Saturday, August 23, 2008

At the odontóloga's office

As I've mentioned many times on this blog, one of the joys of overseas travel is the way that just being in a foreign country can take something that would be tedious at home and transform it into something exciting and different - instant adventure, if you will. A case in point was my visit to the dentist earlier today. Readers will recall that the most exciting episode of last Sunday evening's tango spectacle debacle occurred when the Mentos I was chewing lifted a filling right out of one of my lower left molars. That's right: Mentos -- "the freshmaker" and "the toothbreaker".

As a result, 11 a.m. today found me in the office of the efficient Dottora Paula Gualtieri, who took care of my little dental emergency with great charm and professionalism. (In the course of trying to reach Dr Paula during the week, I did end up chatting with her father on the phone for five minutes. Though it seemed inappropriate to ask him directly, it seems highly unlikely that the family is in any way related to the infamous General "Malvinas" Gualtieri. Just in case anyone was wondering.)

There were some notable differences between this morning's appointment and a typical dentist's visit in San Francisco:

  • In the ten years that I've been going to Doctor Victor in S.F., neither he, nor his dental hygienist, has ever greeted me by kissing me on the cheek.
  • Judging by the numbering system that Doctor Paula was using for my dental chart, Argentine patients appear to have 48 teeth. Something I hadn't personally noticed up until now, but you can be damned sure I will be on the lookout for those toothy porteños from now on.
  • For what it cost to replace the filling ("el empaste"), I would barely be allowed in the building where Doctor Victor's office is located. 100 pesos. That's 33 US dollars, children. For 30 minutes of the dentist's and her assistant's time. I felt almost embarrassed.

There were some similarities as well:

  • Apparently, it is a global requirement for all dentists to give you a free toothbrush, a tiny tube of toothpaste, and a leaflet showing you how best to brush your teeth, before allowing you to leave the office.
  • You're never done. By definition, there's always something else. Whether it's the poking around your mouth with sharp pointy metal tools, or an innate ability to spot budding caries from 500 meters (I lean toward the former explanation), every dentist wants you back in that chair.

I consented to one more visit, because - I have to admit - I had been wondering if that surface irregularity I could feel with my tongue might not be a new "hueco" starting up. So, by the time I leave Argentina, it's possible I may have racked up nearly 100 bucks in dental bills. Will I be endeavoring to recuperate this expenditure from Kaiser Permanente? I doubt it, somehow. Life is way too short....

On my way home from the dentist, I wandered along Avenida Rivadavia (the Buenos Aires equivalent of Toronto's Yonge Street - it's very long) for about 40 of its 100 blocks. I didn't have my camera with me, but maybe it's just as well.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Schpring-Schprong Biscuits!!

Coming shortly - OPERATION BAKED GOODS continues!! Watch this space carefully.

schpring-schprong biscuits!!!

The term “schpring-schprong biscuit” refers to any of three biscuit varieties (Kimberley, Mikado, and coconut cream) made by the Jacob company, each of which contains a type of coconut marshmallow filling, which has a kind of springy consistency, from which the name derives.

If you would like to see pictures, try this link

The above Argentine efforts remain a poor shadow of the real thing, but are not the last word on the topic. I will return to this very important subject.

Taming the Photostream

Some of you may have noticed that I've been making relatively indiscriminate use of my little HP R827 in recent weeks. I make no particular apology for this - what's the harm, after all? But it does mean that my Flickr photostream is becoming less navigable. The total number of images is rapidly approaching the thousand mark. Realizing that not everyone wants to wade through every single image that I have uploaded, I will try to be a little more proactive about organizing the photos into sets, which may be a little more user-friendly for those of you just browsing. I won't make any rash promises, but here are links to the first two Buenos Aires sets (I'm repeating the link to the tango set, just for completeness): (Signs and Windows) (Colores del Tango)

Gotan Project

Upon Rodrigo's recommendation, I've been listening to the music of Gotan Project, specifically their 2006 CD, Lunático. I highly recommend it. The first and final tracks in particular (Amor Porteño and Paris, Texas) are remarkably fine. But the entire album is pretty terrific:


Admiral Brown

Yesterday evening, the waiter in my favorite local restaurant was anxious to tell me all about Admiral Brown, the famous Argentine patriot who was born in Ireland. As usual, my ignorance was shocking. So here, as an antidote to your possible ignorance, is a section from the Wikipedia entry on the mariner in question:

Admiral William Brown* (also known in Spanish as: Guillermo Brown) was born in Foxford, County Mayo, Ireland on June 22, 1777 and died in Buenos Aires, Argentina on March 3, 1857. Brown's victories in the Independence War, the Argentina-Brazil War, and the Guerra Grande in Uruguay earned the respect and appreciation of the Argentine people, and today he is regarded as one of Argentina's national heroes. Creator and first admiral of the country's maritime forces, he is commonly known as the "father of the Argentine Navy". Over 1200 streets, throughout Argentina, are named for him.

See, this blog aims not only to entertain, but to inform and to educate as well.

*: not to be confused with the fictional Richmal Crompton character "Just William".

Thursday, August 21, 2008

La vida cotidiana : en la escuela

Don Quijote's global reach doesn't actually extend as far south as the 35th parallel so, even though I arranged and paid for my classes here through dQ headquarters in Salamanca, the school is not a don Quijote school per se, but has so-called "sister status". What this appears to mean in practice is that they follow much the same format for classes - that is, morning classes have more of an emphasis on covering formal grammatical constructs, while afternoon classes are devoted to conversation.

Two changes are evident though, both of them entirely positive, in my view. The first is that they are less strict about sticking only to grammar-related stuff in the morning, and will substitute watching a film, or - if the mood of the class is such that it seems like a good idea - just let the conversation unfold (this willingness to abandon the strict grammatical curriculum is particularly helpful at the more advanced levels). The second, extremely welcome change, is that - for students taking six hours class a day, instead of going straight through from 9 to 3, with just two 20-minute breaks, we actually get a whole hour for lunch at 1pm, reconvening at 2pm. I can't emphasize enough how much more civilized this is.

So far, the teachers have been uniformly excellent - better than many of the dQ teachers I've had over the past year. They are highly enthusiastic, very good at managing class participation, and seem much more imaginative in their use of multi-media and their choice of materials to discuss during class. I'm really liking it a lot, and am learning a lot.

It's a relief as well that, each time when I return to class, I appear to be forgetting a lower percentage of what I had learned previously. I've started to read pretty extensively, starting with Argentine authors like Borges and Robert Arlt ("el juguete rabioso"), as well as my near-daily dose of my old favorite, "El País".

The only slight snag is that, unlike at the various dQ schools, the demographics of the student body are much more homogeneous, and I appear to be the only student over 30 in the whole place. Which is fine - it's not as if there's any kind of age-apartheid, or anything. It's just that - well - have you spent 30 hours a week in a classroom with a bunch of 19-year olds recently?

They're sweet as all get out and everything. But, Lord, at times - they are just sooooooooo damned young.

At times it makes me wish for the glib certainties of youth again. But - then again - maybe not!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tres perritos porteños

Let sleeping dogs lie

I promise I will have something of substance to blog about later on, but starvation sends me out in search of dinner. In the meantime, here are three sleepy pooches I captured earlier in the day.

Hasta pronto, chicos!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Strike Threat Averted

I hope everyone will be happy to know that my temporary mal humor of yesterday is a thing of the past, and I am no longer threatening industrial action. I put it all down to the temporary discombobulation that accompanies a three-day weekend in a strange city. Yesterday afternoon's walk around the Abasto district, documented in the preceding post, thoroughly reinvigorated me.

So please forgive any peevishness on my part. This blog will continue unabated. In fact, just try shutting me up.

Which is not to say that your comments are unwelcome - the more the merrier.

But now I have to go do my homework. Which has to do with midget Argentine serial killers of the early 20th century. It doesn't get any better than this!!

(And yes, arrangements are under way to replace the filling that fell prey to Sunday evening's ill-advised Mentos. Let it be a cautionary lesson to all my readers)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Pictures galore

davids_pictures_august_18_2008 007

I've been out sacar-ing photos like a maniac, and uploading them to Flickr fairly indiscriminately, I'm afraid. I did try to bring a little order to today's efforts, by subsetting out a collection:

Colores del Tango .


Strike Threat

OK, readers! Here's the deal. I know that you are out there, reading this blog. Statistics tell me so. But if you want me to keep posting with any frequency at all, you're going to need to make yourselves heard.

I've posted something like 15 times in the past week, and all I get in response is a single comment.

Is that the best you can do? I sincerely hope not.

Remember, I'm the one here who is thousands of miles from friends and family. So a line of encouragement would be not only welcome - it would be a common courtesy.

Because the silent treatment can work both ways. And if that seems like a threat, so be it. But use your imagination and put yourself in my position. It's frankly dispiriting to feel that one is simply typing into the damned void with every post.

Macho Posturing as an Art Form

tango palace on Av de 9 julio

Yesterday evening I attended an "espectáculo de tango" at the Borges Cultural Center (not what is shown in the photo above). Probably the most exciting part of the evening was when I managed to dislodge a filling while ill-advisedly chewing a Mentos (a hazard that somehow gets downplayed in those zany commercials of theirs). So I'm sure that some future post will deal with life in an Argentine dentist's office.

But anyway - yes - the tango. Well, avid readers of this blog will recall that, where THE DANCE is concerned, I am something of a philistine. There was that unfortunate giggling episode at the flamenco performance in Sevilla last year, induced by the deadly seriousness of the performers and the mild whorishness of the female dancer's costume. Of course, THE TANGO takes itself very seriously as an art form as well, nowhere more than aquí in Buenos Aires. Though at least the costumes weren't as overtly whorish.

The performance lasted an astonishing 90 minutes, roughly 7 of which, in my view were worth the price of entry (10 US dollars, so I'm not really complaining about that). That is, there were roughly seven minutes in which one was mesmerized by the dancing. Problem is, in order to spin things out into a "spectacle" of 90 minutes, there had to be some kind of gimmick. The gimmick was this: there were 3 men and 3 women on stage (and the usual chairs, to be used as clichéd props). Elementary combinatorics shows that this allows for a total of six possible pairings (in the macho world of the tango, don't look for any non-normative coupling). So, the added entertainment value was to watch as assorted couples formed and reformed, or batted their eyelashes, or sulked, for a total of 90 minutes.

Well, excuse me for saying so, but that kind of inane musical chairs is about as interesting to watch as Heidi and Spencer on "The Hills". Or wondering which cheerleader will go to the prom with which jock. At least the cheerleaders and jocks don't mope around with expressions of mock solemnity as if their pet parrot had just died.

So, for the seven minutes or so that the dancers actually danced the tango - that part was great! The rest was forgettable, yawn-inducing padding. But I know that you will want to hear my impressions expressed in verse. So here goes:

(continue at your own risk)

Truth be told, I'd rather watch a particularly hairy orang-utan go
apes**t crazy over finding the ripest, the juiciest, the most perfect, mango
than submit to watching another macho, but secretly fruity, Argentine man go
sneer at his partner as he drags her across the floor in that faintly misogynistic ritual known hereabouts as THE TANGO

There's more, but I'm not sure my gentle readers have done anything to deserve it. Oh, OK, if you insist:

Everyone raves: "as soon as you can, go
see a show; it beats everything, even the music of jazz great Django
Reinhart; don't go alone, get together a gang, go
in a group." But here's the thang, tho'*
I know it's heresy to say it I can think of a dozen things I'd rather do -- catch up on my Jack London, read Call of the Wild again, or maybe Fang. Oh...
I know it qualifies me as a philistine but fact is I'd rather curl up with the budget proposal of a particularly earnest Quango**,
listen to Mirella Freni singing Cio-Cio San, go
see Robert Downey starring as Iron Man, go
watch Brando find new uses for butter in that last Parisian tango.
Heck! Even take classes in how to throw a boomerang. Oh!
Please spare me all the fuss and fandango.
Fact is: there's almost nothing I want to do less than sit through another unintentionally hilarious performance of Argentines and Tinas going through that argy-bargy ritual they call THE TANGO.

*: poetic licence.

**: Quango = Quasi non-governmental organization.

(OK: I've been slightly exaggerating my antipathy here, for entertainment purposes. Fact is, the parts of the show where they actually were dancing the tango were riveting. It's just the padding I found underwhelming)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Two Argentine Challenges

Bifteck on the hoof

Bessie above reminds me of one of two challenges I have yet to master here in Buenos Aires -- to spend more than 20 US dollars for my dinner (without resorting to obvious cheating strategies, such as ordering a dessert I know that I would have no possibility of eating).

The second challenge is to cross the Avenida de 9 Julio (as a pedestrian) within a single change of the traffic lights. I can manage all but the last two lanes, but in the interests of survival, I have no intention of making that final mad dash against the non-flashing red pedestrian light.

But who knows, perhaps trying to fulfil the first challenge will help with the second? That is, all the extra protein may help build the stamina needed to make it across those final two lanes in time.

He who must not be named

One of the shameful aspects of coming to a country with a rich recent history like Argentina's, is that one is immediately confronted with one's own lamentable ignorance. On Wednesday in class, we saw a documentary, "La Republica Perdida" ("The Lost Republic"), covering the country's history from rougly 1928 to 1983, and I was brought face to face with the fact that I didn't know Evita from Isabel Perón. So I've been boning up on a little paperback "Breve historia de la Argentina" (by José Luis Romero) ever since.

One aspect of the more recent history (the book stops in the mid-90's) which we also learned about in class, and which I find completely hilarious, is the following. The Argentines have a word called "yeta", (pronounced "Shetta", to rhyme with "Jetta"), which can be loosely translated as a jinx, or someone who brings bad luck. Other synonyms for this same concept are "mufa" and "semáforo" (the latter word also means a traffic light). I seem to remember an X-Files episode based on a similar premise, but that's another story.

Anyway, it turns out that the former ill-fated, palindromic president of the Republic, the much-reviled (for his big-business, World Bank, U.S. capitalism-pleasing ways) Carlos Menem, who was in power during the lead-in to the economic collapse of December 2001*, is held in such superstitious contempt that most Argentines refuse to mention him by name (believing it to bring bad luck), so that he is now universally referred to only as "el yeta", in a kind of Voldemortian reverse homage.

*: After the increasingly agitated pot-and-pan-beating demonstrations (or "cacerolazos") by housewives, and members of the lower and middle classes, in the Plaza de Mayo, he had to be airlifted by helicopter from the Casa Rosada, thereby initiating the crisis, and the so-called "semana de los cinco presidentes", which - perhaps in unconscious recall of the Italian origins of many Argentine politicians - had the country experience five presidents in as many days.

Even now, our teacher Carolina has yet to mention his name, referring to him only as "El Yeta". It cracks me up every time.