Sunday, March 25, 2007

Winning Hearts and Minds (by Chas)

Tonight, we have a guest appearance . . .

Now that the Great World Peas Summit of 2007 appears to be drawing to a close, I think it might be safe for me to tiptoe onto the scene to offer some of my embryonic impressions of Buenos Aires. I’ll try to be brief, but I will almost certainly fail.

Let me start off by saying that linguistically, my situation is in no way similar to Ken’s and Helen’s, in that they’ve have really had to penetrate this language barrier as a matter of survival. With the exception of my very first hour in country, all my encounters with the locals have been with the safety net of Ken or Helen by my side to bail me out of the inevitable jam that ensues when you can croak out some semi-intelligible noises in a foreign language, but literally lack the capacity to comprehend even one single word of the response. The Plan for my arrival, painstakingly arranged in advance by Ken, was that when I emerged from Customs, Ernesto, the remis driver, would be standing there holding a sign with my name on it. Well, apparently, checking for last-minute flight time changes is not part of the service, so when my plane landed an hour late, Ernesto had already been standing around for an hour, wondering where this inept traveler could be. By the time I got there – and I’m absolutely sure I was standing in the right place – there was no one holding a sign of any kind. Ok, time to go hire a remis on my own. When I confidently announced my intentions, in what I considered to be Spanish, the girl in the booth somehow surmised that my native language was English. To her credit, she answered me in Spanish anyway, which quickly proved futile. She switched effortlessly to English, and things went much better. Ultimately, I ended up having to pay both my driver AND Ernesto (the next day), because his service insists that he was there at the appointed time, and that he waited 90 minutes. (I have reason to believe he really was there, but if he and I were in the same place for thirty minutes, why, why, WHY didn’t I see him? Never mind, it’s only money.) I had just had my first taste of what Ken and Helen have been enduring every day of their lives for the past 10 weeks. My hat is off to these two – they’re now having relaxed conversations with waitresses and store clerks in a language that sounds way different in life than it did in my textbook back in 1971. Don’t get me wrong – I’m sure they’re saying “Please to permitting for we taking thirteen coffee please,” but they’re getting the job done, and I’m certainly not. I’ve been here four days, and I still can’t understand a word. Ken says it takes two weeks to get the ears attuned to the sound, so I better keep them close by at all times.

My Kerrs have some mad survival skills. In the two months they’ve been here, they’ve assembled a social network. Last night we had dinner at the home of Dana and Gabriel, and it was just the most delightful time. They’re both from here, but they speak English almost without an accent, as do their kids, and they seem to know more about the subtleties of life and politics in the US than most Americans I know. Much food, much wine, and much laughter – what more can a guy ask for? Ken has, I think, already expressed his desire to blend in, and not stomp around the city with his American flag flying, but I’m glad if people know that these warm and engaging Kerrs are Americans. I think we could use the positive representation. Looks to me like they’re busy spreading smiles and goodwill throughout the neighborhood.

Another impressive accomplishment of these two is that they seem to have figured out this fairly complicated bus system. (The buses, by the way, roar by at about 9000 decibels. I’ve never heard such a cacophony in my life.)

The apartment is small, but very nice. I have a room to myself, and it has one-and-a-half baths, so we’re never crashing into each other during our morning routines. And by the way, if all the above is not impressive enough for you, let me just say that they immediately figured out what the bidet is used for.


Caroline G said...

Ahh, the embryonic yet keen observations of our man Chas. That was a good read, Charlie. Good to see you.

99 said...

Welcome Chas! Bienvenido Chas!
These are just the first confusions. Take it easy and enjoy, you´re in good hands. Ken and Helen are lovely people.
If you need more assistance just shout out loud... we´ll be there.
In the meantime... RELAX! Things are different here (and I have a secret: once you coped with the changes THEY GET BETTER AND BETTER!)
Have a great time en Buenos Aires!

Kat Acosta said...

Glad to see Chas posting. I enjoy his post as much as I enjoy his comments! I know you are all having a super time. Yay! (Would but that I were there too.)

Your confidence in Ken and Helen must encourage them. Now they know *for sure* how far they have come in a few short months.

What an excellent opportunity for you all!

Have fun!

emilyeffinconrad said...

Chas man, I think you should get an online blog and just write in it all the time about whatever, because this was fantastic to read.

Chas said...

Dang, I forgot to mention that I got to taste the mate! Bear in mind that I'm a guy who enjoys scotch and cigars, so my taste buds may have no credibility among normal people who are disinclined to drink poison. But to me, it did NOT taste like dirt, as Helen reported when she courageously tried it. I was picking up something more along the lines of really strong tea that had been accidentally dumped into a pot of coffe, with a subtle finish reminiscent of freshly-mowed lawn. This may not sound like praise, but I must say, to a stogie-tokin' guy like me, this was kind of pleasant. I believe I'll have another!

99 said...

Great description Chas!
Now you have to learn:
THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF MATE. (I'm not joking there IS a mate language, words are combination of toppings and body manners while taking it)

Chas said...

Kensito: please learn from 99 the Secret Language of Mate, and impart this vital information when you return (if not sooner!) I'm already fantasizing about the Asado Grande in your backyard when you guys get back this summer -- the gentle sound of a genuine Argentine guitar in the background, playing "One Note Samba," the little piggy crucified near the glowing embers of the fire pit (I really wanted to use the word parilla here, but that's a whole different thing, ain't it?), pouring steaming water over the mate into the mate and sipping the mate in that secret mate way -- I can hardly wait!

99 said...

There go some translations.

Bitter Mate: indifference
Sweet Mate: Friendship
Very sweet Mate: talk to my parents, i´m really want you
Hot Mate: I´m dying for you
Cold Mate: looking down on you
Cinnamon Mate: you´re in my mind
W/some sugar: I like you
w/orange peel: come get me
w/tea: indifference
w/coffee: I pardon your offense
w/syrup: I´m sorry for your sadness
w/milk: I like you
boiling Mate -veeery hot-: Marriage
Foamy Mate: true love