Review: Russian Music

By Elizabeth Gregory

The other day I was browsing at the bookstore. I wandered into the CD section in search of expanding my world music collection. I lucked out and found a no-name sort of "best of Russian music" CD on clearance for $5. I was pleasantly surprised at the sound quality on such a cheap CD, but even more than that much of this music was very traditional Russian dance pieces according to a friend who is from Bulgaria and knows a lot about Russian music. Some of it sounded familiar (a la Crimson Tide) but much of it was new to me and very interesting. So if you're in the mood for festive, orchestral, rich music I highly recommend some traditional Russian music. It makes good cleaning music too! Next up, I'll be looking for some Irish ballads.

Review: Rambler

I should start by saying that I don't know what I ever did without my iPod. From music to podcasts to audiobooks, I spend more time listening to my iPod (Phil) than I do just about anything else…well, aside from homework.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I felt that I should explain my love of all things iPod-related before singing the praises of CyraKnow's Rambler phrase books for iPods. I found CyraKnow's site while searching for new blog ideas, and I was immediately intrigued by this new use of my beloved iPod. Upon purchasing the Rambler programs, you move your target language's Notes folder to your iPod's Notes folder (you have to enable disk use in your iPod's preferences for this to work), then you add the Audio folder to your iTunes library. The files are relatively large in size, so it may take a little time loading everything, but that's really all you have to do. I checked out the French, German and Italian versions, and I cannot think of a more ingenious use of technology.

Studying abroad and don't feel like carrying around clunky phrase books or dictionaries? If you have an iPod, the Rambler programs are an almost endless source of useful words and phrases. If you need the location of a post office in the country you're visiting, just find the phrase "Where is the post office?" in your notes folder and click on it; from your headphones (or speakers), you will hear the phrase in English, followed by the phrase at normal speaking speed in your target language, then at a slower pace. Not only are you learning what to say, you're learning how to say it.

Now, if only somehow my iPod could do my homework…

Movie: City of God

By Anne-Marie Dingemans

City of God (Cidade de Deus) is the ironical name of one of the most dangerous favelas (slums) of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The movie director, Fernando Meirelles, based this film on a true story, filmed in Cidade de Deus itself, and he used hundreds of local children (real-life slum children) as extras, which makes the movie all the more powerful.

The story begins in the '60s when the overcrowded housing project Cidade de Deus is home to the undesirables of Rio. The main characters are just children, watching the crime and violence going on around them and dreaming about the future. Buscape wants to be a photographer and his friend Ze Pequeno wants to be a powerful gangster. As the story continues into the '70s, you see the favela grow dirtier, poorer and more dangerous. People really do not have any options here. Violent crime is committed by children and young teenagers, and Ze Pequeno is counting his kills. We see the events unfolding through the eyes of Buscape; his desperation, not knowing what to do to get out of the favela and trying not to get killed in the meanwhile.

It all culminates in the '80s in an all-out war between the two most powerful drug lords; ruthless Ze Pequeno and slightly more sane Mane Galingha. Buscape finds himself caught in the middle of a conflict that, he says: "By the end, after years of fighting, nobody could remember how it all started." Interesting here is that Mereilles is not pointing fingers nor romanticizing the cruel Ze Pequeno's opponent. He's just depicting an utterly senseless situation with no easy solution.

For me, the best part of this movie is the fact that I couldn't escape the reality of it. Some movies are made just to provide entertainment, but thousands of movies are made because the director wants to tell a story, send you a message. Well, the message arrives loud and clear! Maybe with other movies touching on disagreeable themes you can deceive yourself into thinking "it's just a movie", but you can't deceive yourself in any way here. It has happened, it is real, those kids you see there in the background do live right there in that favela. Very powerful. A must-see.

Travel Argentina : Life in Argentina

By Connie Marianacci, a native Argentinean

Argentina has something available for everyone! The Iguazu falls in the north and Salta where you can do adventure activities. Cordoba and Tucuman in the center, las sierras and warm climate in the summer and cold in the winter. Mendoza and Bariloche known for skiing and also adventurous activities. Peninsula de Valdez where you can see the whales, penguins and finally Ushuaia, the southernmost point in the whole continent close to the glaciers of Perito Moreno.

Buenos Aires is considered something different from the rest of the country due to its size. Walking down a peatonal in Buenos Aires, where the street is surrounded by old renovated buildings, you can get a feeling of the old architecture combined with the new buildings making an interesting composition to admire. And this is what Buenos Aires is all about, combining the old and the new, combining the tango and the techno dances, combining the traditional cafes with the more modern ones. From the older cafes, you can sometimes hear Tango music playing, this is also common during the weekend afternoons on the peatonal. In addition, a couple might be dancing and a small crowd gathers along to cheer.

The second biggest city of Argentina is Cordoba, known as a university city close to the Sierras where you can escape during the weekends. The rest of the cities in Argentina have a small town lifestyle where still some of the stores close in the middle of the day to take a siesta.

In general, Argentineans are quite talkative and you will always hear people talking everywhere you go: supermarket, bus, subway, street, and offices too. Even though there is much talking at the work place, the working hours are also very long.

Below lets break down some issues:

    Family Traditions

  • It is very common on Sundays for the families to get together and eat a big lunch, normally asado or pasta. Family reunions can vary in size but sometimes it can reach up to 15 people including children and grandchildren and the women normally work together to cook lunch. If the choice of the day is asado, then one of the men is in charge and the women make the salads to accompany it. After the meal, a short siesta is normally taken by the older people.
  • During the week, even though both parents normally work, all the family members try to get together at night to eat dinner at the dinner table and a normal time to eat is at 9:00pm.

  • Whenever you greet someone, you give them a kiss on one cheek whether they are male or female. When there is a more formal situation, men might shake hands but women are always kissed on the cheek.
  • When making an appointment, it is common for people to arrive later on that the time agreed upon, you just have to be patient.
  • After eating lunch it is very common to drink coffee in a small coffee cup, either cortado (with a little of milk) or coffee.
  • Night life starts very late. Bars are normally open from 11pm and night clubs (boliches) are open from 12am or sometimes 1am. When going out, plan to come back at around 6am.

  • After the crisis during 2002, the whole world is still afraid of what might happen if they get a chance to travel to Argentina, but it is actually nothing like it!
  • Out of all the countries in Central and South America, Argentina is considered one of the safest. As long as you keep the standard precautions, nothing should happen.
  • At night, it is very common for the young people to go out, take buses and taxis and walk on the streets. Just inform yourself about which areas are the most frequented at night and it will be safe for you to go there too.
    Meals & Drinks

  • Empanadas
  • Asado where the meat is so tender you do not need to press too hard on the knife to be able to cut it. The meat is cooked with no seasoning so you can really have a taste of the meat itself. It is also not cooked with fire, but with the lit coal itself.
  • Fernet con Coca is what mostly the young people from the center of Argentina drink when they go out. Fernet is actually an Italian sour dark alcoholic drink.
  • Noquis are traditionally eaten every 29th of every month. They are squares made from potatoes considered to be pasta.
  • Dulce de leche is spread on the bread for breakfast; it is like milk jelly.
  • Mate is a tea that is drank out of a special small container with a straw. This is drank at all times; breakfast, at work, a reunion with friends and you can drink it with or without sugar.

Below is a cartoon of Quino. He is an Argentinean cartoonist that always portrays what the Argentinean culture is like: politics, education, economy and social life.


Traveling Abroad : Airport Screening

By Beth Klemick

On a recent trip abroad I had a layover in Frankfurt, Germany. As I deplaned completely jet-lagged and exhausted I headed straight to the café for coffee. I was a little discombobulated and noticed that it was soon time for my flight to depart to my final destination and I still had to go through security again, so I got my coffee to go, yes, very American. As I proceeded to set my bag on the conveyor belt at security one of the security screeners gave me a smaller sized plastic container which I thought was for my shoes! While taking off my shoes, I was thinking how nice it was in Germany that they made a container specifically for your shoes. The screener was a bit shocked, but nonetheless amused and said, "you're from the United States, aren't you?" He then explained that the container was for my coffee. Frequent or infrequent travelers going through airport security in the United States will encounter "taking off the shoes" before going through the detector, but as the German security screener asked me "is it necessary?" Best to go to the source, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

You are not required to remove your shoes before you enter the walk-through metal detector. However, TSA screeners may encourage you to remove them before entering the metal detector, as many types of footwear will require additional screening even if the metal detector does not alarm.

Footwear that screeners will encourage you to remove because they are likely to require additional screening:

  • Boots
  • Platform shoes (including platform flip-flops)
  • Footwear with a thick sole or heel (including athletic shoes)
  • Footwear containing metal (including many dress shoes)

Footwear that screeners are less likely to suggest you remove includes:

  • "Beach" flip-flops
  • Thin-soled sandals (without metal)

Tip: Since a thorough screening includes x-ray inspection of footwear, wearing footwear that is easily removable helps to speed you through the screening process.

Happy and safe travels this Holiday Season!

Language Learning

By Elizabeth Gregory

I have studied 3 foreign languages, taught 2 languages, and have also participated in immersion programs for 2 different languages. For Spanish, I took 6 years of classroom instruction here in the US and spent one semester in Spain in an immersion program. I can honestly say that I learned more in the 4 months I was in country than the 6 years of classroom instruction. However, this does not mean that classroom language instruction is obsolete or unnecessary. I have outlined some of the advantages of each instructional method below as well as where the 2 overlap. Immersion is always a good way for any language student to refine or brush up on their skills in a setting where the language is used everyday in every way. Additionally, absolute beginners can benefit from immersion by getting a solid start without too much translating back to their native language as often happens in the classroom.

    Classroom instruction advantages

  • More emphasis on accurately using grammatical structures
  • Explanations can be given in native language for ease of understanding
  • Textbooks typically include explanations in native language
  • Frequently, more focus on reading and writing
    Immersion instruction advantages

  • Typically much smaller class size
  • Native speakers of the target language
  • Students tend to learn a lot more in a much shorter period of time
  • Frequently, more focus on oral communication
    The same for classroom and immersion

  • Students grouped by language level
  • Same goal of target language learning

Italian Cooking : Pizzelles Recipe

I can't remember a December without the delicious smell (and taste!) of pizzelles. My Aunt Anna makes the best pizzelles ever, and I can't wait until she makes a batch this year. I knew that pizzelles were an Italian tradition, but I really didn't know much else.

After doing a little research, I now know that the name pizzelle comes from the Italian word pizze meaning "round and flat" and that it has been called the world's oldest cookie. In Italy, they are also referred to as ferratelle, nevole, ciarancelle, cancellette, catarette…among lots of other things. In Scandinavia there are similar cookies, known as Lukken, and in Norway, Krumkake is baked using a similar iron as the pizzelle. Germany has its own version, Wafflekekse.

I haven't found a recipe that doesn't require a pizzelle iron, but I've read that a waffle iron works just as well. Enjoy!

(makes about 24 cookies)

3 1/2 cup All-purpose Flour
1 cup Sugar
2 tablespoon Baking Powder
1/2 cup Butter or Margerine, melted & cooled
3 Eggs
1 teaspoon Vanilla

Stir together flour and baking powder.
In a small mixer bowl, beat eggs with electric mixer until foamy.
Stir in the sugar.
Add the cooled melted butter or margarine and vanilla.
Stir in the flour mixture; mix well.
Chill dough about 3 hours.

Using about 2 tablespoons for each cookies, shape the dough into balls.
Heat pizzelle iron on range-top over medium heat (for electric pizzelle iron, heat and use according to manufacturer's directions) until a drop of water sizzles on the grid.
Place on ball of dough on the iron.
Squeeze lid to close; bake over medium high heat about 1 or 2 minutes on a side or until golden.
Turn wafer out onto a paper towel to cool.

Recipe Link has tons of recipes, including this one.
What's Cooking America is a great resource for food history.

Living in Guatemala

By Anne-Marie Dingemans

I lived in Antigua, Guatemala between 1999 and 2001, and I had the time of my life! Guatemala kept all my senses triggered the entire time, and I came away from that country with so many lessons learned and experiences lived and memories to treasure forever. I come from the Netherlands, a very tranquil, rich, culturally homogeneous country that is best described by one of the most beloved Dutch sayings: "Why don't you behave just normal, that's crazy enough." Well, Guatemala, Antigua in particular, is a little different to say the least!

What struck me most upon arrival was the noise. What noise! 50-year old American school buses start running and honking their horns incessantly from 6am and don't stop until 8pm, singing housewives sweep patios at 6am, tortilla-vendors shout their arrival, trucks try to make their way through narrow, cobblestone streets. It took me months to get used to it.

And then the smells. Houses are built much more open, often rooms open onto open air patios, so when you walk from your room to the bathroom in the morning, you're outside. I loved that sense of openness and fresh air. Unfortunately that glorious morning moment always came to a crashing halt when I sat down on the toilet and realized again that in Guatemala you can't flush your toilet paper, rather you throw it in a trash basket…

The sights of Guatemala were never disappointing. The nature is so rich and so varied, and especially in November and December after the rainy season when all plants and trees are bright green and contrast the blazing sun with the stark blue sky. Which of course are exactly the colors the Indigenous use in their intricate weavings. Each village has its own style, each family its own patterns.

I liked living in Antigua because it has a perfect climate. The lowlands are very hot and humid, and high up in the mountains it gets to be a little too cold to my taste. Antigua is crispy fresh in the mornings and warm during the day. Most of the year you can wear t-shirts during the day, but it always cools down enough to be able to comfortably cover up at night. If you have fair skin you do have to be careful about sunburn, though. Antigua lies about 5,000 feet high in the mountains, and although the air can feel cool, you still burn.

I haven't mentioned the tastes of Guatemala yet! Although the cuisine is generally pretty simple and bland, (the fact that it's a very poor country doesn't help of course, as many imported products are much too expensive for Guatemalans), that perfect climate I talked about earlier is very conducive for big, juicy, sweet, truly fresh fruits. Right off the tree! You have to taste it to know what I mean. And then, what a Guatemalan woman can do with a little corn flower, water, oil and avocados… The current director of the school in Antigua recently told me that the same ladies still sell their tostadas (small fried corn tortillas) with guacamole at the door of the school every morning!

Mural Arts Program

By Sue Lavene

One of the reasons we love Philadelphia (we live in South Jersey, just "over the bridge") is because of the ever-expanding cultural diversity. Last weekend, my husband and I joined a Mural Arts tour headed for an area of North Philadelphia known to have a large Hispanic population. Since many of the murals were devoted to Puerto Rican culture, history and homeland, in anticipation of our upcoming trip to Puerto Rico, we signed up for this trolley tour.

Driving around from one beautiful mural to another, some decorated with painted ceramic tiles donated by the Philadelphia Art Museum, others with broken colored glass pieces, these Puerto Rican-themed murals were tropical in nature with brightly colored plants, waterfalls, trees (including palms) and of course, the national icon, the tiny coqui frog. They were often times painted on the sides of row homes, and what we found out is that an average mural takes about 2 months to complete at the cost of $10,000 – $15,000 (wow!).

After the tour, we ate at an authentic Mexican restaurant that was included in the tour price. Toward the end of the lunch, we were joined by dynamic mural artist, Jane Golden, who gave us some background behind the Mural Arts program. What started out by the City of Philadelphia as an anti-graffiti initiative in 1984 became a city-supported public art program in an attempt to redirect graffiti writers' energies to mural painting.

You may find more information about this project at the Mural Arts Program's website.

Travel Portugal – Part Three

By Beth Klemick

Our last day in Lisbon was spent at the Parque das Nacoes, which was home to the Expo '98 world exposition with the theme of "The Oceans: A Heritage for the Future", befitting to this seafaring nation. The Expo helped to revitalize the city and increase the international tourism market. Although the Expo has long been over the Parque das Nacoes is worthy of a full day's sightseeing, featuring several attractions; the most noteworthy is the Oceanarium with its 15,000 living examples of marine life. It is the largest aquarium in Europe, quite spectacular. The main tank holds enough water to fill four Olympic-sized swimming pools, and is viewed from two floors through curved glass panels that provide a 180-degree view. Another popular diversion is the Virtual Reality Pavilion, which showcases the Portuguese age of discovery. Other attractions include a science center, cable car, the Vasco da Gama Tower and numerous bars and restaurants.

Our last evening in Lisbon was spent at a fabulous restaurant. By far this was one of the most unique and decadent dining experiences I have had abroad to date. Our hotel concierge made reservations for us at Casa da Comida, located in the city center not far from the Jardin de Las Amoreiras. It was a good thing that we decided to take a taxi versus walking and trying to find the restaurant on our own; even our taxi driver had difficulty locating the restaurant. The restaurant is located a dimly lighted street and not well marked; it could be a challenge to find, but what a treasure find when you do. As the taxi pulled away approached the door of the restaurant only to find it locked! We walked around the corner but only found darkness and no other entrances. After locating the doorbell, a tuxedo dressed Maitre d' greeted us at the door; we entered a complete jewel. He escorted us into a handsomely decorated bar/sitting room with a French Empire style bar. As we sat in two plush chairs and sipped our aperitifs, I took notice of the beautiful dining room and the charming walled garden inside the restaurant. It felt as if we were dining in someone's beautifully appointed mansion. Local gourmets tout Casa da Comida as offering some of the finest food in Lisbon, which is indeed true.

What I took away from the restaurant was the overall experience, the excellent cuisine and wine was an added bonus, but the concept of the dining experience offered at Casa da Comida is quite unique. Upon arrival of all guests, each is seated in the bar/sitting area for a cocktail and appetizers. At the same time you are presented with the menu along with the wine list, a waiter then takes your order and you can sit back and leisurely sip your drink. Once you are ready the Maitre d' escorts you to your table where you are served by two waiters and the wine sommelier; it is truly decadent. Everything is already taken care of, which allows you to enjoy your wonderful food and wine without disruption. This was an amazing dining experience and a perfect way to end our last evening in Lisbon.