This story begins with a young family, a father, mother and son standing in the queue at the Aduana’s office (the local Customs import office at the Terminal de Cargas, Ezeiza Airport). They are standing just in front of me, and then it is my turn, as I am next in line at the little glass window to speak with Gemena, her name and email address are pinned onto the glass. I need to speak to her in the round hole burrowed through it. (I always have to bend down for these mouth-holes, otherwise I just end up talking to glass, and myself, as all the sound just bounces back to you.)
Well, I am there because, eventually, I want to retrieve 24 bottles of wine (12 bottles from New Zealand, 6 from Santorini (Greece) and 6 bottles from Swartland in South Africa) and pay a standard import duty and probably a tax, of course. The four cases, of six bottles in each, have been shipped to Argentina from London, where I have had them consolidated for the one shipment to Buenos Aires, basically to make it easier and a bit cheaper for me. The wines have come from all over the world as you can see. Probably, they must have traveled thousands and thousands of kilometers to get to London, and then now the final 11.142.289kms (as the crow flies) to arrive here, just to get constipatedly stuck with the Aduana, as I have received a notice that the cases will not be delivered direct to my house, as planned. There is a problem?
Now, back to the family. I can hear everything, after all I am standing next to them. They have purchased their kit from one sports equipment company in Miami, on the internet. Two hockey sticks for their son (who is actually with them). A pair of hockey gloves (i guess to save the little blighter’s mits from getting bashed in) and a large sports bag to keep everything inside, dry, and in good condition for when he, or they, are next trying to chop peoples knee-caps off on the hockey field. Suddenly, Gemina, from behind the window, starts to sound like a corporal in the German army pre-45. “Go and sit there and wait to be called”. ‘By who’ the father asks. “They will let you know when they are ready to see you, just wait there”. (Basically shut up and don’t ask as we are in charge here.) So they sit down politely, looking a little stuck and pre-worried of their situation, as they are there, and in their opinion, and by the way they have never been here before, just to collect their sticks and stuff, pay some tax and then go home safe and sound, end of story. They all have cellphones, of course, so they buckle down and begin what is these days the ritual glare of screen light upon freshly scrubbed white middle-class faces, which of course are about to turn red with anger with the conversation that they are about to have with the customs officer present, over their sporty import. And if they do, get angry that is, they will lose their kit, and their will to live. Not just lose the sticks, the gloves, the bag, but the goddam World Cup Argentine Hockey Championships over the next 99 years, along with the, well earned, father’s salary to pay for the dam things in the first place.
Look, I have been here before, actually several times over the years for various imports both vinous, lactose and fruital, so I do have a small idea of what is going on here, or not going on as the case may be, however awful it may sound or actually be. But the Argentine Aduana here like to create new laws and new tariffs ‘willy-nilly’, and on a 24 hour basis of renewal. So to say, that I have the knowledge of what is about to take place for both me and the hockey family is out of order. As we are both entering the Wolf’s lair (I do mean Canis lupus and not the big house in the mountain where Herr Adolpfo H. took up residence during 1939-1945). My turn now, “Please wait to be summoned” Gemina politely and non-commitadely tells me thru the little hole. So I take a seat, and of course remember that this kind of ‘Tramite’ (procedure) can take hours and sometimes a whole day to complete. So we sit there like naughty children waiting to be summoned by the headmaster, sorry mistress, who is in this moment only preparing a cold dish out of hell for whatever punishment fits the bill, as it where. Just remember William, do not get angry. I really want to see these bottles and taste their contents, and not, as they are planning from behind that office door marked ‘Aduana, knock before entering’, to arrange some huge fine for me that I do not want to pay, so that they can keep the wines for their Xmas festivities at home. Yes, they do that. Maybe they are also thinking about giving the hockey kit to their own children as Santa Claus comes down the chimney, again for them, this Yuletide.
One hour and fifteen minutes later, there is a rustle of activity. Have we really been here that long? Yes! From behind the Customs office door, we can hear people talking and laughing. I then learn that they have all just returned from eating their lunch, that started at 12.30, and now they will drink a coffee or a mate, who knows? and of course do tons of whattsupp messages to waste more of our time, but nothing to do with helping our little patient gang waiting here in the waiting room, for some kind of attention, and obviously me too.
On my part, we arrived there at midday, with my friend Federico who kindly said he would accompany me as he has a car, and as this office is approximately 50kms outside of the city where we all live. Now we are at 14.30 hours+ and nothing has actually happened. Except our bums are getting hard and the look of the security woman’s face in the waiting room is beginning to become a little nauseous. She just stands there and glares, hour after hour, day after day. I want to kill myself. In fact I want to kill her too.
The family before me with the hockey equipment are still whattsuPPing away and of course are next in line, infront me. Ahhhh, at last, they have been summoned. In they go. Looking tired but positive, as one needs to be before the big dressing down. Minutes later, maybe? I have lost all aspect of time by now. “Hancock”. Ahh, me already, are you sure? great I can go in. The office has three grey desks with six to eight people hovering around them, the majority of the customs officers are mature women all with their noses buried into their Apple cellphones. Wow! A lady sitting at desk number 3, almost Siamesed-twinned to the lady sitting next to her at the same desk, summons me over with my envelope full of documents with regards to this import. Her summoning is with an authoritative wave of the hand only, “come here”. ”Good afternoon” I say. She takes my envelope of documents and looks at her computer screen to marry up the necessary numbers and to make sure we are all talking the same kind of language (as it where). ”Why are you importing these wines into Argentina”. Because I am wine drinker and I am looking forward to drinking these wines at home and with my friends”. How do I know you are not going to re-sell them she asks me. Well I don’y know that you don’t know that, but Umm, because I don’t want to sell them, I want to drink them, I say. “Why is there a wine here from Greece?” What’s it like? she asks. I do not know yet, as I have not tried it. But I have to tell you that I am also a wine merchant and have been for the past 35 years. I have good knowledge that the wines from Santroini are quite superb these days, and not expensive either. Ahhh … more bashing away continues between her computer and the whatssuPPy machine. Whatssupp is winning by the way. Minutes go by, nothing. Jokes and banter between them all continues, over football, politics and dirty jokes. This does just about sum something up here. Her attention is then drawn to my import invoice. She asks me why is the label on the Greek wine, that has been shipped here, different from the wine listed on the invoice. I take a look at the bill and tell her it is in fact the same wine. The front label on the bottles reads Mantinia (and also ‘Fine Lees Contact’, all in English), which, by the way, is a Protected Designation of Origin within the wine producing world of Greece. Yhry have been making wines there for well over 5,000 years. The wine does contain, thank goodness, the grape Moschofilero, that no one has really heard of outside of Greece, unless you are in the wine-know, grapevine, of course. There is a back label, on the bottle, that describes this, but it is of course all written in Greek. Ahh she says. I always wanted to try wine from Greece. I am silent. She says, you know we cannot let this wine into Argentina don’t you? Why I ask? politely. ”Because it may contain some dangerous chemicals and substances detrimental to your health. Ahhh I say. But madam, sorry what is your name please. ”Miriam”. Okay, Miriam this wine is pure, it is a natural white wine, macerated on it’s skins for a few weeks and then non-filtered bottled. There are no additives in it at all to speak of. For me it a dream wine. But please what concern is it of yours of what wine I drink at home and from where? “I am here to protect your health”, she tells me. I say you must be joking with me. In my head I am rapidly going through all the awful chemically made Argentine wines that the populous drink here on a daily basis. Maybe she thinks Argentine chemicals are better than the ones made outside of Argentina, uffffA. Somehow I do not think so. I think she is betting on me cow-bowing to her idea that she is being genuine and seriously taking care of another person’s potential health problems. Miriam (by the way who weighs in at close to 80ks as do all her colleagues), I ask, how long have you worked here? 27 years she tells me. So you have a lot of experience here, I imagine, to make an intelligent judgement of me and the wine that I have purchased and shipped here, at some expense, and to make this as simple an exercise as possible, why on earth would William Hancock be buying and importing a poisonous wine for him to drink at his dining room table? and want to poison his friends? Back to Whatsuppp she goes. The Siamese twin has not left her cellphone since I have present. As if absolutely nothing has any more importance to them, other than what they read on whatssupp. Anyway.
I have now been sitting in front of Miriam and her chum here for an hour and we have gone nowhere, at all, with any progress of anything. By now I know dam well that I will have to pay a duty and a tax, no problem, and some some piric fine, but how much are they drumming up, only God knows. The difficulty now is that time is running out. Because the bank where you have to deposit the duty/tax/fine money is closing in 5 minutes time and we have not even begun the rigmarole of authorizing the import, or for that matter inspecting that the bottles are not broken or damaged in anyway. She looks back at me again, or should I say a half glare without moving her head. ”I want you to begin the ‘tramite’ again, and this time with the correct grape name on the import document”. Oh no Miriam, please Miriam not that. I explain to her that it has take the best part of two months to get these bottles together, from their various countries of origin (including a Greek island) and to have them shipped down here. When they arrived at Ezeiza a little over 4 weeks ago now, I was told that I need authorization and inspection by the Institute of Vitivinicola. Their office, by the way, is back in town. She says I am not allowing you take your wine away, ever, until you have our full, paid, permission and have re-done all the paperwork, and that it is in order. I start to go a little red but do not show any anger at all, most important here. Huge breath out from me, i get up and say ”okay”. Of course, I have no option. On my way out of the office, the family with the hockey stick import are as cool as cucumbers, but I can tell there is a big problem for them too. They look sick. Just a wee point at this stage about my import. The two South African wines, on this shipment, the labels are all written in Afrikáans, and have absolutely very little bearing as to what is written on the shipping invoice so as just to make it simpler, one thought, for the safe arrival and delivery. Yet there is no mention of this at all (if you look at the photo of the bottles you will see clearly what I am getting at). It is all about the Greek wine.
Well, I drive back to the city with Federico. And we go direct to the office of Vitivinicola, which thank god, is still open for 5 more minutes when we arrive. The girl behind this window tells me that there is a new law on wine imports. You can ship a minimum of U$1,000 of value, no more than 6 different labels of wine, and that you need our (Vitivinicola) analysis with each different wine. I tell the girl that this is for ‘private consumption’ only and that I am already within the perimeters of the law. This shipment value is €650 euros and 24 bottles with enough different labels on them. She shrugs her shoulders and tells me that if the Aduana have requested this, then I must adhere to their request only.
Okay, me looking totally dumbfounded and exhausted. She then says she will help me. You have to follow a government web page and fill out all the necessary, and she writes down what I need to do. I go back to my office and type out the webpage. The AFIP (Administracion Federal de Ingresos Publicos) web page tells me that it is ‘temporarily out of order’. Fuck!! I then try the next day, no change there at all, still not working. Then, 2 days later (by the way I am incurring huge storage fees at the Terminal de Cargas on them taking care, apparently, of the four cases, whilst the wines are just sitting there, waiting for the transit to end)
It is now the weekend, so first thing on Monday morning I return to her office and explain that the website does not work. She checks it out and agrees with me. ”Leave me all the documents and I will do them for you, from here’. Wow! A big smile from me and many thanks. I am also now thinking, as one does, that she will need a gift. Maybe a bottle of Johnny Rotten Walker Black Label. ” I will call you when they are ready”, she tells me. A week goes by and eventually the phone rings. Now, today, is the following Friday. She tells me that they are ready, the correct paperwork. But i must still fill out a form on another government website that is up and working well. So I go back to the office and do the form. 8 pages of personal data that has little bearing on what we are trying to accomplish here, but what the hell. Print print print. I now have in my hot and sweaty paws, pages of documents to show Miriam back at Customs HQ.
Monday morning now, and i head back to Ezeiza with my friend. This time well before midday so as to avoid, not only the dam rush hour, but the nosh up period. Miriam spy’s me and greets me with a smile, as if we are old friends, in the waiting room. I get up thinking this means, follow me into the office, however I am wrong. The door is closed in my face and Gemina, remember her? behind the glass windows tells me to sit down and wait my turn. Ah okay. Half an hour later, nothing. People go in and and people go out through the grey customs office door. The same security lady stands there glaring away. Oh my god. Another 30 minutes pass and as if time has stood still, Gemina says that I can go in now. How she knows I do not know. I heard nothing exceptional. I knock on the door, tentatively, open it and inside is just like it was two weeks ago with the same people and the same attitudes and the same sameyness. Apple phone heaven for these people. I take a seat and Miriam begins with, and with the look of a caring mother on her face, ”you know that I am only trying to help you, don’t you”. Inside i feel rage growing, but keep my calm and explain that I now have all the documents that she had requested. Minutes go by. There is much close inspection to all the paperwork, the signatures the various stamps that have been applied to them and the correct the dates. Finally she tells me to go and pay $8.000pesos to the cashier in the office next door. Yes! Phew, i think we are on the move now. I pay the amount over the counter, next door, and the lady tells me that I now have to get this document authorized by another office, called Oficina Rezago Aduana (this is the office where they need to authorize imports that have been held up in this kind of tramite). It also happens to be 1.5kms away from the Customs office. And you can only get there by foot as it is inside the airport campus, and happens to be the last building on the horizon. Off I go. I find the office eventually, with a lot of asking as their are no signs to help the weary. On the the 3rd floor of a very very grey building, there is a woman sitting in an almost empty office that looks like a public bathroom (and smells like one too), and she is sitting at her computer terminal. I hand over the paperwork, she reads it and taps two or three keys on the computer keyboard and hands me back the paperwork. ”Is that it?” i ask. ‘Yes’, she says. Don’t you need to stamp something on the document. ”No”. Off i head back to see Miriam. Guess what. They are now all at lunch. So, I am not going to hang around now for 2 to 3 hours for them to digest their sausage and mash, so i head back to the city with Feds.
Next day. This has to be the day. Please!! I leave even earlier, no breakfast this time. The same procedures as before. Eventually, I find myself with Miriam again. She confirms that all is now in order, and go and pay $22.500 into their bank account at Banco Nacion. Good. I now know I am out of the clinches of the dear Aduana office. Also, the final number was probably 10.000pesos less than I was prepared for, to pay. So off i head, the bank is also a long walk. 9 blocks away. I pay the fee. The receipt they gave me, proves that the duty and taxes on the cases have all now been paid up, including the fine, and I can begin the next part of the extraction procedure. Almost like trying to get blood out of a stone.
Next stop. the Terminal de Cargas. Stamp stamp stamp. Please take this form to another building for authorization, I am told. Off I go. stamp stamp, and a squiggle or two this time. Please now go and see Gonzalo. “Sorry where do i find Gonzalo?”. He is in a little booth next to the warehouse where your wines are being held. ”Where is that please?” Building 22. Okay thank you, ciao!
Off I plod. Why is that I am putting on so uch weight these days with all this good exercise going on? Eventually finding 22. A bleep bleep of a scan and the man tells me to go to bay number 10 and retrieve the consignment (the four cases). Now look at this. I find bays 5 and 6, and follow on to number 7. There is no number 10?, it stops at 7. I ask one the warehouse boys in number 7 where is warehouse or bay number 10??, and they tell me that it is now part of number 2. Ahhh, I see. Off I go to number two. I hand the paperwork to the warehouse manager and he tells me to wait there. I am now outside the warehouse and it is starting to rain. I did check the weather forecast the previous evening, so i was totally prepared to bring an umbrella with me. Forklift trucks buzz abound, like bees to honey. Lorries reverse in and lorries reverse out. Now it is just another waiting game, of course. And as usual I just wait and wait, where I have been told to wait, and with great, great expectations. Suddenly at high speed, can you believe this, a forklift truck shoots out with a small broken wooden palate with a black plastic bag covering up the contents. The manager tells me that it is mine. I follow the truck and the guy dumps the palate on a siding. And reverses as if he has just dropped bails of hay into a barn. I tell him that the palate has glass bottles on it, and please can you put the palate down gently and undercover, this time, in the bay so that I can take the cases out, dry. He does this without blinking and with a little more care. I rip away the black plastic and am relieved to see 4 little cardboard cases, no breakages at all. No signs of wine having been spilt. So I start to remove the cases and the manager says ”stop stop”. He tells me, ”You must remove the whole palate and the cases, and take it with you”. But sir, my car is in the car park and if my friend and I carry two cases each, we can get out of here. Nice and easy. ”No”. The law is that you must remove in ONE UNIT the whole consignment. I ask my friend Federico if he would mind going to get the car and bring it here. Minutes later the little motor car is reversing up to the bay and we open the boot. I start to gather the 4 cases within the plastic so that we can leave the palate behind, as it is not needed. The manager says again ”NO”,”you must take it all with you. All of it? ”Yes, all of it. “But the palate does not fit inside the boot of this car Sir”. He now looks and sees reason and eventually helps to put the packing, without the dam palate into the back of the car, the boot. We are nearly home and dry. We now just need the authorization of the control, exit barrier, to leave the campus. The man looks inside the boot and gives us, thankfully for us, the nod. Thumbs are uP. Home and almost dry with 24 bottles of interesting wine from various hemispheres. I am exhausted, totally.
Thanks for reading this, if you did? I will buy you a drink next time I am in town, whichever town that could be. And now just to finish this week’s little bugger of a travel bloggy. I want to share with you, that I also once shipped a whole Parmesan cheese to Argentina, from Emiglia Romana, Italy. Yes, all 35kilos of a wonderful 2008 Parmiggiano, for the first time in history, a big bugger of a wheel of a cheese crossed the pond. I had to get SENASA (Servicio Nacional de Sanidad y Calidad Agroalimentaria) to guarantee it’s entry, also a Vetenirary certificate and a certificate of authenticity, even though any big cheese fan will know that the rind, on this ‘cheese of Kings’ or ‘King’s of cheeses’, is stamped all over with Italian Denominazione Originata Controllata Guarantita. The best passport in the world. So what happened? I had to go through hell and a lot of goodwill to get them to release the ‘wheel’. It`s a very long story so we will leave it for another day, or until the afterlife, for that matter. But it ended up being sold to a local chef, to recuperate the high fees I ended up paying to get it through the customs. Final destination was an inaugeration of a cooking show on the television, hosted by chef Donatis. He loved it and so did the audience, a lot!
Finally, sort for this, there was also a time when I was on a business trip, when I packed two, 2kilo bags of Waitrose Cox’s Orange Pippin apples in my luggage to enjoy at home, and to show friends, what an English apple actually tastes like (not the two varieties of rubbish that we can buy here), as no one had tried one before or even knew that England has maybe 200 different varieties of apples growing each year. When my bags passed through the Xray machine coming through the Ezezia airport. The customs lady asked me to open a bag. I asked her why, and she had seen an organic glare, or something, on her Xray screen. So she whipped out of the bag, the ‘organic’ apples and told me that these were forbidden to enter Argentina. I asked her why as they were only organgic apples for me to eat at home. She took the apples and told me to follow her to her office. Inside the office was a large blue plastic container, full of horrible looking blue liquid. Something that maybe used in a portable loo. Anyway, she took out a large sharp knife and chopped up the apples in front of me, with gusto, and threw the little harmless pieces into the vile liquid. I asked for a receipt, which she duly filled out and have kept as a memento. What she did not know was that there was another bag of apples packed in a different suitcase. I won! God they were delicious, but not golden thank goodness.
One final, final and I promise you ditty here, and then I can go and kill myself. And this is about kissing. Yes kissing or pecking on the cheek. I worked out that I must have spent close to 7 hours just sitting and waiting to finish my wine tramite in Ezeiza, the other day (s). Whilst pondering and observing as one does, I managed to calculate that in those seven hours (which is 420 minutes) at least 56 of those minutes that I spent waiting for my turn, where taken up by the customs officers and staff doing there ritual greetings and kissing, or pecking on the cheek which is an Argentine way of saying hello. It can be to close friends, strangers, even maybe? customs officers. As the office workers come in and go out, kiss kiss and kiss. And sometimes chat chat and chat. When I visit my bank in the city, La Nacion, once a month to normally pay my rent, I always end up waiting an inordinate amount of time to do very little. Except just to hand over some ready cash to pay my rent and receive a receipt for having done so. I worked out in one of those waitings, in the bank, and normally it can last up to one hour, very rarely less and sometimes more, a lot more which is why I always take a book to read with me. So at least 19 to 21 minutes of that hour_ that I wait in the bank, my time, is spent sitting on my butt as the cashiers kiss, peck and chat their way through their day. Why not I ask? We are totally irrelevant even though we are of course their customers. They all kiss each other, over and over again, I think even when they leave for the bathroom. Please double check this, I am not saying it is a bad thing at all, in fact it quite charming to greet ones’s fellow workers, maybe a stranger, maybe a policeman/woman, with a kiss on the cheek, I do not know another country in the world that does do this. But it does have something with a sense of invasion of other people’s personal space. They (as above) seem to require this. In fact it is such a strong code, it could be the only lasting thing that actually holds together the populous. Without this, there could be sharp knives or pistols at dawn. Jaw jaw jaw, not war war war! W.C
Yes, I could see in the Customs office, they were all squashed together. Yes, I can see in the bank that has an open plan office. In the large room there must be up to fifty bank workers all squashed into a space really fit for 25 to 30 people, or less even. If you visit the beach in Mar de Plata during the summer. There you will see an extreme of people lying and sitting on top of each other. It is incredible. The final one would be in my current favorite eatery, ‘Roux’. It is a small, top, restaurant on a corner. There are fifteen small tables, normally set in covers of two. The elbow room between my table and the next is so lacking that I could pick up the salt and pepper off my neighbors table and they would not even notice that I have done this. As for their conversation, well I can hear everything, and I mean I can hear them chomping and breathing, and I really wish I did not have to.
A world survey has just been completed of the top ten countries in the world that do not appear to need too much personal space. Argentina is number ONE (a surprise!)
Top 10 | The Nationalities that may just invade your space
Argentina – 77cm
Peru – 80cm
Bulgaria – 81cm
Ukraine – 86cm
Austria – 88cm
Slovakia – 89cm
Russia – 89cm
Greece – 91cm
Serbia – 92cm
Italy – 93cm
Who is coming on next year’s Wine Cruise to Croatia?
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