Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Things you don't know you need until you don't have them, vol. 1

I've been doing a lot of homework lately, and once I'm sick of cafés and it's 2am, I am pretty much stuck in my room. The yellow light was driving me crazy, and really adding to the seasonal depression I'm beginning to develop in the Buenos Aires winter. Today I found the perfect lamp for less than $10 and bought a 60 watt white, cold bulb thatonlyexpendsasmuchenergyasa15watt! (the gruff man in the little hardware store was very insistent about that point).
It has made my space just that much more liveable and the long nights of paper-writing pass that much more quickly.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

snapshot 2, 3 +

Been busy with finals and friends visiting.
While never fun, finals in the dead of winter in another language in Buenos Aires are just that much less fun than usual.
With all of this work and no time to really hang out with my American friends here, there have been some benefits. In a normal day, the only people that I tend to see are Liliana (host mom) and Guille, as well as going to class. This means that my whole day is in Spanish and I often will go multiple days without speaking English out loud to anyone. I've noticed that Spanish has now become my main thinking language and the first thing that wants to come out of my mouth when I talk. It's also just a lot easier to say things than it ever has been. This is exciting, because I feel like I've gone years without making any real improvement in my Spanish abilities, but now have.

The other day a pigeon wandered into my class at the facultad and just kind of chilled while we talked about postcolonialism. He must have liked our discussion because he wandered out and then came back with a friend. It's not like i"m the only person who finds this ridiculous and/or funny - all of my classmates and professor did as well. Sometimes I think that I'm the only one who thinks that these really ridiculous things are actually ridiculous, but I have come to find that that is not the case. Really, I think it's just that in the US as soon as a pigeon wandered in the building they would put screens on the windows, or something. But here in Argentina the same things just keep occurring. This is a pattern that I have noticed.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

snapshot: june 22nd, 2009

I need to be in Palermo Chico (neighborhood where I lived for the first two months) by 3pm. I leave at 1:45.

I catch the 55 bus (a bus that I take 5 or more times/week) by my house to go to Plaza Italia in Palermo and catch another bus.

55 goes normally about half way and then inexplicably decides to just go on some other random street. I notice immediately but hope that it will just wind back.

Suddenly I find myself on the right street but about 15 blocks too far down. I get off.

I get on the subway. Ride one stop.

Wait for the second bus. Doesn't come for over 10 minutes.

Get in a taxi.

Taxi driver sideswipes another car on the passenger side and knocks his rear-view mirror off.

Doesn't stop. Is kind of fat and breathing heavily and agitated, but does not stop.

I get out in front of where I'm going, pay him, and go on my way.

Oh, Buenos Aires.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

-----> supermarket

Argentine food, at points, leaves something to be desired. It isn't very flavorful or tasty - think: watered-down Italian. Obviously there is some great beef and pizza to be had, but...eh. It's very disjointed. Sometimes I am just like...no, really, how can you eat that?

Combine this with the fact that I am living with one of the worst cooks I have ever met in my life. My food at my other house on Figueroa Alcorta was exquisite as Argentine cuisine goes, mostly because there was a full-time maid who slaved away on it every afternoon as her only chore, and because we were eating the best cuts of meat and the freshest, most expensive vegetables. It was a simple but extremely satisfying menu.

Now that I am forced to eat nearly inedible food (minus the nights I eat with Guille, as his food as really good) I've developed some routine grocery store guilty pleasure habits to complement the not very tasty food I eat nightly. Today I was sad to realize that my grocery store purchases can basically be broken down into some key groups:

1. Chocolate (Argentines love sweets, and therefore have their own good chocolate as well as all the great, imported European stuff)
2. Wine
3. Maruchan Cup of Noodles - Spicy chicken flavor (I'm not going to try to defend it)
4. Imported bad Mexican food (refried beans, canned salsa verde)
5. Cornichons (Here I have started to eat like a pregnant woman and have been known to combine the Cornichons and chocolate).

I miss food in the US. As a country, I think we have pretty decent taste buds. Chipotle, Sushi Land on Lancaster Avenue, Typhoon, Don Pancho's, even those $8-$10 white people sandwiches that they get away with selling in Portland. Can't wait to see you all...

Today in academia.

Today I woke up on the early side to put the finishing touches on my Proyecto de Investigación proposal for Sociology and Anthropology of Art, as well as make it to an internet café in time to print it out before class. Since most things, especially at UBA, are done "Argentine Style" i.e. lay it out in front of everybody instead of having individual consultations, I needed this to make sense.

I was right. Today, "Argentine Style" was taken to a new level when our Práctico professor read our exam grades out loud in front of everyone, also informing us out loud about what issues we had on the exam.

Coming from Bryn Mawr, where it is against the Honor Code to even utter a word about grades, this was a very foreign concept to me. However, in the end, it didn't really make me feel that uncomfortable, because students aren't competitive here. They compete more against the system, which, as Guille puts it, "means they never win." So, this was more about commiseration and being impressed with the lucky few who got a 9 or 10 out of 10. Our fairly large section has boiled down to 15 or so dedicated individuals who actually came and took the midterm and didn't drop the class i.e. I, as a non-native speaker, probably should not be in this class.

I got...a 6/10 (PASSING). The lowest grade in the class, though one other kid also got that grade. His comments for me? I had "problemas de escritura" (writing problems). Well, no shit sherlock, thanks for that helpful tidbit. You try to take an exam over 300 pages of complex anthropological theory in a second language at the most prestigious university in the country. Then we'll talk.

This was a low moment and a bit of a blow to my existence as a foreigner, a feeling I haven't had in a really long time, surprisingly. And then, to make matters worse, we moved right into having to explain our research projects to the entire class. I understand my topic and I had thought about it a lot, but it's a hard topic to describe even in English. He called me about 3rd, and I just went for it. At least a couple people understood what I was getting at. He then read the important sections of my proposal out loud, said my questions were clear and well-developed, and didn't see any problems with any of it. YES. Most other people's topics were a lot more complicated and nebulous so we had to spend tons of time talking about them and deciding if they would work. Thank god I didn't have to do that.

Friday, June 05, 2009

can we just talk about this

The moneda crisis must be ending. But Great Depression-style behavioral conditioning that took place back in February and March doesn't make having a stash like this feel like any less of an accomplishment.

The big two-tone ones are all one peso (hard to come by), the shorter stack are all 50 centavos, and the little stacks are 10 and 5 centavos = about 25 pesos in monedas!

the winter is long in the city

Haven't been writing much lately, because I suppose that I have been living and studying. I have probably never read or studied so much for one exam, so I spent a good portion of last week in Caballito cafés poring over Bourdier, Berger, Levi-Strauss, Geertz and Jameson, among others.

Thankfully, I think this dedication paid off. I had my midterm on Tuesday, and it wasn't that terrible of an experience. Obviously I was nervous, but I decided that being calm about it was the best thing I could do for myself, so I concentrated on that. I went in there like a zen buddha, only to start to freak out when my professor asked us all something and expected individual answers while we were waiting for the rest of the class to arrive. The rooms at UBA are so damn loud and echo-ey that it is amazing that I ever understand even one word. I had no idea what he was saying. So I'm sitting there like an idiot, unable to understand a simple question, about to take this midterm about complicated cultural theory.

Next I realized that the professor wasn't going to give us a sheet with the questions on it. Nope...making 20 copies would just make too much sense. So he dictated the questions to us, which about gave me an aneurysm. Thankfully he repeated a couple of times, and I think I only missed the end of one of the questions (a part that wasn't that important). And to my delight, he then went through and explained each one, giving us some hints on what to draw on. WHAT? Guille, a third year UBA student, says that the professors always do that. I have never had that done for me at Bryn Mawr - by the time the questions are handed out, the professor is done, and if you're confused, you're screwed. In fact, most of the professors don't even come to give exams, they put a poor grad student in charge.

I took the exam, and wrote about 4 pages. I knew things. It felt good. Thankfully my Spanish grammar is pretty good, but I'm sure it had some strange word usages, which I think often makes my writing more funny for people than if it also had a ton of grammar mistakes. It sort of masquerades as normal, until it is just awkward. I'm sure whoever is grading this exam will not realize that I'm a foreigner, and will think I'm a retard. As long as I pass, I'm okay with this.

I've noticed that while in English we, as students, "take" an exam and the professor "gives" it, in Spanish the students "give" the exam and the professor "takes" it. So strange. I feel like this might say something cultural. In some ways it makes sense. The students "give" all of their knowledge onto the paper, and the professors "take" it and evaluate it.

Other than studying and reading and staying up all night doing those two things (first academic all nighter in Buenos Aires of the semester woooo) I have just been living. Spending lots of time with Guille, which has been wonderful. On cold wintery nights it is nice to have someone to watch bad Argentine TV with.