SOLIS. Astrid’s ancestral summer house lies 50 minutes from Montevideo and 30 from Punta del Este, across from Argentina on El Rio de la Plata. It is so wide you can easily forget it is a river, because you can’t see across it to the opposite bank.. It has a small tidal movement, and people surf on its waves. The lawn sweeping up from the river is very green, and a forest of Eucalyptus and Pine lies at the back of the long garden. It has been here for about 60 years, I gather, as it was Astrid’s grandfather who bought the property and built the house.
The house in Montevideo is in a good neighborhood not far from the river beaches, and includes a swimming pool, a maid, and a gardener. The maid and gardener are paid about $2.00 US an hour, which gives you some idea of the local economy. It is really a different world over here. Here, as in Argentina, the maids in the hotels wear black or maroon dresses with white aprons and caps, while all the other staff, like receptionists and luggage tenders and the concierges, wear smart suits and snappy white shirts. Of course, you leave tips for everything you do and are happy to give them, as you can only imagine how they survive. In Argentia and here in Uruguay, I feel very rich. I am very rich.
But security is tight everywhere. Houses are equipped with alarms, windows are barred and shuttered. You do not leave the house without locking up and closing, as the break-ins are apparently more opportunistic than organized. The other day, Astrid and I went to her local hair salon for a little pampering, and the big excitement there was a break- in the night before. The thieves had somehow sawn a circle into the plate glass window, pushed it through, and stolen —- a radio.
Here in Uruguay, men with horse- drawn carts patrol neighborhoods in search valuable rubbish, like plastic and glass to recycle, and I suppose the occasional bonanza of a discarded television or piece of furniture. In Bariloche, our guide had told us that about 300 families live off the dump there, earning a bout 900 argentinian pesos a month. That’s the equivalent of $300.00. Who said there is no money in recycling?
In the old town of Montevideo we walked along streets lined by beautiful 18th- century buildings with intricate wrought-iron grills, some refurbished, some still dilapidated. It is apparently possible to buy an apartment, already done up, for less than $50,000 US. The atmosphere is of an up and coming city emerging from its poverty-stricken past into a hopeful, thriving neighborhood. We pass a few shops with beautiful hand-crafted items, like sweaters and cardigans knitted with fine Merino wool, carved sculptures, bright pottery, as well as old-fashioned general stores with everything from mouse-traps to pots and pans to nails.
We lunch in the Mercado del Puerto, which was once the meat market of Montevideo. It is full of stalls, high wooden beams, a huge carved wooden clock, noise and bustle from the bars and restauranats. We sit just outside in the fresh air, and order an Asado which consists of grilled sweet-breads (delicious),chorizo, another kind of less spicy Uruguayan sausage, blood sausage, and beef. We will eat lots of beef here, as we did in Argentina.
We are preparing to have an Asado for lunch today here in Solis. There is a sort of summer house in back of the house, glassed in walls which you can open wide, with a big brick grill at one end. Jonathan is preparing a fire at one end, and when the wood is down to coals, he will pull the coals under the grill, which is at a vertical angle, to cook the food.
There is also a ‘horno’ in back, which hasn’t been used in a couple years. I made some bread dough the other day, and we tried to bake it and a chicken, but we didn’t light the fire early enough and everything just tasted of smoke. Not the nice smoky taste of grilling, but thick, sharp smoke. We ate some of it anyway, and threw away the rest. I’d still like to try again,though.