Saturday, August 1, 2009

Product placement

My fine ACER notebook

This post is just a quick shout-out to acknowledge the vital role that my fine ACER notebook computer plays in my travels. Brad made me aware of the ACER when he came to visit me in Madrid in March, and I wasted no time in buying one when I got back to the U.S. It's beautifully compact, meets all my needs, has an 8-hour battery life - and at only $350 from Amazon, I consider it a steal. (I did have to equip mine with a mouse, however, given my general lack of trackball agility).

So far I've convinced Emer (my sister) and Paddy to join the ACER club. Maybe you should consider one yourself, for your next trip. You'll wonder how you ever managed without one.

{End blatant product placement. Though if anyone at ACER would like to sponsor this blog.... Oh, never mind! Wouldn't want to compromise my editorial independence...}

The plain people of Ireland: Begob, but that's a handsome machine, no two ways about it.
The management: Why am I not surprised that you would be pleased by shiny gadgetry?

Santiago (continued)

On the plus side:

  • Excellent public transport - easy to use and navigate, and remarkably cheap (about 70 cents to ride anywhere on the system - bus or subway)
  • Excellent supermarkets - well-stocked and well-staffed, and people are extremely helpful
  • Excellent symphony orchestra - after the rigors of Thursday night, last night's concert (Mozart's overture to "The Magic Flute", Richard Strauss's concerto for oboe and small orchestra, and Brahms's second symphony) was extremely comforting. And the price ($14 for an orchestra seat, fourth row center) was certainly right.
  • Generally low cost of living - in general, prices for food and general commodities seem to be pegged at roughly 60 to 70% of those in the U.S. so, while it's not as cheap here as in Buenos Aires, it's certainly very affordable. And certain things (movie tickets, symphony tickets, museum entry) are markedly cheaper than at home.
  • People are extremely friendly and helpful. With the notable exception of the bastard who tried to steal my camera, and that one waitress on thursday evening, everyone has been extraordinarily helpful.

Marginal to neutral:

  • The school, I'd have to say, is not quite what I had expected. It may be that I have hit it at an all-time enrolment low (the number of students in total seems to be no more than about 20, 90% of whom are Brazilian), but the level of instruction has not been all that impressive. As an example, I really could have done without the hour and twenty minutes class time spent on punctuation exercises on Wednesday. Not that comma placement is not important, but it hardly makes for riveting class time. My other minor gripe (which I am assured will be remedied next week) is that I ended up having the same professor for all six hours of daily class time this week, which is hardly optimal. There also appears to be a complete dearth of facilities such as books or DVDs to borrow - every other school I've attended at least had the rudiments of a lending library and other resources for students.
    The mitigating factor is that all of the staff are genuinely nice and very responsive, so that it feels churlish to criticize. It seems likely that limited enrolment is having an effect on the available resources.

Firmly in the negative column:

  • I'm sorry, but there is no way around this. East Berlin - meet your match. This has to be the physically ugliest city I have ever been in. Offered as supporting evidence - I can think of no other city I've been in where there appear to be no postcards on sale. I've scanned multiple kiosks throughout the city, and postcards of Santiago are conspicuous by their absence. I mean, that's got to be considered pretty weird, right? Other than the Plaza de Armas, right in the city center, vistas are pretty grim, though there are occasional uplifting views of the Andes in the distance. This afternoon, I went out with my camera, and here are some of the resulting photos. I don't think I was choosing unduly unrepresentative views:

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This is the apartment building where I live. Let's just say, it's functional.

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Not the guy who tried to bite me. But it could be his cousin.

Am I irredeemably shallow for wishing for something a little more aesthetically pleasing? Possibly. But so be it.

But never mind. Tomorrow it's on to Valparaiso for the day, which I'm assured is far more picturesque.

To his coy mistress

Yes, yes. I hear your mute criticism. This blog lacks poetry. and, you know what? I couldn't agree more. So, to add a little class to what has been an intermittently whiny week, here's Marvell's version of "Carpe diem". (It's not coming completely out of left field - this poem did come up during class discussion on Wednesday)

To his Coy Mistress

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love's day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time's wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Andrew Marvell, 1621-1678

OK. I admit it. I've always had a certain fondness for those metaphysical poets. Marvell may not be quite at the level of Donne, but "To his Coy Mistress" is a delight from start to finish.

The plain people of Ireland: What is this? This blog is nothing but recycled poetry and whining.

The management; I understand how that impression could arise, but here at MOTP central we are actively working on the problem. Have a little patience, my little empanaditas!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

If it weren't so pathetic, it'd almost be funny

First things first. Let me assure everyone, I AM JUST FINE. Just majorly outraged. But things here are rapidly approaching farce levels. On my way to dinner earlier tonight,(where the service was as charming as a rusty nail), I survived (a) an effort to steal my camera (unsuccessful, but leaving me with severe wrist burn from the camera cord) and (b) five minutes later, having one of the mangy wild dogs that roam the pavements of the city sink his filthy fangs into my sleeve (nowhere near penetration of skin, given the many layers I was wearing).

But by my count, that's two strikes. One more, and I'll be on the plane to Buenos Aires before you can say "Pinochet".

Santiago, consider this a warning that you are ON NOTICE! There are certain outrages up with which I shall not put.

On the home front

We had a few home improvements since my trip to Ireland in May. (Pretty much all the credit for these is due to Brad, God bless him)


New bookshelves in the living room, as well as a new couch and armchair (suitably Natasha-proofed)

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A riot of color out on the deck!

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the deck

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riotous color

Sadly, the deck is now off-limits to Boris, after his BIG ESCAPE CAPER in June. He is not particularly happy about this, as you might imagine.

Boris the belligerent

More about Santiago

Well, after my slightly ill-natured first post from Chile, I feel obliged to give this update, just to say that everything is now going much better. Things have warmed up, both literally and figuratively. Classes are going well - yesterday we went on an afternoon excursion to the Villa Grimaldi, which deserves its own separate entry (I will get to it in due course); last night I went to see the delightful Fuerza-G, with most convincing 3-D hamsters. Tomorrow evening I have a ticket to the symphony (with a fine middlebrow program of Mozart, Strauss, and Brahms - none of that Stockhausen stuff), and Sunday there is an excursion to Valparaiso. So things are looking up, even if I am still terrified by the gas heater in the apartment.

Terrifying heating option (front)

Terrifying heating option (back)

Fortunately, Brad arrives next week for ten days, so all I have to do is not blow myself up or gas myself between now and Wednesday. As he is a god as far as all tbings mechanical go, I'm sure he will sort everything out.

To be clear, I can actually get the heater going, just at an enormous psychic and emotional cost. As I have noted previously in this blog, the mechanical aspects of the physical world are not exactly my forte. It may be difficult for some readers to imagine being terrified by machines and gadgets, but for some of us, this is an everyday reality.

More photos shortly, as soon as I can get them uploaded.

An unexpected conversation

One of the joys of foreign travel is that you often end up having the weirdest conversations, the kind that you could never imagine. Bordering on the surreal. Such as this little snippet, which you might have overheard yesterday evening, had you been lurking in the lobby of my apartment building. (As background, earlier in the evening, the doorman had been very helpful in explaining to me how to get to the movie theater, so that when I got back, I felt I owed him at least a partial report on how things went) -

Concierge-dude: ¿Qué tal la pelicula? De qué se trató?
Me: Bueno. Trató de un grupo de hamsteres, que eran agentes especiales del FBI. Y también hubo un topo que tenía planes de dominar el mundo, y un cientifico loco. Pero los hamsteres podían salvar el mundo, por que eran hamsteres muy especiales .. Eran la FUERZA-G

(There were these hamsters who were special agents for the FBI, and a mole with plans of world domination, and this mad scientist .... )

I don't know which of us was laughing harder. Maybe you had to be there.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dateline Santiago

I imagine that it will become clear to me at some later point why visiting Santiago in the dead of winter seemed like such a good idea. I may need to thaw out first though.

plaza de armas, santiago

Here's the requisite picture to show I've arrived. More to follow, once I have regained my equilibrium and a modicum of good humor. Which is to say, once I've slept off the effects of the long trip and warmed up a little. Assuming that's actually possible.

The good news. School is great, and everyone is extremely helpful and charming. Which almost compensates for the extraordinary ugliness of the city. We're talking seriously ugly, alas - think East Berlin in the 1970s.

But hey - it keeps things interesting. Now, I have to go fiddle with the terrifying gas heater before my blood actually congeals. I haven't been this cold since my childhood back in Ireland.

Hasta luego, my little empanadas!