that is a lost cause. Right now I live in Mantua where sculpture in the historic center is everywhere. Mobs of tourists snap photos all the time, whereas locals just go about their business without much interest in their surroundings. That’s normal. I very much doubt that having a special day devoted to sculpture will do much to change that.

To a large degree the location of sculpture plays a part in its reception and use. Placed in a park or other area of general recreation, it’s likely to attract attention; placed on a busy thoroughfare, it’s likely to be ignored by the majority. I don’t see how we can do anything to change that. Nor should we. What I would say, however, is that I feel better when I am living and working in areas where sculpture is all around me than in places that are generally devoid of public art, even though I am not always explicitly paying attention to it. It’s there.


When I first arrived on the campus of the College of Purchase, State University of New York, where I worked for over 30 years, I was immediately struck – as is every newcomer – by the Henry Moore (Large Two Forms) at the end of the mall, site of the main academic buildings. It was kinda hard to miss. Students sat on, in, and around the sculpture on sunny days, and it always drew your eye to that part of the mall. It was, therefore, a tragedy when it had to be moved to make way for a new administration building. I’m not bemoaning the march of “progress” – the building was much needed, and the empty space at the end of the mall was the best place for it. But we all felt the loss, like the death of a dear friend. The Henry Moore (as we called it – few knew its name) was an active part of people’s lives.  I don’t see how you can legislate that. Location, size, design etc. all play a part. It is or it isn’t – but I don’t mind celebrating sculpture on this day. Here’s a gallery of a few of the thousands of sculptures I have lived with over the years in Buenos Aires, Eastbourne, Adelaide, Oxford, New York, Yunnan, and Mantua. A rich life !!

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Food sculpture is an important part of my life too, and I have already focused on it in posts in the past. For example, you’ll find my rapture (and recipe) on gingerbread sculpting here — https://www.bookofdaystales.com/christmas-is-over/ and the recipe for a Jupiter structural cake here https://www.bookofdaystales.com/gustav-holst/  Have at it.  Here’s a gallery to inspire:

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Your turn !!!

Dec 112015


Today is Tango Day in Buenos Aires. The date was chosen because it is the birthday (1899) of famed tango musician, Julio de Caro (as well as of Carlos Gardel). I wouldn’t say it is a major celebration in Buenos Aires because tango is nowhere near as popular there as it once was. It’s now mostly old people and tourists who care. Shame. One of the great things about tango is that it is distinctively Argentino; it is not European. By gradually losing interest, younger generations are losing something of profound historical and cultural importance. I won’t go on a major rant nor spend a lot of time going over the history of tango – just a few key points followed by a little biography of de Caro (Gardel next year).

There are many kinds of tango. Tango as performed outside of Argentina is not tango. There is, for example, a ballroom style of dance that is called tango, but it is tango in name only. In Buenos Aires you can find roughly three styles of tango – milonga tango, street tango, and show tango. Milonga tango is the most traditional. Milongas are dance halls where people go to dance a number of classic dances, especially tango. There are often a lot of couples dancing so this is not the arena for flashy, complex moves. But the style is not necessarily simple. You have to know what you are doing. I can’t find a video of milonga tango, probably because it is not a spectator sport: you go to a milonga to dance, not to watch. But in this scene from Scent of a Woman, Pacino does a decidedly passable version of milonga tango to a well known tune.

The clip also includes this great, but false, line:

“No mistakes in the tango, darling. Not like life.” If you want to screw up royally, go to a milonga and see how quickly you can break one of a million subtle rules.

Show tango is at the opposite end of the spectrum. It is largely a tourist trap, but with important elements of classic tango inherent in it. It’s expansive, athletic, and showy, requiring a large space and an audience. Here’s a typical example.

I don’t care for this style much, but I’ll watch if it is free. The whole thing is choreographed, which goes against the core value of tango. Tango is improvised (the man always leading).

Street tango is somewhere in between the two extremes of the milonga and the stage. The space is smaller and the dancers more intimate. The dancing may be partly choreographed but is looser than show tango. The dancers are performing for tips, of course, and it’s only out-of-towners (and me) who watch. But the dancers are not professionals, and have usually grown up in the milongas. This group dances regularly at the intersection of calle Florida and Lavalle — a pedestrianized area in Microcentro.

Julio de Caro was a master performer and composer in the early 20th century, playing in milongas much of his career. Julio’s father opened a conservatory in San Telmo barrio (near where I used to live), in 1913, soon becoming one of the city’s best known sources for music, instruments, parts, and lessons. Julio and his brother, Francisco, were both taught the piano and violin, respectively; though their father ultimately granted them their wish to exchange instruments (a third brother, Emilio, learned the violin). Against his father’s wishes, Julio obtained a spot as a second violinist at the Lorea Theatre for a 1915 performance of a zarzuela (music-dance performance). Despite their father’s punishment and objections, the brothers began attending Buenos Aires’ popular tango recitals. Some of these early influences included bandleaders Eduardo Arolas, Juan Carlos Cobián, and Roberto Firpo.


At his friends’ prompting, de Caro played for a tango performance at the Palais de Glace, an elegant multi-purpose venue, in 1917. His solos earned him a standing ovation, and led to a permanent spot in the orchestra, led by tango legend Eduardo Arolas. The elder de Caro (who disdained popular music generally) objected vigorously, so Julio kept it secret that he had joined the orchestra for which he wrote his first tango, Mon beguin.

Eventually, his father forced Julio, at 18 years old, to leave the house, a move that pushed Francisco to join his brother. The two traveled with Arolas’ orchestra, which was very popular in both Argentina and neighboring Uruguay. The brothers contributed greatly to its fortunes, composing – among other standards in tango: Mala pinta (Shady Look), Mi encanto (My Charm), Pura labia (All Words), Don Antonio, A palada (In Spades), Era buena la paisana (She Was a Good Country Girl), Percanta arrepentida (Lamentful girl), Bizcochito (Lil’ Biscuit), Gringuita (Blondie) and La cañada (The Brook).

A business disagreement led de Caro and pianist José María Rizzuti to leave Arolas’ group in 1919. They formed a quartet with bandoneonist Pedro Maffia and violinist José Rosito, with whom they performed regularly to acclaim at a café near the Argentine Supreme Court. The group separated in 1920, however, and de Caro and Rizzuti joined bandleader Osvaldo Fresedo, with whom they toured in the United States. De Caro relocated to Montevideo, where he married and joined Minotto Di Cicco’s orchestra (1922). He was then reunited with Maffia in Buenos Aires under Juan Carlos Cobián’s direction, in 1923. His marriage ended, shortly afterwards.

Cobián’s decision to follow a love interest to New York led to the de Caro brothers’ being reunited in need of a band, at the end of 1923. Their success at a high society New Year’s Eve ball led to lucrative contracts in popular downtown cafés and for a new medium: radio. The Julio de Caro Orchestra later received a recording contract from RCA Victor and, in April 1925, performed for Edward, the Prince of Wales. U.S. jazz bandleader Paul Whiteman introduced de Caro to the Stroh violin, later that year. The device (a violin with a cornet horn at one end) had been invented for radio performances for its ability to project sound above the rest of the orchestra, and the conductor soon found it an indispensable tool. The renowned bandleader composed numerous pieces in honor of some of the prominent figures in Argentine life that attended his performances, notably chief surgeon Enrique Finochietto and President Marcelo Torcuato de Alvear.


The orchestra toured France by invitation, in 1931. They performed at Nice’s Palais de la Méditerranée, for Prince Umberto di Savoia, for the Rothschilds’ galas, and for Paramount Studios in the making of Luces de Buenos Aires (one of several the studio made, starring Carlos Gardel). The orchestra remained successful in Argentina, debuting at the nation’s leading opera house, the Colón Theatre, in 1935, and at the Teatro Opera (1936), where they presented a comprehensive “Evolution of the Tango” – leading listeners through its development from 1870, onwards. A surprise visit by the brothers’ aging parents following one of these performances led to the family’s reconciliation.

His orchestra continued its prominence among tango fans for years, introducing young talent such as vocalist Edmundo Rivero. His audiences later declining, de Caro retired from his orchestra in 1954. He remarried in 1959 and returned to a recording studio only in 1975, collaborating with author Ernesto Sábato, composer Ben Molar, composer and arranger Luis Stazo and others to make Los 14 de Julio de Caro (Julio de Caro’s 14). He was honored by the national government with a declaration of December 11 as “National Tango Day;” on that day in 1977, he received a standing ovation at Buenos Aires’ Luna Park Arena, complete with a rousing Happy Birthday to You.

Julio de Caro died in the seaside resort city of Mar del Plata, on March 11, 1980, at age 80. He was interred at Buenos Aires’ Chacarita Cemetery, beside his brother, Francisco.


Milongas are not places to eat, and show tango joints serve flashy, overpriced meals along with expensive show tickets (hawked by shills in Microcentro). I’ve never been inclined to go to one. So the only resort I have is to fall back on classic Argentine cuisine. Here’s a recipe for chipás. Chipás are small, baked, cheese-flavored rolls, a popular snack and breakfast food Argentina, especially in the north. The original name is from Guarani but the product now is quite different from the original, made with cassava starch. Now chipás are made with tapioca starch, flour, and cheese. Use a good melting cheese such as mozzarella.



1 egg
⅔ cup milk
6 oz shredded melting cheese
3 tbsp butter, melted
1 ¾ cups tapioca starch
1 cup self-rising flour


Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C). Grease a baking sheet and set aside.

Stir together the egg, milk, cheese, and butter in a large bowl. Sprinkle in the tapioca starch and flour and mix well to form a dough. Knead the dough for two minutes on a lightly floured surface, then pinch off and roll up golf ball-sized pieces. Place them on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake until golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.

Dec 012015


On this date in 1913 the first line of the Buenos Aires Subte (Metro) was officially opened. Amazingly, the original Belgian-made rolling stock survived for a full 100 years, when it was finally replaced in 2013 with more up-to-date cars. A great shame in my humble opinion. The subte (Subterráneo de Buenos Aires), is an incredibly successful, but hopelessly overcrowded, mass transit system, with most lines these days carrying between 300,000 and 400,000 riders per day !! There’s a trick to getting a seat which it took me over a year to completely figure out. It involves knowing what stations to use, what times to travel, and a fair amount of pushing and shoving. Even so, most of the time I had to simply grit my teeth and endure 20 minutes or so of liver-crushing purgatory. It’s very cheap (2 pesos flat fare), and efficient. City buses are cheaper, but slower, more uncomfortable, and no less crowded.

When the first section of the subte (Plaza de Mayo-Plaza Miserere) opened in 1913, it was the first underground railway in Latin America, the Southern Hemisphere and the Spanish speaking world, with the Madrid Metro opening five years later in 1919.


The network expanded rapidly during the early decades of the 20th century, but the pace of expansion fell sharply after the Second World War. In the late 1990s expansion resumed at a quicker pace, and four new lines were planned for the network. Despite this, the rate of expansion has still been largely exceeded by the transportation needs of the city. Currently, the underground network’s six lines comprise 51.4 kilometers (31.9 mi) of route, serving 83 stations.


Discussions on the need to build an underground transportation system in Buenos Aires began in the late 19th century, alongside the tramway system, which was one of the most extensive in the world at the time. The first trams appeared in 1870 but by about 1900 were in crisis because of monopolies opposed to modernizing (especially electrifying) the system because of expense. Over the course of the 20th century the subte entirely replaced trams. All that remains of the trams are a few ghost tracks on old cobbled streets.

The first proposals for building an underground system were made, along with requests for government grants: first, in 1886, and several more in 1889, but the Ministry of Interior (Ministerio del Interior) denied the city administration the power to license building in the subsoil of the City. For this reason, subsequent drafts were submitted directly to this ministry. When in 1894 it was decided to construct the Congress building in its present location, the underground idea was revived, as it might shorten the travel time between Casa Rosada (site of the executive branch of government) and Congreso (the legislature). Miguel Cané, former Mayor of Buenos Aires (1892–1893), also proposed in 1896, a more general idea of an underground railway system similar to the one in London.


The first line was built by the Anglo-Argentine Tramways Company (Compañía de Tranvías Anglo-Argentina), which had been given permission to build in 1909. That line linked the current stations of Plaza de Mayo and Plaza Miserere. As can be seen from contemporary photographs, the technology used was the same as that used to build London’s Metropolitan line. Trenches were dug in the avenues, tracks laid, then the trenches were roofed over, and repaved as roads. Once the subte expanded around the city, this technology had to be replaced with tunneling techniques.

Nowadays the subte is an artistic marvel with the stations of each line being distinctively tiled. Here is an album of photos I took over the course of 2 days riding each of the lines.


Ironically, stations on the first (line A) and most recent (line H) lines are the least ornamented. Tiling in stations built in the 1920’s to 1940’s is extraordinary.

bam17 bam16 bam15 bam14 bam12 bam11 bam10 bam8

Because of overcrowding, you don’t see too many people eating on the trains themselves, but there are plenty of kiosks and cafes at the stations serving the Argentine version of fast food, such as panchos (hot dogs), facturas (pastries), and empanadas. My sisters fondly recall getting a submarino at Retiro station on family trips from our barrio, Villa del Parque, to Centro. This is basically a mug of very hot milk and a slender chocolate bar which you dip into the milk until it dissolves. Very popular even now, but not to my taste. In fact, I’m not inclined to eat whilst commuting in general. That’s typical of Argentinos in general. Fast-food items are called minutas, and even though they are quick to prepare, they are rarely eaten on the run.


A favorite minuta is lomito, a steak sandwich with a fried egg, and pretty much whatever else you want. It is usually served open faced on a plate, but you can get it as a regular sandwich to go if you like. The main ingredient is a painfully thin cutlet of Argentine beef grilled to perfection. No other steak will do – sorry. It has to be fresh, juicy, and ever so tender. A fried egg is also essential – runny yolk. Melted cheese over the steak is also popular. Most people add lettuce, onions and tomatoes (the trinity of Argentine salads). You can also eat the salad on the side. If so, sprinkle it with olive oil.

Sep 112015


The State of Buenos Aires (Estado de Buenos Ayres) was a secessionist republic resulting from the overthrow of the Argentine Confederation government in the Province of Buenos Aires on September 11, 1852. The State of Buenos Aires was never recognized by the Confederation or by foreign nations; it remained, however, nominally independent under its own government and constitution. Buenos Aires rejoined the Argentine Confederation after its victory at the Battle of Pavón in 1861.

If you want a brief précis then skip to the recipes, I understand. 19th century Argentine history can be pretty dry and detailed. “This one fought this one, lost, and was executed” more or less sums it up. The 19th century saw tremendous factionalism and bloodshed throughout South America. Spain had mostly kept the regional infighting in check through strong viceroyalties, but when they threw off Spanish rule they all began fighting for territory and supremacy. So there were countless internecine wars as well as internal struggles. Inside Argentina the battle was between the Unitarians (who wanted one central government), and the Federalists (who wanted some central government, but most power devolved on the provinces – much like the current U.S.). The secession of the province of Buenos Aires as its own republic in 1852 was part of that struggle. It did not last too long, although the whole affair was bloody.

The Argentine national anthem came out of those struggles:

I confess that I always get misty when I hear or sing this. It is the song of struggle for freedom.

That’s all you really need to know – the details follow. The 19th century, full of bitter fighting, was followed by a century of relative calm and prosperity, ruined by the interregnum of the generals (funded by Kissinger and the U.S. with the assistance of the C.I.A.) who spread terror amongst the populace, and initiated the Malvinas War, the only 20th century war in Argentina. The economy was in decline anyway, but the war hastened its collapse. I wish I could say that it is in recovery, but it is not. It continues in a downward spiral which should never have begun. Argentina was one of the richest and most progressive countries in the world at the beginning of the 20th century, and now barely holds on by its fingernails. Political corruption and mismanagement are the causes, and they are very deeply entrenched at this point.


Regionalism had long marked the relationship among the numerous provinces of what today is Argentina, and the wars of independence did not result in national unity. Following a series of disorders and a short-lived Constitutional Republic led by Buenos Aires centralist Bernardino Rivadavia in 1826 and 1827, the Province of Buenos Aires functioned as a semi-independent state amid an internecine and civil wars. An understanding was entered into by Buenos Aires Governor Juan Manuel de Rosas and other Federalist leaders out of need and a shared enmity toward the still vigorous Unitarian Party. The latter’s 1830 establishment of the Unitarian League from nine western and northern provinces would force Buenos Aires, Corrientes, and Entre Ríos Provinces into the Federal Pact of 1831, and enabled the overthrow of the Unitarian League.


The granting of the sum of public power to Rosas in 1835 established a dynamic whereby leaders (caudillos) from the hinterland provinces would delegate certain powers, such as foreign debt payment or the management of international relations to the Buenos Aires leader. The Argentine Confederation thus functioned, albeit amid ongoing conflicts, until the 1852 Battle of Caseros, when Rosas was deposed and exiled.

The central figure in the overthrow of Rosas, Entre Ríos Governor Justo José de Urquiza, was granted the power of a head of state by the Palermo Protocols of April 6, 1852. This provoked resistance in Buenos Aires, however, which then refused to ratify the San Nicolás Agreement of May 31. The prospect of having the Argentine Congress headquartered in Santa Fe proved especially objectionable, and Urquiza’s June 12 appointment of former President Vicente López y Planes failed to turn public opinion in Buenos Aires. Colonel Bartolomé Mitre rallied the Assembly against the San Nicolás Accords. The most contentious issue was the Buenos Aires Customs, which remained under the control of the city government and was the chief source of public revenue. Nations with which the Confederation maintained foreign relations, moreover, kept all embassies in Buenos Aires (rather than in the capital, Paraná).


Governor López y Planes ultimately resigned on July 26, prompting Urquiza to seize the governor’s post through a Federal intervention decree. His departure to Santa Fe on September 8 for the inaugural session of Congress prompted the September 11 coup d’état against the provisional administration of Governor José Miguel Galán. Led in its military aspect by General José María Pirán and ideologically by Dr. Valentín Alsina and Colonel Mitre, the September 11 revolt created the foremost threat to both the Confederation and Urquiza: Alsina ordered General Juan Madariaga to invade Santa Fe within days of the coup (though without success). The 11th (“once” in Spanish) is celebrated in many topographical names, including a train station and suburb in Buenos Aires.

Naming the aging Manuel Guillermo Pinto as Governor, Alsina secured the allegiance of the deposed Governor Galán, as well as of a number of key Federalist figures such as former top Rosas advisor Lorenzo Torres. Alsina, who was elected Governor by the Legislature on October 31, alienated Colonel Hilario Lagos, however. Lagos persuaded War Minister José María Floresto to leave Buenos Aires and, on December 1, initiated the Siege of Buenos Aires. Alsina resigned and Pinto, who served as president of the Legislature, again took office as Governor.


The siege continued through June 1853, and Urquiza commissioned a naval flotilla to blockade Buenos Aires (whose chief source of revenue was duty collected at the port). The commander of the flotilla, U.S.-born Admiral John Halstead Coe, was bribed with 5,000 troy ounces of gold, however, on June 20, and following his relinquishment of the flotilla to Buenos Aires, Urquiza called off the siege on July 12.

Jurist Pastor Obligado was elected Governor by the Legislature on June 28, 1853. He obtained passage of the Constitution of Buenos Aires on April 12, 1854, and initiated an ambitious public works program, installing the first gas lamps and running water system in the city, and establishing what later became the Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires, as well as a network of public primary schools for the largely illiterate population at the time. The 1854 constitution, drafted by Dalmacio Vélez Sársfield, asserted the sovereignty of Buenos Aires, including its right to engage in its own diplomatic relations, as well as a bicameral legislature and freedom of worship.

Obligado abolished slavery and reformed the practice of emphyteusis (a kind of feudalism), whereupon land could then be sold at a regulated rate of 16,000 silver pesos (pesos fuerte, nearly at par with the U.S. dollar) per square league (4,428 acres). He established a national mint under the auspices of the Bank of the Province of Buenos Aires, and subsidies for industry and commerce; on August 30, 1857, the recently established Buenos Aires Western Railway inaugurated its first line, designed by British engineer William Bragge. A census conducted on October 17, 1855, found a population of 248,498 for the State of Buenos Aires, of which 71,438 lived in the capital.

Persistent budget deficits in the Confederation led the Paraná government to establish the Port of Rosario, and to enter into free trade agreements with the Port of Montevideo (to the detriment of Buenos Aires). Worsening relations led to the re-election of Valentín Alsina as Governor at the end of 1858, and in February 1859, Alsina enacted retaliatory tariffs against Confederation goods.


Tensions culminated in the Battle of Cepeda of October 23, 1859. Buenos Aires forces, led by General Mitre, were defeated by those led by President Urquiza. Ordered by Congress in Santa Fe to subjugate Buenos Aires separatists by force, Urquiza instead invited the defeated to join negotiations, though he obtained Alsina’s resignation. These talks resulted in the Pact of San José de Flores of November 11, 1859, which provided for a number of constitutional amendments and led to other concessions, including an extension on the province’s customs house concession, and measures benefiting the Bank of the Province of Buenos Aires, whose currency was authorized for use as legal tender at the port (thereby controlling much of the nation’s foreign trade).


Mitre ultimately abrogated the Pact of San José, leading to renewed civil war. These hostilities culminated in the 1861 Battle of Pavón, and to victory on the part of Mitre and Buenos Aires over Urquiza’s national forces. President Santiago Derqui, who had been backed by Urquiza, and all Federalist governors resigned, and the Argentine Confederation was replaced by the Argentine Republic on December 17, 1861. Mitre, who despite victory reaffirmed his commitment to the 1860 constitutional amendments, was elected the republic’s first president on September 4, 1862, and remained Governor of Buenos Aires as caretaker until his October 12, 1862, inaugural.


Doña Petrona, aka Petrona Carrizo de Gandulfo (1896-1992), was a cookbook author and cooking show personality, who was pivotal in persuading Argentine cooks to switch from wood to gas for cooking, and shepherded her book, El Libro de Doña Petrona, through numerous editions. We had one in our house when I was growing up. It’s always been something of an eclectic collection because Argentine cooking exhibits many influences – Italian, Spanish, English, indigenous, etc. Inasmuch as Argentine cooks use recipes, it is the Bible. Here are two videos showing her making facturas (breakfast pastries). Don’t worry if you do not understand Argentine Spanish, you’ll get the gist.



The most important thing to note about making the dough (masa) – as is true also for making pasta dough – is that you do not make it in a bowl, but on a board, starting with a hollow “volcano” of flour, putting the ingredients in the hollow, and then working the whole mass with your hands. This is the best way to get the proportions right. Working solely with your hands puts you in touch (literally) with the process. Nowadays Argentinos buy morning facturas at pastelerías (pastry and bread shops) because they are fresh baked every morning and are every bit as delicious as homemade. Breakfast in Argentina always consists of yerba mate and facturas, and the morning run to the local pastelería of your choice is a must. I usually bought a mix of medialunas con manteca (buttery croissants) and facturas con membrillo (quince jam). Lack of them in China may go a long way to explaining why I am losing weight.



Mar 302014


Yes, today is my birthday, so I am going to go a bit hog wild in remembering birthdays past.  You’ll have to excuse the self indulgence — I promise I won’t do it again next year.  And . . . so as not to be totally self absorbed, here are some regular old anniversaries for 30 March which I have posted with hyper-links in case they interest you.


Today was the feast of Salus in ancient Rome honoring the goddess of security and well-being (welfare, health and prosperity) of both the individual and the state.  More here:




1842  Ether anesthesia is used for the first time, in an operation by the U.S. surgeon Dr. Crawford Long.

1858 The pencil with eraser attached is patented http://www.google.com/patents/US19783

1867  Alaska is purchased from Russia for $7.2 million, about 2-cent/acre ($4.19/km²), by United States Secretary of State William H. Seward. Henceforth it was known as “Seward’s folly.”


1746 – Francisco Goya, Spanish painter.


1811 – Robert Bunsen, German chemist, inventor of the Bunsen burner.

1853 – Vincent van Gogh, Dutch painter.  Can you pronounce his name correctly? Probably not.  Go here for the answer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLTQv8RH1TE

aardappeleters beeld_0

1930 – Rolf Harris, Australian singer-songwriter. Came to worldwide fame with the classic “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4gru7Ial3k (slightly racist for a modern listener).

1945 – Eric Clapton, English singer-songwriter, guitarist, and producer (The Yardbirds, Cream, The Dirty Mac, Blind Faith, and Free Creek). Take your pick.  This was popular when I was a teen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55A9H-PqOvY

I am in the habit on my birthday of reflecting on past birthdays as I celebrate the day.  So, I am going to do this “out loud” for you this year.  Don’t worry, I am not going to reflect on all 63 — just some highlights.




As attested by my birth certificate, I was born at 9 pm on 30 March 1951 in Hospital Británico in Buenos Aires, and my full legal name is Juan Alejandro Forrest de Sloper.  The hospital is only 5 blocks from where I live now on the same avenue, but it is much more modern now than it was then.


It is a good job that I have this original of my birth certificate because the old Registro Civil building that housed all the birth records of that era burnt down some years ago, destroying all the records.  When I applied for my DNI (Documento Nacional de Identidad) which all citizens are required to carry, they uncovered the hospital record of my birth with a notation from the attending doctor indicating that I was born with the umbilical cord around my neck, so that the delivery was much longer than usual.  In some cultures this is considered a good omen, but all I remember is my mother complaining about it once in a while when she was in reminiscing mode.  I was born with absolutely blond hair (as was my son), and so was apparently a favorite with the ladies when my mum took me to the park in my pram.

I have had my natal chart drawn by several people using different systems over the years.  Just for amusement I had this one generated by a website.


There is a long analysis that goes with it that I have appended at the end here in case you are interested.  It is alarmingly accurate in a great many places (and quite wrong in a few others).

Soon thereafter I was baptized in St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in barrio Monserrat in Buenos Aires.  My mother was really anxious to do this because she was unhappy that the state required my parents to give me Spanish names. She thought that if I were baptized using English names she would then be able to use them on official documents.  I’m not entirely sure that her logic was sound, but all my documents from English-speaking countries thenceforth listed me as John Alexander (which I reversed when I returned to Argentina).  Here’s the font where I was baptized:



I don’t remember much about my birthdays until we moved to South Australia in 1958.  [Perhaps my sisters can fill in the blanks for me in a comment?  I do recall my mum saying that children’s birthdays were a BIG DEAL in Argentina.] In Australia birthdays for all the family followed a standard format.  You got your presents in the morning at the breakfast table, and then had a birthday dinner in the evening.  Our menu was invariant: roast chicken with all the trimmings — crispy roast potatoes, chipolata sausages, bread sauce, sage and onion stuffing, and a seasonable vegetable, plus a cake with candles.  This may seem rather simple, but I loved these special meals.  Poultry was not common on our table back then in Australia because it was expensive.  The cheap meat for roasting was lamb, and we had a roast shoulder pretty much every Sunday.  Chicken was a welcome change. I always put in a bid for a drumstick.  Being the family photographer I have photos of other people’s birthdays, but none of my own. This will have to do (nicked from the web).

Roasted Chicken Dinner


For my birthday this year my parents gave me the equipment for me to be able to develop and print my own film (black and white).  I had been taking photos for about 2 years (more or less incessantly), so this was the next logical phase. I did not get to use it for some time though because the next day my appendix burst and I landed in Hutchinson hospital in Gawler for an emergency appendectomy.  What galled me the most about it all was that I was sent home to get ready for the hospital with strict instructions not to eat anything.  So I had to sit through dinner with a pain in my gut, watching the rest of my family scarf down MY birthday cake. By the time I was sprung a week later it was all gone.  Here’s the hospital somewhat before my stay there.  Looked about the same when I was a prisoner there, though (including the nurses’ uniforms):



I turned 21 in 1972.  I was caught on a very unfortunate cusp. For centuries, turning 21 had always been really special because it marked the age of majority, and symbolized entrance into adulthood.  But when I was 19, the age of majority was lowered to 18 in the U.K. So all of a sudden I could vote, but with no fanfare or big birthday to mark it.  By the time I turned 21, that age had diminished in importance and I had legally been an adult for 2 years.  I was at Oxford at the time and rarely went home to my parents’ house. So we jointly agreed for me to simply celebrate as I saw fit, and they gave me £200 (a considerable sum in those days) to kick up my heels.

I had a girlfriend of sorts, Jill, who agreed to spend the day with me in London. I had no master plan for the day, although I did want to see a revival of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband in the evening.  We went to the theater to get tickets and then headed for Dirty Dick’s.  This is a pub that I had heard about when I lived in Australia and had always wanted to visit.  It’s in Bishopsgate on the edge of the financial district. It commemorates an 18th century merchant, Nathaniel Bentley (aka Dirty Dick), whose fiancée died on their wedding day.  Ever after he never washed, nor cleaned his warehouse.  When he died it was caked inches deep in filth.  The warehouse was demolished soon after, but entrepreneurs recreated the look of the warehouse in a pub Bentley had once owned and called it Dirty Dick’s.  In 1972 the main part of the pub was spic and span, but the cellar bar was still festooned with soot, cobwebs, and general muck in which you could spot dead cats and assorted debris.  Quite the wonderland.  I gather health laws have caused the owners to tidy it up, but bits of the original decor can be seen behind glass.


We had a light lunch there and then headed into the West End to poke around.  In our travels we came across a Japanese restaurant in St Christopher’s Place just off Bond Street.  Looked like an ideal dinner spot to me.  We went in and made reservations for after the theater.  We picked from a set dinner menu which I could not understand at all.  I had no clue.  As far as I know it was the only Japanese restaurant in London at the time, and Japanese cuisine was a blank slate to the English back then

When we returned after the play (around 10:30), the restaurant was packed with Japanese businessmen.  Not a woman in sight except for the waitresses dressed as geishas (who spoke precious little English).  The meal was superb and I was instantly hooked.  First course was a clear soup served in individual ceramic kettles.  You poured the broth into a bowl and then picked the finely julienned vegetables out of the kettle with chopsticks.  When I had filled my bowl with soup I noticed there was no spoon, so I asked the waitress how to eat it.  She replied “wiz you mouse.”  We had a gorgeous sashimi, paper thin, and served with shaved young ginger and ponzu sauce, a one-pot cooked at the table  . . . and on and on.  Lots of sake of course, and ending with plum wine (pronounced “prah why”).  A complete assault of new tastes that I wanted more of.  A 21st to remember a lifetime.


I spent my next birthday on Portland Island off the Dorset coast with another girlfriend (they kinda came and went in those days), Ruth, whose father shared my birthday. After dinner with her family we went off to Church Ope Cove, a private beach where locals have little huts, holdover from the Victorian days of bathing machines.  It was a breathless, moonlit night — idyllic.  It was way too cold to go in the water, but I went in anyway.  I figure a little madness on my birthday is called for.



This was a rather sweet year. I was doing my doctoral fieldwork in the coastal swamps of North Carolina.  I had not been in residence too long, and was boarding with an elderly widow who took in guests if she felt like it.  For most of the year I was the only guest, and she treated me as a son.  I paid $8 per week for board only — but she always fed me if I were around at meal times.  That’s where I learnt about greasy greens, hoppin’ John, cornbread, hush puppies, and Brunswick stew.  I was resigned to spending my birthday without much celebration, and so was delighted when I rolled in at dinner time and found she had made a pan of brownies just for me.  Southern hospitality.



I had been a professor at Purchase College (S.U.N.Y.) for a little under a year when I turned 30.  I was not happy about the transition.  As a 29 yr old Ph.D. assistant professor I was a bit of a whizz kid.  Turning 30 made me just another one in the herd.  To top it off President Reagan was shot that afternoon by John Hinckley, and in the evening I watched the Tar Heels (UNC basketball) lose to Purdue in the NCAA finals. Depressed does not begin to describe my mood that night.  I did recover, however, and went on to teach for another 30 years at Purchase College.  I estimate that in that time I taught over 6,000 students.




Turning 40 treated me a little better. My wife had just learnt that she was pregnant with our only son, Badger, I had tenure, and I was in line to be promoted to full professor that year.  I was conducting a senior seminar for anthropology majors on my birthday and was getting a little niggled because the class was all restless, not paying much attention, and seemed to be passing something around.  I was about to get cross with them when my wife and one of my older students started shuttling in all manner of goodies for a party, including a giant cake with candles.  What they had been passing around was a handmade birthday card for all to sign, with a wonderful graphic of a hummingbird (my totemic animal) kissing a ram (for Aries) on the front.  The only surprise party I have ever had. A great blessing.  I really was completely surprised; my wife and 18 students had kept it absolutely secret for a month.



I became an ordained Presbyterian minister in 1997 and was made pastor in my first church, Livingston Manor Presbyterian in Sullivan Co. NY.  I was really peeved that my first Easter there fell on my birthday.  My birthday usually gets tangled up with Easter somehow or other, but it rarely falls on Easter Sunday itself.  In the 20th century my birthday fell on Easter in 1975, 1986, and 1997.  It will not come around again in my lifetime unless I live to be 108 (2059).  So it was dumb luck that I had to conduct Easter services (including a sunrise service at 5 am) on my birthday.  Oh well.  As they say in the swamps of N.C. — “if it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”


When I turned 50 I decided to have a giant BBQ in the garden in my house in the Catskills for as many former students as I could find. So I set to work with a book listing contact information for Purchase College alumni, seeking as many as I could to invite out.  It was a great day with quite a number of former students (from 1980 to current students) making the trek.  I suspect the only regular reader of this blog who was there would be James Knight (who brought me a bottle of old port).  If any other reader was there, please drop me a comment.



By 2009 I had been a widower for several years and had established a pattern of making a blowout meal for Badger and me on the day itself. (The night before, my girlfriend, Virginia, had invited me to a performance of Funny Girl at a dinner theater — sorry no photos — it was grand). This year for my birthday meal I had a lemon theme — for no good reason. Leek and potato soup with lemon zest, fresh tuna and trout with lemon and soy dipping sauce, ossobuco with lemon and caper sauce, side salad of hearts of palm and water chestnuts in a lemon herb vinaigrette, finished off with lemon tiramisu and limoncello (all my own recipes).

march 30 2009 003  march 30 2009 004  march 30 2009 006  march 30 2009 009

march 30 2009 010 DSCF1634


This was my last birthday in the U.S.  Badger was off in college so I spent the day with my girlfriend, Denise, and her family.  Also, this was the last time I have spent my birthday with someone else.  Ever since, I have been alone.  I don’t care for cake at all, so I made a birthday tiramisu for dessert — with lots of candles.  Mushrooms were the theme for the dinner. This was the year I invented raspberry tiramisu.  I think I will keep the recipe secret. It is delectable.

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061 John and Denise on his birthday2


In August 2010 I retired and moved to Buenos Aires where I have been ever since.  I spent my 60th in Tierra del Fuego.  Unbelievable adventure.  I won’t wear you out with descriptions and images.  Here’s a facebook album if you are interested:


Otherwise, here’s my birthday dinner of Patagonian hare stew and cheesecake.

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I spent my 61st in Cusco with the day itself in Machu Picchu.  Here’s the album.


Birthday dinner of alpaca steak in cilantro sauce plus homemade ice cream.

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I was on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) for my 62nd.  My birthday was Easter Saturday and I had an amazing personally guided tour of the moai:


Dinner of local spiny lobster (no room for, nor interest in, dessert).



This year I am staying in Capital (Buenos Aires) because I am preparing to leave Argentina in June/July for a few years to travel the world (destinations uncertain at time of writing).  Instead of traveling I’m having a blowout weekend.  This facebook album will tell the story.  It will grow over the weekend. It began on Friday 28 March with a lamb vindaloo. Saturday I had a spicy oxtail and kidney stew, and today I am making lapin au vin rouge with cloves, ginger, garlic, and pepper (oysters on the half shell and smoked Patagonian venison as appetizers). Turns out cloves are the theme this year; they feature in all three main dishes.


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Here appended is the auto-readout of my natal chart:

Name: Juan Alejandro

March 30 1951

9:00 PM Time Zone is ADT

Buenos Aires, ARG

Rising Sign is in 25 Degrees Scorpio

You tend to be quiet, reserved, secretive and, at times, quite difficult to understand. Others notice your deep emotions and feelings and wonder how to draw you out. Stubborn and tough, you fight for any position you believe in. You are very resourceful and formidable when you become angered or upset about something. You enjoy living life at the cutting edge — for you life must be experienced intensely and totally. Quite courageous, you are willing to take calculated risks. Easily hurt by others, you often strike back with bitter sarcasm. Sensitive and curious, you are concerned with the deeper mysteries of human psychology. Once you have become interested in any subject, you pursue it with total fanaticism.

Sun is in 09 Degrees Aries.

By nature, you are very energetic and high-spirited. You are fiercely independent — you must be first in everything you do, and you enjoy taking risks. You are the one who will rush in where angels fear to tread. Quite brilliant at initiating new projects, you are terrible at following them through to completion. You are an enthusiastic leader but you tend to be a reluctant follower. Often you are quick to anger, but you usually recover just as fast, regretting later things you said when you were upset. One of your best traits is that you are simple and direct, blunt and honest — just be careful you do not hurt others’ feelings. Your need to be competitive at all costs may provoke resistance from others, but, as long as you maintain your usual Sunny good humor, this should not prove to be a major problem for you.

Moon is in 19 Degrees Capricorn.

You are serious and shy and very uncomfortable in those situations where spontaneous and exuberant emotional reactions seem called for. An achiever, you prefer doing practical, worthwhile things that produce tangible results. You need role models to respect, love and emulate. You tend to feel that you’re a failure unless you get an important and highly respected position in life. Don’t be so hard on yourself! For you, practical needs always win out over emotional considerations. Remember that you too have the right to comfort, security and love. Dutiful and patient, when you make an emotional commitment, you sign on for the long haul — your love is long- enduring.

Mercury is in 26 Degrees Aries.

Very quick-witted, you are known for being an independent thinker. You love to debate and argue, and are excellent at repartee and battles of wits. At times, however, you act too fast on hastily formed opinions and thus waste a lot of energy defending your rash and sometimes incorrect conclusions. It is perfectly acceptable for you to defend your beliefs with your usual vigor, but try not to take the opinions of others as personal insults.

Venus is in 11 Degrees Taurus.

You are known to be a warm and affectionate person, and you tend to form long- lasting attachments. The reverse of this is that you can also be quite possessive once you have made a commitment. The beauty, luxury and comfort of your surroundings are important to you and you will devote much time and energy to making your home just right. Beware of your tendency toward self-indulgence, especially with respect to eating incorrectly. You also need outside stimuli to get you in gear When things come too easily for you, you can be lazy and indolent.

Mars is in 22 Degrees Aries.

You are very independent and self-assertive, and you have lots of physical energy. You are not satisfied unless you can be the first to do something. As such, you are more comfortable in leadership positions than you are as an underling. When you are challenged by anyone for anything, you delight in the competitive process and will fight long and hard for your beliefs. You are bold and courageous and often act without thinking. At times, in your zeal to get ahead, you are tactless and offensive — learn that cooperation with others can often bring you nearer to your goals quicker because of the support you will get.

Jupiter is in 24 Degrees Pisces.

You are at your best when you give of yourself and what you have — try to avoid being a martyr about it, though. You’re a true idealist, but you must learn not to be upset when life does not cooperate with the way you think things should be. Very concerned with spiritual truth and growth, when you practice what you preach, you make an excellent role model for others. You are so devoted to altruistic ventures and concerns that you tire easily at times. It then becomes necessary for you to go off by yourself to recharge your batteries.

Saturn is in 28 Degrees Virgo.

Your life must be orderly and practical and full of known and familiar routines in order for you to feel comfortable with yourself. Be careful, however, not to let “order” become the be-all and end-all of your life, or you may become cold, crass and unfeeling. Doing useful, practical things boosts your self- esteem. Abstract concepts and reasoning seem frivolous and a waste of time to you. You are very critical of yourself (and others), indeed at times quite self-deprecating. Try to relax a bit and allow yourself the freedom to fail once in a while. However, you probably won’t fail very often because you are such a perfectionist.

Uranus is in 05 Degrees Cancer.

For you, and for your peers as well, the demand to be free from entangling emotional bonds is of paramount importance. You have a unique and unfettered view of family life and will be attracted to experimenting with freeform styles of relationship commitments. This may lead to a rootless, unsettled lifestyle.

Neptune is in 18 Degrees Libra.

You, and your entire generation, idealize all of the various experimental approaches to relationships — including “living together”, the formation of communes and collectives and the whole concept of “open” marriages. There is a stress on weakened commitments on an emotional and contractual level, but there are heightened expectations of the level of commitment and mutual support on the spiritual and metaphysical level.

Pluto is in 17 Degrees Leo.

For your entire generation, this is a time when the relationship of the individual to society as a whole is being thoroughly re-examined. Major attempts will be made to find a balance between the need to be self-sufficient and the need to honor debts of social commitment.

N. Node is in 18 Degrees Pisces.

You’re attracted to others who need your assistance. You seem to go out of your way to form relationships with those who are weak, sick, injured, addicted or troubled in some way or other. At your best you can indeed provide the relief that others need. But at times you can be victimized by those who would prey on your good nature and take advantage of you. This can lead to all sorts of negative situations — make sure that those you assist are truly worthy of your time, energy and commitment.


A small bonus for you if you make it this far — and no, this is not going to become a habit again.


Jul 172013


Today is the birthday of Joaquín Salvador Lavado, better known by his pen name Quino. For the first time when I celebrate a birthday I can use the present tense because Quino is still alive. [True when I wrote this in 2013 — but he died in 2020.] Feliz cumpleaños compañero Argentino! Quino is an Argentine cartoonist perhaps best known for his strip  Mafalda which ran from 1964 to 1973. Quino is not very well known in the English-speaking world even though Mafalda was translated into English. Quino claimed at one point that he thought it was because the underlying humor was Latin and did not play well in other cultures.

Quino was born in Guaymallén, Mendoza Province, to immigrant Spanish parents from Andalusia. From the time he was born, he was called Quino in order to distinguish him from his uncle Joaquín Tejón, a painter and commercial artist who inspired Quino at a young age. It was only when he was enrolled in primary school that he discovered his legal name was Joaquin.  A certain amount of the childhood angst and humor of his cartoon children reflects his primary school experiences.  For example he writes, “I was so anxious in the first three months that I had bad grades. But I finished the year with pretty good grades, although I was never number one and that made me angry,” echoing the sort of thing his character Felipe would say.

The Argentine traditional school system that Quino went through has two levels: primary and secondary.  Primary teaches general subjects and runs for 7 years.  Secondary education is specialized. At roughly age 13 you must choose what area you wish to focus on, and this decision affects career choices from that point on.  Quino chose the Escuela de Bellas Artes (School of Fine Arts) in Mendoza, which he entered in 1945.  It was in this year that the first issue of the magazine “Rico Tipo” appeared in Buenos Aires. To get published in that magazine became Quino’s dream (which he eventually accomplished). Quino left Escuela de Bellas Artes in 1949 without finishing.  As he puts it, he was “tired of drawing vases and plaster.” Instead he embarked on a career as a graphic humorist.

In 1950 Quino sold his first piece to a silk shop in Mendoza, but had no further commercial success there.  So in 1951 he took a trip to Buenos Aires where he knocked on doors for 3 weeks without anyone taking any interest.  From 1953 to 1954 Quino was called to compulsory military service.  He counted the days until he was released, hating every minute of it, and claiming that if he were not released soon he would kill someone.  But he said that the experience had two rewarding consequences.  First, he met boys from all over the country and from all classes, which he felt broadened his horizons.  Second, he felt that being in the army so disrupted his life that he was able to contemplate completely transforming his life and his art work.

On release from the army in 1954 Quino settled in Buenos Aires in squalid conditions, sharing a small, dingy room with four other men.  However, he got a break when the magazine, “Eso Es” (“This Is”), bought a full page spread of his work, and then published a page of his weekly.  After that, Quino’s work appeared in a diverse variety of periodicals, such as “Vea y Lea,” “Leoplán,” “Damas y Damitas,” “TV Guía,” “Usted,” “Che,” “Panorama,” “Atlántida,” “Adan,” and “Democracia.”  From then until now, Quino’s art has been published without disruption in countless newspapers and magazines throughout Latin America and Europe.

Quino’s daily newspaper strip Mafalda was his most successful cartooning venture. Mafalda ran from 1964 to 1973. I have included samples of the strip here (in English and Spanish).  They give the general idea. Mafalda is a young girl who is reminiscent of some Western characters – wise, precocious, sometimes hapless, and usually the victim of ill fate. The strip has been translated into more than 30 languages, although it has always been more popular in Latin America than elsewhere.  Mafalda has also appeared in several animated shorts, and in 1976 UNICEF asked Quino to illustrate its literature for the Convention on the Rights of the Child using Mafalda. Subsequently Mafalda was used as spokesperson for a number of children’s rights campaigns. After Mafalda, Quino’s work broadened to deal more with the foibles of adult life, including marriage, work, technology, and authority. He continues to work in that vein. (Click on these images to enlarge).



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Charles Schultz wrote of Quino, “The kind of ideas that he works with are one of the most difficult, and I am amazed at their variety and depth. Also, he knows how to draw, and to draw in a funny way. I think that he is a giant.”

Since it is winter here in Argentina I have chosen a favorite home style winter Argentine dish to honor Quino: puchero.  It is not flippant to say that the basic recipe for puchero is “boil up some meat and bones in a pot to make a stock, then add vegetables and simmer some more.”  But, of course, every region (and every cook) has favorite ingredients based on locally available meat and vegetables.  Lamb based puchero is very common in the south where sheep are plentiful, but no one would eat it in Buenos Aires.  Some pucheros feature mixed meats whilst others focus on one.  Here’s a recipe of sorts that I have pulled from my own head based on what I like, and based on the kinds of things I tend to throw into the pot. There are a few ingredients I can get, such as zapallito (a kind of squash), which are unavailable elsewhere.  So use your imagination.  I give quantities here as a guide, not as rigid rules. Bear in mind that this is not a slow cooked stew of the European kind.  This is very rapidly cooked and requires the tenderest of beef (preferably from Argentina!). Some kind of bread as an accompaniment is essential.  Crusty Italian rolls or loaves are usual.

There are certain fairly inflexible principles involved in making and serving puchero:

1. The ingredients are all cooked together, but then the broth is strained off to make a soup, and then the meat is served in one dish, and the vegetables in another.
2. Herbs are limited, with no strong flavors.  Parsley is the commonest.  Oregano and bay leaf can be used.
3. No green vegetables are ever used.
4. The whole thing is supposed to be eaten in its entirety in one day.  Should there be any leftovers they cannot be served again in the same way.  They must be transformed somehow.
5. Salt, vinegar, and oil are the normal table accompaniments, but you may also add condiments such as mustard for the beef.  Argentinos do not use pepper at the table.

Naturally I give directions here in metric only.

Puchero de mi cocina


1kg lean, tender beef cut into 8 pieces
1 onion peeled and quartered
1 tied bunch parsley
1 green bell pepper cut into large pieces
2 zapallitos halved (you can use about 2 cups of winter squash)
4 carrots peeled and halved
2 small sweet potatoes peeled and halved
1 whole corn cob cut into bite sized rounds
1 large leek (white only) trimmed and halved
200g very small pasta


Bring 3 liters of salted water to the boil in a large pot.

Add the beef, onion, and parsley.

Maintain a fast boil for about 30 to 40 minutes. After 15 minutes add the rest of the vegetables (not the pasta).

Check the beef after 30 minutes for tenderness. Cook longer if necessary.

Strain off the broth into a new pot and bring it back to a rapid boil.

Put the beef on one plate, and the vegetables on another, and keep warm. Discard the parsley.

Cook the pasta in the broth and serve immediately.

Next serve the meat and vegetables.

Serves 4 (in Argentina)