Monthly Archives: April 2008

El Club de Peliculas – “Innocent Voices”

Having never lived through war in my back yard, civil or otherwise, I am struck at first with the horror of it.  I ponder how one could continue with any semblance of routine; going to work, sending the kids off to school or out to play or getting a peaceful nights sleep.  Of course after a time I suppose that this horror too, insinuates itself into the list of givens that become to a degree invisible or at least understood as you go through a day’s activities.  Until the gun shots ring out again, or you are burying your dead or your boy child, God help him, reaches the age of 12, one is obliged to co-exist however tenuously with this uninvited squatter.

The writers Luis Mondoki and Oscar Orlando Torres seemed to soft peddle an editorial about international policy while letting us know that they were not naive to these dynamics.  Instead they simmer these high level abstractions and varying agendas to a most potent reduction;  the juxtaposing of war with the day-to-day life of a child named Chava who is at it’s mercy and in it’s cross hairs.  They examine the concentric circles of Chava’s life and show us how each was impacted by the insanity.  A curfew interrupts old play routines, his mom is terrified when he is late, “These solders are not playing.”, his school yard is alternately guarded by soldiers and invaded by soldiers who are take the 12 year olds to war, young love between he and Cristina Maria is contrasted against soldiers kidnapping young girls walking past their truck, the solace of prayer and the church is exchanged for a message by the priest who calls the congregation to resistance, “Brothers, it is not enough to pray”,  old friends are transformed into guerillas who have traded skipping rocks for shooting guns.

After seeing this movie I wanted to know more about this civil war that killed more than 75,000 people over 12 years and how the US was involved.  I found this site in my search .   Now I have been sitting with my computer on my lap for about an hour.  I’ve written and I’ve erased at least a dozen times.  Though I would love to hear what those of you who have seen this film think, how it impacted you, I am finding that I am quite speechless.       – Joan

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Hija de la Fortuna – las paginas 248 – 285 – english update

This is to let you all know that Luis will be commenting on the pages up to 248 in just a couple of days.  But in the mean time, keep reading as we will be up to page 285 by next Monday the 21st!  You all know that we are reading this book in one of his classes right?  I can’t remember if I menioned this or not.  But is great!  We are having the most interesting conversations about that period of time in history… in the states, in South America, in Europe, about how Isabel Allende is telling the story, of course about the characters of the story…man!  I wish all those of you who are reading the book could be here in class with us.  Well, keep checking in for Luis’ comments and be sure to keep reading.


Also, for those of you who are watching or have watched our first Movie in El Club de Peliculas, Innocent Voices remember that the date for us to discuss this will be this coming Saturday the 19th.  Look at the first post in the category El Club de Peliculas for the line up of movies and for the frame work from which I am suggesting we view the movie and begin our discussion.  Though, as I have already mentioned, comment as you feel it!    Until then!   – Joan     p.s. we have more ways to skin a cat that you can shake a stick at……do look check into our videos y podcasts


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Hija de la Fortuna – desde pagina 156 hasta pagina 187

Nuestro comentario acerca del libro de Isabel Allende: “La Hija de la Fortuna” se centra en esta oportunidad en la integración de diferentes trasfondos culturales y sociales de los protagonistas en esta sección del libro. En nuestros comentarios de la clase del lunes, comentamos eventos importantes relacionados con la historia, la cultura y una forma de vida que nos ubica en ese tiempo histórico y que nos hace reflexionar en las incomodidades de la vida a la que no estamos expuestos.



Esto por cierto nos hace pensar en la firmeza de valores y en la intensidad de las pasiones de los protagonistas. Para ilustrar esto tomemos el hecho de que viajar de Valparaíso a California ahora nos puede tomar un viaje en avión de 7 horas probablemente, mientras que en ese tiempo (que sólo se remonta a 140 años aproximadamente) tomaba meses y en condiciones muy difíciles a las que enfrenamos hoy. En este  contexto, Eliza, se embarca como polizón en la aventura de buscar a la persona a quien ama.  



Además, otro aspecto interesante de esta sección la expresión cultural de los protagonistas. Desde las reacciones propias de los anglosajones Rose y Jeremmy Sommers, pasando por la indígena mama Fresia, la bien posicionada socialmente y empresaria Paulina hasta la versátil Eliza, quien tiene acceso a dos culturas y sociedades por su capacidad de hablar dos idiomas, y entender las expresiones y maneras de ambas culturas.



Peo lo relevante también es que aquí se revela otra cultura. El chino Tao Chi’en incorpora un elemento interesante desde la perspectiva cultural. La descripción de su vida en China, y su viaje por la vida entre miserias y una actitud serena frente a las circunstancias lo ha preparado para enfrentar lo que, hasta ahora, podemos prever que será una aventura con muchas sorpresas y emociones junto con Eliza. La pobreza y la riqueza descritas en este libro no hacen sino volvernos a revelar que las diferencias de clases sociales han existido siempre y que muchos de los problemas actuales no son nuevos, sino la continuidad de criterios que han dividido nuestras sociedades latinoamericanas. .



El relato se torna cada vez más interesante…siga la aventura con nosotros.  Hasta la próxima,  Luis


p.d – no olviden que tenemos mucho más para ustedes…..videos y podcasts

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Ceviche in a Pineapple Boat

I am out numbered in my house today; three Peruvians to one Minnesotan.  We have visitors from Peru who are on their way back home to Lima and Pura from a season working at Lutsen, a local ski resort.  Since we have a small place, they will be camping out on the sofa, a reality I tried to soften by telling them;  “Mi sofa es tu sofa.”  They totally cracked up.  Like really cracked up and so now I don’t know if I made a great joke in Spanish or if they were laughing ‘at’ me.  I thought it best to leave it alone.


I cooked Arroz Chaufa for them.  A favorite of Peruvians.  I passed the test, I think.  They each ate 3 or 4 very large plates full.  Again, I don’t know if it was really that good or if it was that they were starved for a meal that had a familiar name.  You know, given that they had been living in the land of Swedish Meatballs and Lutefisk for the last 4 months.  I found it a little disconcerting however, that while they were eating they were telling me about all the attempts at Peruvian dishes their co-workers at Lutsen had prepared for them and about which they equally raved.  But, they told me with lowered voice, the dishes were really awful.  Like for instance the Ceviche that was served in a pineapple boat.  Who would in their right mind would serve Ceviche in a pineapple boat they marveled?!  I joined them in astonishment at such tontería, but I have to tell you (with lowered voice), it sounded kinda pretty to me.  


Alright, I´m out numbered, I´m being out eaten, my jokes are REALLY funny, and I am la maestra del Arroz Chaufa; “Esta es la segunda mejor plato que yo he comido en los ultimos 4 meses.”  I am thoroughly off balance now.  Thoroughly.  Oh, one more thing, and this was the topper.  The guest I had not met before asked Luis if I was American.  “Por qué me preguntas esto,”  Luis asked.  And then he said, “Porque ella habla si fuera una nativa.”  Okay, that just sent me over the edge.  Give me a compliment on my Spanish and it is a sure thing that I will begin to babble incoherently from then on.


Suddenly I could hardly understand a thing!  The whole room went into slow mo.  The words had no intelligible beginning or end or middle for that matter.  They became painfully drawn out undulations of sound, nothing more.  I was like Ceviche in a Pinneaple boat, the world made no sense!  But to not disappoint the insolent brat that gave me the highest praise for my Spanish, I faked on.  I laughed when they laughed, shook my head in utter disbelief when they did and said “De veras.”  a lot, perhaps too much. I may have said it at a time when it didn’t really apply as I thought I detected an extra beat of silence immediately after.  One must remember that even a seemingly neutral expression like “De veras.” can be like Ceviche in a Pinneapple boat if it is employed carelessly.  


I had to get a hold of myself.  I had to shake myself out of this cerebrovascular event and calm down.  So I opened my mouth and I began slowly.  “De veras.  Entonces, lo que me dices es que…..” and with this little trick of recovering my confidence by tracking back the conversation at the point I lost it, I was able to shore up the hemorrhaging and regain consciousness.  It bought me just enough time to ease myself toward a coherent contribution.  It’s a little trick I use from time to time that gets the feeling back in my extremities and reorients me to person, place and time.  


I asked Luis later if I had made a complete fool of myself… and he said genuinely confused “¿Como?”.  That was all I needed.  It had been a very private nervous breakdown caused by one tiny and silly self doubt piled upon another.  I was feeling all Ceviche in a pineapple boat when really I was 4 huge plates of Arroz Chaufa.   Adelante amigos,  – Joan


P.S.  We are so happy that our videos are getting such rave reviews.  Along with the enthusiasts from literally every corner of the US there are also those from Canada, Mexico, Italy, Spain, UK, Germany, Norway, Indonesia, Belgium, Argentina, Hong Kong, Grenada, Greece, Taiwan, Columbia and more I can´t remember right now.   We really think we are on to something with this product.  We can say there is nothing like it out there and we will continue to tweak it as we go so that it is always the very best resource it can be for you all.  We hope to see you too on the ‘inside’!  Oh, one more thing.  Don´t forget that on Monday 4-7 we are beginning the Rojas Phrase of the Day which will be located on our Video product page and a daily Podcast program that we call Acceso which will give you news highlights and commentary from Latin America and Spain.  Tune in and get informed.    

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El Club de Peliculas – “Innocent Voices”

Okay here´s what I’m thinking.  We’ll start with this line up of movies but I would love to hear suggestions for future viewing from you all.  In my list you’ll note that when available I have included a link to it’s trailer in YouTube.  Let’s take two weeks for each one which means from today, we will talk about Innocent Voices on the 16th of April, no, let’s make that Friday the 18th.  On the 16th, my darling is being sworn in as an American Citizen!  Yeah!  We will write about that later. 

If you discover this Post after the 18th, just watch the film when you can and add your comments then.  It will be fun to have the conversation continue long after the original viewing of the film. 

I am guessing that there will be a list of things to think about in each film that may be unique to that film,  but for a general guideline and because we are watching these films to get some additional cultural, historical and idiomatic insight, let’s do this a bit unconventionally.  And as much as is possible, let’s not give away the end of the film for those who have not yet had a chance to watch it.  Though you don’t have to comment on all of these points or only these points, here ARE things to consider that will give shape to the films as you watch them; 

          What was the message that the writer wanted to convey

          What techniques did the director use to this end

          Define the internal struggles of the characters drawing out these inherent paradoxes

          Define the struggle and/or the attraction/affinity between the characters and the likely reasons for this

          What aspects of this story could you relate to or at least were within the realm of familiarity and why.  

–     What aspects of this story felt foreign and unfamiliar to you and why.

          What words or expressions were new or puzzling to you. 

–      If you heard a turn of phrase that you found interesting tell us what is was and why you found it interesting.

          How did this film leave you, that is;  What did you find yourself thinking about, what did you find yourself feeling.         

Movie Line-up

Innocent Voices    on April 18th

Live-in-Maid   on May 2nd

Pan´s Labyrnth   on May 16th

The Official Story   on May 30th 

I’m excited to hear what you all have to say!  Don’t be shy now.   Hasta mañana en otro tema,  -Joan   (pero siempre quiero recordarles que tenemos videos y podcasts también)

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Blah, blah, blah…..

This is what I imagined was going on in the heads of the native Spanish speakers at my Spanish conversation group last night.  There were two folks from Mexico, one from Columbia and one from somewhere in Central America, I didn’t quite catch it.  The rest of us, about 10 or so, were native English speakers and present for the sole purpose to practise our Spanish. 

Why, I was asking myself (and a couple of the English speakers as well) would a native Spanish speaker come to a Spanish conversation group?  The answers I got from all of us were rather vague.  “Well, here they get to talk to other Spanish speakers.”  Ya but, aren’t they already connected with family and friends in the area that speak Spanish?  “This is a chance for them to practise their English.”  I don’t think so, I am not uttering a word of English during this meeting.  I am here to speak Spanish, period. 

So I am turning this around in my brain.  The Spanish we English speakers spoke was pretty good, though not without it’s mistakes.  The topics I participated in or could overhear were rather cursory, pleasant enough but not earth shakingly deep or stimulating.  So why did they come?  I found myself obsessed to distraction with this question and I must admit that my Spanish suffered a bit for the burden of it.  They couldn’t have come for the English as there was a woeful lack of that going on.  And they couldn’t have been there for the Spanish.  They couldn’t have been there for the intellectual stimulation unless talk about talking Spanish in Spanish rocked their world.  I strained to see if they were glazing over while being spoken to by one of us and to my astonishment, I can’t say that they seemed to be.  It appeared as though they were actually enjoying themselves. 

After these initial unprofitable evaluations, I got a little self-conscious thinking, oh no, they are here for the entertainment factor.  They feel better about ‘their’ Spanish when they heard us speak ‘our’ Spanish. That’s it, right?  But I worked hard to reconstitute that Sunday school lesson about always believing the best about people and fought back my paranoia knowing that the this unfair projection had way more to do with my own insecurity.  After all the “entertainment factor” would be equal to that of a …., of a….., hmmm,  I really can’t think of anything quite so boring.

So, my conclusion is that it was fun.  All in all, it was fun.  I think the people there were just people wanting to speak Spanish because they love the language and the people and culture and want to hang out with people that feel the same.  And the presence of native Spanish speakers?  Well they are still a bit of a mystery to me, but they were friendly and open and joyfully interactive and I have to thank them for hanging with us.  Though I can’t in a million years imagine myself going to an English conversation group to talk English with a bunch of English lovers that want to practise speaking, I am grateful that the whole world is very definitely not like me.

I am going to another one of these meetings with a different group of folks on Saturday and interestingly enough I am bringing two young Peruvian friends that are passing through on their way back home to Lima.  Though after writing this post, I am not sure why they would find this at all interesting.  Still, I think in some way, mysterious to me, they will enjoy themselves, and sincerely so.

On another note:   I have received feedback that it would be better for many of the readers of this blog for me to write my posts in English and so I will write the majority of them in English.   However, El Club de Libros will still be written in Spanish.  (by the way, Luis will be writing his comments on the reading up to page 133 a bit later, so be watching for it)  I will also be starting a Video club.  Here we will take a week to watch a Spanish Language film.  The idea is the same as it is for the the Book Club.  We will watch it by a specified date and comment on it.  When I announce the first film we will be watching together, I will also offer humble suggestions about how we can break down our comments…..though, please know that the sky is the limit here.  Whatever impacts you about the film is fair game.  I will write this one as well in English, but I will use Spanish when it is important to illustrate or illuminate something.  Fair enough?

Luis is in the process of putting up a new Podcast as I write this, so be watching for it;  “Supertramp y su musica en Latinoamerica”.  It is about how the music of his youth influenced his life in Peru.  Interestingly, this music came from the US and the UK. 

Our goal with our Blog, our Podcast and our Videos is to give a multifaceted access to the Hispanic language and culture so that as you are learning the language, you are exposed to the details and the context and you are ever able to understand and be understood in more complex ways.   Hasta el próximo….. – Joan     videos y podcasts

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