Search This Blog

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.


Sunday, August 14, 2011


Spontaneity is something I could use some more of, and I find that when I actually am spontaneous, nice things happen. Well, let's get down to it.

I had seen posters around saying Bajofondo on them, but the cover just had one guy on it and I thought they were just sponsoring some new act, so I really didn't pay attention to it (If you need to research Bajofondo before continuing, I encourage you to do so at the bottom of the page. It's all right; this post isn't going anywhere). Well, I'm stupid. Luckily, Fernanda (an English professor) saved the day. It was 8:30, and I was just finishing up an early dinner, when my phone rang. Well, I should elaborate. I had just sent a text message, so my phone book screen was open. Then, my phone started ringing, but the phone book screen didn't go away. I had no idea what was really happening, and I was afraid that I had called someone in my phone book. So, not wanting to risk hanging up, I answered. It turns out it was Fernanda, someone whose number I don't have. Well..I think that I've called her by mistake, and I start apologizing, only to have her stop me and ask what I was doing tonight. She mentioned that there was this was tango, but kind of electronic, but kind of...(she was obviously having trouble describing it. Luckily, I knew what it was!) and I interrupted: ¿Quéres decir Bajofondo? The "Siiiiiiiiiiiii" on the other end meant I knew I was in business. Well, long story short, a half hour later I was there waiting in line with her; I still didn't know how much was going to be Bajofondo and this "other guy." The "other guy" turned out to be the pianist and all-star of Bajofondo, and he was incredible. Here is some of his stuff. I was just flabbergasted.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Cocktail Party and Fulbright Fest

Last weekend was incredible!
Argentina had provincial elections on Sunday and, since voting is mandatory here (crazy, I know), no bars are open the night before. Even more, no grocery stores will sell you alcohol on voting day. Well, this naturally left a lot of people without anywhere to go, so I decided to have a cocktail party at my place. Luckily, one of my friends. Valentina, was able to find mint so that we could make mojitos.

I know what you're thinking: A cocktail party...that's pretty cool. It's better than that, though. Teresa and Alex, two Fulbrighters who were traveling up north, were in Villa María visiting Jen, another Fulbrighter. They all managed to make it to Río Cuarto to enjoy the festivities. They, combined with me and Samantha (last year's Fulbrighter), made 5 Americans at a single party in Río Cuarto. That was like 1/4 of the population! Well, that's enough chit-chat. Let's get to the story...

So, Jen, her friend Silvana, Alex, and Teresa were coming in during the evening, right about dinner time. Since my empanadas have become kind of a Fulbright legend, I set to making the best that I could: jamón y queso and cebolla y queso, my two specialties (ham and cheese and onion and cheese). I also threw in a few tomato and cheese ones too, for good measure. I started getting them ready, and by the time the americanos got to my apartment I had all twenty of those babies ready to go.
Mmm mmm....empanaughties
So, the next natural step was fryin' 'em up. We supped on empanadas and some yellow rice that I had leftover, and all was delicious. Then, naturally, we had to have dessert: brownies with peanut butter, Aguila dorada chocolate, and dulce de leche-flavored licor. Oh, baby, was that rich!

Side note: I seem to talk a lot about food. Keep this in mind when I get back to the United States and have gained 20-30 pounds. Empanadas, asado, and dulce de leche...what's a man to do?

So, we had dinner, cleaned up, the guests freshened up a bit, and then we started making cocktails. Slowly, but surely, the Argentine guests started arriving. Suffice it to say that the night was excellent and full of copious intake of ethanol in varying, fruity and minty flavors. I also debated politics in Argentina versus the United States again, but in a jovial tone.

The party ended around 5:30 AM with every very happy. You don't get to see the really good pictures. Here are some that make it look like we were being responsible, though! That's like listening to an edited Eminem CD!

What wonderful cultural ambassadors!
We got a little swing dancing action

Potentially the best photo of any 3 Fulbrighters

The next day, Jen and Silvana had to leave, unfortunately. It was fun while it lasted. Teresa and Alex decided to stay for Sunday and Monday, though, so I planned a few fun things for them. Once we finally got up on Sunday, I took them to the andino, an abandoned train station in Río Cuarto, to have mate. The weather was nice, the sights were grand, and delicious mate was to be had.

That evening, we gathered up Samantha to have an All-American outing, once again for more food. This time, I took them to Don Zoilo, Río Cuarto's number-one gourmet restaurant. I think they were sufficiently impressed. I had a beef tenderloin with onions and a delicious sauce, Teresa had the ever-delectable steak with pepper sauce, and Alex and Samantha had my favorite creation ever: Ribeye steak with prosciutto, rugula lettuce, and mozzarella cheese, complete with artesan-style potatoes and a criollo sauce. Oh...I can't keep describing it without getting hungry.

On Monday, Teresa came to school with me and sat in on a few of my meetings. I then gave her a tour of Universidad Nacional de Río Cuarto, and we came back home for a grilled cheese and soup lunch. Then, of course, it was snack time. 

Again, I'm talking about food. I think gluttony might be my most enticing cardinal sin.
Luís María y Compañía is a delicious little coffee place a few blocks away. They have this whole series of heavenly cakes, tortes, cheesecakes, and everything under the sun. Teresa and I split a degustación de 12 sabores (a sampler platter of 12 flavors), and had coffe. It was $5 per person. I love Argentina.

Well, Teresa and Alex left that evening and, not considering when Alex came back for a night before heading out finally, that was the end of our adventure. I was so happy to see everybody, and I hope I'll get to visit soon!

Bajofondo concert