I think my English is deteriorating faster than my Spanish is improving. I now speak this pidgin language unintelligible to everyone (except the other Californian students) in sentences in which I can never think of all the vocabulary I need in either Spanish or English. My notes are composed of nonsensical sentences using the language of the shortest version of whatever word I need (hegemony is easier than hegemonia, but desafio seems shorter than challenge), though my handwriting doesn't help. Plus, I've picked up a few of the more annoying quirks of the Chilean accent...they "eat their words" by ignoring most of the important consonants (maomeo instead of mas o menos) and sprinkling in all sorts of modismos so you have almost no idea what's going on. One of the native speakers in our program teased that none of the Spanish speakers in California will be able to understand anything we say after we get back. At least I can understand my profes, I guess...it's more difficult when they cite non-latino authors, pronouncing the names completely differently. It took me few tries to catch that one professor was referring to Humboldt, and Keynesianism was killer.
Classes are...interesting. My seemingly most-concrete classes (one for GIS and one for sustainability as a technological or social problem) have started out with lectures on the meaning of reality and the move from cartesian empiricism to etc., so who knows where they're going to go. In our required EAP class we've had two excellent and fiery guest lectures on pre- and post-ag reform in chile, with two opposing conclusions, but the regular profesora for the class doesn't give the most exciting information. A lot of biographical information on Chilean poets that I could probably skim through on Wikipedia much more quickly. The class is an opportunity to see everyone from the program, though, so Tuesday and Thursday nights aren't too painful.
Last weekend a few of us bussed it up North a few clicks to La Serena and Valle de Elqui for Easter weekend. La Serena was basically deserted except for wandering tourists: the first day there I heard more English than Spanish, and some other people from California spotted us in our respective college sweatshirts and told us we looked like a UC catalogue picture. We made some omelettes and relaxed at the beach, then on Saturday bussed to Pisco Elqui, a small town in the valley nearby, to wander. The pueblo, with a pop. of only about 500 people, was picturesque, and the view out the windows of the bus even better: The mountains bordering the valley are completely dry with all sorts of crazy-colored minerals (lots of red from copper), while the valley floor is completely green from fruit and nut trees and vineyards for pisco grapes. Ondas buenas (good vibes) all over the place. We made a quick stop in Vicuna to tour a pisco distillery, then ordered some mediocre pizza back in La Serena and relaxed.
We also went to observatorio Mamalluca one night for a tour and to gaze at stars through the fancy telescopes. Unfortunately the moon was full, which made all the stars dimmer in comparison (our tour guide kept talking about how the full moon made the sky way too complex for good star-gazing), but we got some incredible views of Saturn and some constellations, as well as a blinding look at the moon up-close. We, self-conscious about seeming to gringo, opted for the Spanish tour, ignoring the pointed glances the bus driver gave us when asking who wanted the English one, but our plan kind of backfired: there were so few people in the English group that they all got much longer turns on the telescope. So much for trying to fit in.
Sunday I'm going to the rodeo, another cultural excursion compliments of EAP, but Saturday might be low-key: Our housemates warned us to stay en casa because there are going to be some considerable manifestaciones in memory of some young leftist brothers that were killed by the police during the coup, and apparently the "manifestaciones" are usually pretty rife with anti-estadounidense sentiment (the word "americano" here means "of the American continent", and they think it egocentric of US citizens to refer to themselves as American, so we're estadounidense or norteamericano). McDonalds' are a favorite target for Molotov cocktails, so I think I'll avoid the golden arches this weekend, though a Big Mac is soooooo tempting.