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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Folklore Concert!

Today (which I almost accidentally spelled as todaí; god help me) was so much more than a typical day in Río Cuarto. For one, I woke up without my alarm feeling refreshed and energized (garden-path sentence alert). I had a banana and some café con leche for breakfast, and then I got on a bus I don't normally take, ten minutes ahead of schedule. I went into my only class at 10:00 and it ended early since the girls are writing scripts for a play they'll be acting out in the next two weeks. Since Laura (the teacher) offered to give me a ride home in a few minutes, I took the opportunity to go to the offices and do some more research for my travels this weekend (horseback riding, zip lining, and hiking in the lovely German village of La Cumbrecita). While I was doing this, Laura, who had previously gone outside to smoke, came in and asked me if I wanted to go see some men sing. Like I would say no to that?

Since 25 de mayo (one of Argentina's Independence days) was last week, and since the university is celebrating some important anniversary, a popular Riocuartense group called Armonía Americana came to sing. It's four guys--one bass, one baritone, and two tenors (one of which is a professor of Engineering at UNRC)-- and they sing folkloric music. The concert was incredible, and I got to hear some really cool songs. Plus, I got to be a little Argentine for a day.

That's all for now. Be excited for my post after this weekend. It will be FULL of great things.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Surprises, Suppositories, and the Scent of Senescence

Today isn't all that important, but it is my birthday. This marks 23 years on Earth for me, and it also marks the 3rd time I've been in a Spanish-speaking country on my birthday. Reflecting on that makes me realize just how much good fortunate I've had in such a short time, and I'll take this time to thank all of you who have brightened my life in one way or another.

I woke up a little late today and, consequently, got into class about 5 minutes after it had started. I had my headphones in, so I didn't really pay attention, but the minute I walked through the door I noticed a cake with a candle in it. Then came the singing. In English and Spanish, my seminar class sang me happy birthday. It was so sweet, and I loved it. The teacher, Laura, is a goddess when it comes to desserts, so I knew I was in for a treat. The cake was a chocolate mousse that she had made and baked. On top she had drizzled chocolate syrup and dulce de leche, then she threw on some sliced pecans and roasted it all in the oven again. It. Was. Heaven.

After the discussion of birthdays and celebration, the class actually started and we began talking about Proverbs in English (the lesson I had been teaching before). To review, we played charades by dividing the class in  two. They were doing well in English, so we did one round in Spanish. Of course, by this point we were all trying to make the others have to act out something hard, so I suggested the Costa Rican phrase "Más metido que un supositorio" (In your business worse than a suppository). Lucía, La negra as she is called, got stuck with this task. She's a very outgoing girl, so she had no problem. But oh, lord, was it hilarious. I will spare the readers some lengthy description, but suffice it to say that there were obscene gestures, grunting noises, and lots of laughter.

After that activity, we got on the subject of singing somehow. One of my students sings opera, but hasn't sung for us yet in class. Today, she did. She sang an English version of the Habanera from Carmen, and I was stunned. In class she doesn't talk very much, but once she started singing it was incredible. What a voice! I considered that to be quite a privilege.

After class, I got on the bus home. I was talking to one of my students most of the way, but then a very old, feeble man got on board. Despite all the available seats next to no one, he sat next to me. For one, I don't like being that close to people, and for two, he smelled a lot like moth balls and horse manure. My entire body went rigid for the rest of the ride. I don't know what it is, but occasionally I get this cringe when I smell that smell. You know what I'm talking about. It's that formaldehyde smell that makes you instantly think of nursing homes, your great grandmother, and doilies that are on plastic-covered furniture. I was not a happy camper.

Other than that, my birthday has been magical thus far. But wait, friends...the celebration has only just begun...

Friday, May 20, 2011


First of all, today was Mel's (one of my students) birthday, so some of us went over to her house for a little while after classes. There was mate, desserts, good conversation, and pigs in a blanket. All of these things were wonderful, but I do have to say that I never expected to see pigs in a blanket in Argentina.

Happy birthday, Mel!

Anyway, that has nothing to do with the main point of my post.

About a week ago, one of my teachers gave me a ticket to a choir concert that was tonight. The choir, the Coro Delfino Quiricci, came to Río Cuarto for free under the auspices of the Rotary Club International to give a concert in honor of 25 de mayo, one of Argentina's two independence days. Part of the earnings went to the local library, Mariano Moreno, which is currently in shambles. I may make part of my Fulbright project helping to popularize it and bring it up to speed, because it's beautiful inside.

The concert itself was interesting in that it was divided into three sections, each paying homage to a different country. The first was Argentina's old colonizing friend, Spain. Second, they dedicated a section to Argentina, and they ended with Italy. All in all, the movements weren't anything impressive, but hey...the choir came for free and did a pretty decent job.

There were some things about this performance that were different from other choral and operatic performances that I had previously seen. In first place, the concert was being transmitted live on the radio, so periodically the announcer would come out and boom different Spanish introductions and compliments into the microphone. Second, the instrumentation was a little bit different than anything I've ever seen. You have your cello, your piano, sure, but they also had recorders...which I haven't seen since my friend Carmen played one through her nose on top of a bar a few years ago. I also noticed that rather than bring other instruments (such as a harpsichord or something else that may not even exist in a 300-mile radius), they used an electric keyboard. It made the sound a little wonky, but hey, you work with what you've got.

Another thing that was a little different was the use of props. I had never seen props used in a classical, choral concert, but there I was, sitting in the audience, watching a morbidly obese soprano put a plastic flower in her hair and sing while clutching a bundle of hay. It certainly created an atmosphere. Later, a man came out and starting singing in a black bowler-esque hat. The song was in Spanish, but I didn't get all of it. Something about "the ladies love me, yadda yadda yadda." It was pretty catchy, though.

The concert was short, only lasting around an hour. At the end, the man did a reprise of his lady-killer song, and to my surprise he went and grabbed one of the choir girls (who definitely had no idea he was going to do that) and started spinning her around and dancing as he sang. That's one thing I like about Argentina: It's spontaneous, and it's alive. It may have a ridiculous bureaucracy and never get anything done at a reasonable pace, but at least its people know how to live and enjoy themselves.

That's all for now. Next week is my birthday, so you can expect a lot of drunkenness.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Villa María and friendship

After a luscious weekend in Santa Rosa, Martín and I met up once again Wednesday night, this time in Villa María to play with Jen and Hannah (two other Fulbrighters). Hannah had come down from Corrientes (way up in the north) because she had the week off due to midterms (parciales). The first night, we made pizzas and had dinner with Jen's referentes. There was also some drinking and Apples to Apples. Oh, and bless them, Jen and Hannah made brownies with ice cream for dessert. You have no idea how much I had missed brownies; each bite was like a heavenly, chocolate explosion in my mouth.

With Jen's roommate, we were 5 people sleeping in a room; you can imagine what a fun snuggle-fest that was. It was great.

Thursday was a free day, and we spent the morning and afternoon walking around, eating, and checking out the beautiful costanera (coastline) that Villa María has. They have a boardwalk and reclining lounge chairs made of nice wood. It's gorgeous! After our little excursion, we went to the store to get ingredients; that night was to be a grand affair. I've been mastering my skills at traditional empanadas and Jen has become quite the queen of empanadas árabes, so that night we decide to have an empanada fest. It was incredible.

Unfortunately, I had to leave early to get back to Río Cuarto for a graduate class the next morning. It was a shame, because I love every one of those people. Seriously, they're great.

Pics are here:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Penis Size, Friends, and Human Frogger

I got out of bed at 8:00 today after not being able to sleep very well, so I thought that the day was shaping up to be pretty blasé. WRONG.

I teach one class on Tuesdays; it's a speaking seminar with about 10 students. Since most English majors here are girls, I'm the only guy in the class. The main assignment for today was to watch some episodes of the TV show Friends and compare that culture to Argentine culture. Pretty harmless, right? Well...someone in the show (David Schwimmer's character) mentioned how small another character's feet were, and this sparked a discussion. "Why would he comment on that?" they asked...

The teacher then explained the...estimation system that some people have to relate penis size to shoe size, and of course I had to verify that this existed in my culture. That was the first time I turned red in class...Then, we started talking about other features that people use to guess what someone's packing in their trousers (nose, hands, etc.), and I learned that in Argentina they use height as the main estimate. They called it the "L" rule, since if you make an L with your hand, your thumb...well, it points out. So, now I'm even more worried about being 3 inches taller than everyone else.

Well, after class and a little grading I hopped on the number 2 bus home. About halfway through the trip, the bus driver stopped and just waited for ten minutes. Then, without any explanation, he got up and got off the bus. It was at this time that I looked over and saw that on the other side of the road (which is the main highway entering Río Cuarto, mind you) was another driver; it was time to change shifts, apparently. Then, I was treated to quite a show as I watched each of the two men scramble to avoid heavy traffic in order to cross. 

Oh, Argentina, you're the wacky aunt in my family tree.

Santa Rosa de Calamuchita

This weekend Martín and I decided we needed a little break from our respective cities, so we checked out Santa Rosa de Calamuchita, a small, tourist-centered village in the sierras de Córdoba. Fortunately, we are nowhere near peak season, so we were some of the only tourists there.

We stayed at a hostel I found on hostelworld. In one sense, I did a good job. The owner was a middle-aged couple. The woman was from South Africa and the man was from somewhere in western Russia, I think, and both were very nice. The room was comfortable and had a collection of DVD's that Martín and I watched on a black and white tv (yeah, I guess those still exist). My only downfall in choosing the hostel was that it turned out to be around 3 km (~1.9 mi) from the actual town center. Oops. At least we got a nice walk out of it.

The city itself is centered on a beautiful river. Here are some pictures of it:

Other than walking around and enjoying the scenery in town, we had great food. Here's my milanesa from lunch on Sunday:

We also went to the information center and got the numbers of some places that rented horses. We ended up finding a great deal with a guy named Juan Martínez. He, his son, and his nephew met us by one of the bridges and took us on a two-hour excursion, all for 70 pesos (less than $20). We even stopped by the river and played with some angry geese (see this: Here are some geese and an action shot of Martín on his horse:

On Sunday we went to do a little hiking. We hiked up the Via Crucis, a mountain path that has 14 crosses on it. We got tired and stopped at 7, then headed to the waterfall. On the path down to the waterfall we saw some random, wild cows.

That's all. More images from our adventure can be found here: Santa Rosa de Calamuchita