Friday, March 16, 2007

Fiesta de la Vendimia

So why have we hurried back into town from Aconcagua? Apart from me wanting to seek therapy for my hypothermia of course. The reason is that this weekend Mendoza hosts the Vendimia, or Harvest Festival of Grapes.

It's one of Argentina's biggest festivals and a fascinating event with lots of history. Indeed, the Vendimia, its traditions, and the effort put into it showed me just how ingrained the wine culture and industry is in Mendoza's soul - something that is only hinted at by the miles of vines in the region surrounding the city.

The highlight of the Vendimia is a huge event in a large Greek ampitheatre in Parque San Martin, not far from the centre of the city. We assumed it would not be possible to get tickets, but Sam managed to get some through his work, and not just any old tickets, but good really central ones! Hurrah! So we are picked up in the evening, Sam has come with another colleague of his, Aleisha from Spain, and we are driven over to close to the showground. There are an amazing number of coaches parked up - perhaps a hundred? We walk up to the stadium, noticing that the hills around are lined with people hoping to watch for free.

Inside, we pass down a long line of smartly-dressed hostesses with very tight-fitting trousers on both sides. Eyes to the centre, lads. We're handed an Argentine flag and a white hankerchief, the latter presumably to use in case they try to nab the Falklands off us again. The magazine we are given has details of all of the beauty queen pageant prospectives, who are listed by the region they represent. I decide to cheer for General Alverea (Chileans are always naming places and streets after famous military figures), and Sam for Guymallen, the area where he lives.

Apparently this beauty contest, the Acto Central, is a very important one, as the girl who wins this is crowned the National Harvest Queen. It has been held every year since 1936, and it would seem that Argentines don't see it as something strange and old-fashioned, which shows you some of the more traditional and chauvinistic (and why not?!) values held here. At the beginning of the show they parade the winners from 50 - yes 50! - of the previous years' contests - some of them obviously very old ladies now!

The enormous stadium

The stadium fills up, as warm-up bands play. I can't help but invest in four tiaras with flashing leds on the front for our group. It seemed appropriate.

Sam and Aleisha

We are all worried that the event could be pretty painful, especially if we are forced to endure Argentine folk music all night, but eventually that stops, and the show begins! It is basically a "spectacular", with sound, light and hundreds of dancers celebrating the magic of wine. The official theme this year is "establishing the bond between man and nature as a game of seduction", which is interesting enough in its own right. Mendocinos love it!

Jina gets into the spirit of the carnival

The show is narrated but of course we understand little, apart from what Aleisha translates. They do, however, beam up the scene and act titles on to the a large board at the side, with English translations. What they had done though, is used a dictionary and literally translated the Spanish, sometimes using fairly archaeic words, meaning Sam and I rarely understood what the English meant either!

The show takes about 9 months to prepare, and it shows. We laugh and are a bit cynical at the beginning, but by the end are all saying "Wow!", although the official song, "Canto a Mendoza", still makes us laugh.. (lyrics along the lines of "Mendoza, Mendoza, isn't it great, Mendoza.." etc). The night ends with a big firework display, which surprised me, as they had been sending up single fireworks as part of the show and I assumed the shop had run out when they went to buy them!

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