Sunday, April 29, 2007

At home in Patagonia

Our new home is the house that Luis grew up in, which has to feel kind of strange for Luis. It has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, an office, a living room and a roomy kitchen --a large house, by Argentine standards, and much bigger than our house in Greeley. Ruben has had renters in it for the last 13 years, but a few months ago he kicked them out and spent three months scrubbing, painting, and trying to rectify a decade of neglect. The house, they tell us, was pure filth when the renters moved out. It was indeed clean when we showed up -thank god, because it’s a serious downer to deal with other people’s toothpaste splatters and mustard stains right off the bat. I’m not one to get too sanctimonious about sloppiness; our last week in Greeley my parents showed up with scrub blushes and bleach in an attempt to annul four years of very little effort in the house scrubbing department. Thanks mom. Thanks dad.

Despite Ruben and Estela’s efforts to get this house into shape, we are daily finding more projects: leaky sinks, two running toilets, missing door handles, broken shutters. Did the renters live with bare bulbs dangling from wires, or did they take the light fixtures with them? Luis practically wept when he saw the state of the front and side yards. He and his mother shared a deep love for growing things; they had fruit trees, vegetables, spices and flowers. What’s left now is a lemon tree that’s never been pruned, and grape vines that traipse the metal structure over the driveway. Dripping with grapes, you can stand underneath a vine, look up, and pull grapes into your mouth without moving your arms. “Under the Tuscan Sun” Luis remarks, referring to a book that recounts a couple’s summers spent in Tuscany, refurbishing an ancient Villa, and discovering the joys of living in rural Italy. I’m not sure if Luis was talking about the abundance of grapes, or dealing with a crumbling house.

Slowly, the house is becoming livable. This country is bringing the handyman out in Luis: he has rewired the light fixtures, completed plumbing projects, repaired the window shutters. We have cleared out the yard, and planted grass. Luis even went to work on our neighbor’s electricity lines when their electrician didn’t show up. This is a do-it-yourself kind of country. Unfortunately, I’ve always been a “just call the landlord” kind of gal, so I’ve been feeling kind of useless. So far I’ve learned how toilets work, that you should wear shoes when you touch a fridge to avoid a potential shock (Luis was incredulous I didn’t know that.) and lots of other tidbits of information. Even if you do have the money to hire someone to fix stuff in your house, there’s a good chance he won’t show up anyway. If you’re lucky, he’ll come a few days late. Everything takes a long time here. We hired a guy to reupholster a ripped up sofa (which is much cheaper than a new one. And no one ever throws anything away, so forget buying anything second hand) and what was supposed to take four days turned into two weeks. The window repairman and the gas repairman haven’t bothered to show up yet.

And the Grand Total Is . . . .

I was grateful when the repair man showed up as scheduled, to work on the great, white and green beast that is our fridge. I don’t know where Ruben scrounged it up, but it’s old and ugly as sin. But its free. After 4 or 5 hours tinkering away inside and outside the brute, the repairman wiped his brow, pushed the fridge back into place and gave us the grand total of his toil: 120 pesos for the part ($40) and 50 pesos for the labor ($17 ). Wow, labor is cheap! Now if we could just get more of these guys to show up . . . .

So now we have a working fridge and a pretty little blue sofa. It’s all starting to fall into place.