Saturday, September 19, 2009

Lost in the Museum

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"Hey, Sancho! How did we end up in the Evita museum?"

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"Beats me! I didn't think donkeys could swim that far."

Rooney's Boutique Hotel

Normally, this blog steers clear of anything that smacks too overtly of product placement. But occasionally, one stumbles across a product or service that is so remarkable that an exception has to be made. As regular readers will know, my friend Paddy visited from Washington D.C. for ten days earlier in the month. While here in Buenos Aires she stayed at a hotel in the centre called

Rooney's Boutique Hotel.

From start to finish her entire stay there was absolutely terrific. The location was ideal and the hotel is gorgeous (the painstakingly renovated home of the writer Leopold Lugones, whose complex family life was discussed in a previous post). Most importantly, the staff were uniformly charming - professional, incredibly helpful, just really nice, friendly people, who made her stay there truly memorable. And there is actually a "Rooney" - the hotel is owned by a compatriot of mine called Kieran Rooney, from Belfast, as nice a guy as you could ever hope to meet, and a resident of Buenos Aires for over nine years now.

Located right in the heart of Buenos Aires, very reasonably priced, with expected features such as free Wi-Fi access, and some more unexpected, like free tango lessons three nights a week, Rooney's is a gem of a hotel. I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who might be thinking of heading to Buenos Aires. Further information available by clicking on the link to their webpage above.

A lazy day!

One of the hazards of having an apartment as nice as the one here in B.A. is that, after a pretty gruelling week (including, let's not forget) four hours in the dentist's chair, it becomes far too easy to just lounge around at home, listening to the latest from Gotan Project on the CD player, and not accomplishing much of anything. Oh, strike that - it's not a hazard, it's a pleasure.

But a day where one's main achievement is cleaning the Augean stable of one's inbox (trimming the number of messages from over 20K to 10K so far, and we're not done yet, nosiree bob!) calls for a little more.

Maybe I'll head out in search of sustenance. I know a place just down the street that does a fine Chicken Maryland....

My latest American Express statement has entries like "dinner for two, including wine and tip - $45", "complete dental checkup and 2 inlays - $679". OK, that may not be the exact wording, but you get the point. This year things are even more ludicrously inexpensive than last year, as the exchange rate is considerably better. The U.S. dollar, which was valued at about 3 Argentine pesos a year ago, is now worth - typically - somewhere between 3.80 and 3.85 pesos.

Why don't I just move here and have done with it? (To any of my friends in SF, that's a rhetorical question - I'm not actually serious. At least I don't think so.)

This brings up the reasonable question of my long-term plans. After all, I hope to take the DELE superior, which is the Everest of Spanish proficiency exams offered by the Cervantes Institute, in November. Assuming it goes well, it leaves me only the flimsiest of excuses to take further Spanish language classes. My original plan had been, once Spanish was 'done', to repeat the whole experience in French. More recently, however, I've been having the thought that it seems a shame not to put the Spanish I've learned to some use. So the notion of perhaps trying to set something up where I would spend time as a visiting lecturer in statistics at a university in some Spanish-speaking country has crossed my mind. I hope to investigate this possibility further when I go back to Madrid in November.

Even if that idea comes to nothing, France as a backup option doesn't seem half bad.


Just remember, today be international "Talk like a Pirate" day, me hearties!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Relatos de viaje : del libro al blog

(I am using this post to archive a short piece I wrote for the school newsletter this week. We will return to your regularly scheduled language in the next post.)

En el año 1974, Bruce Chatwin, periodista del Sunday Times de Londres, viajó a Patagonia por primera vez. El paisaje y los habitantes le encantaron tanto que decidió despedirse del periódico para quedarse en la región. Después de viajar seis meses por Patagonia, Chatwin publicó sus recuerdos de viaje como libro. "In Patagonia" salió en 1977 y fue un gran éxito, aclamado por la crítica y el público, ganando el premio prestigioso Hawthornden y el premio E.M. Forster también.

Chatwin no fue el único escritor que se quedó encantado con Patagonia. En 1979 salió el libro "The Old Patagonian Express" del escritor estadounidense, Paul Theroux, relato de un viaje que el autor había hecho en varios trenes, desde Boston, en el norte de los Estados Unidos, hasta Tierra del Fuego, en Patagonia. El libro de Theroux también recibió críticas muy favorables y es considerado, como lo de Chatwin, un clásico del género "relatos de viaje".

Si Chatwin o Theroux hicieran sus viajes hoy en dia, claro que su forma preferida de recordar sus memorias de viaje no sería escribir un diario, sino crear un blog. En nuestra época, en la que cada viajero tiene su portátil y hay cybercafés en las esquinas más remotas del mundo, no hay nadie que no pueda crear su propio blog. Hay tantos "bloggers" como viajeros, y se supone que hay tantas razones para crear un blog de viaje como viajeros también. No puedo adivinar los motivos de otros, solamente compartir mis propias razones para escribir este blog.

Lo empecé hace dos años cuando me decidí a aprender español. Tiene dos objetivos para mí: como crónica de mi "viaje de aprendizaje" del castellano y como modo de comunicación con mi familia y mis amigos. También los comentarios que dejan otros viajeros en el blog me conducen a otros relatos de viaje muy interesantes. A veces la experiencia de vivir fuera de mi país y lejos de mis amigos puede ser complicada; el esfuerzo por captar mis impresiones y mis pensamientos en el blog me ayuda mucho a procesar la experiencia. Claro que hay otras ventajas prácticas también - por ejemplo, la posibilidad de cargar y compartir mis recuerdos fotográficas (más de 3,000 desde el principio de mi "aventura española") en sitios de red como Flickr.

Les invito a todos mis lectores a echar un vistazo en mis fotos:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Rule of Carolina

The rule of Carolina (aka 'la regla de Carolina') states that the only consonants which can appear doubled in Spanish are those appearing in the name 'Carolina'. Tonight I had dinner with the very Carolina who first taught me this rule.

Oddly enough, we had pizza for dinner. It is a sign of my incurable geekitude that I find this hilarious.

The plain people of Ireland: What's he on about now? We don't get it.
MOTP: PiZZa! See, there is no 'z' in 'Carolina'. Oh, never mind ....


Cuando empecé a aprender alemán, en el año 1968, teníamos un libro de conversación (aburridísimo) y un libro de gramática (aún más aburrido) y nada más. Hoy en dia, en cambio, hay una riqueza increíble de recursos para quien quiera aprender cualquier idioma extranjero, no solamente el castellano. La mejor estrategia para descubrir todos las ayudas de aprendizaje del español que se puede encontrar en internet es hacer su propia búsqueda por Google (o cualquier otro sitio de busca).

Como motivación, les ofrezco esta corta lista de sitios útiles, con algunos comentarios sobre el contenido, para empezar:


1 = CNN News en castellano
2 = diario español "El País" en internet
3 = sitio sobre la literatura argentina contemporánea : incluye artículos sobre varios escritores, entrevistas, cuentos, y notícias de eventos literarios
4 = sitio muy amplio del "Spanish CALL Project" de la universidad de Indiana (EEUU) - ofrece diversas cosas interesantes, entre ellos un surtido de ejercicios muy buenos para estudiantes y profesores del español. También ofrece enlaces a varios otros sitios que tienen que ver con el aprendizaje de la lengua española
5 = sitio del Instituto Cervantes (el centro de nervios para "las culturas hispánicas en Internet"). Quizás la dirección de red más importante de esta lista - ofrece recursos para estudiantes y profesores, ejercicios, información sobre los examenes DELE ("Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjera") y mucho más ....
6 = diccionario de la Real Academia de la Lengua Española (para cualquier duda sobre el uso actual del español)
7 = el diario argentino "La Nación" en internet.

Que disfruten!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cristina's Trifecta

Over my delicious dinner of Chicken Maryland*, a delicacy that I had previously only known from my youth in Ireland, but which, I am delighted to report, is a staple menu item here in Buenos Aires, I attempted to improve my Spanish by reading "El Pais". In an otherwise fairly boring article about la Presidenta Cristina's (Kirchner's) efforts to push through anti-monopoly legislation affecting the telecommunications industry the following concluding sentence caught my eye: (Cristina is responding, peeved, to suggestions by reporters that her husband Nestor, who preceded her in the presidency, was pulling the strings)

"Como si yo fuera una persona que no decide y quien decida sea Nestor Kirchner", respondio, enojada.

("As if I were an indecisive person, and the one who decides were Nestor Kirchner", she replied, annoyedly.)

That italicized sentence, containing, as it does, three separate uses of the subjunctive, leaves me slack-jawed in admiration. With just a tinge of despair. You see, this is the kind of sentence I can only aspire to. Never in my life could I manage to get all those three subjunctives correct. I would certainly have managed that "Como si yo fuera" (denoting a condition deemed by the speaker to be impossible), probably even that "sea Nestor" (another supposition that the speaker deems unreal). But that "quien decida" (where the subjunctive is used to denote a lack of specificity about the person who is actually the decider) - not in a month of Sundays!


*: you could look it up; most versions include a deep-fried banana and pineapple rings. 'Nuff said.

El codigo de las empanadas (continued)

Continuing (briefly) with yesterday's topic. The whole vexed subject of empanada decoding is apparently infinitely more complex than one might ever have thought possible. I checked with Ciro this morning, and it appears that there is no 'universal empanada code'. That is, inferences based on shape or other indicators have to be drawn locally, specific to the particular place of manufacture. So that the fact that a triangular empanada from Jumbo foods contains tuna is of no help in deciphering the contents of a triangular empanada produced at a different establishment.

Ciro did say that some manufacturers try to help the consumer by tracing helpful abbreviations on the exterior surface of the pastry. Thus, 'CS' would mean 'carne suave', 'CP' corresponds to 'carne picada' and so forth. This system does appear to presuppose a certain command of Spanish, however - for instance, it assumes that the consumer is savvy enough to see past the potential eucharistic associations of the abbreviation 'JC' to figure out that the contents are more likely to be ham and cheese than the body of (depending on one's views on transubstantiation versus consubstantiation*) one's personal Lord and Savior.

*: a specific heresy subscribed to by assorted Protestant sects, or - to use the quaint Irish phrase - those who dig with the other foot.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dale!

With only two hours to go (well, three in Canada), and my e-mail still not working, let me use this forum to wish a most excellent birthday (what's left of it) to my brother-in-law, Dale. Last year I sent him a fine model car for his birthday, only to have Canada Customs take it to pieces and not really reassemble it properly. So this year, I'm afraid the best I can do is send him a picture of his own car, currently in the shop (AGAIN), as I understand it.

Silver Cloud

And a fine vehicle it is too!

Hope you had a great birthday, Dale, and that I see you guys again in the not too distant future.

Un abrazo.


Empanada Semiotics (also an OBG update)

The empanada code 1

Dear Jumbo Foods:

It's probably a consequence of my currently reading "Barthes para Principiantes" (Barthes for Beginners), but I couldn't help thinking earlier this evening, as I gummed down some of your tasty baked goods, "Have you ever considered hiring a professional semiotician"? For one thing, (s)he might have something to say about your somewhat ill-considered name choice as a company. And some pointers about how to package your product line in a consumer-friendly fashion:

The empanada code 2

Chalk it up to my non-Argentine ancestry, but I'm afraid that, when confronted with the cornucopia of flaky goodness pictured above earlier tonight, I found myself at a distinct loss. How was I to know, for instance, that 'triangular' is code for 'delicious tuna', or that the other, more misshapen, item on the left in the second picture would contain 'carne with black olives'? I'm sure that this is information every good Argentine absorbs with his mother's milk, but spare a thought for us poor foreigners. My ignorance about the semiotics of differently shaped empanadas lent a decidely aleatory touch to tonight's dining experience.

Granted, you are not alone in your erroneous assumptions about the semiotic savvy of consumers. For instance, it has taken me half a lifetime of noshing on the kind of chocolates that come in gift boxes to figure out that square or rectangular almost always means caramel or nougat (a kind I would definitely have to avoid in my current temporarily dentally challenged state), while oval almost always indicates a fondue filling of some kind.

But the manufacturers of Whitman Samplers, Cadbury's Milk Tray assortments, Rowntree's Black Magic and the like generally take some pity on their sweet-toothed customers and include a little schematic diagram to help decipher the contents of their various chocolatey treats, a feature which helps minimize the frequency of such hideous events as finding a tooth-marked delicacy (i.e. tried and rejected) nestling innocently in the box.

Perhaps you too might consider such an aide-memoire? If only to help us pitiful foreigners who are just visiting this great land of yours.

I, for one, would be droolingly grateful.

Communication Difficulties

Yahoo! Mail (you know, the system with non-existent spam filters) has been balky all day. So anyone expecting to hear from me who doesn't should know that it is nothing personal. Having lost a couple of composed messages already, I've given up on it for the moment. I hope the problem is fixed soon, but it is beyond my control.

In other news, I'm back from la dentista, starving as I didn't have any lunch, with the drooling semi-facial paralysis characteristic of residual anaesthetic effects. Hungrily eyeing the delicious-looking mush that I can look forward to gumming down later this evening. But I look forward to going back tomorrow to having my two shiny new implants put in, and to greatly improved masticating abilities in the days ahead. Maybe I should alert the local restaurateurs* to get ready to put another steak on the parrilla.

You may wonder why I seem to spend so much time at the dentist when I come to Argentina. I think the real puzzle is why more people don't. Even factoring in the airfare down here, it will still cost me far less than it would have done in San Francisco (and my experience with Kaiser's dentists has been less than stellar). In addition to being completely charming, Doctora Marisol was extremely professional, obviously very competent, and spoke perfect English. Plus I can kid myself that it's an adventure down here and pretend that I'm having fun. More easily than at home anyway. However, it would be nice if the fillings that I got during my twenties would stop lodging themselves in whatever I happen to be eating at the time. But maybe, like artificial joint replacements, there is some kind of natural life expectancy for dental work.

*: this word was extraordinarily difficult to type correctly; even now I'm not sure I managed to do so.

The plain people of Ireland: Here, this is very boring today. Reading this entry is like being in the dentist's chair.
MOTP: That may be the case, but at least it doesn't take two hours and leave you with a semi-paralyzed face like a drooling idiot. Anyway, what do you expect, wretches? Life isn't all beer and skittles, you know.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Earlier this evening I was having a hard time figuring out why so many people in stores, bars, and restaurants seemed to be transfixed by the TV screens. After all, there wasn't a soccer match on, so the state of semi-paralysis seemed strange, to say the least. It was only as I was browsing the Yahoo! Argentina headlines just now that the penny dropped. In huge font size, the headline blared:

Del Potro vence a Federer y gana Abierto EEUU
(Del Potro beats Federer to win the U.S. Open)

Thereby presumably salvaging a portion of the national pride, which took a beating after last week's successive losses by "La Seleccion" on the soccer field.

In other Yahoo! Argentina frontpage news, the country is apparently abuzz with rumors of romance between the hosts of "Talento Argentino" (Argentina's got talent)

Junto con el rating, crecen los rumores de romance entre Catherine Fulop y Maximiliano Guerra

At least we know that such developments are unlikely between Ellen deGeneres and Simon Cowell.

Yeah. I know. It's a slow news day. So sue me.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


As I write this, Paddy's plane should be taxi-ing down the runway at Ezeiza, ready to take off for Washington Dulles. It was a wonderful week - great weather, great food, many long leisurely conversations, with just the right amount of cultural and tourist activities thrown in (I am in awe of Paddy for taking advantage of the free tango lessons at her hotel, as well as scheduling her own private lesson with the instructors).

Inevitably, this afternoon we ended up at the Evita museum in Palermo. Which was not at all tacky (as I had feared it might be), and quite a bit more interesting than I had anticipated. With a great gift shop. Here are a few pictures:

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I even got to satisfy my matchbox quota for the week (note that they double as nifty refrigerator magnets):

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Finally, before Paddy left, we got to satisfy our prurient curiosity and check out the street where Governor Sanford's mistress lives (only one street over from the Evita museum, though I should stress that we have no way of knowing whether or not it is the particular block indicated on the sign)

street of the mistress

I am, of course, sad that Paddy has left. But tomorrow begins a new week, with fresh challenges. Such as my role as editor-in-chief of the inaugural edition of the school's newsletter. (No, gentle readers, I didn't ask for this honor - some have greatness thrust upon them). The good news is that I will have both morning classes with Ciro for the week.

And so, good night.

What's that? The taxi scam? Maybe some other time. Oh, all right. Let me start by saying that, after it happens, you ask yourself - "how ever could we have been so gullible?" The answer is twofold. First, it all happened so fast. And second, if you never trusted anyone, you'd have to spend your whole life lurking in your apartment. Which, ultimately, seems like it would be a far worse fate than being taken for an amount that, in the general scheme of things, was pretty negligible. Far better to be in a position to have such a misadventure, and to be able to laugh about it afterwards, than to spend one's whole life sheltered from such escapades.

A final note of practical advice. Should you find yourself in an Argentine taxicab, be ready to pay with small bills. Should the driver tell you the notes you just handed him are fake, DO NOT HAND HIM ANY MORE NOTES*. Instead, just get out of the taxi, while offering to take the matter up with any available policeman. If you can write down the number of the taxi while doing so, so much the better.

Naturally, of course, we did none of these things. And were taken for suckers instead. Fortunately, not for a particularly large amount.

Luckily, this was a very minor blemish in an otherwise perfect week. And now, really, I have to go to bed.

*: this was where we really messed up.