Montevideo on January 1st is weird. The streets are almost empty; almost EVERY place of business is closed. As you walk its streets you get the sense of a city utterly abandoned; only to momentarily come across one or two denizens seemingly walking as aimlessly as you are; or lying on a corner with a bottle still in hand, or in pairs sitting on a stoop staring blankly.
At one point, as I ventured out in search for food (no easy task with every single supermarket closed, and 99.9% of restaurants or convenience stores) I saw an old man pushing a wheelchair in the middle of the street; there were so few cars it didn't matter.
After walking about 12 blocks, I finally found that the Las Palmas bar was open; it was perhaps one of four places in the entire downtown core I was hoping might be open; I knew that the Manchester near my old place was open (and usually packed to the gills with foreigners desperate to find somewhere to eat), the "Mondo de la pizza" (with its awful pizza and sky-high prices) was also open for mostly young and stupid Uruguayans who felt like spending a small fortune on a bad meal. Just to give you some sense of context, McDonalds and Burger King were closed.
Of all the above, Las Palmas is by far the best choice; further away from the old city it was thus less packed than the Manchester, and its got some very good empanadas and some of the best coffee in the city. It has a nice patio area where I could sit and write and smoke, too. It didn't have wi-fi, but that would almost have been expecting too much; I tried to steal some from the McDonalds next door, but being closed it appeared they'd locked out their signal.
My fellow patio-goers were a couple of groups of Brazilian Tourists who were very relieved to have found somewhere to eat; and a pair of old Uruguayan drunks who were already on their third whiskey when I sat down (I proceeded to watch them down three more by the time I left). They had apparently just met, one of them being a regular there, the other complaining that his regular bar was closed today; both seemed desperate for human contact. They started to talk to me as well, in spite of my best efforts to appear busy, and when they found out I was Canadian they amusingly (in spite of my having made it very clear I'd been living in uruguay for a decade) proceeded to try to tell me all sorts of facts about Uruguay and give me advice that would have been moderately useful had this been my first week in town.
One of them, when he learned I was a writer of sorts, asked me to tell the world about how horrible and corrupt the current government and its president are; so there you have it, I'm communicating the opinion of a Uruguayan barfly who seemed highly resentful of his country. But just now, I don't have it in me to criticize Uruguay: last night's fireworks were great, and today's walk and its weird surreal sights of a city suffering a collective hangover the likes of which you'd never see in North America, and the amazing coffee and delicious empanadas and amusing people and total lack of snow put me in a great mood.
On the whole, it was a good first afternoon of 2014.
Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario + Rattray's Marlin Flake