Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Mix for the Road Ahead

My friend Sarah and her husband have a game they play when they're in the car for long stretches, a game which she taught me on a road trip she and I took together a couple falls ago. With the MP3 player or phone plugged into the stereo, the passenger chooses a song to play and explains why he or she chose to play it. After that song finishes, the driver chooses the next song—the catch is that the second song needs to be connected to the first in some way or another. When the driver tells the passenger which song to play next, he or she explains the connection the song has to the previous song: perhaps one line in the lyrics of the first song has a word or phrase that is also in the second, or maybe the first song brought to mind a story that reminded him or her of a person that loved this second song. The second song plays. Then it is the passenger's turn to choose again, and he or she tells the story of the connection of the second to the third. There is fun in the listening to the music, but even more fun in the telling of and listening to stories.

Though I'm back to work for a couple days of meetings and preparing my classroom, school starts with students on Monday. I'm excited and nervous. I dread waking up to alarms and peeing by the bell. I can't wait to thrill in the excitement of new learning and belly laughs. This year, I will have taught seventeen years. Occasionally, I think that I'm almost done, but more frequently, I look forward to many more years.

Right now, though, I've got the back to work jitters. I know I'll sweat a lot Monday, so I will need to wear something that hides sweat, but I'll also need layers because the A/C in my classroom is on steroids. I know I will be terrified of the quantity of names to remember because I'm no good at names, but I also know it eventually will happen. I know, from many years of doing this, the first day is one of the easiest days because everyone is on their best back-to-school behavior, so I will not be able to make any valid predictions about my students based on Monday. I also know that this year will be an awesome trip.

Let's put together a back-to-school mix, one to pump me up and keep me moving along on this adventure. I'll start.

I choose Pixies' "Here Comes Your Man." Walking my dog a couple days ago, this song came on my player as we were returning home. I began belting it out, and once in the backyard, hopped around dancing with my hands in the air. The Pixies are unique because they still move me. When I was 17, I thought I'd die without Pearl Jam, and when I was 23, I thought Weezer was doing something amazing. Now, I think "Hurl Jam" may be a better name for the former, and I usually skip over every Weezer song that ends up on a playlist. But the Pixies, they never went away. So far, that's true for teaching, too. Each year, I've been frustrated by something different, but I've also found new things and people to love about the job. I haven't reached an "I'm done with you." Teaching, so far, is the Pixies.

So, listen to "Here Comes Your Man," sing along with the Pixies' weird lyrics, see if you can keep from echoing, "so long, so long," howl along in the background of the guitar solo, and give me another song and story for this year's mix.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rosario, Argentina: In The Details

(Click on the photos to scroll through them; because of their larger size, the formatting gets funky in the standard view, and I haven't figured out how to solve that yet.)

The drapes match the flag.

Who are these beauties?

Curves and angles and metal shutters.


That one with the curved balcony is for sale.

I spend a lot of time in Rosario looking up.

The new reflects the old.

Broken neon and a bee.


Curves against spare white walls.


How can you not?

At a restaurant on the river's boardwalk.

The storm killed the tree; the artist brought it back to life.

The best colors for a produce shop ever.

Life in the cemetery.

Beauty in the cemetery.

Death in the cemetery.

The birth of Rome in neon and iron.

This may be my favorite building I've seen in my time in Rosario so far. Check out the concrete ivy vining up above the side door. Look at the curved panes, the pink and white tile work, the horse-shoe shaped entrance.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Rosario, Argentina: A Big, Blurry Picture

Rosario is a big city, the largest in its province of Santa Fe, on a big river, the Paraná, that eventually joins with other rivers to form La Plata, the giant river upon whose delta Buenos Aires sits. Much of the agricultural production from Santa Fe and Entre Rios provinces moves through Rosario on its way down the river to Buenos Aires, and from there on to the rest of the world. So much soy floats out of this port. The Paraná doesn't look that big when you look at it on the map, until you realize the river you see that edges the city to its northeast is only part of the river, and all that empty space between Rosario and Victoria on the map is an aggregate of marshes, islands, and rivulets. The bridge that connects Rosario to Victoria on the other side of the Paraná is 59 kilometers long.

A wave of European (Spanish, Italian, and German) immigrants turned the town into a city towards the end of the 19th Century, and another wave of European immigrants arrived after World War I. Evidence of their presence lives on in the language with the soft -j sound for -ll, and in the food with pizza, house-made pastas, and ice cream shops on what seems like every other corner. Espresso machines hiss all day long. What some call schnitzel and others call chicken fried steak, Argentines call milanesa, and in Rosario, there are restaurants specializing in milanesa all over town. There are even restaurants that put pizza toppings on milanesas.

All of this is immediately visible in the city and probably available in any encyclopedia article. Yet, it's hard to wrap my outsider head around Rosario. The city is chockablock with beautiful old buildings—look up and up and around to see all the gorgeous details. But, look at eye level and see defaced beauty, metal security shutters, and lots of trash. The grand university buildings are tattered; we walked through the well-respected law school and I witnessed classroom conditions far more outdated, ignored, and in more disrepair than anything I've ever seen in any of the hundreds of classrooms I've been inside in the United States. Like other Argentine cities, dense shantytowns ring Rosario and the residents' shaggy horses are tied to stakes to graze on the margins of roads. I didn't take pictures of these things, but I see them in my head when I think of Argentina.

This makes it sound like I may not like Rosario, but I do. I love it in a confused, slack-jawed, fumbling way.

While we were there, an apartment building exploded. You may have read about it in the news. 21 people died in the explosion that resulted from a gas leak that resulted from poor inspections and the gas company's disorganization. Survivors posted signs looking for their lost animals. Everywhere, all over the city, family members and friends posted this sign with a picture of Santiago Laguía, a good looking young man who survivors supposedly had seen walking away from the explosion in shock. But shock affects the witnesses too, not just the victims. He had never walked out of the apartment building. His body was one of the last to be found.

It's a big city, a beautiful city, a broken city, but one that hopes hard.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Boozy Branches

All thorns, bellies, and jutting elbows, silk floss trees (Ceiba speciosa) are starkly different from season to season. Here, in August and September, they flame lush with hand-sized blossoms either neon pink or satiny white. After they bloom, the trees are barren save for large seed pods like that hang like oversized avocados from the trees, eventually splitting open to release silken fibers, sometimes attached to seeds.

But I just came back from the southern hemisphere, where it is winter, and in an Argentine climate much wetter than my own home climate but close in temperature ranges, the now-barren silk floss trees grow abundantly along nearly every important boulevard in Buenos Aires and Rosario. With more water, the trees have more pronounced bellies and exaggerated limbs. In fact, the Argentines have a better name for them that we have in the US: Palo Barracho, drunken stick.

A palo barracho between a restaurant and the Paraná River, in Santa Fe, Argentina.

Palos barrachos line the streets near the ports on the Paraná in Rosario, Argentina.

The trees are covered with large, exaggerated thorns.

I loved this strip of road protected for those learning to drive, complete with all sorts of road signs. Palos barrachos provide shade during the summer and architectural interest in the winter. Notice the large, hanging seed pods.

A palo barracho on a main street in Rosario, Argentina demonstrating my favorite aspect of these trees: personality.