Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Clases, Clases, Clases y Tarotistas (from Feb. 11, 2011)

(the view from my balcony)
I've completed my first week of classes and feel like I'm nearly drowning in verb forms. Eso es la realidad. So I'm practicing, practicing, practicing...of course all my classmates could be my children. It's interesting to sort of relive one's post-college reality through them. I traveled through Europe at 22 for 4 months with a backpack doing the whole hostel thing which they are all doing. It seems so unpleasant from this vantage point, but they have that amazing resiliency on their side that I once had as well. I still do a hostel now and again, but a room with 6 people is pretty unbearable at 48 and  being constantly drunk and social is pretty much a disgusting proposition at this point, though I was into at 22 as I recall.
Anyway, mis companeros were 3 English girls, one very sassy who seemed to have a cute little crush on me, and then a Canadian and Brazilian girl and two Swedish boys who were kinda nerdy in a hot way. My teachers are great, Ana speaks slowly and Melisa is just cute and confident beyond description. And you know how language learning materials constantly throw these 'dialogos' at you? We'd already been through Cesar's cumpleanos and we then arrived at 'la feria' where Claudio y Luciano came upon a tarotista (sounds like terrorist I know, but it's a tarot reader). Of course Melisa had to ask, 'does anybody know tarot?' Blank suspicous stares from Los Ingles y the Swedes...a big enthusiastic smile from me. I felt like such a Californian on some level as to me tarot is sort of almost mainstream. So, Melisa insisted I bring 'mis cartas' to class the next day to do readings, which I did, which made for a very interesting spanish class and of course, as hard as it was, it was great practice for my spanish having to talk with all of them and field complicated, specific questions. As noted in my last missive, I'm this weird intermediate student with massive holes in my spanish training, so while 'mi accento' is pretty good and better than some of mis companeros, they've got me on vocabulary and verb forms, so I'm a little bit the-slightly-dumb-behind kid in the class, though since I try harder, not being a hormonal 22 year old, I keep up.
Well, word got out, and then all the teachers in the school asked me for readings. So, each day I do one teacher, which is great spanish practice, and even better, I get this interesting vantage point into their personal reality...the young ones, of course, end up with readings overloaded with men (pages, kings, et al) as they are all into,'amor casual' while the older ones have issues around making changes, etc. Inevitably, they want to chat about all sorts of stuff so I've even been able to talk about Las Malvinas, a subject one is often warned not to broach. Las Malvinas are, of course, the Falklands. As you'll recall, Argentina's attempt to retake the Falklands led to the collapse of the dictatorship which had cost up to 30k in lives, so losses like that are pretty much gains as I see it. Then again, Argentina is a proud country that can't, for instance, understand why it's not as influential in Latin America as the US is....I can't even begin to explore this just yet for fear of regretting whatever I say 6 weeks down the line. But it's a CENTRAL issue, that is clear.

I'm combining all this with my reading which really helps inform my conversations as I know who most of the historically influential persons are, and am absorbing the problem of Buenos Aires central role in the country's history, which has for the most part been to the advantage of portenos and the disadvantage of the rest of the country. This seems to be an almost intractable problem, and as my new Peruvian friend Victor (he's from Iquitos which has to be one of the weirdest cities on earth: big,old,colonial, in the deepest reaches of the amazon.. you've seen Werner Herzog's Fitzcarroldo... you'll know the place) insightfully points out: Portenos kind of want to be English, but act like the French, are actually Italian and speak Spanish. And as such, el interior is just not really part of their mental landscape. Anyway, I've heard a lot of delusional comments this week:  Chileno girls aren't as hot as Argentines (waiter mentioned this, assuming I'm het, but even so, its a ridiculously arrogant comment to make to a tourist), Andean immigrants are a problem because they have NO cutlure (wow, tres colonial, senor), Chile didn't back us up with the Falklands and supported the UK (as did the US).
Granted Pinochet was a fascist dictator too, but it's so obvious to me why he wouldn't support Argentina which has pretty much nothing to offer him and was creating problems in Patagonia around territorial boundaries (they almost had a war at the time over Tierra del Fuego). Pincohet was also on the outs with the US by that time and probably wanted the support of Britain which has been involved in both these countries as heavily as US has for their entire history (he was later arrested in the UK, poor Augusto, no one loved him and he never could understand why).
Whats more, the Argentine dictatorship
assumed the US would back them up because of the Monroe Doctrine, but didn't actually confirm that and I guess forgot that the US and Britain have been major buds for at least 100 years. Anyway, there's a lack of clarity as I see it, and one person was adamant about how Cristina Fernandez
lacks clarity in a big way and fights with everybody. 'She's a friend of Hugo!' they shouted, exasperated, meaning Hugo Chavez of Venezuela of course. "Politicos" I attempted to explain, but they weren't buying it....they said she actually LIKES him, which made me laugh. But, of course, there is no alternative in the next election as they see it. They then asked me about Sarah Palin, and all I could try to explain was that the difference was that Sarah was 'no muy inteligente' and would therefore never become president. We then discussed the American character, how obsessed with independence Americans are and how they don't accept government. Simple but true, as we all know.

I then went across the street for empanadas. I'm sick of cheese, and I can't find any black beans. I'm heading to the Armenian district tomorrow to try and find some Middle Eastern food which I miss, along wiht tofu and Mexican and Thai, etc. I apparently need to make peace with meat and cheese.

(from Feb 4, 2001)

Mi Escuela cerca de la Plaza del Congreso (the white cupola is my school)
I can sleep anywhere with almost any amount of noise, but not on a's the whole sitting up thing. Only a drunk can sleep like that, and I tried, courtesy of Augusto, the Argentine flight attendant who plied me with vino tinto, argentine style, which means filled to the brim. What airlines need to do is offer hammocks. They could hang them from the roof, and since few would take advantage, those oddballs like myself who would could get some much needed sleep. Argentine customs was charming as always, half the tsa people nodding off...and a friendly argentine warned...remember, Argentina is all about lines, which I soon the bank, at the post office, in the grocery stores. I actually kind of like it as I get to read, which I have less opportunity to do in efficient america. No wonder Argentina is such a literary culture. I can also practice my spanish as I'm a bit of a talk-slut.
Anyway, back to the airport and I'm on a shuttle and then a taxi (I love the challenge of avoiding ripoffs while traveling--they inevitably happen, but there's nothing funner than circumventing the obvious and inevitable) and I was at my apartment, chatting with Luisa,the fab architect who owns the apartment and who I rented from last year. We had the longest conversation about 'falta' which neither of us could quite resolve until I realized it meant 'owe' as in I owed her $ :) Thus begins the strange tale of mi espanol...more later.  The weirdest part about the apartment: she repainted the room the same bizarre color my roommate Sera just did her green. It's in the Congreso District, a working urban neighborhood with lots of theaters and bookstores (independent bookstores thrive here, perhaps the last place on earth--warms the heart for a one such as I), a few hostels and the eponymous Congress building two blocks away (daily protests by communists, movemiento evita, etc.--I need to find out who all these people are, but it's awesome to see young people taking their concerns to the street, which is of course quite rare in Los Estados Unidos. Then again, I've heard all kinds of things about the daily protests here, including that some participants are paid....all the more reason to find out more.... and of course all roads lead inevitably to Peronism which is a weird mix of right and left and ultimately populist, which is why it persists as far as I can tell right now. But weirdness still...imagine young shirtless 20 yr old hipster and hippie men touting the virtues of a 1940s diva--would never happen anywhere else.)
I'll update you on the meantime, as per pesonal concerns, they said I couldnt remain vegetarian, while in the Argentine, but sure enough, right there en Disco (the safeway of Bs As) I found vegetalex soy hot dogs, milanese, etc. and I've made dinner twice in high California healthy meatless style!
Much has been said about how beautiful Argentines are and what with the heavy beef diet, how do they do it? It must be the walking. Everyone is on the street, 24 hours a day, so they walk. I'm guessing they also dont overeat, portions are generally reasonable, even coffee is small...only in the local Starbucks up Callao 10  blocks from me, do they serve gigantor coffee -- and you notice right away how out of place it is. Suffice it to say, the sidewalks have potholes and I trip a lot between the fab architecture and the stunningly handsome men and hot women. Whats great is that none of them seem to be trying...the true key to beauty, which is totally lost on has to look unintentional, duh. Aw, but we are the culture of visible intention, arent we? Or maybe it just helps to be Mediterranean?
So, to the Spanish School I went to take my placement test. It turns out it's in an amazing building (and just 5 blocks from mi apartamiento..pic on this journal shows it--it's the white cupula in the center of the pic, just east of the plaza del congreso, a big park in front of the congress bldg...another thing I like about Argentina..there are public squares in front of both the congress and casa rosada (white house equivalent) with daily public front of casa rosada the famous circumnavigation of the madres de los desaparecidos in the plaza de mayo, who continue to press for full disclosure and justice which has been itinerant at best in Argentina. The late Nestor Kirchner did much to revive the effort, and the current president, Cristina Fernandez Kirchner is doing the same, unlike the previous Reagan-like Menem who handed out pardons. Speaking of which, regardless what you think of the current president, Cristina Fernandez Kirchner, she is a trip. She DOES NOT wear suits ala Hillary or Dianne Feinstein..she wears cocktail dresses. Call me a fag, but it's important. Sure, Maggie Thatcher and Angela Merkel and Bachelet and Rousseff are all pioneers, along with many others, but Cristina packs a feminine punch none of them come close to, and frankly I'm feelin' the girlpower (is it related to Evita? I dont know, something I want to explore, but I dont think so, no one seems to mention it, except for London Times in 07:
Don't ask me about Argentine men just yet, I keep meeting Peruvians. Don't get me wrong, I love Peruvians, but I'm in Bs As! anyway, I go to the school for my placement test and Nuria, who does intake, is sort of tripping on me. She says she's not sure how to place me as I talk a mean streak of spanish but it's all over the place and not necessarily correct. She is impressed that I navigate conversation so well but that I really have a pretty shoddy foundation....could be said for much of my charmed life I suppose. Anyway, it got me into the intermediate course which was my goal as I'd die in either beginners or advanced, the first out of boredom, the second out of frustration. She asked me:  how are you learning spanish?...I answered: sort of winging it and just going for it, and pretty much talking to everybody and figuring it out, which led to peels of laughter.
I do love talking to people, which makes learning a language easier...i could care less if I sound like an idiot, I can still connect....
Ok, I am weirdly annoyed by Brahma beer's tv ad, which I keep hearing:  the soundtrack is Sylvester's "You Make Me Feel Mighty Real" which is a  beautiful song from 70s gay liberation and is all about wounded unconnected people discovering others like themselves and finding love and connection. It's one of the few 'gay' songs that makes me actually cry--and now it's selling beer in Argentina? So what is making one feel real?...alcohol? wow, there's a slippery slope indeed. All I asked for was a hammock!
Co-opted music is always surreal...makes me think of how Reagan used Springsteen's "Born in the USA" which only succeeded because no one listened to the words--except the chorus of course, since being born in the USA is apparently enough (like the rainbow that way, eh?) (Hitler's adage about telling a lie 5 times equals a truth)
Which leads me to my final thought. I keep getting emails from Citibank since I opened an account with them to once again circumvent ripoffs. As Citi is an intl. bank, it charges no fees unlike BofA or Wells Fargo which dock you $5 every time you do an atm withdrawl. Then again, you can do free intl. $  transfer via Banco Frances if you have Wells Fargo....everyone else charges $25-$50, including Citi. OK, boring, but goes to show you have to do your research. Corporations are all about ripping you off and reassuring you (parenting?), which is a weird mix, but I  bring it up because Citi is offering me healthcare of all things. It made me think about corporatization and how it's really the next (or already current) wave of political reality. People will likely get their healthcare and who knows what else (postal needs, car registration, retirement, connection, love....make me feel real, Citibank) via rewards type set-ups via credit cards, which means if you use their card you will be taken care of. If you don't, good luck--no love for you. Another pay-for-play scheme which only favors those with means of course. Well, I just finished reading James Joll's The Anarchists ( on the plane and am of course thinking of how cynical and capitalist hegenomonic (not sure if thats a word) political reality has become in this century (Then again, Anarchism is one of the most beautiful tragic idealisms ever, and to read about its potential and efforts in the Spanish Civil War is to become so disillusioned, it hurts. Of course, Anarchism is just way ahead of its time--or has way too high a regard for human nature. They were so right about Marxism, and for all the right reasons. Viva Kropotkin. And be forewarned that Joll is a historian not an anarchist per se). Now I'm reading the Argentine Reader (eds Nouzeilles y Montaldo:, a really excellent primer for all things Argentine with more than 50 contributors (the single best volume on Argentine stuff I've found so far after reading Sabato, Borges, Aira, Echeverria, Cortazar, Ocampo, Eloy Martinez, Chatwin....all recommended and all included in the Argentine Reader except Chatwin, who is of course English).
OK, I love the Argentine flag, it has zero nationalistic bs, it's just sun and sky and clouds...gracias Manuel Belgrano. Then again, there is debate...
I like the Mary reference, but you can make up your own mind about the Bourbon stuff. The impression remains the same: sun and sky and clouds and it has a weird way of asserting something other than a lot of the bad stuff that has happened here. It feels to me like an ideal (which of course colors it with sorrow for Argentina, which has had many setbacks vis-a-vis its realization) So, it's like the more perfect union idea, what we are striving for. A flag should be a potential or the symbol of a dream that we work toward realizing.. Only I've never liked the ideal of the American flag, which seems mostly libertarian and very 'dont tread on me' which is a negative expression. We should replace our stars with Argentine suns and our stripes should go and clouds, tree and dirt...I'm happy with brown and green stripes....adios for now...remember the sky and sun and clouds and may we all realize our various potentials.

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