Archive for October, 2011

An interesting memory to share

Posted: October 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

A couple of years ago we were shopping for furniture for our apartment and so we were going to lots of remates, or auctions. Remates are a frequent way for people to get rid of old stuff, and a great way to find antiques. Granted, a lot of it is crap and overpriced crap at that, but you can find truly excellent stuff if you take the time to look. The key to it is to set a price in your head that you want to pay, and never go past that. If the bidding escalates beyond your line in the sand, let them have it.

We had spied a pair of red velvet chairs with ornate carved armrests and high backs. The kind you would sit in while wearing your smoking jacket, by the fire, with a good book on your lap, a glass of cognac in one hand and a pipe or cigar in the other. We would reupholster them ourselves to match the decor of the house, but you get the idea.

This particular remate was Carrasco, one of Montevideo’s wealthier suburbs. Sure, folks here had money, but everyone going to auctions is looking for a good deal or looking to snatch up a valuable antique that nobody else knew the value of. One old art-deco cigarette case had opponents fighting, one was even bidding by phone, and they were up to several thousand dollars.

During the course of the auction, a bronze door knocker came up for bidding. “Door knocker, in the shape of a hand,” he announced, and held it up for the people to see. It was a small human hand, holding a sphere, with a hinge at the wrist.

“Which hand is it?” someone in the crowd asked.

The auctioneer took a look, and replied, “It is a left hand.”

Jeers, boos, and laughter from the audience. “Que politico!” the auctioneer chuckled. Rowdy laughs from everyone. This was back when Tabare Vasquez was president and the leftist policies of his new regime had already started the slow-death-by-papercuts on anyone productive here (new income taxes, more BPS obligations, and changes in smoking laws, to name a few). Those who had money and wanted to keep it, or those who wanted to make more, weren’t too fond of Tabare and his Frente Amplio friends.

The bidding opened. Nobody wanted it, not even for its melt value, as if it had been cursed. It went back into the pile of other dusty relics. Since then I have seen a number of the same bronze door knockers here and there at various antique shops and ferias. It must be an associative mental function, like when you own a certain kind of car or own a certain piece of merchandise, you start to see them everywhere. Nobody wants to buy these left hands, and you never see any right hands. They must all still be on doors somewhere.

Someone bid higher than our line, so we didn’t get our chairs. Ah well. We ended up ordering a sofa, which is another story that shouldn’t have needed telling under normal circumstances, which I’ll have to tell in another post.

Frankenberry gets around

Posted: October 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

A hoard of monster strawberries. They taste just as good as they look.

The photo sucks but the top part of the ruler is in inches.

Not much.

My usual foolproof crabbing hole was unusable due to the wind direction: chop and stirred-up sediment, no visibility. So on my way back home I stopped in another location that was more sheltered and crab-friendly, and lo and behold crab season is back. With a vengeance.

I caught these in about 15 minutes. Like shooting fish in a barrel. You can’t really call it fishing or hunting; it’s more like gathering. You literally stand in one place and they come to you. And then you throw them in a bag.

Then you boil them to death and feast upon their delicious, steaming corpses.

Some people pay a lot of money to eat like this. These were free for the taking. I don’t think they live long enough up north to get this big.

Uruguayans do not eat much crab. I don’t know if they consider it peasant fare or if they just don’t know about how good they are. I had one guy ask me, “what are you catching them for, bait?” and he seemed surprised when I said I was going to eat them. “What part do you eat?” he asked, and I explained. “How do you cook them?” etc etc. During my crabbings (is that a word? like “Outings”) I have only encountered one other individual who had the goal of eating them.

This is why you are literally tripping over them here. No complaints.

Thought of the day

Posted: October 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

If communism, socialism, or fascism are such great systems, why must they be legislated and enforced at gunpoint? Surely you’d have no shortage of volunteers…

Where da baking soda at

Posted: October 24, 2011 in Uncategorized

It’s at the pharmacy. Or the chemical supply house. Not at the grocery store.

Baking soda? What's that?

Smuggling in Liquid Gold

Posted: October 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

Not the kind of liquid gold you might be thinking about.


If you came to visit in Uruguay, you would make many people your very happy best friends if you brought these kinds of things with you.

This is the stuff that you simply cannot do without, if you have any tastebuds in your mouth. But none of the products shown here are available in Uruguay on a regular basis. I do not believe that Uruguayans have tastebuds. If they do, they certainly do not keep them active or challenge them in any fashion. Chivito, milanesa, ravioli. Chivito, milanesa, ravioli. Oh, and pizza. Nada mas.

While various isotopes of the famous Uruguayan chivito do present a challenge in terms of cholesterol per cubic centimeter and/or calories by gross, net, and density, surely there must be more imagination to the menu. But it’s a common complaint about people who stay here for a while that there is only one menu for the whole country. This is why these little items here are kept in a safe location away from prying eyes. Well, the sriracha is safe; while I could drink it straight from the bottle (or take a bath in it, mmmmmm), a mere drop would probably cause the average Uruguayan to spontaneously combust. They generally do not like spicy food.

That little bottle of Hokan Fish Sauce retails for USD$18.00 here. I bought a few bottles of it in the US for $1.99 each and smuggled it in my luggage, along with all the other stuff shown here, a few varieties of rice wine vinegar, curry paste, and a few other tasty things. Technically you are not supposed to bring in food items but sometimes the customs agents don’t care. Most of the time. With a return of that magnitude on fish sauce, I would consider bringing in a container load of the stuff. Until I remember that the reason that bottle retails for $18 is because it’s probably been sitting there long enough to warrant its retroactive rent for taking up shelf space while it waits for its new owner.

Aduanas (Customs) in South America is either a joke or a nightmare, seldom anything in between. Last time I came with a whole suitcase of stuff for the house, and they confiscated a $200 diesel pump. This time, I went through Buenos Aires. While my bags were going through the scanner, they were about to pull me aside to check their contents, and then asked, “What is your destination?”

I answered, “Uruguay,” and they just waved me through. This was at Ezeiza airport, which is about a 40 minute drive, in good traffic, to Aeroparque airport where I would be leaving from. I could have brought in any manner of contraband and dropped it off in Argentina. When I arrived back in Uruguay, the aduanas agents could have cared less.

When I was done with these pancakes, I actually considered scraping the leftover syrup back into the bottle…

Heaping plate of delicious mancakes. Fear the buttery, golden-brown perfection.


The Uruguayan time zone was unique. It never quite matched Brazil or Argentina, its bigger neighbors, and the changing of the clocks fell some time in between theirs. Being one who deals in business worldwide, I would, twice each year, be suspended in a bizarre limbo time zone, unsure of what time it was in the world, while the phase slowly dragged through from Brazil, to Uruguay, to Argentina, only matching up to the US time zones I was familiar with at the very end of the month-long cycle.

This year, strangely enough, the government has announced, along with Argentina, that they are no longer going to use Daylight Savings Time. This, of course, fills my heart with joy, since I think DST is one of the most mentally deficient ideas ever to plague mankind. And it’s probably one of the first things both countries have done in decades that remotely resembles logic.

I can’t even imagine the amount of human productivity lost to those missing hours of sleep, the alarm clock that wasn’t set right, the people all coming in late to work, all because of government botch-ism.

The history of DST started with Benjamin Franklin, one of my personal heroes, who wrote a satirical paper about how Parisians could be more productive if they woke earlier and did things like taxing shutters, rationing candles, and ringing church bells and firing cannons at sunrise. Franklin felt about the Parisians the same way I feel about Uruguayans: they frequently bemoan their station in life but do nothing to improve it, either by action, productivity, or voting.

DST was later taken up as a lobbyist cause after Londoner William Willett lobbied to have the process legislated, stating that it “dismayed him” to see other Londoners sleeping through valuable summer daylight. He argued it until he died, but it never became law. That took war. World War I to be precise.

The Kaiser set forth the first official government-sanctioned DST in wartime in order to conserve coal. All the other European countries and their allies followed suit. And none of them ever looked back. The same form of idiocy brought about speed limits in WWII to conserve fuel, and those laws were never repealed either. One might think that the government is tying itself in a knot here– it makes money on fuel taxes, and mandates insurance; I imagine that there is a lot of money to be made if the government gave a rat’s ass about how fast you drive: more fuel burned equals more taxes in their pocket, the insurance gestapo could charge more, and there would be an increase in economic activity. Not that I advocate such things; I am simply illustrating yet another point of government moronism.

Some say that the speeding ticket racket makes it profitable, but I contest that it’s an economic dead end what with police salaries, equipment, and wasted time in court, but I digress and that’s something better left for another post.

Let’s get back on topic…

Never once did the DST legislation increase peoples’ inclination to show up on time. Especially here. Londoners and Uruguayos alike continue to nap through the summer sun. I cannot blame them; there is nothing quite as refreshing as a nap in the summer.

Motivation cannot be legislated into being. However it can be legislated away through taxation. Politicians do not understand that, and never will. I believe this to be the reason for “Mañana Time.” Why work hard when the government takes away so much of the fruits of your labor? History has demonstrated this time and time again, yet morons worldwide continue to think that they can somehow tweak an expressly unfair system like Socialism (ie: how is it fair to the producers who are taxed or stolen from?) into a system that “works for everyone.”

Fernando the painter was supposed to show up this morning at 9am, in order to finish painting the shelves that were installed with unpainted parts that were forgotten the first time (how that happens, I cannot explain– is this not what paper and pencil are for?). Fortunately I am familiar with Mañana Time and I knew the drill so I left the house in the morning to run some errands, and I was back and doing some yard work after lunch when he finally arrived at 1pm (9am MST/Mañana Standard Time).

If you want to nap through the summer, go ahead. Just don’t complain that you aren’t getting paid to do it. And don’t complain that you are not getting ahead when you voted for a system that is preventing you from getting ahead.

This doesn’t have much to do with Uruguay but I felt the need to write about it nonetheless.

It’s just another one of those things that fills me with fascination yet makes me want to shout in angry agony.

This is a video about ancient Chinese shipbuilding technology and technique, specifically as it relates to waterproof bulkhead compartments and junk rig boats. Being a sailor and hobbyist boatbuilder, I find it fascinating. Up to the part where they turn it into a commercial for socialized preservation of obsolescence.

I have a special place in my heart for boats, boatbuilding, sailing, and nautical arts in general. I rigged my latest project with a chinese junk sail, and I find the chinese ship technology intriguing and useful for certain applications. High tech racing stuff it is definitely not, but reliable and buildable by anyone, anywhere, with any materials handy, it is. It simply works. Great material for a book or two on the subject, but not something that should be paid millions of dollars for.

What doesn’t work is stealing money from unwitting victims, in the form of taxes, and using it to keep people employed building obsolete things simply to “keep the old ways alive.”

While we do have museum exhibits and books devoted to the grisly medical techniques of the past, such as bloodletting, unanaesthetized dentistry, trepanning, the drinking of mercury to cure what ails thee, etc. We do not pay exhorbitant sums to keep people in practice with these things. We have dismissed these techniques as obsolete and, indeed, grisly, because more effective techniques have come along to achieve the same, or better, results in a more elegant fashion. Why should it be any different for any other type of technology? How would you feel if you were to be taxed more to pay for an ancient hospital where they still practiced this barbarism?

Commercial shipbuilding nowadays is done with metal or composite materials for a reason. It is cheaper, stronger, faster, more efficient, lasts longer, requires less specialized skill, and yields a better overall product. Direct comparison is simple: In the time and cost it takes these Chinese grand masters of shipbuilding to make a single boat, you could crank out several composite boats, all 100% identical, of equal or better performance and reliability.

Does the old stuff work? Yes. But are there better ways? Yes, lots of them. Centuries worth. Sure you can still find old vacuum-tube computers with punch cards but only a masochist (read: hobbyist) would want to use them today. The same goes for any category of technological progress.

No wonder these old Grand Masters can only make a profit building decorative models for peoples’ mantlepieces. It is a dead art and should remain relegated to the hobbyist’s (read: masochist’s) domain. The profit is gone because people have found, and use, better ways. The Darwinian market has extincted traditional Chinese shipbuilding.

Don’t misunderstand me; I like the look of the old stuff and I think it’s neat, but when it comes time to put my money down, I’d put it on a modern boat. Even within the hobbyist’s domain, certain things are simply better. The use of composite materials and fiberglass, for example, and modern structural engineering went into my garage-built boat. When I am out on the water I trust fiberglass not only to hold better than planks held together with nails, but not to rot and not to become food for teredo worms. The only ancient chinese technology I used was the sail, and that’s only because I am in the self-imposed embargo state of Uruguay where modern materials are not readily available and cost a fortune to import; it was much easier and less costly for me to buy basic canvas.

Don’t force me to pay extra for crap I don’t need; let me choose what I want to learn and buy. Some of it’s just not worth the cost.


Posted: October 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

Turns out that the stuff in the yard was dill. Bleh. It’s getting mowed.

More yard finds

Posted: October 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

I got a new weedwhacker today. In my haste to cleanse the yard of evil weeds, I got a little too close to the strawberries and accidentally beheaded an entire one of my plants. Danger: Gringo with power tools.

This is either wild dill or wild fennel. It’s still too small to tell, really, and the aroma is not a very strong one either on the dill or the fennel side. But a good portion of the lawn is absolutely overrun with it.

wild fennel or dill

We had smuggled in some florence fennel seeds and I tossed a few around at the edges of the yard about a month ago; then I got all excited thinking they were sprouting. Only there is now an entire field of them and I didn’t throw seeds that far, or that numerous. I guess I will find out what they are later when they have grown and I murder them. But there is a dilemma: now that there are growing edibles by the thousands, I am reluctant to mow the lawn, and I have an official excuse to tell WifeBob.

Here are some other fun little things that pop up in our lawn.

mystery lawn flower

mystery lawn flower 2

Some other funny yard humor… everything is sprouting and flowering now that spring has finally sprung. We had bought a pear and apple tree and had everything stacked in the corner of the yard before we planted them. They looked alike without their leaves, and I had assumed I had planted the apple tree near the side of the house and the pear tree up the hill. Well, now that the leaves and flowers are coming in, I find that we had planted them in the wrong places. Oh well, the apple tree is happy and the pear is finally sprouting leaves. Looks like I will have at least a handful of Fuji apples growing.

Fuji apple blossoms

Orange blossom on our winter (navel) orange tree

75% of the beer hops I planted late last summer are doing well having survived the winter. The heat did the weak ones in after I planted them (the seeds are supposed to sprout in the spring, not the summer). These should be pretty hearty this year. Birds ate this year’s spring seed planting, unfortunately. I am starting to see why there are no beer hops growing commercially in Uruguay. It’s because of the damned birds!

hops babies

happy grape vine