Monday, March 26, 2007

Chacra El Cielo, El Bolson

El Campo (the farm)

We rejoin our hero as he has just missed his flight to southern Patagonia on account of the infamous ¨Grilled Cheese Incident.¨ Our intrepid adventurer decided to punish himself for this egregious misdeed by taking on an unprecedented (for him) mission: actual manual labor. That´s right, the gringo from NY who´s dad is wont to say ¨See these hands; they write checks¨decided to get down and dirty and earn his keep.

My friend Olivia had told me about a cool organic farm outside of El Bolson called Chacra El Cielo ( where she´d had a great experience, so off I headed. (BTW, I´ve since learned there´s a whole culture of ¨wwoofing¨in which people seek out organic farms to work on in various

Here´s the entrance to the farm.

Here are Nano and Rosa (with daughter) who run the farm.

Their story is pretty crazy. Rosa is from the States (outside of Philly and New Hampshire). She came to Argentina about six years ago, fell in love with the place, loved this farm, and decided she didn´t want to come back to the U.S. But, she needed permanent resident status. Nano was running this farm for someone else. He had recently been involved with a married Uraguyan woman. When that broke off, he agreed to marry Rosa so she could stay--but they had never had ¨relations,¨as he said. Well, that changed on their wedding night and they now have two children, Dante and Solame.

On my first night there, I met Maja (from Sweden) and Lisandro and Leandro from Rosario (Argentina). Here´s my first real experience drinking mate. Mate is basically a type of tea and it is an Argentinian obsession. Many Argentines will go nowhere without a cup and a thermos of hot water.

Lisandro and Leandro were just passing through, so I spent the first day working alone--widening a ditch alongside the house to prevent water from seeping in during the wet winter. The next night, David (Austin, Texas) and Eduardo (Madrid, Spain) arrived. For the next couple of days the three of us attacked that ditch and took no prisoners. Then, the last day, we cleared some vegetation (yup, I used a machete). Here are some pics to prove that I actually engaged in said manual labor:

I know what you´re thinking: he´s wearing the same clothes in all the pics, so clearly he just worked for one day and is trying to pass it off like he really did something. No, I worked four days; I just wore the same clothes every day.

El Rio

On Friday afternoon, we packed some food headed down to the river for the afternoon. Here are some pics from that little adventure:

Saturday, I headed back to Bariloche to take a second try at catching an early morning flight to El Calafate to see the famous Perito Moreno glacier. Happily I made this flight and write from southern Patagonia. More on this place later...

Monday, March 19, 2007

Mas Libros (more books)...

I´ve been burning through books lately, so here are BRIEF thoughts on a few.

Sidney Sheldon, Nothing Lasts Forever
As I mentioned, I ran out of books right before my long bus ride, so had to settle for whatever English language books I could find in the nearest bookstore. I hadn´t heard of Sidney Sheldon, but he appears quite accomplished. According to the book jacket, he has more than 300 million books in print and is responsible for several Broadway plays and hit TV series (including I Dream of Jeannie).

Which is why it was surprising that this book was so horrible. And, horrible in a badly written with implausible plot kind of way. The book is basically about a trio of female medical residents and their travails in love and at the office--complete with two murders, of course. Here are some choice quotes from just the Prologue:

-¨Paige Taylor´s attorney, Alan Penn, was Venable´s opposite, a compact, energetic shark, who had built a reputation for racking up acquittals for his clients.¨ That´s the best thing you can come up with to say about a defense attorney? That he had a reputation for acquittals? Very imaginative.

-Again, about attorney Penn: ¨Yet Alan Penn had the reputation of being a master magician in the courtroom. Now it was his turn to present the defendant´s case. Could he pull another rabbit out of his hat?¨ I don´t think I even need to comment on this one.

-Finally, a bit of law school snobbery, but this little aside totally undermines the author´s credibility: ¨The presiding judge was Vanessa Young, a tough, brilliant black jurist rumored to be the next nominee for the United States Supreme Court.¨ For all those non-lawyers, it is extremely implausible that a state trial court judge would be in line for the U.S. Supreme Court. This person would have no appelate expereience and would have to leapfrog 4 levels of judges above her. Well, I guess George Bush might nominate her...

Sidney Sheldon, you seem like an accomplished guy--I think you can do better.

Walter Mosley, Bad Boy Brawley Brown
This was an entertaining enough way to kill some time. It´s about a black ex street hustler in 1960s LA who gets back into ¨the life¨to help an old friend and ends up in the middle of a mixed-up black empowerment movement. I wouldn´t recommend spending any money on it, but if you´re in a bind and can´t find a better English book, it´ll do.

Augusten Burroughs, Running With Scissors
This memoir of Burroughs´childhood is truly fucked up and occassionally laugh-out-loud funny. I was reading it at dinner one night and my waiter came up to me and asked me if I´d smoked something before the meal. The answer was no, but--although I can´t be sure due to my limited Spanish comprehension--I think it may have led to an invitation for afterwards . Anyway, the book is a quick and entertaining read. It chronicles Burroughs childhood in a highly disfunctional setting featuring a psychotic mother, a withdrawn alcoholic father, and an adopted family headed by a criminally irresponsible psychiatrist. But, contra to the glowing reviews, I´m not sure it added anything important to my life.

Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air
This book is fascninating and I would definitely recommend it. It´s the story of a tragic attempt at summitting Mt. Everest that cost several experienced guides and climbers (and some not so experienced) their lives. Krakauer does a good job both teaching us about mountaineering, and Everest in particular, and humanizing those who didn´t make it back. I´m not quite finished, but stayed up way too late last night reading (even though I obviously know the outcome).

Sunday, March 18, 2007

PATAGONIA: Bariloche (Argentinian mail, the Grilled Cheese Incident)...and how I ended up in El Bolson

After nearly a week in Buenos Aires, I decided to head out to Argentinian Patagonia. Bariloche is a touristy ski town bordering Lago Nahuel Huapi. I arrived by overnight bus (20 hr ride, surprisingly comfortable and empty) and found a room at 1004, a 10th floor hostel overlooking the lake that a Dutch woman Laila I met on the bus had heard about. Here´s the view from the hostel:

It turns out that Bariloche manufactures a LOT of chocolate (I wasn´t aware that Argentina had a spot famous for chocolate). These two massive chocolate stores were cattycornered on the same block--and there are dozens of them throughout the town:

The following day, Laila and I took a 50km bike ride along the lake (my ass was still sore two days later). Here we are on the ¨beach¨

Friday I did not much, but Saturday was wonderful.

Argentinian Mail
Well, it started out less than wonderful. After a month, I was finally ready to send my first package home to mom--significantly lightening my load. I had diligently checked the post office hours and discovered that surprisingly they were open on Saturday from 9-1. I woke up, ate some watermelon, and packed up my Spanish textbook, the 4 books I´d completed on the trip thus far, and other sundry items. Carrying the fairly heavy back to the post office I was excited to get the weight literally off my shoulders.

After waiting on line for about 15 minutes, I approached the counter with my plastic bag filled with heavy stuff and said ¨Me gustaria mander este a los Estados Unidos por el precio mas barato.¨ The guy at the counter grabbed my bag, stepped back 10 feet to a scale and weighed it. He then came back and told me that my bag weighed 3kg and that I was only permitted to send up to 2kg on Saturdays (and that would cost me 1/3 more than usual). Packages heavier than 2kgs may only be sent on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

I looked at him utterly dumbfounded. This wasn´t some ramshackle private company, it was the official Argentian post office. It would be like walking into the post office at home and being told you can only mail that letter on alternate Wednesdays.

Regaining my wits, I asked if I could leave the package today and have it sent out on Monday. That, of course, was not possible. I left the post office--package in hand--defeated but amused. I would have to lug the extra weight to Calafate (so I thought...more on that later) and pay even more to ship it from there. But, if this was the worst of the adversities I´d face on this trip all would be well...

UPDATE: I just tried to mail the package from El Bolson on a Monday, but from here one is not permitted to mail more than 2kg any day of the week. So, I carry my burden forward...

Villa Angustura
I took a bus to a small town about 1.5 hrs from Bariloche called Villa Angustura. My new friend Natalia Torres from Buenos Aires had recommended it. I arrived at about 3:30 and did a loop around the main street of the town--a quaint little place that had the look of a ski resort with lots of log framed buildings.

Here´s the only picture I took that day:

By that time I was quite hungry, so decided to sit in the sun at a nice cafe that served waffles. I grabbed a table, but saw a woman who looked approximately my age sitting alone at the next table eating an ice cream and reading a newspaper. I figured, what the hell, and approached her table and said ¨Hola, me llamo Adam y soy de Nueva York. Te gustaria hablar conmigo?¨

She was friendly, introduced herself as Luciana and seemed happy to talk. She was born in Spain to Argentinian parents who are engineers and is studying in Mendoza. She completed a degree in physiology but doesn´t really like it so is now studying psychology. We ended up sitting at the cafe for the next 3 hours. While I enjoyed a waffle with chocolate sauce and ducle de leche (a sweet caramel-like spread they love here), we talked in Spanish about everything from our respective lives and families; to the difference between men in Spain (very shy and reserved; the women have to approach them) and Argentina (won´t take no for an answer); to the different styles of education in Spain and Argentina (surprisingly, Argentina has better medical and engineering schools b/c they feature more practical experience); to the nature of chemistry, love and marriage. She gave me her email and now I have a friend when I go to Mendoza.

I caught the 8pm bus back to Bariloche positively elated. It wasn´t that Luciana and I had a particularly strong chemical connection (the conversation was somewhat flirtatious, but not outwardly so). It was that I had a) shown up in a random city with nothing planned and made a new friend just by showing some initiative; and b) had managed to converse effectively, and beyond the surface, in Spanish for 3 hours.

The first part was particularly timely because I had been thinking a lot over the past few days about the delicate balance between being proactive and letting life come to you that traveling alone entails. I´d been spending a lot of time alone over the past few days and while I didn´t mind my own company I was wondering whether I needed to be more proactive and take more risks in putting myself out to strangers. My experience with Luciana confirmed that I could strike the right balance.

The Grilled Cheese Incident
When I arrived back at the hostel, the evening´s St. Patrick´s Day party was already in full swing. Everyone had made a dish from their home country and people were drinking and even dancing under a disco ball. I had bought materials for garlic grilled cheese which I thought would make a tasty and inexpensive snack for a lot of people (and was pretty American to the core). But when I arrive there was already a ton of food out and it didn´t seem necessary to start cooking more.

Plus, I thought that people would appreciate a hot, tasty grilled cheese even more AFTER they returned from the bar that night. After planning to do some late-night cooking, I remembered that the hostel kitchen was officially closed after midnight. I approached Javier, the preternaturally calm owner with Jesus-like long hair and beard, and asked if he could make an exception and allow me to cook grilled cheeses for everyone late that night. At first, he resisted, explaining that they clean the kitchen every night and that there were rooms right near and the noise would disturb guests. But after I explained that I had all these materials and was leaving on an early flight the next morning, he gave me a wink and said that if I promised to be very quiet and clean up after myself I could cook. I thanked him profusely and left for the local Irish bar happy.

Here´s a picture of our crowd out at the bar (I actually think this is from Thurs night, but it´s basically the same people at the same bar):

At about 3am after another 3 beers, a shot of tequilla, and some dancing to a rapid-fire mix of American hits, I grew tired of the bar and decided it would be more fun to head back and start prepping the grilled cheeses, thereby allowing me to surprise every incoming guest with a fresh, hot sandwich as they walked in the door. When I got back, I quickly found a partner in crime in an affable Canadian fellow (the guy to my right in the picture above) and we got to work cutting garlic.

That´s when my whole trip took a sudden turn downhill.

Despite Javier´s earlier approval, the women cleaning the kitchen appeared obviously distraught at the prospect of us using it after they were done. Javier began a slow back-peddle, starting at restricting what we could use and eventually closing the door on the project all together. Recognizing that I was in his house and asking for an exception to the rules (and being a lobbyist knowing that one almost always catches more flies with honey) I was being exceedingly flexible and polite, proposing simple new solutions to every hurdle he erected. But, I was drunk and pissed. Here I was desperately trying to hold up my end of the regional cooking bargin and spread good vibes at the hostel by giving out grilled cheese (I wasn´t even hungry) and this seemingly ultra-chill hostel owner was getting dogmatic on my ass and shutting me down. (Grilled cheese can be cooked very quietly using minimal tools, so I thought the exception wasn´t unreasonable.)

Worse, cooking grilled cheese and greeting incoming partiers was my plan for staying up all night and catching the 6:40 am bus to the airport to catch my flight to Calefate to see the glaciers. Now, I was exceedingly annoyed and didn´t want to go back to the bar. So I double checked my cell phone alarm and plopped into bed to catch about 2.5 hours of sleep before I had to wake up for my flight.

I woke up at 8:45--30 minutes after I was supposed to be at the airport.

I have no idea if my alarm went off and I slept soundly through it or what (I checked again and it was definitely set); but the bottom line is that I didn´t wake up. I jumped out of bed and trudged to the local airline office to see if I could change my ticket. They were, of course, closed on Sunday. I finally reached them on the phone and was told that there was only one flight per week from Bariloche to Calafate--the one I had just missed. Ironically, my flight back from Calefate to Buenos Aires was now leaving before I could get to Calefate to catch it. For some reason the guy was not able to change my flight on the phone.

El Bolson
I decided to make lemonade and hop a bus to El Bolson, a hippie-ish town about 3hrs south of Bariloche where my friend Olivia had worked on a farm that she highly recommended. I had discovered her advice after I had booked my flight to Calefate so I was planning on hitting El Bolson from the Chile side after I returned to BA and crossed over to Santiago. But now I´d go directly there, spend a few days and then head back up to BA by bus. Hopefully I´ll be able to change my ticket to a round trip from BA to Calafate and still see the glacier next week.

I arrived in El Bolson at about 2pm today exhausted from only a few hours sleep, a developing sore throat (serves me right, I smoked 2 cigarettes two nights ago, and like clockwork...), and no plan. I didn´t want to go to the farm right away b/c I wasn´t feeling well and wanted to show up ready to work. I trudged around town with my pack looking for a hostel. The town was almost entirely shut down--because it is Sunday, because many restaurants and stores close for siesta in the afternoon, and because it is past peak summer season. And, sure enough, it started to rain.

Well, the rain only lasted a few minutes, I eventually found a cheap room, I got some much needed sleep, feel a bit better, and I´m hoping they have room for me at the farm tomorrow. Perhaps this was all a blessing in disguise and I owe Javier a thank you for squashing my butter-soaked grilled cheese fantasies--or perhaps it just sucks that I missed my flight.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Hangin' at the Hostel...and some other random stuff

Buenos Aires Round 1: Saturday Night BBQ

Here are some pics from my Saturday night at the Alma Petit Hostel in Palermo, Buenos Aires.

Here's me pretending to man the "asada" (barbaque). We ate at 1:30 am that night. After finishing a full bbq meal at 2am some of the more enterprising folks went out to the disco (the bars here don't get hoppin' until 3am and the clubs closer to 4am)--but being old and boring, I passed out.

This is Alejandra and Fernanda, "muy bonitas" Chilean twins staying at the hostel:

Other Random Pics

This is Susie a wonderful Australian I met by asking her for directions to the restuarant I was basically standing in front of.

I guess this is some Argentinians' idea of genuine American pizza. Those from NY will of course know why this is funny.

Finally, this is actually pretty cool. I bought a zip-up in a bar the other day. That's right, during the day on the weekends a bunch of the bars become clothing markets--but the bar still stays open. Here are some pics.

Some thoughts on some books...

So far I've finished four books this trip. The irony is that I'm about to head on my first long (23hr) bus trip tomorrow (note--I´ve already taken the trip at this point; I started this post in BA and I´m finishing it in Bariloche) and I'm out of reading materials. The carefully calculated plan of buying craploads of books before the trip and having my mom ship me new ones every few weeks has not been flawlessly executed (...yes, mistakes were made).

Here are my thoughts on the books I've finished so far. Obviously, feel free to skip this post if you're here for pictures and travel stories, not my "expert" opinion on subjects about which I know no more than you do.

Barak Obama, Dreams from my Father

I found Obama's first book generally quite interesting--and appreciated his reflections on his upbringing, time as a community organizer, and trip to Africa (although I was of course disappointed that his time at PIRG merited only one line about working for a Nader group). Two larger themes particularly struck me, so I'll restrict my comments to these topics.

First, it's impossible to read the book without being struck by how race infused every aspect of Obama's life. I know from personal experience that this is something that is very difficult for white Americans to understand. As a white male I've been blissfully unaware of rampant sexism occurring under my nose in middle school (apparently one of our science teachers refused to call on girls); and I owe a debt of gratitude to some of my black law school classmates who have patiently explained how race is constantly present in their lives.

Given Obama's newfound status as a national figure, many people will undoubtedly pick up this book that wouldn't ordinarily read this type of memoir. The question that remained open in my mind when I finished is, how will middle of the road white Americans, without particularly progressive racial politics, react? Will reading the book be an eye-opening experience that will affect their views on policy issues and the black American experience generally? Or will they see Obama as just another whiney liberal who chooses to racialize everything?

I hope that Obama's current stature will, in the minds of his readers, ascribe retroactive weight to his thoughts as a young man. I hope readers will be open to thinking about what it must be like to think about, and question, one's racial identity and its meaning at every turn. No doubt this is difficult for most white Americans who've never had to confront the presence of race in our lives even once, let along "todos los dias" as they'd say here in Argentina.

The second aspect of the book I found particularly strinking was the story of Obama's religious conversion. I wish I could quote more accurately from this section, but I've already lent the book to a fellow traveler. The bottom line is that in the course of organizing Chicago churches he was often asked about his own faith. It wasn't until he attended a particularly moving service featuring a sermon titled "The Audacity of Hope" (yes, the title of his current book--coming up on my reading list) that he found a spiritual home.

Those who know me know that I'm a skeptic when it comes to religion (more on this below in my thoughts on The End of Faith), so not surprisingly, the message I took away from this section was a bit different than what Mr. Obama surely had in mind. It seemed to me from reading that a large part of what Obama was seeking, and what fellow congregationalists had found, was community--which may include some measure of spirituality, but can easily (in my mind) be separated from notions about God.

It made me think that what we need in this country are secular churches.

We need places where people can go to sing together, laugh together, eat and drink together, talk politics together, care for children together, etc... Personally, I don't think that one's opinions about the existence of an afterlife have much to do with all of this. And, I think a large part of the success of the mega-church movement of Rick Warren et. al. stems from the fact that in the new milenium people are starved for community (sprawling development, bowling alone, you've heard the story...).

Perhaps if we had secular churches (probably not called churches, I guess) that weren't tied to the rather strange ideas about morality that seem to emerge from our established religion (sex is a sin rather than a celebration, same-sex sex is the ultimate sin, etc...) we'd have a better chance of loosening the grip of right-wing social conservatives on this country. We'd have a natural base for organizing (which is what churches have always been) without the baggage.

Ernesto "Che" Guevara, The Motorcycle Diaries

Motorcycle Diaries is a quick read, so I'll keep this post one as well. Obviously the book was particularly relevant to my current life. But, the ultimate affect was to make me realize that my own thirst for adventure is quite limited. Lots of this book is about being HUNGRY and COLD. Reading it made me quite thankful for my hot showers, real beds, and indoor transportation. Not very Che-like; I know. But at least my Uncle Michael will be happy to hear that I'm no closer to running off and becoming a communist revolutionary.

I did wonder whether one could pull off today what Che and Alberto did in the early 50s--essentially beg, borrow, and steal their way around the continent. Don't worry, mom, I'll continue to wonder...

Sam Harris, The End of Faith

This may be the most interesting book I´ve read since The Moral Animal by Robert Wright (which is about evolutionary phsychology--and no matter what you think of that subject the book is fascinating; I highly recommend it).

Harris´thesis is that religious faith is an outdated and backward idea which is not only retarding our progress as a race but actually threatens our very existence. Attachment to thousands-year old dogma has prevented us from making the type of progress in the fields of ethics and spirituality that we've made in fields like medicine and politics. Now that we have weapons of mass destruction the stakes are higher than ever--imagine 15th century Inquisition-happy Christians with The Bomb. He goes after Islam particularly hard, but does not spare Christianity or Judaism either... and he reserves a special ire for ¨religious moderates.¨

Fairly provocative stuff--I´ve never seen anyone go straight at faith like this before. Here are some representative quotes:

-"By failing to live by the letter of the texts, while tolerating the irrationality of those who do, religious moderates betray faith and reason equally." (21)

-"It is time we recognized that the only thing that permits human beings to collaborate with one another in a truly open-ended way is their willingness to have their beliefs modified by new facts...We must find our way to a time when faith, without evidence, disgraces anyone who would claim it." (48)

-"Religious violence is still with us because our religions are intrinsically hostile to one another. Where they appear otherwise it is because secular knowledge and secular interests are restraining the most lethal improprieties of faith. It is time we acknowledged that no real foundation exists within the canons of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or any of our other faiths for religious tolerance and religious diversity." (225)

-"It is time we realized that to presume knowledge where one has only pious hope is a species of evil. Wherever conviction grows in inverse proportion to its justification, we have lost the very basis of human cooperation. Where we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of faith; where we have no reasons, we have lost both our connection to the world and to one another. People who harbor strong convictions without evidence belong at the margins of our societies, not in the halls of power." (225)

-"The litmus test for reasonableness should be obvious: anyone who wants to know how the world is, whether in physical or spiritual terms, will be open to new evidence." (225)

Yáll know that I´m a skeptic when it comes to religion, and some of these arguments definitely resonate with me. Wanting to hear the other side, I sent these quotes and a few others to a set of my friends from law school that are both religous and extremely intelligent self-reflective. The result was a fascinating email conversation. My friends provided some interesting arguments, including:

-attacking Harris for a tautological claim on the substance of rationality (one of my friends asserts that she came to her faith through reason)

-attacking Harris´strict textualism when it comes to religious text and highlighting the role of intepretation

-accusing Harris of holding an unduly static view of religion and neglecting the long traditions of evolution in all major faiths

-pointing the the essential human (rather than religious) nature of violence

I can´t say I´m wholly convinced by any of their retorts; but I think conversation is both fascinating and foundationally important. One example of its import: there is much talk in the progressive community of the need to stop ceding ¨moral values¨to the right and start talking in religious language. The idea is that Republicans have been painted as the party of God and Democrats the party of secular humanism. As exemplified by Barak Obama, Dems need to be able to talk eloquently (and honestly) in the language of faith. At the same time, rational, tolerant ¨moderates¨need to take religion back from fundamentalist ¨crazies.¨ Harris´perspective challenges all this.

Ultimately, the best advice I got throught the emails came from a couple of friends who advised that if I am skeptical and want to understand faith I should read its proponents, not its detractors. I´ve taken that point to heart and plan to delve into their recommended texts when I return from my trip (which include G.K. Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy” or “The Everlasting Man,” C.S. Lewis’ “The Problem of Pain, ” William James´"The Will to Believe," and Alasdair MacIntyre's "After Virture").

Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas, Crashing the Gate

Between the Dems´loss in 2004 and victory in 2006, the founders of DailyKos and MyDD delivered a polemic on how to reform the party and start winning. Their essential points are: bring the single-issue groups into line behind a greater progressive vision; fire all the same damn consultants who´ve been losing elections for a decade; don´t purge canddiates who aren´t 100% pure on every issue; understand that the media environment has changed fundamentally and stop waging 1990s campaigns; pursue a 50 state strategy (a la Howard Dean); and tha the left needs to be willing to nurture its young and pay them well in order to attract the best talent.

The first point on single issue groups is good, but easier said than done. I work for an organization that takes an issue-by-issue, no permanent friends, no permantent enemies approach to policy reform; but I´ve become increasingly interested in building a progressive infrastructure and seeing our work as an ideological battlefield. Iironically Armstrong and Moulitsas seem confused or divided about the role of ideology. On one hand, they chide our side for being insufficiently ideological (¨To their detriment progressive organizations feel comfortable advocating policy-based solutions to problems. Meanwhile, the other side is waging an ideological war¨(50) ); on the other hand, they seem to see the battle more in terms of practical solutions than ideology--they say later that netroots activism ¨is not an ideological movement¨(146). My own sense is that ideology has an important role to play here. The bottom line, though, is that it´s extremely difficult to get groups to ¨get in line¨and hold back on pushing for their own agendas. Here´s an effort at a methodology for accomplishing this by some recent Yale Forestry graduates that´s worth looking at:

I basically agree with all the other points--but having worked my entire career at a progressive organization that is well known for paying low salaries, I see how the salary issue is a bit more complex that the authors might allow. The authors write, ¨We need a professional movement that treats its people as well as Microsoft and Google, that rewards them based on the market value of their talent and skills, and that generally believes that old saying that ýou get what you pay for.´¨ I generally agree with this thrust; but in order to accomplish this, we´ll need steady, sustainable income sources--like Microsoft and Google, who don´t have to go begging at the trough of foundations. In other words, I think in order to start operating more like businesses, progressive nonprofits need to be IN business, creating sustainable income streams. PIRG has started to do this with Earthtones phone company and Green Century Funds mutual funds; but we as a community have a long way to go.

Finally, I should comment on the fact that the authors give the McCain-Feingold bill (BCRA) a lot of credit for forcing the Democratic party to reconnect with its base. Anyone who knows me knows that I fought hard AGAINST that bill--not because of the soft money restrictions, which I agree are helpful; but because of the doubling of hard money caps. This isn´t the place for a long discussion, but I just wanted to say that there is truth in the authors´comments (and surely there is), that seems to me to be more sad commentary on the Democratic party than reasons to love the new law. After all, Republicans didn´t need BCRA to reconnect with their already thriving small donor base. Nothing would have prevented Dems from actually living as the ¨party of the people¨before 2002.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Stage "Dos"...and some Futbol

Mi primero dia solo...

Today was my first day on my own (stage "dos" of my trip)...and it started out a bit shaky. Since I got to Buenos Aires, my law school friend Jeremy and his wife Betsy have been gracious enough to put me up and take me around. But, they had old friends coming into town (and also have a seemingly endless string of random houseguests--which I guess is what you get for being laid back and living in an exotic part of the world), so I moved to a hostel this the pouring rain.

I checked into my room and had my first sinking feeling of the trip. It was a room for four and there was someone sleeping (at about 11:45am) in there. He popped up, spoke basically no English, and didn't seem happy to see me, especially once he gathered that my Spanish is, well, limited. I'd been lucky enough to have my own room up until now, and for the first time, I thought, "I'm 30 years old; maybe this staying in hostels thing isn't going to be so sweet after all."

BUT, life steadily improved from there. First, I realized that I was pretty tired (I've already become a genuine BA resident by getting myself into a pattern of going to sleep at 3am) and my biggest concern was that I wouldn't be able to take a nap in a multi-person dorm room. That issue swept aside, I layed down and promptly took a beautiful three hour nap.

When I woke up, I got some lunch and then ended up having a 25 minute conversation entirely in Spanish with a Peruvian archeologist named Hector who laid out all the must-see spots in his home country (pais). Feeling pretty good about myself, I actually figured out how to use the phone card system here.

Are you ready for

My luck continued when I returned to my room to find my formerly sleeping and groggy roommate Joel (not pronounced how you think) up and ready to go to his favorite team's futbol match (we had discussed this briefly earlier, but I wasn't sure if he was actually going to wait for me). He's Argentinian, but not from BA.

So, instead of watching my beloved Blue Devils get sent home from the ACC tourney by unranked NC State, I got to see River Plate (Joel's team) lose 1-0 to Caracas F.C. Despite the low score, the game was fun and even getting into the stadium was a bit of an adventure (none of the cops or door people could seem to tell us where we were supposed to enter). The "estadio" holds about 80,000 and was about 3/5 full (many of the sections were closed off, but Joel seemed to think there would have been more people if it hadn't rained all day). There was lots of singing--a tradition that we wholly lack in the good old Estados Unidos.

I forgot to take my camera to the game, so all I can offer is a couple pictures of my ticket and the team's jersey, which Joel owns. Y'all have seen a big soccer stadium on TV anyway, so you pretty much know what it looked like.

As a bonus, here are some pictures of the futbol match I saw in Antigua at a MUCH smaller "stadium." This was the second level league, so almost all of these players have other jobs.

An interesting sidenote: both my current roommate and my host father in Antigua were going to go watch the futbol matches by themselves had I not joined them. It seemed as though Edgar (host father) goes to every game and many by himself. Just seems a bit different from the U.S. where most people won't even go to a movie by themselves (although I enjoy it from time to time--and I never understood the idea of going to a movie as a way of hanging out with a friend, i.e. sitting in the dark near each other for 2 hrs and not talking, but...).

And the Spanish...

Lots of folks have been asking me how the Spanish is coming, and it's a bit complicated. I'm feeling a bit bipolar about it--susceptible to huge swings in confidence. My first day in Buenos Aires was a perfect example. Jeremy was able to get me in to his weekly turf futbol game. So, in a span of 1.5 hours, I got to meet and play futbol with 8 real Argentines. The experience left me depressed. I could barely communicate with them. In a big group setting everyone was talking so fast and I felt pressured and I was basically silent.

After the game, I went out for dinner with Jeremy, his wife Betsy, and their friends Lara (who is a JSD student at Yale) and Pablo (her longtime "novio"). The conversation was 80% in Spanish and I understood 70% of it. Of course, they were terrifically patient with me, spoke slowely, and made sure I understood (and spoke perfect English when it was clear I didn't). But, still, I was following.

Today was similar. I was depressed that I couldn't communicate with my groggy roommate; then heartened when I was able to mostly communicate with Hector the Peruvian archeologist. It turns out my roommate has a thick Argentine accent (which is why Che Guevara was called "che"), so even words I know are sometimes hard to make out...but by the end of the futbol match we were talking about our favorite music and where "las mujeres mas bonitas" are from in Argentina--according to Joel, it's Rosario, not Buenos Aires.

The moral of the story so far seems to be: a) I can basically express myself fairly effectively; b) I can follow a conversation if people are speaking very slowly and mindful of me; c) I'm not ready for prime time, i.e. normal discourse; d) I just need to stick with it and stop speaking English!

One down...

I definitely wanted to see an Argentinian futbol match. In addition, the night before I flew to BA, my friend Tess (see "Mi Vida en Antigua") told me to: Eat the perfect steak; drink the perfect glass of wine; and kiss a beautiful woman.

Got the futbol covered; now I'll get to work on those other three...

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

El Volcan Pacaya

On Sunday, 2/18, Corey and I went to go see an active volcano about two hours from Antigua called El Volcan Pacaya. We were able to get within 30-50 yards of flowing lava--definitely not something that would be allowed in the U.S.

There's not much point in describing the scene with words, so I've just posted a bunch of pictures and a video. Above are some pictures from the way up. The ones below should give you an idea of how hot it was:

Finally, check out this video. It's hard to hear what I'm saying (nothing of consequence), but it gives a good feel of what it was like to be there:

Saturday, March 3, 2007

La Comida Tipica de Guatemala

Because I love to eat, and because I know this will get Adam H to pay attention, I've decided to document all of the typical local food I eat (la comida tipica). Here are some photos and brief explanations of meals my host family has served.

One interesting fact is that Guatemalans have a significant breakfast (often fresh fruit) and a largish lunch and then traditionally a modest dinner--as opposed to us in the states who pig out right before bed.

Here's Edgar Monterroso (the father of the host family) with a fried pacaya (a native plant) and black beans (frijoles--served very often).

Envuelto--eggs with broccoli, coliflower served with corn, potato puree and, of course, tortillas.

Doblada of beef, carrots, and green beans served with black beans and a vegetable called giusquil that is sort of like a sweet potato.

Chuchitos--meat and salsa in a corn shell like a tamale.

A traditional Guatemalan tamale.

Helaches (a sort of beef stew)

Eggs with green peppers and a cousin of the potato served with yellow rice and spicy cabbage.

This is kaquik, and it's awesome. It's a turkey soup served with tomalitos, avocado, and rice--all of which goes into the broth. It's a typical dish of Coban, Guatemala (a city about 4 hours northeast of Antigua).

UPDATE: Here's the recipe for kaquik, both in Spanish and my host daughter's best English. Thanks, Carolina!









Mi Vida en Antigua, Guatemala

I'll soon leave Antigua, so here's a little window into my life here...

Antigua is a small city (pueblo) of 40,000 in the southwest/central part of Guatemala, situated between three volcanoes. It was founded in 1543 and served as the Spanish colonial capital for 233 years. Much of the town was destroyed by a major earthquake in 1773 and although it was rebuilt, the colonial capital was moved to Guatemala City.

The weather here is just about perfect. It gets up into the 80s most days, but with almost no humidity. At night it cools off to the low 60s or even 50s.

This first picture is me in front of Antigua's famous "arc," which I believe was the only structure to survive a particularly nasty earthquake.

This is La Merced, the largest church in town. I pass it every day on my way from home to school. Construction began in 1548, but it was ruined by earthquakes twice and wasn´t completed until 1855.

Here I am with my two "maestras," Delmi on the left in "traje tipico" (traditional clothing) and Carla on the right. I started with Carla and really liked her, but had to switch in order to stay with morning classes (8-12) as opposed to afternoon (12-4).

Here's my host family--along with five students they're currently housing. Last night was Corey's last here in Antigua, so he and I cooked dinner for everyone. As I mentioned before, they're truly fantastic. They speak slow, patient Spanish with us and correct us constantly with complete good nature.

Chris and Megan, both Canadian. Megan is in language school, but Chris has been here for a few months and hasn't been attending classes for a while. He is quite simply the busiest guy I've ever met who does absolutely nothing--in fact, Chris does the "nothing" of three men. This makes him a great person to know b/c he's checked out every bar, restaurant, etc. in town.

This is Tess and Uulay, both Swedish and both very cool. They had an...interesting relationship.

Here I am drinking whisky with Corey the night we met the rest of these clowns.

And, here's four of us overlooking Lago de Atitlan from the town of San Pedro (about 2.5 hours from Antigua).

Finally, here's Corey and me with our newest roommate Craig who works on cruise ships in Alaska.

We´re in a bar called Reds which became our regular hangout. It´s directly across the street from La Merced.