July 2008

I know that Australians speak English, but as is well known, they have their own nicknames, accents and phrases. However, while I was still stateside, I didn’t know that these minordifferences could actually render some Australians incomprehensible. It is also extremely difficult to learn names. Example: When a guy whose name is actually Arvid is introduced, it sounds like Harvard. (A long discussion ensued amongst a few Americans last night over this exact name… turns out I won the debate on what his name actually is because I had one Australian spell it for me… foolproof method for these such situations!)

So as I’m meeting all of my new Australian neighbors since they’ve now moved back into college, I’m learning to think quickly, take things in context and sometimes just stay confused a bit til I figure out what they are saying. When in doubt follow how they react! Here are some of the new English language words I never used in conversation before, or never even knew existed:

heaps = a lot

ta = thanks

How ya going? = How are you?

lift = elevator

winge = complain

jelly = jello and jam = jelly

Seppo = American (after septic tanks because we talk a lot of junk… nice huh?)

More to come! Cheers all!


Ahh! At last after a summer of titilating suspense, of shocking rumor and intrigue, Pangea welcomes her newest blogger.  In swarthy summer heat and grime he has descended from the mountains, swashbucklingly late, to share with us his bawdy adventures and sage advice.  Enter–Farmer Rees.

My apologies to everyone for jumping into a blog that has been going strong for over two months now.  Feverishly hopping between luxury hotels’ computers in Europe along with an extended stay in rural Appalachia hasn’t allowed for a great deal of internet time.  I’ll try to do some catching up in my last few weeks on the farm before I head to Moscow.

Let’s start in northern Italy, on the evening of my arrival into Milan from Boston.  After a train ride further north of that dusty fashion capital, I found myself in the grandiose lakes region of the prealps.  I arrived there in mid-May straight out of the last few heady days of Sophomore year.  My goals were life, adventure, High Romance.  I hadn’t found a whole lot of that after a four hour wait hitchhiking, during which I received one 2 km ride.  The ride saved me 30 centson a bus ticket I eventually bought.  And so after a long day of travel the bus dropped me off, exhausted and dehydrated, in Menaggio, halfway up Lake Como.

The lake’s rugged beauty eased my early frustrations as I headed up the steep hills, looking for a spot to toss out my sleeping bag and enjoy the sunset, some stars, and a long, jet-lagged snooze.  INstead I found a great deal of barbed wire and guard dogs in this rather ritzy Italian villa (home of George Cloony–in my hitchhiking daydream, he picks me up and we shoot the breeze).  It was only after I had disrupted a pile of adorable sleeping kittens and scaled a vertical jungle and a iron fence that I came to a delightful resting spot: a sort of magic garden, fenced in, but apperently deserted, with blooming wildflowers and a majestic view of the lake and Alps.

Oh Youth! I cried as I descended the hillside for my bag that I had left near the bottom.  Oh glorious, unkempt, sorrowful youth that will allow one to travel several thousand miles and toss out a sleeping bag in a strange land!

My ruminations were something high and noble of this sort when I noticed an apartment building at teh base of the hill had a couple inquisitive faces watching me out of its open windows.  As I came level with them thy began shouting at me in the sing-song ups and downs of this sonorous Romance dialect.  Oh language of eternal fire! Words of Dante and some opera! Oh Youth! My reveries were unphased as I continued to tromp down.

I really was tropming now, or more likely falling all over myself, slidding down the mountain (Oh Youth!) when I saw more and more heads poking out of windows. My reveries were cut short.  “Bonjourno” I cried. “Scuzzi, Scuzzi.”  As a Slavacist, my improvisation was fairly feeble.  “Problema?” “Signor duda duda mia jari pizzeria Luigi?” they asked (Oh youth, dante). I answered with a far off gaze and a sweep of my arm that was supposed to indicate that I was taking in the view, that I was flailing about on this hillside intentionally, that I was muddy and such, for the spectacular view. “Vista” I yelled and made the sweeping arm motion again.

More and more of them came to the windows. There was more shouting in the pleasant rollercoaster tongue.  They ran inside grabbing tottlers and grandmas.  The whole apartment was a hive of activity.  To each of them I gave a cry of “Bonjourno!” and “Scuzzi” and replicated the arm motion which had become a favorite of mine.

Presently, I reached my bag and awkwardly half hid behind the bush it was propped against as I waited for the commotion to die down so that I could reascend to my magic garden, sleeping patch.  I stood there smiling aimlessly for nearly half an hour, greeting new faces at the window.  Oh Youth! I mouthed morosely, what a bumbling fool you are.  But the garden sang to me, and so I waited.

Afterall, a half-wit American making sweeping arm motions and straining his entire Italian lexicon is only so interesting, and with tiem everyone went back inside to dine on their fine olives and cheese and primi and secundi and wine and pizza pies.  My stomach growled as I duked it out with one solitary old man to leave me to my hobo peace.  He had watched me from the start, gravely and silently, and he did not leave now.  I tried to stand very still. He took out his binoculars, and I decided it was time to go. A hostel would do for my weary soul.  The old man had won the staring contest.

But my grand, Romantic vision was, in fact, not for naught!  As I defeatedly picked up my bag and began the climb down, a bright-eyed girl with full, rosy cheeks and hair braided in dark Italian mystery poked her head out the window and asked in broken English if I was all right.  She told me that her family was terrified for me (or of me?), asked me if I were hungry and so on.  I stood enraptured, with a hand upon my breast, calling up to this fair Juliet foolish things like “I love Italia” or “Are the kittens yours?” until her mother came to the window and sent me on my way.

This post is already far too long, and I need not go on a t length about the white rose which I borrowed from a Mother Mary shrine (she, or at least John Lennon would approve of my hopelessly inexperienced Romeo and Juliet story, I hope) and gave to my young bella; of learning her name to be Anna and telling her mine was Antonio; of dreaming of the fateful Veronese kiss that was not; and of the night spent half asleep in the rain, without stars, fearful of the guard dogs, and waiting lonesomely, lost to the world, for daybreak.

Excuse me while I grow some eggplant.

STEEL ka naya funda. Translation: No Glitter Solid Steel.

It was one of the first signs I saw in Kolkata and – undoubtedly – it will be one of the last. The ad, which graces the backs of all of Kolkata’s maroon minibuses features a buff Indian gripping a steel bar with fires ablazing in the background. The bottom says: India’s #1 Thermex TMT bar.

For the longest time, we all thought it was an ad for an energy bar. We couldn’t fathom it being anything else. After a few weeks, though, we realized there was less subtlety to it than we thought. It’s actually an ad for steel bars. Steel.

And it’s everywhere.  After being in this city for two months I know why. Because unlike the US, where most things have been built, where things more or less function as advertised, Kolkata still has a long way to build itself up. There’s work to be done.

But that’s not a negative statement. Everywhere I’ve gone here, I’ve seen a certain tenacity, a certain vibrancy that I’ve never seen before in my life. Not in the US, not in the Middle East, not in Thailand. Kolkata is the most full of life, the most Darwinian environment I’ve ever seen.

The whole city reminds me of Carl Sandburg’s poem “Chicago,” which thanks to the standardized curriculum of Indiana public schools, I actually read. Kolkata may not be a city of broad shoulders, but it certainly is a place of breaking, building and rebuilding.  Construtction is everywhere, and the whole city has very organic rhythm, from the daily traffic jams to the nightly Tata truck runs that bring in the next day’s food and fuel.

Everywhere there is life and everywhere there is struggle. Everyone is trying to carve out their little niche in the urban jungle.

But slowly slowly slowly things are changing: foundations laid, scaffoldings erected and roads paved. The scaffolding on construction projects in Kolkata may be made of bamboo and the bricks transported by bicycle ricksaws, but make no mistake – the buildings frames are made of solid steel. No glitter added.  

Tomorrow I say goodbye to Kolkata. I’ll probably be able to breathe easier but I won’t have as much of a sense of purpose.

Looking out the window of the plane yesterday, I was ecstatic when I realized that no, that’s not a very lost sailboat on the water down there.  No, indeed, ladies and gentlemen…


And it is not alone.

Yes, folks, welcome to the Arctic.  Resolute Bay, specifically.  We arrived here yesterday after roughly seven hours of flights up from Ottawa.  This will be our last stop before hopping a twin-otter plane to Axel Heiberg Island, two hours even further north of here. 

The word barren, while accurate, does not do justice to the Arctic.  It is starkly beautiful.

Sleeping in the tent last night was less than cozy (note to self: wear a hat to bed), but I am still excited out of my mind to be here.  We are hopefully flying to Axel in half an hour, but the fog may postpone our departure.  Visibility is maybe 200 meters at most.  Not prime flying weather.

It’s quite a hike from our camp at Axel to the nearest internet access, so this may be the last you hear from me for a while.  Stay tuned…

I’m leaving Thursday for the Arctic. Let me know if you have a special request for Mr. Claus and I will try to pass it along, since I’ll be in the neighborhood.

Several weeks ago I posted an entry detailing some travels through the Chaco, and also the Fiesta de San Juan at the Foundation’s Agriculture School (read that post here). I recently found out that one of my roommates, Christian, had taken video of the more colorful portions of the festival and managed to uploaded it to youtube.

I just got back from lunch and thought I would regale you all with a tale of the other weekend, involving food.

When I first got to Paraguay, people kept telling me to make sure I tried the sopa paraguaya – which translates literally, I was sure, to “paraguayan soup.” Great, I thought, I’ll do that.

Next time I got the chance, I ordered sopa paraguaya and was met with this:

It looks a lot like, tastes a lot like, and in fact, is a lot like cornbread.

Two possibilities for the misunderstanding flashed through my mind.

  1. (The more likely) I was displaying my ignorance and forgetting that the word “sopa” actually means something completely different.
  2. The waitress had misheard my request.

I consulted my fellow jankees (spanish for “Yankees” >> latin american for “white dude, probably associated with the military or cia”). Indeed, they informed me. This was sopa paraguaya, and sopa does mean soup. We were at a logical impass.

Fast-forward about 2 months and I am sitting on a bus with a Paraguayan friend, and she is pontificating on the various idiosyncrasies of paraguayan culture. She concluded “The rest of the world doesn’t really understand us.”

Nodding in agreement and leaping at the opportunity, I asked, “what about sopa paraguaya?”

“what about it?”

“well…it isn’t really soup, like a hot liquid with vegetables or meat or something…”

“no, it is soup.”

“**?**(tilts head) but it’s solid…”

“right, it’s sopa paraguaya.”

“which means what? it is a soup that is solid?”

“Yea, Paraguay is the only country in the world that has a soup which we serve in solid form.”

**raised eyebrow**

aaannnndd scene.

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