Saturday, August 16, 2008

Defunct professions

Economists like to cite "buggy whip maker" as an example of a profession whose career prospects were dimmed, and ultimately quenched, by the inexorable march of technological progress. Some other jobs which have become obsolete:

  • leech collector
  • harbinger
  • powder monkey
  • match girl
  • mudlark
  • child chimney sweep
  • loblolly boy
  • featherie maker
  • faggot maker
  • doctor maker
  • maiden maker
  • sprigger
  • spragger
  • legger
  • pugger

Of course, many of these jobs existed long before OSHA regulations were in effect. So a few side effects were to be expected. I will return to this topic in a future post. For now, let us just be glad that the incidence of cancer of the scrotum has decreased, along with the waning use of children as chimney sweeps.

I am 8 years old!!!

Hotel Colon

Or why else do I find this hotel name so hilarious?

I'm imagining a mystery story: "Revenge of the Colon". Chic young socialite Pamela Ffrench-Sealyham-Bassett, heiress to a large petfood-licorice-allsort conglomerate and her aristocratic fiancé, Geoffrey Ponsonby-Ffeatherstonehaugh (pronounced "Chumley"), 11th Earl of the Falklands, check in to the Hotel Colon, and are never heard from again. Could it be death from gradual meat intoxication, the inevitable result of a diet completely devoid of cruciferous vegetables? Or are there more sinister forces at work in the bowels of the Hotel Colon?

Why not buy the book (available soon in the famed "Malvinas Mysteries" series?) and find out for yourself?*

*Hollywood agents: please contact this blog directly to discuss screen treatment options.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Hours of Geekish Fun

Sometimes I'm almost ashamed at how little it takes to bring me hours of delirious pleasure. The latest example would be this totally awesome Lunfardo-English dictionary (or mataburros), a steal at 25 pesos. Lunfardo is, of course, the local Buenos Aires patois, with roots in the argot of prisoners, and parallels to the French Verlan. For instance, "tordo" for 'doctor', obtained by an inversion of the syllables; the procedure itself is referred to as "vesre", by inversion of the syllables of revés.

lunfardo-english dictionary

Time considerations forbid me from going on at great length this evening (though you may expect me to return to this particular treasure trove at intervals). But two of my favorite entries so far include:

raviol: a small packet of cocaine

and the hilariously translated

darle margaritas a los chanchos: which you or I might think means "to cast pearls before swine", but which the dictionary earnestly assures us means, "to waste something on someone", literally, "to feed margaritas to the pigs".

And with that unforgettable image of the tequila-swilling porkers, we shall have to leave things for tonight.

La vida cotidiana (2)

Random observations.

1. Protein intoxication -

I don't know if it's possible to die from an overdose of meat, but if it is, that stands to be one of the main perils of life here in Buenos Aires. For ridiculously little money, one is regularly served enough meat (steak, veal, chicken, whatever it might be) to feed a small army. Green leafy vegetables seem dangerously lacking in the local food pyramid. And believe me, as a practising Irishman, it takes a lot before one acknowledges this situation.

2. Petrol pump attendants -

You thought New Jersey was the only place on the planet where drivers don't pump their own gas?* Nope. At the Shell station a block from my apartment, there is a whole cadre of pump-jockeys, ready to spring to attention at the approach of a Fiat.

3. Leadership secrets of the J.....!!!!

Probably the most sinister thing (OK, really the only sinister thing) I've seen here all week was the guy at the table next to me at lunch yesterday, who was engrossed in a little paperback with the ominous title "El líderazgo al estilo de los jesuitos", roughly translatable as "Leadership Secrets of the Jesuits".

*: based on historical memory - may no longer be accurate in 2008.

The plain people of Ireland: The Jesuits; them fellas were well able to beat sense into the kids. But sure these days, there's no such thing as corporal punishment in the schools. And look at what we have to show for it. Back when Noel was a boy up in Clongowes ....
The management: Oh, puh-leeze. Spare me your maundering reminiscences. Somewhere James Joyce is spinning in his grave.
The plain people of Ireland: James Joyce, is it? Sure yer man had a terrible dirty mind altogether. And now they're making girls like Nuala read that kind of filth for the Leaving Cert. What's the country coming to at all?
The management: (Sigh)


Carolina has made MATE!!

Carolina has made MATE!!!

david 013

Rodrigo's not really a fan...

David is suspicious, but willing to try!!

David is suspicious, but willing to try.

La vida cotidiana

There is so much about Buenos Aires that is charming, it's hard to know where to begin. Maybe with the most important meal of the day - breakfast. I've already found my regular café, just across from the school, where I can start the day with a leisurely café con leche, a pastry, and the day's copy of El País.

Charming aspects of this encounter:

  • Pastry names: a simple croissant is a medialuna (literally a "half-moon", a slight misnomer, as they are unquivocally crescent-shaped), and can be ordered "dulce" or "salada" (salted). A more complex, stickier, pastry can also be had - this is known as a factura. A name which I find hilarious, as factura also means "bill", or final reckoning. I think it's kind of cute to be reminded of the final reckoning as one orders that sugar-laden, artery-clogging, buttery, flaky, pastry.
  • That one gets served a refreshing glass of cold seltzer with one's coffee.
  • The price: a standard breakfast "deal" is coffee with three small medialunas for 6 pesos, that is 2 US dollars*.

*: Since the dollar sign '$' is used to denote both pesos and US dollars, I will try to avoid using it, to prevent possible confusion.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Name that Kevin!

Name that Kevin

Today, I reach out to all my readers with a challenge:

  • Identify the Kevin featured in this photo. (I am really not sure, though I have this sneaking suspicion it might just be ..... K-Fed. But then I think, surely not).
  • Provide the requisite linkage to Kevin Bacon.
  • Extra credit: Provide the Bacon-Erdös number for the individual in the photo.

Notes and hints: If the picture is indeed that of K-Fed, his appearance during the past year as a WWE "participant" will be considered an acceptable starting node. (Even if it isn't K-Fed, amuse yourselves by pretending it is).

For the extra credit part (which is really a direct challenge to Professors Davidian and Tsiatis, though if anyone cares to shame them by providing an earlier answer, so much the better), a Bacon-Erdös number is defined in the obvious way; its calculation obviously requires an intimate knowledge of both popular culture and mathematical celebrities. There are a few obvious bridges between both worlds, but why should I make it too simple....

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

El País Redux

A pleasant surprise here in Buenos Aires is the ready availability of "El País", in what appears to be essentially the same version as that in Spain. Even more pleasing is its price - at 2.50 pesos it works out at around 84 cents, which is about half what it cost in Spain. The whole pricing structure seems mysterious, and more than a little arbitrary - for instance, in Costa Rica it achieves definite luxury status, at a daily cost of 3.75 US dollars. Similarly, in Chile it's no bargain either, costing almost 2.50 US dollars. But I'm not complaining - it's a definite steal here in Argentina.

My love affair with El País continues unabated. For instance, it provides the perfect filter through which to read about the Olympics. Instead of being blasted with the usual hegemonistic braying of the U.S. media, it's kind of refreshing to see Spain's bronze medal in fencing get front page status. Then there was this gem, buried deep inside yesterday's edition:

"Iggy Pop se queda sin guitarra; Iron Maiden también"

Next to a photo of Iggy, looking suitably bereft, are the details. Apparently, while Iggy and his band were on tour in Canada, somebody made off with their van - from the parking lot of a Montreal Embassy Suites. The van was later discovered a few blocks away, but sans equipment.

Hard to know what's more poignant - the loss of Iggy's beloved guitar, or the fact that these days, while on tour, he stays at the Embassy Suites. And one's heart goes out to the robbed rebels of rock in Iron Maiden. Who are offering a reward, should any of you blog readers out there know any more about their loss.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Colourful Blur

DG 020

This photo kind of sums up my impressions of today. A wonderful, exhausting first day here in Buenos Aires. There are some slightly more lucid photos on my Flick'r stream:

Enjoy! I need to get to bed.


Childhood Memory

DG 021

In Fermoy, where I grew up, the national (primary) school I attended was just next door to a Faber-Castell factory, which closed at some later point during my childhood. We schoolkids used to benefit from their reject pencils.

Apparently, Faber-Castell are still going strong here in Buenos Aires. As are Fiat, and a bunch of other companies I haven´t come across in years.

Enter Mercedes, in pursuit of the almighty dollar

Things were hopping in the apartment earlier this evening (relatively speaking). Within a ten-minute period, I received both a phone call and a visitor. And to think I thought nobody knew where I had gone to ground.

The phone call was straightforward enough - a welcoming call from ByT, the agency which helped me locate the apartment, to see if everything was going OK. Five minutes later, a knock at the door. Who could it be?

At this point I should mention that my good friend Paddy ("MOB") B. has kindly pointed out what she perceives to be an incipient trend in my Latin American peregrinations. Personally, I think she may be succumbing to the all-too-human tendency to discern patterns where none exists. But who am I to say? Maybe she's on to something. The meme in question would be "poor communication with the 86-year old Latina".

I answered the door, to be greeted by an imperious señora of - oh about - 86 or so, in a wheelchair, being pushed by an obviously apologetic nurse-aide. Minor chit-chat on the threshold, during which the imperious Mercedes made it clear she had something to discuss with me, of sufficient magnitude to require her entry into my apartment. How could I refuse?

Moments later, we regroup around the dining-room table in my (sparsely, but adequately furnished) rented apartment. For which I have paid, a little over 24 hours earlier, the entire 7 weeks rent in advance (plus one month security deposit). Substantial moolah.

This matters not a whit to Mercedes, who has plans of her own. It turns out, see, that SHE owns a bigger, two-bedroom, apartment elsewhere in the building, which her sons (clearly she must have meant grandsons, as her sons would be in their sixties, by my estimation) have just refurbished (though not actually furnished), and she is willing to rent this much larger, completely unfurnished apartment to me, beginning at once, for a steal at a mere $1800 a month - here she smiles triumphantly, as if to seal the deal - "for as long as I desire, even until Christmas".

I can't really explain why it took 15 minutes (to the obvious excruciating embarrassment of the long-suffering nurse´s aide) to communicate to Mercedes that (i) while I was eternally grateful for her consideration (ii) I was in fact just one person, so that a second bedroom provided little extra attraction (iii) I had no furniture, so that an unfurnished apartment provided no attraction whatsoever and - sobretodo - (iv) I had paid for the apartment in which we now found ourselves, in full, through September 29th. Other than the obvious explanation that Mercedes´s listening powers were highly selective.

Eventually they left, and I was left to ponder yet another apparent failure in communication with the Spanish-speaking over-80´s set.

But I can't help thinking. Oh, Mercedes, was it my charming personality that provided the impetus for your ever-so-generous offer? Or is it just possible that you just viewed me as a potential conduit to the almighty dollar? I guess we shall never know with certainty.

Monday morning update.

Monday morning, 9:30. First impressions & completely random thoughts:

  • The apartment is terrific - hugely centrally located.
  • The usual sense of accomplishment provided by totally mundane stuff - like finding, and successfully negotiating, the supermarket yesterday evening.
  • Or figuring out how to make my cellphone function as an alarm clock.
  • From apartment to school is about a 25-minute walk, which seems ideal.
  • Dinner last night at this great Italian place on the next block over. Waiter spent 10 minutes helping me with my Spanish - always a good sign.
  • The night doorman at the building did the same, on the grounds that it was "very unusual" to meet a foreigner who was interested in speaking Spanish.
  • Definite San Francisco weather. It is winter here, after all. Not super-cold, but definitely not warm.
  • Dark by 7pm last night. Also dark when I got up at 6:30 this morning - however, this is an hour earlier than what I hope is my usual schedule (had to do my placement test).
  • I think I just aced my placement test.
  • Practical matters - still figuring out the best phone option. Seems as if it may not be the cellphone. Details when available.
  • Internet cafes are plentiful and cheap. So I'm glad I left the laptop at home.

I think it's going to be completely awesome. Also, I promise to revert to a less choppy style, once I've had the chance to settle in a little bit. Honest. I promise.

It's gonna be just awesome!!!!!


Sunday, August 10, 2008

The eagle has landed

It's 6pm here on Sunday afternoon in Buenos Aires. Do you know where your favorite Irish biostatistical blogger is? (If so, please send messages to this blog).

Just kidding. He is safe and sound in downtown B.A. After a long (almost 11 hours) flight from Washington Dulles, got in this morning without any problems, got a taxi to the apartment, where I signed the contract for my stay, got the keys, and promptly crashed for the afternoon.

Am now out and about in the city center, which is fascinating. So far, the weather seems similar to that in San Francisco before leaving. Which does bring to mind the inevitable comment, attributable - I believe - to Mark Twain, about how the coldest winter he ever endured was summer in S.F.

Enough with the meteorological babbling. This post is just to say I'm here in B.A., safe and sound.

Much more later.