Thursday, March 18, 2010


I had an argument with an American guy about immigration and Mexicans today. That’s not so out of the ordinary. I get pretty fired up when people parrot what they hear on Fox News about the Mexicans not paying taxes and abusing public services.

However, the argument was refereed by our instructor and conducted entirely in Spanish, which was something new. I felt like I was in a Spanish debate class.
Surprisingly, the adrenalin improved my Spanish and I found myself speaking more fluidly and logically and even poetically than ever before.

I am learning the subjunctivo this week. It’s a whole new set of conjugations in present, future and one of the various forms of the past. It exists in parallel to the conjugations I’ve already learned, but it refers to a world that we don’t really live in. It refers to a parallel existence where certain things “could” happen, but might not.

The two time lines Fatima, our instructor, drew on the white board, made me think of the “choose your own ending” books and the movie “Sliding Doors,” where a slight change of fortune can result in a completely different life. It’s really romantic. Literally. It’s a tense that exists only in the Romance languages.

“This is when you start really thinking in Spanish,” Fatima told us.

I use this conjugation often just because it’s what I hear and how I know I am supposed to say certain things. But I love now knowing that the conjugations are different because they refer to something foggy and steamy that you can sense but not touch.

“Espero que tengas un buen noche.” I hope you have a good night. But it’s impossible for me to know if you will or not. Using these words allows me to create a perfect world where you will have a good night. It’s up to you to go there.

Anyway, that’s what’s happening in class. My Spanish is improving. I understand about 90 percent of what I hear straight up and about 98 with context, but I can’t be sure if that’s because people speak more clearly here in Bariloche or if it’s the first Spanish I ever really heard or if it’s because a magic switch went off. I guess I’ll find out when I leave this weekend.

I am in the same school I went to almost four years ago and am staying with the same fabulous woman, Mara. She and I spent the weekend together, having a picnic at a remote lake, riding bikes and eating fresh home-made cakes at a small farm where she bought vegetables. I have to admit all the Spanish wore me out and I didn’t always have the energy to understand everything, but it was a beautiful weekend.

I love the other people staying with Mara. There’s something so great about travelers who have an interest in learning the language. Nick is a doctor from New Zealand, Ivonne is a massage therapist from California. John, AKA Juansito, and Nicole are a wonderful couple from England who are traveling together for more than a year. They left last weekend to volunteer on a farm outside the hippie village of El Bolson.

Bariloche is a beautiful place. It makes me miss Jackson Hole. The mountains and lakes are stunning and there are always outdoors activities. It’s still summer here, approaching fall. The sun stays out until 9 p.m. We eat dinner at 9:30 around the family dinner table.

As great as it is here and as much as I’m learning, I so look forward to Joe coming this weekend. I will take a 20-hour bus ride with Nick on Friday after class to Buenos Aires and should arrive at the same time Joe does at our hotel in Recoletta. We’ll stay a few days there before exploring Patagonia.
I expect we’re going to get to walk on a glacier!!

We will be going into Chile and Torres Del Paine national park.
The southern part of Chile has remained unaffected by the earthquakes and the seemingly never-ending aftershocks. Replicas are what they’re called here. I passively heard on the radio that Chile suffered a 7.7 quake during the inauguration of its new president. There was another big quake this morning and three others over a 6 yesterday.

I feel so badly for the people in Chile. I am definitely hearing a lot more about the quakes now that I am here on the border. People in Bariloche talk about their own fears that a quake will strike here. They console themselves, saying that the town has required new construction to build to antiseismic codes and the buildings are strong. And the earthquakes are not common on this side of the Andes. But it’s still a nagging fear in the back of people’s minds, I think. That, and all of the volcanoes in the southern part of Chile that could be awakened by the quakes.

But what can you do? It’s one of those things you can only talk about in the fuzzy subjunctivo.

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