Saturday, September 3, 2011

A few more notes--exhibit opening and language and food

Saturday morning, September 3

So, the last few days I have been settling in a little more. I've been in contact with a few folks from our days here in the past, but so far haven't seen any of them—except last night, during the opening of the Fotoperiodismo 2011 exhibit and presentation of the catalog.

This was in the Photo Café, a house that was converted into a coffee shop/exhibit space in the Colonia Robles, not far from the Universidad de El Salvador. A few of us made presentations, and as we did, I noticed a woman in the room who seemed familiar, though I couldn't really place her. At the end of the presentation she came over and gave me a big hug and greeting--it turned out she was a student of ours, from 1994, and filled with praise for our teaching--it went beyond that, as she said I was her best professor. That was nice to hear.

Someone else came over and said, "I have to give you a little commentary. When the mistress of ceremonies said who you were, and that you were the curator of the show and you were going to make some comments, I thought it was a joke. What would a gringo have to tell us about our photography? But when you spoke I changed my mind. I'm happy to have been contradicted." That was really a nice thing to hear, as it is true that we do have to be modest about our ability to contribute when we're deep into another culture (a major theme of mine, but that's for another time).

More about language--this time something new to me: I bought a slide of watermelon from a woman selling on the street near the hotel.

"¿Cuánto vale?" (what does it cost?)

"Un corter." Hmm--what's this? She picked up the confusion on my face, and explained: "Oh, that's twenty-five cents [of a dollar, remember]. We call that a corter." Get it? A quarter, in case you don't...

That is a change, my sense, which I confirmed with some folks at the event last night is that in the past, anything that's in 25 units would be a peseta--25 centavos, 23 pesos, once in Mexico 25,000 pesos....

At the risk of seeming even more obsessed with food than I really am, I have to make some comments. I'm staying, as I mentioned earlier, in a pretty fancy hotel—I haven't stayed in a place like this for a long time, and even then it was for a conference, not as my residence, essentially, for about three weeks. One thing that's a little hard for me to relate to is the hotel restaurant—"international cuisine—I've had a couple of looks at their menus, but aside from a breakfast meeting there the first day, I haven't eaten there—too expensive, and for me a lot less attractive than the alternatives...

When my Colombia blog was active (and I still hope to revive it, to fill up my copious free time), I created the character of "the lumpen gourmet." I'm bringing that character back today.

People who have spent time here will remember eating meals at these comida a la vista places. Especially compared with the food in Colombian cities, and especially inexpensive “popular” foods, i.e. street food, San Salvador presents a nice variety (Here it would be tough, but far from impossible to eat a varied and strictly vegetarian diet in the street). So there first day I went out for lunch and found just what I was looking for two blocks from the hotel—a modest place, with people lined up to choose their food, eating at little rustic tables...I had a modest piece of chicken breast. I have no idea how it was prepared, but I think it was grilled and then a sort of vegetable sauce put over it—with broccoli! I dare anyone to find that in an equivalent place in Bogotá. And a serving of potatoes, cut up and sort of stewed, also with some vegetables. A glass of an ensalada—mixed fruit drink—and a small but piping hot tortilla. I could have had two, but I thought that was good enough, and also passed on the rice. My bill: $2.00 Coming back to the hotel, to work, and to wait for the phone calls that don’t seem to be coming, I looked at the menu at the hotel. They have an international lunch buffet for $24.00. A la carte, I probably would have spent $20.00. I would have had more food, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much.

I’ve eaten in a few places now—one right across from the hotel—and I’ve been able to eat nicely prepared (stewed, steamed) vegetables in a nice variety: carrots, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, quisquil (what is Mexican restaurants in called “chayote”—I don’t know the English name).

OK, enough about food—this afternoon, I plan to take a bus into the center of the city and see what things look like, if here have been a lot of changes…

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