Monday, January 09, 2006


Spanish Lessons - Post 2

I left off last week, discussing my spanish lessons at the point where we were about to be notified in early December 1997 that I indeed had the job. It was going to be a three to four year assignment, initially seconded to Brand E where I'd be the department head, and then after the joint venture got going, I'd move back to Brand X for a few more years. The only catch was they expected me to start in 3 weeks! I explained I needed at least another month to get everything tied up, and my Brand X boss-to-be, who was already in Buenos Aires, understood and agreed. It turned out that he apparently didn't explain this to my boss-to-be at Brand E.

We had less than 6 weeks to get passports, visas, medical checkups, and a full set of immunizations. We also had to sort through 20+ years of accumulated belongings to decide what to take with us, what to ship later, what to store, and what to sell. We had to decide whether to sell, rent, or store the house (we decided to keep the house, but empty it into storage and board it up, and Brand X hired a local realtor to do monthly checks). We had to make arrangements for our mail (including changes of address to a forwarding office in Houston), our banking (credit and debit cards), our local bills (electricity, heating oil, insurance, etc.), our dog, our cars, our electronics (220 volt service in Argentina), our parents (my mother was living independently but only barely), Z's school records, etc. The list was intimidating but challenging, and we were energized with all the activity. It was especially nice to be able to check off each item as we finished it.

Fortunately Brand X had a "fixer" under contract who arranged for visas, etc. They'd dealt with the Argentine consulate before so they knew pretty much what needed to be done. But what a nightmare. We had to order fresh copies of birth certificates, marriage records, even my college diploma - and then have everything translated into spanish and then everything had to be notarized in Alaska, and then we had to get the Lt. Governor to send her own statement validating the notary!

Brand X made us go to an orientation class in Houston, where we were "taught" what to expect about Argentine people, etc. Even though we explained that we had lived and worked in Jamaica many years earlier, we still had to go. Most of what they told us turned out to be irrelevant (at least for life in Comodoro Rivadavia), except for some good insights about Argentine's sense of family and friendships. Little did we know that we'd be included in several of these close friendship circles - mostly because we were exotic Americans (I guess). While we were in Houston, we picked up some power converters and plug adapters.

Then we had to go to LA to sign some papers at the Argentina consulate. While there we spent a lot of $ on "dressy" clothes and shoes - since the orientation had told us that we'd be expected to dress up frequently (we never had even one occasion to wear any of them). We did get to stay at the Beverly Hilton, but we didn't hang around long, because we had so much work to do at home to get ready.

In the midst of all this, we were trying to start learning spanish. I'd taken latin and german in HS, but hadn't had any need to use it since then, so it was mostly gone. Y had taken french in the 8th grade. Even with the misinformation that the Argentines spoke english well, we recognized that it was vitally important to make an effort to get along in the local language. Strangely, though, we didn't really get worked up over it. We did start listening to tapes and studying the basic books. We assumed, rightly as it turned out, that we'd eventually become fluent enough to get along, but we didn't do any panic things like take a crash course or hire a tutor. In reality, there wasn't time, because we had so much to do.

Meanwhile I was also busy at work closing down my office, trying to decide what to take, what to pass on and what to put in the archives. I had to orient my replacement and tie up quite a few loose ends. My a...hole boss expected me to complete all my "contracted" agreements (all the trivial BS tasks that he assumed would demonstrate to his boss that he was a good supervisor) - I essentially told him to shove it.

Things did all come together, rapidly. There were a couple glitches - particularly hassles with the consulate over the visas. But sooner than we knew, the movers showed up, the house was empty, our shipment was on its way, our visas and passports arrived, our immunizations were complete and we were ready to go. The only other glitch was my travel agent who'd neglected to reserve our tickets! I'd been using her for more than 15 years, but she screwed this one up big time. In the end, though, she got us first class tickets all the way to Seattle, then NY, and finally overnight to BsAs. We spent a few nights in a local B&B and then on Jan 25, 1998 we were on our way.

What an exciting feeling, to be heading out into the unknown, with no acquaintances, no contacts (other than a few telephone contacts with my BsAs Brand X boss)! I'd done enough high-level traveling and business ventures to be relatively comfortable with life on top of the business world. I'd never included my family, though. Still, it was a great feeling! Y was a lot more apprehensive, but tolerating. Z was having fun, and really didn't understand the magnitude of what we'd just done.

mas por la tarde

Cello Stuff
I played the cello for two hours today, rehashing older material, trying to get better. I think I am. Getting better. My fingers seem to be finding the right places, more often than not; and I am holding the bow properly, more often than not; and I am working through some of the older pieces accurately, more often than not.

I'm getting nervous about playing in front of my new teacher. After all, I'm an old fart who is four and a half to five decades older than the ideal beginner, I've got a bum finger, etc. On the other hand, I have met quite a few similar challenges - at 47 I learned spanish (and moved overseas to an unknown situation); at 53 I lost 65 pounds; at 54 I taught myself several new computer skills, including AutoCAD and web design. So now at 55, I'm learning the cello.

I remind myself that I've already had to work with teachers (my two spanish teachers in Argentina - more later on this), where I was essentially a beginner. I had to swallow my pride, at first. The difference was though that with spanish, I really did have to learn it. If I can get past the first day's performance anxiety, then I'll be able to buckle down and get to work. I hope she isn't get put off by my playing.

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