Thursday, July 22, 2010
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Homesickness. It manifests itself in dissatisfaction with my Starbucks order. My latte isn’t hot enough to burn my tongue – a sure thing in the USA. I don’t even like burning my tongue; it’s a lousy feeling. Yet here I am, with a reasonably temperatured coffee beverage – homesick as hell. I’m not kidding.
Why do I even go to Starbucks? I worked for one week at Sbux Corporate in Seattle and I quit. People say the coffee is lousy too. What really knocks me out is how comforting the logo is. That green circle, with the mermaid who smiles at me as if to say, ‘its ok, you’re not alone, I’m here too.” That kills me.
See that’s the worst part about being homesick. Feeling alone. The thing is, I’m not usually alone when I feel alone. It’s when I’m at a dinner party but I can’t understand a single word. It’s when I’m walking down a crowded street knowing I’ll never see a familiar face. Its when I’m curled up in an overstuffed generic chair at Starbucks, contemplating taking back my drink and asking them to heat it up. I’m not kidding, I really just might!
I didn’t expect moving abroad to be easy, but until now, it had been. But now its winter, I’m underpaid and overworked, my health is suffering and all my friends are going back home. I can’t help but think about the things I’m missing – my little sister’s high school graduation, hot Boise summers, Seattle sunsets…my friends…my family …
I’m blue as hell if you really want to know. Why do I drink lattes anyway?
Friday, May 28, 2010
I asked my friend Emily for advice about what to get my boyfriend for his birthday. Birthday gifts can be stressful in new relationships. You don’t want a gift that expresses an inappropriate amount of sentimentality, and adding a cultural division to the equation leaves one with a tense and complicated situation. Obviously, I was stressin.
Mi amiga Emily has been in Argentina for a few years and also has a local boyfriend, so who better to ask for advice?
Vina: What should I get him? How do birthdays even work in this country?
Emily: ‘oh, on my boyfriend’s birthday, I make him a cake. Here it’s the duty of the girlfriend to provide the cake for the birthday party.”
(I was a little shocked because this was the first that I had heard about it!)
Emily: “Yeah, if you don’t bring one, your boyfriend won’t say anything of course, but the other guests will think you’re lay or something.”
So later I confronted Lucas about my newly acquired information.
Vina: “A friend from work told me that it’s the girlfriends job to bring a cake to the birthday party.”
Lucas: “Si Vivi, ees normal here.”
Vina: “So were you expecting me to bring a cake to your party?’
Vina: “Well were you going to tell me?!”
So now that I knew I had to make a cake, I just had to decide what kind. Lucas suggested chocolate banana with dulce de leche, peaches and whipped cream. I couldn’t think of anything more disgusting, but I should have expected as much from the boy who puts four packets of sugar in his coffee.
So I decided on a banana chocolate chip three-layer cake with dulce de leche filling. I covered the outside with melted chocolate. Inspiration struck and I decorated the top with chocolate dipped mandarin orange slices and cinnamon. The end result was far more beautiful than expected and very well received at the birthday party. They even applauded for me! Maybe I have a future in baking…
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Buenos Aires is home to an impressively large Jewish population. It is a rare day when you don’t encounter a yamaka or two. So large in fact is this Jewish presence that specialized businesses have developed, such as a Kosher McDonalds. I know, that sounds like an oxymoron, right?
I hadn’t had fast food for a very long time (because its evil) I did make one exception when my little brother took me to Chick-fil-A on my birthday. It was my last meal in the United States before I departed for Argentina, and I had never been to Chick-Fil-A before. A cultural experience and a lovely send off made for a very nice birthday indeed. (thanks Petey!)
Anyway, my friend Sarah and I were very curious about the kosher golden arches, so we decided to try it for ourselves to see what it was all about. The other patrons while we visited included small kids wearing school uniforms with their parents, and a hippy that invited us to a concert.
The menu seemed pretty basic. No cheeseburgers or milkshakes, since mixing meat and dairy is a kosher no-no. We ordered some hamburgers and fries. All in all the food was lackluster, as any fast food would be to a true foodie. I’ve heard rumors that the hamburger meat is of more respectable quality here in Argentina, but I was not the best candidate to judge that. Kosher McyD’s was an interesting cultural experience, as well as a reminder of why I prefer my food to be slow.
Finally I had the chance to employ my academic major for work today! Until this point I had been unable to capitalize on my academic specialization. Most days it feels like I’m retaining a fairly useless (but very expensive) amount of information.
While Art History rarely proves to be useful on a daily basis – Anthropology on the other hand has served to make me hyper conscious of every cultural difference that I encounter on a daily basis..
Well finally I found a way to incorporate my first true love, Art History, into my daily life as well. One of my more advanced students is an art enthusiast. I knew immediately that we were kindred spirits when I saw the Matisse posters displayed in his office, but when he told me that his favorite artist was 20th century concrete surrealist master Rene Magritte…well, that’s when I really got excited.
So today I taught a class on a subject which I have taken many a class. And yes, I obviously had to concentrate more on the phrasal verbs and passive voice of the article, than the philosophical themes of Magritte’s always surprising imagery….but all in all, a very satisfying class for the teacher (and teacher hopes, the student).
I’m sure Magritte, who’s paintings make many statements about the role of language and its many deficiencies, would have approved.
Here is the article in case you really have nothing better to do:
Friday, April 30, 2010
I woke up this morning at 7am. Fall is slowly turning into winter and my room is quite cold in the mornings. I get dressed and prepare for a full day of classes. I make a fruit smoothie for breakfast from a banana, mango and fresh squeezed orange juice and then I put on my coat and head out the door to my first class.
I walk six blocks to the subway and take the train three stops. Then I walk another six blocks to a local media group company where my first two classes are.
My first class is with the Corporate Director of Audiovisual Content of said media group. His office is enormous, with three separate TVs playing three different channels all at the same time. He is a very high energy and extremely fluent. On account of it being tax season here in Argentina, we discussed taxes. Here in Argentina, he informed me, the income tax is 35%. Quite high, especially when combined with a 21% sales tax. On top of that there is an 11% social security tax. Quite a significant percentage of a person’s gross income ends up going to the government. We continued our class discussing the social programs that the taxes pay support.
My second class is with the IT & Technology manager of the same company. This particular student only wants practice with conversation in English - which honestly, is a skill he has more than mastered. Usually I just pose a topic, and sit back and enjoy a coffee for an hour and a half while he talks about every subject imaginable. I only interject to correct grammar or pronunciation. Today I asked him how to prepare a traditional argentine asado – or barbeque – on account of I am hosting my very first one this Saturday. He spoke for the entire class, and we didn’t even get past what types of meat to buy.
After my morning classes I go home for lunch and to prepare for my afternoon classes. I only have an hour to myself, and then I’m out in the world again.
My next class is in one of the corporate companies in a downtown riverfront skyscraper. This lesson takes place in the corner office of the 20th floor, where I work with another IT manager. Today we read an article about the new immigration law and discussed the issues surrounding the immigration debate in the United States and in Argentina.
After that class I have an hour to make it to the other side of town. 12 blocks and one subway change later I arrive in Flores, a quieter suburb of Buenos Aires. I arrive a little early to my class, so I get to chat with the institute coordinator for a few minutes. I’ve started to cherish my conversations with native speaks and other expatriates.
This next class is a TOEFL test preparation course with a high school student who is planning on moving to the United States to go to school this fall. He has to pass his TOEFL exam in order to be admitted into school. The test is basically the SAT, and as you can imagine, taking the SAT in your second language would be extremely difficult. Luckily the student is pretty dedicated to studying.
Immediately after the TOEFL class I have a class with my only child student. He is eleven, and in some ways, my best student. Children really do learn more easily than adults. We read from a book and pick out new vocabulary. He likes to draw so we draw picture flash cards of the vocabulary to practice.
Then finally at 6pm I head home. The subway is crowded for rush hour, and dusk is just approaching as I enter my pretty pink house. I wish I could say that my work ended there…but I have to plan my lessons for the next day.
A group of us (Argentines and Americans) went out on Tuesday to celebrate Clare’s 21st birthday. Clare was my first roommate in Buenos Aires. We lived together while I was studying for my teachers’ certificate. She’s a junior from Berkeley, doing her semester abroad in Buenos Aires.
There were about ten of us together for the occasion. We dined on delicious Indian food at Tandoor in Palermo. The place had a diversified menu with many vegetarian options (I had the lamb). It was a lovely evening, celebrating the coming of age of our dear Clare.
Monday, April 26, 2010
I suppose I have to say a few words about my boyfriend, since there have been quite a few questions. I can sum it up quickly by saying that, in my experience, the hype about Latin men is well deserved.
I met Lucas my first weekend here. I went to a boliche (dance club) with my friends in Puerto Madero. We walked onto the overwhelmingly crowded dance floor, and before I even had a chance to start dancing, out of the strobe lights emerged Lucas – with his pink polo, sweet-talking Castilian charm and dance moves that could impress John Travolta himself. We danced until the sun came up and he told me ‘Vivi – I will be your next boyfriend.’ I thought he was crazy, but somehow in the last three months he convinced me that he was right.
Anyway, I have an awesome boyfriend, but I won’t rub it in your face.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
How does an Argentine kill himself?
He jumps off of his ego.
One of my students told me this one:
One of my students told me this one:
Three senators met at a UN conference and became friends after having a few meetings together; John, a Texas senator, Luigi from Italy and Miguel from Argentina. John really enjoyed the foreign company and invited the two men to visit his Texas ranch the next month.
Luigi and Miguel arrived to the Texas ranch house on a sunny spring day. They were treated to an authentic style barbeque and toured the lovely ranch, with it’s massive plantation style mansion and several acres of rolling pastures.
“John” Luigi asked, “How did you end up with such a lovely home on a senator’s salary? This ranch is very beautiful and so well maintained!”
“Well” John replied, “Did you see the big dam that we passed on the drive here? I sponsored that project, and well, lets just say that no one noticed when I took some of the funds for my own personal benefit.”
“Aahhhh I understand my friend.” Luigi winked. “Well you two must come see Naples in the fall and visit my home.”
The three men decided to have another house-party, this time at Luigi’s home in Italy. John and Miguel were very impressed with Luigi’s Italian estate, overlooking rolling hills with vineyards and a view of mount Pompeii. His villa was very impressive and contained an extensive collection of ancient roman ruins.
“Luigi!” John exclaimed, “Your villa is simply incredible. My Texas ranch pales in comparison to this grandiosity. How on earth did you end up in this place?”
“Well John, I’m sure you remember that new state of the art freeway that we took to arrive here? Lets just say that our cabinet accountant is a personal friend of mine…”
“Aahhh I see how you work Che. Said Miguel. “Well my amigos, you must make a trip to lovely Argentina this February so that I can repay the favor of your warm hospitalities.”
John and Luigi arrived to Buenos Aires on a sunny February day. Miguel met them at the airport and they drove out into the provinces to Miguel’s estancia. Luigi and John could not believe their eyes. Miguel had 5000 acres of gorgeous property, with countless herds of cattle grazing on the rich land. He had not one but two large estancia mansions, fully staffed with servants, impeccably decorated with art and antiques and modern state of the art technologies. The property contained swimming pools, stables, polo fields and tennis courts. The Texas ranch and Italian villa could not compare to the sheer luxury of Miguel’s estancia.
“Miguel, your home is indescribably luxurious. How on earth do you own such a home on a senator’s salary in a third world country?” The men asked.
“Did you see any dams on our drive here?” Asked Miguel.
The men thought for a minute. “No, we didn’t.”
“And did you see any new freeways?”
“No,” The men answered, none.”
Miguel smiled with the egotistical charm that most argentines possess.
I wake up at the piercing sound of my cheap cell phone alarm. A little light transpires through my red curtains and paints the walls in a warm pink light. My divinely cozy down-comforter begs me to press snooze, and how can I refuse its offer of warmth on a cold morning? But the second time my alarm chimes, it is the sound of real world responsibility, harmonized with the promise that Buenos Aires never fails to deliver – something exciting.
And so I begin another day. The ‘makes no apologies’ attitude of the city was a tough adjustment, with the unrelenting challenges of seemingly simple tasks – like crossing the street or ordering a coffee – becoming dangerous or humiliating situations. But like anything you have to work for, the pleasure of your accomplishments is that much sweeter to savor. And after three months in the city, the sweetness is finally ripening.
I woke up this morning and decided it was time to start a blog. I’ve finally established some structure in my life, a dependable routine. Finally emerging from chaos and uncertainty, I’m finding my voice again. I have so much to tell you.