The Lonely Planet’s Wise Words.

 

LonelyPlanet1The people from Lonely Planet paid us a visit a few months ago while researching their newly updated guide to Argentina. We are delighted to report we have now received the first guests who have arrived bearing copies of this freshly minted and august publication. What good taste the editors have! They suggest us as one of the four best places to stay in Buenos Aires.

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Here is what they have to say about us;

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Thank you Lonely Planet!

Eyes Gently Shut

With Spring in the air, pleasant clients out and about and all good with the world, we went for an early afternoon walk. Which soon led to hunger which soon led us to Palermo Hollywood. And while heading to Chipper for fish and chips, we passed another favourite that was offering an excellently priced set menu and we sadly got diverted. And while more of this in another post (once the management has had a chance to respond to my note to them), after settling down with two excellent pisco sours, we realised that everything that didn’t come out of a bottle had gone to shit. Yes I am afraid there is no more accurate (or polite) way to describe it and please bare in mind that even your granny would say “se fue a la mierda” here.

To say we were disgruntled is an understatement. We were actually sad and angry. To lose a favourite is like a bereavement. And it also entails more work and expenditure to find a replacement recommendation for our guests. Of course it could just have been a bad day, chef absent due to death in family sort of thing but I kind of suspect it is more serious. The atmosphere had changed. It’s a restaurant based on expensive primary ingredients. Inflation at 35% is probably killing them. They may have been scrimping over the set menu but they will kill their trade like that. Their staff will soon leg it back to Peru.

So how to recover the beauty of the day? I’m not rich anymore so we can’t afford to go out wining and dining twice in a day. I summoned up the email that the Ministry of Culture sends me every Friday, telling me how to spend the following week. What ideas did they have for me? Quite a few as it seemed but I’d already seen the DUDANDOT project at the Sivori Gallery. Fun but not twice, though there is also an amazing ceramic sculpture exhibition that is worth a look.

The huge itinerant exhibition (1500 pieces/450 artists) of masters of Ibero American art (I’m not even sure what that means but it seems to be modern artenesal), has apparently just arrived in BA but is spread out over 2 museums and I’d already walked for a couple of hours. Better to leave that for another day or two or three and anyway it’s on for a few months. A couple of things didn’t start till midweek. A couple of other things seemed too complex artistically for my simple mind. Fusions of film, music, history and performance that risked simply confusing me. And then I hit on the perfect suggestion. A solo performance by the renowned Austrian violinist Édua Zádory, playing everything from Bach to some more modern Austrian/Hungarian composers topped up with some recent Argentine works. In the lovely concert hall at the Usina del Arte that only holds 250 people and is acoustically designed for un-amplified performances. It sounded simple. One woman, one violin and some music that I would be entirely ignorant of. For a grand cost of nothing to go and see, other than making the effort to drive down to La Boca. So we did.

To say it was exceptional might be a case of a MacDonalds habitue suddenly being confronted by Heston Blumental’s food. I’m really not qualified to judge. Was she an amazing violinist? It seemed so to me. She seemed to be able to move across the centuries with verve and precision but then I’ve never been to a solo violin concert before. Frankly I didn’t even know how many sounds one violin could make…many of them simultaneously! But La Doctora is a bit more educated than me. After all, free concerts in Buenos Aires are nothing new. She’s been popping into the Teatro Colon for their free afternoon offering for years and she said it was impressive and who I am I to disagree. And so while we spent the afternoon walking back from the cheap but awful meal, bemoaning the plague of inconsistency of Argentine restaurants, we then spent the drive back from La Boca elated by the fact that we could risk seeing something that we had no idea about, because the city was happy to educate us. We had a world class experience that quite frankly we probably wouldn’t have risked if it had come at world class prices.

My strongest impression? I spent most of the concert with my eyes gently shut. After all it was one woman, one violin, dim lighting. Not much to see. But I did wonder afterwards, when was the last time I was out in a public space surrounded by a couple of hundred people with my eyes shut, only really using one of my senses? Life seems to have become multi-media. What, they just listen? What do they do with their eyes? They’re going to get bored! Don’t they need something to take photos of? No, why don’t we do a wine tasting with carefully chosen electronic music that goes with each grape type? And no I’m not making that up, I got the invitation. It’s a pleasure, a relaxation, to give yourself over to one sense. I can imagine my granny with her first decent record player. Obviously you don’t stop thinking but the thoughts sort of drift over. I was obviously still thinking about food and my normal bugbear, food presentation. I was thinking about dinner blindfolded. Obviously taste is both oral and nasal but the blindfold would get you back to fundamentals. Apparently there is a place in Almagro that does this. I’m going to go. What happens to all these modern cooking techniques if you can’t see them? is a sphere or a foam diminished or intensified? More surprising or less? 

So God bless Buenos Aires. They make it pretty difficult to have a bad day here. It’s tricky not to stumble across something that inspires you if you make half an effort. Sometimes if you really want to relax you just have to opt out. “Hacer fiaca” is the official name for deliberately not doing anything. It’s perfectly acceptable as an excuse in a city where “i’m broke” doesn’t cut the ice. But hell, I’m English. I’m genetically programmed to get out of the house and do something the moment the weather is vaguely nice. I have a terror of the next 44 days when it wont be. Will I exhaust the possibilities that the city offers me? Well I’ve been here five years and it still seems fresh. I’m not a long term guy but you won’t see me budging for the next five!

I apologise for the lack of soundtrack while reading my blog. A bit of Pampa Trash would have been nice. And the visuals, pathetic, no photos, not even a cute cat! If you didn’t understand it because it wasn’t divided into a list of the “5 Unmissable Things in BA”, mea culpa. I’m not very modern. But if you want to appreciate the exhaustive and exhausting cultural and social life of BA, come and stay with us. It’s an old fashioned city with old fashioned values, even applied to the modern. Last week’s Cigar, Chocolate and Wine tasting did work. 

Not all multimedia is bad.

Another Hard Day’s Work.

Although officially it is still winter, by 8.30 it was already warm enough to enjoy a little coffee on the terrace while preparing myself mentally to cook breakfast for all 4 guests. Oranges to be squeezed, fruit salad to prepare, bakery to visit, eggs and bacon cooked to order. Of course, I only needed to do the cooked stuff (and not even that if I felt lazy) as Daniela had already dealt expertly with the rest.

Breakfast over and the sun was shining brightly, 26 degrees expected. I spent a bit of time helping my clients decipher the schedule for the Tango Festival in La Boca and explaining where else to go there (The Quinquela Martin museum) and more importantly where not to bother with (Caminito). I got rather enthused by the tango festival, a two week affair based around the world championship. Not so much the dancing, though I fancied seeing an hour or so of that but more the modern fusion concerts. I thought I had better go. After all if I can’t get excited about BA’s cultural offerings, how can I enthuse my clients? And this one offers so much choice.

So I spent a couple of hours knocking out a few emails and reading a book in the sun, before hopping in the car with La Doctora and racing through strangely blockage free streets down to La Boca to the very beautiful new Usina del Arte, a converted “Tate Modern style” power station that houses a couple of remarkable concert halls and lots of art space. I parked right outside and happily left the car on the street due to the enhanced police presence during the festival. Parking is free down there of course. We watched some of the qualifiers for the stage tango and then picked up (free) tickets to see Pampa Trash, one of the new Garage Tango bands from zona sur, as the southern outskirts of BA are known. Some of the most exciting music I have heard in a long time, brilliantly accomplished musicians, fusing tango with acid jazz, folk, be bop and rock. Difficult to describe accurately, but worth looking up on http://www.pampatrash.com.ar.

Then we wandered over for a bite to eat at El Obrero, an old fashioned bodegón. Calamaris and a generous glass of wine each. Followed by a bit more dance, another band to see, and then home in equally un-hassled fashion. A great day out at a cost of less than 10 of those Great British pounds I vaguely remember, for the both of us, including shows, petrol, lunch and cigarettes!

On the way back from the garage I picked up the shopping from our favourite fruit man, so tomorrow’s breakfast needs are accounted for. Sadly the guests are getting more strawberries as they are so good at the moment and we only serve the best, but I will throw some delicious sausages that my German friends make for me, into the breakfast mix . Now I am looking forward to my guests returning to help them plan their evening. They are keen on Jazz clubs and we have several close by but they know little about all the new and hidden cocktail bars that have been springing up recently. If I make them sound sufficiently mysterious and difficult to access, perhaps they might decide they need a native guide and of course I will be happy to oblige with a detailed tour. Any excuse!

How do I deal with the stress you ask me? What is it like to be at the hard edge of a fledgeling hospitality empire? Well sometimes I feel vaguely guilty about not having a nine to five job where I am expected to work nine till nine. There is a little echo from my conditioning about the importance of a career, about getting ahead, about making something of myself. Then I remind myself I was never really anything other than a remarkably good “communicator” (define as you will), who managed to convince many expert individuals of his own expertise, in fields that he had no qualifications in. Really that left me with few options. I could either head up a global bank or multinational company or run a little B&B in Buenos Aires. And the problem with the former is that you don’t get left with much time in the day to have fun.

Of course there is always the issue of money. Compared to my former self I have ridiculously little. But then I spend ridiculously little, doing so much more than I ever used to in London. And I have time to do it all, with plenty to spare, which if I wasn’t such a lazy bugger I would be dedicating to writing my third novel (still struggling to write the ending for my first), honing my body at the gym (I’ve lost 2 stone just because I walk around more, but got bored of the gym after 2 weeks) and learning to sing the blues (still at the training phase, 30 years of whiskey and cigarettes accomplished and the Blues School is only two blocks away). There is little I would really like to do that I can’t afford, though that may be explained by the fact that I am a peasant at heart and have also already had the opportunity to try many of the things we are meant to aspire to. My number one priority is eating well and while I like restaurants I couldn’t imagine eating in one every night. Here I have had the time to go to Chef’s school but more importantly have the time to produce increasingly more complex dishes from scratch (in my amazingly equipped kitchen), with ingredients from small local providers, that are turning out better every time. Food wise I’ve got it licked so its lucky I walk around a lot. And hell, it may even turn into a money making adjunct to my business one day if I decide to pull my finger out.

Maybe I’m too hard on myself? Maybe I’m not as lazy as I think? After all, my overriding responsibility is to make sure that my guests have a wonderful time in this city. Each time I go out to a new bar, restaurant, art space or venue, I am going out with purpose. Their experience will to some extent be conditioned by my recommendations. So my responsibility is to know what’s hot and what’s not, across the cultural spectrum. In fact it’s becoming clear to me that I am nearly always working, trying to discover a new cocktail, a peruvian fusion dish, a wine, a band, an artist or an interesting new social group that may seriously enhance the experience for my clients. Christ, I’m working a 16 hour day for less than a McDonalds employee. Shocking, what a sacrifice. I better program in a little siesta for tomorrow. After all, I don’t want to burn out. That might be macho for a banker but not for the owner of a B&B. Wake me up in time to cook dinner please.

My mother will never believe it.

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Yes Mum, I actually spent a goodly portion of the last six weeks watching football or as it is more properly called in these parts fútbol (in case you don’t remember me I am at the back, far left, trying to look aloof). Only when Argentina played you understand, I haven’t completely lost my marbles! Well other than on those occasions when I thought it was important to watch one of the other matches with teams that had a good chance of meeting Argentina in the finals. Such as the unmissable Brazil, Germany match where all the mean thoughts popping into my mind as Brazil went 7-1 down, proved that I am assimilating well as an immigrant here. And yes I learnt the first couple of lines of our futból anthem, which had little to do with the World Cup generally and plenty to do with goading our beach loving brethren while they jumped to carnival in those garish yellow shirts. “Brazil decime que se siente…..”

“Brazil, tell me what it’s like to have your Daddy in the House….”

Catchy, and showing impeccable taste for having nicked the music from Credence Clearwater Revival rather than some tuneless modern nonsense but it did demonstrate Argentina’s rather over-developed self-confidence. We would have looked quite silly if we had gone the same way as some of the lesser nations like England, Italy or Spain who don’t really understand this fútbol thing and got knocked out before I had worked out how to use the remote control.

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I’m ashamed to admit it, I even dressed up, yes I proudly wore the celeste y blanco, our national colours. Of course I didn’t go so far as to actually purchase an Argentine football shirt but as their polo team wear the same colours, it turned out I had a number of suitable items in the closet. I did however get La Doctora to cut a very fine Argentine flag (you know the one with the smiley sun) off a no longer fit for purpose shirt and attach it to the back of my unfashionable denim jacket, thus immediately transforming it into a unique item of envy. Small kids pointed to it in the street.

Of course, the latter was also a prudent move. After all us English pretty much invented football hooliganism. I might have moved to the dark side but I didn’t want to get caught out in a grey area. Occasionally I have been mistaken for Dutch or German. With the flag on my back I was golden.

“No reconoces tu propia bandera boludo?

We live in a Catholic country which means we are more prone to superstition than a kalahari bushman. As a fan you check your “Cabala”, understanding that it is in fact entirely down to your own actions (and very little to do with how your team plays) to decide the match’s outcome. La Doctora soon pointed out that whenever I left the room for a quick cigarette break, the opposition seemed to score. Therefore I had to sit through the later matches without budging, 45 very stressful minutes each half I soon discovered (they do stop for a fag at half time) and even more painful given the minimal gap between extra time and penalties. It could have been worse, the other way round and I would have been designated Mufa (bad luck) and banished to a freezing balcony with a packet of Marlboro for the entire match.

So how did we lose the final? Was it really that I watched the first minute of the second half of extra time through the crack in the door while I finished my much needed (did I mention how stressful this fútbol is) oily rag? I suspect it was, wrong angle, difficult to keep your eye on the ball, then some pre-pubescent kid comes belting down the middle, catches the ball with his chest, hefts himself unnaturally into the air and flails a leg at the ball with alarming accuracy. And no, they hadn’t switched the TV over to some Harry Potter movie, the kid had scored! Just shows you can’t take your eye off them for a minute as my granny used to say (I was never sure whether she was talking about kids or balls). Mea Culpa as I didn’t admit to my friends.

Anyway, it was probably better this way. Obviously we won the World Cup according to the terms we had previously defined, which was simply to do better than Brazil. And had we really won it Brazil would have surely closed its borders for the next 4 years to defend itself from a plague of gloating Argentines and that wouldn’t be good for trade. I suspect I am cured from my footie passion for a similar length of time. The responsibility was just too much.

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But I did enjoy it. In fact I surprised myself. I started off pretending to have a vague interest. After all we were talking about the fate of a whole nation according to the media. It was kind of important. And then I got caught up in the atmosphere. Everyone was at it, overtly or discreetly. All ages, all classes, all economic groups. I live in a pretty upper middle class area but you didn’t see a dog being walked that wasn’t wearing a little blue and white coat. And given the entire country shut down and there was nothing you could usefully do or any opportunity to go anywhere during the matches, you might as well get together with a number of friends, open the Malbec, order in empanadas and pay some attention. It turns out its a rather skilful game. Obviously rather slower than polo, but in polo you change your horse every few minutes whereas these chaps can’t just change their legs whenever they feel a bit of fatigue. It’s also a bit more risky than I thought, mainly to your legs and head. Not quite like a tonne of horse falling on top of you at thirty miles an hour but you still have to be committed to your sliding tackle or diving header without being quite sure what you will encounter. I suspect the more you watch the more you understand, so I am going to stop now before I get hooked.

Yes I’ve enjoyed the World Cup and we played a great final. The Argentine’s capacity for celebration is impressive and it doesn’t need to be fuelled by booze. Other than the few (possibly politically encouraged) spoilers who ruined the normal (and by that I mean, something of everyone) people’s celebrations after the final, BA was a delightfully tempered place to be. But I’m still going to stick to Polo. It’s less stressful. The Argentines are the best in the world. Without realistic competition. Have been for years and look like they will remain so.

Don’t worry Mum. I still always take the easy way out.

 

 

Let There Be Light!

Film living roomThere are actually a few sad souls who miss this blog when its frequency diminishes. Perhaps they find assurance in the fact that there is someone madder than they are, someone who is prepared to take on Argentine bureaucracy and the unfathomable multiply unionised tradespeople, someone who believed that the Architects’ quote would bear a vague resemblance to the final cost or that, as everyone seems to be able to develop a property in London the same would apply here. Some poor deluded fool in other words. Always fun to watch from afar, as his enthusiasm diminishes as fast as his bank account.

Of course a handful of my handful of followers probably thought that now I am once again a workingman, combining this sad state of affairs with my regular cultural excursions and Buenos Aires’ lively social life, must have caused my literary lapse. Not true. Yes, La Doctora and I seem to be getting more invitations than ever but frankly we are too knackered to go out more than a couple of times a week. My greatly diminished waistline is a testament to rebuffing more champagne filled restaurant-opening invitations than I would have previously considered reasonable.

So what have we been doing to fill our fatigued spare time? Praying. Praying that the electrician would turn up, that the builders wouldn’t break the new glass the window guys had put in (they did of course), that the blacksmith wouldn’t ruin the paintwork (he did), that the painters had left enough time for the plaster to dry (they hadn’t), that the new painter could sort out the faults (he could as he is not a painter but a classical guitarist, tai chi master and wooden sailing boat restorer – don’t get a painter to do a painter’s job if you want it done properly), but most of all praying, grovelling and begging to it that must be obeyed, the all powerful granter of Light, the great God, Ede*n*r (name of Almighty Light Provider deliberately obscured to protect the innocent – i.e Me)

Now if you think this sounds a bit exaggerated, you clearly weren’t here last Christmas Eve with 45-degree temperatures and 70% humidity. Or you may not be aware that Light (Luz) means both light and electricity is Spanish. And while I don’t claim I have spent the last months living in obscurity without enough current to chill my fridge, the fact is that that The 5th Floor requires a lot more of the stuff than was previously available. Yes, we managed 30-degrees comfortably over the weekend due to the building’s solid walls and high ceilings, without the need to turn on a single air-con, by just allowing a gentle breeze to run through the establishment. But wait till the thermal effect of high humidity arrives. I don’t want to serve breakfast to sweaty, grumpy individuals who have spent the previous night wishing they had stayed at some generic, ugly establishment with fully functioning cooling. But these machines suck electricity; you can’t run them on single phase. Hence the petition to the all-powerful Utility, master of the local grid.

“Give me 3 phase please oh Great Redeemer.”

Of course Gods are generally cruel or at the least unhurried. They’ve got better things to do. Like drinking mate. But I know the system. We popped in the request a year ago, plenty of time for EdeGod to move in mysterious ways. Except a year later it still hadn’t. Maybe that’s unfair, it had sent an inspector round a couple of times, reported a couple of defects in the electrician’s work (reasonable) and then informed us that it couldn’t be arsed to connect the cable itself and we would have to do it. Even an electrician with balls of well-insulated rubber doesn’t take this lightly. This stuff kills you if the wrong thing touches the right thing. I eschewed this year’s Mr Popularity vote and demanded that the administrators cut off the whole building’s electricity, so no one died. Great, we had a connection but we were still not allowed to turn it on until the inspector called. And when would that be? And how much would he want??

So I got all modern on the problem. Put out a request on Facebook for my friends to put me in touch with their most distant relative, providing he worked for EdyThing. And I had a few “cousins in high places” responses. La Doctora took a more traditional Argentine route. Stressed, she went to see her psychologist. Obviously La Doctora is not mad but here a bit of help with uncertainty is no bad thing. Of course the fact that she remembered that the psychologist’s neighbour was a bigwig at a certain large electricity company might have motivated her. Moral of the story, forget the prayers. Get yourself down to see a professional. Take a box of mangoes (lovers of porteño slang will understand). Problem resolved. My guests will be as cool as cucumbers. And I don’t think I have slandered anyone or cast nasturtiums on the honesty of Argentine institutions.

Which means OFFICIALLY WE CAN NOW OPEN!!!

Yes now I can take people’s money without the risk of having to send it back due to the risk of foreseeably high temperatures. I can honestly say you will be very comfortable here, come sun (always a shady and a sunny terrace) or come rain (plenty of living space) or come global warming style prophecies (though the energy used on the AC may contribute to the latter).

And it has to be said, while no one here understands the concept of delivering on time, the final job is pretty impressive. It’s not a design hotel; it’s a restored 1940’s home.  Golden Era Buenos Aires. From the time the expression “As rich as an Argentine” was in common usage. It’s definitely an urban experience but we are in the best part of town. And it is an Argentine experience; it’s not a touristy area.

We do need your help however. We are massively over-time and have missed the early bookings for prime season. While we may not be every businessman’s cup of tea (proper breakfast starts at 9.00), we know how to have fun in this great city. And we know how to help our guests have fun, whether through exploring the intricacies of the Ministry of Culture’s impenetrable but ultimately very rewarding website, extending invitations to all the private events we are invited to, or simply pointing out where quality lies in the gastronomic realm here. So this is the time to help me by sharing my little blog and facebook page with all your mates who are wondering where next to sally forth and who will look after them when they get there!

We haven’t got the professional photos done for the website yet as we are still waiting to hang the art, but we have stuck our amateur efforts on Facebook at www.facebook.com/the5thfloorba.

So come, enjoy, change money at the blue rate. Marvel that your enormous meal is once again cheap, that BA really does have a Ministry of Fun, that the weather is delightful, that Porteños still have a zest for life and that you can tell if it is chilly outside by how the dogs are dressed. Buy yourself a fragrant peach in one of the veg shops that still grace every couple of blocks, or a charcoal grilled chorizo from some illegal looking BBQ. Go to listen to some music or to a dance event or some art opening that you wouldn’t normally bother with because of the high risk of it not being very good. If its bad, so what? It’s mainly free, transport is cheap, and you can leave and just move onto the next thing. And the truth is sometimes you surprise yourself and trip over something you like.

Above all come (and send all your friends), to The 5th Floor. We guarantee you won’t regret it!

Exterior Comfort Control

You may think from the title that I have just invented a new sports bra or a garment to discipline and smooth your wobbly bits, but no. What I am referring to is the finally completed installation of the devices we have purchased to enhance, my supposed future guest, your appreciation of the good airs of Buenos Aires. The 5th floor is the proud possessor of 5 terraces, but the most prized is the Andalusian patio, which will shortly be verdant with plants and herbs to complement its cheerful Spanish wall tiles and its new lemon trees (whose numbers are threatening to reduce themselves as one is rather sickly and I may have to put it out of its misery).

If the sun is out, then it’s shining on this terrace and warming it to at least 5 degrees above street level. And of course the patio sports the traditional ample parrilla for family and friends style BBQ’ing and due to its positioning there is rarely any wind so we have enjoyed regular open air asados throughout the winter.  But of course the wild outdoors can be just that. Savage. I foresee problems. 5 degrees above a sunny spring day equals the best an English summer has to offer, 5 degrees above a hot Buenos Aires summer day and you may well expire with heat stroke. So look at this.

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At the top of the picture is what we call a Toldo here (I’ve forgotten the English word), whose electrically driven, remote controlled blackness will silently slide out to cover half the terrace and protect you from the killer rays. And as we have ensured the wifi signal is suitably strong in this area, the toldo will also save you from that other modern frustration, wanting to be outside but having too much sun to see your computer screen.

But what I hear you ask is that brutal looking object hanging below the toldo? Well that is the latest and most effective equipment for exterior heating, because yes even in BA occasionally it does get cold, sometimes into single digits celsius, occasionally for several days at a time and as any porteño will tell you slightly hysterically, “el frio te mata”. The cold kills you, its as simple as that here. Furthermore, by near consensus we have banished smoking from the interior of the 5th floor. But we are not discriminatory, we love smokers as much as non-smokers, we want them to share the same level of comfort. And understanding that more smokers now die of weather induced pneumonia in London caused by huddling outside their buildings in inclement conditions, than of the previously common smoking related illnesses, we wouldn’t wish that on our valued clients. After all, where am I (I obviously mean you) going to sip, my evening gin and tonic while partaking of its accompanying nicotine, without having the embarrassment of watching my long suffering partner, swathed in woollens, shivering while accompanying me.

Fear not, at the 5th floor we just crank up the 5 metre gas tube, strip off out protective layers and warm ourselves to the degree that we need more ice in our drinks. And luckily, I have purchased a nice ice making machine to provide for this eventuality.

So, if like me you are a fan of the great outdoors, as long as it can be partaken of within the confines of a suitably large and cultured city and has immediate access to comfortable facilities, then our terrace will certainly fill you with joy. Stick a big juicy hunk of cow over the smouldering embers on the parrilla and you will feel as close to raw nature as you ever need to!