Saturday, September 26, 2009

Estatuas Vivientes!

Today I got to go to my favorite event in all of Buenos Aires - the annual living statues contest! Here are a few of the ones I liked best:

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The entire set may be seen at the link below:

Living Statues 2009

Que disfruten!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bad poetry showdown

For years now, scholars have been arguing over who should be the true holder of the title of worst poet ever. Most agree that there are only two serious contenders (where poetry in "English" is concerned, at any rate). One is Scotsman William Topaz McGonagall, whose poem "The Tay Bridge Disaster" certainly justifies his consideration as a serious candidate. For years I was in the McGonagall camp, but more recently I find myself leaning more towards James McIntyre, Ontario's "Chaucer of Cheese". To see why, keep on reading (at your own risk)

MOTP readers are invited to register their own opinions, by adding a comment to this post.

The evidence:

The Tay Bridge Disaster
William Topaz McGonagall (1879)

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.
’Twas about seven o’clock at night,
And the wind it blew with all its might,
And the rain came pouring down,
And the dark clouds seem’d to frown,
And the Demon of the air seem’d to say --
“I’ll blow down the Bridge of Tay.
”When the train left Edinburgh
The passengers’ hearts were light and felt no sorrow,
But Boreas blew a terrific gale,
Which made their hearts for to quail,
And many of the passengers with fear did say --
“I hope God will send us safe across the Bridge of Tay.”
But when the train came near to Wormit Bay,
Boreas he did loud and angry bray,
And shook the central girders of the Bridge of Tay
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.
So the train sped on with all its might,
And Bonnie Dundee soon hove in sight,
And the passengers’ hearts felt light,
Thinking they would enjoy themselves on the New Year,
With their friends at home they lov’d most dear,
And wish them all a happy New Year.
So the train mov’d slowly along the Bridge of Tay,
Until it was about midway,
Then the central girders with a crash gave way,
And down went the train and passengers into the Tay!
The Storm Fiend did loudly bray,
Because ninety lives had been taken away,
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.
As soon as the catastrophe came to be known
The alarm from mouth to mouth was blown,
And the cry rang out all o’er the town,
Good Heavens! the Tay Bridge is blown down,
And a passenger train from Edinburgh,
Which fill’d all the people’s hearts with sorrow,
And made them for to turn pale,
Because none of the passengers were sav’d to tell the tale
How the disaster happen’d on the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.
It must have been an awful sight,
To witness in the dusky moonlight,
While the Storm Fiend did laugh, and angry did bray,
Along the Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.

Now let's hear from James McIntyre:

Ode on the Mammoth Cheese
(Weight over seven thousand pounds)

We have seen thee, queen of cheese,
Lying quietly at your ease,
Gently fanned by evening breeze,
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.
All gaily dressed soon you'll go
To the great Provincial show,
To be admired by many a beau
In the city of Toronto.
Cows numerous as a swarm of bees,
Or as the leaves upon the trees,
It did require to make thee please.
And stand unrivalled, queen of cheese.
May you not receive a scar as
We have heard that Mr. Harris
Intends to to send you off as far as
The great world's show at Paris.
Of the youth beware of these,
For some of them might rudely squeeze
And bite your cheek, then songs or glees
We could not sing, oh! queen of cheese.

We'rt thou suspended from balloon,
You'd cast a shade even at noon,
Folks would think it was the moon
About to fall and crush them soon.

Dairy Ode

Our muse it doth refuse to sing
Of cheese made early in the spring,
When cows give milk from spring fodder
You cannot make a good cheddar.

The quality is often vile
Of cheese that is made in April,
Therefore we think for that reason
You should make later in the season.

Cheese making you should delay
Until about the first of May.
Then cows do feed on grassy field
And rich milk they abundant yield.

Ontario cannot compete
With the Northwest in raising wheat,
For cheaper there they it can grow
So price in future may be low.

Though this a hardship it may seem,
Rejoice that you have got the cream,
In this land of milk and honey,
Where dairy farmers do make money.

Utensils must be clean and sweet,
So cheese with first class can compete,
And daily polish up milk pans,
Take pains with vats and with milk cans.

And it is important matter
To allow no stagnant water,
But water from pure well or stream
The cow must drink to give pure cream.

Canadian breeds 'tis best to pair
With breeds from the shire of Ayr,
They thrive on our Canadian feed
And are for milking splendid breed.

Though 'gainst spring cheese some do mutter,
Yet spring milk also makes bad butter,
Then there doth arise the query
How to utilize it in the dairy.

The milk it floats in great spring flood
Though it is not so rich and good,
Let us be thankful for this stream
Of milk and also curds and cream.

All dairymen their highest aims
Should be to make the vale of Thames,
Where milk doth so abundant flow,
Dairyland of Ontario.

Oxford Cheese Ode

The ancient poets ne'er did dream
That Canada was land of cream,
They ne'er imagined it could flow
In this cold land of ice and snow,
Where everything did solid freeze,
They ne'er hoped or looked for cheese.
A few years since our Oxford farms
Were nearly robbed of all their charms,
O'er cropped the weary land grew poor
And nearly barren as a moor,
But now the owners live at ease
Rejoicing in their crop of cheese.
And since they justly treat the soil,
Are well rewarded for their toil,
The land enriched by goodly cows,
Yie'ds plenty now to fill their mows,
Both wheat and barley, oats and peas
But still their greatest boast is cheese.
And you must careful fill your mows
With good provender for your cows,
And in the winter keep them warm,
Protect them safe all time from harm,
For cows do dearly love their ease,
Which doth insure best grade of cheese.
To us it is a glorious theme
To sing of milk and curds and cream,
Were it collected it could float
On its bosom, small steam boat,
Cows numerous as swarm of bees
Are milked in Oxford to make cheese.

Exciting diorama update

I almost forgot to alert readers to last week's new additions to the matchbox collection. As is evident from the photos, there is a distinct nautical theme -

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Coming soon - the extremely rare Bettie Page and Olivia Newton-John matchboxes. The collection is about to "get physical"!

Full matchbox coverage may be found here

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Meditation XVII (John Donne)

I had always thought that the famous "No man is an island" lines were a free-standing poem, and didn't realize that they are part of the following longer piece (I'm not sure I buy into the whole 'affliction as treasure' metaphor, but those of the island, and the bell, are undeniably powerful):

Meditation XVII from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions (John Donne, 1624)

Nunc lento sonitu dicunt, morieris.
(Now this bell tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die.)

Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me and see my state may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.

The church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that head which is my head too, and ingrafted into the body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another. As therefore the bell that rings a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness.

There was a contention as far as a suit (in which piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled) which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined that they should ring first that rose earliest. If we understand aright the dignity of this bell that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his whose indeed it is. The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God.

Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Neither can we call this a begging of misery or a borrowing of misery, as though we are not miserable enough of ourselves but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbors. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did; for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction.

If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current moneys, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels as gold in a mine and be of no use to him; but this bell that tells me of his affliction digs out and applies that gold to me, if by this consideration of another's dangers I take mine own into contemplation and so secure myself by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

Puerto Madero

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Today, we went on a little class excursion to Puerto Madero, pictured above. "We" included Monica (from Brazil), Ed (from England), and Ciro (el prof);

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Of course, I was there too (pictured below, with a bovine acquaintance)

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(note to self: work on that dopey grin)

This was my first time in Puerto Madero, which is B.A's version of London's Canary Wharf. Though it is undoubtedly an improvement over what was there previously (abandoned dockland), I found it somewhat soulless and interchangeable with any similar development in any other major waterfront city (including, for instance, the presence of a Hooters, as well as a branch of TGIF's, where the waitstaff were forced to wear demeaning comical costumes). Monica, on the other hand, finds it completely enchanting. Different strokes, and all that ....

It's ironic, but perhaps emblematic of the difficulties I have with it, that its signature bridge (seen in the first picture above), designed by world-famous Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava, was inaugurated (or whatever one does with bridges) on December 20th 2001. This was the day when the economic bubble of Argentina's Menem years finally burst, with riots in the city that lasted through the night. A day where police violence resulted in the loss of 32 lives.

As I may have reported earlier, many Argentines believe to this day that to utter the name "Menem" is bad luck, and they instead substitute the word 'Yeta' ('bringer of bad luck'). Shades of 'he who must not be named' in the Harry Potter books.

But it was a pleasant excursion and - hey - after a while anything is preferable to yet another discussion of the correct use of the subjunctive. Which seems to be all that is left to discuss, as far as Thpanish grammar is concerned. Because, quite evidently, its subtleties are infinite, and not to be grasped by mere foreigners.

Nonetheless, I intend to keep on trying!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sweet Hamlet-y goodness

Hamlet, the sweet-toothed Dane

I think the fact that there is a chocolate bar named after Hamlet attests to the generally high level of cultural literacy here in Buenos Aires. I fully expect to see "Macbeth" blood sausages in the butcher's section at the supermarket.

(Note to self: under no circumstances allow yourself to be tempted by the 'Titus Andronicus' meatpies)

The plain people of Ireland: Here, what's yer man on about now. Sinead! Nuala! Tell us, what's "Titus Andronicus" about again?
(voice of Nuala, offstage): Oh, Daddy, you really don't want to know. It's a horrible play - very grand Guignol.
The plain people of Ireland: Dear God, what's the girl on about? Is this why we paid out huge gobs of money to the nuns, so that our own flesh and blood would be talking above our heads?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Back on the Plain

Excellent news! I am glad to report that MOTP will once again be taking up residence on the Iberian plain, on or around Saturday October 24th, with plans to stay in Madrid through December 1st or thereabouts. Even better, the same Madrid apartment from earlier in the year is available, so once again I will be neighboring the establishment pictured below:

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At the risk of disappointing certain readers of this blog, I would like to make it quite clear from the outset that there will no repetition of the whole spring candy-pooping animal diorama excesses.

But five weeks in Madrid in autumn! Yay!

Operation Baked Goods Status Report

Regrettably, the recent spate of dental excavations and renovations has severely curtailed the ability of MOTP staff to invest adequate amounts of time and effort in the OBG-Argentina initiative. Thus, this week our investigation has been reduced, quite literally, to performing curbstone research:

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But, based purely on the visuals, one has to think that there is definite potential here.

We hope to be able to provide a more comprehensive update, complete with gustatory details, in a future post, once all this irritating crown-and-post nonsense has been taken care of. Unfortunately, that won't be for another week.

Monday, September 21, 2009

El conducto

A word to drive fear into the most resolute heart is the Spanish word "conducto", meaning root canal surgery. Today I got to experience this less than delightful procedure first-hand, spending a total of two hours and twenty minutes in the chair of the charming Doctora Marisol. As I may have mentioned before, there are relatively few professions in which demented perfectionism would be considered a good thing. Dentistry is, however, one of them.

Back tomorrow for the first leg of the 'post and crown' procedure. But I suspect that the only one who really cares about any of this might be me. So I will leave it at that for the evening.

I'd like to be able to report that root canal work gets a bad rap. But it's every bit as hideous as everyone says. Even in beautiful Buenos Aires. But at least here it has the virtue of being inexpensive.

Altruism Update

MOTP regrets to report that this whole putpocket phenomenon (see yesterday's post and associated comments) has taken a distinctly sinister turn for the worse. As our roving correspondent reported earlier today:

"Baked Do-Goods said...
OMG! I woke up today and found an Empanada of Unknown Shape and Hence Filling in my pocket!"

Unfortunately, police in Santander report that disgruntled Basque separatists, in an effort to hijack this new eleemosynary trend, have taken to stuffing empanadas with Semtex, and tiny detonating devices, prior to placing them in the pockets of their intended victims. Authorities are reported to be very worried about the potential for widespread chaos throughout the Basque region, particularly since efforts to cross-train members of the canine drug-sniffing unit to seek out the booby-trapped empanadas have been conspicuously without success. According to a spokesman for the anti-terrorist squad in Santander:

"So far the training sessions have been totally unsuccessful - the puppies just gulp down the empanadas, apparently under the mistaken notion that they are just doggie treats".

Travelers are urged to turn in any unsolicited empanadas to local police. Under no circumstances should such items be placed in the microwave!

MOTP staff continue to monitor this dangerous situation closely.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

La llama que llama

Any U.S. resident who has been exposed to more than ten minutes of television within the last five years cannot have escaped the ubiquitous Geiko gecko, the Cockney-accented spokesbeast for Geiko insurance. Day and night, this perky little green critter exhorts us to consider switching to Geiko for our car insurance needs (he's not nearly as annoying as one might imagine, despite blanketing the airwaves with his presence).

Comedic animal spokesbeasts are, of course, not the sole preserve of Geiko. Argentina has its share as well. One of the most famous in recent years was the (now retired) "llama que llama", who - logically enough - was a spokesbeast for the phone company Telecom. Here are two examples of this fine spokesbeast in action:

Warning - there are some twenty of these videos in all - you may find it hard to stop at just two.

For language geeks only: the second link above is particularly funny, as it involves a further play on the word "llama", which, in addition to meaning "llama", as well as the third person singular present tense of the verb "llamar" (to call), also means "flame". Thus, the spot is playing with the idea that 'lanzallamas' (flamethrower) could also mean a device for throwing llamas.

Either you find this kind of thing funny or you don't . Personally, I think these llamas are hilarious, and that the whole ad campaign is pure genius.

Altruism run amok

"Visitors to London always have to be on the look out for pickpockets, but now there's another, more positive phenomenon on the loose - putpockets. Aware that people are suffering in the economic crisis, 20 former pickpockets have turned over a new leaf and are now trawling London's tourist sites slipping money back into unsuspecting pockets."

- Reuters: 'Putpockets' secretly slip cash into bags and pockets, 24 August 2009.

Ever since first reading about this whole 'putpocket' phenomenon, we here at MOTP central have been fascinated. In an era where news organizations world wide are having to cut back on such luxuries as foreign correspondents, we felt sure that there was more to the story than Reuters might have been able to track down. So, sparing no expense, we did a little investigation of our own. The results were sobering, as this brief report from our roving correspondent suggests:

More sinister examples of the eleemosynary impulse gone awry have also been reported. Scotland Yard is particularly interested in locating the shadowy figure they have dubbed the "barracuda", whose modus operandi is to drug and kidnap unsuspecting visitors from hotels in the city centre, and transport them to a warehouse which has been outfitted as a dentist's office, where they are subjected to multiple tooth implants before being returned to their hotels.

According to a police spokesman:"Although the charitable impulse of this reverse tooth fairy might be considered admirable, the execution has often been problematic. In particular, the use of children's teeth to augment existing adult dentition has resulted in some victims waking up with far more than a regular complement of teeth, up to as many as 44 in extreme cases".

Another worrying trend has been the increased number of reports of hotel guests waking up in a bathtub full of ice, with fresh incision scars, to find that they have been the recipients of a third kidney.

Here at MOTP, we will continue to monitor developments in this ongoing saga of altruism run amok. Our readers deserve no less.

Azaleas in Bloom

Spring is coming to Buenos Aires!

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