We were clouded out in Mendoza, making two straight attempts at astronomy that have ended with clouds for me. But I had a great time on the east side of the mountains. Six years ago, right around this time of year, I made some friends and had my first real taste of the southern sky in Mendoza. I met up again with these friends this time for dinner on Thursday and planned an observation on Friday.
Friday it was cool and rainy and deciding that while tourism has its merits, finding a café and grading papers while snacking on empanadas and malbec was also a worthwhile activity. Argentinians, at least where I’ve been, do not sell wine by the glass. When you point out that it’s just a little after noon and you don’t want to drink a bottle of wine they look very confused. The one concession the winerys make is to sell half-bottles. For the recovering alcoholic, presumably. I’m not actually much of a wine drinker but Mendoza is a wine-aficionado mecca. Mecca is probably an oversell. Top 5 place to visit, maybe. The malbec here is excellent and I felt I had to make a point of having a glass.
There are some outstanding vineyards open for tourism. In 2011, I visited Melipal and had a supremely memorable day. I had hoped to repeat the experience. However, I also remember the day as costing about $50, which included an excellent steak dinner, two bottles of wine and a tour. Plus a private car for the day. Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Paul, you’re a moron, there is no way that day cost $50.” And you’d be right, I think. Or maybe the peso is doing better against the dollar today. In any case, I decided to forego the repeat experience for the $300 that was going to set me back.
See, learning Spanish has some benefits.
It rained off and on all day and was solidly overcast. The sort of overcast that reminds you of a thick comforter when you were little that you could never shake off or escape. You’d crawl for hours and not reach the end of the blanket.
So, we did what astronomers have always done when it’s cloudy. We went for drinks. There were to be six of us but, this being Argentina, four showed up a couple of hours after our agreed upon time. It was a fine evening. My best friend in Mendoza, the guy I found online in 2011 and who has been an exceptional host every time I’ve been there, is named Leo. Leo is an engineer and avid observer. He’s written a handbook for the southern sky that I highly recommend. I used it at Hacienda Los Andes and will again on my upcoming astronomy trips. For the northern observer, it’s a great set of showpieces and more challenging objects that you don’t know about.
I keep hoping to be able to return his hospitality but he, rightly, chooses to visit his friends in Oregon when he undertakes the long trip to North America. I say rightly as no slight to my home on the east coast but because the American West is so, so, so much better for astronomy than the American East. Beyond the fact that the west has such a lower population (and, hence, light) density, the air itself is much cleaner. It is drier, higher elevation and there are many fewer clouds. If you’re going to fly 10 hours for astronomy, you do not come to the American East. Leo has great friends in a club in Oregon and, so, it makes sense for him to go there. Getting from Portland to Winston-Salem is an onerous task. I made sure to buy as many rounds as my Argentine hosts would allow.
Mendoza is a great small city and, if you like wine, a must see. I highly recommend the trip.
I got through customs smoothly on the way back to Santiago and was back in the apartment by 10pm. Sure enough, it had cleared up enough for Leo to get a couple of hours in with his scope. I was glad to help (by leaving and bringing clear skies – astronomy joke). I unpacked and sat down to watch the Spurs lose in overtime.
A little before 11pm, I thought I felt something funny. Felt like a screw was lose on my couch. I immediately thought of an earthquake – we were promised earthquakes in this program – but it was too subtle to be sure. But it kept happening. It was weird. I actually did check the couch in case a leg was broken.
A little before midnight, the Earth clarified itself. It felt like my apartment was suddenly turned into an old elevator trying to start up. I’m specifically thinking of the old elevator in Salem Hall that we trashed a few years ago. Curious, I wandered out on my balcony. First, I have no idea what I hoped to see. Second, dumb. Building codes in Santiago are very strong and they’ve withstood some very large quakes with no or little damage. Still, if a part of my building is coming down in a quake, it’s the balcony. I didn’t stay long before remembering hearing you’re supposed to stand in a doorway. So, I walked back in the apartment and stood in my bathroom doorway. Totally unnecessary as I’m not sure the quake was strong enough to shift papers on my table. But the point is, the quake was long enough for me to do all this and have it still be shaking.
Officially, the quake came in at 5.9 on the Richter scale. There were a couple of aftershocks in the 5.0 range. All of them were centered between 10 and 30 miles west of Valparaiso and shallow, only a few miles below the surface. At that distance, it seems I can feel around 4.7 or 4.8.
Nothing terribly profound for today’s blog. I probably blew my philosophy center out with the March on Science post. Congratulations to all who marched.
My social weekend – I had dinner/lunch with nine different people which is easily a South American record for me – is foreshadowing for upcoming social connection. I have a friend from the States arriving Monday. Two days after he heads back, I’ll receive another very special visitor. Going to have to break out the mop again.
Today, I must finish grading.