A Tale of Two Mexicos

Mexico City has become one of my favorite travel destinations -- quite surprisingly, given my completely ignorant dismissal of our southern neighbor during most of my early adulthood. (¡Viva España!) I went for the first time in 2007 quite randomly, inspired by an article about a Frida Kahlo exhibition in the city center.

It was a total delight. And I'm the type who likes to revisit delightful locations, so el D.F. resurfaces each time I think about a future vacation destination. That first long weekend in la ciudad de México was exciting enough that I planned a nine-week stay in 2009.

And even that didn't satiate my thirst for chilango culture, so I made it a priority for a summer 2012 trip. But I faced a bit of resistance from the boyfriend, whose desire for beach time while on vacation battles my preference for urban adventures. So, like the adult I desperately don't want to be, I compromised: a few days at my beloved Red Tree House in Mexico City's chic and relaxing Colonia Condesa, followed by a few days in Cancún, and a closing weekend back in the capital.

View Mexico City, Federal District in a larger map

The trip started off well -- and early. A pre-dawn arrival time meant we had a couple of hours to kill roaming the neighborhood before checking in, but the incredible folks at the Red Tree House, where I stayed for each of those nine weeks in 2009, found us a room to rest and freshen up in while we waited for our real room to be ready. And the guys actually upgraded us to their ridiculous penthouse, featuring a swanky suite with full kitchen along with a private rooftop patio and detached but fully appointed second bedroom with bathroom. (By the by, despite a pretty serious expansion since 2009, the place remains lovely and chaos-free.) We split those first few days between revisiting old favorites like El Péndulo and discovering new gems like Lilit.

With plenty of rad spots to explore and comida riquísima to devour, I was content to stay put. I mean, I was seriously not looking forward to Cancún. It seems odd, right? Warm, crystal-clear water. An all-inclusive resort with unlimited tasty vittles and strong booze.

Seriously, what's not to like? I'll tell you: insane, intense, maddening humidity. And insects. And loud, obnoxious, drunk-ass tourists -- you know, the kind who regularly visit all-inclusive Mexican resorts.

Now, the heat and humidity really were insane, but to be fair, the overall experience was a good one. Solid food and beverages, beautiful pools, a nice beach and even some baby sea turtles.

But after a few days of doing next to nothing (and still sweating), I was ready to head back to the drier valle de México, where I got my fill of queso fundido, tacos al pastor and pollo rostizado (not to mention my first mezcal, cabrón).

With three trips totaling 11 weeks during the past six years, I can finally move on to another Latin American metropolis, right?



(English translation below)

Obviamente, me encantaría regresar a Buenos Aires, la ciudad de México o Madrid -- o viajar a otra ciudad del mundo hispanoparlante -- para continuar aprendiendo la lengua que a mí me parece que nunca voy a dominar como quiero. Cada día me despierto con muchísimas ganas de hacerlo, pero no es posible. Pero se me ocurrió una idea sencilla: ¿por qué no trato de pasar un día entero en español justo donde estoy? Pero de verdad; tendría que escoger un día en que no haría necesidad de comunicar con nadie en inglés.

Lo que trataba de hacer en el DF durante los días en que no tenía que trabajar se puede replicar aquí en San Francisco (o en cualquier ciudad) más o menos facilmente si uno tiene ganas. Les comparto con ustedes algunas ideas:

  • Mirar televisión por internet (enlace)
  • Limitar TV 'offline' a Telemundo, Univision, etc. (aún mejor si aprovechan de los subtítulos en español)
  • Ver peliculas en español via Netflix o DVD (con subtítulos en español si posible)
  • Leer noticias de sitios web del mundo hispanoparlante
  • Pasar por un vecindario donde hay mucha gente latina, pidiendo cafecitos o almuerzo en espanol
  • Claro, mientras viajan al barrio, pueden escuchar música en español por iPhone/iPod (enlace)
  • Charlar con amigos que hablan español o, si todos los amiguitos son gringos, se puede hacer el experimento durante un día en que hay un meetup de hablantes de español (enlace)

Y después de cumplir la misión, ¿por qué no describen la experiencia en un post (en español, por supuesto, aunque a lo mejor deben traducirlo para los gringos)?

Obviously, I'd love to return to Buenos Aires, Mexico City or Madrid -- or travel to another city in the Spanish-speaking work -- to continue learning the language that it seems like I'll never dominate the way I want to. Every day I wake up really wanting to do this, but it's just not possible. But a simple idea occurred to me: why don't I try to spend an entire day in Spanish exactly where I am? But for real; I'd have to choose a day when I wouldn't have to communicate with anyone in English.

What I tried to do in Mexico City during the days when I didn't have to work can be replicated here in San Francisco (or any other city) relatively easily if one is up for it. I'll share a few ideas:

  • Watch TV programming via internet
  • Limit offline TV to Telemundo, Univision, etc. (even better if you can take advantage of Spanish subtitles)
  • Watch movies in Spanish via Netflix or DVD (with Spanish subtitles if that's an option)
  • Read news from websites from the Spanish-speaking world
  • Hang out in a neighborhood where there are a lot of Latinos, ordering your coffee or lunch in Spanish
  • Of course, while traveling to the area, you can listen to music in Spanish on your iPhone/iPod
  • Chat with friends who speak Spanish or, if all your friends are gringos, you can do the experiment during a day when there's a meetup of Spanish-speakers

And after completing the mission, why not describe the experience in a post (in Spanish, of course, although perhaps you should translate it for aforementioned gringos)?


I've purposely kept this blog's (frighteningly large) archive semi-difficult to access (oh, the embarrassment!), but in an effort to make travel-related posts easier to check out, I've labeled posts related to my trips to Spain, Mexico and Argentina. So, check out my vignettes from:

Mexico City
Buenos Aires


First there was Andaluces por el mundo, then Españoles en el mundo and now: Mexicanos en el extranjero. "Mexicanos en el extranjero es una mirada fraterna a través de la cual conoceremos el día a día de los compatriotas que han abandonado México y se han adaptado a las costumbres y a la cultura de los países donde ahora residen. En cada programa compartiremos su cotidianeidad; ellos nos introducirán en su trabajo, sus estudios, sus familias, sus pasatiempos... para ver de cerca su proceso de adaptación y, también, los choques culturales que han tenido que superar."

No matter where these folks come from, I love watching the shows that document their longterm stays in foreign lands. I saw the Mexican version while in Cabo last weekend. It airs on the kick-ass Once TV, which also shows the Mexican version of an Argentine show, Soy tu fan -- it's really charming and fun, and Mun2 has just started airing it with subtitles, for those who are interested. Going back to the expat shows, Spain's RTVE also airs a program about people who've come to the country from elsewhere, Destino España. It's also worth a look.


Armed with the iPhone 4's much-improved camera and the fantastic iMovie app, I've grabbed short videos of my favorite spots in San Francisco during the past three months, with the goal of piecing together a collection of beautiful vistas, starting at the bay and stretching the seven miles across the city to the ocean.

I skipped some obvious tourist areas, such as Chinatown and Fisherman's Wharf, simply because I don't enjoy them, and I also skipped some neighborhoods I do enjoy because they're not particularly appealing on video (West Portal, Valencia St.).

Here's what you do see in the video:

Ferry Building/Embarcadero
Bay Bridge/Embarcadero
AT&T Park/South Beach
Financial District/Cable car
Dolores Park
Twin Peaks
Alamo Square
Palace of Fine Arts
Golden Gate Bridge/Chrissy Field
Golden Gate Park/Dutch Windmill
Ocean Beach


Skyline from Dolores Park

Skyline from Dolores Park
Originally uploaded by tjdee
Traveling is fantastic, but coming home to this is pretty rad too. San Francisco FTW!


I regularly listen to the language-focused podcast produced as an offshoot of PRI's The World. I find linguistics and language-learning generally fascinating, but I'm obviously even more interested when the show features Spanish-related content. 

This week's show led with a story on the Spanish spoken in Bogotá (qué casualidad) and its status, in the eyes of many, as the clearest/most crisp Spanish. Se dice que es un español bastante neutro -- it's described as being pretty neutral. As such, it's not just a great variety for students to begin learning but Bogotá has become a popular place for Latin American companies to base their call centers (in other parts of Colombia people speak with more of a Caribbean accent, which is more difficult for a lot of learners to comprehend).

It's a bad idea to start talking to Latinos about the "best" Spanish, but I do think that the Spanish spoken in Bogotá is about as good as it gets. The capital cities of Ecuador and Perú also are home to pretty clear Spanish, especially among the formally educated. As much as I love Spain, the accents throughout birthplace of the language are typically tough for many students (as is the accent in Argentina, with its Italianized cadence and voseo, and in Mexico, where the slang, especially in Mexico City, can be overwhelming).

The World's story was interesting, but for the love of God, people reporting on (commonly spoken) languages really should have at least a fundamental understanding of that language. It drives me crazy when people perpetuate the myth that Spaniards pronounce every 's' sound as a 'th.' Sure enough, this reporter, in making a point about the difference between Latin American and Iberian Spanish, mentioned that zapatos would be pronounced thapatoth in Spain, when it would actually be pronounced thapatos. Z and c = th, but s = s.

Also mentioned in the podcast: The soon-to-be-released book What if Latin America Ruled the World? Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, a Colombian who teaches law at the University of London, argues that "few people have noticed that with Spanish language and culture in the ascendant the US is quietly but quickly becoming the next Latin American country." In the book, which comes out in the fall, he says the next Obama is likely to be Latino. In the podcast, he brought up the totally insane way the GOP is ignoring demographic trends and pushing an anti-immigration agenda despite the knowledge that, even if the borders were closed today, the country's population will be majority-minority by the middle of this century (and, of course, the group with the most dramatic gain is expected to be Latinos). Locos.


Faced with the task of crafting a short bio to run at the end of an article, I came up with the following:

T.J. is a San Francisco-based freelance writer who recently logged multi-month stays in Buenos Aires and Mexico City. The ultimate goal is to make it to every capital city, del taco al tango.

That last bit was taken from a Spanishpod podcast I listen to occasionally. I wasn't even sure it was a goal, to be honest. But the more I think about it the more I would love to make this happen. Or, to be completely accurate, I guess I'd like to travel to *most* of the capital cities from taco (Mexico) to tango (Argentina). Those two are done and dusted. But there are a ton of others I'm dying to check out. First on the list probably is Santiago, Chile. But I've also become way more interested than I used to be in Lima, Peru, and Quito, Ecuador. Even Bogotá, Colombia, has piqued my interest recently.

Obviously, it's not so easy to jet off to a Latin American capital for an extended stay, so I'm traveling via blogs. Here are current favorites for Colombia, Chile and Argentina.


Me: They say these things happen in threes. Who do you think will be the third celebrity death?

J: I don't know. Betty White?



Me: Kelly Clarkson's performing for the president tonight! At the Ford Theater!

J: Ha. Maybe she'll get shot like Lincoln.



I'm not much of a solo diner (although I have learned to suck it up for lunch every once in a while), so while J was here I made sure to hit a variety of recommended restaurants in Buenos Aires.

Hidden away in one of the less popular of the central neighborhoods, Villa Crespo, Almacén Secreto is a "closed-door" restaurant that offers traditional food from all over Argentina. With tamales, humitas and other dishes that might surprise those who think Argentine food is all about the cow, this restaurant/art gallery seriously delivered. I particularly loved the bowl of potatoes of surprisingly different sizes and flavors. Everything was tasty (especially my tamal) and Saturday night music really made the taxi ride worthwhile.

Cabaña Las Lilas, in the modern riverside neighborhood of Puerto Madero, took us forever to find and probably cost the most, but it was worth the effort and the extra pesos. The steak here was amazing and the portion was insane -- basically two filet mignons. The terraza overlooking the water was cute and the service, not always a strength in Buenos Aires restaurants, was very good. Props to J for getting us out of the slightly shady couvert situation -- read the menu before you dig into the bread etc., folks.

Bonus birthday dinner at Francis in Montevideo, Uruguay: This was all J (part of my birthday present was that I didn't want to have anything to do w/ Montevideo -- Buenos Aires was taking up enough of my planning/prep time) and he chose well. The restaurant, in Punta Carretas, was cute, the (cheap) wine selection was expansive and the (inevitable) steak I had was delicious. And, bonus, like most places in the two cities we visited, this restaurant was more than happy to call a cab for us.

Some of my favorite foods were at very nondescript joints. For example, probably my favorite pizza moment of the trip (and there have been many, best believe) came right around the corner at Pizza y Espuma. My personal-sized mozzarella pizza was super good with the perfect mix of mozz and parmesan for me. J's "ñoquis" also were fantastic. And the cheap wine! Probably my favorite of the trip, and about 4 bucks?

Also noteworthy are the many delivery options Buenos Aires has to offer. My faves: Pollo Trak, Almacen de Pizzas, Empanadas Gourmet and El Club de la Milanesa. Let's not forget that you can get ice cream delivered, too. Freddo FTW! (Dulce de leche granizado + chocolate amargo = heaven.)


Peru Beach
Originally uploaded by tjdee
So, I spend more than an hour retracing my steps because of a train mix-up (which came after major ticket-purchasing confusion), finally get myself to this stretch of riverfront in the BA suburb of San Isidro, relax with my delicious choripan and licuado de frutilla, only to be stung by a bee for the first time since I was, like, 6. Very nice, Argentina.


Tigre Riverwalk
Originally uploaded by tjdee
I made my way to Tigre on the commuter train to check out what the Buenos Aires suburbs have to offer. Tigre is a popular day trip because it's reachable quickly (about 50 minutes on the direct train) and cheaply (about 35 cents for my one-way ticket) and because it's a jumping-off point to explore the river delta by boat. The town itself also offers a nice riverwalk area, a small theme park and a casino. At the casino, where I stopped before taking the pricier but cuter Tren de la Costa back toward Buenos Aires, I had a truly awkward conversation while ordering a coffee and pastry.

When I sat down and realized I had forced the woman to give me more change than I deserved because I didn't understand one word she had said right away (she asked if she could give me 3 "fichitas" because she didn't have "monedas"), I felt like a real tool. But then I chilled because, as I am getting better at remembering, language learning is all about making mistakes. If you're not screwing up every day, you're not doing it right.

And also, really Argentina, make more effing monedas so I don't have to have retarded conversations with service workers anymore. THANKS.


La Boca
Originally uploaded by tjdee
Going to La Boca is one of those things you have to do when in Buenos Aires. But it's not super convenient via public transportation. Fortunately, Boca along with a couple of other areas (Puerto Madero's Ecological Reserve, for example) is reachable via the Buenos Aires Bus, similar to the Mexico City Turibus I enjoyed last year. Yes, it's touristy and kinda cheesy. And no, it's not cute when porteños on the street point and giggle. But these buses provide a quick and affordable way for people who are here for only a short time to take the must-take photos and see the must-see sights -- and for those here for longer periods to revisit some of the areas they didn't get enough of. Even in your home city it would probably be fun to hop on one of these bad boys and take a spin.

Back to La Boca, it's definitely cute but it's also definitely not worth more than a relatively quick walk-through. I did, however, greatly enjoy going back to Puerto Madero. I don't care how different it is from the rest of the center of the city. Just like I love SF's South Beach, I love the modernity of Puerto Madero. And, really, for a city on the water you have so few opportunities to actually see any of it. For that alone, PM delivers.


Originally uploaded by tjdee
There are some things you have to do while traveling, no matter how much you don't want to look like a typical tourist (aside: I saw a great saying here that read "no seas un turista, sino un viajero" or "don't be a tourist but rather a traveler"). But when you're in Buenos Aires you have to go to Recoleta Cemetery to see Evita's tomb. That said, you don't have to pose in front of it giving a thumb's up like a tool. I'm betting he was German. Just a guess.

Also, after this I went to the nearby Alvear Hotel for their afternoon tea service. It was off the chains. J and I spent about $20 each for champagne, tea, the traditional finger sandwiches, the three trays of tasty treats and a shared desert that we have wrapped to go so we could enjoy it on emptier stomachs. Don't even get me started on how fancy everything and everyone was! If you come here, go there. For reals.


Show at La Peña del Colorado
Originally uploaded by tjdee
We were not sure whether to hit up this peña, which required an entrada fee plus dinner, but both the food and the show wound up being quite good. And it's just a quick walk from the apartment. I'll definitely be back, hopefully after midnight, when people just hang out playing guitar and drinking mate. Viva la Argentina.


Originally uploaded by tjdee
Working from Urban Station for the second time this afternoon. It's nice to get out of the b&b and get work done in a rad space with a killer view of all the chic folks walking around the Palermo Soho neighborhood.

This concept, a hybrid between the traditional internet cafe (locutorio) and the longer-term co-working spaces (check out areatres, also in this hood), is fantastic. You get consistent wifi, a secure location and even a coffee break! But you don't have to commit to a multi-month contract

In other Argentine news, I've been getting my fill of empanadas, pizza and gelato (oh, and a choripan). But once J gets here tomorrow, it's steak and wine time. Yes, bitches, it's on.


Ya Llegué
Originally uploaded by tjdee
Ten hours on a plane is a long time, ya'll. Después de 10 horas en la (segunda) avión y un total de 18 hours de viajar, estaba hecho polvo (una expresión que al propietaro del b&b le encantó cuando se lo dije) ayer cuando llegué en esta ciudad tan preciosa. But I only grabbed a quick siesta at Mansilla 3935 before checking out the neighborhood, including Las Heras Park, and fully scoping Alto Palermo, a shopping center I'm assuming will become my Reforma 222, the Mexico City center that became my go-to when I needed a quick meal, wanted to see a movie or just wanted to eavesdrop.


One week until I leave for Buenos Aires (for a 5-week stay), so I'm making sure I hit all of my favorite Argentina-focused websites for last-minute revelations/tips/etc. Not surprisingly, Trip Advisor has been an invaluable resource, from its reviews of lodgings to its forum full of BsAs experts. Without those travelers' and residents' posts, I would have had no idea about porteños' idiosyncrasies regarding use of cash (crisp, unmarked U.S. bills for short-term rentals, thank you very much), I'd be clueless about ATM limits and I'd be wicked confused about the Argentine kissing culture.

I've returned to a podcast I used to listen to a few years ago: Desde el Baño. It's no longer updated, but the posts that remain are fantastic for adjusting to the Argentine accent and learning some lunfardo slang, which was the podcast's main mission.

For news, I've been checking out the biggie newspapers, El Clarín and La Nación, mostly via their iPhone apps/versions. There also are some great smaller online publications, such as The Argentine Post and The Argentimes. Interestingly, Buenos Aires also has a really high-quality government website with a ton of good stuff for visitors, including about a dozen blogs. Lately I've been trying to stay up to date with the tourism blog (duh), available both in Spanish and English.

And while news is interesting, I've learned a lot from personal blogs, notably two run by Americans: Good Airs isn't updated super frequently but its archive offers an interesting view of how the country has changed during the past few years. And the newer Tourist to Townie has some great tips and insights from a 20something packing a job, language classes and as many side trips as possible into his stay in the city.


Qué emocionante: Canal Encuentro, the best of Argentina's online-programming offerings, is better now that there's a live stream.

There's a still a wide range of programs available for later viewing via stream or download (just create a free account to take advantage of higher-quality downloads).

Overall, the site can be very slow, but all things considered it's a fantastic tool for language learners and those interested in Argentine culture.

Here's more on Canal Encuentro, adapted from the website: es el primer canal de televisión del Ministerio de Educación del país. Fue creado en mayo de 2005 y la transmisión comenzó el 5 de marzo de 2007. Se dirige a todo el público pero más que entretenimiento, constituye una herramienta para la comunidad educativa. Hay contenidos de todas las regiones de Argentina y, como se trata de un servicio público de comunicación, no posee publicidad.


So, I hit "publish" on Blogger for the first time 10 years ago today. What! Here's the gripping first post. (Of course, this domain has been around longer -- since April of '99 -- and an online wordspewspace of some sort has been running semi-continuously since the summer of '98).


Lo mejor de la peli Los Paranoicos, sin duda, es cómo baila el guapísimo (aunque no tanto en este filme) Daniel Hendler. Este video incluye algunos de los mejores momentos.

The best part of the film Los Paranoicos is definitely Daniel Hendler's dancing. This video features some highlights.


It's been a kick-ass few weeks for new music. Among the iberoamericano artists I dig, I'm liking new stuff from Mexico's Julieta Venegas, Spain's English-singing Marlango, Uruguay's Jorge Drexler and Argentina's Diego Torres.

Julieta Venegas - Bien o Mal

As the sassy gay friend would say, Julieta is one crazy bitch. She is by far my favorite of the Spanish-language pop stars and this video shows that she hasn't lost her alternative, quirky edge. Yes, those chicks are eating flowers and either farting or giving birth to butterflies -- you be the judge. Ya Conocerán (which you can listen to here) is my favorite track on the new CD, Bien o Mal, but this song is great (I'm a sucker for the guitar in the beginning).

Marlango - The Long Fall

I like this song a lot and I love the video. It reminds me of Alanis Morissette's Ironic. I'm a fan of Leonor Watling's acting, so I've always wanted to like the often melancholic Marlango. But until I discovered Hold Me Tight I never really was into her group's music. This new CD has several tracks that I really, really like a lot, including a collaboration with Rufus Wainwright and a few with Watling's baby daddy, Jorge Drexler.

Jorge Drexler - Una Cancion Me Trajo Hasta Aquí

Again, he's Leonor Watling's boyfriend and a really talented singer/songwriter who won an Oscar for a song he wrote for the Motorcycle Diaries soundtrack. His new CD is really interesting -- all recorded live a la the Unplugged series. The song is breezy and fun.

Diego Torres - Guapa

His unplugged, drum-heavy version of Color Esperanza is one of my all-time favorites, but I'm not consistently wowed by Diego Torres. But he does have a wicked good voice. And while it's by far the most conventional of this batch of picks, I like his new, upbeat pop single, Guapa.



This weekend I experienced a taste of what's to come in Argentina when I checked out Juan Cuba of Los Nadies performing tangos, boleros and other non-roquero songs. It was his first time belting this style of music in public, apparently. I went to check out the space, Red Poppy Art House, more than to see the specific musician, but this was a great show.



Originally uploaded by tjdee
Soy famoso entre las DOCENAS de personas que estaban mirando CNN en espanol durante la verdaderamente interesante conversacion que CNN Mexico manejo sobre el Mexico actual y el pais que los ciudadanos quieren que sea en 2020.

La persona que escogio mi tweet tuvo que editarlo para que quedara en la pantalla. Y le agradezco porque Jesus me noto que habia hecho un errorcito en el tweet original: "Es interesante que hablemos de acceso a tecnologia cuando todavia hay gente sin comida, educacion basico, etc."

Hombre, es educacion basica, por el amor de dios. Pues, hago un monton de errores cuando "twiteo" en ingles tambien, pero, por favor, estaba escribiendo para que los editores lo leyeran. Hiiiiiiiiijole.

Pues, nada. Lo mas importante es que me meti en la conversacion y aunque falle, participe. Eso es un triunfito, te lo digo, y es algo que tengo que empezar a hacer fuera del ciberespacio.

Si tienes ganas de participar en el dialogo sobre lo que pueda pasar en Mexico durante los proximos 10 anos, checa el nuevo sitio web de CNN Mexico y la pagina del programa especial, Mexico 2020.


Toward the end of 2008 my temporary lack of television coupled with my intensified focus on consuming as much Spanish-language media as possible turned me onto Spain's above-average archived TV programming. I quickly found Andaluces por el mundo, a pretty low-budget show on Television de Andalucía, that profiled a handful of andaluces currently living outside Spain. The national (and more developed) Television Española has its own version of the show, following Spaniards of all regional backgrounds as they head overseas. There's a great archive of all 50 episodes here. Check out the Españoles en San Francisco episode here.


Julieta Venegas led me to Bajofondo through a collaboration she did with the Gustavo Santaolalla-led rioplatense group. Bajofondo, via Pandora, led me to Electro Dub Tango, Otros Aires and (somewhat-forgotten) Gotan Project. Those four groups make of the base of my new go-to Pandora station. It's an especially good one for working or for just getting in an Argentine mood (I like this much more than the new flamenco fusion I was interested in for a minute last year). Also great when company is over, as it's great music that doesn't distract too much from conversation. Check it.


Que te cuento cuando no tengo nada que decir? Bueno, te digo que no se como hacer tildes en esta puta computadora de mierda. Por eso, me voy a parar. Pues, algo es algo, verdad?


I think I'm in the midst of my first approaching-30 mini-crisis: I'm feeling pushed to solidify my San Francisco roots even further and continue doing all that grown-up stuff I've been slowly doing the past few years (buying fancier, investment furniture, building community, etc.). For lack of a better word, I have an urge to settle. Yet, at the same time, I'm feeling just as strongly as ever a need to keep my life as location-independent as possible. There's a real urgency and desire to push off and see more more more. And this increasingly intense division comes just six weeks before I take an extended trip to Argentina. You'd think that would even me out a bit...


From the website's a la carta offerings to the iPhone app w/ live streaming video, I have been incredibly impressed by the online footprint created by Spain's RTVE (Radio y Televisión Española). But I'm trying to step away from the peninsular Spanish accent to which I've become (in J's eyes) bizarrely accustomed and move toward the (to me) exceedingly unclear Argentine/rioplatense accent in advance of my 5-week stay in Buenos Aires.

I haven't found an Argentine equivalent to the super convenient RTVE site, but this government-affiliated channel, Canal Encuentro, offers pretty interesting series focused on history, science and culture. Right now I'm digging the Geografías and Historias de un país programs. Also worth checking out is Buenos Entonces, a language-learning series of apps that mixes the usual grammar with the slang specific to Bs As and also throws in a fun and saucy narrative. I've only paid for a few of the "classes" but even the free stuff on the blog is interesting. Add the country's major newspaper, El Clarin, to the mix and you have a decent online immersion experience.


While not as long as last year's nine-week stay in Mexico City, I'm off to Buenos Aires for five weeks beginning just before my birthday. I'm thinking if I head to the southern hemisphere before the big day, time will go backwards and I can ward off 30 for a little longer. Yes?

If not, I can enjoy finally being able to check Argentina off the list. No plans to explore much of the interior (it's way too far to Patagonia) but I am going to take the high-speed ferry across the ocean-like Río de la Plata to Montevideo when J comes to visit. Who knew Uruguay had so much going on?

I'll be working remotely for most of my stay, from a studio apartment in Recoleta/Barrio Norte. It's walking distance to Subte, the famous cemetery, Parque Las Heras and, of course, the kinds of empanada, pizza and gelato places I'll be dreaming about from now until April. Anda anda anda.


As San Francisco transitions from its strangely cold summer to its much hotter fall, I'm bracing myself for the mini-heat waves that strike. My evil Yahoo weather widget predicted temperatures in the low 90s for both yesterday and today in the city. I planned to stay home all day yesterday with the wooden slat blinds closed to ward off sunlight and heat. I felt like a real tool when I checked the temperature around lunchtime and saw that it was in the mid-60s. Weatherman fail. Today was still meant to be a hot one, however, so I planned to work a bit from a cafe across the street from the beach. I left my place by the bay and it was barely warm in direct sunlight. Needless to say, at the beach it's foggy and freezing.

In an area of the country where the weather (what weather?) is so predictable (from rain patterns to average temperatures), it's nice that weather forecasters can still get it so terribly wrong. And by nice I mean annoying.


For most of this year I've been working four days a week. Sounds like heaven, but the work is mostly on weekends and weeknights. I try to squeeze in fun stuff during the few off-work weekend hours. I also try to stay connected during my actual days off, on weekdays. Then there are the non-Digg projects I've been focusing on during free time (Spanish, writing, etc.). The result: I feel like I'm always working and never working. It's ... interesting.


I've been thinking about Mexico City a lot while working on a related writing project and I just remembered my final moments in the city. They speak volumes about el D.F.

I had a pleasant conversation with the taxi driver as he sped through the city center toward the airport. He repeatedly complimented me on my speaking skills and my neutral accent as I described the purpose of my nine-week trip and expressed slight worry over the work it would take to maintain what I'd gained once back in San Francisco. He was a nice guy who inflated my ego a bit.

Then we arrived at the airport and, despite someone at the guesthouse telling me how much the ride would cost, I asked him how much I owed him, you know, because that's what people do. Sure enough, he gave me an inflated figure. It turned out to be exactly what I had left in pesos. I wasn't too bothered. It was what I had planned to give him, only now he wouldn't be receiving a tip.

I was the one who got the tip: never trust cab drivers, especially the friendly ones (and especially the defeños). Cabrón.


Sometimes ...

2009-07-15 17.59.54
Originally uploaded by oopsy_daisy1
Coming into work on a day off can be a good thing. Yesterday we hosted a wicked trashy version of Wine Wednesday at the office, complete with 40s, wine in a box, Cheetos, KFC -- and randomly placed tires to add to the ambience on the top of the roof. Good times.


See if you can spot the creature

Beautiful weekend. Spent some time at Baker Beach. The fog was back with a vengeance last night, but that suits me. Sweatshirts in summer = win!


So, I got pretty lucky with the timing of my Mexico trip, no? I made it home the second week of April, before swine flu hysteria reached a fever pitch. I also avoided a pretty powerful earthquake. Add a crazy (tragic) fire and spikes in headline-grabbing violence and it looks like the country just fell apart without me.

Fortunately, my Spanish isn't falling apart without Mexico. But the danger is there. I was fortunate to be able to spend as much time as I did in the capital taking classes and practicing with capitaleños, but coming back to San Francisco was when the real work began. Like anyone returning home after an immersion experience, it's imperative to keep up the learning process. San Francisco is obviously a better place than many others to keep practicing Spanish, and I benefit from having a Spanish-speaking boyfriend, but there are a few things I'm trying to do that anyone can do.

I can't imagine a middle-sized city or bigger that doesn't have a few language schools. San Francisco has several and I'm spending my Wednesday nights at Casa Hispana chatting about current events with a teacher and a handful of other Hispanophiles. The focus of this particular class is on talking rather than actually learning grammar or correcting mistakes, but the class provides a weekly focus for me. While I sprinkle Spanish-language music, podcasts and TV programs into my general media consumption throughout the week, I'm extra motivated to devote time to this stuff on Wednesdays.

Additionally, I'm trying to read more. I just can't get myself to check the newspapers of the hispanoparlante world regularly, but immediately after coming back I devoured a few copies of a really great Mexican linguistic magazine I picked up in el DF (Algarabía). I also just read the translation of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which was great and relatively easy to get through since I had read the original work. I'm trying to follow this up by finishing a book I picked up in Madrid and couldn't, for whatever reason, get super far into last year.

So, I'm doing what I can, but I can't help but continue thinking that I'll never be satisfied until I reach the next level. And the reality is that reaching that level will require not just another prolonged trip to a Spaniah-speaking country, but a move with no specific return date in mind. With the big 3-0 on the not-too-distant horizon, those kinds of big steps become harder to take.


Lady of the Haus
Originally uploaded by tjdee
Leaving for the airport soon and thinking about a few things I haven't mentioned:

- I have never seen more people with neck braces than I have here. I've spotted 6 or 7 people with their necks wrapped up in Mexico City. I blame the insane driving (la ley no aplica).

- Just over 9 weeks and no Montezuma's revenge, bitches! Top that! (Although, to borrow I term I recently came across -- and look away if you're easily grossed out -- the nights w/o any substantive food have caused the occasional bubbleguts.)

- It's April 7 and I haven't had a drop of tap water since the morning of Feb. 2. Crazy.

- Similarly, I haven't cooked anything for myself since Feb. 1. Haven't even used a microwave.

- Eating out all the time has been crazy and I'll be glad to switch it up, but I will be sad to have to start cleaning for myself again; I've had my room (and private bathroom) cleaned every single day. ¡Qué lujo!

- Despite my initial reservations, I quickly got used to hauling my laundry to the nearest lavandería and letting fulano take care of it. Not looking forward to hitting the laundromat myself this weekend (but, gracias a dios, the new place has in-unit washer and dryer. Livin' the dream once again).

- I've noticed myself taking notes in both languages recently. For example: "cooking y agua." I wonder if this will become a habit. I guess it's better than just English. I just need to avoid el español pocho.

- Finally, after 2 months here, Starbucks just changed it's wifi password. Every Starbucks I've been to in DF and Guanajuato use the same service provider and the same password. So, basically, you just need to buy one drink, check the password on the receipt, and you're able to log on anywhere that offers this service provider (not just Starbucks!). And if they change things up once every two months, that ain't bad. Of course, I have been going to Starbucks practically every day, so I didn't feel guilty at all the few times I logged on from Sanborn's or a random store.

Anyway, me voy. Next adventure: moving again at the end of the month. South Beach/Embarcadero, baby!


Last class was yesterday. En cuanto a las clases, the week started off with me being super frustrated -- de muy mal humor -- but it quickly improved and the rest of the week was pretty fun. I had to write up a little something, which I may as well throw up here:

Llevo casi 9 semanas aquí, así que es un poquito difícil tratar de resumir toda la estancia en unas frases, pero voy a identificar tres experiencias inolvidables.

Como ya he dicho, empecé mis estudios de español con un gran énfasis en la cultura española; por lo tanto, todavía mantengo un interés fuerte en áquel país, su comida, las ciudades muy distintas, los acentos y dialectos. Por eso, en cuanto a México, lo que más me ha interesado ha sido la influencia española -- por ejemplo, la arquitectura de las ciudades coloniales. Pero uno no puede viajar a este país sin darse cuenta de la belleza y poder, digamos, de la civilización azteca y de los otros pueblos indígenas. Mi recién visita a Teotihuácan fue una revelación. Quizás las pirámides ya no son tan mantenidas, pero, por haber sido construidas hace 2 mil años, me parecen bien impresionantes. No podía creer que el sitio fuera real. Me parecía algo de un parque de atracciones. Y las pirámides fueron completadas mientras las personas viviendo en la península ibérica -- esos hombres quienes vinieron mil quinientos años después para conquistar a los "salvajes" -- aún eran consideradas los bárbaros de Europa por los romanos.

Decidí viajar al DF no porque fuera mi ciudad favorita del mundo hispanoparlante, sino porque pasar dos meses en España hubiera sido demasiado difícil dado que los husos horarios de San Francisco y Madrid son demasiado diferentes. Por eso, vine a la ciudad de México y estoy muy contento porque creo que ya conozco la ciudad -- al menos el centro, y sobre todo, La Condesa, un vecindario absolutamente precioso. Cuando fuimos al DF en 2007, mis amigos y yo tuvimos solamente cuatro días para hacer lo más posibile. Pero esta vez, por tener tantos días libres aquí, he podido pasar horas y horas en los cafés del barrio, mirando la gente -- como buen escritor -- escuchando el slang chilango, disfrutantdo la belleza del Parque México y de la gente "nice." Nadamås esto, sentarme y observar, es una de mis experiencias favoritas del viaje.

Finalmente, tomar clases ha sido un placer, aunque a veces me ha frustrado la necesidad de trabajar mientras estudio. Como he explicado, es bastante difícil enfocarme, pensar en español y platicar con todo el mundo inmediatamente antes o después de trabajar en inglés. Sin embargo, a pesar del trabajo, asistir a las clases aquí valió la pena. Ahora tengo un vocabulario más amplio, creo yo, y he aprendido unos conceptos completamente nuevos y he repasado reglas gramaticales importantes. Y por eso, les doy las gracias a todos de International House.

Pero hace mucho calor ultimamente, así que mejor me voy. Pues, adiós cabrones.


Working during my Mexican adventures (save one week when J came down) has been wonderful for the obvious reasons: I have been able to spend a significant chunk of time in another country without having to quit a job, live off of savings and risk long-term unemployment upon my return. I'm working 4 days a week, so I have three days every week to enjoy the city (although the addition of classes means I don't have any fully free days).

But those pros come along with some serious cons. This has not been a true immersion experience because I have to spend 8 hours a day, 4 days a week, thinking, writing and speaking in English. That's a must. Obviously, if I were not working, I'd still be riding the English-language wave by checking in with family and friends via phone, email, etc. But working is a real cock-blocker when it comes to improving my Spanish as much and as quickly as I'd like.

That said, I definitely have sensed improvements. I've been able to clear up confusing rules. I've learned a lot of colloquial Mexican-Spanish. And perhaps most importantly, I'm putting myself out there and making mistakes without beating myself up too much. That all has led to more confidence.

A big help in maximizing my Spanish-only time has been music. It's a tool I use in SF, too. Whenever I want to kickstart my day or need to refocus after a long spell of English, I open up my iTunes "Spanish" playlist and force my mind to begin thinking in Spanish. Here are some of my longtime favorites (all of which helped teach me a grammar trick or wicked Spanish-language expression):

Julieta Venagas - Me Voy (Mexico)

El Canto del Loco & Amaia Montero - Puede Ser (Spain)

Leonor Watling & Miguel Bosé - Este Mundo Va (Spain)

Diego Torres & Julieta Venegas - Sueños (Argentina)

La Oreja de Van Gogh - 20 de Enero (Spain)


Mariachi on the Patio
Originally uploaded by tjdee
Mariachi band performing in the garden on a random Wednesday night? Sure, why not?

Working upstairs in my new room, at first I thought the owners of the Red Tree House, where I'm staying, had bought some wicked new stereo speakers because the music was super clear and loud. Took me two songs to realize what was going on.

After about 45 minutes I went down quickly to take some video. I had to turn down wine twice (everyone is very friendly and inclusive). Stayed just long enough to find out a guest was having a special birthday dinner. Then, back up to my lovely new room to work from the uber-comfy couch and, predictably, listen to the new Kelly Clarkson CD instead of live mariachi music.


Strike a Pose
Originally uploaded by DulcePicoso
Since my trip to Madrid in 2007, I've realized that I'm a very good solo traveler (better than expected). Add another person, with his/her opinions, desires, preferences, etc. to the mix and that's where problems can occur.

That said, last week's stays in Guanajuato and Querétaro, both colonial cities to the northwest of Mexico City, were pretty fun. Jesús and I saw most of what we wanted to see, had some amazing food (both at "nice" restaurants and hole-in-the-wall joints) and, most importantly, experienced Mexico's first-class bus service.

Believe me, people, many companies claim to offer first-class bus service, and I'm sure they're all nicer than anything Greyhound has to offer (not that I'd know), but only ETN gets my seal of approval. I think there are only 24 seats on the entire bus and only three in each row. Plus, free wifi ON THE BUS. I can't even get wifi at San Francisco's airport for free. ¡Viva México!

(I've yet to organize a proper Guanajuato/Querétaro Flickr set, but here's one of my favorite photos and a video from the trip.)


Went to the Torre today. For 50 pesos you take one elevator to the 37th floor, another to the 41st floor and then walk up a couple of floors to an observation deck called El Mirador. There's a nice place to have coffee, a little museum and a fancy restaurant up there too. Vale la pena.


I got very defensive in class today for a hot minute. But as the kids say (if you get in a time machine and go back to 1996), I checked myself before I wrecked myself.

After immediately jumping at her with "cómo que no se usa así, está en mi libro de slang mexicano y es muy común y qué diablos me estás diciendo," I stopped arguing, listened, thought about it and realized she was totally right. WHY YES, I do totally overuse "es que" and, yes, I guess it really does carry the connotation of making an excuse for something and, yes, I totally am just using it as a transition (así que) when it should be reserved for excuse-making.

Also, I really do need to stop relying on "un montón." Mucho works just fine. At this level, it's all about diversifying your vocabulary. it's easy to stick with words and phrases that are comfortable and sound colloquial, but it's a trap. Hay que buscar, buscar, buscar.

Thanks, teach.


Bella Roma
Originally uploaded by tjdee
This is one of my favorite photos of the trip so far. First, it was taken (today) on another ridiculously gorgeous day here in Mexico City. It's on one of the main streets in Colonia Roma, a neighborhood I wasn't really feeling the first couple of times I wandered through it. But Roma really grabbed me today. I even started debating whether Roma or Condesa would be my preferred 'hood if i were to live here. Roma is sort of like the Lower East Side to Condesa's West Village, but it really is beautiful in areas, with a ton of gorgeous old buildings and interesting cultural institutions (Casa LAMM, the UNAM library building thing, the Centro Gallego and even an old Spanish meetingroom/restaurant where old-timers come to play 'dominó').

This particular spot, on Álvaro Obregón and Orizaba (or thereabouts, si no me equivoco), is fabulous because one of the best ice cream spots in all of D.F. (I tried the avellana/hazelnut and it was ridiculous) is right next to this gym, where, insanely, people dancercise in front of a huge picture window, which happens to have a big old seating area in front of it. So people seriously plop themselves down and hang out for a bit, enjoying the guys' and gals' moves. And it's not like they pretend to read their book or whatever; they sit there and watch.

I was tempted to join them ... with my ice cream. But I opted to take a quick photo from afar and take off for further exploration of this charming neighborhood.


Mi Sala
Originally uploaded by tjdee
I am digging my new teacher here at International House. She cracks me up. Today I showed her a video of her boyfriend, Gael García Bernal, singing a cheesy song from his new Mexican movie and she seriously said, "Órale ... óoooorale ... óraleeeeeeee." This was after completing a reading about gender roles in Mexico and saying, "Gracias a Dios, nunca he tenido un novio mexicano y no lo quiero."

So, I've been here for three weeks. I'm definitely feeling more comfortable with certain things -- getting around all of Condesa finally is a breeze (as is Chapultepec, most of Polanco and parts of Roma and the Centro). The Metro is all good, I can deal with laundry, I know to tip everyone for everything. I have regular spots and know where all the nearby free wifi is. But I still feel hopelessly lost sometimes, and I completely misunderstand someone every single day, which is really aggravating. But ... I guess that's fine. I mean, that's the point, sort of.

While I seem to move forward in a certain way, linguistically, every day, like I said, I make some big blunder every day, too. But the way I look at it, the steps forward rank far more heavily than the steps back, since the mistakes or faux pas always lead to some sort of new, beneficial realization. So suck on that, cabrón.