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A fine day in Mendoza, Argentina

It’s spring back home in Toronto and the leaves must now be a soft, fresh green. Here in Mendoza, Argentine wine country, where I´ve been hanging out doing nothing in particular, leaves blaze yellow against the bluest sky I’ve ever seen. ¨The land of sun and wine,¨ they call this place. Tomorrow we’ll hit the tasting trail, but today we´ve had a fine time just wandering the streets and pondering that eternal traveler´s question–What´s distinctive about this corner of the world?

For starters, I can’t figure out where the characters are on this unfamiliar Spanish keyboard, so please bear with my unconventional punctuation while I share a few random impressions.

I haven’t heard a cell phone squawk all day. How gloriously refreshing! It´s not that people in Mendoza don’t carry cell phones, just that they apparently don´t expect to be interrupted at any minute with some supposedly urgent demand. No wonder they look so relaxed. Instead of purposefully striding, they amble along, pausing to linger in cafes, just enjoying the omnipresent sunshine and the passing scene. The sound of Mendoza, which is Argentina’s fourth-largest city, is the sound of birds and of kids screaming with delight in the central square, where a troupe of clowns are disporting themselves. Cirque du Soleil will not be hiring these performers anytime soon, but they’ve still won scores of rapt admirers.

There’s not a Starbuck’s or a Gap to be seen. And on almost every downtown corner, a family-owned ice cream parlour offers tantalizing flavours that range from pineapple to dulce de leche with brownie chunks.

Argentines take ice cream very seriously indeed. At a high-end restaurant like Bistro M, where we feasted happily last night, the flavours include lemon grass, green apple and wild flowers. We loved them all, especially the voluptuous yet tart green apple. Vanilla, what vanilla? Don´t even ask…

In Napa and Sonoma, we’ve forked over hundreds of dollars for dinner in a restaurant with accolades from the food press and a Wine Spectator-approved cellar. Last night´s tab at the justly renowned Bistro M ran just over a hundred dollars for an equally memorable meal of herb-marinated, slow-cooked goat, which reminded me of venison, washed down with a big Malbec of swaggering complexity. And don’t let me forget the soup. A hauntingly spiced melange of roasted peppers with a garnish of avocado cream, it couldn’t have been served anywhere but South America. My one quibble about this soup, which matters not a whit, is that it’s not exactly wine-friendly.

When tourists of the world discover Mendoza, the pricey boutiques will follow and you´ll be able to spend the equivalent of a week´s groceries on a rhinestone-trimmed caftan in tangerine or some other colour decreed by the fashion mafia. But for now Mendoza strikes me as a town devoted mainly to the business of real people living their lives. In the windows of a tiny pizzeria with no room for tables, the baker pounds his dough and rolls it thin. Across the street, a wooden cart clatters by. In it ride a working guy and his two small sons. I’m glad we have three more full days in which to let ourselves float free like balloons.


Posted by Rona

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