Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Revolutionising Kyoto

A green revolution is upon us. No longer will one gasp for air in the wake of a passing city bus. Buenos Aires is bottling a new fuel.

The capital’s most abundant natural resource can be found on every street, in every park, and even floating in the air of the Subte. It is carried in the veins of half of population, and if bottled would make Buenos Aires the most efficient city in the world. Yes, testosterone is the new petroleum here.

Amongst the wealth of information one’s Lonely Planet guidebook provides, the fact that Argentina is a ‘machismo’ culture…some men will feel the need to comment on a women’s attractiveness’ was duly noted. The gross underestimation of such a statement was however realised just hours after I stepped off the plane. The truth is that every man will feel the need to comment as a woman walks past. Especially if that woman has pale skin, blue eyes, and is walking alone.

Such an opportune moment demands more than the standard Get your tits out holler of many an English builder. The entire vocal range of the Argentinean male is tested to its limits; the standard ‘wolf-whistle’ understandably dominates, but enthusiastic grunts and hisses are also popular. Some attempt lengthy descriptions of one’s beauty, whilst just last week I was sung to in the park by a tramp, who blew me a kiss before gleefully scurrying away. Such behaviour is no doubt something that David Attenborough could write a very informative documentary about.

Whilst the above is in itself a bit much for the unassuming tourist, the concerning factor is the age range of such streetside suitors. You would think yourself safe from both those who have not yet suffered the pains of puberty, and those who have for some years had more intimacy with their incontinence pad than their wife. But alas, no. The diverse methods used to show a man’s ‘appreciation’ for a passing woman appear to be taught at a young age, and are by no means abandoned at the onset of grey hair or a walking stick. In fact, the pressure to speak out seems unbearable. Having almost made it past a silent male figure, they will undoubtedly screech out at the last minute, only to look a tad embarrassed and regretful afterwards.

Enduring a gross under-appreciation for their efforts, the men of Buenos Aires swell with energy, as the fumes rise from passing cars. There is only one woman who needs to take notice, and when she does, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner will be hailed as the person who revolutionised the Kyoto Protocol, eagerly exporting this uncontainable resource. Until then, testosterone will swarm through the streets, competing incessantly with the choking fumes of the capital.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

¡No entiendo!

Last year I submitted what I thought was my greatest intellectual achievement, the result of countless nocturnal library visits and excessive amounts of Tesco Finest sugary treats. Begrudgingly, I later realised that my greatest intellectual achievement had in fact come many years before, in a haze of Sesame Street and shoulder pads. Within a matter of months in the late eighties, I effortlessly moulded from a cooing, giggling dependent into a chattering master of the English language.

There remains a fierce debate about how a person acquires their first language, or second, or as many as they are exposed to during early childhood. Academics however remain in general agreement that this ability rapidly deteriorates; if you are monolingual at age 12, sorry, but you will never master a second language as you may have done aged five.

And so here I am, a decade too late surrounded by misleadingly colourful grammar books and Spanish-English dictionaries. I returned to the linguistic drawing board a week ago, to be greeted by an eclectic array of cartoon characters helping me each very-slow step of the way. The necessity of such child-like methods is humbling, more so for a person who has been surrounded by the British arrogance of not needing to learn another language, as English has permeated some of the most rural parts of our globe.

No, linguistic ability is not a necessity for travel; I have booked rooms with Croatians and arranged bus journeys with Cambodians without ever speaking a word of each others’ language. But with six billion people and five to six thousand languages, monolinguals are a lonely minority in the world. With a language comes an insight into society that cannot be gained from a guidebook, and one which is evidently more rewarding than conversing in basic sign language.

With over a hundred hours of lessons left, I expect to spend many of the coming weeks in a perpetual state of linguistic confusion, cautiously stringing sentences together where necessity demands. But I look forward to the coming weeks with impatient enthusiasm, safe in the knowledge that I would rather endure temporary confusion than One Hundred Years of Solitude.