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The sound of horse hooves

Posted by urufish on January 17, 2008


Having a little trouble getting time to write in the blog lately….  Am trying a new approach… short, pointed posts…

At 8am this morning I awoke to the sound of the Toronto phone ringing.  Being that I work on Toronto time, I dont get up until 8:30 (5:30am Toronto).  It was a nurse calling from the hospital where my mother has been for the past month.  She said they’re moving her back to ICU.  I told them I’d call back later and speak with her doctor.

It was 25 degrees at 8am.  I opened the windows to get some cool air in and took a quick shower.  While dressing I heard the distinctive sound of hooves on pavement.  One of the many recycle guys, (the guys who jump into the dumpsters and remove things of value), was visiting the one on our corner.   

If someone had told me I’d hear the sounds of horses’ hooves while sitting in my bedroom, I would never have believed them.  Welcome to the life of living in a house in Pocitos. 


Posted in Attitudes, Daily life | 4 Comments »

Holiday Season

Posted by urufish on January 2, 2008


For the 24th or 25th year in a row, we celebrated Christmas in Maldonado with my in-laws, the San Martin’s and New Years, on top of San Antonio in our place.

As we get older, kids grow up and some even move away… at least to Montevideo…  So this year’s Christmas gathering was a little smaller than last year’s, which was a little smaller than the year before.  When the weather’s hot and there’s no chance of rain, we have Christmas dinner outside.  This year we were worried a bit about rain, so we held it in the garage.  Urugayans are very creative.  My inlaws dont have big tables, so they take doors off their hinges and use them for table tops.  Not sure what’s holding them up.  My brother-in-law is a carpenter.  Could be he made boxhorses years ago he still uses. 

The garage is my nephew’s (his son’s) automotive shop.  So the walls are decorated with SnapOn tools.  The dinner was great, as always. 

We plan dinner to end around midnight and that’s when everyone pulls out their fireworks and light them off for 10-15 minutes.  My nephews have never outgrown their childhood.  They still prefer those ultra loud bangers.  Wouldn’t be that much of a problem up north, but here, everything’s close together and it’s all concrete block.  My ears hurt until 12:30am.  This year we couldn’t even find the family dog.  He took off and hid around 23:30. 

After the fireworks, we open the presents.  Uruguay is odd that way.  We open presents after the fireworks.  Everyone gets presents.  Even the kids.  I say even because the serious day for presents for children isn’t Christmas.  It’s Kings Day.  January the 6th.  So if you celebrate Christmas and come to Uruguay, keep those two differences in mind. 

After the presents were opened, Delia and I drove to Piriapolis for the night.  We didn’t want to drive all the way back to Montevideo.  We’ve used the house so rarely this year, it’s a treat for us to sleep over. 

When we got to the house, we got to use our new automatic gates and garage opener.  The front door has been changed.   There’s an alcove there now and you cant see the door itself until you get out of the car and leave the garage.  When we got to the door, we got the surprise of our lives.  There was a big, black dog lying there.  Good thing he was a friendly dog.   Scared the hell out of us.  

Earlier in the day, we’d stopped off in Piriapolis on the way to Maldonado and left our dog upstairs on the balcony.  He didn’t seem to be upset at all that this dog was there.  Figured that meant the dog was a she – not a he.  Anyway, the dog wanted to stay and we wanted ‘her’ to go.  So we opened the back of the car and she jumped inside for a ride down the mountain.  We went to the port and opened the back of the station wagon up and she jumped out.  We drove back to the house, unloaded our car and as we were about to enter the house, the dog was back… panting like mad.    We think it ran all the way up the mountain. 

So we tried to get her back into the car to take her further away but she clearly figured out what were up to and didn’t cooperate this time.  But we kept trying and finally, she jumped in for the ride and off we went.  We debated which direction to take her in… Should it be towards Arrancopelito’s place (Puerto Suelo) or Pan D’Azucar.  Pan D’Acuar won out and off we went.  We dropped her off just outside San Carlos.  When we opened the back door up, she refused to get out.   So I went into the driver’s seat while my wife coaxed her out the back.  As she stood there, refusing to leave, I pressed the gas and out she went.   I slowed down so my wife could get in but the dog came after the back door so I had to go up the street, close the door, turn around and come back for Delia.  We got back to the house and waited a half hour.  No dog.  Whew…. 

When we woke up the next morning, there was no dog.    Hopefully, she made some nice friends in San Carlos. 

We drove back to Montevideo and I worked the rest of the week and prepared for New Years eve which was to be at our house. 

New Years eve….

After shopping to provision the house for the season, we left for Piriapolis around 4pm.  We had our nephew purchase 2 piglets for the main course and you have to start roasting them about 6 hours before dinner.  We arranged for him to get the house around 5pm and start the parilla.  Unfortunately, he didn’t have any money so he couldn’t buy the wood.  We ended up buying it after we got there so the piggies started roasting a bit late. 

Around 9pm, I took my daughter down to the town to buy some stuff and fireworks.  Unfortunately, everything closed at 9pm this year so we could only buy fireworks.  About 100 bucks later, we were on our way up to the house again. 

When we got there, guess who was in the back of the house?  Yup.. the black dog.  My wife speculates that when she hears fireworks, she comes to our place.   Yah.. I couldn’t figure that out either.. but that’s what she says and my wife’s like Dr Doolittle…   I dont question her communication skills with animals. 

The dog had thick, matted black fur and I didn’t know what she was carrying around with her but I didn’t like the idea of her hanging around the parilla.  So I strung a long run of galvanized wire between two trees in the backyard and put a choke on her and let her slide back and forth up there all night.  We brought her food and water so she got to watch everything, comfortably, but from a distance.  Our dog didn’t seem to mind her presence there at all.   When we went to sleep, I took her off the choke and she went to sleep at the front door.  When we got up in the morning she was gone.  Mystery dog. 

The pool was working great and my nephews got to swim for several hours.  Later that evening, a friend of my nephew dropped by.  He’s the chief of the highway patrol for Maldonado and probably Rocha.  Guess what he says to me when he sees me?  ‘Driver license and registation please’..  in nearly perfect English.  It seems the only English he knows 🙂   When he was leaving, my nephew and him got into a little bit of wrestling–a little too close to the pool–and both fell in.   

 After dinner, we shot off all those fireworks…   If you ever get a chance to come to the top of San Antonio at Christmas or New Years, it’s a great place to watch fireworks.  You can see everything on all the beaches towards Montevideo.  If you go to the backside of San Antonio, you can see all the fireworks along all the beach towns up to and including Punta.  Great view!  Some people even drive up to the top of San Antonio and set off their own fireworks. 

This New Years eve, everyone went home about 2am.   On New Year’s day, we got up late and I did a bunch of handiwork around the house to finish it up for the season.  Didn’t see any Tarantulas.  I guess they were still hiding from the fireworks the night before. 

As bad as you’d think the traffic should be coming back from a 4 day weekend, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it used to be driving south to Toronto all those summers we lived there. 

Posted in Attitudes, Daily life, Fiestas | 1 Comment »

Channukah in Pocitos

Posted by urufish on December 6, 2007


I took this picture of the park in front of our Rambla apartment this morning.  The name of the park is Punta Trouville park, but the local Jewish population sometimes calls it parque de los judios (park of the jews).  I’m not sure if that’s because a good portion of Montevideo’s Jewish population lives in this general area or because the city encouraged the display of the menorah during the Festival of Lights…  Hannukah. 

Speaking of the Festival of Lights, here’s a picture I copied from David’s blogsite http://www.uruguayliving.com/, from his post on Piriapolis vs. Noche de las Luces. 


I remember seeing the menorah last year.  I was out on the balcony one evening and I noticed several lights going.  A light (candle) is lit each night starting with the beginning of the festival.  It’s brought out about a week before the festival starts and is removed shortly after it ends. 

Uruguay is sometimes described as a country that is overwhelmingly catholic at birth.  Another way of putting this is that the vast, vast majority of people are catholic – non practicing.  This clearly translates itself into a country that is overwhelmingly tolerant of others’ beliefs and faiths.  This is a perfect example. 

Posted in Attitudes, Daily life, Fiestas | 2 Comments »


Posted by urufish on September 13, 2007


When I started back to work, a lot of my spare time disappeared…  But that isn’t the primary reason I dont blog much any more.  The real culprit is isolation.  While working, my head is in Canada and the USA.   Even when I’m out and about here, my brain is still solving problems several thousand miles away.  I dont ‘see’ as much as I saw before. 

But today was special.  I had one of those ‘Uruguay’ moments.  I went out to Zonamerica to pay my office rent.  That would be a post in itself, but it’s not worth writing about it.  I dont know how to use the mail service.  I dont want to learn.  Why?  Because I hated it in Canada and it’s worse here.  Matter of principle.  I’d rather drive for an hour and deliver a cheque into someone’s hand.  Besides, I’m friends now with the cashier in the Administration office in Zonamerica.  He helps me spell the numbers on the cheque 🙂

 The ‘special’ day occurred when we left Zonamerica.  When we approached the gate this time, there was actually another vehicle going through the guard station.  I decided to follow him.  It was a FedEx truck.  When he pulled out, I pulled up to the guard, rolled open my window, showed him both my hands in the universal symbol, ‘no tengo nada’ and expected him to waive me through.  Wrong.  He gave me a stern look and motioned for me to go away.. go backwards.  He was telling me something but I didn’t get it.  My wife was with me and she said he’s telling you to back up.  I ask why.  She says because this is he lane for trucks…   We both looked at each other and went… ‘is this guy nuts?’   There’s no reason for us not to use this lane.  It’s ONLY for trucks because it has a weigh scale.  It’s not meant to refuse cars.. it’s meant to weigh trucks…   No one else was there but us.  I made a sign like you’ve got to be kidding.  He wasn’t.

So we backed up about 100 feet (still no one else there), swung over into the other lane, (btw – neither lane was marked… I call this the Uruguayan secret handshake… you’re ‘supposed’ to know this somehow)..  and drove up to the SAME GUARD WHO WALKED TO THE NEXT LANE.  The guy was now smiling and happy and waived us through.. Have a nice day… 

So, here’s the reason for the post.  Why is it that Uruguayans do this.  It’s not just the truck lane in Zonamerica.  We see this everywhere, mostly every day.  Someone is following some kind of loopy rule that makes no sense to any normal person but there it is, he’s telling you this is the rule, (could be a female in that role too – doesn’t matter). 

I asked my wife if you were in that situation, wouldn’t you think that was a dumb thing.  She said yes.  I asked her if this was because she lived the last 40 years in Canada?  She said probably not.. It would be stupid to anyone.  So I asked her if you were the guard, would you make me back up.  She thought about that some and said, yes, IF her boss had told that cars couldn’t use this lane and if she would be fired for letting someone through. 

So that begs the question… is the guard, (your average Uruguayan), thinking what he’s doing is stupid and just following orders or does the guard (Uruguayan) actually believe that these otherwsie stupid situations are actually meaningful and that really is important that a car not use a truck lane.. even though there’s no one else there? 

This comes up frequently for me with cheques.  I frequently misspell words in Spanish.  The dumbest one to date is spelling quinientos as cinientos.   I’ve seen lots of spelling mistakes on english cheques.  They go through no problem.  But do that here in Uruguay and the check will be refused.  Write the date wrong (eg. spell Agosto Augusto) or heaven forbid, write a shortform (eg. Ag)… and you’re in deep kaka. 

The first cheque I ever wrote was refused because you’re supposed to write in the city you’re in at the moment you sign the cheque.  I didn’t notice that 3 point pitch ‘lugar de pago’  I thought it was background noise.  Back home, someone else would write it in and even initial it on behalf of someone else, (saw that done many, many times in the business world).   But not in Uruguay.  It’s like it’s a sacred thing here. 

 So the question left in my mind is this.  Do Uruguayans do this because

a) they really believe it should be done that way

b) really believe they’ve be fired or reprimanded if they let something like this pass

c) follow the rules, express or implied, because that’s they way they’ve always done it?

Posted in Attitudes, Daily life | 11 Comments »

Prison – Uruguayan style

Posted by urufish on July 19, 2007


I went to visit one of my local friends today.  Visiting friends is hardly a topic for a post but since the visit took place in the Carcel Centrale (federal prison), it’s not your typical visit.  

 The prison is located just off the busiest street in the shopping area, 3 blocks from San Jose and 18 de Julio.  Visitors are allowed on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.  Visiting hours on Thursday are from 11:30 to 13:30.  They limit the total number of visitors so it’s best to get there early.  If you come after 12:30, you wont be allowed in.  Once you’re in, you do not leave until 13:30.  There are no exceptions to that rule. 

The line up starts around 11:15 at the San Jose entrance.  At 11:30, they open the doors and allow people to enter, 5 at a time.   They ask you for ID.  Everyone produces cedulas, which they keep.  You are asked if you have any electronic devices, like cellphones.  If you do, you give them to the clerk with your cedula and they give you a check stub.  You can bring food, toiletries, bedding and clothes.  The prison provides basic food and a bedsheet.  It’s not heated.  Visiting family and close friends bring provisions, sheets and blankets to last until the next visit.  They take laundry back with them. 

After you hand over your cedula and tell them who you’re coming to see, you walk to another area where you are frisked.  There are 2 little rooms.  One for ladies and one for men.  I made the mistake of going into the next available room.  The matron sternly reprimanded me as I pleaded the language excuse.   As she pointed to the room beside hers, a man came out and I figured it out.  I walked in, took off my vest and handed it to the guard.  I was searched once before, in NYC, by US customs so I have a little experience with the process.  Thankfully this wasn’t as thorough.. no gloves.    He ignored the vest and patted me down.  Finding nothing of interest, he sent me off to the next room. 

I went through another checkpoint and found myself in the visitor’s room.  It was 8m x 8m, had plenty of seats and benches, and a beverage machine.  I walked up to a guard and told him who I was visiting.  He called out to another guard who appeared with my friend.  He had a big smile on his face and was happy to see me.  I asked what do we do now and he said let’s introduce you to my friends.

His friends were, in no particular order,  a bank president, a well known doctor, a navy lieutenant, an ex president of OSE (the national water company), an ex vp of another major utility and finally the most unfortunate (sacrificed), member of the La Pasiva family.  He was the guy running the concession booth in the visitors room.   I was introduced to them one by one, in English and they replied, most of them in very good English. 

Today, at this time, all the inmates were high profile, highly educated,  members of Uruguayan society.  I should have guessed it when I was standng outside in the line.  Most were nicely dressed and well behaved.  I wouldnt be surprised if this group of inmates held board meetings during the week and gave free consultas to prison staff.   

My friend took me around the corner to the prison ‘yard’.  It looked like a larger version of my ‘aire y luz’ here in the house.  The building is squarish and large.  In order to get light and air into the all the rooms/cells, you create a courtyard in the middle.  It had a brick floor and was old, but clean.  The visitor’s room was also run down, but clean.  These aren’t the kind of prisoners who write grafiti on the walls.  These people are more comfortable with spreadsheets. 

He bought a diet coke and we sat down to talk.  A few minutes later, his mom and a cousin came in.  A half hour later, a friend from the office came in.  There are no limits to the amount of visitors for an inmate.  Several had what looked like a large portion of their family, including small children and babies.  It was a very relaxed, jovial atmosphere.   The guards were talking to visitors, and vice versa.  It wasnt a formal process. 

There was a cat that served as the prisoners’ mascot.  Almost every group had at least one if not two thermos/mate’s.  The gourds and bombillas were moving around all over the room. 

Early on, I asked him what everyone was here for.  All of it was white collar crime, (you guessed that already).  They are kept on the 4th floor of the prison.  They do not associate with the ‘general’ population at any time.  Since a lot of white collar crime is prosecuted on the political level, most of these people have political affiliations – all with the parties that are out of power at the moment.    The reason they’re at this moment has a lot to do with that.  Because parties change power, they must have all agreed to make this place neutral territory, lest their own people end up there when the other party takes power and be treated poorly. 

As odd as this seems, all the inmate I met have not had a trial yet.  Just the equivalent of our preliminary hearings.  In Uruguay, you present your case in a preliminary fashion to a judge.  He decides if you’re probably guilty or not.  If he thinks you are, he sends you to jail.  You’re in there until he decides to let you out.  Your lawyer keeps bugging the judge until that happens.  Sometime after that, (assuming you’re not in for a long time), you have a real trial.  If you are found guilty, you are sentenced to time served.  If you’re not found guilty, you’re free to go.  Unfortunately, you dont get your time served back. 

Because of the political component, you can be jailed even though both the state and the defense agree that the case is weak, and a guilty verdict is not likely.  If the ruling party wants to make an example, or doesn’t like you, they pass this on to the judge and he jails you.  In the case of the the navy guy, his boss got into a fight with the judge, (not sure if that was in the court or in chambers).  The judge decided he’d had enough and put the lieutenant in jail to close the matter for the time being.   I guess when his boss apologizes to the judge, (when the next opportunity arises), he may change his mind and let him out. 

At the end of the visiting hours, a buzzer sounds.  The inmates go to the cells and the guards close the gates to the prison.  A person shows up at the exit door with 2 stacks of cedulas in hand, one for women and one for men.  They read the women off one by one.  You go to the door and pick up your cedula and the guard says have a nice day and you say, see you soon.  When the women are done, they call the men.  Same process. 

Posted in Attitudes | 8 Comments »

The ‘doo’ detector

Posted by urufish on June 29, 2007

Somewhere in my 4th decade, someone mentioned to me that I wasn’t a very optimistic person any more.   Somewhere in my 3rd decade I changed from a half-full glass person to a half-empty glass person.  I did some soul searching and decided there was truth to the comment in that my actions would lead one to that conclusion.  But that wasn’t how I felt about life.  The truth was more complicated.  I was showing the effects of several years in the business world, as an entrepeneur which is more often than not, an ‘optimistic’ word for a world of civilized warfare, where you and your competitors fight for the same thing, without end and without quarter.  .    The daily cycle of victim/perp, tends to harden ones outer shell, which after several years, becomes one’s demeanour.  But it doesn’t have to change one’s inherent character. 

I decided to consciously alter my demeanour to present a more accurate reflection of my character.   It was also right around this same time that I became aware of the main principal that was guiding me in the business world (and by proximity, my personal life as well).  I realized my success wasn’t as much the result of what I was doing right as much as it was the result of what I was NOT doing wrong.   I call this ‘using your doo detector’.    ‘If you dont step in dog shit on the way home, you dont waste valuable time washing your shoes later’.  A corollary of that is ‘you dont stink either’. 

Just because a person has a good ‘doo detector’ doesn’t guarantee success, (not stepping in it).  Over the years, I worked with several people who ‘had a feeling’ that such and such was a rip-off, or a con, etc.  Yet, they went ahead and in the end, stepped in it.  I most often saw this when one of my friends got a ‘hot tip’ on a stock.  I’d say something like, ‘you really dont buy that crap do you?’.  They’d usually answer, ‘not really, but I’m not an expert on this stuff.. he (the tipster) is.’    It really did turn out to be ‘crap’.  

I think ‘doo detection and avoidance’ is as valid a talent for success as is doing the right things, making the right choices.  Furthermore, if your ‘do it right’ talent is OK and your ‘doo d/a’ talent is great, you will be successful, in all things these apply to.  Of course, if you’re blessed in both categories, your success will be overwhelmingly successful. 

I saw this ‘doo d/a’ put to good use the other day, right here in Montevideo.  A friend of mine was looking at purchasing a property.  He loved the place.  The price was right.  But he didn’t get good ‘vibes’ from the neighbour.  Most people I know wouldn’t have even considered this is a reason for ‘not’ buying the property.  But this person’s ‘doo d/a’ talent is unqestionably much better developed than most of us.  He made up his mind to look elsewhere.   I’m sure at some point, he’ll find another place he likes just as much and just as important, his ‘doo d/a’ detector wont be flashing a ‘brown’ alert.   

Posted in Attitudes, Moving to Uruguay, Real Estate | Leave a Comment »

All for one and one for all

Posted by urufish on June 9, 2007


Winter is coming.  We’ve had some cold days.  2 days ago we had a hanging fog, the kind that lasts for a couple of days.  A quarter of the people I know are sick with respiratory illnesses.  Most of them have various combinations of sore throats, flu, nausea, fever and coughs.  How is it that so many people get so sick with the same thing so fast?   Besos and Mate!!!

Anyone who knows Uruguyans know they kiss no matter what.  When I was still a tourist a few years ago, I remember my wife got sick just before our flight back home.  We called a friend who called a friend and an hour or so later, a lady doctor showed up at our apartment.  She had no idea what was wrong with my wife but she kissed me when she came in and then my wife, who was lying semi-conscious in bed.  She kissed us both upon leaving.  Doctors kiss patients, regardless what’s wrong with them.  

It’s the same with the Mate straw.  I’ve never seen anyone decline because they’re ill.   Maybe this is where the description that Uruguayans make little distinction between friends and family comes from.   Parents and children will still hug and kiss when someone is sick.  At least in this family, everyone getting sick seems inevitable, so why not embrace it, (exceptions made for things like the mumps or measles :).  If friends are like family, then being sick together feels better than being sick alone. 

Posted in Attitudes | 4 Comments »

Time is(nt) Money

Posted by urufish on May 13, 2007

While answering a new post in another blog, it occurred to me that one phrase that sums up a lot about Uruguay is ‘Time is money’.  I think that was rule #1 when I lived up North.  In the way I worked.  In the way I played.. even (and I say this with deep regret) in the way I treated my family… wife and child.  Everything was about efficiency.  How much could I cram into a day.  I figured the more I could cram into the day, the better.  This is a concept that is alien to Uruguayans.  Here, time is limitless. 

This is one of those posts that’s going to be written over a period of days…  the more I think about it… the deeper it gets.  I asked my wife if she agreed with the concept…. and her response was an overwhelming yes.  She said it’s something that kept coming up over and over again in the 30 years she lived in Canada.  Even after 30 years, it was still a foreign concept to her. 

As today wore on, I kept trying to think of exceptions to this rule and I still cant.  Not at the bank, not at the store, not at the gas station, not with our accountant or with our lawyer.  Not with our architect or any of our trades.   Not at the car dealership.  Not at the Antel, UTE or OSE offices.  Not with my wife’s family…  Not in Maldonado.  Certainly not in Salinas or Piriapolis.  Not even in Punta!!!!  That one’s a shocker.  It’s been a long time since I came across anything so absolute.   I asked my wife for help tonight.  Maybe she can think of an exception…  Will keep looking for one this week. 

Some examples of the ‘time isn’t money’ crossed my mind while thinking on this today. 

When my daughter took ill here and needed a specialist quickly, we asked one of our friends if she knew someone.  She made a phonecall and we had an appointment the next evening at 8pm with one of the best in the country (we Googled her before we went).  An 8pm appointment with a specialist on a few hours notice!!!!!  I was bracing for a U$S1000 fee (or worse)…   She saw us at 8pm on the dot.  There was a 2nd specialist with her and an assistant.  I was really worried about the $ now.  She talked to us until 11pm… while the others examined our daughter.  At 11pm, they said they needed to do more tests…  They wanted to start the next day at noon… and go as long it took.  Multiple specialists, for 3 hours one day and (as we found out later) 6 hours the next day!!!!  Unheard of back home in Canada.  Maybe in the US, with some extraordinary bill at the end.  Ours was U$S650.   Explanation?  We were billed for what they felt was a proper charge for a diagnosis – not by how much time it took them to do it.  I kept thinking about her specialist back in Toronto who billed CAD$250/hour and 15 minutes of that hour was writing in the chart afterwards!!! 

A very dear friend of my wife left Uruguay for Canada several years ago to start a new life.  He spent the first year learning a new trade… home electronics installation.  He would leave the house around 8am and return around 11pm.  We asked him where he was from 5pm to 11pm?  He said he was working, (Uruguayan style).  He would get to the client’s home at 9am and work until around 6:00pm.  He would have dinner with the client, (for some reason they always asked him to stay for dinner).  Then he would go back to work until 9pm… sometimes 10pm.  He always charged for an 8 hour day.  This proves that the idea of ‘time isn’t money’ isn’t geographic.  It’s something each Uruguayan carries inside them.  Probably forever–like my wife.  We see this ‘timeless’ method of working here too.  Not as much in the new generation of Uruguyans, but definitely in the older generation. 

 More to come…

Posted in Attitudes | 1 Comment »