The beer arrives in quart bottles. That is the way beer is
served in Argentina. I would like a beer. Here, my friend, have a
quart. The steak that accompanies the beer is the size of a mag
wheel on a Chevy pickup truck. Maybe larger. The edges of the
steak hang over the sides of the plate, touching the white
tablecloth. The fries, the papas fritas, that accompany the steak
are piled six inches high on a separate dish. There are no
vegetables. No lettuce rears its leafy head. This is dinner, plain
and cholesterol simple. The time is one o'clock in the morning.
``Are we crazy?'' you ask.
``We are in training,'' I reply.
The restaurant, El Palacio del Bife in Mar del Plata, is filled.
The local athletes are also at the 1 a.m. training table, ordering
their own mag-wheel steaks and mountains of papas fritas. The
restaurant features bife, bife and more bife. Bife in all its
forms. Some of the local athletes, on second look, are ordering
bife tongues and bife intestines and bife blood sausages. These
athletes obviously are at a much higher stage of development than
we are. We are only starting out on this Argentine route to
athletic triumph. The success of Argentina's athletes, especially
in team sports and especially against the U.S. in the XII Pan
American Games at Mar del Plata, has been a spur to personal
``Are we going to have to smoke, too?'' you ask, noticing the
fine haze that hangs over most tables.
``We'll start slowly, but we'll build up to two packs a day,'' I
reply. ``We have to have our nicotine.''
The idea of eating so late in the night, a foreign thought only
16 days ago, has now become a given. Eat heavy. Eat late. Light
up. Chill out. Win a gold medal.
In one stretch of the Games, which concluded Sunday, we saw
Argentina beat the U.S. in football, baseball, basketball and
hockey. Admittedly the football really was futbol (soccer), and
the hockey was roller hockey, and the baseball and basketball
teams representing the U.S. were less than grand, but results are
results. Those were people in the sky-blue and white stripes of
this country celebrating against the red, white and blue of our
country -- and never with more gusto than at the end of the
basketball gold medal game. Combine that with a surprising gold
medal in men's volleyball against a strong U.S. team, the crowd of
8,000 singing through the entire deciding fifth set, plus the
utter domination by Argentina of clay-court tennis -- both men's
and women's, singles and doubles -- and you have to study what is
What are these people doing differently? What can we learn from
the lifestyle here?
``Pass the rolls and butter?'' you ask.
``Now you're getting the idea,'' I reply.
The daily lifestyle seems to roll along quite nicely, disregarding
any dozen of the U.S. surgeon general's decrees at any given time.
Entire days are spent at the beach, bodies stretched under the
sun, lotions and sunblocks forsaken, skin cancers forgotten, waves
pounding the shore. Driving is done without the benefit of seat
belts and stop signs, everyone just hurtling along, yet somehow
reaching his or her destination. A little nap is just fine in the
late afternoon or maybe the early evening. Dinnertime is midnight,
at the earliest; the restaurants don't even open until nine.
Dinner is beef. Sleep follows dinner at two or three or four in
A late-1950s innocence seems to envelop Mar del Plata. Or maybe
the rules simply are different in a different hemisphere,
everything turned upside down, like the water traveling in a
clockwise path into the drain. Neighborhood dogs roam the streets
without worry or concern or leashes, even outside the Gran Hotel
Provincial, the headquarters for the Games. Buses, obviously
without strict emission controls, ride past in a smoky blur, the
carbon monoxide mixing with the sea air. The two types of stores
that are everywhere downtown, almost one per block, open 24 hours
a day, sell either ice cream or chocolate. Four o'clock in the
morning, and there still are customers buying ice cream and
chocolate. Twelve noon. More ice cream and chocolate. Anytime.
In this environment the Argentine athletes seem to flourish. They
cover the normal range of athletic heights and weights and sizes,
but in these two weeks they have distinguished themselves with
their success at so many different sports. They have made these
Games a showpiece for their culture. Every day the newspapers
string the news of another Pan American triumph across the front
``But haven't we won the most medals of anyone down here?'' you
``Yes,'' I reply, ``but not in the glamour sports. Football,
baseball, basketball and hockey. Field hockey, too, I might add.
The Argentines have whipped us in all of them at least once, and
have whipped enough other countries to finish fourth in the medal
standings. Now eat your bife and drink your quart of beer.''
COLOR ILLUSTRATION:EVANGELOS VIGLIS [man made-up of a steak face, beer mug body, and link sausage legs smoking a cigarette while holding a plate of food]