español no es fácil

studying dog

Last week, I got demoted in Spanish. The teacher spoke with me after class and told me she thought I’d be better off in Level 3 than Level 4, where I was having trouble holding my own, to put it mildly. Even though I knew she was right, and had asked the Spanish coordinator to go down a level before the class even started (to which he encouraged me to stay put, give it a week, and re-assess), it stung to be called out as the one out-of-her-depth kid holding up all the others. That’s not quite how my teacher put it – but in contrast to my Spanish, my English language inference skills are excellent, and that’s exactly what she meant.

Apart from my wounded pride, though, I’m happy to have made the switch. Level 3 feels much more appropriate to my aptitude, or lack thereof. And my new teacher is from Buenos Aires, which is awesome because a. falling in love with Argentina was my inspiration for picking up Spanish again (fifteen years after falling in love with Barcelona was my inspiration for attempting to learn Spanish the first time), and b. Argentine-accented Spanish is the most amazing-sounding thing on Earth and I want to be around it as much as possible (though I will never in a million years be able to replicate it).

In completely unrelated news, here are some interesting reads that I missed the chance to post last Friday:

The moral case for eliminating borders completely 

I so wish I had gone to a dual-language public school. They are on the rise. 

Six travel apps every solo female traveler should have

Studying the Pompeians’ lives, rather than their deaths

Can you imagine flying across the Atlantic for $150 round-trip? It may soon be possible…

36 hours in Buenos Aires (though my 36 hours would be a lot different than the Times’)

Have a good week!

[Photo: Francisco Martins]

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(get over the) hump day inspiration: Mary Oliver edition

Mary Oliver quote

Mary Oliver’s poem is particularly meaningful to me since I visited Cebu, where Magellan died, while myself far from home, and way outside my comfort zone both personally and professionally.

I went to the Philippines for work almost exactly one year ago. During some free time in Cebu city before heading to the remote outer reaches of the island for a shoot, we hired a tour guide to show us the sights.

I learned that Magellan landed on Cebu in the 1500s, planted a huge cross, converted some important people to Christianity, and proceeded to be killed three weeks later while attempting to forcefully convert some others. (Which is why I wish Mary Oliver had chosen someone less objectionable to illustrate her message. But I digress.)

We visited the cross, which is considered the most important relic in the Philippines. Not being Catholic, I was interested in its historic rather than religious value, and I was disappointed that it is completely encased in a protective covering, so you can’t actually see the 500 year-old timber. Magellan's Cross

Anyway… point is, the tiny villages I spent time in while in the Philippines were the furthest I’ve ever wandered from home, geographically or experience-wise, and Mary Oliver’s metaphor is actually quite on-the-nose and literal in my case. Especially because there were several instances in which I believed (delusionally) that I was going to die in the Philippines.

Thankfully that did not come to pass, the trip was an amazing exercise in stretching myself, and I am now free to find another far-off island to die in.

[Top photo is from Iloilo, two islands west of Cebu.]

why learn Spanish, part 5

highest well-being countries

Because 7 out of the 10 countries with the highest well-being scores are Spanish-speaking. (Though I think their well-being has as much to do with their average temperatures as their culture.)

On a related note, I start my Spanish class on Wednesday – wish me luck! (I will need it, since I may or may not have crammed a million things I don’t actually know into my head before my placement test, promptly forgotten them all, and then found myself in Level 4 wondering how I will possibly keep up.)

toasting the weekend

UNGA Luncheon

This week, I walked into a room to find Bono and Angela Merkel chit-chatting, stood ten feet away from Barack Obama as he joked around and waited for his staff after a speech, mistook a be-capped Daniel Craig for Vladimir Putin, and minutes later rode an escalator up two floors with the real Vladimir Putin. (All the while marveling at how neither the American nor Russian Secret Services saw fit to tackle me.)

Those are just the highlights from a very, very exciting week that I hope will now be followed by a very, very quiet weekend.

I leave you with some interesting items I’ve come across over the past few days:

Stop googling, start connecting

The world’s five most posh hostels

Idioms of the world, illustrated

This guy fulfilled a quest to travel to every country in the world

31 smart travel hacks

Anthony Bourdain’s international food market is taking shape in New York

What happened when Paris went car-free for a day this week

8 things to never do while traveling alone

Finding a health insurance plan that travels with you

Germany prints its constitution in Arabic for refugees to learn

America/Jewish tourism in Iran

A handy guide to the agendas of the various countries intervening in the Syrian conflict

And a delicious-looking recipe for Catalonian caramel rice flan, described as “rice pudding for sophisticates”

Have a great weekend!

[Photo: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard]

best-dressed at the UNGA

General assembly 70th session

At the United Nations General Assembly this week, it was all Western business dress as far as the eye could see: dark suits, dark shoes, dark bags. White shirts. Ties. And then there was this guy:

H.E. Embegdorj TSAKHIA President

An image of powder blue transcendence among the leaders who spoke before and after him:

GA speeches

In a world that’s becoming homogenized faster than American milk, I am so thankful for those who embrace their (benign) cultural heritage. Even if it’s only for the GA. It seems he mostly wears a suit and tie like the rest of them.

Mongolian president, Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, I salute you and your traditional national dress, which I find simultaneously dignified, badass, and delightful. 

[Top photo: UN Photo/Loey Felipe]

[Middle Photo: UN Photo/Cia Pak]