Mendoza, Argentina
Saturday, March 2, 2013

This was a very big deal in the city of Mendoza.

In the preceding days along my wanders around the city I’d seen billboards and posters dotted around with pictures of young ladies in tiaras. They were in shopfronts, on buses, and next to scaffolding; each from a different province of Mendoza state.

All became clear (sort of) on the Saturday evening at around 11.30pm, when all of these ‘Queens’ lined up on stage in front of thousands of screaming attendees in Mendoza’s open theatre.

Vendimia is an annual festival celebrating the grape harvest for the country’s wine. With Mendoza being the wine capital, it is naturally held there. In the days before there were street parades, dancing in the city, and innumerable flyers being handed out by glamorous assistants.

On the Saturday evening various groups of people were gathered up from hostels and couriered across town to the amphitheatre. Once through the barriers, there was an enslaught of shiny paper as everyone was pampleted to sign up for this phone contract, or see how impressive the public works are, or to pick up some Mendozan paraphernalia. Each person was also handed a lottery ticket.

It was then time to take to our seats, though being an amphitheatre it was just cold stone. On stage were the crowd warmers: a lively band invigorating the audience, and various streams of dolled up people completing the conga. At 10pm our hosts took to the stage and introduced the proceedings.

For about half an hour the grinning pair theatrically read out combinations of 6 numbers which corresponded to various prizes for the lottery. With this complete (I didn’t win) the Queens from the billboards strutted across stage, waving to the vocal crowd, whilst being chaperoned by a man in traditional Argentinean dress. The ladies were wearing pretty steep heels so I guess they needed support.

Next, someone new came to the stage and began narrating the story of why wine is important in the region, and the folklore behind the harvest. He was aided by a number of colourful, and well choreographed dances at various junctures which were the main event. It was kind of similar to the London 2012 Opening Ceremony as it chronologically ran through the region’s history (though this time of wine rather than Medieval villages to the NHS).

After just over an hour and half of seeing human leaves fluttering around the arena, traditional tango, and a few pantomine dogs (never did work that out) we reached a grand finale. There was then a number of patriotic songs, rousing music, emotional images projected on screen, and everybody rose for the National Anthem and to agree how great Argentina was.

Then the Queens came out again and our hosts revealed who was to be crowned as the Poster Girl for 2013 (I’m not sure of the official title). No one seemed to quite know how this was calculated, but the couple spent about half an hour reading out the province which received the vote, corresponding Queen would step forward and wave, and a pocket of the audience would scream wildly. This became a bit repetitive so the couple mixed things up a bit by elongating syllables, and showing off how they could roll their Rs: “Saaaaannnnn RRRaaafael”, “MaaaallaRR-huay”.

It soon became clear that Malargue (pronounced “Ma-lar-hoo-ay”) was winning, followed closely by Maipu (pronounced “My-poo”..). The Queen was then crowned, gave a teary speech thanking her Mum and praising the state of Mendoza. Many hugs were shared as the 2012 Queen passed on the reigns, meanwhile the unsuccessful women applauded with fixed smiles upon their faces.

We were then treated to an excellent firework display. I’m not usually too impressed by these, but the show really was spectacular. Like huge multicoloured dandelions appearing in the night sky. There was then another round of flag waving and chanting of the Mendoza Song (I can’t imagine an English city having their population sing an anthem for their hometown). As the lights came up though, everyone filed out to Elgar’s Pomp & Circumstance. Perhaps our international relations aren’t quite as tense as first imagined.

We then walked past the plethora of food vans selling variations of fried meat in bread, and located our minivan amongst the hundreds. By 2am we set off back to the city, and completed the return effort of dropping people at their hostels.

Still not 100% what I’d just witnessed, it was then to the dorm after full day of Mendozan wine.

Open air theatre

Queen crowned

Dancing #1

Dancing #2

Dogs

Stadium

Queen #1

Queen #2

Queen #3