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Friday, November 11, 2011

Despedidas, Or How the Gordo's Heart Grew Three Sizes That Day

I am not a sentimental person, and I do not pride myself on my ability to form lasting relationships with human beings. I'm not a charmer (at least on more than a superficial level), and I would say that I tend to be very cold, intimidating, and unforgiving. People are messy, complicated, and are horrible with logic, and the more I deal with them the more they fascinate me.

After spending just over 8 months here in Argentina, what impresses me most is that, in spite of any external factors, the people around me manage to maintain a sense of community which is forged not by judgment and deciding whether or not someone "fits" with their group, but rather valuing the contribution, however little, that he or she can add to the collective whole. Like I said, I'm not a charmer. In fact, I can be kind of a curmudgeon at times, especially if placed in an unfamiliar situation that requires socialization. Even considering that, I've somehow managed to connect with a great deal of people here in Argentina; I think a grand portion of it is due to their culture and the value they place on family and togetherness. Whatever it is, it makes saying goodbye a lot more difficult.

Every Argentinean I've met loves a good fiesta, and this week was not lacking in joda. Every night this week I had something planned, whether it was a dinner with some of my students or a full-blown asado and despedida with dancing, lights, and liters of fernet. I can't go into detail about everything that was done for me, but I will say that I was astounded by the time, effort, and dedication that my friends put into giving me a good bon voyage. Never in my life have I felt so wanted, special, or valuable. Thanks to all of you for making my experience so very unforgettable.


Surprise parties

I racked my brain, I can't think of a time when I was thrown a surprise party. That's kind of unusual, since I love surprising other people. This week I was thrown two.

Thursday night I was invited to a small asado at the house of one of the professors. She said that a few people would show up for some choripanes and wine, and I believed her. I walked to her house, saw the garage door open, and rang the doorbell. No answer. The door was open, but I wasn't going to just wander into her home (if it even was her home), so I gave her a call.

"No worries," she said, "I'll unlock the gate."

Well, I walk into her backyard, which has a nice set of patio furniture, a small pool in the back left corner, and a quincho. I noticed that the only people there were this professor and another, and that didn't surprise me. After all, I was showing up to dinner at 9:30, which is like Argentine 4:30. Well, I got a glass of red wine, opened a present from them (the incredible gestures of friendship reflected as gifts from my friends and students is a whole other topic that I don't have time to discuss right now, but I love it), and sat to talk. The professor told me to go into the quincho to get comfortable since the guests would be arriving soon, and wouldn't you know it? All of them jumped out from the back and surprised me. Cheeky little Argentineans. What's more is that they made me posterboards, a photo collage, and gave me even more gifts. Incredible.

Friday Night: "Mexican Food."

Saturday, November 5, 2011

English Immersion Day at a Bilingual School, or How I Overcame My Fear of Children

The San Ignacio Immersion Day Students
"Aliens," a Game I adapted from when I tutored Spanish.
They did a great job.

I tried and failed, but at least they spoke English.

A little Cupid Shuffle. Thanks to Luke (Fulbrighter)
in Korea for suggesting it!

Please don't laugh at me.

Can you see this, Norma?

They're cute when they're tired.

Mike, the librarian and Coldplay enthusiast

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


This weekend was special. Friendship special.

After months of planning and organizing (which I was glad to do), a large portion of the Fulbrighters unofficially got together again, this time in a small town in the hills of Córdoba. What's there, you say? What could attract 17 US, German, and Argentine adventurers? Beer, of course.

Villa General Belgrano, a place I've blogged about before, is a quaint, mountain-town in the sierras  of Córdoba which has a collection of immigrants from Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and other countries. The city itself is small and touristy, but its major attraction is a 2-week long, annual festival in honor of Oktoberfest which is the 3rd most important in the world. We got together for the first weekend of the festival because, though the second weekend is a 3-day weekend, there will be more people and it will be more than twice the price. We're economical and stuff.

Brad, our parrillero
Everyone got in on Friday from all over Argentina (Santa Fe, Salta, San Luis, Bahía Blanca, Mendoza, Villa María, etc.). We huffed it to our cabins, Aldea Champaquí 57 (and another cabin nearby for a few of the travelers), which were a 15-minute walk away; this later proved nice for getting away from the festival atmosphere. The complex had a central yard with hammocks, wifi, parrillas, tables, and some snazzy pines. The hosts were also extremely nice. Since we hadn't seen each other in almost 3 months, we spent most of the day getting reacquainted and passing around the necessary besos. That night, we celebrated with an asado prepared mostly by Brad and Gillian, and we spent the evening chatting and getting a little chupados. The night culminated in quite a quilombo about the time we began playing "Never have I ever." I know what you're thinking: I'm going to say that some secret, intimate detail of someone was revealed that forever changed the fabric of our interpersonal relationships. Nope, it's not that. All of us were in one of the rooms playing, some in chair and some on the bed. One person went to use the restroom, came back, and then sat on the bed. It would turn out that pine is not as durable as I thought, because the bed broke in half right as his slightly-inebriated bum touched that mattress. In true Argentine spirit, we decided to worry about it tomorrow and just go to bed. The people sleeping on that bed moved the mattress to the floor, and all was well.
It was a delicious pork rib.

Morning. Mate. Mountains. The 3 M's.
Good morning, Saturday. Good morning, Oktoberfest. Saturday morning, I woke up early and went for a walk downtown. I got some facturas for my roommates at a local panadería and went to go look at some shops. On my way back, the group of girls who decided to have a morning run shouted my name. Aha! You crafty lasses, how did you ever find me? Well, they mentioned that they were thinking of going for a short hike (after running, which seems crazy to me). Naturally, they won me over due to their skills in persuasion and my penchant for panoramic views. We hiked up the Cerro de la virgen, a small, but steep trek right on the outskirts of town. This was doubly rewarding, because in addition to giving my body the physical exercise it so desperately needs, I got to spend some time with people I hadn't seen in ages having mate with a statue of the Virgin. What's not to love? Oh...sunburn. Let's just say that my skin got torched.

After that we came back, got ready, and then headed off to the  Parque Cervecero (beer park) to meet the others. There was a giant stage on which different groups were constantly performing, gift shops with German and touristy goods, and stands upon stands of microbrewed beer. Though the beer was a bit pricey, it was worth every penny. One thing I noticed here is that Argentina tends to classify its beer based on color, so many of the traditional stands had three options: rubia (blonde/lager), roja (red), and negra (black/stout). I was a sucker for Antares because I had previously tried it in Mendoza with many of my co-Oktoberfesters, but for me the top beer producer was Baires. They had a brilliant, 9.5% pilsner, a chocolate and coffee stout, and some great varieties of red beer. My favorite lager all around, though, was Viejo Munich's.

I came back a little early to get dinner started. Dinner consisted of ordering pizzas and 32 of my gold-medal cebolla y queso empanadas (the gold-medal was self-awarded, but I get a lot of compliments, okay?); some of them even had the leftover asado meat from the previous night. We spent the evening eating, chatting, and playing Apples to Apples together. It was charming.

Sunday might be a lazy day for some, but Katie and I had to get to work...drinking. The park opened at 11:00 AM, and Katie and I got there around 12:00 (everything moves more slowly on Sunday). We enjoyed many a beer together, saw a parade and played the "Who used to be a Nazi?" game (which was mostly troublesome), ate cheese on a stick, and chatted under a tree. About this time, another group of us showed up, so we combined our forces in the name of beerfest. I went to the espiche, a daily event wherein they sing, dance, and then bust open a keg of beer and spray it on spectators. It was mostly a wet, sweaty mess of drunken Argentinean men, and I immediately regretted doing it.

Dance, dance dance!

We said goodbye to Katie, who had to get back to Salta in the north, around 4:00. Sad times. Around 5:00 (after 5 hours of drinking), I was done with Oktoberfest for the day, so I headed back to the cabins for some R&R. Skip ahead to dinner time. Since Alicia, one of my German friends, was heading back to Germany the next day, we decided to go have German food together. All in all, there were around 10 or 11 of us that went to Viejo Munich (the restaurant section of the place with the scrumptious lager). Brad and I split a plate of traditional German meats and cheeses, and I just ordered parmesan potatoes as a side. Our waitress must have been stupid, because she brought me fried potatoes, called them parmesan, and then left. Of course, after bringing it to her attention that parmesan potatoes generally have parmesan on them, she asked if I'd like the parmesan sauce. There you go, darlin'. That's the idea.

I got turned into a coat rack somehow
Well, I'm digressing something wicked, so let's get back on track. We had dinner, skipped around, walked in for the last few minutes of the Oktoberfest in the beer park, and then headed back. Since many of us had to get up early the next day to catch buses, most people went to sleep. Some others stayed up and chatted for awhile, but the night was essentially over.

Monday morning I woke up, made sure everyone was out of the cabins at the proper hour, and got my things together. Some of us didn't leave until 12 or 1, so we went downtown again to take some more pictures and have coffee. Soon, though, the group dwindled even smaller. Teresa, Alex, and I had the latest bus departures, so we walked to a chocolate store and met the aunt of one of Teresa's students (Teresa lives in Resistencia, which is something like 11 or 13 hours away, so it was a fun coincidence). Afterward, we had mate at the park by the bus station and waited for the end.

After saying goodbye to Teresa, Alex and I left together at 2:00, since he had to catch his bus to Bahía Blanca from Río Cuarto. We got in around 5:00, went to my apartment, walked around a bit to stretch our legs, and then searched for more than an hour for a place that would have dinner (cultural note: this was between 7 and 8 PM, and it was considered too early to have dinner. There were no restaurants that would serve us dinner food, since most of them open between 9 and 10). We settled for McDonald's, because we knew it would be open and it's right by the bus station. After inhaling Big Macs, we made our way to the bus station and Alex and I parted ways.
Me with the Monja Negra

This marks the end of Oktoberfest, and the end of an era.I should add a comment here about how this might be the last time I see some of them for a very long time and how much I'll miss them, and how great my experience has been and continues to be, but that's not why you're here; you're here for beer.

Oktoberfest friendship

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Montevideo Video

Hello, dear readers.

While we were at the Regional Enhancement Seminar in Montevideo, we were almost constantly followed around by a cameraman. They said they were making a video, and now it's finally done. Check it out! It should give you an idea of the Fulbright experience.

Monday, August 29, 2011

My Borges Workshop and the Definition of Quilombo

Borges. Math. It's connected. Just trust me.
Last Thursday was an important day for me: I was a participant in an interdisciplinary workshop on Borges and the Infinite. Let me give you the down low.

So, shortly after I had arrived in Argentina I had mentioned to some of my co-professors of English that I liked Borges and had done research on the connections between Borges' writings and mathematics. They seemed really interested in the topic, and the next thing I know I'm having a meeting with the dean on how we can implement this as some sort of co-curricular event. I told her how much I value interdisciplinarity and the ability to analyze something from different academic perspectives, and I explained that, since I went to a liberal arts unviersity, I had no problem studying math and Spanish concurrently. The dean, Gisela, mentioned that she wanted to establish more communication between the departments here at UNRC, and I said "sign me up" (but in Spanish, of course). Well, she put me in contact with one of the secretaries of institutional relations, and we began to develop the project. This was around May, mind you. We decided that it could be neat to do a mini workshop with a series of talks from professors of different disciplines. We decided on "Borges y lo infinito" (Borges and the infinite) as a theme, and then we set the date: August 25th. Originally, this event was going to be 5 hours long, with each presenter talking for approximately 40 minutes and then allowing for questions. Fortunately, this was later cut down to 2.5 hours.

After that, we kind of let things mellow over the break.

Once break was finished, I designed a flyer and started meeting with professors. At the time, only the Philosophy/math professor (Eduardo Dib) was selected as a co-presenter, so he and I talked a little bit about what we wanted to present. Eduardo was going to talk about the sense of anxiety that comes with preoccupying onself with the infinite, as well as El Libro de Arena. I told him that we were due to have access to technology, so he could make a PowerPoint or whatever he liked, but he opted for a straight up presentation. Originally the event was going to be held on campus, but they decided (with a few weeks to spare, mind you) to move it downtown so that more members of the community could come; I thought that was a great idea. Well, now the rapid-fire changes start coming, and things start to get messier.

For starters, I finally got a list of people who were willing to present: it was a list of 6 people. With around two weeks left until the conference, I could only get in touch with two of the presenters: Eduardo and Toni Lloveras. I met with Toni and we talked about her background (French), and she mentioned that she wanted to talk about Borges and Escher, as well as some other famous works of art that have similar themes as Borges' writing. Great. No problem. Well, I get no responses from the other presenters for a few days, so I start working on my presentation: a detailed PowerPoint with lots of pictures to help the audience (which has little math experience) understand transfinite numbers, mathematical recursion, and Russell's paradox. Finally, I get a call from another presenter: a lawyer and philosophy professor named Justo (a great name for a lawyer, if you ask me). We met after work one day for a drink and, though he assured me he really didn't want to participate, he would do it anyway. Great. At this point, I would take whatever I could get. He said he'd make up something about the philosophical trends in the time period when  Borges was writing, so I was happy with that.

Now we're getting down to the wire. Just around one week before the conference, I still don't have the "final" version of the flyer I sent in to be edited and updated by the visual communications department, I still don't have the correct location for the event (because, though I was under the impression it had been moved to the Salón Blanco in the courthouse, it later moved two more times before settling...around 5 days before the event), and I have yet to hear from two of my supposed speakers. Oh, and Wednesday I nearly had a panic attack due to other events that were going on in my life (thanks, Dad). Anyway...that weekend I needed a break, so thank God I was going to Corrientes and Resistencia with Jen.

Well, wouldn't you know it, that Friday when I'm in Resistencia and away from all my technology, I get the "final" version of my flyer to promote the event. Fortunately, I used Hannah's computer (which was a Mac...and I'm not good with macs) to change my profile pic and forward the image to some of the English professors and presenters. Well, I get back on Tuesday, late, and I still have no news from my two other presenters. I sent them a last ditch email to see what was up, and then I finally met with them on Wednesday; they had a completely different idea of what the workshop was going to be, had nothing prepared and, despite the fact that it was their university email, informed me that they didn't check those emails. that point, honestly, that was a minor thing in comparison to the other things I was dealing with. Needless to say, I had to remove them from the final speakers list.

Well, Wednesday night I put the polishing touches on my PowerPoint, practiced my presentation, and got ready to go. I had asked everyone to be at the new building (the Salón del Concejo Deliberante) an hour early so that we could organize and rehearse a little bit.

Thursday, I get to the location an hour early, and everything collapses under me. For starters, only one of the presenters is there; that's not really a big deal. Then, we walk into the room where the event is only to find out that they thought the event was scheduled for 4:00 PM (since I'm pretty confident they actually got around to officially reserving it that morning) rather than 7, so they thought they we had cancelled. However, when I explained that the schedule must have gotten mixed up, he said there was no problem if we went ahead and did the event. Thank goodness. At about this point, I realize another, crucial, detail was messed up: there was no screen, no computer, and technology other than a microphone. I asked, just for fun at this point really, if there happened to be technological access for things like PowerPoint, and the man informed me that there was not. They had a screen, but it was already on loan. So let me recap this. For three months I was under the impression that I would be able to present a PowerPoint, so I designed my presentation with that in mind. The same was true of Toni, I later found out, but let's focus on the moment. Now I'm there with 45 minutes until the event, essentially with nothing (not even notes). This is when I start pacing back and forth and getting nervous. Fortunately, I only lived a few blocks away, so, in a last-ditch effort to save my presentation, I ran home, uploaded my PowerPoint to Dropbox so that I could have a public link to give the audience, and copied my notes in outline form onto my flash drive. Then, I waited at the photocopy place to have it printed off, and after that I ran back to the event.

Now the secretary guy and his techie buddy are there and, when I explain that nothing is how it is supposed to be, they say...well, can you make it work? Yes, obviously...I'm a resourceful cat. But I don't have to like it. Besides, there's really no excuse for not having that organized when you have literally months to get it done, be it on Latin American time or not. Needless to say, I wasn't really in the mood to talk with either of them. Fortunately, they brought in a dry erase board. They didn't have a marker, of course, but I  just happened to have one on me, so three cheers for one of us being prepared.

Now guests are starting to arrive, and I think they could tell that I'm a little extra nervous. If everything would have gone smoothly, I probably wouldn't have been nervous at all, but at this particular time I was having to calm myself down inside (you know, talking to yourself and saying supportive things like "You can do this").
Well, it gets to 7:00 (the time the event officially starts), and another presenter finally shows up. Still no sign of the final presenter, who was actually first in the order. Well, we wait for 15 minutes, which throws everything off, and she finally shows up; she had been waiting in the Salón Blanco (one of the previous places the event was going to be held). After I explained to her that we had no PowerPoint, she told me that her presentation, which relied mostly on images, needed technology, and that she just couldn't present. Of course by this point I'm thinking in my head 'listen, lady, if I can do it you damn well can,' but I was supportive and told her to talk to the secretary who was helping organize it. Eventually, she decided to describe the pictures she'd be talking about. Though it wasn't ideal, it worked out since most of them were fairly well-known (I think).

Our expert panel of presenters
So, a few minutes late, the presentation got started. Once we smoothed out all of the not-so-insignificant humps, things went relatively smoothly. I served as the emcee (I guess you could call me that) and introduced the different speakers. The first half was more literature and philosophy based, and then we had a small section for questions. After that, we came to the second part, which is where Eduardo and I started adding more math to the equation (see what I did there?). Then I gave my presentation and, though I was a little nervous and I think it came across in my voice at first, it went surprisingly well. Besides, I noticed that I was speaking in very rapid Spanish and I seemed to be expressing myself fairly well (at least that's what other people have told me). Soon enough, it was done.
Me talking about mathematical recursion

And that's that. Though the steps leading up to my Fulbright project were a veritable quilombo (a lunfardo word meaning something between "diasaster" and "shitstorm"), everything seemed to work out in the end. That's one thing that I'm learning in being here: things don't usually go how you plan for them to, or maybe even how you would like them to, but they get done either way.

Besides, afterwards Eduardo and I went out for asado....and that fixes everything.

Eduardo talking about Cantor's diagonalization method
to show that the reals and rationals do not have the same cardinality

Friday, August 26, 2011

Corrientes and Resistencia

Well, last week was a nice slice of hell, and this week started out that way. So, I'm very thankful that I could escape last weekend to Corrientes and Resistencia to visit two other Fulbrighters: Hannah and Teresa.

Jen and I met up in Córdoba to take the bus on Thursday night, since Corrientes is 12 hours away from our centrally-located paradisacal province. We got on the bus after having a coffee in the café at the bus station, and snuggled into our back-row comfort seats. 12 hours later, we were in Corrientes on our way to visit Hannah, the Fulbrighter who was placed there (she visited Villa María a while back, if you remember). Well, needless to say that there were many hugs and smiles. We met her French roommate, Pauline, and her boyfriend, Jeremy. Then, the real center of the weekend started to develop: food. This weekend was all about eating, and I'm fine with that.

Friday was a lazy day, and it was also my day to show my stuff. For lunch, I made fajitas; they were a success. Since empanadas have become my classic dish, dinner consisted of some jamón y queso and cebolla y queso empanadas. Mmm....¡qué rico! Other than food, Friday was cold and kind of miserable, so we really didn't do that much except watch Modern Family and wander around.

Saturday, however, things got fresh.Fresh really doesn't even describe it. To begin, a friend of Jeremy's from La Plata (Mauro) showed up. He was pretty cool, and we got along really well. But let's get to the food. Jen, who is a native of Kentucky, surprised me with some intense southern flair: fried orange chicken and her mother's infamous potato/cheese/bacon dish. Then, the French couple mixed in a delectable quiche. I heated bread in the oven.   What? It was my day off.

Jen's Orange Chicken
Jen's mom's potato thing

Quiche...French Quiche.

Well, Saturday afternoon we walked around Corrientes and had mate by the costanera (the riverbank). Oh, how I had missed water! I don't know what it is, but it was so relaxing to finally be able to walk by some water again. Then, we got some chipas (cheese bread) and watched a picturesque sunset on an abandoned dock. Are you jealous yet? Because you should be. If you're not, get ready.
Flowers were in full bloom in Corrientes. Ah, spring!
The mate group (Jen, Teresa, Hannah, Mauro, Jeremy)
Jennifer showing the many uses of Chipa.
Corrientes Costanera Sunset. Paradise.

We've always been good-looking.

After we got back, Jeremy and Pauline had already begun preparing that night's main event: an asado with all kinds of guests. Among the guests were Boris, a Fulbrighter in Santa Fe, his beau Santi (who is so adorable it makes me sick), and a certain group of French students (Argentines who study French, just to clarify). I mention the French students because, well, it's important to future events.

So, the asado gets started. And so does the borrachera. Mauro, Jeremy, and I started out with a few beers by the parrilla, and we enjoyed a little conversation about politics, life, and man stuff. Man stuff! I know that must be as surprising to you as it is to me. Anyway, little by little, people started showing up. Though the asado was a little behind, everyone was there and having a good time. I met a certain individual with whom I struck up a nice little conversation (in Spanish and English, though he was a student of French). Well, I'll spare the details, but there may have been a little spark of interest on my part. The asado went well: we enjoyed some good meat and salad, and I think just about everyone got a little tipsy. After the asado, I went with the French student and some of his friends to a boliche called "El Castillo." Since it was a gay bar, I assumed there would be good music; I was right. The other Fulbrighters had gone with Teresa to Resistencia, but I clearly had other business in Corrientes, so I danced the night away.

Anyway, on Sunday morning I met up with Hannah again and we went to Resistencia in the Chaco province (only around 45 minutes by bus) to visit Teresa. Riding on that bus was an...interesting experience. For one, it was incredibly overcrowded (even moreso than the buses in Río Cuarto can get). For another, there was a large group of people (what I imagine was an entire family) with different boxes full of goods to be sold (maybe because it was Día del Niño-Children's Day). Finally, I saw a woman breastfeeding. Not that I have any qualms about people breastfeeding in public (though maybe putting a cloth over your giant, exposed mammary might be nice), but it really caught my eye. Soon, I realized why: the child she was breastfeeding had to have been at least 2 years old. Different customs, I guess.

Well, fast forward. Hannah and I get off, walk through this fun display for Día del Niño, and then walk to Teresa's house. Teresa, who lives with the sons of her referente, has a beautiful house. She also had lunch (a delicious stew!) ready when we got there. She will be an incredible mother. Not only was the soup delicious, we also had some tiny sugar cookies which she converted into mini alfajores. Oh, sweet Lord in heaven...they were divine.

I like sharp weapons. Fun fact: weapons
 that aren't firearms are called armas blancas
in Spanish
Meow, that's right!
So, after lunch we bummed around and checked out Resistencia. Other than the fact that orange is everywhere (and I don't do orange; it makes me uncomfortable), Resistencia is a very beautiful city. I feel like Chaco (the province) gets a bad rap sometimes because economically it's poor compared to other provinces (like Buenos Aires and Córdoba), but I had a wonderful time with wonderful people, and the city was beautiful (although Resistencia, like other cities I've visited, suffers from a littering problem which has embedded itself into the culture). Other than seeing lots of flowers and a really adorable kitten, Teresa took us to see some of the sculptures in Resistencia. Resistencia is known as the city of sculptures, and it certainly deserves the title. There are all kinds of neat things up there! Afterwards, we wandered in on a group performing folkloric music at their culture center. Then, naturally, we ate again.

¡Qué rica pizza!
This time we went to a popular pizza place where Teresa goes with her basketball team. They had this giant pizza with 4 flavors that was supposed to feed 6. Yeah, maybe 6 Argentines. The four of us demolished that baby, with only a few pieces leftover. Afterwards, there was some walking around, and then we checked out the bar of Teresa's referente's son. I wish I hadn't been so tired from the previous night, because the bar had a very cool vibe. I don't remember what it was called, but it was named after two gangsters. Inside it was all brick, and there were tile mosaics, mirrors, and interesting coffee-house style art on the walls. It was a chill place. Of course, I couldn't last, so we went home. Then we had Fulbright snuggle time.

I think it's Picasso-esque

Monday was a lazy day, but that doesn't mean we didn't eat well. In fact, eating was the central element of our Monday. Teresa had this Emeril recipe for butternut squash gnocchi. Though it seemed like it would be impossible, with our combined talents it actually was relatively simple. I made the sauce, which was basically balsamic vinegar, onions, sugar, and butter. Mmmm.....gnocchis, say hey to my thighs when you see them.

Afterwards, unfortunately, it was time for us to leave. Like I said, this trip was a much-needed lull in the midst of two storms. Or, if you like, the eye in a torrential hurricane that swept all up my coast.