Thursday, January 29, 2009

Snow snow snow

Winter is officially here! We have about seven inches of snow on the ground and lots of ice in the streets. The temperature has barely hit 20 degrees over the last month. Wednesday they even declared a snow emergency and most businesses closed for the day. Sammy could not be happier.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Beers of Uruguay

Those of you out there who know me well know that I am very interested in beer as a hobby. Interested in the sense that I like to try different varieties and brands, not in the sense that I like to see how many I can drink in one sitting (getting drunk has never been a fun experience for me). I brew beer and enjoy contrasting the many styles. I am continually amazed by the endless varieties and tastes available.

When I found out I would be spending time in Uruguay, one of the first things I did was go online to see what I could find out about the beers available there. As with much about Uruguay, there was almost no information. Once I arrived in country, I found out a few basic things. There are really only four beers brewed in Uruguay, plus a small craft brew that I never got my hands on called Mastra. I also tried a few other varieties in my travels around which I will feature here, in addition to some other favorites that come from other places. This entry is meant to be a travel guide to the beers that I enjoyed (or didn't enjoy) during my three month tour of duty. All of the beers except the Astral are a Pilsner style. The craft brewing revolution which has swept the US full of great, experimental brews has yet to reach Uruguay. The average small bar in the US has more variety and styles than the whole country of Uruguay. Do I sense a business opportunity....

Zillertau - Uruguay
This is my favorite Uruguayan beer, a tasty light beer in the Dortmunder style. It was available nearly everywhere and was the most expensive Uruguayan brew. The cost is about $4 for a one liter bottle. This is the only beer from my entire trip that I will miss.

Patricia - Uruguay
This beer is a good second choice, a reliable drinker for when you just want to sit out of the sun and enjoy the stray dogs wandering the local plaza. Patricia is has a nice, gentle tangy flavor that stands up well to any matter of food. The cost is about $3.75 for a one liter bottle.

Pilsen - Uruguay
Pilsen was everywhere in Uruguay. Every little bodega and cafe had a few bottles stashed around. The cost was always right around $3.50 for a liter. Unfortunately, this beer is just not all that good. It will do in an emergency, but otherwise I would gladly hand over the extra $.25 for a Zillertau or Patricia. Pilsen is a light beer with nothing distinctive or special about it, similar to a Coors. Pilsen also makes an amber and a stout, neither of which are all that good.

Nortena - Uruguay
Terrible, terrible, terrible. Serves me right for thinking I could get a decent liter of beer for under $3! This is one of the worst beers I have ever had. Uruguayans do not drink this beer and neither should I.

Brahma - Brazil
This is an ok beer but there is nothing really distinctive or special about it. Pass.

Escudo - Chile
This beer is more my style. It is a light tan beer, but there is a bit more taste to it. I found it in a hotel mini-bar at a price under $1 for a can. I sipped this beer while relaxing after a couple hours on the beach in the hot Chilean sun.

Austral - Chile
The only lager of the group. I enjoyed this beer during one of the few mexican meals of my trip. I flew down to Uruguay expecting to eat lots of beans and rice, and found that Uruguayans are so fixated on beef that Mexican food never stood a chance and didn't migrate so far south. Austral is a smaller brewer and the beer is high quality with a crisp, clear taste. You can really taste the carmelized malts used in the brew.

Cristal - Chile
Not too memorable nor very good. Again, pass. In the picture I am badly sunburnt and tired from driving many miles, not drunk as I might appear.

Quilmes - Argentina
A Buenos Aires favorite, this beer is everywhere. It is a decent beer, nothing too special but nothing I would turn away either. It has more of a bitter bite than most of the beers I tried in South America, which lean towards sweet.

Heineken - Argentina (Holland)
The iconic beer from Holland, available in some of the more upscale restaurants in Montevideo. In the US, Heineken is a stand-by beer for me when there is nothing more interesting on the menu. I am still upset that the Heineken brewery tour was closed for renovation when I was in Amsterdam last summer. The Argentinian variety is true to the original.

Stella Artois - Argentina (Belgium)
A great beer that is widely available in Uruguay and Argentina. It was the most expensive beer that I drank, coming in at around $5 per liter. This beer tastes just like the Stella you can buy in the US and Europe.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Bob's Bar - Cave Creek Chili Beer

Last night Elly and I met up with a group of work colleagues and their significant others at Bob's Bar - THE Cultural Hub of the Midwest. I visited Bob's shortly before heading off to Uruguay (see Blog entry on Bob's in September entitled "Two more reasons to love Columbus").
Bob's is a special sort of place both because it has a good atmosphere, decent prices, and an excellent selection of beer. There are about 40 beers on tap and over one hundred bottles. I joined the 'round the world club last night, which means that if I drink all 84 beers on their featured beers of 2009 list by the end of the year, then I get a free T-shirt. Free is a relative word though as the cost of 84 beers is going to work out to about $400. It is a interesting mix of beers, many of which I want to try, so it is an admirable goal in my book.

My knowledge of beer and beer styles has dramatically increased over the last year with my beer making, listening to beer podcasts, and trying beers in many different countries (Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Uruguay, Argentina).

Last night I first tried the Czechvar. This is a beer that has been on my must try list for years and it was good to finally give it a try. It is a pilsner with a soft, sweet taste, not unlike a Stella. While not a favorite, this is a good, easy drinking beer that has an interesting history. This beer has a different name in Europe, being called Budvar. A trademark dispute with American (formerly) Budweiser got settled by dividing up territories and use of the Bud name on the various continents. Budweiser is now American Budweiser in Europe.
The second beer I tried is the Cave Creek Chili beer. This beer actually has a while jalapeno chili peper in the bottle, not unlike the slug in bottles of tequila. The pepper spice and taste is strong but matches nicely with the light beer. It can best be described as Corona with some hot sauce squirted into it. It was interesting to try, but I could only drink half the bottle and I will probably not be ordering it again.

Elly had a Warsteiner Dunkle, an old favorite of mine which I do not have very often. It is more to her taste, having a dark, heavy taste with a touch of sweetness. Because it is German you know it is good.

So, I am three beers towards the free T-shirt. 81 to go!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Te Quiero

A poem by Uruguayan poet Mario Benedetti. It is a love poem to his activist wife written while he was in exile during the years of the military dictatorship in Uruguay (from 1973 to 1985). I love the second to last line (I adore you in my paradise...) which is a beautiful statement about choosing to be happy even in difficult time.

Te Quiero
by Mario Benedetti

Your hands are my caress, my daily affirmations.
I love you because your hands work for justice.

If I adore you it is because you are my love, my accomplice and everything
and in the street, arm in arm, we are so much more than two.

Your eyes are my lucky charm against misfortune.
I adore you for your gaze that looks to and creates the future.
Your mouth that is yours and mine, your mouth that is never mistaken:
I adore you because your mouth knows how to shout defiance.

And for your sincere face and wandering spirit
and your weeping for the world
because you are the people, I adore you.

And because our love is neither famous not innocent,
and because we are a couple that knows we are not alone.

I adore you in my paradise, which is to say, in my country:
where people live happily even though they don’t have permission.

If I adore you it is because you are my love, my accomplice and everything
and in the street, arm in arm, we are so much more than two.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Good Friends

I am sorry for this very long post. Some things require more to do right.

The most difficult part of my job is the temporary nature of it. As a consultant, I am sent to various companies and am constantly working with different teams of people. I find that I always form tight relationships with the people I am working with – both Ernst & Young personnel and clients. Despite being an introvert who has trouble with introductions, I love getting to know people. Everywhere I go I meet great people, and I never feel like I have enough time with them. Just as I start to think of them as a good friend, I move on to whatever is next. This happens to me repeatedly. Federated Audit Team, German Carve Out Team, Hexion, Washington Hospital, Allegheny County Audit, etc.

I used to think that it was because I was very lucky that I always found great people everywhere I went. That it was some sort of fluke and I would likely run out of that luck some time soon. Now, I think that there are great people everywhere who respond well to being treated with respect. I follow some simple rules that seem to work for me. I always try to give more than I receive. I remember that everyone is human and everyone has bad days that do not define who they are. Everyone wants to be listened to without comment sometimes. Honesty is everything, but there are different ways of saying the same thing. Everyone wants to be happy and see their family do well. Small gestures of kindness are more important than words can describe. Everyone wants to hear that they are a good person.

Starting on my first day in Uruguay, the employees of Endeavor worked hard to make me feel welcome. They are such a great crew; a perfect team. The amount of work that this small group can put out is incredible. They invited me to many Endeavor events which were the highlight of my Uruguay experience, including the ranch at San Pedro de Timote, movie night to see “Blindness”, the Chivitos party, and many more. They are making a huge impact on the entrepreneurial community in Uruguay and should be very proud of what they have already accomplished.

Edgardo was my entertaining morning cab driver. Each morning was an adventure as we explored new routes through the city and Edgardo helped me to improve my Spanish. Edgardo is a great example of how interesting it can be to get to know people who you think you have nothing in common with. I consider Edgardo to be a great friend and I look forward to seeing him again on my return trip to Uruguay. On my last day with Edgardo, he brought me to his home, a neat and tidy house in the north of Montevideo. His whole family was there, including his very friendly dog. Edgardo’s wife presented me with homemade cookies (excellent!!!) and I traded some English words with his kids. It was really special and saying goodbye to Edgardo that day broke my heart.

Martha Muzio
Uruguay is a Spanish speaking country with limited English skills. I knew that this would be my best opportunity to pick up a new language. When I landed in Uruguay, I knew about six Spanish words, so I sought out some lessons. It takes a special sort of person to have the patience to teach a beginner a new language. It is such a daunting task that it is impossible to not be disappointed by the slow progress that students invariably make. I was very lucky to meet Martha Muzio, who came to my office twice a week to try to pound some Spanish into my head. I am so happy with how much progress I made by working with Martha. She made the lessons fun and packed with information. Martha put a lot of herself into the lessons, which made them so much more interesting. I really looked forward to our lessons and I miss them now. Muchas muchas gracias Martha! If you find yourself in Uruguay and would like to learn some Spanish, send me an email and I will be happy to give you Martha’s contact information.

Sheraton Montevideo Employees
When living in a hotel for an extended period of time, it is important that you do what you can to make it your home. I hung up pictures, rearranged the furniture, bought a tea maker, and set up book shelves and a kitchen area. There are many things out of your control though, so you are forced to rely heavily on the staff of the hotel. The staff of the Sheraton in Montevideo are the best of the best. They are highly dedicated to superior customer service, but they are also warm people who lead interesting lives. They learned my name, always greeted me with a smile, and talked to me when I was lonely. It was so nice to be so spoiled and I wish that I could do more to thank them.

Caro and Duncan
I had the great fortune of meeting Carolina and Duncan while in Uruguay. They both live in Montevideo and work for CEPA, the entrepreneur that Trusha worked for. Carolina is so kind, has a great sense of humor, and has a calming, strong influence. She yelled at me when my jokes were not funny and otherwise made everything better. Duncan is a rugby-playing, nice guy who I really bonded to. Duncan is a great friend and I will miss his wise counsel. I am teaching him to be a good Buddhists and he introduced me to all kinds of great music. It is rare that you run into people who you feel instantly bonded to, but this is what happened with both Carolina and Duncan. My Uruguay experience would not have been nearly as fun without them.

Laura and Trusha
Laura and Trusha represent the best that Ernst & Young has to offer. They are brilliant, very self-motivated, and know how to work incredibly hard even when no one is watching. Both Laura and Trusha are very human and are defined not by their work but by caring about other people. They have been there when I have been overwhelmed with stress and when I just needed someone to talk through a problem. We have shared so many good dinners and new experiences together. They laughed at most of my jokes and they made me feel good about myself. Together we traveled all over this part of the world, and we really did see it all. We watched out for each other and kept each other safe and sane. I do not know how I would have made it through this experience without them. It is really hard right now to imagine them getting on a plane this week and them disappearing from my everyday life.

I believe that my life works in circles. I find that every time I say a final goodbye to a person or place I always wind up in front of them again. Saying goodbye is important though. It is healthy and a natural part of all relationships. Ultimately, the process of saying goodbye makes you take stock of the relationship and the other person and allows you to fully appreciate them.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Museos en la Noche

Every year since 2005, Uruguay has held a special event called "Museums in the Night". From 8pm to midnight, many of the museums throughout the country are open free of charge. There are special events at each of the museums, including plays, music, lectures, and tours. This year, 67 museums throughout the country (33 in Montevideo and 34 in the country) participated.

Museo Zorrilla
I took advantage of the opportunity to see two museums that had been on my to do list. The first museum I visited is Museo Zorrilla, the former home of Juan Zorrilla de San Martin. Juan Zorrilla lived from 1855 to 1931 and was active in Uruguay's arts and politics. He was prime minister, a renowned poet, a jounalist, and diplomat. He is especially well known as a gifted orator.

The museum is located right along the coast on the rambla only a few blocks from my hotel. The museum features white-washed masonary walls, lots of beautiful spanish tile, and a modern wing that features paintings by Uruguayan artists.

Museo Militar Forteleza del Cerro

A distinguishing characteristic of Montevideo is how flat it is. The flattness makes the old military fort on top of a large hill all that more distinctive. The fort overlooks the central harbor and sits on the only elevation in sight. I have been told it is the place for the best view of Montevideo, so naturally it was next on my list of places to visit.

I found a taxi and in my best Spanish told him to bring me to Museo Militar on the Cerro. The driver turned around and asked me if I was really sure I wanted to go there. I said yes as it was only 10:30pm and I still had over an hour until the museum closed. I knew the museum was clear on the other side of Montevideo and that this would likely be an expensive cab ride. The cab driver shook his head and said ok. We raced through the dark streets of Montevideo pointed in the direction of the gleaming white fort on the hill.

As we approached the fort I started to understand why the cab driver questioned my sanity. This was clearly not a good neighborhood. You wind around the hill and seem to climb forever to get to the top. At the top is the fort surrounded by tin shacks and people sitting outside around fires. I noticed that I seemed to be the just about the only person around. No other taxis, only a few odd people hanging around, nothing going on. I realized that if my taxi dropped me off and left, I was in trouble. Calling a taxi is not simple since they do not speak english and I really had very little idea where I was. My spanish lessons paid off though and the taxi driver agreed to wait for me, meter running. I noticed he locked all the doors after I got out.

I ran up to the fort and found that it was closed! Big disappointment but I could still walk around the walls of the fort and take in the view. The view was incredible! From the walls you could see the entire city and far out to the ocean. It looked like the view from an airplane. I took a few photos, circumnavigated the fort, and ran back to the taxi before he left without me.
This turned out to be my most expensive cab ride during my entire visit to Uruguay. The total was about $35 including tip. The New Yorker out there will scoff that this is nothing, but remember I was trying to live on a $40/day stipend. I know I made my cab driver's day, because on the ride back he called his wife and told her about the "loco Americano" he picked up. He told her that the fare would be a lot, and he was right.