Sometimes I imagine my nine-month grant here in South America as if it were compressed down into one day: twenty-four hours.
My arrival back in March represents the early morning hours of the mourning, which is fitting as our plane touched down at Aeropuerto de Carrasco just as the sun appeared on the horizon above the vast Rio de la Costa, the river separating Uruguay from Argentina.
For “breakfast” I consumed all that I could during our one-week orientation. The time spent in Rivera and Tacuarembó represents the “morning shift’, the two week adventure in Brazil serves as the lunch hour, and my return to Uruguay in July signaled the start of the “afternoon shift” in Montevideo.
Continuing with this same analogy I have now reached the late afternoon hours, and in Uruguay that means it’s time for la merienda – a quick break for tea, coffee, and bizcochos. The metaphor works especially well considering I have spring break coming up, September 18-22.
Similar to spring break, la merienda is a time to step away from the office to recharge the batteries, and it’s deeply ingrained in Uruguayan society and culture. It’s like snack time for big kids, just something light to nibble on.
With that in mind this blog post will be brief, a few bite-sized pieces of Uruguayan culture I experienced these past few days.
Taking advantage of a gorgeous afternoon last week, Guille and I ventured up to the Prado neighborhood, a gorgeous community that’s home to Montevideo’s largest green space and botanical gardens.
We took in the Expo Prado, an annual festival sponsored by the Uruguayan Rural Association, which celebrates the heritage and agriculture of the country’s interior. You might think of it as a mini-state fair; Farmers and ranchers flock to the the capital city, bringing their prized livestock to the competitions.
The gaucho culture is very strong at this event. The word gaucho refers to traditional South American cowboys, particularly those originating from Uruguay, as well as parts of Brazil and Argentina. Make no mistake, however, the gauchos we saw at the Expo were not in costume. The form of dress is still quite prevalent, especially in the country’s rural areas, which is basically the entire country minus Montevideo.
Just a few days ago I told you about El Clásico del Río de la Plata, one of international soccer’s oldest and strongest rivalries – Uruguay and Argentina. On this day Uruguayans come together to cheer on their national heroes against their neighbors to the west. If there’s a match that unites the country, it’s this one.
On the other hand, if there’s a match that divides the country, it’s the one I attended just yesterday between the top two professional clubs: Club Atlético Peñarol and some other club. 😉 (The other is Club Nacional de Football).
Now, I’m just messing around when I say that, but this match is no laughing matter. In terms of league championships, Peñarol has won 48 and Nacional has won 44. To put things in perspective in the league’s 112 year history, the rest of the league (the so-called cuadros chicos, or “little teams”) has won a combined 20 titles.
El Clásico is not the most popular rivalry in the sport’s world, but I would argue that no rivalry has a greater or more far-reaching impact on a single nation. In fact, the most common question – far and away – that I receive from students in the high schools is which team I support here in Uruguay.
I haven’t gone a single day in Uruguay without seeing the team’s logos somewhere. Fútbol is always a topic of conversation, and the passion is unlike any I’ve ever seen before. It’s not uncommon to see the team’s logo marked on headstones.
It is a war, and at times over the course of the rivalry’s history that description has served quite literal. The passion, unfortunately, creates violence from time to time. Just last year the match was suspended and cancelled following violent riots in the stands. (2016 Clásico Cancelled Following Violence) I’ve even heard that there have been murders as a result of late night, post-match confrontations.
Imagine The Malice in the Palace (2004 brawl between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers) happening twice a year. This rivalry creates that possibility. There is potential for violence every single time these two teams collide. Naturally I wanted to go.
Guille, and several other Uruguayans, advised me to exercise extreme caution when I went. As we live in a neighborhood that is Nacional-backed, I covered my yellow and black with a sweater when I left the apartment. I left my valuables at home.
In the stadium I tried my best to keep up with the cheers, as refraining from singing can get you into trouble, too. The chants, by the way, were second to none. Hilarious, vulgar? Witty, foul? Passionate? I’m not sure how to describe them, but one thing I know for sure is I’ve never heard so many people yelling ch*** p**a at the same time. (😂)
Fortunately, I survived the match and witnessed a Peñarol victory, so I can relax and enjoy my spring break: my merienda.
One thing I failed to mention, is that la merienda is meant to be spent with family, and that’s exactly what I’ll be doing. In less than an hour I’ll be heading to the Carrasco airport, as my favorite pair of retired teachers are scheduled to touch down around 11:3o local time.
In fact, by the time my mom gets a chance to read about the hostile environment I put myself in yesterday, she’ll be with me! To say we are excited for the next 13 days is the understatement of the year.
A las ordenes.