Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Antarctica Journal 3.5.09

Bean to Bar Chocolate in Buenos Aires!

I stayed up late again and couldn’t get up for my run. My legs are tired and stiff, anyway, so, hopefully, the rest will do some good.

I ate a little more at breakfast today. When I saw Heather come in, I went upstairs to brush my teeth and picked her up on my way back out. We walked across the plaza to General San Martin’s memorial to where the Buddy Bears were set up and walked thorugh them on our way to Recoleto Cemetery. Daniel had suggested we walk up via Quintana and back via Alvear, so we took that route. It was very Upper East Side. At the cemetery, we admired another of the Ombu trees and the cemetery entrance before buying a map and going in. We followed the route in the map as far as the Peron site. Recoleta is an old European-style cemetery with mausoleums, some of which are haunting, like the statue of a young girl at a doorway and the statue of a young girl and her dog. There was quite a lot of stained glass, most interesting because the picture is on the inside of the mausoleum. Presumably, the visiting families enjoy the view, since the occupants certainly can’t.

After admiring the plaques commemorating Evita, I had to head back and Heather decided to go back as well, so we walked down to Alvear (more UES) until we hit Arroyo, where I detoured us to visit the Israeli Embassy Plaza, which is a memorial to the 29 victims of the 1992 terrorist attack on the Israeli Embassy. The memorial is stunning. The wall of the building beside the embassy site holds an imprint of the building that was there and there’s an avenue of trees (either 21 or 29). A little farther along, we passed Plaza Cataluña. The old-fashioned fountain caught our attention and the plaque indicated that it’s a replica of a fountain in Barcelona. As we turned to leave, Heather noted that the building edging the Plaza had trompe l’oiel windows. We got back to the hotel with enough time for me to grab a snack, brush my teeth and repack my bag.

Daniel got there a little after 1 and came bearing empanadas from Tatu, his favorite empanada restaurant. We drove out to Chocolates Fenix (the only bean-to-bar chocolate maker in BA, if not in all of Argentina) and had lunch with Rodrigo Salgado, whose family started the factory nearly 100 years ago. The factory is on the street level and the Salgados live above it in a beautiful, Spanish-style home. We ate lunch on the terrace and it felt like home to me. There was even a poster from the Seville bullring where we used to see bullfights when I was a little girl. Lunch was followed by another nostalgic moment, when we met their yellow lab, Captain Hook, on the way up to the rooftop greenhouse to see the cocoa trees. There were in flower, but no pods. Two appeared last year, but didn’t last long.

The real treat came next – a top-to-bottom tour of the chocolate factory, which was in full production, with the exception of the roaster, which had been shut down so they’d cool by nighttime. I saw the roasting ovens and buckets of fresh-roasted beans. The winnower was going with nibs and hulls going to separate sides of the machine. The nibs drop down a chute into the melanger. I happened to be there right as the cocoa butter press was activated, so I got to see the cocoa butter being separated. There were piles of cocoa mass in various sections of the factory, waiting to be ground into powder or blended with sugar for chocolate production. The temperer was active, too, so I got to see the bars (large commercial blocks, really) being poured, too. Then we returned to the office and talked chocolate and food until it was time to leave. Rodrigo very generously gave me bars of chocolate to take home to my tasting group and I can’t wait to share them.

Daniel wanted to train that night, but graciously agreed to stop at his shop on the way back to the hotel. I bought some truffles (with some argument, because he wanted to give me everything, but he’d been so generous already that I insisted) and then we drove back.

I scrambled around, buying postcards, doing a quick (15-minute) e-mail check, grabbing food to eat in my room and then wrote out my postcards, to make sure I got them out before I left. I completely emptied all of my bags and repacked, with Antarctica in mind this time. I was a bit concerned about going over weight (we were going to be on a domestic flight with tighter weight restrictions) especially with all the chocolate I’d been given. I also couldn’t find my monty. I’d separated my dollars, so I wasn’t carrying all of my cash around (especially after all of the warnings about pickpockets) but it wasn’t anywhere I thought it would be. Instead of going to bed early, I ended up staying up late yet again, this time, lying down, then jumping up to check more places to see if it would turn up. No luck. I was still up when Heather got back from the tango show and she helped me look a bit. All she found was a wrapped box under her bed. We’d already had issues with the hotel and this was the last straw. We’re both going to file complaints. The issues included late housekeeping (the room was never made up before 3), dampness (no mold, but everything was damp, including the things we brought in), ineffective housekeeping (on the last day, the housekeeper had left a bag of trash on Heather’s bed) and, now, we’d found the present under the bed, which means vacuuming was spotty at best. At a $300/night Marriott, our room should have been spotless and thoroughly cleaned by the time we returned from our morning excursions.

Pictures from these days are available here:

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