If Tucumán is Argentina's Philadelphia, Rosario is Argentina's Chicago. It is a huge city, just edged out of the number two spot by Córdoba. It is a gritty, vertical city on the wide Rio Paraná with a history of industry and agriculture commemorated by a port and empty warehouses along the river. It is a city built of immigrants, filled with large populations of Italians, Germans, and Russians. The architecture is beautiful, and the food, melded of many cultures, is amazing.
This city, perhaps because of its location along the Rio Paraná, also acts as home to not only pigeons and doves, standard city-wildlife in Argentina, but also to colorful birds I couldn't recognize.
Patriotism soars here, quite literally, in the form of the Monument to the Flag. Pride binds the cobblestone, cinderblock, marble, brick, and concrete in this city.
But it has its quirks, too, a sort of punk edge that I didn't feel in Buenos Aires or Tucumán.
The world changes when crossing the 60 kilometer wide Rio Paraná. The city-side of the river is deep and passable; the other long stretch of its width a mesh of islands and swamps.
Victoria, the town immediately opposite the Rosario on the river, is so sleepy during a weekend siesta we didn't see anyone out on the street as we drove through.
And after passing through Victoria, we stuck to blue highways, and finally, a long dirt road that trailed the edges of broad estancias to bring us to Ramirez, the hometown of my mother-in-law.
Rosario has industry, history, achitecture, and pride. Ramirez, on the other hand, embodies community. Almost immediately after we rolled into town and up to my husband's great-uncle's house, the phone rang. ECG's great-aunt answered it, laughed, grabbed her wallet, and encouraged us all to follow her around the corner. Up the street sauntered a firetruck, a tail of good-smelling smoke wagging behind it. E's great-aunt trotted right up to the passenger window and handed over a few pesos in exchange for raffle tickets. My father-in-law followed her and bought a handful of tickets too.
The volunteer fire department was raising money by raffling off a pig roasted on a parilla the firetruck towed. Everyone wanted in on it. None of my family won, but we all got hungry.
About an hour later, after the fireman driving the truck finished his rounds, he let us into the cable service and studio my great-uncle-in-law owns. It turned out that he was not only a volunteer firefighter, he was also my great-uncle-in-law's employee. At the station, our family showed us around the satellites, hookups for broadcasting movies and sports, and the studio for the local access channel.
I hammed it up in the studio.
Later that night, we celebrated my great-uncle-in-law's 80th birthday. We congregated in the town community center, and looking around the room, I could see the individual genes that collect in my husband's body and face. I saw his hairline, his eye color, his legs, his nose, and his dimples. The birthday party extended until breakfast the next morning. Or, I heard it did. I petered out around 2:30am. After a feast of guancia and empanadas, wine and roasted short ribs with papas and batatas, and birthday cake, after Spanish polka (who knew?), a slide show, a tap-dancing show, after a much-less-elegant tango show than earlier in the trip (so much less refined that, unfortunately—yet to the delight of many—a breast fell out of one of the dancer's dresses), after family speeches and everyone hitting the dance floor, I couldn't keep going. But the town could, and ECG and I left a party that was in full swing in the early hours of the morning.
It's hard to take pictures of community. I haven't figured out how to capture this feeling with images, but I can tell you this. Of all the places my husband wishes he had more time, it is in Ramirez. He wishes he spent his summers here growing up. He wishes that he could have learned the ropes at the cable station and absorbed the practical education his great-uncle could have provided. He wishes he learned how to restore a 1926 Chevy. He wishes he could have helped with the animals at his mom's friends' houses, and perhaps taught one of the many friendly dogs a trick or two. He wishes that the woman behind the counter at the grocery recognized the town's dimples in his cheeks and knew him as one of Ramirez's own.