Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Embracing the Wine Penguin

I thought today I'd bring you a travel-related post, since I haven't done so in quite awhile. It's not really about travel per se, but rather about a particular type of souvenir I sometimes bring back from my travels, and the meaning this kind of thing holds for me.

What you see here is what I affectionately call the Wine Penguin. I got it from a cheap housewares store in Buenos Aires, sort of a dollar store kind of affair but a step up in quality. The Wine Penguin cost me about $3, but its monetary value was ridiculously disproportionate to how much effort it took me to carefully pack and transport it through 2 flights and 18 hours' worth of airports, planes, security, and customs. Why all the fuss for a cheap ceramic pitcher, you ask? Well, because the Wine Penguin falls into a very special category of souvenir for me, the Quirky Local Thing category.

This type of pitcher is seen in almost every wine-dispensing restaurant in Argentina; sometime the pitchers are left plain white or brown, sometimes they are intricately hand painted, and often they bear the logo of the restaurant that uses them. It makes sense, too -- Argentina does have plenty of penguins, particularly down in the Patagonia region. And who could fail to be charmed by the sight of a plucky little penguin barfing wine into your glass? Jess and I certainly were, and soon we were noticing these pitchers pretty much everywhere we went.

Bringing a Wine Penguin home wasn't necessarily on the agenda the way my Republica Argentina buttons were, but when I saw one in the store I knew it was the perfect souvenir; something I could use all the time, that would remind me of my trip, and that was obscure enough that it made for a good story. The penguin was a Quirky Local Thing that I became familiar with through my time spent in Buenos Aires, and bringing one home was a way to integrate part of that local flavor into my everyday life. It isn't a blatant souvenir, it's just a little inside joke I share with Jess and with Argentina, and now with you. And that is the essence of the Quirky Local Thing: it's generally an everyday object that would easily be recognized by local people, but wouldn't get much notice from anyone else; it's a stealth souvenir.

It should be noted that Mark has not yet embraced the Wine Penguin. In fact, I think it's fair to say that he doesn't really see the point of the Wine Penguin. But every time I see it standing there waiting to pour me another glass, red wine dripping down its beak like a trickle of blood, I'm back in Buenos Aires at a rustic parrilla, with tango music and the smell of grilled beef in the air. My Wine Penguin is a small bit of Argentine culture transplanted to a little Victorian-style kitchen in San Francisco.

For more adventures with Wine Penguins, see the blog posts below. It seems I'm not the only one with a penchant for penguins!

from BrennerWorld: Penguins and wine go together, you just don't know it yet!
from Tableconversation: A Penguin to the Rescue
from Underground Art Blog: Terroir, Penguins, and Parrillas: The Inconsistent Pleasures


LPC said...

Cute. I love weird stuff from faraway places. My son is in Argentina right now and I just sent him this link:).

C said...

Okay, I'm so jealous that you bought a wine penguin!!! When I was in Argentina I loved those little guys, but didn't even think to buy one and bring it back. If I'm ever in the Bay Area, we'll have to have a glass of wine together. :)

Eyeliah said...

Oh great souvenir category, this guy is adorable. I will be sure to be on the lookout for this time of thing in my future travels.

Sheila said...

I love it! What an awesome souvenir.

Steffi said...

aaaw, I want one, too! the things you thought you never needed :)

Healthy and Homemade said...

I want, I want!!

Anonymous said...

We just got back from Buenos Aires and spent our last morning there searching for a Penguino with no luck! Where in Buenos Aires was the store where you found this? I have a friend still living in BsAs and maybe she can bring one home for me!

Audi said...

Anonymous: I got it at an inexpensive store on Avenida Santa Fe in the Palermo Hollywood neighborhood (somewhere between Arevalo and Bonpland, probably closer to Arevalo). It sells household items, mainly kitchen stuff, gadgets and so on.

Unknown said...

Hi all,
Found this link as I trying to do some shopping for a wedding gift, and in addition to putting together a case of wine, wanted to throw in one of these iconic pitchers as well. I’d like to share with you a little back story on the penguin pitcher, as most passing through argentina come into contact with them, but hardly ever get the back story.
I spent several months recently working in an organic winery in Mendoza and was gifted, upon request, one of these jarra penguino. More than just a fashion statement, there were in argentinian history a very practical part of the lifestyle. Today these pitchers occupy more of a fashion usage than a practical one and can be seen all over pop-culture; hip restaurants to music videos. The wine industry and culture in Argentina has changed extensively over the past 20 years. Today, like much of the tourist and international taste-catering wine regions of the world, you can find bottle by 750ml bottle of very thing from popular Rhône and Bordeaux wines like Riesling or Pinot Noir (not actually a wine historian, so don't quote me on those origins) to local Malbec and Torrante being grown and exported from the land of the gaucho. Before Argentina opened up to a world of very interested wine drinkers, the varieties were more thought o like 'white' 'red' 'sweet' 'dry' “creollo”, etc... not too many cared too much about what exactly they were drinking, because before soft drinks, it was mostly wine, water, and things like mate. Back then, when the per capita consumption of wine was about 3 or 4 times what it is today, wine came in 5 liter jugs known as Dama Juanas, something you shared with the family, and kept around for probably longer than you should have. Only one problem with poring wine from a 5 liter jug into an individual glass: it isn’t an easy thing to do. Seeing this opportunity, people naturally began portioning wine for daily use into small pitchers, which could comfortably fit on the table and be poured by an individual without having to wrestle with a heavy 5 liter Dama Juana. Some 50 or 60 years ago these penguin pitchers appeared and became a national symbol, not only for its tacky-ness and possible links to Patagonian national identity, but, as aforementioned, because of pure practical need. Just a tid-bit of interesting history that most travelers don’t have a chance to pick up on their way through Buenos Aires.

The Adamski Family said...

December 2012 Buenos Aires - The Jarra de Penguino can be purchased in the San Telmo Market. Don't know the prices there. Alternatively, Calma Chica (Honduras 4909 cross street Gurachachaga) in Palmero SoHo has both the white and brown. Large were priced at $100 pesos ($20 U.S. dollars) and the small at $70 pesos ($14 U.S. dollars).