I love Uruguay for many reasons: beaches, steaks, dulce de leche, mate. But what I love most about Uruguay is that it feels like one big small town. You know how when you go into a Duane Reade in Manhattan, and after waiting, 10 minutes in line, you finally get to the cashier and the entire transaction takes place without any verbal exchange whatsoever? Most likely you won’t even get a smile. In fact, if a silent, smile-less transaction occurs, consider yourself lucky. Because most likely the cashier is jabbering to her coworker, bitching for 5 minutes about how her man doesn’t treat her right… and then she rings you up. It’s one of those mundane occurrences that remind you that the benefits of New York’s anonymity come at the cost of social capital.
Well… Uruguay is nothing like that. My experiences here remind me much more of that feeling you get when you walk into a barbeque joint in Taylor, Texas. That feeling of “I’m welcome here.” I can walk in here, put my hands on my hips and stare at the pit for awhile, watching the brisket and ribs and sausage smoke, or stare at the menu, and consider patiently all my options, and nobody is going to give me a dirty look, or tell me to hurry up. Even more, instead of ignoring my existence, they are likely to ask me how my day went, or if I want to sample the brisket. That feeling of being in a small town, of exchanging pleasantries with people you encounter in your daily life, of nodding or waving to the neighbors, of giving that guy you don’t know a hand, just because he needs one, that’s what Uruguay feels like.
My recent trip to La Tablada, a slaughter-house (matadero) in Melo, Cerro Largo, was one of those pleasant experiences that can only happen when you live in a big small town. One of those “I’m welcome here” experiences. The father of a friend of Noelia proposed that we visit the matadero to learn more about an industry that is so vital to Uruguay’s livelihood. Check out the video. [WARNING: If the process of turning a living, breathing cow into a steak offends you, don't watch this.]