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Monday, March 28, 2011

Villa General Belgrano and the First Day of Classes

Hola amigos!

This was our first long weekend; of course, I hadn't started teaching yet so it was just like any other week. Martín and I decided we'd go check out Villa General Belgrano. My first attempt didn't work out due to a paro (about which you can read below), but we successfully got on our buses the next day and met up in Villa General Belgrano.

Villa General Belgrano is a German-influenced town located about 2 hours southwest of Córdoba (and 3 hours northwest of Río Cuarto); it has the 3rd largest Oktoberfest party in the world, according to Wikipedia (Guess where I'm going in a few months?). Martín and I walked around and got some Cuban cigars (hey, we've got to take advantage of them while we can). Later, we met up with some of Martín's friends who are also studying in Córdoba. We walked around, had a great German snack for dinner, and then drank a missile (2.5L) of beer. It was excellent. You can see pictures here!

Martín, Sugarloaf and Me
Picada alemana, complete with kraut (which I ate)

Martín and I with our "missile" of German beer

Martín stayed in Río IV and got a taste of some wicked empanadas from Otra Vez (the owner, Nora, wants to learn English, so maybe I can swing a hot deal). We then went to Siga La Vica, an all-you-can-eat asado restaurant. I got a full bottle of wine, unlimited salad bar access, and unlimited Argentine meat for 65 AR$ (appx $16 in U$D). Oh, I also got dessert. I love this exchange rate. Later, Martín and I met up with Samantha (last year's Fulbrighter here) to go out. We ended up going to Elvis, a rock-and-roll bar that was a giant sausage fest.

On another note, today was my first day actually in classes at the university. It was a speaking course, and they were talking mainly about friendship. I introduced myself and asked if the students had any questions, and then I just facilitated discussion. Next week I may try to plan some activities related to the topic (men and women, opposite-sex friendships, etc.), but today an introduction was nice. The students seem pretty cool, and their knowledge of English is very good for second-year college students.

Normally, I would have class with the same professor tomorrow, but there's going to be another paro, this time with university professors. Hell, at least this time the strike keeps me from having to work. Man, I'm getting so lazy...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Answers to that colectivo paro

A note on Voseo

So, most  some of you who study Spanish will know that Argentines use "vos" instead of "tú," the typical 2nd-person familiar pronoun. This phenomenon isn't unique to Argentina; it was used on occasion when I was in Costa Rica, and it was also used a little bit in Spain. It's also used in Colombia, Chile (weirdly), and Uruguay, among other places. In any case, Argentine is the only place I know of that consistently replaces "tú" with "vos" rather than use the latter as a linguistic spice and variation.

According to everything that I've read about "vos" and its variations, the standard, historical conjugation pattern was as follows: Take the "vosotros" (2nd-person familiar plural pronoun; its historical counterpart whose connection has long been broken), and remove the diphthong if there is one. Here are some examples:

In the present indicative:
tú sabes ... vos sabés ... vosotros sabéis
tú dices ... vos decís .... vosotros decís
tú comes ... vos comés ... vosotros coméis

In the preterite (simple past):
tú dormiste ... vos dormistes ... vosotros dormisteis
tú comiste ... vos comistes ... vosotros comisteis

In the present subjunctive:
tú comas ... vos comás ... vosotros comáis
tú digas ... vos digás ... vosotros digáis

In the present perfect:
tú has comido ... vos habés comido ... vosotros habéis comido

Now, it would be swell if everything worked out like I wanted it to, but Argentina is giving me quite an exercise in the "adaptability" and "patience" sectors of my brain. What's interesting from a descriptive point of view is that, although "vos" is used exclusively as a 2nd-person familiar pronoun here, the conjugation only follows my expected pattern in the present indicative. Of all 14 tenses and moods in Spanish, only one fits the pattern. Otherwise, the Argentine "vos" behaves oddly like two. It's just in the most common of tenses that we hear that sassy vos and get the resulting shift in emphasis.

Of course, it's possible that what I learned about voseo is totally wrong, too.

Food for thought: eat it up.

This could be a rant about the Argentine bus system...

...but I'll try to mute my almost-unmitigable rage for the sake of the blogosphere and cultural understanding.

This is a long weekend (4 days); one of the few that I'll have while I'm here. I spent the week using my horrible internet connection as it allowed to try to plan to visit Villa General Belgrano, this German town near Río IV. I even went so far as to reserve a bus ticket ahead of time, just in case they filled up. I went out with friend last night and left them early (circa 3am), missing out on karaoke no less, so that I could come home, finish packing, and get ready for this trip. I wake up early, walk to the square to take a cab, and get to the bus station. I walk to the window marked "reservas" and say something along the lines of "Hello, I have a reservation under ...." The attendant looks at me and says, "oh, no. Not today. There's a paro (stoppage/strike)." I look at her, dumbfounded, and ask why. Apparently, they want more money, so they've decided to stop all national buses today (reminder: today is a key travel day because it's the beginning of a long weekend, and almost everyone travels somewhere). I asked the other ticket stations and they said the same thing. I then asked what other option I had, and they told me I could take a taxi (bus fare is 36 pesos; cab far would be 350 pesos). Yeah, that's a viable option.

Now, I confess that I'm ignorant to the current wages of bus drivers and employees in Argentina, but I don't imagine they're too terribly low. If this is actually a situation where drivers are being oppressed and do deserve higher wages, then I can understand why they would want to strike. If they want more money just because, I'm pissed. What I really have trouble understanding, and this comes from my US-centric point of view, is how the bus company would allow this to happen and not just resolve the issue as soon as possible. On a day like today, I would presume that bus companies make a great deal of money. Instead, they'll be getting 0 pesos, so I have to ask: did they lose more money by not doing anything today than they would have by giving them a temporary raise, or at least agreeing to hold talks after the weekend? I suppose that if you give them an inch that later they'll want a yard, but I just can't fathom why the company wouldn't see it as its job to try to find some other means of transport for its customers or provide them with some sort of voucher for the inconvenience. Of course, this isn't the United States, so I guess I'll just bite my tongue.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

How Sleeping Dogs Lie

Cultural distinctions aren't only for humans. Even our best friends do things a little differently here in Argentina.

Now, as far as I can remember in the United States dogs tend to lie down to sleep by effectively sitting. They lower themselves to the ground, but they still maintain the same general body posture as when standing. If this is wrong, I need to go play with some more pooches.

Argentine dogs are a different breed entirely (how's that for wordplay!?). In addition to there being an exorbitant amount of them around the streets of nearly every city (they lack years of Bob Barker reminding the world that spaying and neutering your critter is important), they lie down in a manner similar to a horse. Basically, they look like they've just fallen over on their side. This is fine and dandy, but the added effect is that, on a hot day, they look very much like they're dead.

I'll have to get some pictures and upload them soon. You know, after they fix my internet so that I can do more than write text...


Acerca de la borrachera

Aquí esta noche he pasado una noche de maravillas, la mayoría de la cual la dominaba la lengua castellana, así que perdónenme mis amigos de habla inglesa monolingües. Esta noche fui a una fiesta de la negra, una amiga de Samantha (el ETA pasado de Río Cuarto que todavía se queda acá en Río Cuarto; un buen indicio de cómo lo pasaré yo en esta ciudad). Lo pasamos genial, y al fin fuimos a un restobar llamado el Piaf, el que afortunadamente queda cerca del departamento mío. Bailé, hablé con gente, y conocí a unos nuevos amigos, todo del cual me encanta. Creo que sobre todo me va encantando Río Cuarto....ya veremos cuando de nuevo salga el sol, que seguro tengo una especia de resaca (que sería justo por tanto que he bebido). Bueno, como digo, lo pasé genial y me emociona estar en Río Cuarto. Mañana por la noche espero que vengan algunos nuevos amigos para comer y beber algunos tok tok's de Jack Daniels (ya veremos).

De todos modos, estoy contento. Chau, y nos vemos pronto

Friday, March 18, 2011

A note on mayonnaise, and other sauces

I hate American Mayonnaise. It's horrible. The idea of mixing eggs, vinegar, and oil together just grosses me out. That being said, for some reason Argentine mayonnaise is quickly becoming one of my favorite condiments here. It may be that they use a different kind of oil than in the US, and it may be the limón verdadero that they add to it, but it's delicious. Mayonesa is appropriate on french fries (like in Europe), milanesas, and just about anything else, as far as I can tell.

Mayonnaise on french fries, you say? That's insane! Well, at least it's insane for those of you who have never been to Europe or heard of that custom. The preferred topping in the US is obviously ketchup. Well, buckaroos, the Argentines have that covered. Not only can you get ketchup here, they also have a unique sauce: salsa golf. That's sauce. They call it that because it originated in one of the golf courses around here that most likely cater to tourists. What makes it a delicious cultural blend is that it's a mix got it...ketchup and mayonnaise. It looks kind of like thousand island dressing, but it's delicious.

I'm currently enjoying my lunch of milanesa, papas fritas, mayonesa, and salsa golf. Are you jealous?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Córdoba: A Summary (With fun, cultural subtopics!)

Córdoba is hot, especially when you're adventuring with Martín Di Stefano.

I took the bus to Córdoba (which is here.) on Monday night.

Subtopic 1: The Argentine Bus System

Argentine buses are vastly superior to American buses or airplanes, and they are the preferred means to get from point X to point Y (A to B is so overrated, and it doesn't sound as mathy). In addition to being relatively cheap (10 hours on a bus costs anywhere from US$ 45-75), they can be very comfortable. I say "can be" because there are a variety of bus classes that one can choose from:

  • Común- This sucks. It's like a normal bus. It's cheap, but almost never a good idea
  • Semicama- These seats recline almost all the way (like a recliner that you'd sit in to watch TV). They're reasonably comfortable, but you don't get many extras. This is a fair path to take.
  • Cama- I haven't taken this yet, but I believe it's similar to semicama except that the seats recline all the way.
  • Cama suite/ejecutiva- This is the best seat money can buy. I was lucky to fly in business class from Dallas to Buenos Aires, and the cama suite service I received from Córdoba to Buenos Aires (after my adventure with Sr. Di Stefano) was actually better than that, with the exception of the food. Your seats are leather and poofy, they recline all the way, and you have a privacy screen. Hardware aside, someone is constantly walking down the aisles to see if you need anything (Coca Cola, wine, a snack, etc.), which is awesome. They also lend you free noise-cancelling headphones and let you listen to movies and radio (or your own iPod). It was US$67, if I remember correctly, and it was worth every darn penny.

Now, back to business.

I went to visit Martín in Córdoba, since he's pretending to study aeronautical engineering at the national university there. I stayed Tuesday through Saturday night.

I used Google maps to find a hostel close to his student residence, since they're not too keen on guests there. I ended up with the Pewman Che hostel, and I'm glad I did. The hostel is amazing, and I'd recommend it if you ever stay in Córdoba. For a bed in an 8-person room (which normally I would avoid like the dancing blood droplet on blood drive days), I paid only US$ 10 per night. The deal aside, the environment there is very open and inviting. The owner, Mike (who is/was American and manages English and Spanish very well), started by making me breakfast and introducing me to the other tenants, even before I had paid him for my stay. Once there, I got to meet some cool people: Igor, a young man from Russia who speaks English Russian, and French fluently (and he knows a little Spanish),owns a hostel in Galicia and spends a good portion of the year traveling around the world (I'm very jealous); Astrid, an American girl from D.C. who took a year off to travel the world and is currently working at the hostel; and Simon, an Englishman who was traveling about (there seemed to be a lot of English people travelling for months around South America, which I thought was a little crazy). All in all, I had a wonderful time, and, like I said, you should go there.


Subtopic 2: I'm a horrible tourist, but at least I'm not a horrible representative of the US

Every time I go someplace big and touristy, I try not to do any of the big and touristy things. I end up walking around, eating, shopping, and drinking. I must hate tourists so much that I convince myself that I never want to be one of them. Part of it has to do with assimilation as well. It's one thing to be traveling within the US and going around, but I dislike being a giant tourist even more if I'm travelling internationally (seems paradoxical, right?). What I like is to try to get to know the people in the area, spend time absorbing the culture, and enjoying the sites (maybe taking a few photos as well, but discretely).

Though I realize that the primary purpose of travel overseas is to see other reaches of the world, I get frustrated with people who think that they've been somewhere because they've spent 2 weeks at a resort in that country. Then again, at the very least those people are contained in their own closed unit. What is worse are the people who actually make themselves a part of the foreign country's society without being conscious of the way they may be perceived by locals. To say that someone can fully integrate into a foreign society in a short amount of time is ludicrous, but at least one shouldn't make scenes and draw undue (especially negative) attention to oneself. One of the biggest problems I find with American tourists is, aside from monolingualism and the lack of motivation to learn the language of the country visited, that they are unconscious of their effect when immersed in a foreign culture. This may be because many Americans have not been educated in foreign languages and cultures, and it can be damaging to the perceptions of Americans abroad. Even one simple act will stay with the people who have observed it and taint their belief of how Americans are (stereotyping is never fun, but when we don't have all the data we tend to infer). Americans must strive to be ambassadors for the US whenever they travel, or else they leave it to people like me and my fellow Fulbrighters to clean up the mess they'll surely leave.

Wow...I still haven't talked about Córdoba. This is shaping up to be a very long blog post.

So, here's the Córdoba gist:

Martín and I mostly walked around and enjoyed some delicious Argentine food (my god, I love milanesas). Thursday night, I went with him to a welcome event for international students at the university in Córdoba. We started out drinking with Florencia, an Argentine student who must have helped organize the event. We sat around drinking litros of Quilmes (Argentina's national beer. It tastes kind of like water, but it's cheap and refreshing). Later, one of the directors (who studied in Ireland) took some of us to a boliche (night club) to party. Martín and I had a good time, but I wasn't really feeling like dancing, especially since it was so crowded. I did try my first Fernet and Coke, which is something that Cordobeses drink all the time. Fernet tastes kind of like cough syrup, but they rave about its health benefits. Plus, its alcohol content is pretty high (I think), so I was happy to drink it.

One of my favorite parts of my Córdoba trip, though, involved tobacco. Martín and I spent the week trying to find some good habanos (Cuban cigars) to smoke, and boy howdy did we find some. They were AR$ 12 (around US$ 3) each, but they were delicious.

Come Saturday night it was time for me to head back to Buenos Aires, Argentina, for my Fulbright orientation. I'll blog about that tomorrow.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hacer cola

It doesn't mean "to make Coke."

hacer cola = to wait in line; to queue up (for the Brits)

One thing that I've noticed in my wanderings around Córdoba is the lines of people. They stretch out the doors and along the street. You would think that they were waiting for something extremely important, like a visa or some sort of grand prize, but you'd be wrong. They wait for the most mundane things: banks (and ATMS), cell phone customer service, and buses. I'll let making ridiculously long lines for buses slide; that's kind of a necessity and it is time-sensitive.  What I don't understand, though, is that these lines are not around all day. If you go to any of these places in the evening, it's completely empty. Why do people all decide to go to the ATM at the same time? The siesta is around 3 hours long, but most people are free other times in the day, and the weekend is always free. However, I was walking around the mall today and there was hardly anyone there. Saturday is actually a light day here, as far as I've seen. Am I being US-centric? Yeah, probably, but I just hate waiting in lines if I don't have to. Wouldn't it save more time in the long run to deviate from your normal schedule just a few minutes?

Maybe I just need more time to acclimate to la vida argentina, but for now I think I'll avoid superfluous lines when necessary.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Update: I met a celebrity....kind of.

I met this guy in my hotel in Buenos Aires and talked to him for a little bit. I didn't know who he was; I was just wondering how he could play what looked like a guitar fretboard. His Spanish was crap, so we talked in English, and I mentioned I was from Kansas City. He talked with me about it and said he'd done a few shows there. I'm thinking, yeah, ok...

Then, fast forward to Córdoba. In the magazine at my hostel on "things to do," it lists a concert by Tony Levin. I looked at the picture and saw that same weird instrument, and then I realized it was him. I then found his concert hall while I was randomly wandering around.

His music was okay.

That's all. I just thought I'd share a fun little anecdote.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Arrival and Buenos Aires

Since I've just started this blog, it's much easier to write long, detailed posts.
Flying to Argentina, I got upgraded to business class (thanks, Dad!), which was incredible. I got to stay in the admiral's club in Dallas during my layover, and I got two free top-shelf drinks (well drinks and beer were free.) and free wi-fi. I was in heaven.
The flight to Ezeiza airport in Buenos Aires was just as amazing. It felt like they never stopped bringing food (snacks, dinner, breakfast, alcohol, coffee, etc.), and my seat reclined to sleeping position (by the way, I'm starting to realize how much I use parenthetical phrases. I blame the MLA and symbolic logic). I also watched a little HP7, so all was good. Accio Adventure!
Arriving in Buenos Aires, I was very worried. My referente had warned me about theft in the airport, so I was clutching my bags like a small child as I walked out of customs. It was nothing. I walked to a desk, got a remis with my credit card, and went to an atm. It was a holiday, so the atm had no cash. That was a bummer. Little did I know, the bummer trolley had just begun to come into the station. When I got to my hotel (exhausted), I found out my room wouldn't be ready for a few hours. I was a hot, sweaty mess, but I got on wifi, found an atm nearby on google maps, and walked 2 km there (what's a little extra stank?). No cash. I was getting desperate.
Just me hangin' out with
one of the guards
at the Casa Rosada
Later, Katie (another ETA) showed up and we immediately found a bank with AR$ (there will be a lot of ARS puns to come). I spend the rest of the day walking around with her, drinking beer, and having snacks. In the evening we met up with Jacqui, an ETA assigned to Buenos Aires, and hung out until 10 or so. After that, I went back to my room.
The next day was similar. We walked around and chatted most of the day, but we did see the casa rosada. Katie also took me to Recoleta to see some shops and the cemetery. The cemetery/mausoleum was very neat (pictures to come.) Among others, Sarmiento and Evita Perón were buried there. After that, I headed to the bus station for my trip to visit Martín in Córdoba...
(I've been writing this post little by little over a period of three days. Posts are going to have to get shorter, methinks...)

Photos! Buenos Aires

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Introductions and Pre-flight Jitters!

This is me.

Tomorrow, I'll be boarding a plane headed for Buenos Aires. That's here.

In the last five years, I've flown in plenty of planes. I've seen plenty of countries. I studied abroad in Alajuela back in 2007 thanks to my university's Costa Rica Summer Program, and I spent 6 months in southeast Spain studying Arabic and Spanish lit in 2008. Besides that, I've done a little traveling here and there, mostly for leisure. What makes this trip different can be expressed in three letters: J.O.B. For the next 8 months, I'll be helping in English classes at the Universidad de Río Cuarto in Río Cuarto, Argentina (Here's Río Cuarto). How did I wrangle such a sweet opportunity, you ask? I have the Fulbright Commissions in the US and Argentina to thank, as well as the Department of State (and all of you who helped me with my application; it was a long, arduous task).

(More info on Fulbright here:

Oscar-esque speech aside, I'm really fortunate to have the opportunity to do this. Since I started studying Spanish (waaaay back 8 years ago or so), I had always been intrigued by Argentina. I guess you could say my heart got swept away by the passion of the tango, the smooth talking and bold use of a different 2nd person familiar pronoun than that boring old , and the delectable carne asada.  I´m excited to actually go there and experience those things, but more than anything I want to get to know the people there. The people are what make any community, and judging by what I'm feeling about Argentina, these people have to be pretty awesome.

My excitement is quickly burdened by my overly-analytical brain, which is wont to take anything good and new in my life and multi-directionally prod it until it's felt out every possible scenario and risk. My brain is reminding me that I'm not a particularly social creature, and that it takes a lot of effort for me to deal with social situations. It likes to tell me that I have a tendency to quickly judge and isolate myself. It asks me if I'll be able to be as outgoing as I'd like to be while there.

What if the people aren't liked I've imagined?
What if I can't meet anyone?
What if I can't connect with my students?
Will I shut down and isolate myself?


Regardless of the effort it's definitely going to take, I'm going to drive forward and meet people. I'm going to have a wonderful time with my students, and I'm going to make the most of this experience. I mean, I have to. If I didn't, you wouldn't have anything to read, right?

Now shut up, stupid brain.