Blogging Locations: At Home

I’m now at home, preparing to get a mysterious and huge delivery tomorrow. Want to find out what it is that I’m having delivered and why I’m extremely excited about getting it? Check back tomorrow, and I promise photos.

In the meanwhile, feel free to guess what will be delivered. Hint: it’s very big.

Blogging Locations: On the Bus Home

I’m finally going home after a long day at work. The afternoon section was hopeless as usual. At least, it gave me a funny story to share with you.

We were talking about the economic situation in Spain and I asked students what they think would help Spain overcome the crisis.

“A war!” one student suggested brightly. “I learned in my class on the US history that we had the Great Depression in the 1930s and then WWII started and that ended the depression and was very helpful to our economy. Is there any chance Spain will start a war?”

“With whom?” I asked.

“Well, they could start another civil war,” another student contributed. “Didn’t you tel us that there is still a political and ideological divide in Spain?”

I’m glad to be going home.

Blogging Locations: Office Again

I’m back in my office after talking to the departmental secretary who told me this hilarious story.

A colleague needed pencils to give her students to fill in teaching evaluations. She was in a hurry, so she grabbed a bunch of pencils from the departmental office without looking at them.

When she distributed the pencils to the students, she heard suppressed giggles that gradually transformed into roaring laughter.

It turned out that the pencils were inscribed with the words “Cypress Cove Nudist Resort.” I’m sure it will take her years to live down the reputation as the Nudist Prof.

The secretary tried to find out who had brought the nudist pencils in but nobody is willing to confess. The mystery of “Who’s the nudist?” will haunt our department for years to come.

P.S. A clarification: I’m not the mysterious nudist, in case you were wondering. I’d rather eat onion rings while wearing jeans, drinking beer, and driving a truck with a bear I beheaded with my bare hands than come close to a nudist resort. Yes, the alliteration is intentional.

Blogging Locations: Office

So I’m back in my office after a very successful lecture on Cuba. The students loved my stories about the trips I made to that country. My story about the naked men was especially popular. I’m not sure if I shared this story with you, so I will tell it anyway.

The very first time I traveled to Cuba was in 1999. I was 23 and too naive and sheltered for that age. I was staying at a hotel in the middle of Old Havana because the purpose of the trip was not to have a beach vacation but to discover how the Cuban people really lived. In front of my hotel and very close to it, there was another building. All day and night whenever I would look out of my window, I would see naked men showering in the rooms of that building. There was an endless procession of these naked men who took turns showering.

Finally, I decided to ask my Cuban friend Armando what was happening.

“Is this some sort of a public bath facility?” I asked him. “But then why aren’t there any curtains in the windows?”

“Oh, Clarissa,” Armando said. “You are so naive. You are like a child. These men are renting the shower rooms in the building in front of the hotel where Western tourists are staying. They do that in order to show their goods to tourists who want to purchase sex. If you like what you see, all you have to do is go and stand in front of the building and the man you chose will come down. Then you can negotiate the price.”

Another story the students loved was the one where I was approached by a man in the streets of Havana who offered sex and was shocked when I refused.

“But why not?” he asked. “It’s just $5. Don’t you have $5?”

“Yes, I do have $5,” I responded, feeling desperate. “But I don’t want to buy sex.”

The man looked confused.

“Then why did you come to Havana?” he asked.

“To learn about the culture and improve my Spanish,” I explained.

“This is the first time that I meet such a weird tourist,” the man concluded.

He thought for a while, and then his face lit up.

“Do you prefer girls?” he asked. “Because I have a sister. . .”

Blogging Locations: Bus Stop

I’m waiting for the bus and thinking that it was probably a mistake to ditch my BlackBerry in favor of Samsung Glide.  BlackBerry is a tool for working while the Glide is more of a fun gadget to explore the numerous Android apps. The problem is that I have all the apps I need on my Kindle Fire, so the Glide is kind of pointless.

Many years ago, my father wrote a short story about choices. For a Soviet person, having a variety of choices is torture, the story says. We are used to just grabbing whatever was on offer because it was either that or nothing. People would join queues without even knowing what they were queuing for because being able to buy something, even something they didn’t need right now, was valuable.

I’m slipping into thoughts about the Soviet Union because I’m giving a lecture on Cuba in 30 minutes. There is too much material to pack into this lecture, so I don’t know what will happen. 

Blogging Locations: Morning Coffee

I’m blogging from the kitchen while having coffee and seething about an email I got from a student. A colleague who has had this student in her courses told me, “Ah, I can see Claudia is taking this course. Good luck getting her to submit the final essay. She is very resistant to writing and will invent endless excuses not to hand it in.”

The colleague proved to be right. Claudia sent me an email that was supposed to contain her essay but there was no file attached to it. When I pointed that out, she said that she didn’t know why that was happening. Then she said that she had left for Thanksgiving break and didn’t have her USB with her so she couldn’t submit the essay. Now she wrote me a long and weepy email saying that she misplaced her USB and is suffering because the essay took her such a long time to write and now it isn’t there any longer. I have a feeling she wants me to give her at least a partial grade for an essay she never wrote, let alone submitted.

I really hate it when people lie to me in such a blatant and disgusting way. This lying is also pretty pointless because the due date for the essay has long passed and everybody has received their graded essays several days ago. I have no idea why the student is wasting her time inventing these ridiculous stories. Doesn’t she realize that in a small department she has already acquired a reputation for doing these things?

The sad thing is that this student is quite bright. She is also a native speaker of Spanish who writes very well. She could have written a very good essay easily. It always astonishes me how much time and energy people invest into lying and inventing excuses instead of just doing the work.

P.S. OK, people, the plot thickens. While I was writing this post, Claudia sent me another email saying that she doesn’t have the essay but she has two pages of notes she took for the essay and asking if she could hand them in instead. This is just bizarre. I’m planning to ignore these emails because I’m not sure I could respond using polite language. Yes, Claudia, what a smart move to antagonize the professor shortly before the final exam.

Decline From What?

I get it when the ultra-conservatives bellyache that the US is in decline. For them, everything that happened since the rise of the civil rights movements is one huge disaster, but at least they are consistent.

What is really weird is when the most progressive news outlet in the country begins to whine that “we are a nation in decline.”  Decline from what, folks? I’m not trying to be facetious or make any sort of a point. I’m genuinely trying to understand. Which decade, year, month, or presidency is considered the Golden Age of American liberalism after which everything has gone downhill? Am I missing something in my knowledge of the US history because it seems to me that if you are a Liberal, there wasn’t a better moment in terms of progressivism in the American history than today. And tomorrow seems to be even better.

The article I linked to lists all kinds of appalling things: the lack of healthcare and dental care, the expiration of unemployment benefits, lack of medical insurance for the unemployed. But was there a time when these things existed in this country? If we are talking about a decline, it must mean that at some point everybody had medical and dental care in the US, right? But that never happened, right?

Is it the Clinton presidency that people are remembering so fondly? The Carter years? Surely not JFK? Then what?

P.S. Now that I’m done with the question I want to make an observation: you have to be a real meathead to complain that the US hasn’t been able to modernize its roads and eliminate hunger as well as Switzerland. Is it so hard to get a map and try to compare the sizes of the US and fucking Switzerland. (No offense to Switzerland, folks, I’m just venting). I’m all for making a good progressive point but does one have to pull a Michael Moore and get ridiculous about it?

And while I’m at it, the stupid picture of a stupid Russian high-speed train undermines the entire article. Yes, there is one such train in the humongous country of Russia. All the other hundreds upon hundreds of trains in the country are in an appalling state. I kind of know what I’m talking about because this summer I translated a bunch of texts for the General Management of the Russian Railway. Russia is an example of a really crumbling infrastructure. There were so many accidents with crowds of people dying in Russia as a result in the past few years that you have to be not only a meathead but a cruel meathead to use Russia as an example of good infrastructure.

Details, people. Details matter. If you want to be effective don’t fib about small things. Is it that hard to verify the information before posting it? And let’s not nod in the direction of Spiegel. If one repeats information uncritically and signs one’s name to it, then one is responsible for it.

OK, I have vented and will now go teach my students about Cuba.