Sunday, December 09, 2007

Indiana Jones part IV

I grew up on movies. I didn’t just watch Disney stuff either; by the time I was five I had already seen films like Casablanca and Lawrence of Arabia. So you can imagine my excitement when I found out that one of my early childhood heroes is returning to the big screen this summer. No, not Ari Ben Canaan, I’m talking about Indiana Jones.

In May, 2008 the fourth installment of the Indiana Jones franchise is slated to hit theatres. The movie’s called Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The plot’s been kept completely secret (I couldn’t find any real information from a google search, anyway), but it has been revealed that Indy’s son is focal point of the script. Indy had a son?! What?! And it’s not that Chinese kid from Temple of Doom?! Should be interesting.

Let’s hope Sean Connery has a big role, too. He absolutely made The Last Crusade.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Brazilians going back to Rio

The New York Times ran a story a few days ago about undocumented Brazilian immigrants living in the United States heading back home in large numbers.

This is a fascinating story, check it out. (see link here)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

al Mutanabi Quote

"When a lion shows its teeth, do not assume he's smiling at you."
-al Mutanabi (medieval Arab Poet)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


I’ve been meaning to post this for a while now, but the Annapolis Conference/
Meeting/whatever-you want-to-call-it finally happened yesterday. Both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen) pledged to negotiate an agreement to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict by the end of 2008. They even shook hands.

I’m skeptical. First of all, weak leaders cannot make concessions and stay in power, only strong leaders have the political capital to do so. Neither Olmert nor Abbas are strong leaders. Abbas has lost control of Gaza to Hamas, and only has tenuous control of the West Bank. (As a side note, Abbas is universally hailed as a moderate but is also a Holocaust denier. Until recently I thought that “Moderate” and “Holocaust denier” were mutually exclusive, I guess not.)

Meanwhile, Olmert’s popularity sank after the 2006 War in Lebanon (which most see as botched), he’s under investigation in a number of corruption probes, and is so unpopular he can only envy Bush’s 28% approval rating. Neither leader can afford to make unpopular decisions and hold on to power, but most importantly, the decisions would not be seen as legitimate.

Let’s take a look at some of the issues from the Israeli side.

Israeli Settlements in the West Bank. The settlements and outposts (illegal settlements) give Israel a terrible image abroad and inflame Palestinians. Nevertheless, the settlers have huge lobbying power in the Israeli government (akin to the NRA’s power). Olmert should at the very least suspend the building of all new settlements. But if he were to do just that his parliamentary coalition would fall apart.

Then there's the Palestinian Right of Return. This is a HUGE stumbling block, much more so than most people think. About 800,000 Palestinians were displaced after the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. There are presently over 3 million descendants of these refugees (mostly living in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon) and they are a cause-celebré among the European Left. What is often times forgotten is that these people were displaced during a war their leaders in fact initiated. But forgetting that for the moment, the problem is that the Palestinians are demanding the descendants of these 800,000 refugees have the “Right of Return” into Israel.

This is unfeasible for Israel and furthermore is contradictory to the Two State Solution. The Two State solution provides for a Jewish-Israeli state, and a Palestinian-Arab state. Each side would give up whatever claim it believes it may have to the other’s land. So, each side would have Right of Return to their own land; no Palestinian would have Right of Return to Israel because they’ve given up claim to it.

Next up is “the Wall/Security Barrier,” what Jimmy Carter and others see as a symbol of “Apartheid.” I disagree. The security barrier was actually an idea of the Israeli Left and the Israelis began constructing it in 2002 as a response to the second Intifada. Now, one could certainly argue that it should be constructed along the Green Line and not cut deep into Palestinian territory, but without a doubt the barrier saves lives. It prevents Palestinian terrorists from infiltrating Israel and blowing themselves up in buses and pizzerias, which in turn prevents the Israeli military from invading the West Bank to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure - as happened in 2002 with a lot of collateral damage.

Anyway, you can agree or disagree but you know where I stand. I’ll add more about the whole thing later, if you’re really interested in the conflict I encourage you to read articles from Bitter Lemons. This website presents the thoughts and analyses of journalists, intellectuals, policy figures, and others from both sides of the conflict. It’s a forum for discussion and ideas, rather than negotiation.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Spanish Cartoonists Fined 3,000 Euros for Making Fun of the Royal Family

Those European political cartoonists, first they desecrate Mohammed, now it’s the Spanish royal family. Last July Spain passed the “cheque- bebé” law, which awards 2,500 Euros ($3,450) to couples for having a baby. Shortly afterward satirical magazine El Jueves ran a cartoon on its cover (shown right) depicting Prince Felipe, and his wife, Princess Letizia, having sex; and the Prince saying, “this is the closest thing to a job I’ve ever had!”

However, the government didn’t find the cartoon very funny. The two cartoonists responsible for the picture, Guillermo Torres and Manel Fontdevilla, were charged with defamation and bringing injury upon the royal family.

Today in Madrid a judge found the two guilty and fined them each 3,000 Euros. That’s not a small sum of money for these guys who probably aren’t millionaires, I hope they win on appeal. Click here for more information (in Spanish).

But what about this cheque-bebé law anyway? The Spanish government is basically paying people to have sex. As it turns out, this is now a common practice among many European nations. The EU is rapidly aging and this could become even more of a problem down the road for them.

This is an actual photo of the Prince and Princess. A gust of wind caused a "wardrobe malfunction" at some official event in 2006.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Marcelo Birmajer: the Argentine Woody Allen

“Argentina is full of Jews,” so said a lot of people I met in my South American travels a year ago. Actually, there are about 200,000 Jews in Argentina, a country of about 38 million people. A community? Yes. A country full of Jews? No. However, there are more Jews in Argentina than in any other Latin American country, and Argentine Jews take a big role in the country’s media and politics.

Take for example Marcelo Birmajer, who wrote El Abrazo Partido, a critically acclaimed movie which came out in 2004. Birmajer is Jewish and has been dubbed Argentina’s answer to Woody Allen. El Abrazo Partido is an interesting movie set in El Once, Buenos Aires’ Jewish neighborhood, and is about a 20-something Jew trying to get a Polish passport so he can immigrate back to Europe. Here’s an interesting feature from Haaretz (a prominent Israeli newspaper) about Birmajer, his writing career, and the contradictions of being Jewish in Argentina.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Cristina Kirchner President of Argentina

Argentina’s Presidential mansion is called the Pink House, and now that name has new meaning. For the first time in its history, Argentina has elected a female President. Two weeks ago Cristina Fernández de Kirchner won the Argentine elections, gaining about 45 percent of the vote (compared with 23 percent for the closest runner up).

She is commonly called “Cristina” and many compare her to Hillary Clinton- and on more than one level. Her husband, Nestor Kirchner, is the out-going President. Nestor was elected in 2003 and still enjoys strong approval ratings, yet he chose to step aside to let his wife run. Kind of weird, right?

Or perhaps Machiavellian. Argentine law does not set a term limit, but it does stipulate that a President can serve no more than two consecutive terms. Supposedly, The Kirchners plan to heed off the inevitable lame duck years of the second term by handing the Presidency back and forth.

Presently there is no real Argentine opposition (they’re worse than the Democrats in 2004) and, providing the Kirchners can handle this juggling act and their popularity remains high, their power will never diminish.

However, take the Kirchner strategy with a gigantic caveat which more than one Argentine has remarked to me. Predicting what will happen in Argentina in five years is like predicting what will happen in the U.S. in 100 years.

Here’s a decent post election analysis from the Guardian.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Brazil to host 2014 World Cup

Last week FIFA announced that Brazil will host the 2014 World Cup. This shouldn’t come as any surprise as Brazil were the only country to formally place a bid. I think this is great news for soccer. The World Cup tournament hasn’t been to South America, where the game is lived most passionately, since Argentina lasted hosted in 1978- that’s a pretty long time.

Furthermore, Brazil truly has a special relationship with the Beautiful Game. They are the only country to have won five World Cups and consistently produce wonderful players a la Ronaldinho, Robinho and Kaká.

It should be a truly special World Cup (the last two have been disappointing) and I hope to be reporting on it from Brazil.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Yalla ya Nasrallah

In July, 2006 Israel went to war with Hezbollah, a Shiite terrorist organization led by Hasan Nasrallah. Soon after the war began a certain song became ubiquitous on both Israeli and Lebanese airwaves: Yalla ya Nasrallah (loosely translated to Bring it on Nasrallah).


In Israel the song became a rallying cry and at the same time lightened people’s tense minds. In Lebanon the Israeli Defense Forces periodically hacked into television stations to broadcast the song.

As an addendum, here’s a pretty good post war analysis. It’s from a German newspaper, but was written by an Israeli Journalist.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Garry Kasparov's International Relations Analysis

A few nights ago former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov was interviewed on the Bill Maher show. Apparently he’s running for President of Russia, he has little chance of winning (he is very vocal about not liking Putin), but he offered an interesting take on International Relations.

Putin and Iran have been cozying up to each other and many blame this on the Bush Administration’s foreign policies. They argue that all Bush really does is unite people against us (Chavez also is warming up to Iran, and there has been a huge surge in anti-Americanism worldwide). However, Kasparov stated that Putin is in fact making a very calculated move. The Russian economy heavily relies on oil production. If oil prices fall so does the Russian economy, which would give Putin a lot of internal problems.

To ensure that oil prices are high he supports Iran. Iran is de-stabilizing the Middle East. It is attempting to get nukes, it is financing (at least in part) the Iraqi Shiite insurgents, and talks of invading Israel; indeed Iran might be the U.S.’s next target. This leads to marketplace uncertainty, nobody can very accurately predict how much oil will be on the market in the future, which leads to high prices.

This also sheds light on Chavez, who's pseudo-socialist economy also needs high oil prices. But why does it always seems that the U.S. foreign policy establishment is playing checkers while other countries are playing Chess?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Quote from Don Quixote

"It is better to lose with too many cards than too few, because 'this knight is reckless and daring' sounds better to the ear of those who listen than 'this knight is timid and weak.'"
-Don Quixote, Chapter XVIII

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Hebrew: the Aleph

The symbol to the left is the Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and it’s the most appropriate way I could think of to begin this entry. It’s been gnawing at me for a while now that I don’t speak Hebrew. I’m Jewish (although I don’t know whether I’m a believer) and I’m a Zionist, so I should speak the Jewish language. With that in mind I signed up for a beginner Hebrew class at the 92nd Street Y and last night I began my Hebrew Odyssey.

After the typical introductions the instructor, a young Israeli woman who speaks perfect English, started speaking in Hebrew. I now know first hand the frustration and turmoil my English students experienced last year in Chile. The only words I was able to make out were “Shalom” and “Ivrit” (Hebrew).

Learning this language promises to be much more challenging than Spanish. English and Spanish share a vast amount of words due to the huge influence Latin and French played on the English language’s development. Hebrew, on the other hand, has very little in common with English (or Spanish for that matter).

By the end of the session we had already learned a lot. Well, we learned a tiny bit, but it really felt like a lot. I’m looking forward to the homework.

There's Nothing New Under the Sun

This is a link to an article about a modernist style painting done in present day Syria around... 9,000 BCE.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

40th Anniversary of the Killing of Che Guevara

His back was to the wall and his head was held high as he spoke his last words, “be easy and aim well. It’s a man you’re going to kill.” Then, on October 9, 1967, Che Guevara was executed in a rural Bolivian school house. The bullets pierced his arm, his shoulder and his heart. Today marks the 40th anniversary of Che the human’s death and the birth of Che the symbol. Although it’s barely mentioned in the American media, it’s a pretty big story in the Spanish language press.

Most of us know Che Guevara superficially through his romantically heroic image emblazoned on t-shirts and Motorcycle Diaries, a 2005 movie starring Gael García Bernal about Che's youthful adventures. Indeed, in 2004 a very conservative friend of mine told me he admired Che because he fought for “freedom.” Sure, his image sells a lot of T-shirts, but who was Che Guevara? He was a leader of the Cuban revolution; but he was not Cuban and Che wasn’t even his real name.

He was born Ernesto Guevara de la Serna to an upper middleclass family in Rosario, Argentina (a city about 3.5 hours from Buenos Aires) in 1928.

He was a sickly kid and after graduating from high school studied to be a medical doctor. Upon graduation from medical school he began traveling. He practiced medicine pro-bono throughout Latin America until the early 1950’s when he met Fidel Castro and Co. in Mexico. He and his then-wife joined the Cuban independence movement. On December 2, 1956, the Cuban revolutionary forces set sail from the Yucatan peninsula on a rickety boat to fight against Cuba’s (then American backed) dictator Fulgencio Batista and conquer Cuba. They engaged the Cuban army in guerilla warfare on the Eastern side of the island. To be sure, they were not the only band of revolutionary fighters, they were one of many. But they were the most visible fighters and Fidel in particular was a hugely charismatic figure.

Ernesto transformed into Che while fighting in the Cuban jungle. Che is a popular term in Argentina, it means “hey/yo” and sometimes “dude,” and it’s a term Cubans do not ordinarily use. Guevara naturally used this term a lot and, to poke fun at him, his Cuban comrades began to call him “Che.” It quickly became his nome-de-guerre.

The Revolutionary forces toppled the Batista dictatorship on January 1, 1959 and Ernesto the sickly child was long gone. Out of the jungle emerged Fidel, his right hand man Che, and their band of fighters.

Fidel was able to maneuver himself to the lead among the various revolutionary factions and quickly consolidated control. Che took responsibility for executions, and was responsible for killing hundreds of people at the Cabaña prison. He killed Batista loyalists (and their families), ‘capitalists’ and dissidents who spoke out against the new Fidel-led regime. Many took to calling him “the butcher of Cabaña prison.”

He was a staunch, dogmatic communist and admired Joseph Stalin. He approved the killing of innocents, even children, if it strengthened his communist cause. He also dreamed of having “one, two, three Vietnams,” to kill as many Americans as possible and have a global communist revolution.

In 1967 Che left his wife and five kids in Cuba and traveled to Bolivia, where he hoped to spark a Communist insurgency. However, he never fermented local Bolivian support. On October 8, 1967 Bolivian forces, with the help of the CIA, captured Che. Forty years ago today he spoke his last words. Then Che was executed in a small school house in La Higuera, Bolivia. Perhaps Capitalism’s ultimate revenge is that his image is now used to make profits. But think before you wear that T-shirt.

(Does Che remind you of anyone in particular? How about Ayman al-Zawahiri? Al Qaeda’s number two and a qualified medical doctor.)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Christopher Columbus: A Portuguese Jewish Spy?

Today is Columbus Day. It’s a national holiday, but I’m stuck at work (at least I’m not broke like I was last year). Depending on who you are, you are either: 1 celebrating his discovery of the New World, 2 protesting the post-discovery era, or 3, you don’t really give a shit.

Anyway, when I was 13 I read a magazine article that alleged Christopher Columbus was… Jewish. Ever since that fateful day in my adolescence I’ve been fascinated by Columbus’ life story. He is one of history’s most famous figures, yet we actually know very little about the man and his background. Indeed, how did a slightly above average Genovese sailor gain access to the Spanish court?

People have contended that he was really a Portuguese spy, a former Catalan rebel, even a Marrano Jew. All of these theories are very interesting, if not all HIGHLY circumstantial. Here’s an article from today’s New York Times about attempts to trace his DNA.

Francis Ford Coppola Robbed in Buenos Aires

Francis Ford Coppola (the director of the Godfather) has been working on a new movie, entitled Tetro. The film is set in Buenos Aires and is about the rivalries in an Italian immigrant family of artists. He and his production company have been in Argentina for the past six months preparing to begin filming in February, 2008; But that date might now have to be postponed.

Two weeks ago a band of thieves broke into his Buenos Aires apartment, which doubled as his work station. They made off with a number of valuables, one of which was his personal computer, containing Tetro’s screenplay. The famous director is now offering a reward to get his material back.

This is terrible news for any movie buff or fan of Argentina (I consider myself a member of both categories), and I’m sure Coppola is distraught over all this as well.

If by any chance one of you thieves is reading this: Que le devuelvan sus cosas! Pelotudos!!

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Today Brazil won the Copa America final 3-0 against Argentina; Brazil won and the sport of soccer lost. No, that’s not an outlandish statement. Brazil is known the world over not just for winning, but winning in unmistakable style. However, today they tossed their “beautiful game” aside for the “efficient game.” They did what they had to do to win- nothing more, nothing less.

The Argentines came out soft and let up an early goal to Brazil’s Julio Baptista. They then just couldn’t get going. Riquelme and Verón were unable to distribute effectively, so Argentina failed to adequately use the wings.

Brazil then nailed Argentina into the coffin with two more goals, both coming form counterattacks. Brazil were deserving winners of the game, but not the tournament.

To be sure, the way the Brazilians came together to battle adversity throughout the tournament was impressive. But they didn’t deserve to win the cup. Overall the Brazilians played very lackluster. Argentina played a bad match today but should be considered moral winners of this addition’s Copa América. Furthermore, Argentine coach Basile has found a good base of players to build upon for the 2010 World Cup, while Brazilian coach Dunga has made little long-term headway.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Copa America Update

The group stage and quarterfinals are over and only four teams remain in the Copa America: Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, and Uruguay.

Brazil should win handily against the Uruguayans tomorrow night, but the Wednesday night match up between Argentina and Mexico should be a memorable encounter. Argentina has steamrolled all oponents in their path, scoring a remarkable 13 goals in just four games. However, Mexico, under the tutelage of Hugo Sanchez, has made magnificent strides this month. Mexico (with the exception of Brazil) appears to be the only team capable of taking on the Argentines. Mexico's fate rests on the shoulders of Nery Castillo, Mexico's new young talent (the man is one hell of a dribbler).

I think Argentina will win the encounter. There's just so much to be said about the Argentine team. Alfio 'the Coconut' Basile has assembled a breathtaking, attacking lineup; man for man they are undoubtedly the best team in the world. They don't just win and score goals, they do so with a style that makes even Brazilians salivate. The past four games they have consistently strung upwards of 15 passes together. The game is played on the field, one only needs to look at the 2002 World Cup to recognize that, so I'm certainly not attempting to predict anything definitively, but I hope Argentina wins, they deserve it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Copa America 2007 Preview

Ever since I can remember I’ve been infatuated with soccer. I still recall the summer the United States hosted the World Cup. It was 1994 and I was eleven years old. Every morning I woke up early to dig through the newspaper to find the Sports Section. Soccer in the US was even less popular than it is today, but the World Cup coverage in New Jersey was intense. I read every article at least twice, trying to absorb every bit of information I could. I still remember being heart broken when Maradona was found to be taking performance enhancers, the antics of Mexican goalie Jorge Campos, and all of Roberto Baggio’s clutch goals for Italy.

Most people abroad don’t believe an American could ever truly follow the sport. Yet it’s true, I did and I still do (I will post my thoughts on the USA-Mexico Gold Cup final in a few days). This summer my love affair with the beautiful game continues with the Copa América, kicking off tonight. The Copa América is the South American nations’ soccer championship- think of it as a regional World Cup- and Venezuela is hosting the three week tournament for the first time. Brazil and Argentina- the two countries to historically dominate South American soccer- are this year’s favorites. Argentina probably has a slight advantage.

Currently Argentina has, in my estimation, the best side in the world. For the first time since my unforgettable summer as an eleven year old, Alfio ‘el Coco’ Basile is back coaching the national side, known as the albicelestes,. The Argentine senior side hasn’t won a competition in fourteen years (the 1993 Copa América during el Coco’s first stint in charge), and will be out for blood. The albicelestes have brought in a full strength side featuring a good mix of veterans and youth. Look for them to play attractive attacking soccer. Success will hinge on how well playmakers Juan Roman Riquelme and Sebastián Verón combine in the middle of the park. Also, Lionel Messi is ready to lead; he’s 20 and is the newest ‘new Maradona.’ If the team clicks they could steam roll the opposition.

Probable Lineup: (4-4-2)

- Abbondanzieri -

- Zanetti --- Ayala --- G Milito --- Heinze -

- Mascherano -

- Cambiasso ------------------ Verón -

- Riquelme -

-Messi - - Crespo -

Juan Pablo Aimar and Carlitos Tevez will make key contributions off the bench.

Brazil, while still a favorite, is not coming with its full strength squad. No Ronaldinho, no Kaká, no Ronaldo, no Adriano. All the same, Brazil is Brazil. The seleção has heaps of talent and will rely on young players eager to make an impression on new coach Dunga (Brazil’s number five from the 1994 World Cup winning team).

The two standout players of the group, Robinho and Diego, know each other well from their years together in the youth ranks and senior side of Santos (Pelé’s former club). Their success will depend on how quickly they come together as a team and the productivity of Robinho, who’s coming off a mediocre season with Real Madrid. Striker Vagner Love could be the tournament’s break out star.

Probable Lineup: (4-4-2)


-Maicon --- Alex --- Juan --- Gilberto

- Mineiro --- G. Silva -

- Elano -------------- Diego -

- Vagner Love - -- Robinho -

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Lost in Spanish

I’m leaving Chile this weekend, and I don’t know when I’ll be back. But I do know what I’m going to miss the most. A year ago I spoke very formal Spanish. I addressed people using “usted” (to show respect) and didn’t know how to use too many curse words. My boss quickly put an end to that.

“You’re Spanish is decent, and you’re improving a lot, but you still sound really stiff,” Claudia, my boss, told me one day. I had been in Chile about a month and a half and was slowly getting used to my new life in a foreign land. “Many times, instead of naming the object we’re referring to, we just call it a “hueá,” she told me. Claudia was the coolest boss I had ever had. She was in her early thirties and always had a story ready, and by the way she carried herself you could tell she had seen her fair share in life. She was fast becoming my mentor on all things Chilean and my first lesson was how to speak “normally.”

“Write this down and study it,” she said. “Huevón and machucao both mean friend,” ‘Use the bathroom’ is ‘echar la pulenta’.” Then, as she got up from her desk to throw away her coffee cup, she stubbed her toe. “¡Concha-su-madre!” she exclaimed.

That night, eating another bland dinner with my then-Chilean family, I decided to try out what I had recently learned. I asked my 35 year old host brother- who was a dick- to pass the salt. “hey machucao, could you pass me that hueá?” Everybody dropped their forks and stared at me, speechless. Ackward. “Who taught you that?” one of them finally asked after regaining composure. “My boss,” I said, still with no idea what was wrong. “Well, those words aren’t appropriate for the dinner table,” they told me. What I had just said roughly translated to, “hey motherfucker, pass me that shit.”

Fast forward six months and a string of bad words later. Claudia and I had already become friends and were catching up after mid year break. She asked me how I had been fairing with the Chilean ladies. "You know, some hits, some misses. . . nothing special." She started grilling me. “You mean you still don’t have a girlfriend here? I’ll tell you why you don’t, you know what I’ve noticed about you lately? You curse too much in Spanish. If you want to find a girlfriend you can’t use words like that!”

“Yeah? Well I wonder where I learned those words Claudia!”

“Hey, I taught you them, but I didn’t teach you to use them so much. So don’t blame me, huevón!”

. . . Fast forward to September and I'm walking down a twisting street close to my house. It's a beautiful spring day and the birds are chirping. I'm looking for a place to sit down, have a coffee, and plan my lessons for the week. As I stroll by one café the store front sign catches my eye:

--café con leche and muffin, 800 pesos--

That’s interesting, I think to myself. American breakfast food is hard to come by here, so I hadn´t had a muffin in months. I pass through the propped open door, take a seat, and the waitress approaches. “Un café con leche y muffin, por favor.” English words are often mispronounced here so I intentionally hispanized muffin, “moo-feen,” I said.

“Excuse me? What’s a moo-feen?” the waitress asks.

“You know, from the offer in the window.”

“Ooh, okay, but that’s pronounced ‘muffin.’ It’s an American breakfast food.” Chile 1, Me: 0.

Hardly anyone speaks English here and I’m almost positive the waitress knows less than 30 English words, but you never can tell which words they’re gonna get right and which ones they’re gonna butcher. Go to a liquor store and ask for Johnny Walker and the attendant will blankly stare at you. Instead you have to ask for a Joanie Wall-care. Hip hop, fairly popular in Chile, is pronounced ‘hip hope.’

But at the same time I’m certain I massacre Spanish words. To make matters worse, most Chileans aren’t actively trying to learn English whereas one of my reasons for coming here was to become fluent in Spanish. After close to a year here I’ve come a long way (on my resume I now say I’m ‘conversationally fluent’), yet I’m not quite where I want to be.

My Spanish skills go through ups and downs. Presently my Spanish is on the upswing, in September expressing myself was a gargantuan task, the last two weeks in October my Spanish was flying. I’m always trying to practice, learn new words, and improve.

Everyday I make the hour and a half journey from my place in downtown Santiago to San Carlos de Apoquindo, one of Santiago’s rich suburban neighborhoods in the foothills of the Andes. If it weren’t for the Andes- On a clear winter day the snow covered mountain tops glisten just a few hundred yards away- or the barbed wired fences- Chileans are extremely paranoid about crime- it would look like upper class American suburbia.

But an hour and a half is a hell of a commute. On the bus I listen to loads of music. I’ve now extended my Spanish language musical interests way beyond the typical Caribbean fare available back home. I especially like ‘los Fabulosos Cadillacs,’ a now defunct legendary Argentine rock group from the ‘90’s. I also read. Cafés supply newspapers here free of charge, so every morning I read El Mercurio, Chile’s largest- and slightly right wing- newspaper, over a cup of coffee. I’ve also read a lot of books in Spanish over the last few months. Gabriel García Márquez, Miguel de Unamuno, Eduardo Galeano, and Julio Cortázar are some of my favorite authors.

But the best way to improve is by, obviously, speaking. But speaking is easier said than done (there’s a pun in there, but I’m too tired to sort it out). Most of my friends here are fellow English teachers. We came down here at the same time not really knowing anyone, and began working together; so it was only natural that we would become friends. Chileans, in contrast to other Latin Americans, although very nice, are at first a little closed and standoffish. Moreover think about it, back home, when we meet foreigners our reaction isn´t, “hey! Great to meet you, let me be your friend!” It’s hard to form new friendships anywhere, much less in a foreign culture and in a language you still haven’t quite mastered.

In fact, the most I’ve connected with anyone here was a girl I randomly met in Argentina. This is the back story: Some friends and I were at a Santiago bar last June watching Argentina devastate Serbia 6-0 in a first round World Cup game. Convinced that Argentina would win the cup we bought bus tickets to Mendoza, an Argentine city just the other side of the Andes, for the weekend of the final. As luck would have it, Argentina was knocked out in the quarterfinals, but we didn’t care. We were going and that was that. The bus ride is normally seven hours, but in the dark Andean winter it took close to twelve. It was snowing heavily over the mountain pass and the international crossing, Chile’s most trafficked road with its largest neighbor, was temporarily closed. But we finally made it and were ready to party a lo argentino.

We had a great time, we went clubbing, had too much to drink, watched Italy win the World Cup and Zidane headbutt his defender (in the chest, damn), and met loads of people. Then Monday morning rolled around and we had to return to Santiago, it was the last week of the semester and we had lots of tests to grade and forms to process.

But there was one problem. An avalanche had fallen over the mountain pass. There was no way we could get back. “This happens every year,” the guy working the hostel front desk told me. He was sympathetic to our plight but couldn’t help but smile.

“Really? Well when do you think the pass’ll re-open? Tonight? Tomorrow morning?” I asked hopefully.

He laughed in my face. “Start dreaming on Friday.”

“¡Concha-su-madre!” I said. “We´re fucked.”

But it wasn’t so bad. I spoke to Claudia and she told me not to worry, I wouldn’t be fired. We made it back to Santiago Thursday afternoon, but in the meanby we were stuck at the hostel.

The last day there my friends and I met some Argentine girls around our age who were also staying in the hostel. Now I’m not generalizing to all Chilean females, but the vast majority of girls I have met here have been boring and/or dumb. Admittedly I am no Einstein or Picasso either, but when girls start telling you about their favorite colors. . . or that Chile is unique in the fact that different regions of the country have different accents. . . I mean come on.

But these girls on the other hand were really bright and interesting. They were in college studying International Relations, were much friendlier than their Chilean counterparts, and. . . actually had opinions.

But of the three the one who I connected with most was Cecilia. She was smart, easy to talk to, and "re-buena onda" - super cool. We talked about tons of stuff. But as the night wore on my Spanish started to slip. I had been up since dawn trying to figure out how to get back to Santiago, and now I had a few glasses of cheap wine in me. I was disappointed that I couldn’t say some of the things I wanted to, but this was the most I had bonded with anyone since I had come down here. If she had lived in Santiago I would’ve asked here for her number, but she didn’t so I asked for her e-mail address instead. She smiled and gave it to me. But, pointing her finger, she said, “improve your Spanish!”

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Latin American News

Two interesting articles on the two most controversial topics in Latin America: Hugo Chávez and Cuba.

The New Yorker covers the paradox that is Hugo Chávez.

Foreign Affairs Magazine takes a look at post-Fidel Cuba and analizes recent U.S./Cuba Relations.

Mi Buenos Aires Querido... Random Thoughts and Observations

I just left Buenos Aires and I miss it already. Santiago's cool, but Buenos Aires is on a whole other level, it's got "onda" that intangible feeling that things are really happening. I would even venture to say that it's the only city I've been to that's comparable to New York. The city seems to go on forever and there's always something going on.

People from Buenos Aires look derisively at Chile, similar to how New Yorkers esteem say, Ohio. Upon telling Buenos Aires natives- called porteños- where I had been living the past year, they couldn't help but smirk and say, "Chile, heh."

The food in Buenos Aires was good... if you like meat and pasta because there's not much else. Fortunately I like meat and consider myself a spaghetti connoisseur, so no problems there.

More than a few people told me I had a "terrible mixture of a gringo and Chilean accent." Yeah well fuck you too, buddy. No but seriously, I was more amused than offended, but I was also envious because I loved the Argentine accent. I'm glad I learned Chilean Spanish. It's very difficult, Chileans speak very fast and chop off the beginnings and endings of tons of words, so next to Chilean Spanish other accents are a piece of cake. Argentines, on the other hand, speak relatively clearly, yet their accent is unmistakable. They speak with an almost Italian rhythm, and pronounce "LL's" and "Y's" as "SH" ("Sho me Shamo" instead of "Yo me LLamo"). I'm pretty good at the Chilean accent, but anytime I attempted the porteño accent people thought I was from Spain (¡coño!).

Everyday, around four or five o-clock, everyone would drop what they were doing and meet a friend or two for café con leche and a few sweet mini croissants called medialunas- literally "half moons."

Buenos Aires FEELS like a city. It has a cosmopolitan vibe and a lot of charm.

Many porteños know a fair amount of English. This got a little frustrating when, hearing even the hint of an American accent, they began speaking to you in English. That almost never happens in Chile.

Poverty was much more in your face than in the U.S. or even Chile. Every evening, no matter where I was I saw cartoneros (the homeless, many of them complete families), picking through the trash for scraps of food. According to porteños I met, the cartoneros are much more ubiquitous in the city now than before the late 2001 economic crash.

Rosario: While in Argentina I took a three day trip to Rosario, Argentina's second or third largest city depending on who you talk to. It's about four hours north of Buenos Aires and has a very different feel. It's much more laid back and Rosarinos (people from Rosario) were easier to meet than their Buenos Aires counterparts. It's also Che Guevara's birth place.

Argentines celebrate Christmas very differently than Americans do. They start the evening among family, but around 2AM everybody goes out and hits the clubs. It's one of the biggest party nights of the year.

I checked out all the tourist sites. I went to la Recoleta cemetery- where my grandfather used to sell flowers. I went to the Obelisco (whoever designed that had a Napoleon complex for sure). I went to la Boca, a historic neighborhood that sits next to the waterfront, if you walk two block away from el Caminito- the touristy street- you're in the ghetto. I bought some books on Avenida Corrientes and clothes in plaza Serrano. Even yet, I don't feel I know the city well at all. It's definitely a place I'd like to live in someday, and I hope that day is gonna come sooner rather than later.