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Monday, April 25, 2011

Polo, Asado, Chillaxin', and Meandering: AKA the Best Semana Santa Ever

This weekend, which many of you know as Easter, is a little bit different in Latin countries. Instead of only celebrating Easter Day, the days preceding it are also celebrated. Regarding Argentina, Thursday and Friday (Jueves Santo and Viernes Santo, respectively) are national holidays. The religious types are busy getting ready for churches and parades, and the non-religious types plan their mini-vacations. I was fortunate enough to be invited to spend the long weekend in Zárate in the province of Buenos Aires with Martín (a friend from Truman who is studying abroad in Córdoba, but is Argentine by blood) and his family. It was a very relaxing weekend, and I had a wonderful time.

Wednesday night, I took a colectivo to Retiro bus station. Due to fog, I ended up a bit late, so Martín and his mother had to wait for me for two hours. Oh, I felt awful. Regardless, we soon got on a train and headed to Martín's aunt's house to have a little bit of lunch: a hodgepodge of leftover vegetable pie, pizza, and gnocchi. I met Martín's aunt María Ana and his cousin Noel. Then, Martín's mother mentioned that there was a polo match that day between England and Argentina, so needless to see we headed out to see it.

I have no idea what the rules of polo are, but I was amazed at the control the riders have of their horses and their ability to hit a tiny ball on horseback. As I was hoping, Argentina won (by a pretty large margin, but I don't remember the exact score). That one's for the Falklands, I guess.

I made an equine friend.

Shortly after the game, we got in Martín's aunt's car and drove to Zárate to visit his uncle and his family. From this point on, time was not measured by a clock, but by meals. I got to meet his uncle Marcelo, who is a delightful kind of crass and crazy, his wife Fernanda, and their daughter Catalina. That night we had an awesome asado (assonance alert!), and I got a few pointers from Marcelo on how to do it properly (even though he insisted he had no idea what he was talking about).

This is the life-blood of Argentina.
The next day I read a book, walked around outside, and hung out with his family. It was very calm, quiet, and relaxing. Fernanda made us a ton of empanadas that were incredible (tuna and onion/cheese since it was Friday), and I learned that you can give them a nice crust if you spread a little bit of scrambled egg yolk on top of them. Who knew? That night, we made pizza a la parrilla. It was scrumptious. 

All right, now that will carry us more or less to Saturday. Saturday we knew that some other family members were coming (with young, verbal children...the bane of my existence), so I was doing my best to prepare for it. Since Marcelo declared that Saturday was going to be a day of rest for him, Martín and I took it upon ourselves to try our hands at being parrilleros. That's right, baby...yours truly made an asado. As Martín and I started getting ready, we found out that the other family members would be coming earlier than expected, and were expecting to eat. So, as we're getting ready, the other family members scramble to go get more meat. All in all, our asado was a tremendous success. If I may say so, it was pretty darn good. Of course, Martín used the coal as an opportunity to make himself a dirty little monkey.

Almost done...

Success! ¡Éxito!

The kids were driving me bonkers, and fortunately I wasn't the only one. We left that evening to head back to Buenos Aires Capital to stay in Martín's grandmother's old apartment. We slept on an old, inflatable mattress that was a hot mess to inflate, but it was pretty comfortable once we got it blown up.

While we were doing this, Martín's mom made us a choripan (chorizo sandwich) from the leftover asado we had cooked that afternoon. After all of this was done, it was exactly 12:01, so we were allowed to partake in a great Argentine Easter tradition: Huevos de Pascua. Rather than hide Easter Eggs made of plastic all around the house, Argentines opt for giant chocolate eggs that contain prizes inside. The eggs are gender-biased, so you have to ask for a girl or boy egg. I requested a boy egg, but there was a mixup, and I was given a lady egg. Oh well...

Here's his mom's egg, which was my favorite:

I was curious as to what they might put in an egg like this, and I wasn't disappointed. At first I thought I had gotten a neon-green swan keychain, and I thought 'hey, that's not so bad.' Then I opened the plastic wrap. No, it wasn't a swan. It was a high-helled shoe, complete with fuzz and jewels. We laughed for a while about this:

We went to bed, and then the next morning Martín's mom surprised us with Rosca de Pascua, another Argentine tradition, and some other facturas from a bakery she likes.

Rosca de Pascua, with cherries and figs
Shortly after, we walked around the neighborhood surrounding the apartment: Belgrano. Belgrano has a lot of interesting architecture, and there's a feria on Sundays, so we decided to go check it out. Here are a few photos:

It was getting to be lunch time, so we stopped by a great milanesa restaurant near the apartment: El Club de la Milanesa. It reminded me of a Tomfooleries a little bit, but the food was great. 
Yeah, that's a fried banana.
We walked around the fair for a while, heard a man recite some Spanish verses, and finished off the day with some ice cream at Freddo's. Then, Martín and I left his mom to head to Retiro to catch our buses.

And, ladies and gentlemen, so ends my Semana Santa 2011 adventure. What a great trip!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Have you heard about these?

I first discovered churros at the San Diego Zoo when I was around 15. Those babies were long (I mean, long) sticks of fried dough and sugar. They came in all kinds of flavors, including strawberry.

Then, in Mexico I got my first taste of real churros, or so I thought. They were just like the San Diego variety, but smaller.

But here you go again, Argentina, one-upping the rest of Latin America...your churros have dulce de leche inside! Pardon my cursing, but Mmm mmm, bitch!

By the way, on the off chance that you cared about my Spanish fluency, I figured out what's making it so difficult for me: the Argentine voice register is too close to that of my American accent. With Spanish Spanish, I speak in a lower tone of voice, so it's easier for my vocal tract to keep it separate. With Mexican Spanish it's similar (but higher pitched). tongue's been getting all confused by mixing English and Spanish vowel patterns and throwing weird allophones around. I'll get it figured out now that I've pinpointed the problem.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What is happening to my Spanish?!

Lately I've noticed that my Spanish oral production has taken a terrible nosedive. Not even when I was in the US immersed in 'Merican culture did I have this much trouble. My tongue feels lazy and weak, my speech is slow and erratic, and I'm forgetting words that I never would have forgotten before.

My first thought was that maybe this was related to the fact that I teach courses in English all week, but this can't be. I used to be exposed to English all the time, but my Spanish stayed just fine. I wonder if it's because I'm blending English and Spanish more often than before, since I'm spending time with Argentines that study English. Maybe my brain is having trouble keeping the sets separate and my vocal tract is having trouble switching out of the lax English mode. Maybe I'm just getting fat and lazy. I don't know!

I'm going to have to start a Spanish-intensive regimen shortly...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Take a walk!

Yesterday was Sunday, which means that every place that isn't your random restaurant or panadería is closed. I found myself waking up extra early (circa 8:30 for having been a good boy and not gone out the night before), so I decided to start walking. I walked down to the river--río cuarto-- and then decided what the hell, I'll cross the bridge and head north. I ended up passing what I think were some wild horses and winding up in the Parque Sarmiento. It's a delightful little park with bridges, tall trees, and fun benches. Here are some photos!
 If you want to see all of them, go here: Río Cuarto Photos (The last half are from my adventure yesterday)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Modales del colectivo

Through my frequent travels on the colectivos of Río Cuarto, I've been privy to many opportunities for people watching, and I always try to be on the lookout for behavior which differentiates the riocuartenses from the Americans I'm used to. One thing I've noticed relates to respect, and it functions like clockwork: regardless of time, place, destination, or occupancy of the bus, an Argentine male will always give up his seat to a woman with a child, and elderly person, a disabled person, or a younger woman. I would like to say that this degree of respect for your fellow man (or lady, as the case may be) is equally existent in the United States, but it hasn't been my experience that people automatically offer their seats to these groups of people. Occasionally, begrudgingly even, a person will give up a seat to an old woman on a subway, but never have I seen it work so consistently. I was impressed.

Shortly after deciding to write this post, I noticed that an elderly man (who was sitting in a seat in the front that was previously vacated for him) was getting off the bus. The bus driver got up and helped the man down the steps without a second thought. It made me reflect on my own culture and our attitudes toward the elderly. I feel like we generally try to hide our elderly, be it in nursing homes or at home, and we don't like to think about what it will be like when we get older. Perhaps senescece is treated this way because we're afraid of getting older; maybe we associate it with weakness. Why? I don't know, and I don't feel like getting philosophical. What I will say is that I was impressed by the respect that Argentines have for one another and, what is more, that this respect seems to be deep-seated in their personality.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Existential/Pedagogical Mini-crisis

When my referente first handed me the schedule of classes with which I would be helping this cuatrimestre (semester), I noticed that a few of them had the label "avanzado" ("advanced) attached. I thought to myself, 'All right, they just probably know a general amount of English and can get by.'

So much for applying American standards of linguistic competence to Argentina. These students are stellar. Sure, they make occasional grammatical errors, but they're few and far between (and incredibly minor!). For example, in an oral production seminar today, I planned this activity with all kinds of words related to personality qualities; it had words that some Americans don't know (e.g. jocose, tenacious, indefatigable). I made two mistakes in doing this, though. For one, a lot of high register English words derive from Latin, which just so happens to be the parent language to Spanish. So, our lofty talk is common talk to them. One point to you, Español. So, I started looking at the words that didn't derive from Latin. They still knew them! These are 3rd year college English students, and they spoke with a fluidity better than most foreign language graduates of 4-year universities in the States. What does that say about foreign language education in the US? It sucks.

Of course, my first reaction was shock. I had prepared what I thought to be a very good vocabulary-building activity, and it was being shot down like a clay pigeon as far as efficacy (another word they already knew) goes. I started wondering, 'Why the devil am I even here?' These students rock, after all. They even had a decent knowledge of American idioms. Oh, goodness, what to do...

I asked my students what it was they wanted to learn from me as an American, native English speaker. The overwhelming response was "idioms" and "proverbs." Forget linguistic competence...I'm going to have to start centering my activities on straight up culture if I'm going to actually teach them something.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Movin' and Shakin', From Hand to Toe

Thursday, I was off to a bad start. My stomach was hurting a little bit, the electrician showed up late, I may or may not have been tired from partying hardy at karaoke the night before, and I ended up waiting for 45 minutes for a darn colectivo to take me to the university. I was getting antsy, frustrated, and I could feel my blood pressure rising to uncomfortable levels. I finally got to my class (45 minutes late, right about the time they were wrapping up), only to find another teacher in the classroom. All that, and the class's normal teacher didn't even show up. Well, lesson learned: in Argentina, American big deals are not big deals. I should learn to calm down...

The upside of me actually making an effort to get to class was that a few of my students invited me to go out that evening to a fiesta de ingreso (welcome party) that some organization at the university was hosting. Around midnight (because that's when you start getting ready to think about going out in Argentina), they came and picked me up, and we went to a vecinal, which seems to be like a community club...or something along those lines. The dance was a good time in general, but I felt like an old man for getting tired around 3 AM. Man...I don't understand how Argentines dance all night like that. 

Additional Commentary: the DJ played a disgustingly-high amount of Black Eyed Peas, and there was a stretch where cuarteto, one of Córdoba's traditional dances, was played almost non-stop. I need to learn to dance cuarteto, and to convince myself that it doesn't all sound the same.

So, the night was good, and all was beautiful. I woke up early the next morning to head over to my referente's house to do laundry. She was nice and made me a delicious lunch as well (chicken, shredded carrots, red onions, and laurel in some kind of delicious sauce). Then, I headed to the university on my free day for my first day of lengua de señas argentina (Argentine Sign Language).

watch this; it's fun (watch it on YouTube for
annotations which explain what I'm doing)

Some of you might hold the notion that sign language is sign language, and that there's only one type. WRONG. Around the world, there are well over one hundred different signed languages, some of which having their own dialects (just like spoken language). I'm learning Argentine Sign Language because I've always wanted to try learning a signed language, and these classes are free!

I got to the classroom a few minutes early and no one was there. I waited for around ten minutes, and girl showed up. After twenty minutes or so, another girl showed up. The total number of people in my class was four. Four. 

The class was wonderful. We learned the alphabet really quickly, and then learned some basic introductions. The class, part of the profesorado en educación especial, is geared toward future special education teachers, so we did focus a little on Deaf culture and why it's important to be able to teach to non-hearing students. I thought this might slow us down, but the small class size really kept things moving. The instructor, Sandra Amor, made us act out little scenarios to get us comfortable with being expressive (I'm not a good actor, but I'll work on it in the name of signed languages and linguistic hotness). Long story short, I love LSA, and I don't even care that this takes away my 3-day weekends.