August 30, 2006

Or continuous breakthrough?

Today I feel like a migrant. Migrant is a word with its own agency in the United Nations, a word that implies visas, quotas, tents in the desert with questionable plumbing. This is not my experience. I live in a fancy apartment, not a refugee camp, I have electricity and taxis, not border guards and dust storms but, by definition, I am what I am. And today it feels like it.

When words fail, when you've had enough, when you thank your lucky stars that there is one last beer in the fridge, when you are about to tear your hair out, it can sometimes be good to have a quote at hand...

In 1991, in a piece called Imaginary Homelands; Salman Rushdie (yeah the guy with the Fatwah!) wrote: "To be a migrant is perhaps to be the only species of human being free from the shackles of nationalism (and its ugly sister patriotism). It is a burdensome freedom. In most circumstances emigration is the only possible response to the inner conflicts of identity. It is an opportunity to modify the context in which we live every day. It also represents the transformation of values that we need to adapt to environmental demands. It is precisely these changes, typical of migrations, where resides the key to perpetual frustration, or continuous breakthrough."

Would you like an example of the former?

Today I had a paper to write for my Tuesday teacher, a career diplomat who was today talking about the UN, where he had worked a few decades. I was already a week late but my class wasn't till seven PM and all I needed was to write maybe eight pages of text on a subject I'm interested in; shouldn't be a big issue? Right?

Wrong! Problem number one it had to be written in legible Spanish.

Still it has to be possible with all those classes I've taken. I just need the right environment where I shall write it?

How about the Argentine National Library?

It's a lovely place, full of books, quiet and with a scrumptious view. Yeah it is made entirely of concrete, and it was opened by Carlos Menem, a President who was known to consult his astrologer when making important decisions of state.

I pull yours not!

So off I go with my notes and my laptop with it's broken spanish spell checker. The library is strangely quiet. It turns out there is a strike on and the elevator is out. I haul all that I have up fourteen flights to the sixth floor reading room, where the strike made reference books unavailable, but I could still sit and write, free from the temptations of wireless.

In reality not being able to read the books in the national library is not such a big deal as it is rather badly stocked. With the devaluation it can hardly afford imported books, so the government passed a law that all Argentine publishers need to donate a copy of each book published in the country to the library.

One book!

Good news; The Argentine publishes publish more Spanish books than any other country, bad news the one book law is ignored. Much to the frustration of the volunteers that do their best to keep the library running.

They, of course, are not there today.

After three hours of writing I feel relatively productive. I wander past the bored security women below and go home to steal some readable Spanish from the Internet to supplement and improve. I speak to a friend who offers to edit. I gratefully accept.

Some Argentine people are really very lovely.

I have about an hour to correct the corrections, print the seven pages, and go to class. I have already missed my Spanish class, which is a tad ironic. I go down in the elevator to print my papers at my local Internet service and photocopy some pages for school.

The printer's bust and I can't find the original to photocopy.

I am running out of time and moving quite quickly now through the busy night streets of Buenos Aires. I'm heading for the faculty, stopping at Internet cafés as I go.

They are all full.

My panic is relieved somewhat by discovering the original and getting the photocopies but I can't, for the life of me, find a printer that works connected to an available computer.

Six Internet places and counting. I give up!

I'm late, I enter the class to hear the career diplomat explain how in the developed World it is rude to be late for a meeting. I'm the only student from the "so-called" developed world, arriving late for his class. I pass him the photocopies and he explains that he already has his own photocopies.

Well now he has extras.

I sit and the diplomat reads everyone’s names from a list, a who's who to familiarise himself. Seems mine is the only name he can put a face to. Was it the bald head and the anarchist bag or the gringo name, I ask myself?

The diplomat then takes a list of points that he has assigned to the paper that everyone but me has handed up the week before. Mine paper was in the ether, maybe never to be printed.

My name is missing from the grade list.

It is a two-hour class. No break with this guy, so I decide to fake a visit to the little boy's room. I make a break for the door with 35 minutes of the class to go. I run through the ancient building exiting, I search the dark streets for Internet cafés.

The first one is full, the second has a busted printer then the third; Finally both working, connected and available. I go to my site where I had left the file in my email.

What do I see?

Mail site down for maintenance till 3:00AM.

Just give me the gun.
I have my own bullets.
I'll pull my own trigger, thank you.

Posted by Tony Phillips at 04:48 AM | Comments (6)

August 06, 2006

Learning to Express Emotion

In the Spanish language some things are difficult and some not. To those of us with an Anglo-Saxon vocabulary, the toughest thing to learn are those parts of Spanish that simply don’t exist in our Germanic mother tongue.

Ever wondered why?

By the time the Angles, Saxons and Jutes invaded Britannia about 80 generations ago, the subjunctive had all but ceased to be used. Used to express emotion and doubt, the subjunctive is still in daily use in the contemporary Latin world.

As a Latin language, Spanish comes from a different family to that of its Germanic neighbors. In level four of the UBA’s "Spanish for Foreigners" I’m surrounded by Brazilians (which is not a bad thing), battling together to cope with the Spanish language's Spanish Subjunctive Mood. My Portuguese-speaking colleagues are having fewer problems. In much the same way as the Inuit or the Lap languages are rich in their snow vocabulary, French, Spanish and Portuguese are big on expressing doubt and emotion. I be a little confused, would that it were different.

I cannot but imagine the hairy old Saxon lords getting grimy slaughtering, raping and pillaging in the thick all on the frozen fens of eastern Brittania, while the Roman lords slouched back in their latifundias getting fat on wine and exotic foods, puking in buckets after meals and bathing with fine maidens, while waxing poetic on their yearnings.

Who were the smart ones I doth questioneth myself?

The dearth of emotional maturity of these Germanic scribes has carried forward to the paucity of English speakers in the twenty first century waxing poetic about their feelings and uncertainties. If we Anglosaxons are uncertain, (as an Irishman I know I am a special case but stick with me on this one), or find ourselves deeply emotional, we simply have nervous breakdowns. In Latin America, in contrast, this is simply the natural state of being.

Time for me to catch up on 100 generations or more of emotive retardedness and learn to express my emotions.

Maybe I had better locate them first ☺ ?

Posted by Tony Phillips at 05:09 PM | Comments (4)