Friday, June 29, 2012

Serenity Now!

The community offering serenity
OK, we have been getting numerous cards and letters asking where we are and what we are doing. Wait . . . how can we get mail when no one knows our address? Oh, never mind, the fact of the matter is that if we don't get a blog entry up soon, we are going to lose our world-wide fan base. NO! So, here goes our June run down . . .

We actually got to the San Diego area at the end of May after spending some time with my mom in New Mexico. I was also able to meet up with Krissy, my buddy that visited us in Laos! Once in SD, we stayed in a hotel and two days later took a guest house rental. It is not too close to the university Joe is working at, but it's still a SD address! We live in a calm, traffic-free, area of dry, rolling hills . . . very serene and the site of a lovely McMansion development. What do I mean by that? Well, they are lovely similarly styled million-dollar homes. There is a park, sidewalks, and plenty of space. We do have about a 5 mile drive to the nearest store or facility, but that's what you expect in the old USA, and especially California, lots of driving! Luckily, Joe and I both have cars now, so we are mobile.
Ocean Beach Mural - giving BsAs a run for its money!
I think I forgot to mention, that we don't actually live in one of the million-dollar homes; we merely rent a guesthouse. It is bi-level with a living/kitchen area below and a bathroom/bedroom above. Very tidy . . . and furnished! Utilities are included and that is very convenient since we will be doing lots of computer work for school here. Also, the weather is magnificent! Fog in the morning, cool breezes, and warm direct sunshine in the afternoon.  We often head out on drives to the center of La Jolla or San Diego . . . even Ocean Beach, or O.B. as is is known to locals - a great place for San Digeo souvenirs!
Statue of the UCSD mascot: Tritons
I have found a city pool to swim at in Poway - my new favorite suburb of San Diego. This place is trippy! There are so many immigrants that I feel that I'm in another country (for those of you that know me, that means heaven!). I have run into Turks, Indians, Russians, Iranians, Vietnamese, Chinese, British, and more! There are  also two 99-cent stores that I regularly frequent there ;)

Joe has started gearing up for his semester this week, and he will actually start teaching on Monday. So far, he is enjoying his new status as a "Triton"  (I never knew this word existed!). Next week, I will be heading to Ukraine and Paraguay to do some teacher training projects. I am looking forward to seeing my old friends in Ukraine, getting my dose of Gapchinska art, going to the opera, and eating some delicious potato-based foods . . . Starch! Here I come! Then I'm off to Paraguay via Miami to spend three weeks in a brand new country for me. I am really looking forward to speaking Spanish again and hanging out in the Southern hemisphere.
For now, that's the June scoop. ¿Tienen preguntas? У вас вопросы?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Hurly-burly in Arizona

Pretty much since we landed in the U.S., we have been working in Arizona teaching 8-week contracts at the university. One of my Indonesian students used the word "hurly-burly" to describe her first week in the U.S. I had forgotten about that word, but I find it quite handy to describe our last 4 months of living/teaching here. Moving our life from Argentina, finding a place to live, buying a car, and  at the same timeworking in a very demanding program has left us with our tongues hanging out. And now that the Phoenix summer is creeping up on us (for those of you who don't know, temperatures have already reached 106F which is 40+C), we are heading out with my VW Jetta packed with our worldly belongings: staplers, binders, books, clothes, hole-punch, markers, and our creative ideas . . . .

We don't want it to seem like we don't love the desert . . . we do! Our Arab students (of which we had many on government-sponsored scholarships) do too as it reminds them of home. In fact, we have been living in a guesthouse in a very exclusive part of town. Our front porch looks out upon unbelievable desert flora and fauna. By the way, the pictures were taken by my $15 Leica camera (selling for $600 on Ebay) that I got at a secondhand store . . . secondhand shopping being one of my favortie U.S. hobbies :)

Although we will miss our little prairie dog friends, ground squirrels, bunnies, quail, and cacti, it's time to move on. They said, "Californy is the place you oughtta be . . ." so we loaded up the car and move to . . . San Diego. More news soon . . .

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Coming up for air . . .

Coatimundi at Iguazu
Reintroduction into U.S. culture has been a challenge for us this time. We have been working at an
intensive English program which has taken up most of our time and energy. Before a full update, here are our own pics I promised from January! Glaciers, Penguins, Waterfalls, and Coatimundis!
Iguazu Falls

Penguins on Isla Martillo - Tierra del Fuego

Perito Moreno Glacier - Calafate, Patagonia

Sunday, December 25, 2011

¡Felices Fiestas!

Here we are on Christmas day in Ushuaia - end of the earth - world's Southernmost city! As we were planning to wrap up our stay in Argentina, we decided that a trip to the north to see Iguazú Falls and then a trip down south to see penguins and glaciers was in order. The pictures will tell most of the story, but we don't have a way to post them yet. For now, we have borrowed some from the Internet.

Iguazu was truly amazing - the national park is very well organized with many well-marked trails leading you through the rainforest to stunning views of the falls. It was well into 90 degrees F while we were there, but it was shady on the trails and quite pleasant. Everyone says you should leave the giant fall called "garganta del diablo" (devil's throat) till the end. Against our urge to see it first, we did wait till the end and were stunned by being so close to a raging waterfall. It's hard to explain as the sounds, the cool spray on your skin, the smells, and power of nature combine to really move you to a feeling of pure awe and exhilaration. Wow! It was crazy. I tried to film it, but am sure I didn't capture even 10 %. As we looked down into the crashing water below, we saw a perfect rainbow. It was really something special. The jungle was also full of wildlife. We caught glimpses of coatimundi, birds, lizards, ñeques, and even 3 monkeys!

We flew back to BsAs for a one-day stay before heading to Ushuaia. Our descent into the capital was the most turbulent flight ever. Usually quite conservative, the Argentine passengers acted up as one guy started laughing wildly each time the plane dipped or jerked to the left or right. A woman in front of us shouted at him to be quiet. Others were barfing their guts out into air sickness bags . . . . the funny part was that I had headphones on, was blissfully medicated on Kwells for potential bouts with nausea, and was watching an early episode of Glee dubbed into Spanish. So, I didn't realize the chaos that was ensuing amongst passengers. True, I knew we were experiencing turbulence, and I did not like it at all. But, I figured that the best thing to do was to keep concentrating on my program and soon it would be over. After we stabilized, Joe told me what I'd missed. I only wish I could've heard how the woman cussed out the laughing guy in Spanish. I wondered what words she used.

After spending the night, we had a delightfully uneventful flight to Ushuaia. What a change from our tropical jungle days in Iguazu! It had recently snowed on the mountaintops making a postcard-worthy view of the town. It is very picturesque here . . . and incredibly windy. It is chilly - up to the high 40's F, so our coats, gloves, hats, and scarves are getting more use now than they ever did in BsAs. December 21 was the first day of summer, but you wouldn't know it down here. We are at the launch point for cruises to Antarctica - nothing but ice south of here! Our first day was windy - but we bundled up and did a 5 mile hike in Tierra del Fuego National Park. It was lovely and not too unbearably cold as the forest offered some protection. We saw beautiful views both in Argentina, and across the water to Chile.

The second day, we took a tour by mini-bus and boat to see a colony of penguins that has been established since the 1970s. All my expectations were fulfilled! Much like the overwhelming feeling to almost cry that I felt when experiencing La Garganta del Diablo, I was awestruck. The penguins were everywhere just acting naturally. This tour company has an agreement to take tourists to the island under strict conditions. We were all told not to touch, feed, be noisy, smoke, or make jerky movements. We pretty much stuck to a path from where we could observe the birds, but occasionally we'd look down to see a curious fellow at the very edge or the path cocking his head to look at us. It is nesting season, so there were chicks in the nests with their moms . . . nests being holes that have been dug in the ground. Seeing the penguins in their natural habitat without disrupting their daily routines was a unique thing to see . . . and at such close range . . . even more special.

We will be here two more days, and then on to Perito Moreno, the glacier near Calafate. We will spend New Year's there. We are truly enjoying the variety of topography and climate that Argentina has to offer.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


OK, first of all I know it's been a while since our last post. Life gets in the way of the blog sometimes . . . it's a vicious cycle, you know? Anyhow, for a while now I've been thinking about blogging about Spanish language learning here in Argentina. What better way to do it than to enroll in a class myself?

My fellow foreigners standing in line for testing
8 weeks ago I decided to register for a Spanish class for foreigners that I'd been hearing about from some of my teacher friends. I have to tell you that it is really very interesting to be "on the other side", i.e. show up for the cattle call to be tested (this was pretty much a free class offered to the community; you are requested to make a donation for registration and required to buy your book), return to the office to find out your level, find out if there is a space for you, and learn what time the course is offered. I didn't expect to enjoy the course so much, but I was thrilled to be a "student." Thank goodness (for the sake of my ego), I had placed into Nivel Avanzado (Advanced Level). I feared having too many gringos in my class (didn't want to speak a word of English), but was pleased to find that my class was made up of 5 ladies from Brazil, Czech Republic, and Ukraine! The most interesting thing about this course was that is was, of course, in Argentina with all the related Argentine-specific expressions and jargon. Re-lindo (pronounced RAY LEEN-DO), for example, means Muy Lindo (Very lovely). In other words, Argentines are very fond of leaving the word "muy" behind in favor of adding the pre-fix "re". We not only often hear re-lindo, but re-triste, re-interesante, re-lleno (to mean very full after a good meal), and re-dulce (to describe those strawberries that are in season). Not to mention the fillers such as: Que se yo? , Dale!, Viste?, and Mira vos!
My classroom was the one with the gold bricks

All that being said, it was "re-interesante" to be exposed to topics in the text materials that really almost shocked me. I guess I am a really victim of a "politically correct" nation as I had never in a million years expected that we'd cover topics such as Victoria Beckham's new diamond-encrusted birthday present (which was a vibrator), a ghost story in which a dog is hanged in the end, a criminal case in which the murdered woman's son is suspected of killing her, a cartoon which shows a husband finding his wife in bed with another, and a discussion of a painting which depicts the Last Supper as an Argentine asado (barbecue). In another book, a famous Argentine 'teach Spanish to foreigners' text, a dialog depicts a man who intentionally makes his wife mad because she 'looks sexy when she's angry'. There is another reading that describes what men and women do in their free time: men talk about football and watch women, and women complain about people at work and discuss shopping.

The upshot is that all these topics are provocative and encourage you to pay attention, understand the vocabulary, and have an opinion. All good ingredients for language learning. I guess in the end I have more respect for topics that I would never imagine seeing in a textbook . . . I never knew I was so "protected" in that way . . . Overall, I really enjoyed the classes and feel that they really gave me an insight into the culture in many ways. I made some new friends, got the chance to feel like a student, passed the oral and written exams, and will receive a certificate showing my level as "Post-Avanzado". Re-lindo, ¿no?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Southern Starr

One of the striking things about Buenos Aires is that people are crazy about music here. Especially rock music. Especially old rock music. There are many, many Argentine rock bands with large rabid followings, but bands from the English-speaking world, ones of a certain vintage, are just unbelievably popular. I always joke that washed-up bands should never break up - they should just tour Argentina incessantly. Any Sixties or Seventies band with a "name" will sell beaucoup tickets here. A mutated Creedence Clearwater - unbelievably, sans John Fogerty - draws thousands. A group of geezers that couldn't draw flies in L.A. or N. Y. is a stadium act here. There is a steady stream of unlikely acts coming through town selling tens of thousands of tickets. Foghat, anyone? Where do the locals get the dinero? No se.

Worship of "classic rock" music is a major feature of the culture here, but one group stands supreme in the Argentine heart and soul: the Fab Four, of course, The Beatles. There is a Beatles museum that draws thousands of fans, Beatles grafitti everywhere, Beatles T-shirts worn by teenagers and middle-aged men alike, Beatle tribute bands (we saw "The Beetles" on TV last night). Sir Paul McCartney drew like 80,000 to his concert this year. I met a 20 year-old kid with a George Harrison tattoo. You have to spend some time here to really understand the depth of the Beatle-love flowing through the streets of Buenos Aires.

Which brings me to my tale. Jen and I decided to take a jaunt to a swank shopping mall a short bus ride away in the Retiro neighborhood to have a coffee and look around a bit. While strolling aimlessly, doing the odd bit of window shopping, I found myself looking out the window of one of the mall entrances. A guy dressed in black with a hat and shades, accompanied by a classy-looking blonde lady, was crossing the street to the mall. I watched him gesture to a photographer on the sidewalk - no pictures, please. "That guy looks like Ringo", I said to myself. They walked in the door, trailed by a stocky, grim-faced fellow with white hair. As they walked right past us, I whispered to Jen, unbelievingly, "Is that Ringo?" It plainly was Ringo Starr (nee Richard Starkey), one of the world's two remaining Beatles.

Should I try to shake his hand? Should I try to say something? Something that might mean something to me but very little to him? I should say now that I love the Beatles with a deep and abiding passion that dates back to 1964 when I first saw them on the Ed Sullivan show. I also have tremendous respect for Ringo as a musician, and Jen and I have gone to see him and his band twice in the last several years - enjoying great shows both times. After half a moment's reflection, I realized I wasn't going to say anything. He and his wife, actress Barbara Bach, were just trying to be cool and do a little window shopping in Buenos Aires. I reflected on what it must be like to be a freakin' Beatle, and how peace and quiet and privacy in public are all but impossible. I also thought: "Does he have any idea how much people love him here?"

Jen and I casually strolled behind Ringo and his wife (and bodyguard) for a few minutes. Hey, we were window shopping too! Anyway, they briefly checked out a luggage store (what in God's name does Ringo need that he doesn't already have?), and just cruised around unnoticed. After a few minutes, however, his cover was blown. Two teenage girls - yes, two 16-year old teenyboppers recognized 71 year-old rocker Ringo Starr and boldly asked for a picture. How cool is that? Where else in the world would teen girls, normally enthralled by Gaga and Bieber, face-check an ancient rocker? Only in Buenos Aires! Ringo was good sport, and his wife seemed to enjoy being pressed into duty taking the photo when the bodyguard couldn't work the phone-camera.

That's when the wheels came off. As Ringo posed with the two girls, his cover got blown big-time. As Jen and I watched, a big, burly dude, overcome with Beatle-love, approached Ringo, grabbed him in a bear-hug and tried to kiss him (you knew that was coming)! Ringo twisted out of his grasp, avoiding the man-smooch, and the bodyguard gave the big guy a firm shove. Poor Ringo. Sadly, we could watch no more. I guess he had had five or ten minutes of being a normal guy, window shopping with his wife. I don't think he had any idea how much the people of Buenos Aires LOVE him, but he's going to find out. [Note: Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band play a sold out show Monday night in Buenos Aires. It's Ringo's first trip to South America.]

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Pinch of Salta, a Taste of Jujuy

Llama sighting in Jujuy
From the hot and gritty city of San Miguel de Tucuman, we took the four-hour bus ride north to the city of Salta. The difference between the two regional capitals was immediately apparent: where Tucuman is loud, brash and modernish (in a distinctly funky way), Salta is more sedate, a charming, low-rise colonial town with colorful attractive architecture. Our headquarters was a quaint B&B called Bloomers (I wish my mom was around to have a laugh at that one!) - several nice rooms set around a lovely courtyard hidden behind a lavender streetfront. We were just a short stroll from Salta's plaza and famous churches: the "pink one" and the "red one".

Jen had a presentation scheduled the evening we arrived, after which she taped a TV interview with a local journalist. Her skill in handling this impromptu interview in Spanish was awesome. I knew she was good, but not that good! They're supposed to send us the DVD someday. Anyway, afterwards we went out to dinner with some nice folks, including a gal from New York City who has been living in Salta since 1962. Her husband and children are Argentine, but she sounds like she's straight off the streets of the Big Apple. Needless to say, she had some good stories to tell!
Street art in Salta

For the next three days, we were simple tourists. We windowshopped around the plaza, ate lunch in dive restaurants , hunted down artisan markets, took a cable car ride to the top of the mountain, had dinner in an old mansion where folclorico singers sit at tables belting out tunes, and went to museums. The centerpiece of Salta tourism is the new museum built to store and display the remains of three mummified children who were extracted from a ritual gravesite in the nearby Andes at 22,000 feet. A boy and a girl of about six or seven, along with a teenage girl, were buried alive in a religious ceremony carried out by Inca priests some 600 years ago. The unique conditions on top of the mountain preserved the mummies almost perfectly. Only one mummy is displayed at a time, so we got to see the teenager, sitting in her glass case, preserved under low lights and freezing temperatures. It was really spooky to see her and imagine she was just sleeping (for 600 years). A soundtrack of mournful Andean pan-pipes played incessantly throughout our visit, leading to associations (panpipes = buried alive) I'll never be able to shake.

From Salta, it was back on the bus up to Jujuy (hoo-HOOEY) province, which looks startlingly like New Mexico and Arizona in parts. Jen first had a presentation to give in the small, hot and sleepy town of San Pedro; from there we were free to be tourists for the rest of the trip. We went up into the mountains, following the famous Quebrada de Humahuaca, to the town of Tilcara where we chilled for a couple of days. Tilcara is a scenic and dusty riverside village made mostly of adobe brick. It's somewhat of a hipster hangout nowadays, although most locals carry on their business as usual. The local cactus, the cardones, are almost identical to the saguaro of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, and the hills in the Quebrada seem lifted straight out of Northern New Mexico, especially the Cerro de Siete Colores in the village of Purmamarca. We took a ton of photos, ate a lot of empanadas (and dust), and generally had a great time soaking up the atmosphere and scenery. As much as we enjoy Buenos Aires, it was fantastic to get out of the big city and enjoy some of the best that provincial Argentina has to offer.