Vintage Gauchos

Every now and again I offer up some vintage goodness that I happen to find as I trawl the Internet. I recently stumbled upon this trove of vintage photos from the Witcomb Collection of the Archivo General de la Nación [Argentina's National Archives]. While the collection contains a number of fascinating images, I found myself particularly drawn to photographs from the late 1800s  that illustrate Argentina's gaucho culture.

Like the cowboys of the American West, there's a rugged romanticism attached to the gauchos and the rough-and-tumble lifestyle they led on the Argentine pampa. The images in this collection offer a glimpse into that world.

Most of the photographs featured below were taken by Argentine photographer Francisco Ayerza. An enthusiast at a time when methods were still crude and quite challenging, Ayerza's love of photography inspired him to establish the Sociedad Fotográfica Argentina de Aficionados, the country's first amateur photography club. According to the book Culture and Customs of Argentina, his "…goal was to record and preserve through photography the daily life of both the city and the rural areas. Ayerza took a particular interest in documenting the traditional life of the gaucho and of country folk in general."

We owe a debt of thanks to early photographers such as Ayerza for allowing us to indulge in a bit of time travel.Ramón Tavieres, Estancia San Juan de Pereyra [Colección Witcomb, Archivo General de la Nación][A stunning image of Ramón Tavieres, the gaucho who oversaw Estancia San Juan de Pereyra in the province of Buenos Aires]

Payador a caballo, con su guitarra criolla en mano, by Francisco Ayerza [Colección Witcomb, Archivo General de la Nación][A payador—a gaucho minstrel of sorts—with his guitar]

Grupo de gauchos [c. 1860-1863] by Benito Panunzi [Colección Witcomb, Archivo General de la Nación][Music, asado and mate. In some ways, not much has changed since the 1860s.]

Gauchos en tareas de campo probablemente en Estancia San Juan de Pereyra Iraola, by Francisco Ayerza [Colección Witcomb, Archivo General de la Nación][Gauchos at work. The gaucho at the far left looks to be branding a horse, but it's tough to say what the paisano on the right is up to…]

Gauchos presos y policía a caballo, by Francisco Ayerza [Colección Witcomb, Archivo General de la Nación][Gauchos being hauled off by the police. Is it my imagination, or does the man on the far left have a bloody rag tied around his head?]

Grupo de gauchos sentados al borde de una laguna, by Francisco Ayerza [Colección Witcomb, Archivo General de la Nación][Relaxing by a pond. The dreamy reflections make this photo.]

Gaucho y paisana by Francisco Ayerza [Colección Witcomb, Archivo General de la Nación][Just a reminder that gauchos occasionally turned their attention to something other than cows and horses.]

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Moving Day

After months of careful planning, preparation and packing, moving day finally arrived!

My friends Chris and Tony are taking a leap of faith as they, along with their three children, move to Neuquén, Argentina to embark upon a new life as missionaries. Chris has chronicled the family's preparations on her blog In Patagonia, and now, all that's left for them to do is say their goodbyes—by far one of the most difficult parts of any move.

So, why am I regaling you all with the story of my friends' international move? Well, it turns out that I have something of a stake in the shipping container they're sending down to Argentina. Chris and Tony very Moving Day [photo by Barry Metz]generously allowed me to load up a few boxes of clothing and housewares that had been in storage at my dad's house for the last two and a half years. When I moved to Argentina, I arrived with just four suitcases, as shipping my belongings in a container proved prohibitively expensive, so I feel blessed to have this opportunity to send along a few things together with Chris and Tony's household goods.

The container's long voyage from the U.S. to Argentina has already begun, so now it's just a matter of waiting for it to arrive at the port in Buenos Aires, where the contents must be inspected and cleared by customs. From there, my boxes will be loaded onto a moving truck bound for Necochea!

I owe a huge debt of gratitude not only to Chris and Tony but also to my dad and his wife, as they very carefully repacked my belongings and hauled them to Chris and Tony's house on moving day. Thank you, everyone, for your help!

I wish Chris, Tony and their children all the best in this exciting and challenging phase of their lives. Godspeed!

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Fun and Games

Jugando al Truco | Playing Truco by katiemetz, on FlickrWhen I was a kid, my parents weren't much for playing cards or board games; however, my grandmother absolutely adored games of all sorts.

She and I would often play Yahtzee, and I recall how she'd cup her hand over the plastic tumbler filled with dice and, with a rather devious grin, whisper the numerical combination she hoped for. As crazy as it sounds, I'm convinced her unconventional method worked because I lost an awful lot of games of Yahtzee.

Once when I found an old Chinese checkers set packed away in the closet of a spare room, my grandmother explained that she and my grandfather went through a period where they were absolutely obsessed with the game. Eventually they had to stop playing because my grandmother would dream about the moves in her sleep, complete with visions of brightly-colored marbles hopping to and fro over a tin metal board.

Grandmom taught me simple card games like gin rummy, war, solitaire, and go fish, and we'd spend hours together, laughing and having fun with just a simple deck of cards. She was also a whiz at more complex games such as pinochle, a game I never mastered as a child (or as an adult, for that matter).

I later learned that cardshark grandmas are not unique to the U.S. When I first came to Argentina, Daniel's grandmother Velia told me that on a weekly basis for some 25 years, she and her husband Diego would play cards—either truco or chinchón—with the next-door neighbors, Petty and Juan. The married couples always played against each other, that is, until one night when Petty played rather poorly. Throwing his cards down in frustration, Juan exclaimed, "I'm never playing with you again!" and from then on, Velia was teamed with Juan and Petty with Diego.

Popular card games in Argentina include tute or tute cabrero, mus, canasta, truco, escoba del quince and chinchón. Instead of the familiar playing cards used in the United States, these games are all played with a Spanish deck, which contains fewer cards and different suits. This past weekend, I had an opportunity to learn truco while on a retreat with the members of my chorus.

Truco is a fast-paced card game usually played with four people in two teams. According to the gaming site Pagat, "Each player is dealt three cards, which are played out in tricks, and points are also scored for holding combinations of cards in the same suit. It is possible to bet extra points on who has the best combination or [who] will win the tricks, and the bluffing, talking and joking that go with this are an important part of the game." Truco strategy also includes various signals that you can give to your partner to indicate the cards you have in your hand.

Although rather complicated to learn, I managed to pick up the basic gist of truco, and I was invited to play in a real game. My partner and I actually fared pretty well, losing by just two points to the other team. But best of all, I felt transported to my childhood for a couple of hours—to a time when cards, laughter and fun went hand in hand.

Do you have memories of playing cards or other games with your family? Do you know any Argentine card games?

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On a Late Winter's Afternoon

On a late winter's afternoon, determined to fight the inertia brought on by the dreary weather, we pile into the car and head out to partake in Argentina's national pastime: drinking mate.

Down by the port in Quequén sits a squat little trailer painted robin's egg blue. It's one of those places that quietly says nothing at all. The owner, a petite, unassuming woman, serves customers in a cramped space no more than a few feet wide. At her back hang three shelves lined with neatly-arranged bags of yerba mate.

Hay Churros by katiemetz, on Flickr Buying Churros by katiemetz, on Flickr

Although the faded chalkboard sign touts donuts, fried puff pastry filled with quince paste, and breaded, fried beef cutlets, we will not be distracted from our objective—churros. At this particular moment, there are no other customers at the stand, unless you count the dirty, black mutt waiting behind my mother-in-law Hilda.

Fresh Churros | Churros Recién Hechos by katiemetz, on Flickr

Hilda returns with a mix of plain and dulce de leche-stuffed churros to accompany the mate. The aroma of freshly fried dough wafts up from the bag, filling the car.

We continue on to the Escollera Norte, the shorter of a pair of jetties signaling the entrance to the port. My father-in-law Tomás parks the car, angling the vehicle just so on the narrow jetty. In his easy manner, he jokes about us all going for a swim should he pull a bit too close to the edge.

There's a brief silence as we stop to take in the vast expanse of gray ocean before us. Six ships lie in the distance, mere specks on the horizon, each awaiting its turn to enter the port. The battered old dredge boat chugs past, performing its never-ending duty of removing sand and sediment from the mouth of the port.

Hilda prepares the mate slowly, methodically, just as she's done it thousands of times. Meanwhile, I can barely contain my urge to eat one of the churros. The mate begins to make its way around the circle, and the warmth of our conversation and laughter cuts through the dampness and chill in the air. Admittedly, I still haven't learned to appreciate the flavor of mate, especially when served amargo (without sugar) as it's offered today, but I no longer care about the taste. It's about sharing a moment together with my family.

Hilda Tomando Mate | Hilda Drinking Mate by katiemetz, on Flickr Katie Tomando Mate | Katie Drinking Mate by katiemetz, on Flickr

A hardy-looking fellow appears alongside us on the jetty—fishing tackle in hand—hoping for a bite despite the unpleasant weather. He doesn't last long.

Fortified by the churros and a few rounds of mate, Tomás steps out of the car, daring to brave the elements for a few moments. I follow, camera in hand.

Tomás en la Escollera | Tomás on the Jetty by katiemetz, on Flickr

We both peer down over the edge of the jetty to observe the water, agitated and frothy, where it meets the enormous rocks below. I giggle as a trio of sea lions bobs up from the depths, and we find ourselves entertained by their antics for some minutes before they head out to sea.

Hazy Necochea [Escollera Sur] by katiemetz, on Flickr

A strange yet familiar haze hangs in the air today. Even when the sun manages to break free from the clouds, its brilliance is veiled, blotted out by the latest plume of volcanic ash belched forth by the Puyehue Volcano in Chile.

Trying to Break Through by katiemetz, on Flickr

The cold breeze off the ocean whips my hair across my face and the camera lens, turning my quest for a few shots into something of a challenge. I finally admit total defeat when, a few minutes later, the camera battery unceremoniously dies. I happily beat a hasty retreat to the car for more chitchat, laughs, and of course, another round of mate.

What did you do this weekend?

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