CV: Cara Lester
Born: Tunbridge Wells, UK
Profession: Sommelier for Time Out Wine Tours and Anuva Wines.
Education: Photography degree at University College Falmouth, and sommelier training at London School of Wine and Spirits
Currently reading: Vineyard at the End of the World by Ian Mount
Last film seen: LA Confidential
Gadget: My blender
When was the first time you came to Argentina?
Two-and-a-half-years ago to visit my now-fiancé. We had been living together in Sydney, Australia, and he’s a lawyer so he came back to carry on with his career. I decided I was missing him so I decided to visit him for a quick two-week trip.
We stayed at the Sheraton and didn‘t do much apart from the touristy things. We went to Recoleta a lot, but I liked it. It was a good city with a good vibe and it’s European in its way, so it wasn’t so far removed that it would scare me.
Looking back, does that seem a fantasy world?
When I think back to that time, it seems like a completely different space, obviously. I remember coming to Palermo once, and now when I go out with my friends, they always want to go out there, and I know it best for night life.
It was only a brief holiday and we went to Mar del Plata, which is a grey cement hole by the sea. Then I carried on travelling the world. I was staying in South America for six months and decided instead of going to Ecuador or Colombia that I would squish a lot into two months, and live in Buenos Aires for four, to see how I would cope.
Could you speak any Spanish then?
At that point my Spanish was absolutely appalling although it’s still not that fantastic to be honest! So I did that whole short period, expat life, of going to an a language school and learning the basics while working out what I could do here.
Essentially there was a guy involved, but I would never consider moving to a place without having another goal to achieve.
Why were you travelling?
I was about to finish my photography degree in Cornwall in the UK but I didn’t want to get into the business. I thought it was a bit cut-throat, and I wasn’t at that stage of my life when I wanted to settle down and stop — I was still a bit of a party animal and I’d always wanted to see the world. I take after my dad — he moved aged 16 to live in Australia.
Did you stay long in any one place?
I lived in Australia for a year which is when I started to really consider getting into wine. I was also doing burlesque, which I had got into when I was studying photography. I had done a project involving burlesque dancers — there weren’t any in Cornwall — but that was the beauty of it, I could pick my own theme and get out of Falmouth! So I travelled all round the UK taking pictures of dancers and by the time I got to Sydney I missed it so much I decided I wanted to do it.
In Sydney I worked in cabaret, burlesque and arial arts for a bit and met up with this Argentine fellow I’d met in Thailand.
I also had to earn some real money and I was waitressing doing quite a lot of wine service and found that I was enjoying the wine service far more than I ever enjoyed photography. So I realized it was something to think about for the future.
What did you do in the four months in BA?
I realized the wine industry was up-and-coming and it was something I could move forward with and not just have to rely on having a relationship to keep me somewhere but also have something for myself. So it was good for me and found everyone was helpful enough that my Spanish didn’t matter an awful lot.
However, it has been the cause of quite a lot of misery and problems for me, purely in the sense if that you want to go out and make friends, you can’t talk to people, it’s impossible. It can be alienating. But the more you try, the more you know. I can understand pretty much every now although my replies might be a bit off. Or people get bored waiting for me to finish my sentence, which can be embarrassing! That’s been my only real issue being here.
Does that make you want to accumulate more foreign friends?
A lot of my friends here are expats and it wasn’t that I set out for it to be like that as it never struck me as something I wanted to be involved with. But it is easier and I do feel comfortable when I’m with expats but I avoid them to try and help myself. There are certain cultural difference as well, which Argentines can’t understand and expats can, so there is more a sense of sharing and understanding environment when you’re with people who know what it’s like to be from somewhere else.
What’s the biggest cultural difference you’ve come across?
The one I have a real problem with is the relationships between men and women. It’s divided here and in the UK I have very close male friends who may treat me like their buddy-buddy. But here, they see women as this motherly figure or put you in a different group or on a different side of the room. That really bothers me as I don’t get a lot of the mixture.
I also don’t deal with the very late nights well any more — I’m a bit of an old fart now! Call me a loser but I don’t mind going to bed early!
Where do you live?
If you take the Metrobus you come to an area called Villa Santa Rita. Have you ever been out there?
It’s really nice and and it’s kind of fun going out there, because as soon as I start speaking people get excited and ask me where I’m from, instead of thinking “oh, another bloody tourist bastard” in Palermo.
I hate to say it but it’s more like the real Buenos Aires and feels more authentic and relaxed. It’s really safe, there’s lots of families and schools. There are some parks but the streets are quieter, although not in an eerie way. It’s like a little town, rather than being part of the big city.
Where else have you lived?
I used to live in Almagro and I have also lived in Palermo, which was the nicest as I lived right next to the park. I could go for a run every evening and have that idealistic kind of life. That was two years ago and I was living off pounds and it was a lot cheaper than it is now, so it seemed idealistic.
But when I came here and had to earn money, I thought “shit!” They don’t pay well. When I came here it wasn’t easy to get a job so I did what everyone does and started to teach English to private students. Work has been pretty hit and miss but I have now started working as a sommelier and doing wine tours.
Prices are expensive here. My parents are coming to visit and have been looking for a hotel and they said prices are more expensive than they are in England. Clothes are just as expensive, and when you’re earning awful wages, it’s pretty difficult.
I used to do some tastings at a hotel owned by a Frenchman and I remember him saying that if you want to make any money here or get by you need to own something — and that kind of scares me! But in general I am happy!
Tell me about your wedding plans.
We’re having the reception at an estancia. In the UK and being catholic means a big church celebration but here you go to a registry office, then have the church service on a different day.
What do you miss about the UK?
Marks & Spencer. Marmite. Foody things! I also like the winter when it isn’t raining, the weather you don’t get here very often. It can be very beautiful. I’m from the English countryside and I love that kind of lifestyle and the green-ness.
Any surprises about Argentine wine from your course?
It wasn’t a new-world specific course so I had to teach myself quite a lot when I got here. But I didn’t realize the industry was still so young and that it has been the past 10 years that Argentina has hit the commercial market in a big way.
It’s also been interesting to learn about grapes we just don’t see in the UK, such as Bonarda. We never got a mention of that at wine school…
What’s your favourite wine at the moment?
Las Perdices’ Bonarda Reserva. I like it as it’s big and velvety with a lot of smokiness. As much as I like Malbec, I’m not really a Malbec girl as I prefer something with a savoury hint to it. I am a big fan of Pinot Noir, though.
Photo by Mariano Fuchila
Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on Sunday 5 February, 2011