SermonsKai Kirichai

Decompressing with Tuti in Lujan de Cuyo

Photo taken from back seat of a man with gray hair in an orange checked shirt driving and a woman in a red shirt with medium length gray hair in passenger seat.  In the distance you can see the lower ranges of the Andes Mountains
Tuti took us on a drive to the foothills of the Andes Mountains.

I was surprised to find out that I took so few pictures when we visited Michael’s friend Tuti Berlak. Because I remember my time with her and her daughter Maia was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

On the night before we flew to Mendoza from Buenos Aires. I finally took my braids down from the wedding hairdo. I had discovered, as the bruise from my fall in Medellin faded, that I had a hematoma in the center of the bruise (and still have it as of this writing), which explains why it hurt so much to move that thigh muscle. When I googled around to find out info about hematomas, I discovered that you’re not supposed to fly with them. I had already taken three flights , but thought I should check in with my doctor. He told me to take 325 mg of aspirin—which means I was kind of nauseous for the rest of my trip.

Mendoza is a city near the foothills of the Andes, and is cooler than Buenos Aires. Lujan de Cuyo, where Tuti and her daughter Maia live, is even closer, so the weather is cooler yet, although warm by our standards during the day. Here’s the view flying in:

Tuti has an interesting history. Like many of Michael’s friends from Tel Aviv University and Kerem Shalom, she left Argentina during the Dirty War. In the late 1970s, she left for Mexico, where she met her ex and they ended up in jail for because of their political activities against the Argentinian military regime. The Israeli Embassy got Tuti out, but her ex was Argentinian and had no one to advocate for him. While he was in jail, he made this plaque and gave it to Michael as a gift, which we have in our small collection of Che Guevara tchotchkes.1 Mexico deported them both as political exiles to Sweden. Before they split they had their two daughters, Anahi and Maia. Tuti moved back to Argentina.

She now lives near the her parents’ summer cottage. Below is the view outside of her current home. Even though this post will be shorter than the others, I think my time with Tuti and her daughter Maia was one of my favorite parts of the trip. They are relaxing people, and sitting on the porch with them and their two big old dogs, was just what I needed.

Tuti’s daughter Anahi is an artist and the room where we slept was full of her mosaics. Below are some of her instagram photos of the pieces in our bedroom, following a picture of herself. You also might want to check out her Instagram feed.

In both Uruguay and Argentina we learned the importance of mate (pronounced MAH-tay). On the plane to Montevideo, we sat across from a guy who asked the flight attendant to fill his thermos with hot water, and then sipped for the rest of the flight. Tuti told us the that Argentinian stereotype Uruguayans as always walking around with a thermos in one arm and a mate cup in the other.

Although Sandra had given me a few sips of her mate , I really learned how to drink it with Tuti. You fill the cup with dry leaves and then push them back with a bombilla until there is a small space to pour water. Then you sip the water with the dual purpose bombilla like the ones below.

5 metal straws with objects at end for mashing dried leaves in tea
Mariano-J, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuti told us that the drinking mate is meant to be done socially, with everyone sharing the same cup. At the height of the Covid pandemic, when she went to meetings, people brought their own cups, but she said it wasn’t the same. Mate is an acquired taste. It’s bitter, like coffee and tea, but I acquired it.

woman with sleeveless blue top and gray hair prepares cup of mate.
Tuti telling us about mate with Maia in the background.

Before we left, reluctantly, on my part, anyway, I decided it was time for the last remnants of the wedding hairdo to go away. For our departure to Chile from the Mendoza airport the next morning, I was wearing my normal braids.

  1. Michael wishes me to point out that tchotchkes are called chochchadas in Nicaraguan Spanish. He also thinks the fact that we have a Dome of the Rock replica made by a Palestinian political prisoner means we have a collection of political prisoner tchotchkes. ↩︎