On the Gringo Trail

If you wan­der into any half­way de­cent bar in Buenos Aires you’ll think a su­per­model con­ven­tion is in town. It’s hard to gen­er­alise about the ‘Paris of the South’ be­cause it’s so big, but the porteños are on the whole stylish, well dressed and good-look­ing


As the hours go by the land­scape be­gins to change al­most im­per­cep­ti­bly. The first dry coun­try be­gins to ap­pear — a palm here, a patch of thorny aca­cia there. Tar­mac roads be­gin to dis­solve into thick bush and talc-like dust, and pal­metto be­come more and more fre­quent. There are birds of prey ev­ery­where, fal­cons, hawks and caracaras hang­ing in the sky. The oc­ca­sional es­tancia can be seen, low set with big eaves. When it rains here, it rains.

The farm break­fast the next morn­ing is smoky pancetta, fried heuvos and cof­fee. We head out to scout for birds. With us is Etan, a two-year-old vis­zla, and we hit it off fa­mously. He’s a great lit­tle dog — and I mean lit­tle, barely two-thirds the size of a typ­i­cal show win­ner. He has only two in­ter­ests in life, play­ing with me and find­ing perdiz.

Mys­tique is a much-abused word. Some ac­tors are sup­posed to have it, but usu­ally don’t get to keep it for long. When you’re 15, the girl next door has it, but alas, that too fades. Perdiz have man­aged to keep their far­away mys­tique for a long time. Like Africa, South Amer­ica calls her ban­tam-sized game birds perdiz or ‘par­tridge’, but they sim­ply aren’t: they are not re­lated to true game birds but are more ex­otic and in­ter­est­ing than that. Tech­ni­cally they are tinamou, rel­a­tives of the rhea, large flight­less birds sim­i­lar to os­trich and emu.

Be that as it may, the lo­cals on the es­tancia call them perdiz. When the first sod of the pam­pas was turned these birds never looked back. They thrive on seed and shoots and so the cul­ti­vated land of the set­tlers was a bless­ing to them. They hold fairly well for a point­ing dog, though it’s not un­com­mon to fol­low scent for 50 or 100 m either. A sticky dog that stays locked up on point is not much use. The take-off whirr of wings is dis­tinc­tive.

Perdiz are truly the last great un­known pastime for wannabe gen­tle­men. The coun­try is flat and easy, ideal for a good point­ing dog. The birds are nu­mer­ous, and the hunt­ing is done in the cool of win­ter, May through July. It’s no great shakes to pick up half a dozen or so in a few hours, enough to feed a de­cent ta­ble.

There are many game birds out there that are good to eat. Quail can be won­der­ful. Africa boasts many species of francolin that are much the same, only big­ger. How­ever, none are bet­ter than perdiz as a ta­ble bird. They are sim­ply de­li­cious in ev­ery way — sweet, ten­der >>

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