Monday, March 31, 2008

Chau Che!

Today is our last day in Uruguay. The adventure won't stop, but the blog will...at least until mid May or so when we make our way back to life in Portland. Then, with luck, we will find time to keep adding stories and pictures to this blog...

Thanks for following our adventures! Besos, Adam and Leandra

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Adios Amigos...

Our last week in Montevideo began with Easter. We decided to spend the gorgeous morning in "El Cemeterio de Buceo", one of the city's oldest and and most ornate cemeteries located on a wonderful bluff along the Rambla and Rio de la Plata. We went early for Uruguay, around 10 a.m., but the flower vendors outside the large arched entrance were ready for the slow parade of living relatives that would come throughout the day to visit loved ones...
Take a walk with us on one of our last looks at life in Montevideo...


Leandra carried some fresh holidays flowers...


The towering outer wall was filled with sarcophagi, some pristine, some decrepit, but life and time keeps going by just outside the gardens...












We stopped for a photo in front of the Policeman's Mausoleum...
And another of a deceased bombero, a fireman carrying an infant from danger...
After a long slow amble, reminiscing about our year in Uruguay, we came close to the caretakers quarters, where, apparently, some branches are not so sacred that they don't still have some practical purposes...
And, neither did some old tombstones, now forgotten or replaced, their fragments being used as stepping stones...
And then we left...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Big Men and Bigua...

Being a Portland TrailBlazer loyalist, I couldn't help but stop this young man in front of Palacio Salvo, and capture his grin with his Rip City T-shirt. He was as surprised to be stopped as I was to see my team's logo walking around Montevideo. What a small world...
It was early March, I was getting the basketball "madness" that's famous in America--and I still hadn't gone to a Uruguayan basketball game. I really wanted to see one in their big indoor stadium, El Cerrado Cilindro Municipal, but it was closed for repairs...

I had played several times at a local gym--I'd just show up and get "gringo privileges", the old members just letting me play for free. Several of the guys were former pros in Uruguay--which isn't saying a lot--basketball skills here are still several notches below the typical player in the USA. Although, Uruguayans do play with much more teamwork and fundamentals--something that's been replaced with smack-talk and show-boating in my home country--but they do have a competitive spirit that is often more fiery and feisty than you might guess. Anyway, I was amazed to learn that one of the older men was on the Uruguay Olympic team in 1956--when the USA won gold, USSR won silver, and Uruguay won the bronze by beating France 71-62 in the consolation round...after losing to the USA 101-38 in the semifinals! But he did play against hall of famers and NBA legends Bill Russell and K.C. Jones!

Also, after starting work at the Uruguay American School, I became friends with Jeff Granger--Uruguay's most famous and endeared foreign player. Jeff is still playing in veteran leagues, coaching youngsters and running tournaments. He was one of the first Americans to play in Uruguay, starting in the late 70's, he played for almost two decades, and won multiple national championships. But, what's made him a household name--literally every cab driver or kid on the street knows his legacy--is his gracious personality and his embrace of Uruguay; besides his kind nature, Jeff also became a citizen earning a spot on the national team's roster! For me, he's a friend and an inspiration--his smile shines for all to share. I often joined the high school basketball practices, or played in faculty games against other schools...

This month Jeff was playing for Uruguay again, in the 50+ league in the South America's Cup. I went to the championship game against Brazil to support my foster country and my friend...

Jeff is running lay-ups with his team, while the opponents are gathering for their team photo--which is a big tradition in South America; they take a snapshot every game. They also traded small gifts of flags and shirts before tip-off...
Jeff had a slow start, but was also guarding Brazil's best player. And, in the third quarter, when his team needed a boost, Jeff scored several times, grabbing the momentum, before clamping down on defense through the fourth quarter, forcing overtime, and stealing the championship from Brasil...

Jeff's son is currently preparing to go pro himself, and the scouts see NBA potential...

I watched the game with another friend, Gustavo, who just happened to be at the game. He's one of the lead revelers after Uruguay's victory in this video I made...

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The next week, the Uruguay League championships, a best of five series between Club Bigua and Club Hebraica y Macabi, was taking place. Bigua, with the two best foreign players in the country, Kevin Young and Mark Bortz, both American big men, dominated the series thus far with two 20+ point victories. Which was cool with me--Club Bigua is one block from our apartment in Punta Carretas, Leandra is a member their, and it's one of the best and most popular recreation centers in the city.

So, Bigua was like my team, my Uruguayan "Trailblazers". I went to Game 3, to see what was widely predicted to be the final game of the season...
Estadio Pe├▒arol was the substitute for El Cilindro. News crews waited outside the side entrance...Mascots are rare in Latin America, but a "bigua" is an aquatic bird, like a duck, and his cartoonish personification was there rallying the crowd which was filled with kids and families just as raucous and boisterous as a the soccer games...
Club Hebraica y Macabi huddled up under their smaller balcony of fans...

The polished trophies, for first and second, were on display before the game...And, the obligatory force of cops was surrounding the court...

The stands erupted with screams and streamers as soon as the teams prepared to start, which was followed by five minutes of sweeping the spilled rolls and confetti to the sides--which was then followed by dozens of little kids wanting to play in the paper spaghetti and search for unspent spools of paper to throw later...
The cops seemed ambivalent to everything...
So did this cute kid--but we loved his T-shirt...
I sat with Hebert and John (right). John and his wife were in town visiting Uruguay and we spent a few afternoons showing them around Montevideo, and John asked to join me for the game. Hebert is an Uruguayo and part time tour guide I met in Ciudad Vieja. But his real job is radio commentator for the Uruguay basketball league. Tonight he was free of work because the radio station signed a contract to broadcast carnaval performances, and one conflicted with tonight's game. But, even more interesting, Hebert has travelled with Uruguay's Olympic basketball team several times. And, again, small world, he was in Portland, Oregon--at the same time I was there--in 1992 for the Olympic basketball qualifying tournament. That was the year the Dream Team played--Hebert met Micheal Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Clyde Drexler, and all the rest of that legendary team!...

Well, as Hebert predicted, Bigua easily won this game and their first Primera Liga championship...

Although the crowds are smaller and the caliber of play is a bit lower, the celebrations are no less enthusiastic. In fact, the crowd, knowing the game was over well before time ran out, rushed the court with a minute remaining! The midcourt mob was already moshing when the final buzzer sounded...

And after things calmed down in the stadium, the party continued in Club Bigua and the park by my apartment all night long...

Behold the basketball mania...

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