Cordoba was the second of three places so far we have experienced hospitality that we certainly do not deserve. I am not piling on the false humility, we literally do not deserve it. Our bus rolled into the old bus station in Cordoba after a 14 hour drive from Montevideo. There to meet us was another friend of a friend, Mariano. He kissed us both (Argentinians are so macho that kissing men only makes them more manly, not less), gave us a quick tour of downtown Cordoba, and then drove us to his home. Being tired doesn’t free you of your obligations to make your host feel comfortable inviting you into their home, especially when you’ve only just met. Fortunately Mariano and his wife Vicky are incredibly easy going, and soon were tucking us into a remarkably comfortable folding bed, with fresh white linens, in a room with a closing door to let us refresh.
What better way to visit the childhood home of Ché Guevara than with two young Argentinian idealists, one with a quote from El Che tattooed on her arm, the other baring a striking resemblance to the revolutionary himself? There is no better way. Especially when the two young radicals are blasting French torch songs on the car stereo and chain smoking cigarettes manufactured by some corporate death monopoly. One thing about Ché the four of us, myself a Capitalist running dog Yankee, Magda, born in Communist Poland, and the radical socialists could agree on: he would not have approved of the gift shop in his museum. What part an El Ché keychain or a box of El Ché branded Cuban cigars plays in the dream to build a collectively owned state defied us all. Magda, having come of age after the fall of the Berlin Wall, pointed out they might make more money if they moved the gift shop to the exit.
Mariano is an architectural illustrator, so sort of a cross between Magda’s work and my own. Our mutual friends knew we’d have a lot in common and they were right. Vicky is a psychologist and probably diagnosed us all as nuts. While Vicky took us on an extended tour of Cordoba, Mariano worked for New York from his home office. For his sake I should describe it as a dark hole in which he has no fun, no giant inflatable pool on the patio, and certainly no adorable dachshund puppy scampering around, demanding love. Unfortunately I have a duty to truth, and in fact he has all these things, in a bright spacious house he designed himself. Unfortunately he was diligently working during most of our stay, but he had plans. His cousin Mika was in town for the week with her boyfriend, Niko, and they would be driving into the hills around Cordoba, which, is actually what to see in Cordoba. The most attractive attributes of Cordoba are several hours outside the city. This was how the leftist radicals, beginning their 20’s bubbling with convictions, got stuck with a pair of road weary travelers, blowing the fruits of capitalist labor selfishly on the individual. I should quote a scene from “The Motorcycle Diaries” since previously this was the extent of my knowledge of Ché Guevara and (to continue my streak of uncharacteristic honesty) South America.
Meeting two impoverished itinerant workers on the road in the Atacama desert in Chile:
Ché: Why are you traveling?
The itinerant workers: To find work. Why are you traveling?
Ché, looking bashful: To travel.
The itinerant workers, after a pause: God bless you.
Yes well, we travel to travel as well, but if we hadn’t been doing so, we wouldn’t have found ourselves in the back of a little car, zipping all over the hills of Cordoba state with this fun, charming couple. The four of us became a sort of odd couple quartette, Mika was the translator, grudgingly speaking perfect English. Niko was the driver, but was dying to know what the conversation was about. We tried our best to keep things in Spanish, but as we’ve learned, in Spanish I have only a slightly better range of expression than a totem pole. I have a feeling Niko and I would have either gotten along even better than we did if we both spoke the same language. As it was we kept each other laughing out loud with our attempts to communicate. He had a giant grin underneath his scruffy revolutionary’s beard, and had hilarious quirks like honking and waving to roadside saints we passed along the way (Gaucho Gil, to be specific). He also had the ability to elicit the worst road rage I’ve ever seen from other drivers. Several enraged motorists tried to run us off the road, presumably to save the rest of Argentina the trouble of driving alongside us. Niko himself seemed to have no ability for anger, and blew kisses into the open windows of the outraged driver’s vehicles.
Once, after having driving slowly, and very peacefully for some miles in the fast lane of he highway, a motorist pulled in front of us, turned on his blinkers, and slowed both cars to a stop. As we gently rolled up to the side of his car, where the driver was rolling down the window to deliver a lecture on the differences between the fast and slow lanes, Niko simply smiled at him and drove away before he could begin. Moments later, the same motorist was stuck behind us at a toll both while the Mika and Niko asked the toolbooth operator directions and personal questions and flirted and… the already furious driver blew his horn. Niko accidentally stalled the car.
Both were hopeless with directions, and consistently took exactly the wrong turn. Fortunately they both had endless patience, and with the stereo blasting, a boiling cup of matte tea sloshing between the two of them, they almost always eventually got back on the right track. We cruised all over the state this way. Laughing and drinking matte and discussing the politics of Argentina and the US. The correct turn would come and go, and part of the fun was Niko and Miko’s easy manner calling out to strangers, making friends with them, asking for and receiving new directions and roaring back the way we came.
We visited an old estate of a Spanish governor in the town of Alta Gracia. There were several museums there, including the Ché museum, and there was a combination ticket we could buy for all of them. Argentine nationals paid a fraction of the tourist price, so Niko and Mika bought ours, and we agreed to keep our big mouths shut. Unfortunately my mouth is bigger than most, and I couldn’t help but try on my best Spanish accent, to fill my role as an average Argentinian. I may have tended to roll my R’s a little too much when I said ‘Gracias’ because this became Niko’s favorite way of teasing me about my terrible Spanish. ‘Grrrrrrracias!” He’d quote me, both of us doubled over in laughter.
After we explored the museums, visited a winery, shuffled from shadow to shadow in baking hot little towns, we’d get a big bottle of Coke (A capitalist stew if I ever drank one) a bottle of a painfully bitter liquor called ‘Fernet’ and head down to the local river to plunge in and refresh. The four of us floated in the cool water with relaxing locals (the proletariat), sharing a mix of Coke and Fernet. Properly balanced it was actually pretty good, and started to grow on us. It may have been the moment though, diving in cool copper colored water while the heat of the day got absorbed by the shadows of the trees. I’m not sure I’ll ever seek out Fernet again, but if I do it will be to try to bring back some of those rare cool moments, with our fellow Argentinians.
The day before we left, Magda and I made French Toast, that truly American dish, for our new friends. In return, that evening Niko fired up Mariano’s father’s parilla and treated us all to some spectacular asado. We sat by a swimming pool, passing around a giant pile of perfectly grilled meats. Mariano’s dad broke out some Cuban cigars. When Niko sat back and puffed one, we all experience a bit of deja vu. There was the young Argentinian revolutionary, smiling and laughing about a gringo who couldn’t pronounce ‘thank you’ properly.
A Side Note
On our way back to the car after floating in a cool river running through the Bavarian style town of La Cumbricita, I noticed a very Arian looking couple having coffee and reading a paper in Spanish at a very German looking cafe. They looked to be in their 70’s or 80’s and I couldn’t help but wonder about their story. I hoped it was no more exciting than having found their way from the Graf Spree, after a sea battle long ago. But the chances are low.