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Archive for the ‘Language’ Category


At dawn and dusk, the parrots commute, usually in pairs, always yelling at the top of their lungs.  They get great echo off the concrete buildings on the mountains.  They are freaking loud, and thus hard to miss.  The weird thing, is that when you see them silhouetted against the peach-colored sky and hear their croaking calls, they look and sound like pterosaurs.

Or,you know, what I imagine pterosaurs would have sounded like.

There’s something about this place that really reminds me of the time of the dinosaurs.  Many of the birds seem like they only just evolved yesterday (I’m looking at you, guans), and the palm trees, ferns, banana plants, and guzmahias are what we think of as the vegetation around when the dinosaurs were…but I lived with those plants for years in Los Angeles and Kuala Lumpur, and I never felt like I might be about to see a dinosaur…and KL was just downstream from honest-to-goodness ancient rainforest.

Obviously I’m not unique in this; when science fiction writers wrote about a lost valley where dinosaurs still lived, it was in South America.

I blame the parrots.


Mal has turned a corner with his Spanish, and that corner is “Oh crap, all my potential friends speak Spanish!  I better learn if I want to play with them!”  You can tell a kid this for a year, but it won’t take at all until he’s living it.

Actually, two of his best friends speak mostly Portuguese, one being from Portugal and the other from Brazil, but their Spanish is better than their English, so Mal’s actually trying to learn and use Spanish as much as he can.

Me, I’m suffering.  My comprehension is adequate, and I’m finally getting used to the Caraqueno accent (wherein they leave off syllables, so “por favor” becomes “por fa” and “buenos tardes” becomes “buen tar” and no one thinks my “Buenos TARDIS” pun is funny), but the Merida accent still kills me.  They speak for the rhythm of the language, instead of emphasizing the key words, so it’s like listening to a kid read Shakespeare – you hear the soothing iambic pentameter, but the meaning washes over you and is gone.

If I think about it and prepare in advance, I can speak…but if I have to converse, Romanian comes out.  I haven’t used Romanian in 20 years, but I’m still more fluent in it than in Spanish, and it’s so close that I can slip into it halfway through a sentence and not notice.


This was a three-day weekend for the embassy, and for the school, but on different days (the school got Friday off, the embassy got Monday off).  We didn’t do anything other than I got a mild case of food poisoning.  We tried to – the initial plan was to get to Angel Falls this weekend, but turns out there is no waterfall in the dry season.  So the backup plan was to take the cable car to the summit of the Avila…but with the rampant power outages we decided that might not be the best idea ever.  The DH and I almost got stranded by a cable car in the Transylvanian Alps once, but it’s one thing when it’s two adults.  It’s another when it’s with a child who freaks out every time the power cuts out inside his apartment.

I suggested the zoo, but we aren’t allowed to drive to that part of town, and we aren’t allowed to take the metro at all ever, so that option was crossed off.  I then suggested we head downtown to a premier chocolate factory on Saturday morning so I could get some chocolate to take back to the States.  The DH said “But the 49ers are playing!”

“On Sunday.”

“But I could get kidnapped and miss my game!”

As it turned out, the Niners game was almost as nerve-wracking as being kidnapped.

So ultimately we played board games (7 Wonders, I highly recommend it) and Mal started reading Lord of the Rings…on the iPad, so he can read even when the power’s out.  I did my nails and tried to not think evil thoughts when the neighbors started blasting “Gangam Style” for a party.


Let’s hope the power stays on

Our apartment has a front door and a back door.  The front door is an elevator.  Literally.  There’s a call button inside our foyer, and when the elevator arrives we open the door and enter.  There’s no shared landing, and the elevator is key-controlled.  I guess they do this in some NYC apartment buildings also.

The back door, with its Alcatraz-level security gate, opens onto a small landing we share with the other apartment on this level (they have their own front door elevator on the other side).  The trash chute and the stairwell are accessed from this door…and only from this door.

So I hope you understand my concerns about the fact that the security gate sealed itself shut two days ago, effectively locking us in the apartment except for the front door elevator.  I’m really glad they didn’t shut off our power, as we are stuck until after Christmas.




Mal attended his first diplomatic function yesterday, one of the embassy holiday parties.  It was a small garden party of Americans and Venezuelans, and quite lovely.  He is is learning to respond “Bien” when someone asks him “Como estas?” and to wish people “Feliz Navidad.”  He also learned how to manage a buffet table and got all hopped up on imported Dr. Pepper.

One week in

Caracas is dominated by El Cerro Avila (Eagle Mountain), which also dominates the view from our apartment.  It rises 9,000 ft between the city and the Caribbean, and its peaks are where the clouds form.  It’s almost always wreathed in clouds this time of year, but the weather changes so rapidly that we can spend hours watching the play of light and shadow, clouds and clear sky, on the mountain.

Our life here changes moment to moment also.  Yesterday morning I woke up with a cold, the inevitable result of exposure to new germs and triggered by asthma from the smog.  My mood was pretty bad; after all, I hadn’t had coffee for a week.  I was also starting to panic about the food thing – unlike other places I’ve lived overseas, there’s not even a kiosk in walking distance.  We’re totally reliant on other people for rides to the stores, and the one trip to the grocery store was extremely depressing.  There’s not much food available, and what there is is expensive.  I admit to standing in the big kitchen with all the storage space and thinking how pointless it was, since there’s no food ot cook or store.

The property manager for our house back in the States emailed to say that the tenants wouldn’t move in because there was a firearm in the basement.  We own two firearms, and I gave both of them to a friend before I left to store in his safe, and they were never kept in the basement, which isn’t secure, so I don’t know what that was about but it really upset the DH.  While I was emailing a neighbor begging a favor to go collect whatever it was (probably Mal’s toy gun for his Halloween costume), we got a phone call from the conserje saying that our power was going to be turned off because the embassy hadn’t paid the power bill.  That would be very bad, as that means no air conditioning (in the one room where we have it) and no water, as the water is pumped up to the higher floors by electricity.

IOW, charlie foxtrot.

Mal seemed in good sorts, though, and when we told him that we were going into the embassy for lunch and to take care of a few things, he went and got on a collar shirt and tie shoes all on his own.  We walked over to the embassy, and the guard asked Mallory something in Spanish, to which Mal replied “No intiendo,” impressing the heck out of all of us.  He’s starting to pick up the basics already.

Once at the embassy, the day changed like the clouds on Avila…they had paid our bill and gave us the receipt as proof…even better, they told us that our car will arrive TODAY!  We had assumed we wouldn’t see it until February; it’s been in and out of the port three times but the port’s always shut down for one reason or another, and right now it’s closed for Christmas.  However, apparently the government decided to open it a little bit so that people have stuff for Xmas, because not only did our car arrive, but later in the evening when we caught a ride with the embassy van to the grocery store, the store was full of food.  I was much relieved.  They even had coffee.  And cat litter.  We’re saved!

Mal has noticed that even on the products that are the same as in the US, they will often change the name and the mascot.  For instance, Sprite is called Chinotto here.