Saturday, September 6, 2008

A Learning Experience

Travel. It broadens the mind. Exposes one to new places, people, cultures, ideas. All that sort of thing. Teaches you things you might otherwise never have learned in a gazillion years. Here are a few things I have learned in the last four short weeks.

sept13_david_g 014

Sexado de loros por ADN (Parrot-sexing by DNA):

This is what the sign in the window of the local pet-store says. The first couple of times I passed by I misread it as "sexado de lobos por ADN", which - of course - made no sense at all. By the time you get close enough to a wolf to get a DNA sample, you can probably tell what sex it is - the question is, why would you want to in the first place? When I finally figured out it meant parrots, not wolves, I was relieved at first. But it still seems very odd to me. Isn't there some easier way to figure out whether your bird is a Polly or a Petey? Who knew that one would have to have recourse to DNA testing?

Though, now that I think about it, isn't chicken-sexing supposed to be one of those notoriously difficult professions, restricted to a select few talented individuals who are born with "the gift"? Suppose you are one of the rare people born with the gene for accurate chicken-sexing. How would you ever find out about your talent?

Prejudice in the House:

In contrast to the swooning Spanish fans of the sneering, misanthropic, drug-addicted, limping, implausibly brilliant, insufferably obnoxious, assmarmot diagnostician Doctor Gregory House, Argentine viewers are underwhelmed*. They have noticed a repeated, disturbing tendency for episode plots to refer to the practice of medicine throughout Latin America as if it were nothing more than a collection of primitive techniques practiced by indigenous tribes whose witch doctors never wash their hands or sterilize the instruments they use to kill the chickens used in their quaint healing rituals. Play the game yourself. Next time "House" comes on, see how far along the episode gets before "recent travel to Latin America?" comes up as a question in the differential diagnosis efforts.

Fear not. I always wear a Biohazard Level 4 protection suit (or greater), when going to the cootie-ridden internet cafe. Though it's hard to find sterilized booties in my exact size, so it's possible that the parasites are creeping in around my ankles.

*As am I. This creaking, one-note, excuse for a series passed its "sell by" date at the end of its first season, if not before. Hugh Laurie is a talented actor who needs to get out more, instead of being seduced into allowing himself be reduced to a caricature by the lure of filthy lucre.

Limbo Hands:

Then, of course, there is the vexing "manos de Perón" case. How can they still be in limbo, when the Vatican eradicated it just this past year? 'Tis a puzzlement.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Money matters

One of the odder things I noticed (or imagined) since arriving here in Buenos Aires was what appears to be a distinct shortage of coins. To the extent that cashiers will plead with you to check if you have 40 centavos, because they don't have the 60 centavos it would require to give you correct change. Or they just round the price down in your favor. In the subway, where the cost of a single trip is 90 centavos, things are so bleak that they have introduced a special card, whereby your 10 centavos change can be credited electronically. A far cry from the U.S., where every household has some kind of enormous penny jar. I asked one of the teachers yesterday, and confirmed that this is not a figment of my imagination. There is indeed a city-wide shortage of coins in Buenos Aires. Nobody can explain why. It just seems so ... odd.

Another currency-related note (vile pun intended) pertains to the 100 peso bill. Prominently featured is one of the country's former presidents, Julio Roca. Nothing particularly unusual there, one might think. Problem is, one of Roca's main contributions to the country's history was the extirpation of all of the indigenous populations (Argentina doesn't have issues with indigenous people because Roca just eliminated them all back in the 19th century). In response to criticism that portraying a mass-murderer on the country's most valuable banknote might be considered inappropriate, the government came up with the Orwellian response that the 100 peso note was the least circulated, and that Roca was thus less honored than - say - Bartolomeo Mitre (an infinitely more savory former president-scholar-writer), who appears on the lowly 2 peso note, which enjoys far greater circulation. Indeed.

Finally, I was amused to note (sorry!) on a currency exchange rate display earlier today that the pound sterling was denoted as the "libra Elizabeth".

Thursday, September 4, 2008


My friend Brad arrived from San Francisco this morning, and will be visiting until Wednesday evening. So there might not be too much time for updating the blog over the next several days. I will do the best I can - for instance, my reading of El País has reminded me that there is much important information about European royalty that I owe my readers (marital discord - a problem which is apparently not confined to the house of Windsor - plagues some of the royal offspring; not to mention the tragic accident which has befallen the royal family of Bulgaria).

Brad has - wisely - expressed a lack of interest in the combined dinner 'n tango show recommended by the school; we may go to Uruguay on Sunday instead.

Yesterday, we went on a class outing to the Museo de Bellas Artes. Which merits a second visit (and its own blog entry, in due course).

In other news, I was very pleased with my performance on what many people consider to be the ultimate test of Spanish ability - my 40-minute conversation with the taxi-driver on the way to the airport this morning. All these classes appear to be paying off.

Sadly, there is no progress to report in the perplexing case of "las manos de Perón". Police - indeed, the country as a whole - remain baffled.

Pavement update: for the past week, city "workers" spent enormous amounts of time, and made enormous amounts of noise, repaving the sidewalk on the corner where the school is located. They finally departed yesterday. But here's the thing. Not only has the unevenness of the pavement not been ameliorated - it is noticeably worse than it was prior to the "improvements". Personally, I'm beginning to suspect some kind of hideous plot, involving the city's orthopaedic surgeons and chiropractors.

The plain people of Ireland: Here, this is very choppy today. All disjointed like.
The management: Indeed it is. Sometimes life fails to arrange itself into little neat thematic packages.
The plain people of Ireland: Is this the best you can do?
The management: The idea that I should take seriously the criticism of an entity capable of writing "phrases" such as "All disjointed like" is frankly ludicrous. Back to your caves, troglodytes!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

La lluvia en Sevilla es una maravilla

Long-time readers of this blog will recognize the title of this post as the Thpanish version of the infamous 'enry 'iggins phrase "The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain". As my teachers in Salamanca explained, this is considered a good test phrase, because how a Spanish speaker manages the subtle "ll" sound is regarded as a measure of how well-spoken he or she is.

I regret to say, dear readers, that my Salmantine teachers would not be favorably impressed by the local pronunciation here in Buenos Aires. Somehow those lovely liquid "l"s are transformed into a regrettably sialoquent* shshushshing kind of a sound. Between my porteño teachers and all the Brazilian students "zhzhzhing" their way around the hallways at school, it is all I can do to hold on to the purity of my lithping Cathtilian pronunciation.

But I am doing the best I can. Assuming I return to the Don Quijote school in Madrid in November, I don't want to be the object of scorn and ridicule when I do so.

* sialoquent: spraying saliva when speaking (I could name certain graduate school professors, and a few professional colleagues, in his context, but it seems unkind to do so). The antonym of sialoquent is, of course**, xerostomic, xerostomia being one of the defining symptoms of Sjögren's syndrome.

** there is, of course, no "of course" about this at all; nobody in their right mind knows this kind of stuff. Somehow, over time, my mind has become a vast storehouse of obscure trivia and particularly useless bits of information. Not necessarily a blessing, I might add. I'd much rather be able to remember my phone number here in Buenos Aires, something that the presence of an eighth digit seems to make particularly hard to do.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Can anybody lend a hand?

Peron Hands: Police Find Trail Elusive

Investigators trying to determine who broke into the tomb of Juan Domingo Peron and sawed off his hands have arrested six people in recent days, only to see five of them cleared by a judge. The authorities discovered the hands missing two months ago after leaders of the Justicialista Party, the Peronist political movement, said they had received an anonymous letter advising of the mutilation and demanding $8 million ransom.

New York Times; September 6th, 1987

Who knew? I certainly didn't. But I intend to find out more about this important topic. Because my readers deserve no less than the full truth of the matter.

Lest there be any confusion on the matter, I should stress that Evita's hands remain unscathed, as firmly attached to the rest of her cadaver as the competing forces of natural decay and the magic of the embalmer's art allow.

Doomeder and doomeder

Flickr is being particularly obnoxious this past few days (I have no idea if it's just to me, or whether it's a more widespread phenomenon), so it's been hard to upload photos. That said, the blurriness of the photo below is my own fault, nothing to do with Flickr:

doomeder and doomeder

But you get the picture.

Doomed as doomed can be. Without remorse.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Oh those internet censors

They're so sharp they'll cut themselves (NOT!!)

I guess I just have myself to blame for the provocative title of the last post but one.

With a link to pictures, yet.... Oy vey, chicos. Son gatitos, no ******s!

Two Sleeping Giants

Every morning on my way to school I first pass by the Teatro Cervantes, just two blocks down my street, then past the enormous Teatro Colón, which takes up a whole city block, between the Plaza Lavalle and the Avenida de 9 julio. The latter is quite obviously under repairs, with sidewalk closures all around and random scaffolding. The former gives the superficial appearance of being in full swing, with placards for various shows on prominent display. But there never seems to be any activity in the evening - after three weeks I had yet to see any evidence that the advertised shows were actually being performed.

It turns out - somewhat shockingly - that renovations on the Teatro Colón have been underway for almost 10 years now - a project which has apparently fallen victim to various changes in city government, with each successive incumbent firing all those previously hired to work on the project so that his particular cronies might benefit instead. But each successive incumbency never lasts long enough for anything to get done. In other words, an ongoing political farce, which would be funny if it weren't so pathetic.

Just as shocking, lights have been dim in the Teatro Cervantes for over a year, due to an inability (or lack of political will) of the city to come to an agreement with "the unions".

It's as if the London National Theatre were closed for 10 years. Or the Globe in Stratford. A pretty sad state of affairs.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Let's demonstrate!

A los porteños, les gustan manifestar.

It appears, based on casual observation, that porteños will take to the streets in protest for almost any reason at all. On any given day, I pass at least three 'manifestaciones' of one kind or another - on a good day, it gets up to six. Now, to be sure, I am helped in this regard by passing the main courthouse on the way to and from school every day, but the enthusiasm for street protest is nonetheless impressive. Plaza de Mayo, in front of the Casa Rosada, is another favored protest location. The "madres de los desaparecidos" still protest there every Thursday afternoon - this week, as part of a class excursion to the Cabildo (the first seat of government, now a museum, located across the Plaza from the Casa Rosada), we saw their demonstration. It seemed distinctly inappropriate to take pictures of what is now essentially an expression of mourning of personal tragedy, so I put the camera away. There were, however, at least three auxiliary demonstrations, related to causes which were impossible to determine, going on at the same time. All of which does raise the question - with so many demonstrations, is anyone really paying attention?

The Unfeasibly Tall Greek Billionaire

This is possibly the funniest thing I have yet seen on the Internet (with the obvious exception of Strindberg and Helium, of course).

These folks are geniuses!!

(Thanks to Nicola O. for bringing this to my attention)