Sunday, August 24, 2008

it's like when your brain is penetrated...

Entry and exit are excruciatingly painful but the actual journey through the brain is painless.
Friday, the first of August, was our last day in Argentina.

Brenda's and my original plan was to meet at our nearest subte station at 10 a.m. to take the subte to this really nice mall called Abasto, then have lunch somewhere, then go to Havanna and have coffee with lots of cream and liqueur (or just lots of Bailey's, you can have both in one stroke), and the walk home would sober us up, and we'd be good to go to the airport, and everything would go well.

What really happened was that between 10 and 10:30 we were on a wild goose chase for each other. After finding each other, we endured the most hellish ride of our lives until we transferred from Line D to Line B.

Abasto is a legitimately good mall, unlike the mall in Colonia, Uruguay, which boasted topnotch duty-free shopping but instead offered dollar-store selections. It was in Abasto that I learned that the subte cards the University of Belgrano had given us could be used at convenience stores. UB never bothered to tell us this when they gave those cards, because God forbid students be spared a little pocket money. I had 76 pesos left and I needed to use them. I'd be damned if UB saw the money that I could have spent on all the bottled water and alfajores that I bought. In the mall convenience store, I managed to get down to 71 pesos, then down to 70 when we took the subte to another place. Brenda had eaten the stuff she'd bought (much more than 5 pesos worth) and instantly regretting it.

We found a nice place to eat, but we needed to digest a little before having spiked coffee. We took the subte towards home and Havanna, and then nature called. Both of us. We meant to reconvene in an hour to go to Havanna. I got off the subte and walked home, but saw another convenience store, and I wanted water, so I bought it with my card, but as I reached for it, I realized I didn't have my wallet.

After a few minutes of talking to law-enforcing looking men who couldn't have helped me, I realized there was no hope of getting my wallet, and went home to relieve myself. At least I still had my passport and keys. But I had a crisis to sort out. I called the Argentine Visa company but it was absolutely useless because I just kept getting prompted for my BNI, whatever the bloody hell that is, by an automated voice, and continuously pressing 0 didn't get me the human voice that I needed. I bit the bullet and texted every one of my family members to cancel my credit card and bank card ASAP. It wasn't just the inconvenience of not having my cards, or of losing my subte card, or two receipts I meant to show to United, or the loss of about 80 pesos (at least it wasn't 80 dollars) that I'd recently withdrawn, but Julieta had given me a leather monogrammed key chain that I'd attached to that wallet. Fortunately her parting letter was still safe in my purse.

Meanwhile, Brenda's guts weren't agreeing with her, and she took Pepto-Bismol and still felt like crap. Coffee plans were shot.

Susana came with me to the University of Belgrano, where the bus would take us to the airport. She even bought a bottle of water for me, although I shouldn't have had it, because I needed to go rather badly. I tried to go to my happy place, Iguazu Falls, but as those are huge, thundering waterfalls, that didn't work out. Even thoughts of comparatively pissant Niagara Falls made it worse.

Ezeiza airport has the brilliant idea of not only an exit fee which isn't included in the ticket (and no one bloody asked me for the receipt of my exit fee - could I have gotten away with not paying it?), but also of additional security once you're past security. For US-bound flights, anyway. Actually, that could be our own government. And once you're past that post-security, you can't get back out, not even for the bathroom. I was the only one in my group taking a different flight back home, everyone else was on United's non-stop to Dulles. The woman in charge of that security told me in broken English that I couldn't get past the ropes unless I was on that flight. I told her that my friends were all on that flight, and I didn't want to be isolated from them longer than I had to. She effectively told me tough shit. So I did the next best thing, and got everyone to sit close to the ropes across from me.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


One of the girls in our group came up with superlatives for each of us, which she presented at last night´s farewell dinner. The dinner took place in a posh restaurant in Puerto Madero, a posh, and wicked expensive, part of Buenos Aires that´s too good for a subte stop. (Here´s looking at you, Tyson´s Corner.) It was a buffet, and the selection was fantastic. At the end of dinner, we got to hear our superlatives. Mine was most enthusiastic about experiencing every part of Argentine culture. That should make my family happy.

reward for coming to class

Half the group didn´t go to UB today. I was one of the half that did, and got my grade. The reward for not being truant today? Busywork and a stupid film. What can they do if I decide not to be there for the film?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

home stretch!

Really, I´m not feeling angry at all right now. I just finished the first part of my final, and we had an essay section. I´d have been more than happy to write about how beautiful Iguazú was or how nice it was to practice my Spanish, and my Portuguese too on account of how many Brazilians I saw, or how I love reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in Spanish (I´ve read the end and the first five or six chapters, I only have the middle left) in Ateneo while sipping tea, or how nice Palermo was, or how entertaining my host family´s dog is, or how riveting last night´s tango show was.

Ah, tangent time. We went to Café Tortoni to watch a tango show. It´s the most clichéd of tourist attractions, but whatever. In high school, I remember my French II teacher, Mme. Lucy LaSalle, telling us that no matter how plain a girl looks, if she dances well she´ll be the most beautiful girl in the room. The same goes for guys. This thought comforted me until I realized I suck at dancing. In any case, the dancers were neither youthful nor sexy. That woman had to be at least my parents´age. Nonetheless, when she was on stage, she looked like a work of art, and her partner too. And they danced well, of course, and when they danced, suddenly they were indeed sexy. Youthful too. At the beginning of the show, the MC wanted a count of all the countries being represented there. There were Brazilians, Peruvians, Colombians, no Chileans for some reason, Brits, Italians, Americans... I needed to represent the motherland, so I shouted out, "¡La India!" which no one hears much in Argentina. Yet somehow the woman still knew the word "namasté." Maybe she was a Sai Baba devotée. She probably wasn´t from the Haré Krishna cult. "Namasté," I replied, and pressed my palms together to be more authentic. It didn´t occur to me to point out that a "Hello" with an Indian accent is how it really goes on in India these days.

I´ve made fun of Brenda many times for her brain farts (first when she was convinced that 2000 meant 10 p.m. and then when she was convinced that from the 11th floor you needed to take an elevator going up to the 7th floor) and that night I got my comeuppance. I was looking through the list of drinks and ordered a glass of cider, and it was listed as "copa de cidra" just like "copa de vino" and I had learned that "copa" is for alcoholic drinks, otherwise it´s "un vaso." It was also priced the same as the glasses of wine. I enjoyed it, impressed that I couldn´t taste the alcohol, and after I finished it, and said to Julia, "Huh, perhaps my tolerance went up, because I don´t feel so much as a buzz."
"Of course you don´t, cider doesn´t have alcohol!"

At one point, the tango dancers pulled audience members on stage to dance, and one of those audience member was Brenda. I´d have taken a picture if the flash on my camera didn´t suck. We both got pictures posing with the male tango dancer.

In any case, the essay section in our final asked us to write about something that we didn´t like during our stay in Argentina. There are all sorts of positive things for me to write about, but very well, now that the professor asks me for something that pisses me off.

I don´t like when I´m speaking Spanish and I make one small error that gives away that Spanish isn´t my mothertongue, and the Argentine who´s talking to me seems to think¨, "Ah stupid foreigner, probably American" and responds to me in English that really isn´t any better than my Spanish. This is while my family is paying through the roof to send me here and learn to speak the language properly. In our classroom, we´re told to avoid les calques (word for word translation) at all costs, and that´s something I know intuitively. Apparently foreigners learning English are exempt from that. While we´re told not to think in English while speaking Spanish, those Argentines I´ve heard trying to speak English are clearly translating in their minds each word in Spanish. I speak Spanish with care, or try to anyway, but it seems that English doesn´t deserve the same kind of care.

And I realize that Americans butcher their own language, but that´s no reason for foreigners to butcher it too. Isn´t speaking English incorrectly just another thing the rest of the world hates about us? Why emulate that?

And when Argentines respond to me in broken English, there are many times that I detect an air of disdain in it, and given their level of English, they have some chutzpah speaking to me that way. I´m trying (and paying) hard to learn your language. If you don´t want to learn mine properly, don´t treat me with contempt when I try to learn yours. Hell, even if you do speak perfect English (I´ve met only two people who fit this criterion, one is Alejandro and the other was our guide in Iguazú), work with me when I practice Spanish, respond to me in Spanish, don´t hesitate to correct me if I make a mistake, that really doesn´t offend me, certainly not more than responding to me in English.

In any case, even though that particular thing bothers me, I hardly ever actually encounter it, and the month is wrapping up really nicely. Also, I´m to eat steak tonight for my old professor.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

foreign tongues from foreign tongues

I always thought that when the French spoke Spanish, they´d replace the [r] sound with a [R] or a [x]. (Look up the international phonetic alphabet and you´ll know what I´m talking about.) But according to the writers in Spain who made Harry Potter y las reliquias de muerte, the French replace every [r] with a [g], so Fleur always called Harry "Hagy." Weird.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Argentine domestic airports

The domestic airports in Argentina are not the most intelligently designed places in the world. Montreal´s airport (I can´t remember the code) made me cranky because it took forever to get rid of the luggage that I wanted to check in, and it was after passing through several types of lines for various customs issues, but at least the important stuff, like places to shop and get food and reading materials, was located after security. But in Aeroparque Jorge Newberry (AEP), the only newsstand is located before security. But at least AEP has a nice café-cum-bar and a fast food place and a duty free. The Iguazú airport (IGR) has its only restaurant before security, and no newsstands, just a bunch of expensive artisan shops. (Only one past security) So if your flight is delayed and you didn´t bring anything to do, you´re shit out of luck.

As I waited in IGR, then, I fantasized about Iguazú during a full moon night. For five days every month the Iguazú park offers moonlight walks all the way to Devil´s Throat. It´s a shame the moon was a waning crescent when we went, because I´d have loved to see the falls at night under the moon. That´s what I want for my honeymoon, I think. The photographs I saw of the falls on a full moon night looked less like photographs and more like the sort of artwork I put on my laptop wallpaper when it´s not Marlon Brando circa Streetcar Named Desire or JD from Scrubs. (The latter would be the one who´s so lucky as to join me in Iguazú by moonlight in my daydreams.) And perhaps we´d see jaguars and pumas and toucans and of course, more coatíes.

We did board the plane on time, which gives me hope for my flight home (well, to Miami). And I´ll say this much for LAN - the snack selection is far better than what I´ve seen on any North American plane. LAN doesn´t give crappy pretzels, it gives saltines, Havanna cookies and a little Havanna alfajor. Would that United would have offered Triscuit and Starbucks brand biscotti and madeleines. I hope dinner and breakfast are better than what United gave too.

It´s a magical world

Our flight to Iguazú was via LAN, the very airline I´m taking from Buenos Aires to Miami next week. I decided the flight to Iguazú would be my gauge of what to expect when I return to the US. At check-in, some LAN employees (on strike or something like it) were handing out fliers explaining how LAN is filthy rich and getting richer, yet the salary of the working class employees was pissant to began with, and had just gone down.

Our flight was supposed to take off at 11:50. First we heard it was delayed by an hour. Then the screen just said, "Consult agent." Finally at 13:15 we started boarding from a different gate. Then we heard we had another half hour before takeoff. Then we heard the same thing half an hour later. It was 16:15 by the time we arrived in Iguazú, and it´s only an 80 minute flight. To be fair, the Aeroparque Jorge Newberry airport was having issues with its radar, but I still don´t think this bodes well.

As we arrived we could see mist rising from what was doubtless the falls. We were not in Buenos Aires anymore. The hotel was something else. It was four stars, and spending three days there felt like a proper vacation. It offered a nice view of the sunrise over the forest in the morning. The breakfast was complimentary and a proper one, not the continental kind. There was a wide assortment of teas, honey, bread, croissants, dulce de leche... and fruit. And there´s nothing like having tropical fruit while you´re right in the tropics.

Nothing I say here will do our tour of the falls justice. We hiked through various trails and stopped at various points along the falls. It was followed by a boat ride that got us soaked. Brenda was terrified, and I had fun telling her the boat was going to capsize and there would be piranhas and leeches and crocs in the water. Then we saw La Garanta del Diablo, or the Devil´s Throat, and it looked like the beautiful vortex of death. The bridge that leads to it is 3 kilometres long and made of metal plates, and I´m terrified of heights. You can imagine how that went.

We didn´t get to see any jaguars or toucans or pumas, which is a shame, but there were plenty of cute critters like wild guinea pigs and coatis. Coatis are in the same family as raccoons and just like the hanuman langurs of India, they love stealing tourists´food. I had to resist the urge to grab one and cuddle it.

We got back to the hotel maybe an hour before sunset. Our hotel is about half a mile from a point where the Parana and another river meet, and it´s the tri-country frontier between Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, and at sunset, the view´s sublime. Brenda and I hauled ass to get to it. I confused Brazil and Paraguay before I saw their flag colors because there was a city skyline on the Paraguay side and I assumed that must be Brazil, as Brazil´s more cosmopolitan. Then I saw the red, white and blue arrangement, and I thought, "Why the French flag in Brazil?" before it occurred to me that that´s the Paraguayan flag, and that on the other side was a pole that was yellow and green. We also managed to talk to a family from Mendoza, and I got a lot of practice with my Portuguese that day too.

At every moment, I was hit by my own insignificance in the vastness of the natural world. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "Poor Niagara!" And Iguazú still isn´t the biggest waterfall system in the world, that would be Victoria Falls in Africa.

Two weeks from now I´m to see Niagara.