December 17, 2011

Introducing El Pollo Loco

I ended up in Cuba after a simple decision.
“Rux, do you know I have 40 days off this year?”
“Do you want to go with me to Cuba?”
Rux was collecting data for her thesis in dance anthropology; I was going to do absolutely nothing for one whole month.  Or at least that was the plan, because I was informally assigned the role of camera operator, which I accepted joyfully in order to take part in interviews, meetings, shows and practices of (as it turned out) the greatest Rumberos in Havana and Matanzas. 

December 16, 2011

Casa sweet casa

Travel guides, blogs and forums all agree: choosing a casa particular over a hotel gives tourists the opportunity to see how Cubans live, it is a guarantee of getting to know real Cuba. Actually, this is just an opportunity to spend less money on accommodation and to get an idea of how some houses have been transformed in order to feed some more touristic illusions.
Our first casa in Havana was definitely the best one and they also served the best breakfast, which in Cuba is a major plus, as the food in casas is one of the few things that are edible without consequences (leaving aside the consequences of eating eggs for breakfast for one whole month, i.e. an average of 60 eggs/ person and cholesterol levels we decided not to measure, at least for a while). 
Do we have enough room for all the stuff we carried with us?
Coming up next: Brazilian telenovelas
The room with the best Cuban soundtrack
Guava is the new black
Our bathroom in Havana - breaking the last barriers of privacy 
However, the main reason why we liked this casa was that in less than two days we befriended the right people and that's where the real fun began. We learned a lot about just how pushy Cuban guys can be and just how assertive we could be, we found out that you don't have to know somebody in order to like them, we partied in a club with house music located more or less at the end of the world and got there in a cab with the backseat covered in duct tape, paying for this a lot less than the normal fare and also understanding just how meaningful and special life insurance can be, we climbed up the roof and took some amazing photos of Havana, discovered the cheapest joints with the worst coffee and the best fried chicken, I improved my Spanish while Karolina was told she didn't really need any language in order to communicate, we almost got a ride back home in the police car and ended a party at the hospital at 2 a.m.
The other casa in Havana was the perfect example of how to squeeze money out of tourists without giving anything in exchange. One of the beds in our room broke when we sat on it, breakfast was a nightmare, we only had hot water in the morning and by night there was no water at all, except for the puddle on the floor where every morning we could admire the sight of wet, dead ants. 
"Don't worry, we have many beds"
Wet ants. Dead. 
And then there was the colonial house in Matanzas, so beautiful and spacious and welcoming we couldn't believe our eyes. It was safe, cozy and inspiring and after two very intense and crazy weeks in Havana we finally got a good dose of tranquility. 
Patio in Matanzas
Where the rooms have no keys. And don't need any. 

Script talks in Matanzas
Addicted to Cubita
The last stop before going back to Havana was Trinidad, where our casa did not differ much from a normal  guesthouse anywhere else in the world and the interaction with real Cuban life was reduced to meeting our hosts - and they were Cubans. 
Should have worn high heels to ring the doorbell
Almost ready to leave Trinidad
Going back to Havana was like going back home, to our old room and old habits. And on the last night, which deserves a post of its own, it turned out we were more at home and more adapted than we would have thought. 

December 11, 2011

Las chicas habaneras

I was prepared for jet-lag, mosquito bites, sunstroke, food poisoning and my intuition told me it would probably not be easy to adapt to a culture so different from my own. But I only came to understand the true dimension of this encounter by the end of the first week, when I was finally forced to exit my comfort zone.
During my first days in Havana I'd wander aimlessly, trying to absorb the city with all my senses, to bring it closer, to uncover its layers and see just how much of it would willingly unveil. It was obvious from the first hours this would be a place where any attempt at acting like a local would be futile. And then, by the end of the second week, there came the surprise. Coming back from one of the interviews for my research, I found Karolina waiting with E.L. and B. on the stairs in front of our house and it was then they told us we started looking Cuban. I took it rather as an unintended compliment to my fashion sense and its adaptability - I think it was the only thing that managed to adapt and only partly cover everything that was touristic about me. That was where the line was drawn, almost by itself – visually, I was beginning to adapt. Any other kind of alteration was off limits.  There was no way to forget, not even for a second, that we were tourists, paying the price of witnessing the daily realities of a country bearing little or no comparison to any other. We spent most of our time walking in neighborhoods tourists are advised to stay away from, we got the chance to glance behind the curtain and tried to deal with the reality of daily life the way it really happens, with all its ups and downs. Seen from the backseat of an old Caddy, Cuba is splendid, happy and idyllic - the daily life of most Cubans is nothing more but local color to spice up a trip sprinkled with Mojitos, accessorized with  Che t-shirts and salsa rhythms. Seen from behind closed doors of houses not meant for tourists, it loses its vintage-commy glam and everything worth knowing has a price and leaves traces.
But we were to discover that only later, because the first week in Havana was more of a crash course in a new reality. Slowly, we got used to:

  • a very specific type of interaction happening in the streets, which was funny for about three days, then became slightly annoying and by the end of our first stay in Havana it was simply tiresome (needless to say, after a week away from Havana we missed it and couldn’t wait to get back): Psssst. Taxi lady? Beautiful! I love you! Where are you from? Naming a country – any country – would inevitably trigger the following conversation: Oh (insert name of country) really?! I have a friend who has a friend who lives there / My brother lives there with his wife / I was there in the ’80s. Are you interested in buying a CD with Cuban music? Do you know Buena Vista? Cigars? Do you dance salsa? I’m a teacher. The funniest part was having the Linda! I love you. Un chico para bailar salsa? routine played on us by men who weren't even looking our way – they do it as naturally as they breathe. A guy walking and writing a message on his phone is likely to compliment your smile without even taking his eyes off the screen, even when you're not smiling.
  • being stopped by the police at night because we were walking with Cubans and having to explain in my far from perfect Spanish that we had no problem with it and that we actually wanted to be with them
  • kids in the streets asking for sweets, money, pens, my watch, jewelry for their mom
  • daily life unfolding in front of us in the streets – the Cuban concept of privacy is so different from the European one that at some point I was actually wondering if there was one at all. Most of the houses in Havana had their doors wide open, exposing everything that was inside, a living and breathing museum of the quotidian, leaving little to the imagination and in many cases making poverty almost tangible 

  • telling little white lies, like on the night when we had to cover for the taxi driver who was doing illegal business and told the police we were friends, not clients, coming back from a salsa party. It didn't take me long to learn this art which I still like to think of in terms of practicing a new type of discourse rather than lying and Karolina said I’d be leaving Cuba with very specific new skills
  • the washed up colors of the city, like a carousel that had once seen happier and brighter days. Seen from above, everything colorful is probably something tourist-oriented (casas particulares, hotels, museums, galleries). The rest is Havana.  

  • prices changing over night – the same coffee in our favorite coffee-shop in Obispo had at least three different prices in just one week
  • verbal bills – this is something that happens quite often in restaurants, most of the times they’ll charge 10 pesos for anything, even for rice so salty and stale it’s inedible
  • singing and dancing out of the blue – when doing house chores, when walking, when having dinner - this is not a myth, it really happens and it's amazing and contagious. They really do live their music, and most children seem to learn how to dance as soon as they start walking. What I do think is a myth is that of the carefree and happy people - the music is always there, but it's not always a celebration, it can go hand in hand with the shadow of nostalgia, sadness, anger of frustration. Even at the library, I got used to doing my reading with music, soundtrack provided by a very nice lady who was all the time either chatting with her fellow workers or on the phone, yet my books were never late, not to mention I got some very good suggestions to enrich my bibliography. This was another thing I absolutely loved about Cuba - the time people have on their hands and the really really cheap phone calls. During our first week in Havana, our landlord told me I could use their phone to call everyone. Call all the places where they play rumba and ask about schedules, call all your contacts, call anybody you want. Just don't call your boyfriend, because then you won't see anything in Havana, you'll just spend hours on the phone.

And then there was that particularly ordinary Sunday afternoon in Centro Habana, on the sidewalk, waiting for the first interview for my research, watching the dogs sleeping in the sun and the kids playing, people walking with colorful birthday cakes and listening to the blend of salsa, bachata and reggaeton flowing out into the streets from open windows, cars and the phones of a few guys playing dominoes in front of a house that used to be blue in its better days. If our trip to Cuba had a better scriptwriter, this would have been the perfect moment for an illumination, for butterflies, for serenity. But there was nothing, not even the slightest inner twinge. It was rather static, more like a picture. It was simply being there, a feeling so new it was almost unsettling. 

December 10, 2011

Autentica Cuba

There's a song that says "It was the most beautiful island discovered by Columbus". In fact, Columbus himself called Cuba "the most beautiful land human eyes have ever seen". But there's so much more to it than just its beauty - Cuba is a dream come true, the place to be when you need to get away from it all, to put your mind and soul at peace. An unforgettable experience even for the most demanding and sophisticated tourists, for those whose hearts seek adventure and are not afraid to dive into the unknown, ready to be charmed and seduced. 
Autentica Cuba awaits its visitors with endless beaches and a sea so clear blue it seems photoshopped, lazy afternoons in the shadow of palm trees and a coconut cocktail to keep the body refreshed and the mind relaxed, breathtaking landscapes and the amazing architecture of Habana Vieja, countless museums for a cultural infusion, rum, cigars, vintage cars, music and street performers, an exotic blend of rhythms that work wonders on the body and make it move before you know it. Autentica Cuba is summer love and flirting all year round, an exciting nightlife and more salsa parties than even the most passionate salsero would dream of, Guantanamera, Chan Chan and Hasta siempre, Comandante live on every street corner and the original Mojito and Daiquiri, Hemingway's favorites, at Bodeguita del Medio and El Floridita.
It's the promised land that will make all touristic fantasies come true, a treat for those seeking authentic experiences and life-lasting memories. 

All pics courtesy of El Pollo Loco

And then there's Real Autentica Cuba. All in all, in one month, I'd say we spent about 2,5 days in Autentica Cuba, when we really needed a break from the epic proportions of culture shock, from the reality of non-touristic sights that made us want to turn our heads and look the other way, from our inner turmoil and contradictory emotions. Coming soon :)
For more Autentica Cuba pics, check out El Pollo Loco.

November 5, 2011

Midnight in Moscow

Counting down the hours and listening to punk rock at T.G.I. Friday's, the only place at the airport providing both Internet and extra shots of caffeine.
Quote of the day:
"Do you want something to drink?"
"No, thank you."
"With milk?"
(Flight attendant on the plane to Moscow)

Next stop: Havana

Almost a year and a half of daydreaming about this day (if we don't take into account the fact that I've been fantasizing about Cuba ever since I was a teenager, but back than it was more wishful thinking and less strategic planning), a year of research and extensive reading, a few good months of networking, updating contacts and asking for opinions and advice, three months of focusing on Cuban dancing, two weeks of shopping as if there was no tomorrow. 33 kg luggage allowance - probably half of it consisting of notebooks, laptops, cameras, tripods, cables, batteries and recording devices. 
A month to discover all the wonders Cuba has to offer, to dance and remember how it feels like when dreams come true. 

September 17, 2011

Playing cool in Bucharest

Short, intense and very educative. This is the best way to sum my trip to Bucharest just two weeks ago.
When I had almost come to terms with the idea that my job was just as much a source of stress as of financial stability, I was pleasantly surprised to see things have changed for the better. Apparently all it takes to make a good impression on people who never gave you a chance is a lot of self confidence, some experience, a hint of diplomacy and of course a few really smart outfits.
All in all it wasn't as bad as I feared it would be. In fact, it was completely different form all the other trips I took to Bucharest ever since I got this job and was shipped off to Warsaw 2 years ago. This time it was tear free and almost stress free, with just enough time to meet the parents & friends and even explore the city. A week into my Shakespeare obsession, having asked the parents to bring over The Complete Works, there could be no better time to discover this:

Two Macbeths and one Hamlet later, I had the key to calm & serenity: if I can't always do only what I like, I can at least try to be more positive about the things I have to do and focus on the present, while planning a few things for the future but without living in the future entirely.
Sure, it's quite a comfortable situation, because I know now that at least the near future looks very, very bright and being patient will totally pay off.

August 30, 2011

Be not afraid of coffee breaks

Whenever things seem to get out of hand my reactions are quite predictable. I either a) take a few deep breaths and try to bring some order into chaos or b) let chaos overwhelm me, panic, make a fuss and eventually pull myself together and bring some order into chaos. Apparently both a) and b) can be successfully replaced by c) Shakespeare. With a time consuming and nerve-wracking project at work, a translation I’m – what else – late with, major changes in my dance schedule and last minute research for my Cuban quest there was no better time to sit down, relax and enjoy Shakespeare’s biographies, The Complete Works, Bloom’s insanely prolific and delightful writing on everything and anything Shakespeare and all the Shakespeare inspired movies I could get my hands on. I think I’ve shown more interest in him than I have back when I was actually supposed to care and got graded for it. I am particularly fascinated by the futility of this undertaking and have totally surrendered to it. No essays waiting to be written, nobody expecting me to come up with some outrageous theories about the Sonnets, no pressure, no deadlines, just great reading experiences and quality time. Or at least partly. This might be the right time to confess that I have not listened to an audiobook until three days ago. They existed in a parallel universe I didn't take any interest in until recently, when I figured I could replace my usual playlist with something more appropriate to this sudden Elizabethan frenzy.
Enter Romeo and Juliet the audiobook in three different versions, all of them with one major flaw from where I stand: one voice which brings boredom to its highest peak attempts at bringing to life Sampson, Gregory, Benvolio, Tybalt and all the rest of the crew in Act I (didn't make it to Act II in any of the three versions). This is pretty much the literary equivalent of taking the icing off my cupcake. My Mom and my smarter friends eventually explained the difference between an audiobook and a play adapted for the radio - apparently this is what I was looking for, because I can't deal with Tybalt saying he hates peace as he hates hell and all Montagues as if he were reading the morning announcements. When I finally found the radio plays my mornings at the office became a lot brighter and needless to say very poetic. But with all the downloading that's been going on lately in my life I seem to have given my computer a few viruses but they seem to be quite harmless at the moment. I'm still waiting to see what might happen, hopefully they'll soon change all my reports, statistics and market analysis into sonnets. It would probably be the first time in Shakespearology that The Complete Works would be deemed incomplete because they lack CPV codes.
This morning, having iced my Shakespeare cupcake, I also added the sprinkles - a brilliant, funny and very fresh outlook upon Hamlet, from an American anthropologist who is taught the real meaning of the play by the tribe Tiv in West Africa: Shakespeare in the Bush by Laura Bohannan. The perfect treat for a prolonged and much needed coffee break for anyone who seeks a good read and some new perspectives, not necessarily on Shakespeare.

August 15, 2011

Slight alterations

Inspired by the recent tourist invasion I seem to have finally managed to lighten up. Might be the sun, too, or maybe the first effects of the smartest decision I took this summer. Don't really know and for the first time in ages don't really care because I'm currently taking a break from questioning my every move and my every mood. The world does not come to an end if once in a while I procrastinate, don't plan everything in the tiniest detail, leave the house without make up, let things happen instead of making them happen. There's nothing wrong with a little change of rhythm, at least for a while, and with taking a few deep breaths instead of running around as if training for a marathon. I'm pretty sure my old habits will be back in no time, but until then I don't mind putting a few things on hold and taking it easy.

July 4, 2011

Spring break vs. summer holiday

To be honest, I don't think I ever really liked summer holidays. I loved the excitement of the weeks before summer, all the planning, the expectations and the daydreaming but then, before I knew it, it was almost over, I was slightly bored and looking forward to my old routine (the horror! I always thought I did my best to avoid routine, turns out I respond well to limits, deadlines and countdowns and to an extent I need them in order to function properly).
I don't like it when the world stops for 2 or 3 months and everything from cocktails to festivals and is a constant reminder of the fact that it's that time of the year again, when we should take it slow, relax and enjoy whatever is there to be enjoyed. I dislike it even more when everybody else stops and I have to keep going.
Luckily, this year's belated summer holiday is enough of an adventure to keep my adrenaline levels really, really high. And lately I've been fantasizing about Lviv (can't possibly understand why but I won't go into details) so maybe despite the overwhelming amount of urgent tasks & stuff to do I should take a few days off and pack my bags. Very spring break like, right in the middle of summer.

May 22, 2011

A comparative note

Last night, Iva and I stopped for a beer in one of the unbelievably crowded pubs on Warsaw's Krakowskie Przedmiescie. It took us ages to get near the bar, gliding past a compact crowd of guys screaming and cheering in front of the TV and another good half an hour to catch the attention of the bartenders, because they were all very busy watching some fight.
Then I remembered that ever since I started dancing one of the things I kept hearing from most of my male friends was that ballroom dancing is really, really gay. I bet that the majority of the guys gathered in front of the TV yesterday was of the same opinion and yet they were the ones staring at two half-naked and sweaty men lying on top of each other. Frankly, I don't really care what these manly, rugged, two-fisted men have to say about dancing - guys who do dance know just how manly the rumba or the tango can be, but I still find it really funny.
Let's compare and contrast.
Supposedly, this is gay:

And this is manly:

Am I the only one who sees the incongruity?

May 8, 2011


No, not the voices in my head, I'll leave those for some other time.
Over the years - I think it's been six or seven years since my first translation - I have voiced quite a few characters, doing my best to make them sound as good as possible in Romanian. It hasn't always been easy or pleasant, but no matter how much I disliked the characters I was dealing with, in the end I was always satisfied because I had managed to give them a voice that was as close as it could possibly be to their original one.
Some other times it was pure bliss, like when I was translating Woody Allen or The Bourbon Kid or Sadler's Englishman in Paris (I can't help it, I have a soft spot for expats) or Frankie Blue in Tim Lott's White City Blue, a lovely story about growing up and growing apart and also my first translation. I voiced vampires, retired cops, young cops, teenagers, businessmen and their glitzy-glam secretaries, mentally disturbed parents who let their kid die, priests, nuns, rock stars, hairstylists, geeks, bartenders, lawyers - I have quite a gallery and I'm proud of each and every one of them.
And then there was another first. A tough one, a challenge comparable maybe only to Woody and in some ways even more difficult and puzzling.
Jack and his Ma live in a room. When he turns five, he discovers there is a world outside. It is with his voice that Emma Donoghue tells the superb yet terrifying story of Room, one of the best novels I've read recently and definitely very high on my list of favorite translations ever.

April 24, 2011


Yep, I definitely have all the reasons to miss it.

April 22, 2011

City on the edge of forever

Remember that South Park episode when the boys relive landmark moments in their lives while the school bus is teetering on the edge of a cliff?
Although in a less dramatic situation, I've been having quite a lot of flashbacks lately, for no apparent reason. And where there's no reason, there's obviously room for speculation.
The other day I was talking to a fellow expat who told me that while he did miss his country and his friends and the things they did together, he had no flashbacks because Warsaw did not remind him at all of his hometown in Portugal. In my case, it's not so much a matter of Warsaw triggering memories of Romania, I think my brain has reached a stage where it would have the exact same reactions in any other city.
A sunset on a Friday takes me back to Bucharest on one of those early evenings when the air smells like spring and endless possibilities. I walk the streets of Warsaw and suddenly remember the long walks I used to take with my Gran on Sunday mornings, the smell of lilac reminds me of my orange room back at my parents’ place, I hear Cohen while shopping for dance shoes and suddenly waltz is the last thing on my mind, as I find myself daydreaming about Vama Veche, drinking coffee in the sand with salt on my lips and sand in my hair. Walking back home from work I'm reminded, again for no apparent reason, unless the sight of a white fluffy cat counts, of the nights spent with A. pretending to be studying for our exam in linguistics while actually watching movies about the fall of communism and planning to do some serious writing about it.
So here's my theory: if it's true what they say and love does indeed last three years, then my love story with Poland is about to come to an end. Exit passion, enter a more domestic-friendly feeling of settling down. Very home-like. And that, of course, brings back memories of the other place that has functioned in a similar way a few years back. And it's exactly at this point that I feel like making a change. Much like in all other aspects of my life, when it starts feeling too comfortable I feel an impetuous need to try out something new. (In other line of thought, that’s why dancing might be something I’ll be doing for a long time from now on, because it is far from feeling comfortable, and as I'm writing this my body is still recovering after today's rumba). I'm well aware there are still a lot of things to do in Poland, so many options to be explored and discovered and enjoyed to the fullest and that's one of the reasons why I'm not packing my bags yet. But I can't help but wonder if I could start over in a completely different setting. And just for how long can this game be played before it becomes boring, or tiresome, or both.

April 15, 2011

Field trip

Until recently I used to think that the Masurian Lakes were a Polish urban myth. In summer, everyone escapes from the city and runs up north to spend a few quiet days in nature, in “the district of one thousand lakes”, as travel guides like to call it. Every year I’d hear at least half of my friends planning to spend a week “na Mazury” but I was never quite sure where that was or what was happening down by the lakes, so amazing as to be an obligatory holiday destination.
So when I heard there was an international ballroom dance competition held in the Masurian district, I figured it was a sign I should finally take another step towards becoming even more Polish and hopped on the bus to Mikolajki.
I obviously arrived too late to see the first part of the competition and too early to meet my friends who were still dancing (full reports of the competition, pics, videos and my random ramblings, here), so I decided to check out the wonders the city has to offer. I had to cope with the idea that there are no maps because apparently nobody needs them - true, the city is really small, but a map would come in handy, as there's more than just a yellow brick road to follow. And it’s a tough call, especially since all roads look almost identical and street lights are pretty uncommon, much like bars or any other coffee-serving facilities that are still open after 10 p.m. After a lot of walking – which also appears to be rather out of the ordinary – I finally found a Drink Bar open 24/7. The only customers were two very drunk middle-aged men and two not-so-drunk-yet middle aged women, quietly enjoying their drinks surrounded by plastic flowers and posters of football players who were probably famous before I was born. While drinking my coffee I realized that being out of my comfort zone – defined by huge crowds in the streets, full bars, cute bartenders and colorful outfits – makes me feel uneasy and that was a conclusion I was not ready for. To double the fun, I think I have overdosed on cop novels and detective stories in the past few months and, as always, fiction leaves very strong traces on my reality. Needless to say in the latest novel I translated a lot of creepy things happen in a small, dark town, with lots of bridges and narrow streets. Those creepy things usually involve young women being kidnapped, sexually abused and eventually murdered in well hidden basements. Not the best scenario to think about when walking over a bridge, hearing nothing but the wind and my own thoughts. Still, I think it is a major improvement, as I’m officially over The Book With No Name episode and vampires are no longer an option if I want to scare the hell out of myself.

April 12, 2011

Someday I will miss today

A day that had nothing out of the ordinary. Early morning coffee and a good read, a work related project I actually like, midday dance lesson with Mirek and a lot of effort put into getting the Waltz right, lunch with Magda and Przemek and a walk in the rain, a bit of studying for the exam in visual anthropology, long talks with some of the people I miss most these days and again too little time to get everything done and get some much needed beauty sleep.
Then found the inscription "dreams are coming true" under a bottle cap. Decided to keep it.

April 3, 2011

And then spring came

And smoking was once again allowed in bars - actually, still outside of them, only in the past few days it went back to being a guilty pleasure next to morning coffee rather than a sneaky tool aimed at singling out smokers as a lower species whose sole purpose was to be despised by the passers-by. Warsaw became colorful and sunny and multilingual, street artists went back to work and fruit started tasting like fruit again. And so my mild depression or whatever it was that prevented me from being me, making me perpetually sad and discontent and disoriented has started to slowly fade away. It finally left room for other activities, more pleasant than hiding under the covers, hating people and starting all my sentences with "no".
Although it's still a long way to full recovery and my happy moods, at least I can see the levels of grumpiness and negativity diminishing and that is enough of a reassurance for the time being.
And so, I am pleased to announce my new project - a chronicle of my dancing, my struggles to figure out all those spins and turns and muscle coordination, partnerwork, dance related events and competitions and of course a step-by-step recording of this year's highlight, my trip to Cuba in search of rumba: My Everything Is Perfect.

March 6, 2011

World Book Night

Celebrated on the 5th of March in the UK, it generated quite an impressive number of articles and blog posts lately, as well as debates, pros and cons and alternative ideas to celebrate it. Not that anybody made a big fuss over it in Poland. One of the proposals caught my attention and I could see no reason why I shouldn't go along with it: "Let's each of us buy a book, preferably from an actual bookshop, or direct from a publisher. Any book. Write inside it Given in the spirit of World Book Night, March 5th 2011, and bought from (insert name of shop) - please enjoy and tell people about it. And give it to someone. Anyone. A friend or stranger, a library or school or doctor's surgery or anything. Then go home, and enjoy whatever you're reading yourself" (Nicola Morgan). I actually like it so much I'm thinking of transforming it into a personal tradition. This year I felt I should start with a classic:
It is, indeed, a win-win situation, even though giving books to strangers in the streets of Warsaw might seem odd, but who cares, it all comes down to spreading the joy of reading.

In other news, I'm wondering if bachata will have the same fate as lambada did a while ago and if in lack of acting skills it really is possible to flirt with someone you're not attracted to. I'm also trying to come to terms with the fact that my academic interests have taken an unexpected turn and judging by the last months I'd say dance anthropology is here to stay, kicking literature's ass and shaping my (foreseeable) future away from publishing, or anything I'd have expected, for that matter. But it's fun, rewarding and amazing, so no need for useless complications here.

March 2, 2011

When marimba rhythms start to play

The other day I was telling a friend of mine that I have major issues hearing him speak incessantly about healthy eating and skin care when I realized I was no different. It seems like all I can talk about lately is dance, choreographies, competitions, Cuba, performances, muscles and technique. Last weekend I opened the Rux hotel for five young professional dancers who came to Warsaw for the Latin American Championship and it was one of the best nights in a long time. I'm surprised that my friends are still willing to go out with me, even though they know too well that after the question "how's your dancing going?" all hell breaks loose. So in order to celebrate this obsession that seems to follow the same patterns as drug addiction, here's a dance so wonderful it just has to be shared: Video Gay Ballroom Dancing - LA Times Magazine

February 14, 2011

Quote of the week

A few days ago, at a geek-chic-meets-university-hip conference I heard something very appropriate given the recent course of events:
We spend money we don't have to buy things we don't need to make impressions that don't last on people we don't care about.
No idea who was the genius behind this saying, but there's nothing better to illustrate the days to come. As if I didn't have enough issues already. Time to start packing the fancy dresses, the high heels, the office outfits and what's left of my positive energy and hit the road.

February 7, 2011

Drinking in Poland

Whenever I meet my non-Polish friends, sooner or later the adventures of immigrant life come up in our multilingual conversations. And while we all have different experiences and our very own culture shocks, there is one thing we are all amazed at can't seem to get used to: Polish drinking habits and the oddity of social life. While in most cases (or, at least, in those we are familiar with) drinking is something that happens when going out with friends and having fun, in Poland drinking is what happens so that people can have fun. If there was an alcohol ban in this country, nightlife would be an utter disaster or would simply cease to exist.
After a while, it stops being funny or interesting, which is not to say it can be ignored. The good part is everybody minds their own drinking and while having a non-alcoholic drink on a Saturday night might seem strange, nobody will try to talk you out of it. However, any foreigner might need a few tips to get used to this habit or at least to become familiar with it.
Here's my brief selection:
  • In Poland, drinking is a public affair; always ensure you have a group of friends with you to share your vodka
  • Vodka is always drunk in one gulp, regardless of size
  • Drinks are immediately refilled, so take time between each toast to sip some water or have a Polish snack
  • Drink responsibly! Unless you're Russian, never try to out-drink a Pole.
Lexiophiles - a short yet very efficient guide that helps people not be labeled as tourist in the first 2 minutes. To do that in Poland, one must "wear a track-suit, drink yourself senseless and then scream kurwa at anything that moves".
The bottom line is this: no matter how hard you tried to act like a local, unless you're the last one standing when the last bottle of vodka is empty at the end of a Polish drinking night, you'll never be anything but a foreigner.

February 3, 2011

Life before Google

Yesterday, at the embassy of a lovely country with even lovelier dancing traditions we were advised to ask Google everything we wanted to know about visas, travel insurance, accommodation and university life. I sort of thought it went without saying that we had done our homework and that we were there for a reason - extra info, double checking, making sure we had all the details sorted out before the big trip. Apparently it wasn't as clear for the lady who was supposed to be a source of information somewhat more trustworthy than Google.
It was Kafka all over again and something tells me it was only the beginning.

January 22, 2011

Just what I needed

I'm down with the flu and I think it's man flu because I'm whiny, helpless and moody.
But I may have found the ingredients that will guarantee a quick and spectacular comeback: pumpkin soup, tea and oranges, disaster films, glossy magazines, aloe extract, Kurt Vonnegut, language blogs, eucalyptus oil and my all time favorite - cough pills. Lots of them. The worst part is I already missed two dance classes and despite the fogginess in my brain and the cough-pill induced lack of reaction, I can see how this might affect my mood and mental balance on a long term if I don't get back to my old self by Monday morning.
For now, the world seems to be made of cotton candy, I'm sleepy, lazy and mellow.

January 19, 2011

Translations gone wrong

Mine. And other people's.
Mine have once again managed to mess up my life, as if they had a will of their own. As if every now and then, mostly when things are looking normal and calm, a new translation comes to life to remind me I am getting dangerously close to the deadline. And so I panic. Which on the one hand is good because it adds up to the quality of my work - or maybe not? I couldn't tell, since not a single translation has been done without the stress factor. Oddly enough, even though I almost never finish my translations on time, I can't imagine life without them and there's nothing I'd give them up for. It just gets a little messy when I have to mix them with my day job. And my dance school. And the new salsa school, the diploma paper, the trip and its million little details, Portuguese lessons, social life and the Uni. Maxi thinks I have a schedule busy beyond sanity. I sometimes think she's right, some other times I think she's overreacting.
Luckily in my case a translation gone wrong means a month or two of hysteria, less sleep than usual and a hint of nostalgia when the process is over. When translation goes wrong and there's a brand involved then proportions change, campaigns fail and entire markets are disillusioned. Let it never be said that a translator's job is easy and of little relevance. Examples follow, as this was actually the purpose of my whiny digression:

Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux in the US: "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux"
Coors beer in Spain: "Turn it loose" translated as "You will suffer from diarrhoea"
Frank Perdue's chicken in Spain: "It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken" translated as "It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate"
Pepsi in Taiwan: "Come alive with the Pepsi generation" translated as "Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead"
(source: Matt Haig, Brand Failures)

And that brings me to the last order of business on today's agenda - I was about to make an attempt at translating from Portuguese a very funny post about a phenomenon we are currently dealing with in Poland, namely cinnamon hysteria. It's only obvious why I changed my mind, but you might want to give it a try, especially if wherever you go you are offered products that smel and taste like cinnamon simply because it's winter (luckily Warsaw looks like early autumn and smells like city dirt, which is definitely not what we might call a typical Polish winter and it's just another perfect reason to postpone some more and take El Santino out for a ride). Anyway, here's the cinnamon paranoia, I'm off to find some more excuses.

January 5, 2011

On the 12th day of Christmas

The quest for the perfect Christmas present has been a long and tiresome process, not so much for me (I actually enjoyed it) but for the people around me, most of them unwillingly involved in my pursuit. It all began with the chocolate chestnut which Wedel no longer sold when I started Christmas shopping. Then there came designer cupcakes. Truffles. A chocolate gay fish. A chocolate mermaid. A chocolate rabbit. A seashell. Ginger and cinnamon bars. One way tickets to Mexico. Liquid dishwasher. Broken Christmas tree decorations. Out of date mayo. A portable ashtray. Indian spices. Light bulbs. Hot sugar massage. Mistletoe. And then finally, just when I was about to abandon all hope, I found the perfect present:

January 2, 2011

Strategic planning

Last year was the first time I made New Year's resolutions and surprisingly enough I even managed to keep them. Might have been beginner's luck or it may be that keeping resolutions is not that hard but whatever it was made me think I could take things to the next level this year.
Not only do I have resolutions, I have a plan, a bibliography and a dress. It's for the first time ever that I have a vision rather than a somewhat blurry image of the whole year, the agenda is already set, there's almost no room for anything else because all the details have to be taken care of and I'm just looking forward to it. I'm excited, enthusiastic and convinced that this is one of the smartest, boldest and most creative plans I've ever had.
When dancing meets research in a faraway land, the outcome can only be fabulous.