New Musical Car Names

DSC_0154I’ve written about this subject before and come back to it today after being on the road this morning and finding myself bored.  While in heavy traffic, I began processing the names of car models.  I saw a Honda Odyssey, a Honda Fit (more on the Fit in a future post), a Dodge Dart, darting in and out of lanes only to be stopped like the rest of us at a traffic light.  Let’s see, there was a Toyota Venza whose name perplexes me – Venza?  Is this short for Venezuela? Or is the meaning a bit deeper?  In Spanish there is a phrase – sin verguenza which essentially means without shame and indeed the driver seemed to have no remorse for tailing me closely and then sharply passing me on a winding road.  I should add that the Venza was nearly impaled by an oncoming Impala.

One of my favorite car names on the road is the Hyundai Sonata, although I don’t particularly like the car.  I think automakers should turn more to classical music forms to name new models or rename tired and boring old ones.  Here are just a few I would recommend: The Mitsubishi Mazurka, and it’s mid-size companion the Mitsubishi Rhapsody; the venerable Hyundai Scherzo; the Ford Fugue and a hybrid version, the Ford Fantasie; the Chevrolet Concerto, (Chevy should bring back the Caprice Classic); the full-sized Pontiac Polonaise and the sporty Pontiac Poco Adagio (Do they even still make the Pontiac?) Dodge flopped with the Neon so why not repackage it as the Nocturne? I could go on for days with Italian names, but let’s just go with the Fiat Finale and the Fiat Tutti micro car, to replace the monotonous Fiat 500.  I never much liked the Lincoln model names, so let me suggest The Lincoln Largo (to replace the Navigator) and a new compact and fuel efficient Lincoln Lento; I could have fun with the German makes, but let’s keep it simple – the VW Waltz, and the concept car, the VW Variation on a Theme.  BMW just numbers their cars, so they need a refined BMW Bagatelle.  Here’s one make I forgot about and so have most Americans – Buick.  They are definitely on the right track with the Buick Encore, but they steered off course with the Buick Enclave so how about renaming it the Buick Berceuse, which in musical terms means lullaby and would be the perfect auto for a family with a crying baby suffering from colic and insomnia.  And I know the theme here is classical music, but I am going to deviate a bit and rename the Buick LaCrosse the Buick Jai-Alai.  And last on the list, Volvo, the old Swedish make needs a makeover for its infamous station wagon box.  I’d suggest the Volvo Vocalise.

Coda: For good measure, I’d rename the Nissan Leaf, the Nissan Conductor and the Toyota Prius, the Toyota Impromptus.  By the way, cudos to Nissan for the Versa Note, and the Nissan March, but whatever happened to the Stanza? And Honda, what did you do with the Prelude?


Uruguay and the U.S.


You may have never considered the connection between Uruguay and the U.S. before or maybe I’m wrong and it’s all you think about.  The smartypants would say, “I know, both countries start with a U.” True, and a good connection, I’ll give you that.  Anything else?  Another wiseguy might say, “they speak Spanish and so do people in the U.S.”  And that would be true, although the brand of Spanish you hear in the States is nothing at all like what you hear on the streets of Montevideo.  As to other connections, if you’ve been following the news a little bit, you’d know that President Obama negotiated a deal with President Mujica of Uruguay to resettle 6 prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay.  And do you know why the Uruguayans agreed to resettle them?  One of the reasons is that President Mujica was once a political prisoner and felt an obligation to provide humanitarian assistance to the men.  Granting the prisoners refugee status, they are free in Uruguay to do what they please, even leave the country if they so wish. And though they seem grateful to be there, there are very few immigrants from Arabic speaking countries living in Uruguay – one estimate put the number at 300 –  and the country has no mosques.  The cultural transition may be difficult for the men, but the people of Uruguay on the balance seem to welcome their presence.

Now we don’t know the terms of the deal.  It is not known if the Uruguayans received anything in return for accepting the detainees or whether they would agree to resettle some of the other prisoners still left at Guantanamo Bay in the future. But if I were on the negotiating team for Uruguay, I would ask for two things, no three in exchange for cooperation.  1) Clean buses.  Buses spewing dirty diesel are everywhere.  The boulevards of the downtown area are caked in soot and the air is anything but bueno despite the fact that Buenos Aires is a short distance from Montevideo.  2) Better Internet for the people.  Did you know that Uruguayans have free Internet?  Sounds good, right? But there’s a catch.  It’s just 2GB of data a month.  That’s like a few google searches, browsing a couple of websites, 2 YouTube videos, 1 minute on Facebook, 10 photos uploaded and 5 minutes of a Netflix movie.  I know, I’ve been there.  3) Most Favored Wine Nation status.  Did you know that Uruguay produces some of the most interesting wines in the world grown from the tannant grape, indigenous to the country? The stuff is absolutely sublimely delicious and not easily found in the States.  Do try a bottle if you have the chance.

DSC_0369One last connection.  I didn’t know this until recently, but one of America’s greatest composers, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, who I would venture that most Americans have never heard of, grew up in New Orleans, moved to Paris, came back to the U.S., traveled extensively abroad, relocated to South America under very strange circumstances, and died in Rio. His Symphony #2 is dedicated to the great city of Montevideo.


Uruguay Travelogue Day 6: Colonia del Sacremento


On Monday, we took a “luxury” bus out to Colonia del Sacremento, about 2 and a half hours from Montevideo. We’ve gotten around the city almost entirely on foot and bus. The buses have been a cheap and reliable mode of transportation for the most part. Some of the buses, which you pay a little more for have padded seats and are more spacious. The less costly buses are generally more crowded and have plastic seats. You might be more comfortable standing unless you have a padded butt that can absorb the bumps. As the buses fill with people, they push to the back where everyone has to eventually exit which means if you are standing, people who need to get off will have to squeeze by you and there’s simply no place for you to go when you are being squeezed but into the people who are seated as you try to make yourself less present. But what annoys me more than anything is the fact that when you get onto the bus and pay, you get a ticket or some sort of receipt. I can’t fathom why the ticket is needed once you have paid and are on the bus. As far as I can tell, you can’t use it to transfer to another bus. The conductors don’t stop and inspect the tickets. I can’t imagine that people keep these receipts for tax purposes, but they might.  What do I know? When it comes to the ways of the Uruguayans, perhaps very little.

The charming resort town of Colonia del Sacremento reminds me a little of Cape Code in the wintertime. It feels as off the beaten path as Isla de Chiloe in Chile. And even though it is wintertime here, the place still had a number of tourists, some from Argentina and Brazil. Buenos Aires is only a 50 minute ferry ride from the port of Colonia.  The town has a lot of military history and apparently was something of a strategic outpost controlled at times by Portugal, Spain and Brazil and you can see both the Portuguese and Spanish influence on the layout of the town and in the architecture. One of the more eye pleasing objects was the lighthouse, completed by soldiers (not sure which country’s) in 1857, that one can climb for something like 20 pesos.


The town has many museums, restaurants, churches and shops that sell local art, handicrafts and clothing. There are beaches on the Rio de la Plata, areas for camping and picnics in Aaron del Anchorena National Park and there’s even a bullring.


But the highlight of the day was the restaurant we stumbled upon called Buen Suspiro which features local cheeses, wines, pastries, soups and entrees made with locally sourced ingredients.


It is located in the cellar of a home that must have been built in the 1700’s by the Portuguese, with low hung wooden beams. The cavernous space had a intimate charm with about 10 tables in all. Our waiter explained the menu, which consisted of several types of appetizers including the one we selected which contained 4 types of local cheeses from mild to strong, bread, a spicy jam, cheese bread squares and balls and dry salami.


We also sampled 6 different local wines – a Cuna Crianza Tannant Merlot blend, one of my least favorites of the 6; a Fripp Tannant, my personal favorite; a Cuna Reserva Riesling, a semi-dry white, with a zesty lime tang that keep the wine from being too sweet; a Cuna de Piedra Sauvignon Blanc; and two rose wines – a Cabernet and a Moscatel. I don’t like roses much so these were my least favorite of the lot.


For entrees, we had a squash soup and a vegetable and meat lasagna. We ordered a slice of dulce de leche cake – to die for – and a round of mate.


Our waiter explained to us how to prepare and drink mate, something we were not aware of even though we had experience drinking mate, Chilean-style, which is not as protocol dependent as the Uruguayan way and as our waiter pointed out, the Uruguayan way is not nearly as particular as the Argentine way.


And we ended the day with a 8 dollar bar of chocolate -always ask the price before you buy something- and a double cortado para llevar. And so it went on Colonia de Sacremento on this cold winter day.

Uruguay Travelogue Day 5: View from the Hill


On this Sunday, we bused over to the Market, an endless line of vendors hawking everything imaginable, shoes, belts, clothing, electronics, birds, fish, jewelry, bootlegged movies and software, futbol stickers, mate gourds and bombillas, fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices and more. It was quite the scene, really, especially on Sunday, replete with shoppers sporting mate gourds and hot water thermoses, the local opium of the masses, well mate and soccer and for some marijuana too, which is legal.


After the market, we headed to El Cerro, the hill, for a spectacular view of the city and to see the monument to the murdered and disappeared Uruguayans during the dirty wars of the South American dictatorships of the 70’s. The monument is a simple glass installment with the names of the victims about 100 in all, many of them women, stenciled in white.


I don’t know much about the poverty statistics in Montevideo, but clearly there are many impoverished families living on or near the hill. Taking a bus to this remote part of the city was like crossing into another country. What I saw, reminded me very much of the houses and conditions in Guatemala, a much less developed country than Uruguay: poor sanitation conditions, trash overflowing, skinny and snarling, territorial dogs all about. Many of the roads leading to houses were not paved. My daughter keenly observed that there weren’t as many advertisement in the neighborhood as we had seen in the city proper, but there were more political campaign slogans and graffiti.



Kids of all ages playing soccer



Uruguay Travelogue Day 4: the Gliptodonte


The Glipto

We started the day off at the Museo de Arte Precolombino e Indigena (MAPI) housed in one of the most magnificent buildings I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. The four story Italian influenced building must have been constructed in the late 1800s. It may have been another kind of museum or perhaps the headquarters of some important company, or a government office. Actually, I found out that its original purpose was to be a spa with thermal springs.  Re-purposed as a museum, it has many rooms each with different exhibits of archeological finds including fossils, dinosaur bones, pottery, jewelry and musical instruments. My favorite creature on display was the Gliptodonte that looked like a distant and heavily armed cousin of the armadillo, with a long tail that might have been the inspiration for the gladiator club. A janitor, or perhaps she was the art conservator, told us to take the old open-faced service elevator to the top floor, that could have once been a storage room for surplus art, to get a view of the old city. We did, and what a view it was of the foggy la Ciudad Vieja, with its many white buildings and houses where colorful laundry flapped in the cool air like flags. In the distance, the Bahia de Montevideo awakened with activity as barges emerged from breaks in the fog.


View from the top floor of the MAPI

After the museum, we headed to Jacinto, a chic cafe recommended by the New York Times in an article entitled “36 Hours: Montevideo, Uruguay.” We started with a salad of the day that was to die for: greens, green beans, beets, blue cheese, thin crispy onion strips, with a drizzle of olive oil served with a dinosaur-sized soft boiled egg, The selection of fresh bread was some of the best I’ve ever sampled and came with some sort of chick pea puree sprinkled with sesame seeds. Our entrees included pork chops with sweet potato mash, fish with a puree of carrots and a vegetarian and roast beef sandwich with a liberal smearing of horseradish sauce. The ice-cold Patricia beer, the Budweiser of Uruguay, quenched our thirst. I had a glass of the local tannant wine, that was much fruiter than others I have sampled and I imagine it had some Merlot to sweeten and soften. We ordered a round of cortados and shared two dessert dishes. The first was a poached apple infused with glazed almonds and a caramel crunch served with a delicate dollop of vanilla bean ice-cream. Our second dessert was a chocolate banana sponge cake with caramelized almonds and cardamon-laced bananas or something like that, I don’t remember for sure. Top tip: dishes of the day like our salad and the apple dessert are significantly discounted.

We left the Jacinto for the Plaza de Independencia to warm up in the sun. It’s really cold here in Montevideo, especially in the shade. We watched Uruguayan soccer fans pass by waving flags, in some cases draped in a flag, head off to where they would be watching the match with Colombia. Chile and Brazil had played to a tie and we ambled up the way to watch the penalty kicks outside a pizzeria where fans gathered to see Chile ultimately lose making only 2 kicks to Brazil’s 3. The mood was somber afterwards as it appeared that many of the locals had hoped Chile would win.

We took a bus to a working class residential area of the city down by the river, took some fotos, dodged dog poop every step of the way and ended up randomly at a public viewing of a the World Cup match between Colombia and Uruguay. As it got underway, fireworks deafened our ears as the local police force looked on with bullet proof vests and clubs at the ready. The festive folks in the crowd were drinking beer and passing around what looked to be wine, not the usual mate. As it became a little more crowded and chaotic and canons went off, I felt like I was on a battle field and that it was time to leave. And we did, but our daughters wanted to stay and film the spectacle. We ultimately caught an empty city bus to head to a cafe to watch the game. We ended up at the Cafe Paris, in a mall of all places, and saw Colombia dominate Uruguay who played without their star biter, Luis Suarez, who had been banned in a previous match for biting an Italian player.  Last stop before retiring was La Inglesa, a Walmart like superstore, with better working conditions for the workers, as the cashiers sit on the job in comfortable chairs and watch TV on their screens when things slow down. There, we bought an international calling card, some bread and another bottle of cheap tannant that my wife and I polished off back at the house.


Abandoned apartment complex

Montevideo Prison Mall

On Day 3 we took a city bus down to Pocitos, a hip beachfront area of the city known for art galleries, casinos, diverse architecture, and a prison mall. We took some photos, got a workout at a fitness installment on the waterfront, had lunch and a cortado at a cafe recommended by a famous local artist named Febo Aycardo, who we met randomly on the street, and checked in it at a prison mall. It’s not run by prisoners, but rather was converted into a shopping mall to satisfy the endless consumer desires of ravenous capitalist shoppers. A typical youth might be seen walking down the street in a GAP sweatshirt.

At the cafe recommended by the artist Febo, I ordered dos panchos, which are hotdogs. Much to my surprise, the hotdogs were served boiled and bare on the plate with french fries. Our table had a bottle of mustard, but no ketchup so I asked for some which amused our waiter, who brought a cold bottle to our table. I was hoping for a local twist – maybe a dog slathered in avocado and goat cheese with a tomato relish or something. And the fries were nothing special; “McDonald’s-like, said Isabel; “reconstituted potatoes, added Loreto”. Anyway, the cortado was good, with lots of froth. Our friendly waiter treated us all to a round of fresh squeezed orange juice and a bonbon.

My wife bought a Luis Suarez sticker from a 80 year old price gouging street vendor for 100 pesos or roughly $5.00 U.S.; a sticker we found out should only have cost 4 pesos or about 20 cents. But we weren’t too upset. I am actually stoked to have the Luis Suarez sticker because of all the drama associated with his name. As you may know, he is the Uruguayan superstar soccer player who was expelled by FIFA from the World Cup for biting an Italian player. Apparently, he has quite the reputation as a biter.

On the way home, I bought a Uruguayan wine, a 2012 Traversa Tannat Roble Reserva made from the local tannat grape, blended with a small amount of merlot. It tastes very much like a typical dry Italian wine, earthy and bright, with notes of cigars, cherries, leather and dark chocolate with light tannins; immensely quaffable and for 112 pesos, about $4.94, U.S., it was the bargain of the day.

Despite the toxic air and sidewalks with lots of dog poop – watch your step – the city is genuinely pretty. The more we walk around, the more I like it. It has a laid back cosmopolitan feel to it with people of all ages walking around drinking mate, the regional alternative to coffee made from the dried leaves of the holly plant. The mate is stuffed in a gourd with a metal straw and then filled with hot water from a thermos and sipped, and quite often shared with others. People here don’t seem terribly stressed or in a big rush all of the time.


South America Travelogue – Montevideo

Santiago Day 3

We were in Santiago for 3 days and actually did not see much of the cordillera because we stayed in Lo Valle Campino, a hillside community near the airport, no Andes in sight, obscured by hills and smog. Nena took us to El Centro which I guess translates to downtown where we met up with my niece Nati and her boyfriend Andres to watch Chile vs. Holland. Fanaticos were out in force ready for a grand celebration that never happened as the Orange clad Dutchmen lead by striker Robben outplayed the scrappy Chilean squad.

Downtown Santiago is a linear collection of buildings and shops for miles and miles. It has a little bit of a NYC feel without all the tall buildings and the sense of neighborhood. It felt like a giant outdoor shopping mall.


Graffiti is in abundant supply and some curious and colorful murals adorn city walls and subway structures, some of it good, some not; some sanctioned, some clearly not.


Our gracious Santiago hosts, Milton and Nena, made us feel at home in their tidy house with a living room constructed of pine wood adorned with local art. In addition to good conversation and cheer, we ate well. Nena served up Cazuela, a typical Chilean soup made with a clear broth, squash, beef, corn, potatoes, peas and green beans cut french style with pebre (a hot sauce) and fresh cut cilantro to sprinkle on top. She also served fish soup, fillet of reineta (a local fish) and Pastel De Choclo, a distinctive corn-based casserole. Wine poured a plenty, all local reds and whites. My favorite was the sweet late Harvest Riesling that had just the right balance of sweetness and acidity.

Montevideo, Days 1-2

From Santiago, we took a short flight to Montevideo and then a local bus from the Carrasco International airport to the city. We got off at our stop dragging our heavy bags, the heaviest weighing over 22 kilos, an oversized LL Bean bag. As we looked around for another bus to take to our friend’s apartment, we crossed a busy intersection, bags rolling behind us and I tripped over the bulky LL Bean bag my wife was dragging in front of me, getting good height and landing on my stomach atop my own bag, which served as sort of an air bag. Fortunately, I didn’t break any bones and only scrapped the bottom of my left hand that I used to help break my fall. The hand burned for a bit but seemed fine. When we finally got to the apartment, I noticed it was bleeding. I rinsed it off and applied a triple anti-biotic ointment I had brought along just in case. My youngest daughter, who witnessed the fall, could not stop laughing, to the point that she drew tears and a hiccup. I was not amused at the time. There were many locals standing around who also saw my tumbling act and god only knows what they must have thought of the strange gringo doing odd acrobatics with an orange bag.

If you know Spanish well, you will immediately notice that the Uruguayan accent is distinct. It’s hard to describe, but it has a sibilant quality, a sort of airy lisp that is pleasant to the ear, or at least to my ear. The people seem nice and accommodating thus far, although my wife had a bad encounter at La Chacra supermarket. All seemed fine at first. When we entered the store just as the sun set, a radio station was playing the song “Southern Nights”. The workers seemed friendly enough giving us recommendations on pasta, red sauce and the butcher prepared us a good cut of beef (lomo) that is popular in the country.  Uruguay is a meat eating place if ever there was one. And not surprisingly, beef is its major export.  But trouble began when my wife tried to buy the groceries unwittingly with my daughter’s debit card and her own ID. Obviously, the names didn’t match and they gave her a hard time about it. Ultimately, I had to pay with my debit card using my ID which matched. My wife asked the cashier to double bag some things but the cashier threw the bags at her in a huff and told her to “do it yourself”. True story. On a side note, I bought a combination corkscrew that cost 85 pesos or about $3.7 U.S. which turns out we didn’t need because there where 3 just like it in the kitchen drawer of our apartment.

We bought two 960 ml bottles of beer, one called Patricia, a hoppy and light lager, and a Pilsen Especial, which truthfully was not very special. The Patricia cost 57 pesos, ($2.49) and the Pilsen, 62 ($2.70). I doubt the locals drink these forgettable examples of Uruguayan swill. Being a local now for the next 7 days, I won’t be drinking the stuff either, well at least not the Pilsen.

The Internet here is interesting. For one, the government issues every resident, from what I can gather, equipment to enable free Wi-Fi – “Automatic for the People”. Our friend’s apartment has a modem/router with this free Internet but as we found out, it’s good for only 1 gigabyte of data per month which is little more than a few Google searches, 10 minutes of a movie on Netflix and about 4 photos uploaded and posted on Facebook. So, being the nice guests that we are, we used up her data plan as soon as we got on the Internet. After much bureaucratic maneuvering, several phone calls and a visit to the government owned Antel office, we, or more accurately, my eldest daughter  managed to “recharge” the 1 GB of data that we used for about 200 pesos ($10) and now we hope this gets us through our week. We pledged not to stream any movies or videos and only to check and send emails de vez en cuando.

We ventured downtown by bus (which is about the only mode of public transportation), got some maps of the city, headed to the Plaza de Independencia, to see the green statue of founding father Artigas, had an early dinner at the Cafe Brasilero that had free Wi-Fi, sent some emails, watched a World Cup match – Ecuador v. France, bought some beer and wine, which I am now sipping, the wine that is, a Uruguayan Gewurztraminer which cost about $8.60, that is, to be frank, slightly syrupy, not unlike a Viogner, and leaves a sweet and unpleasant medicinal cough drop like aftertaste. This recommended wine is unbalanced, but drinkable.


The tourist information clerks said that Uruguay is known for meat and in particular, the Chivito sandwich, a carnivorous delight and what I ordered from the Chilean waiter at the Cafe Brasilero in an area of town called the Old City near Plaza Matriz. This cafe has been around since 1877 and sports antique chairs and tables, brass chandeliers and a big screen TV for world cup enthusiasts. It seems to be a good place to chill, get connected, have a bite and a Cortado, (the local version of a latte) which we did, or a drink, which we did not. The Chivito consists of bacon, ham, beef, tomato and lettuce served open-faced on toasted bread topped with a sunny side up egg surrounded by lettuce and fresh cut french fries, all for 230 pesos or about $10.

We walked a lot on our first day in the city. My pedometer had me at over 14,719 steps or 6.9 miles, which is the farthest I’ve walked by far since I began using the app on my phone back in October.


Buses spew diesel fumes, and generally foul the air. Hybrid buses have not yet come to this big city nor has a subway system. Though we are not too far from Buenos Aires, the air is anything but good. And to make matters worse, everyone seems to smoke, and not just cigarettes, but weed too which is legal here.  With the air thick with toxins, and the population dieting largely on red meat, it’s a wonder the lifespan here is 76 years old.  Maybe I’m exaggerating, but it seems that most people are dressed in black. I’m not sure if this is just tradition for this time of year, which is the beginning of winter, or maybe it’s simply a fashion statement. People seem happy enough, but dress, ironically, as if going to a funeral.

Tattered Mural

3 of 4 Europe Knocking on the Door

When I last posted, South America had 4 of the teams in the round of 8; 3 from Europe, and the black stars of Ghana.  Now Ghana is gone and so are 3 of the 4 South American teams, and 1, Argentina, fell to Germany 0-4.  Europe dominated in the quarters, winning all 3 matches.  I expected the Germany Argentina match to be close, but never imagined it would be a blowout.  Like Chile and Brasil in their elimination contests, Argentina unaccustomed to being behind, fell apart in the second half.

With Chile, Brasil, Paraguay and now Argentina out, South America’s only hope rests with Uruguay, who are the clear underdogs to win the Cup, at 14/1, but have slightly better odds of winning their match against the Netherlands at 6/1.

Of the European powers left, Spain, the favorite to win the Cup, had maybe the most difficult quarterfinal match, eking out a 1-0 win over Paraguay.  I’d say Germany is the team to beat, based on how well they’ve played in the tournament thus far, scoring 4 goals in three of their games, two of those wins against powerhouses – Argentina and England.

As an inhabitant of the “New World”, I’d like to see Uruguay, the last team from the Americas left standing, in the finals against Spain.  I think this matchup might favor Uruguay.  First, though, they have to take down the Netherlands, no small task.