Montevideo, its mate and its museums

Ring, ring!

‘Ola?’
‘Osvaldo, this is Iunia, we’re in the bus terminal’.
‘Ah, vale, estoy en casa, vienen!’. (Oh, good, i’m at home, come!)

We arrived in Montevideo the day Uruguay beat up Holland in a friendly soccer match. People were walking around with flags wrapped around themselves, drawings on their faces and proud looks in their eyes.

We walked the few blocks towards Osvaldo’s house and when we got to where we suspected it was, we saw a note on the door, in Romanian: ‘Hello. It’s here.” That immediately turned our doubt into certainty.

We found Osvaldo on Couch Surfing after one of the girls in the Eco Yoga Park had recommend him as a host in the Uruguayan capital. We were told he was very nice, and now we had proof of it from the first minute: going through the effort of translating the welcome words in the guest’s native language is not a gesture you’d come across at every street corner. As soon as Osvaldo opened the door we met his flatmate Papo, a kitten like no other! You could have said that he grew up with dogs because he had a strange habit of biting everything around him, especially the guests’ fingers. Osvaldo warned us not to leave anything at a height where he could reach it, but a second of low vigilance cost us a cheese cake that we found half under the seat, half in between the greedy animal’s teeth. Such is life …:)

We spent the first night listening to Osvaldo passionately sharing about his city, country and culture. He is really knowledgeable and happy to answer any questions, and we were again so happy we had decided to Couch Surf in this city. One other thing that impressed us about him was his forever cheerful and laughing manner – he had made a habit of doing something that would make him laugh first thing in the morning, and he thought that the best was if he could laugh at himself. So the first morning we were there we woke up to a red nosed Osvaldo who offered us home made bread and the omnipresent mate. What a great way to start the day! 🙂

When we walked out into the streets that day the first thing that shocked us was the number of people walking around with mate cups in their right hand and a thermos under their left, sipping graciously while walking or waiting at the traffic light. When we told Osvaldo we thought that was really cool he prepared a mate and thermos to take with us on the next day exploring the city – now we could be Uruguayan too! We had loads of fun walking around proudly with the thermos under our left arm, telling ourselves that nobody had any clue we were not from around there (which was obviously not true at all, as it was written ‘foreigner’ all over our foreheads). We thought the mate drinking suited us so well that we made sure we bought our own little mate cups before we lef the country.

One of the first things we learned about Montevideo was that all museums had free entry for visitors. This was a good opportunity to catch up for the last three months when, we have to recognize, the museums were not among our ‘Top 3 most frequented places’. The first one we visited proved to be the one we liked the most: the National Arts Museum in the Rhodo Park. The star in there was a huge painting by Juan Manuel Blanes (the Uruguayen national pride), 1871, which illustrates an episode of the yellow fever period in Buenos Aires: a mother fallen down in a tiny room that probably served both as a bedroom and a kitchen, and 3 doctors in suits and hats entering the room. The black and gray tones illustrate quite clearly the presence of death. What stricks you most the first time your eyes meet the painting is the baby on the floor, next to the mother’s body, grabbing her with his tiny hands, unaware that she had gone to a place she won’t be coming back from. The child’s cheeks are pink, and the contrast between colors, between social statuses, between life and death… is phenomenal!

We were lucky to be there during a school trip, so we had the chance to listen to a passionate artist offering the students (who were no more than 10 years old) a tour of the museum, accompanied by relevant explanations of the various paintings, artists, periods. You could tell she ‘breathed’ art and loved nothing more than to share about it with others. She was very good at engaging her audience, doing role-plays and playing question and answer games with the kids. Even Boca, who didn’t really understand her much as she was talking in Spanish, was glued to her speech. She was so engaging that at some point one of the teachers could not hold herself back and started giving her the answers – everybody, including the kids, found that hilarious! We were truly inspired and we found it such a great testimony of the huge difference between doing something that we love and doing something that we ‘have to’ just because we haven’t had the courage to discover and pursue that which really makes our heart sing and eyes shine with passion.

Unfortunately we did not see as many museums as we had planned to because, due to the free admission policy, they did not have enough staff to keep them all open at the same time. It was by rotation and it took us a while to find the ones which were open the days we were there. We did enjoy the ones we saw though, as well as the other things that brought big smiles on our faces (details on those in the next post).

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