Saturday, February 17, 2007

Back from Argentina

I spent the last two weeks in Argentina and Brazil, visiting the popcorn production there and walking through the research plots. Argentina had a disturbing resemblance to Illinois or Indiana and so I took very few pictures of the countryside. The towns and cities were not though. They had a vibrant feeling that rural United states has lost somehow. We went through the home town of Evita with her picture painted on the walls bearing only a vague resemblance to Madonna.

This is a park in downtown Buenos Aires. I don't know how many millions live there, but downtown and residential areas are indistinguishable. Apartments rise next to office towers and restaurants for rich and tourists sit next to small grocers and choripan (like a bratwurst) venders. The streets were clean and the food great. We saw one slum that reminded me of Nicaragua as we were entering Buenos Aires. It had house after house built of castoff corrugated tin and uneven wood slabs. It zipped by quickly and it is hard to believe that it existed when walking down the parisian shopping district or the well to do downtown.

Brazil felt tropical in comparison with rolling hills, palm trees, monkeys screeching in the distance and flocks of parrots overhead. The gauchos of Argentina have cousins in Brazil that run cattle there between the trees. Both drink mate out of wooden cups and metal straws. Both groups are contending with increasing cultivation of soybeans and corn. But one thing that was the same was the vibrancy of the agricultural economies. Agriculture was important enough that news about corn prices were on the front pages of the newspapers. People were as excited about the new Case tractors as we might be about new cars and the tractor dealerships had glassed in showrooms with the newest combines on turnstiles. Majoring in agronomy at the university was a sought after major and to be a Inginero Agronomo was highly sought after. Here in the heart of the midwest, the small towns feel empty, and agriculture is almost a four letter word. It is something that our grandparents did, but we are happy to leave behind.

While I was gone in the tropics, the temperature here at home plummetted and there was a blizzard. The night time temperatures were well below zero and our pumphouse froze again and left Leila and the girls without power. Matt and Todd from work came and thawed it out for them though and my neighbors came with their snowplows and dug Leila out. We had 17 inches of snow, but the drifts are 4 feet deep in places. The schools were closed all week due to the cold and then to the blizzard. Emily has been in heaven since she has been able to shovel snow and play outside in her snow clothes. She has been making snow tunnels for the cats. They run in and out of them trying to catch each other, jumping on top of each other and rolling in the snow and then begging to come inside once they are wet and cold.

It is good to be home.
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