March 18, 2013

A visit to a mosque ~ King Fahd Islamic Centre

A day after the new pope had been elected, Francisco from Argentina, we went to the mosque. It seemed the thing to do after all. We were joined by a number of other interested people.

The King Fahd Islamic Centre is located on a large plot of land donated by the Federal Government during the presidency of Carlos Menem, who, while being raised Roman Catholic, discovered later in life his Syrian origin actually included Islamic roots too.

Today there are about 700,000 Muslims in Argentina, the largest Islamic population in Latin America. Argentina also boasts the largest Jewish population in Latin America, though those numbers have lessened in recent years. Currently 1.9 per cent of the country's population is Muslim and 1.3 per cent are Jewish.

The Islamic Centre is located across the street from one of the largest gambling meccas in all Latin America, The Hipodromo, open twenty four hours a day, every day of the year.

Fashion is important at the Mosque as Sherry discovered. Apparently her dress did not cover enough of her legs and she was given a longer skirt to wear over top. And cover up those arms too. If you don't mind, though there isn't much choice if you want to enter. Please. 

Yes, quite a fashion statement.


The buildings that make up the Centre, housing a school, library, various offices and the mosque itself, are impressive, yet hauntingly empty. We were there for the call to prayer and the actual prayers; only men and boys, no women in view. And no photos please.

Free tours of the Islamic Centre are offered each Tuesday and Thursday at noon. Long winded and slightly incomprehensible, unless you speak Spanish, it seemed a bit boring to me.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2013 by Jim Murray.

March 16, 2013

El Obrero... and No se olviden de Cabezas

El Obrero is a great little parrilla off the beaten track in La Boca. Started several decades ago by two brothers from Barcelona of all places, it offers good food at reasonable prices in a shrine devoted to Boca Juniors memorabilia. It isn't located on a well travelled street, and while it's easy enough to walk from some places, it might be wise to consider a taxi, especially after dark. We visited for a late lunch, in porteno fashion.

The restaurant features lots of meat dishes, and some great pasta too. There is an excellent wine list in a good range of prices. El Obrero is on some tourist circuits so you will hear English spoken by diners here, and the wait staff, attentive as only Argentinos can be, understand more than they let on. You will also find this is a local place, with friendly folk from Boca and beyond. Customers will argue with staff about the various incorrect placements of posters and photos on the wall, nearly all related to the Boca Juniors.

Service in Argentine restaurants is relatively good especially during the initial phases of ordering your meal. You will not be bothered during your meal by waiters wanting to be your friend, or asking you if everything is okay, or even if you would like a coffee or dessert. The bill won't appear with the "No hurry, take your time" line, even though they actually want you to hurry up. In Buenos Aires, once you are seated and enjoying your meal, you are a guest and have the option of sitting there until the establishment closes.

Should you actually want to finish your meal with a cafe or a postre, or indeed if you would like to pay and leave, you must get your waiter's attention. He, and it usually is a he in parrillas, will normally be staring out the window, kibitzing with another staff member or a customer, or simply invisible.

El Obrero represents what is great about Argentine parrillas. And yes, we did get a wonderful postre: lemon ice cream, and our waiter called a taxi for us too.

Something that caught my eye in El Obrero was the banner for Jose Luis Cabezas. Here, among all the futbol photos, banners and jerseys, was a something from the late nineteen nineties.

It reads: Do not forget Cabezas. Photojournalist. Murdered in Pinamar on January 25, 1997.

At the time Cabezas was working for the newspaper Noticas and investigating corruption between police, businessmen, politicians and crime bosses. He was looking into prominent business leader Alfredo Yabran when, after attending, as a journalist, a party in an exclusive resort community for businessman Oscar Andreani, he was kidnapped, beaten, handcuffed, tortured and killed with two gunshots to the head. His body was then  placed in the car rented by his newspaper and set on fire.

People throughout the country were outraged by this attack on an independent journalist. There were marches, rallies, and photo expositions. The slogan No se olviden de Cabezas became a symbol and a warning to those in power that citizens would not let this crime fade into obscurity and the guilty left unpunished. Ultimately many were brought to justice, including police, mafiosi and politicos.

Throughout this city, and the country, one sees photos of people, in memorial, in various places, sometimes in restaurants. We are never far from the memory of the desaparecidos of the Dirty War, nor more recent events too. This restaurant, El Obrero, and its customers,won't forget Cabezas.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2013 by Jim Murray.

March 15, 2013

Mendoza Wineries ~ Salentein

The origins of Salentein are with the Jesuits who starting wine making in the Uco Valley in the 17th century. Today the large Dutch company, Salentein, owns 2000 hectares in Mendoza of which 700 are planted to grapes, with 80% being red.

At an average elevation of 1200 metres these vineyards are among the highest in the world, providing intense sunlight during the day and dramatically cooler nights. The vineyards are fed with water from the snows of the Andes.

But first, lunch on the patio, with several wines of course.

Our tour guide was a young American from Nevada who arrived in Argentina eight years ago and never left. This winery's cellar has a capacity for 5000 barrels kept at a constant 12 degrees and 80 per cent humidity. This cellar, like O. Fournier's, has a profound spiritual quality and the Southern Cross image returns.

Visit their website at www.bodegasalentein.com

And then... we are on the road again, heading back to our posada in Maipu, where we will say goodbye to our driver, Walter Nievas.

Walter is operator of MDZ Transfer. Friendly, helpful and a great driver, Walter can arrange various tours and excursions for any trip to the Mendoza region; a wonderful person to contact for all your logistics needs and thoroughly professional. He can be reached at mdztransfer@yahoo.com.ar

March 14, 2013

Papa argentino ~ Pope Francis

We learned of the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio while riding in a taxi late yesterday afternoon. It had just been announced on the radio, and while the taxi driver admitted to being only a once-in-awhile church goer, he was excited at the fact of a Latino, and an Argentino, being chosen to head the Church.

According to news reports, Church doors throughout Argentina were opened as people arrived to celebrate the news.

This morning all the papers were filled with stories and photos, as were the radio and television channels. Generally it is all extremely positive.

Some however are raising the issue of where this priest stood during the time of the military juntas of 1976 through 1983, when 30,000 people disappeared.

The journalist Horacio Verbitsky, in an interview with the Washington Post, suggests that many Argentinians will be conflicted about the new pope's past, especially during the Dirty War. He has reported that Bergoglio, as head of the Jesuit order in Argentina at the time, lifted Church protection for two known leftist priests, who were then arrested by the military dictatorship.

"He portrays himself as popular, almost revolutionary, a man who goes into the ghettos. But when the military came to power, he did not protect his own." - Verbitsky

At best the new pope was silent and failed to speak out against the Junta. At worst he was complicit. In a nation as political as is Argentina, this question will be debated in the days ahead.

And to keep things in perspective it should be noted that while this is a nation where 92 per cent of the population identifies with being nominally Roman Catholic, only 20 per cent at best can be considered practicing members of the faith.

As for our taxi driver, towards the end of our journey, he pointed with pride at some Beatles pins hanging from his rear view mirror, and said in English, "For me, John Lennon is God."  


Copyright 2013 by Jim Murray.

Mendoza Wineries ~ Bodega La Azul

Bodega La Azul is a radical departure from O. Fournier. Gone are the massive buildings and the huge property. Gone too is the space port roof. Like O. Fournier, this winery is family owned but in this case by Argentinos.

This is a small operation without the buildings, property and security. There is a delightful cafe that serves vegetables and fruits from its own garden. Simple, rustic and almost pure feeling, this winery is relatively new, beginning only ten years ago in 2003.

There is a laid back, old world charm to La Azul that is quite appealing. Hobbled together, one can only imagine the struggle to get it started, and to keep it going.

The tastings are simple affairs without fancy art on the walls of the building. And the tasting is done in the same place as is the entire wine making operation; the barrels, stainless steel vats, everything.

Here Sherry gets a sample of some wine, still in the barrel and it is delicious.

Visit this winery at bodegalaazul.com