Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Race to Feel Good About

By Katharine
Sunday morning we ran in a race for ice cream. It makes people who eat ice cream feel good about themselves. When we got there dad told us it was a 3K race and we had to hurry to sign up. They gave us wicking T-shirts that were white and blue and had a picture of an ice cream cone. Also we got numbers to identify us in the race. My number was 1588.

To get started we had to stretch. First we had to touch our toes. A man was counting down from 20 until we started. I went with Mom. When we saw a mother pushing a stroller, my mom said that we had to beat her. Then we saw a group of kids, I suddenly told my mom in a strange voice that I was going to wipe them down. So I started running. I left her in the dust. After that I had to run back and get her. We decided to walk and run but we ended up running all the way.

We saw people holding up signs at the finish. Then we saw Dad and Graham they gave us water and Gatorade. Then we got free ice cream. After that we rode around in a 4-person bike and took a taxi home.

Because running wasn't enough...We rented a bike and cruised the park for an hour.

Corriendo por Helado

One reason why Andrew keeps stepping in stuff: All the trees are in bloom, it's really beautiful.

Pre-race stretching while waiting for our taxi.

By Louise

Even though my Spanish is coming back to me at great speed, when I spotted a poster for the 2 da Maraton del Autentico Helado Artesanal, I was certain I had read it wrong. An ice cream marathon? For real? First, it's bakeries on every block. Now, it's running for ice cream? What kind of nirvana is this? On closer look I discovered that it wasn't really a marathon, but rather a 3K/8K race. Even better.

Having had my first tastes of Argentine helado (FYI: The ice cream mugging scene created by Katharine was just a tad exaggerated. There was no screaming. I had clamped my hand firmly over her mouth.), I knew that we needed to be at the place where there were bound to be buckets of the rich creamy, dreamy stuff. So I pointed the sign out to Graham and suggested that maybe he might want to run it while I cheered him on with a spoon in my mouth.

As race day grew nearer, Graham started saying things like, "Mom, don't you think we should start training?" and "Come on, mom, let's run." Graham has known me for nine years. He should know that I'm not a runner; I just like to talk about it.Yet thoughts of dulce de leche would not leave my mind. I figured just this once I could get over myself and run.

When Sunday arrived I pulled on my sneakers. I ate a light breakfast, knowing that in no time I would be headfirst into helado.

I called us a taxi (this being my job now that Andrew has flustered himself out of it by confusing nombre with numero one too many times) and told the driver what park we needed to go to. I suppose it was sort of like saying, "Take me to Central Park," because his response was along the lines of "OK, but that park is huge. Where do you want to go?"

I tried to explain in Spanish that we were going to the big ice cream race. He still didn't get it. So I said, "Corriendo! Helado!" The driver looked at me as if I were crazy. I couldn't figure him out. We were heading to a big race and festival. There were posters all over town. What gives?

The driver, obviously coming down from a busy Saturday night, ignored my continued attempts at communication and got us to the park on time. We registered and joined the other ice cream lovers at the starting line. There was something odd though: Where were all the ice cream booths? I brushed the thought aside, assuming that by the time I finished running things would be set up and spoons set out. Now was the time to focus on the race.

We prepared with a little stretching while sizing up our opponents. I spotted a woman with a stroller; bending down, I whispered to Katharine, my running buddy, "We must beat her." Meanwhile, Katharine counted up her victims. Graham, on the other hand, was focused on the fastest path to the front of the pack. He would not stop running until he crossed the finish line. Andrew's plan: stick with Graham.

The count down began. Graham shot off with Andrew trying to follow. Katharine, holding my hand turned to me and said, "I don't want to drag you the whole way. Get a move on!"

The woman with the stroller turned out to be a little quicker than she looked, but we passed her. Then Katharine spied her first victim: a small boy running with his dad. "I'm going to wipe him down." And so she did. Next up: two girls about her age, their ponytails bouncing as they skipped along with their parents. "Let's go!" Katharine snarled and took off, leaving me in her dust. The two girls sensed a challenge and tried to keep up with Katharine, but I cut them off and charged forward. We crossed the finish line to cheers from Graham and Andrew, and were handed an ice cream in a cup with one of those pressed on lids like you get in school. What the heck? I'm lactose intolerant. I'm not going to waste an upset stomach on pre-pressed helado! I felt my muscles tightening. Oh well, there's always the Queso y Queso 2K run next Sunday.

Attempting to psych out the other runners by showing off our muscles.

The other runners cleared out, they were so scared.

We kicked butt!

The point of running 3K: Ice cream!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Write or Wrong

by Andrew

I have worried lately that our kids are not learning much Spanish in
Buenos Aires because they have not met any Spanish-speaking children. Imagine my surprise--and delight--when I glimpsed something that Katharine had written and saw that she had sprinkled her work with Espanol. "Hora of pane" stared up at me from a short piece in Katharine's notebook.

My heart went out to her. Although my little scholar didn't know the Spanish for breakfast, "desayuno," she had used her imagination, describing it instead as the "hour of bread." The fact that she had used the Italian for bread, instead of the Spanish "pan," did not bother me in the slightest. My cosmopolitan little daughter, breaking free from the scrapple of the Eastern Shore, had become a linguistic sponge. A burgeoning citizen of the world. I was so proud.

Imagine, then, the depths of despondency to which I sank when I read the full essay. "Hora of pane" wasn't Spanish. It wasn't Italian. It wasn't even English. It was instead the desperate yearning of a child whose parents felt they could homeschool their children.

Katharine had wanted to write of the "horror of pain" she had experienced when a beautician had attacked her cuticles. Instead, stunted by the selfish wanderlust of her parents, she had managed to scratch out her emotions the only way she knew how--in a mutant language that makes the Rosetta Stone look like pidgin English.

If our kids are ever to return to Broadwater, I have an awful feeling we're going to have to endow a new technology wing--or, at the very least, a language lab.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Chicken Electrolysis

by Andrew

I spent the week screwing up the courage to get a haircut. This may sound like a trivial chore, but I still carry the emotional scars from the last time I tried to get a trim in a foreign language.

La ultima vez was in Italy, during a semester that I spent in Rome. It was early in the term, and my Italian--which never fully blossomed--was non-existent. In fact, the only words that I had learned came from ordering food at a local rosticceria. Seeking strength in numbers, I dragged my friend Tom with me to the local barbershop, in a residential neighborhood near our convent (yes, we lived in a convent).

We stood on the sidewalk outside, practicing our spiel. We had eaten at the rosticceria enough to know that a half chicken was a mezzo pollo. If we asked for a mezzo, surely the barber would understand that we wanted a simple trim?

With this surefire plan in hand, we marched into the shop. Tom went first (I'm stupid, but not that stupid). He took his seat in the chair and waited as the barber wrapped him in a cloak. When the barber finally looked to him for instruction, Tom pointed at his head and confidently requested a "mezzo pollo."

Tom's first signal that he had committed a fatal error was when he saw me roll off the bench in uncontrollable laughter. And when he realized that he had described his head as a half chicken, he too began to giggle, his head bobbing up and down, making the barber's job all but impossible.

I hesitate to describe the barber as a humorless man, but I suspect that he last laughed during Italy's 22nd post-war government and we were well into the 40s by now. He took our giggling as an insult to Italy, to his manhood, and to his ability as a barber. And he punished us accordingly, giving us haircuts that truly made us look like moulting pollos.

So you can imagine my angst as I prepared to undergo the clippers yet again, this time in Buenos Aires. History must not repeat itself, so I prepared. I studied. Louise has this handy little widget on her computer that acts as a translator. Type in what you want to say and--hey, presto!--it turns it into Spanish. Louise had expressed some doubts about the widget, but I had used it a couple of times with good results.

I typed in "I need a haircut," and received in return "necesito un corte de pelo." It looked good to me, so I pressed on. I entered all the instructions for how I wanted my hair cut, and wrote the translation down on a piece of paper.

Satisfied with my preparations, I went to put on my shoes, leaving my crib sheet on the dining-room table. When I returned, Louise was gasping for air on the couch, laughing much as I had done two decades earlier in Rome.

"Do you realize what you are going to ask the barber?" she wheezed, stabbing at my paper between gusts of laughter. Bemused, I scanned my opus. And there it was: "I want my hair short" had suffered slightly in translation. I had been 10 minutes away from asking to have my head short-circuited.

In a land where depilation and electrolysis rule supreme, I have no doubt that the barber would have strapped me to a gurney, hooked electrodes to my scalp , and removed my last precious follicles. I owe my wife one. Plus, I'm growing my hair out.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Questions Answered?

by Louise

Answers to questions from some enquiring minds:

How do you say "poop" in Spanish?
We're told by some Spanish-speaking friends in the US that it's la caca, although it sounds like they may be making that up. Could it really be that obvious? We don't have the nerve to ask the women in the bakery, but we will ask the tutor we are scheduled to meet this Thursday.

What's the grossest thing you've eaten so far? The best?
Katharine says: The grossest meal we had was in Panama. We went to a restaurant and were served rubber seafood. It was totally gross. Best food so far was in Buenos Aires: Pollo empanadas y dulce de leche helado. (If it were up to Katharine she would Only eat empanadas.)

Please describe the daily routine
We are still trying to figure out a routine. For instance, yesterday while walking to the parque zoological por clase de ciencias, we realized that it was nearly time for lunch yet we had just eaten breakfast. Things will change tomorrow...

Currently our schedule looks a little like this:
8am: Wake up (well, everyone but Katharine). Discover that we ate the bread intended for desayuno with the previous night's dinner. Either Andrew or I run out to get more bread from one of the dozen nearby bakeries and often come back with everything but bread. Today it was donuts filled with dulce de leche (and I wonder why my clothes are snug).

9am-11am: Attempt to teach our children something. This has proven tougher than we anticipated. I am discovering that after nearly 20 years of creating materials for teachers and kids that I picked the easy profession. Teaching is tough. I'm having trouble with two students, how teachers can manage 10 or more is beyond me.

11am-2pm: Explore the city. One of the reasons why we are in BA for two months was to expose the kids to city living and all it has to offer (dog poop, included as a bonus in BA). So far discovered that places like museums and parks are a hit with G&K but the city center where it's all walking and looking at buildings and talking about history is a chore which results in our having to stop for a snack and a coffee or a lunchtime cerveza. The kids say they prefer living on a farm but would like a nice cheese shop and a bakery or two nearby.

3pm: We head home and attempt to enforce a siesta. Funny how G&K can be dragging their feet, moaning about how tired they are only to return to our little apartment and start bouncing off the walls. Nevertheless, it's quiet time for a couple hours.

6pm: Head out for a walk around the neighborhood, attempt to pull together dinner from the small, local pasta, butcher, and vegetable shops, or just head to the large supermercado for one stop shopping. I am nearly positive that the supermarket is getting it's vegetables shipped in from the Cape Charles Food Lion.

A trip to the supermercado can also take a really long time if we need something as basic as milk. There seems to be a lot of choices—I think—but I'm not sure. The packages look different yet similar—they have slight word changes that continue to hang me up. I haven't been able to find the fat free milk, but there appears to be milk for people over the age of 50. And then, of course, you have to decide between milk in a tetrapak or plasma-like baggie.

8pm: This seems to be the time when people meet at cafes for a coffee and pastry or maybe an ice cream. Not us. We're ready for una cerveza o copa de vino tinto. If possible, we try to find a cafe next to a park. So we can park it while watching the kids park it.

9-10pm: We head home to prepare dinner. This is also TV Spanish. We continue to learn a lot here, but have discovered that the kids can actually learn too much from TV. There can be no casual flipping of channels. It seems to go from Disney to dancing shows where the contestants dance in the "rain," while wearing very little. I mean, Very little.

10-11pm: Dinner. If we go out, it's definitely no earlier than 10pm...and we're still some of the first to be seated. This is why the afternoon siesta is crucial. Without it, G&K collapse before you can say agua con gaseosa.

How does Andrew get the dog poop off his shoes?
Poop? What poop?
We now have a "remove all footwear at the door" policy. Just in case. It really is crazy out there.

Mangling Spanglish

by Andrew

One of the goals of our trip to Latin America is to have the children learn Spanish--at least, more Spanish than they were picking up at school watching Scooby Doo Goes to Mexico. Total language immersion, we were told, would have the children speaking conversational Spanish in three months. Unfortunately, we are having difficulty finding a Spanish pool deep enough in which to dunk them.

All the children in Buenos Aires are in school, so Graham and Katharine have yet to meet any kids their own age. I had hoped they would be able to join pick-up soccer games in the many parks near our apartment, but these are the domain of the famed crap hounds of BA. For the most part, local children play in organized school sports or at swanky athletic clubs near Palermo.

While we intensify our search for a tutor, the children's Spanish instruction has largely consisted of three primary sources:

1) Hearing their parents mangle the language in new and excruciating ways. Employees in the local bakeries and cafes visibly shudder when we walk in the door. There is actually talk in the neighborhood of reconstituting the Spanish Inquisition, with a new language-oriented mandate.

2) Watching TV in Spanish, or rather American TV dubbed into Spanish. Almost all the shows come from the U.S., and it's just a matter of time before we see Scooby Doo Goes to Mexico. We've discovered that it's actually much harder to learn a language when the movement of the speakers' lips doesn't match the words you are hearing. Katharine, either for comedic value or because she is seriously confused, will now say something in Spanish and then keep her lips moving silently for several seconds afterwards. This, too, has posed a problem locally (see Spanish Inquisition, above).

3) By reading billboards and subway signs, most of which involve naked women. Graham may not be able to buy a bus ticket in Spanish, but he is fluent when it comes to any discussion about the benefits of a bikini wax.