B A R R Y L A N D .



southern crossing.
verbal snapshots from my whirlwind tour of points below the equator.








things I did in 99.
how do you measure a year in the life

hedonist's paradise.
a flattering newspaper review of my music

the woods, the beach, the court, the fire.
powerful words from a modern master of the sunday sermon

sex and suits.
anne hollander talks about why the man's suit has lasted 200 years

emails from GOD.
some correctives to righteous fwds

you've heard it talked about, but what is it, and what do we do with it?

anna k.
a few luminous passages that show you why it's a certified Great Book

the sceptered isle.
diaries from my adventure in sunny england


::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::

My old college roommate Jeff Walker called me up and informed me that I would be joining him in a trip to Uruguay, where his friend Lee (with whom I'd immediately hit it off) had family. It was short notice, but I scrounged up some money and time, and off we go.


::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::


 M O N D A Y ,   M A R C H   2 0 . 

I found myself sitting in A2 next to a lovely, athletic woman with tousled blonde hair and a prominent engagement ring. I noticed she was reading Soul Harvest, book number n in the fascinating, masterful "Left Behind" series.

After introductions and small talk, God gave me an opportunity on a silver platter. The woman said, "So, what takes you to Uruguay?"

My response: "I'm a skeptical writer for a secular magazine, and I'm checking out a lead on an obscure but potentially important world leader there."

Ahhhh, the look on her face. The entire trip was worth it right there.


::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::

 T U E S D A Y ,   M A R C H   2 1 . 

It's a ten hour flight from Atlanta to Rio de Janeiro — a reminder of how deceptive the distances are. (Montevideo is further from the equator than San Antonio is.) I spent a two-hour layover in Rio haggling about my visa, and eventually — since getting from one part of the airport to the other involved technically entering Brazil — was escorted by the Brazilian Federal Police to my next flight to Montevideo.

We went to the Estevez house and met Uncle Raoul and Aunt Maria Teresa, and their son Raoul. They've got a nice little house in the sprawling plaster of Montevideo, with a large backyard area where there's a large and well-used grill — a parrilla (and remember: in Castillian Spanish you pronounce that double L like a "zh") — which was to provide us with roughly a ranch worth of parrillada. Barbecue, that is. We got cleaned up, during which process I took delight in the shower water draining clockwise. It's really true!

We went to visit some of Lee's family: his old grandmother, with a fresh scar on her forehead to warn of the perils of old age, and kindness worn into her leathery face to proclaim that old age has its rewards as well. It was obviously nourishment to her to see Lee. We then visited his grandfather on the other side of the family, a missionary originally from New Zealand. He too was worn, about 90 years old, and spoke Spurgeon English with that slight twang that always brings me memories of New Zealanders I love. On top of his shirt he wore a red plaid padded lumberjack shirt, buttoned one button off. He was in the midst of writing his memoirs, and the stories of how he shared his faith in sometimes hostile circumstances were fresh on his mind; he recounted some for us, occasionally lapsing into Spanish, and offered us tea and crackers, and prayed with us. We went out refreshed by this gentle old saint.

Back at the Estevez estate, Uncle Raoul grilled us several rounds of chivitos: steakburgers with a thin flat cut of steak and piled with tomatoes and peppers.

Then we had a delightful evening with 4 girls and 4 languages all swirling around. We met up with them downtown, where they said there was a concert going on right then, by a group called Maná, whose popularity in these parts is equivalent to 'N Sync or Backstreet Boys.

So, we went over to the stadium: a huge bicycle-racing stadium, as I gathered, where there were 20,000 Uruguayans sighing and dancing and singing along to every word. What a strange experience to realize the cultural power these musicians had, but not to feel that power over us! We were on the very fringe of the concert, in the hilly park outside the stadium, just listening to the music; but after a while, the crowd mashed down the fence and we were able to rush in and get closer — a great overview from the side of the stadium — for about the final 20 minutes of the show.

Throughout the evening I'd remembered that this was my 12,000th day on earth, and what a way to spend it: on a new continent, with dear friends, enjoying new food and new experiences. As the concert crescendoed to a close, I drank in the air of a late summer night in the southern hemisphere, with a luminous, fullish moon presiding over a scrim-clear sky, and music all around. The concert ended with a flourish of fireworks bursting overhead, and we NIOSAd through the crowd back to our car and out to a creaky bar for caipirinhas and a mess of multilingual conversation.


::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::

 W E D N E S D A Y ,   M A R C H   2 2 . 

Jeff, Lee, cousin Raoul, and I journeyed to the little town of Colonia, where we missed our ferry to Buenos Aires but enjoyed a near-perfect day of strolling around the ciudad viejo-- the historic old part of town. Then out to an Uruguayan winery, where we met the proprietor, who gave us a private tour around the vats and vineyards. By this time the setting sun was bathing the vineyard in a golden light, and as we drank wine and ate Muscatel grapes straight from the vine, Jeff and I reveled once again in our good fortune. Ahhh! a beautiful experience.

A late-night ferry to Buenos Aires, a one o'clock dinner, and a walk through the streets of a happening town. It's like being in a funky Europe. There were people at every corner handing out flyers for late-night hangouts; one guy gave us a flyer for a place called Hook, and assured Raoul — who was tired of all the historical crap and wanted to meet women — that there would be plenty on hand. When we got in, we discovered that it was the sort of place where girls sit on your lap and imply that they'll spend the night with you if you buy them just one more drink, till you're under the table.

We'd already paid our way in, though, and figured that the two-free-beers-with-admission was as good as we'd find, so we got seated and began to enjoy a fine Cuban cigar. That's when we discovered that the girls implied nothing: they made their intentions clear. My Spanish wasn't doing too well with the girl who'd chosen me — and her English was worse — so I finally said, "No Mujeres!" She got the idea, and I was left alone the rest of the evening.

Meanwhile, as Raoul was off somewhere else enjoying the view (which thankfully was at least clothed), Lee and Jeff and I decided that the only thing for guys like us to do in a place like this was give these gals a rare chance to hear about how their lives might change. Just then an English-speaking gal came up and sat on me and said, "I want to **** you for $200." I sat her down across from me and began to explain why that wouldn't happen. She was intrigued. But as soon as I said the name Jesus Christ, she said "No Jesuchristo!" and got up and left, as if she herself were one of the demons who flee at the very mention of his name.

Jeff and Lee had better luck. A girl named "Sol" ("sun"), came up, and they sat her down at our table and began talking of spiritual things, and she seemed very interested. It turns out that she'd been on and off to various churches in her life, including an evangelical one for a period. So she'd heard the gospel before; we didn't ask how she'd gotten from there to here, but did share with her a message of love and grace, with no condemnation.

She said this was the first time that anyone had ever shared the gospel with her in this place. The four of us, I imagine, were an unusual sight as we held hands and prayed around the table. Jeff asked if we could get her in contact with some evangelical Christians in Buenos Aires, and she readily agreed; she wrote down her name and number, and we noticed that she'd put her real name: Gloria.


::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::

 T H U R S D A Y ,   M A R C H   2 3 . 

Raoul and I went walking and people-watching along fashionable Florida Street, the tiled pedestrian street that forms one of the main downtown centers. Folks here are handsome — the guys and the girls — and they dress unusually well, and carry themselves with confidence.

A bit down the way we saw a keyboard and speakers set up next to a logo that said "Muchmusic." There were television cameras set up as well, and headsetted roadies running around muttering. Raoul told me that Muchmusic is a music video channel based in Argentina. They were doing one of those out-on-the-street things that MTV does occasionally in New York. People were coming up to the piano and plunking out amateurish tunes learned in childhood; so, naturally, I walked up and began playing some jazz. The crowd quieted a bit, and closed in a bit, and when I was through I got a nice round of applause and a spot on Argentinian television. I even signed a contract.

We went over to the main avenue of downtown, which had the President's House at one end and Congress at the other. We heard some commotion coming from down the street, and learned that a protest was going on outside some government building. I insisted, over Raoul's balking, that we check it out.

There were a hundred or so people standing around, some with marching-band drums, beating and yelling and sending off bottle rockets that exploded right outside the third-floor windows of this government building. As far as I could tell, they were yelling about their low wages: one of the placards said something about "social justice."

The number of cops ominously surrounding the place made Raoul nervous, so we left, and proceeded to the Argentinian version of the White House, which is actually a Pink House. Outside, there were 10 or so oldish women marching around in a slow, quiet circle, carrying a banner: these were the Mothers of the Disappeared, known there as the Mothers of May, demanding some acknowledgement from the government regarding their sons. So far their protests have been unanswered; but they march there every Thursday, as they have for 20 years or so.

We walked into the Metropolitan Cathedral, which was nearby: a lavish place, in a New World sort of way. While inside, we heard the drums and fireworks getting louder, and figured that the protest had become a march. Again flouting Raoul's better judgment, I went right into the center of the group and marched as well for a while. I guess I'd realized that Buenos Aires is a great place to be pretty and shut up, but fairly miserable if you have a brain and a mouth. He finally broke rank and pulled me with him, and we went on our way to meet the others.

That night, we went to a hotel that had advertised tango lessons.

If you're going to learn how to tango, may I recommend Buenos Aires as a good location: they dance the classic tango there, more intimate and truly sexy than the bastardized, cardboard-drama American version.

We made some new friends, and learned quite easily, but there were more men than women there, and so we had to switch off dancing with other guys. Actually, this turned out well because the guy I danced with was able to tell me how to lead effectively. But I think he may have enjoyed it too much.

Later on that night, we had a giant meal of parrillada, including kidney, colon, blood saugage, and more. Then we went dancing at an amazing club that looks like the Sydney Opera House, deconstructed. One of the best examples of architectural and interior design that I've ever seen in a club: every element was deliberate and had a glowing presence.

At one point I saw Jeff noticing this large group of rowdy people, including one loudmouthed, redfaced guy who's exactly the sort that gives fraternities a bad name. I left for a drink, and when I came back they'd made a big bellowing circle, arms around each other, and Jeffrey was right there with them. Typical!

The architecture of Buenos Aires is breathtaking. Overwrought and slightly decaying, it reminds me of Prague.


::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::

 F R I D A Y ,   M A R C H   2 4 . 

We got up early (10:30), and, after breakfast in the hotel, visited some sights we hadn't seen yet: the Teatro Colon, one of the largest theaters in the world; the Palacio del Congreso, with its Roman exuberance looking grand and slightly odd to American eyes (we prefer a more gentle classicism in our government buildings: it's rare to see chariots with rampant horses on top of our Senates and Congresses); and the gardeny, upper-class area of town where one of Jeff's law professors had grown up.

A ferry back to Colonia, where we visited our winemaker again. This time he shared some of his private reserve wine and grappa with us, and Jeff bought some little grappa bottles that he prepared especially for us. We even got to watch the worker press the wax seal on top.

From there, we headed back to Montevideo, stopping in a Swiss colony (complete with charming little gingerbread-style cottages) to get loads of cheese.

That night we went to a club where there was salsa and meringue, disco-style, till daylight, in the company of some delightful Uruguayas, again supplied by dear Maria Teresa. We had silly-dance contests, thus bringing not only a sense of fun but extreme embarrassment to the ladies.

Morning coffee and munchies with one of the girls, a lovely gal named Laura; then, on the way home, Lee took an illegal U-turn, and got pulled over. After a lengthy conversation in Spanish, we were instructed to follow the policeman to the Montevideo Police Headquarters. Jeff and I wondered how concerned we should be, and Lee's answer was "very." Apparently, it was entirely likely that they could take all our documents and throw us in jail just for the fun of it. We prayed. Fortunately, as soon as the cop found out Lee would be leaving the next day, he let us all go without even a slap on the wrist. Whew.


::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::

 S A T U R D A Y ,   M A R C H   2 5 .

We got up to a bright day and a huge lunch of nothing but meat. I calculated that I'd had more meat in one week than in the entire year 2000.

After we took Jeff to the airport, we took a walk on the spectacular beach of Rio de la Platta, several minutes outside of town. A beautiful and windy late afternoon.

That night, we went out on the town with yet more new friends. A wonderful meal of salmon (courtesy of Lee), and then a cake involving obscene amounts of dulce de leche (a thick caramel sauce) at a downtown cafe.


::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::   ::

 S U N D A Y ,   M A R C H   2 6 .

Sunday evening, after dropping Lee off at the airport, Raoul took me for a hair-raising ride through the city in his Korean-war-era American Jeep (with a hammock in place of the seat), and we picked up Patricia, a large-boned, attractive girl friend of Raoul's. She joined us back at the Estevez house for a nice long family meal — a tradition known there as sobre mesa.








n e x t   p a g e