Monday, March 31, 2008

Back in time...

One more evening, one more post and once again a blank in my mind. yes, I couldn't really think of anything interesting to write today. Nonetheless, I`m still writing...and who said I need to have interesting topics? After all, I myself said this blog doesn't host that many interesting topics. And maybe this is just not the purpose, right?
Today was a normal day: I had to spend most of it with the kids, but I also had time for my ice-skating class :) The evening, then, was particularly special. After dinner, my hostfamily and I watched a Disney movie: Aladdin. I perfectly remember when it came out and the day I went to see it at the movie theater. I went with my neighbors, Irene and Caterina, and both their and my parents. My brother also was in Italy at the time. I remember we went at the Cinema Arcobaleno and we sat in the last row. I really enjoyed the movie very much, and also my friends and their family liked it a much so that we stayed to see it one more time. My dad, unlike my friends` parents, didn't really enjoy Disney movies and slept for most of the movie the first time we watched it. I think I`m not lying if I say he must have slept during the whole movie the second time. From that day on, Aladdin became a sort of joke for my dad. Of course, I remember the cold car that was waiting for us outside of the cinema, and the chilly drive home. Finally, I remember my innumerable attempts to draw Jasmine and Raja, my Jasmine Barbie that I convinced my mom to buy, my Aladdin sticker album...
While I was watching the movie, I traveled back in time (and space) and I re-lived all those feelings ans sensations I had lived more than 15 years ago. It is funny how movies and song have this power over us. The result is that the rest of the evening is doomed y all this nostalgia that watching the movie arose in me...

Cherry Blossom

I didn't write yesterday, true, but I did go to my class, so I practiced my writing anyway:) I know you don`t get to see it, but, as always, I didn't really write anything interesting enough to mention here. Does this mean that this blog hosts only my meaningful and interesting thoughts? I wish I could say so, but I have strong doubts on this matter.

After my English class, thanks to my teacher's helpful hints, I managed to go to see the National Cherry Blossom Festival that was inaugurated yesterday. It took a while to get there by bus, and the streets were so crowded, but it was completely worth it! The cherry trees are simply wonderful and the Mall looks completely different at this time of the year.

The Cherry Blossom Festival is somehow a Washingtonian version of the Japanese traditional celebration of the Cherry Blossom. In Japan, this particular variety of Cherry tree is called Sakura, and is in fact different from the regular cherry trees. The Sakura, in fact, is only an ornamental plant, therefore it does not produce any fruits in the summer. Towards the beginning of April, a Festival to celebrate the blooming of the Sakuras is celebrated: the Hanami festival, which are the origins of the Washington Cherry Blossom.

The festival being held after the Japanese culture is not a fortuitous fact. It has roots on the history of these cherry trees. As they put it in the official website: "The National Cherry Blossom Festival annually commemorates the 1912 gift to the city of Washington of 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to enhance the growing friendship between the United States and Japan and celebrate the continued close relationship between our two peoples."

After checking out the Cherry Blossom Festival and having a look at it from the Jefferson Memorial, my friend Isia (from indonesia) and I decided to go to the movies and I finally got to see....Stop Loss. As I expected, the movie is strong and sad. It reminded me a lot Peirce`s previous movie, "Boys Don`t Cry" oth for the way it was shot and for the way it goes deep inside the human beings that are at the center of the story. I agree with the director when she says this is not a movie about the war, because it`s actually about the people that (try to) come back from it. However, I also agree with many critics that said this movie has a flavor of post-war movie...except that the war in Iraq is still going on. This post-war movie flavor is due to the criticism with which the war and the army are portrayed. I have to say it looks very brave to me to release a movie like this in times like these. I hope many people will try to watch it.

Friday, March 28, 2008

movies I wanna see

Finally, I have been waiting for too long for this day to come!! I saw this movie trailer in January, and only now the movie has come to the theaters! Of course, I can`t wait to see it... In honor of this movie, I will talk a little bit about the movies I wanna see.

First place, of course, Stop Loss. It is by Kimberley Peirce, the same director of the famous and awarded Boys don`t cry. Apparently, this is a war movie nased on Iraq. I say "apparently" because the director does not share this view. It was not her objective to shoot a movie ABOUT the war. War is a contour, but a very important one. Being interested in the movie, I've been reading some articles on the NY Times and the Washington Post about the release of the movie and the director's point of view. What I found out from the reading is that Peirce wanted in fact to portrait how loyal and important friendship (and, more specifically, comradeship) can be for young men at war. This is the main objective, but it is undeniable that a certain criticism against the war and the surreptitious ways the American army employed to make sure to have a certain contingent of soldiers in the hostile land. I haven`t seen the movie but I can`t wait.

Another movie that I found out about was mentioned in my previous post. It`s Zach Braff`s Garden State (2004). I found out about the movie thanks to the song Let Go by Frou Frou, and I have to say I was quite skeptical about it at the beginning. Watching the trailer and reading some reviews of the film, I had to change my mind and now I really want to see it. Reviewers said Braff, besides being a great actor, proved himself as a great director with a very musical ear.

Thanks to the same song, I came to know another movie, not an American one this time, but a French movie. The original title is
Jeux d'Enfants, which in English became Love me if you dare (2003). It is a drama/comedy on a girl and a boy with a strong connection, which eventually will turn out to be love. Their love and connection is based on a game they have played since they were young. The game is based on bets, and they keep playing it as they grow older and as they become adults. The bets grow also more defiant and hazardous with time, so much so as to put life itself in danger. I`ve also read amazing reviews about this really seems to be good.

Finally, we go back in time. My host dad told me I should watch two movies: Gettysburg, for historical purposes, since he said we might go and visit the cities one of these week-ends; and
Blame it on Rio, a commedy with a Lolita flavor, from what I heard. The film is aout two adult friends who go spend their holidays in Rio. One of the friends bring the 16-year-old daughter who has a ig crush on her dad`s friend and tries to seduce him on Rio`s beaches. The mature man tries not to fall in the girl`s traps, but it is not easy...I have no idea how the movie ends. I guess I have to watch it now...

So, does anybody have suggestions for a good movie? I can add it to the list...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Scarborough Fair

By now, I should be a skilled blogger, right? Well, evidence shows us I`m not. Yes, even after eing on the web for three years, "blogging" is still fairly new and most certainly mysterious to me. For example, how come this video showed up only 2 days after I tried to post it on my blog? This is a mystery to me, and it messes up with my blog lay out :P Ok, anyway, this video should come with my post on Scarborough Fair (click or just scroll down).

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Let go - Frou Frou

Today I found out a song I like very much, and I decided to post it on my blog. As I've mentioned more than once, I have no idea whether anybody really reads my blog, and, actually, I have to say I`m pretty sure that I am the only reader of about 99% of my posts. In fact, I believe it wouldn't make any difference if I wrote very personal and intimate things in here, instead of sitting on general topics (which is what I have been trying to do). However, I have to bear in mind the purposes that generated this blog and have kept it alive so far: improving my written English (in an informal way). And I think that the blog has done (and, hopefully, will keep doing) its job. No complains about that.

As always, it took me a while to get my point through. In short, what I wanted to say is that posting this song here in my blog won`t probably help anybody and, most certainly, it won`t get the song well-known among those I know. Still, it will help me finding a topic to write about today and will also be a record of the song and what I found out about it.

The name of the song is "Let Go", and I got to listen to an a-cappella re-make of it by the Jackson Jills. Searching the web, it wasn't difficult to find out that the song was first sung (and written) by the British electronica duet known as Frou Frou. The duet was composed by the singer Imogen Heap and the player/producer Guy Sigsworth (this guy worked with Bjork, among others), who launched only one CD together, Details in 2002.

The song attracted Zach Braff's attention, so much so that he decided to have it in the soundtrack for his movie, Garden State. Eventually, the movie got an award for best soundtrack, which shows us that both the song and Braff`s taste are worth to be taken into a certain account.

Well, I really liked the song, I hope some others might like it too. Tomorroq i`ll talk more about movies...

PS. The name of the duet, "frou frou", comes from the onomatopoeic sound for dancers` skirts moving and touching in French. Cool, huh?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Scarborough Fair

My good intentions of writing something every day no longer last, I guess. This time, too, I have an excuse for that: I was out of town, and I had no internet connection nor computer. I had a TV, though, and I got to see a part of the movie The Graduate. The part I saw was exactly when a song from Simon and Garfunkel was playing: Scarborough Fair. I remember at the end of 2006, when I used to teach at Fundacao Torino, I would listen to this song practically every morning on the bus on my way to the school. Listening to this song again made me go back on time and it felt very good.

I decided to make some research on the song to find out the versions I know (the one I used to listen to was not the Simon & Garfunkel`s one, it was Sarah Brightman`s) and, since the song sounds so medieval, I decided to see if Simon & Garfunkel were the original writers. In my research I found out so many interesting things, I decided to share the results with you (i.e., whoever reads my blog, which has been quite a mystery to me).

So, Scarborough was (and still is) a harbor city in the North-East of England. In the Middle Age, Scarborough used to host one of the most important fairs in Europe: the Scarborough Fair. It was very important because it used to last 45 days (which was not usual in those days), and would offer any kind of goods and attractions to foreigners as well as natives.

The song probably dates back to the Middle Age, when Scarborough Fair was important and well-known. The author of the song, as it often happens, remains unknown, but the ballad soon became pretty popular and was sung all over England by many bards. Of course, everyone would add a personal flavor to the lyrics, so that now we have several versions of the antique ballad. Here are parts of one version I found on the web (click here to see the whole thing):

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there

For once she was a true love of mine

Have her make me a cambric shirt

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Without no seam nor fine needle work
And then she'll be a true love of mine

Have her find me an acre of land
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Between the sea foam and over the sand
And then she'll be a true love of mine


Tell her to reap it with a sickle of leather
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
And gather it all in a bunch of heather
And then she'll be a true love of mine

If she tells me she can't, I'll reply
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Let me know that at least she will try
And then she'll be a true love of mine

Love imposes impossible tasks
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Though not more than any heart asks
And I must know she's a true love of mine

Dear, when thou has finished thy task
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Come to me, my hand for to ask
For thou then art a true love of mine

The song is clearly about love. In short, the man addresses a woman who is, supposedly, in love with him. He asks her all sort of impossible tasks so that she would prove that her love was worthy. Only after completing all these tasks successfully would the woman get to ask her lover`s hand. Of course, this might sound quite strange in an age when women and their love was not even taken in consideration when it came to arrange marriages.

From the lyrics and its repetitions, we can eaily see it is a song that was not written but was probably part of oral tradition. It is interesting to see that one of the lines that repeat in every stanza is "parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme", which brings us back to the title of the ballad (the fair), tells us about the lovers (probably ordinary people) and gives me an opportunity to improve my vocabulary for cooking books. Parsley takes away the bitterness; sage gives flavor and represents wisdom; rosemary "is associated with feminine love, because it's very strong and tough, although it grows slowly" (All about Scarborough Fair); and finally, thyme "symbolizes courage" (idem).

It`s funny, now that I really got to know the lyrics, I see how much this song appeals to me for a couple of reasons. First, the time when I was listening to this song was exactly the time when I was teaching about medieval England literature and the important of the bards and the oral tradition. Second, love does require you to undertake several tasks, some of which seem so impossible to overcome. Sometimes I feel like the lady in the song, sometimes I feel like the matters of love we always demand and are demanded so much. And, from what we can see, it has been like that for a long, long time...

Friday, March 21, 2008

carnival all over again

Well, I shouldn`t really say that it`s Carnival all over again, since i didn`t actually celebrated Carnival this year (and, for as impossible as it might seem, I haven`t really celebrated any Carnival since I was 10, I guess).

Anyway, today is (was?) Purim, a Jewish Holiday. The history of this holiday is very interesting. When the Jews were part of the Persian Empire, Haman, a high minister of Emperor Xerxes, had the very wicked idea of "annihilating" all the Jews. His plans failed, though, when Xerxed decided to marry Esther, who then became Queen Esther, and who happened to be Jewish. With her as a Queen, the Jews wouldn`t have to fear anything from the Persian or from Haman. The holiday is celebrated because the marriage between Xerxes and Esther is considered providential and divine.

Nowadays, Purim is celebrated with a range of "rituals":
  • public recitation of the Book of Esther (keriat ha-megilla),
  • giving mutual gifts of food and drink (mishloach manot),
  • giving charity to the poor (mattanot la-evyonim),
  • a celebratory meal (se'udat Purim),
  • drinking wine,
  • wearing of masks and costumes
As you can see, a lot of the rituals involve food. One of the most popular is a special kind of cookies that look like a three cornered hat: the Hamentaschen. They are really yummy!
The dress-ups are also nice. Girls usually wear Queen Esther dress-ups, but at Natalie and Olivia`s school today I saw a lot of princesses, animals, pirates, spidermen, football fans, etc. It was really fun :)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spring is in the air

Finally, the first day of spring. As Ellie always says: I was ready. Usually I don`t mind winter and its cold...but the short days make life really seem short and useless. Now we have daylight up to 7:30 pm...isn`t it great?

Besides the days eing longer and sunnier, I really don`t see that big difference. Some flowers are coming out, but they still seem very shy and very few. The weather is nice, but still cold, most of the days. Moreover, the wind seems to get stronger and stronger...which, for me, means it`s getting worse and worse. I hate windy messes up my hair :P

Also, being spring, I noticed most of the school institution are closed because of spring break: universities are closed, high-schools, primary schools, kindergardens, pre-schools... I'm not sure why they have this spring break, though...

Well, anyway, with spring we have flowers blooming...and in DC we are going to have the cherry blossom festival soon :) Everybody told me it is just beautiful. I can`t wait to go to DC and see the "sakura" they have there :)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Anthony Minghella

Anthony Minghella was, clearly, an Italian descendant whose family migrated to the United Kingdom in the first half of the 20th century. He was born and raised in the Isle of Wight by parents who held an ice-cream parlor. It was there that he first fell in love with literature, something we could clearly see from his works.

Anthony Minghella was a famous and awarded movie director. If his name doesn`t ring a bell, maybe the titles of some of his works will: The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Cold Mountain, Breaking and Entering. I reckon now you know who I`m talking about, that is, an excellent movie director.

Sadly, we won`t get to see any other of his movies because he died yesterday due to some complications in a cancer surgery. When I read this piece of news on the paper this morning, I really felt very sad. I enjoyed Minghella's work and style very much. He is the kind of director that not everybody likes nowadays; he is slow in the action and more interested in the feelings, in those things that cannot really be shown but that a good camera eye would know how to suggest to the spectator.

I`ve seen all the famous movies that I cited before, and I enjoyed all of them. Most of them were also pretty successful in audience and with the critics. However, his last one, Breaking and Entering was not as enthusiastically received as the other ones. I saw it only last year in Brazil, and I personally loved it. The cast is very nice, featuring Jude Law and Juliette Binoche as main actors; the plot is very interesting since it is about a robbery, but not about the act itself. It starts from the robbery to get into the personal lives of the people that are somehow involved in or related to it. Doing so, he also gives us a grasp of some social problems that affect nowaday London. Have a look at the video to have an idea...

Well, I`m sorry for the tremendous loss that Minghella's death represents. Hopefully, we will still get to see his last piece of work: The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency,” an adaptation of an Alexander McCall Smith novel, which was filmed in Botswana.

A cappella

Today I had a very interesting insight into American culture, as my host-mom said. Ellie, my host mom, studied at Tufts University, MA, and as an alumna (alumni?) she was asked to host an event for her University. The event consisted in hosting a performance of the Tufts female a cappella group. The group is composed by young pretty girls with beautiful voice and very enthusiastic with their group as well as their studies.

I`ve never seen an a cappella performance efore and I have to say these girls were very good. Having an awful voice and being completely out-of-tune, I have to say that anything that has to do with getting a few notes together and making it sound pleasant is for me a real accomplishment. Seeing these girls singing, and providing the musical background, smiling and performing a sort of choreography in front of all those people - and kids - was for me really amazing.

The name of this a cappella group is Jackson Jills, it exists since 1963, but all its memebers are college freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. This meaning they`re all very young, some with a clear idea of what they want to do/be, some others with no clue.

What really impressed me was when they decided to make a brief presentation of themselves, telling us about their origins and purposes in life (mostly,, their academic life). While I was listening to them, I suddenly felt so old. Actually, it has been only a few years that I was a freshman myself, but it feels ages ago. I don`t know exactly what shapes you, if it`s age, work, experience, college, study, reading, I really have no idea. Whatever the answer be, it sure does feel strange.

This female a cappella group also reminded of my brother (and not because of the beautiful young girls) and one of his favorite groups: Rockapella (see video). As far as I know, the Rockapella got started exactly the same way as the Jackson Jills did.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Shamrock Festival

It looks like everybody`s very into Ireland lately, and not only because many of the people I know moved to the green island. In fact now it`s time to celebrate St Patrick`s Day. In spite of not being Irish, and not even Catholic really, I still did my part to celebrate this important Irish holiday.

Yesterday I went to an event at the RFK stadium (the same of my first baseball game) in DC: the Shamrock Festival. For the Brazilians, I would say it`s a sort of Pop Rock. For the Italians, I would compare it to Festivalbar (but bigger).

In general, I had a lot of fun. I got to listen to "Irish rock", which, I found out, I like very much :) Only, I was a little bit too tired. In fact, my day started early on Saturday as I had to wake up at 6:15 am to go to my TOEFL class. As soon as the class ended, I took the metro and went to the festival with my friend from Indonesia, Isia. In the metro, we already started feeling a little misplaced: everybody was wearing green t-shirts, green sweaters, green make-up, green head-bands, antennae, shamrock sunglasses, etc. My friend and I were dressed in regular clothes, instead. When we got to the festival, we bought a green St Patrick`s necklace, so that we wouldn`t feel so misplaced any more. We also hung around a little bit, met some friends, listened to some music. When Ania and Adam came, we also got some beer (just Guinness, sigh :( ) and we took a whole lot of pictures together. After a while, Isia left and we hung around for a little bit more. We listened to some more rock groups, and finally we left.

The way back in the metro was also exciting: green people filled in the wagons of every train, and populated every metro station. By the time I got off the metro, though, I couldn`t see any more green people and the last part of the trip was a little lonely. To cheer me up I bought a Mc Donald`s apple pie :)

Back to St Patrick`s Day, there are a few things I think are interesting:
  • "Shamrock" is an English word, true, but it comes from the Irish and it means "clover"
  • St. Patrick`s Day is actually on March 17th (although people seem to celebrate it only during the weekend)
  • Irish rock is also known as Celtic rock (correct me if I`m wrong). Researching on the internet I found a quite famous band and I loved listening to it. The name of the band is "Wolfstone" and some of their vieos are availale on youtube or on their official website. I wonder whether the Italian rock band "Modena City Ramblers" could also fit in the Celtic Rock category; listen to this

Saturday, March 15, 2008 with it or rely on it?

I know, I`s been 2 days that I haven`t been writing anything on my log. This wouldn`t be a surprise a couple of weeks ago, but I guess now it means I`m not being a very good student since I`m not doing my daily homework. What is even worse, though, is that I`m not exercising my writing and I`m missing chances to gain in fluency. Anyways, I guess I`m pretty good at rambling things on...look at that: one paragraph and I didn`t even get started!! Just for you to know, I didn`t post anything these last days not, as you probably may think, because I was lazy, but because I had problems with the computer and the internet connection. I love this wi-fi you get practically everywhere here in the US, but when it decides it doesn`t want to work, it just doesn`t. For two days I couldn`t even get my e-mails done... Ok, maybe I`m overreacting: it`s not such a big deal not to have internet for a couple of days. Anyway, I can tell it doesn`t feel good either. And this is when I start asking myself: do I live with technology or do I rely on it all the time? I used to think I was quite an independent person: I like technology, but I can definitely live without it! I don`t need a computer, a cell phone, an iPod...but if I have it, I will use it. However, I noticed things are changing now (is it the US influence?). I still think a couple of days with no internet are not a big deal, but what if I didn`t have my cell phone? I know I don`t even use it everyday...but it`s good to know that I have it, and I can use it if I need to. Of course I can walk around just listening to the birds singing and the cars`and trucks`engines rumbling, but isn`t it much nicer to listen to my own music? I know how to wash dishes, but why not stick the dirty dishes in the dishwasher and let it do the hard work? I know I can dry the laundry by lying it flat...but why not save time and stick the wet and clean clothes in the dryer? I know I can heat meals up on the stove or in the oven, but why should I get all these pots and pans dirty if I can just stick the tings into the microwave in a microwave safe dish? Are you thinking the same as I am? Oh, my gosh...I think I`m a technology addict!! Will I ever go back to my normal life? Will I be able to do that? Will I adapt again to a time and space where technology didn`t help me so much? And which one is really worse? Living with or without all of this technology? Is technology really good for us? Or are the hours I spend working on the computer, talking on the cell phone or listening to my mp4 player preventing me to make new friends, talk to people, read a book? Many many people are discussing the subject and how technology changed our lives and our relationships. Having also this in mind, the people from the NY Times promoted a College Essay Contest with the theme: Modern Love. Of course, not only technology is contemplated, but it does play a big role "this age of 24/7 communication". I can`t wait to read the winner`s essay on May 4th. PS. I did try to put more blank essays in my post, as my teacher suggested, but apparently they won`t let me do it...any suggestions?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Visiting Shantytowns

According to Eric Weiner, NY Times journalist, it all started 16 years ago in Brazil (where else?). Marcelo Armstrong was the first to have this idea: taking tourist to visit the slums and the first group of tourists of the slums was brought into the favela da Rocinha, the biggest in Rio de Janeiro. From 1992 until now the business had spread not only in Rio or Brazil, but all over the world. Tourist from richer countries in North America or Europe pay to go and see (or get to know, maybe) how the poorest people in Asia, South America or Africa ty to make a living and survive day by day.
The ethics involved in this sort of tourism is arguable, as Weiner would show us in his article: "Slum Visits: Tourism or Voyeurism?". On the one hand, people that would never get to know this reality, finally have the opportunity to see how they look like and this, hopefully, would make them see their life from a different perspective - and, according to tourists that already had the experience, this really happens. Besides, having tourists and a commercial activity in the shantytowns rings a certain financial aid to the people that live there. They have the opportunity to sell their products and spread their culture. On the other hand, though, how can we sell poverty? How can someone ask for money in order to take a handful of tourists to precarious houses of poor people. And how can tourists take photos of this poor and difficult life as if it was something "exotic"? In fact, they can hardly convince me that the pictures really have a documentary value...these people, after all, spend only a few hours in the slum and then, after a week or so, take the flight that will bring them back to their life in a luxurious Manhattan apartment.
As you can see, I`m not really convinced of the value of this kind of tourism (also called poorism), even though I think it can (or might) have positive results.
Talking about Brazil, there`s a new movie on theaters: City of Men. It is sort of related to City of God, but with a different perspective, more centered on the people rather than the favela itself. Actually, I haven`t seen it yet...I have to find somebody who would like to come with me. The only problem is that I know this kind of movies are shocking for most people. Moreover, non- Brazilians hardly get the tragic situation of violence in the slums, tending instead to criticize the movies for being too violent (and forgetting that the movies want actually to depict the reality).

Monday, March 10, 2008


It`s such a dull day today that I don`t have anything to say, almost. Thus, I decided to talk about movies. The Academy Awards already happened and the good movies already won something. Anyway, even valuing the critics opinions, I still have my own ideas of what is a good or a bad movie. Saturday I got American Gangster at Redbox (one movie, one dollar = great deal) and I liked it a lot in spite of what my mom called "a lot of violence and noise". Of course, being about a gangster, it couldn`t be different. I really enjoyed the main actors` performance and I have to say that there was a point in all the fuss they made when the movie came out. The first Oscar movie I saw was Juno. It`s just a wonderful movie. I really enjoyed it: it`s funny, it`s a snap shot of real life, it`s straightforward, it`s about a deep subject (even if it doesn`t go so deep, as if the director would sort of expect some work from the spectators), the soundtrack is sweet and the main actress, Ellen page, is a very good one. I also watched brothers Coen`s No Country for Old Man, which was chosen as best movie. I must say the movie is very nice, it`s very deep since it deals with the good and evil in each of us. I would say this movie has a certain personality. Now, most of the people in it speak in Texan American English and it was soooo hard to understand. Since I watched it at the movie theater, there were no subtitles :( Even if there were subtitles, though, I believe I would have had a hard time understanding the idioms, expressions and jokes... Oh, yeah, I`ve also seen Atonement. I loved Keira Knightley in the movie (I really like her acting) and I liked the movie, in spite of the feelings it arouses in you. I mean, it wasn`t really pleasant for me to watch the movie, but I reckon this is exactly what the author wanted, so that the movie in the end must be good. The movie is mostly about the mingling of fantasy into reality in a young writer`s head and the effects of this mingling in real life. Also, it' s about growing and coming to see things from different perspectives according to the age. Finally it's about tragedy, suffering and regret. No wonder you don`t feel good while you`re watching it... Ok, that`s it...I guess my really favorite of the four was Juno. I would easily watch it again. Proably I would watch No Country For Old Men again, too, just to get subtitles and understand a little bit more of the movie. I still haven`t seen There Will Be Blood...I`ll let you know when I see it. What about your favorite one?

international dinner

I know, I know...I missed one day! I didn't write yesterday ...sorry about that, but I really did not have time. My teacher says that it is not so hard to find time: in 10-15 minutes we can write a couple of nice paragraphs. I don`t know about that...writing my paragraphs here takes me more than 15 minutes, that`s for sure :P
Ok, anyway, yesterday I didn't have even 15 minutes! I spent most of my time on several buses trying to go from one place to the next...argh! why is everything so far apart here? This is really something I can't get used to.
In spite of not writing anything, though, I had an idea: writing about Women's Day. I don`t know if they have it here at all, but I know in Brazil and Italy it is celebrated and women, besides getting the usual greetings, often get flowers from co-workers, boyfriends, husbands, etc. Here I didn't get anything...:( I have serious reasons, then, to believe there's no such thing as Women's Day here in the US.
So these are the couple of paragraphs I would have written yesterday, if I had time. Now let`s move to today :) The title of this post is already pretty self-explicative...I took part in an international dinner at Naomi`s house. Actually, the international dinner was supposed to be much more international than it really was: some girls gave up at the last minute, so that only Brazil and Australia were represented. Since I decided to take an Italian dish, I would say that also Italy was somehow represented. I originally waned to take Brazilian "paes de queijo", but I gave up because it`s impossible to get "polvilho" in here. My second idea was bringing Italian "melanzane alla parmigiana", but I had to give up because of some problems I had with the melanzane (eggplants/aubergines). Finally I decided to do Emmanuele`s famous "palline di ricotta alle erbe"...the result was not exactly what I had expected, but it worked out pretty well. The problem was the ricotta: in the US it is much softer than the Italian one.
Anyways, now I tried a lot of Australian dishes: meat pie, apricot chicken and the famous Pavlova (see pic)
Of course, everything was delicious...specially the Pavlova (my sweet tooth!) and I found out the Australian girls are really good cooks...unlike me, I guess :P
For next international dinner, I really need to do better...any suggestions?

PS. Australians insist that green and yellow are their national colors...who knows where they got this wrong (:P) idea. I mean, green and yellow are so Brazilian!! :P

Friday, March 07, 2008


When I was a little kid, I was used to having pets wandering all around the house: we had dogs, cats, puppies, kittens...ok, not a lot of variety, but still a lot of pets! When I moved to Belo Horizonte, living in an apartment wasn't exactly the ideal environment for a dog or a cat, and also my mom wasn`t really happy about the idea. I really wanted a cat, but I soon gave up, knowing that I would never win the argument with her. In "my American house" both of my host-parents are very fond of animals and they have two nice kitties: Harley, a big male cat who is the sweetest and calmest cat in the world; and Portia, a slim and gracious female cat with a peculiar character. I happen to get along with both them: Harley is just the nicest cat, so that he gets along with practically everybody; Portia is sort of a difficult cat who chooses accurately (and based on only God knows what parameters) the people whom she is going to be friendly with. I happen to be in her graces and I get along pretty well with her...she meows at me to call my attention, she snuggles with me when she`s lonely, she licks, sniffs and kisses me when I pet her. This morning I realized how much I love these cats...and how smart they are. Yesterday Harley spent the whole evening in my bedroom and I thought he would like to spend the night there, too. When it was time to go to bed, though, I couldn't find him anywhere, so I decided to sleep by myself. This morning, at around 6, Harley started to scratch my bedroom door, I opened it and he came inside. I went back to sleep and I realized he jumped on my bed too. Then he came up to me and, with his paw, started to nudge me: hello, hello, wake up.... Since I was trying to sleep, I didn't do anything. Seeing that I wasn't responding to his nudges, with his paw he started touching my was so funny :) I really had to wake up...ut I`ve never been waken up by a cat before... The funniest thing, though, is that after I got up he lay on my bed, exactly in the same place where I was lying before he made me get up!! He practically stole my place :P

Does it matter what you write?

Strange question to start my post for this week...but writing every day is not easy! eventually, you run out of things to say! That`s why I started reading more....the newspaper doesn't really help much, actually. The Washington Post, in fact is dedicating half of its pages to the campaign - which, I admit, is one of the most important things in the country now. I decided to read some of the NY Times pages and I was reading a pretty interesting essay written by Colson Whitehead, "I write in Brooklyn. Get over it." In the essay the writer talks about his job as a writer seen from a Brooklyn perspective. At the beginning he states that writing in rooklyn is not really much different than writing anywhere else, but little by little he goes into those details that make you see why Brooklyn is somehow different. Writing in different places, then, really does make a sort of a difference. Now, a question tormented me while I was taking the TOEFL preparation course a couple of months ago: Does it matter what your write? According to titles, the timing and the importance with which they rate the contents of you essay, I would say it doesn`t really matter. So, how can the TOEFL be a good way to prove your English skills at university level? ecause in real life we mostly write for a purpose...and what is important is the message we want to convey....or is it the way we convey it? Being a good writer, of course, means conveying an important and deep message in a proper, accurate (however exuberant) way. What aout eing a good TOEFL taker? Is it of any importance at all what is inside of our heads? What we think and believe? No...what matters is the correctness, accuracy, cohesion and coherence of our English. Well, I guess this is what people want to know: regardless of what we want to say, can we at leat say it properly and in a way that it can be understood? Now, I have a question: how can we be motivated to write an essay, if we don`t have anything to say on the subject? Or if we have to write things we don`t really believe?Or if we do not have enough time to put our thoughts together in a way that they will mean something? Is this fair to the students? Do we not deserve to think and plan our essays before start writing them? many many doubts occurr to me when I think of the TOEFL. However, I still want to get good grades on the test...corss your fingers, ok?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


I`m doing good...i`ve posted something every day for four days! wow :) I`m impressed.
Well, today i`m going to talk about another experience I had here in the US: dieting. Of course I`ve been on a diet before, but not the way I did here.
When I lived in Brazil (or even in Italy), when I used to day I was on a diet, that meant that I was trying not to eat foods that were too fattening: I wouldn`t eat chocolate, sweets, fried food, Mc Donald`s, and this sort of things. But I would keep eating other things, such as cheese, vegetables, fruits, yogurts, etc. I`ve never really followed a diet, not a very strict one, at least. Once I remember Alex and I were trying to lose some weight by eating more healthy food and eating more frequently (every three hours) was sort of a diet, but rather than telling you what to eat, they would give a list of things not to eat and some examples of what would constitute a good meal.
Americans' experience with diets seem to e quite different. As I wrote in my last post, I had a month of South Beach diet with my American host mom. The South Beach Diet is pretty popular here and is also known (elsewhere) as the protein diet. This diet though, doesn`t tell you to eat a whole chicken in a weekend, and is particularly attentive to fibers, vitamins and vegetables in general. I have to say that, if you really stick to it, this diet works. In fact, you can eat fats (the ones that are good for you), proteins (turkey, chicken, eggs and cheese, mostly) and salads (any kind with lots of lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, but no carrots). You eat practically no carbs at all!! According to the author of the diet, this first phase (that should last two weeks) is meant to detoxify your body from cars, especially the ad ones that would be responsible for your gaining weight. I have to tell you, when I started the diet, I thought: that shouldn`t be hard! You just have to stick to what the book says (and you have exactly what you have to eat every day for 15 days). The first days are hard as you start feeling weak because you are not eaitng any "energizing" food. Then you really get used to it, and you really stop eating carbs. And, most important, you don`t have any desire of eating them.
When I started the diet, I did good for the first three weeks (phase 1 - the hardest- and a week of phase 2) but then I started opening too many exceptions in the diet and I finally gave up. Now I`m trying just to e more mindful about what and how much I eat. I try to eat only when i`m hungry. I like eating my meal in peace, nobody rushing me. Finally, I try to prefer fruits and vegetables to sweets, cookies and pastas. I think eating healthy is already good :) You don`t need these crazy diets if you just try to be mpre conscious aou the food you consume.

sports and gym

Well, today I`m here to talk a little bit more about what i`m doing in my American every-day life. Since I came here, six months ago (can you believe it?) I`ve been putting on a lot of weight. At the beginning I just complained a little bit, then I started getting pretty upset, then my clothes started to get tight and now I`m finally ready to take things under control.
In order to lose weight, at the beginning of january I went on a diet, the South Beach one, that really worked very well while I was strictly following it. After a couple of weeks, though, I started giving up and my weight came back. That`s when I started to really think seriously about a gym. I looked around and talked to some friends...I found out I could apply for financial aid at the YMCA, and so I did. I got a nice discount, and now there I am, almost every morning, trying to burn some calories. Besides the improvement Imight have in my attle against weight and fat, I also think some exercise will be good for my heath, and specially for my mood. When I go to the gym and run or lift weights I think I am getting rid of the stress i accumulate during the days I spend at home. This makes me feel much more optimistic and happier about my experience in here.
Bottomline: exercise and be happy :)

Monday, March 03, 2008

Ice skating

Ok, for those who know me I know it sounds quite strange. What do I have to do with ice skating? First of all, ice skating is considered a sport. This should be already enough to place me hundreds miles from an ice rink. Also, when we think of ice skating, we think of slim, gracious girls sliding and moving gracefully on that slippery surface.
Well, for as impossible as it might seem, I enrolled in ice skating lessons. And if you are surprised, there`s actually more: i`m doing pretty good.
My first class, at Cabin John Ice Rink, was very nice. The very first thing we did was sitting on the ice and trying to get up (not hard, but of the utmost importance if you are a beginner - this meaning that we are expected to fall down a lot, which was not exactly an encouraging start). Luckily, we all (my classmates and I) did a very good job. Soon we were trying out a borad range of exercises and I saw myself doing things i`ve never dreamt of (going backwards, for instance). Today I had my second class (we only have a thirty-minute class per week) and I started feeling more confident. We had more exercises to learn how to break, move forward and backwards. We also learned how to move counterclockwise in a circle just the way experienced ice skaters do it: putting one foot in front of the other in a way that you sort of cross your legs. Of course, I did pretty poorly if we consider what experienced ice-skaters do. However, I`m pretty happy with my results. Now I need to practice, pratice, practice so that I will master what I learnt.
For those who live in the area (Montgomery County, MD) check out the website of Cabin John ice rink! If you take group classes, you`ll pay 87 dollars for six 30-minute classes, and this includes skate rental ando live in the area (Montgomery County), check ou 6 passes to go to the ice rink for practicing what you learned. I think it`s a good deal :)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Impotence of Proofreading By Taylor Mali

Ah-ha!!! I told you I would be able to stick to my purpose of writing a little bit every day. Well, this is my second day. I hope I`ll keep doing a good job.
Today i want to share something that my teacher, Mr. Mark, presented to me. Actually, it didn`t happen exactly like that: the teacher just gave us the link to his blog, and while I was checking it out, I found out this hilarious video on the importance of proofreading. I had to watch it a couple of times before I really got most of the jokes (reading the written version might help), but I have to say it is really funny.
About this video, there were only two points I wanted to make: firstly, the problem of spelling in a foreign language, and second, the poetry slam.
In terms of spelling, I must say I myself don`t seem to have a lot of troubles. I do make mistakes, of course, specially if we consider that English has a very "peculiar" correspondence between written language and the spoken one. What happens most of the times is that I cannot correctly spell those words that I have never seen written before. Actually, for me to really learn a word, I need to see it written down. If I don`t see it, I can still repeat it but it will soon be forgotten. I believe that this "learning style" of mine in addition to my effort in reading as much English as I can helped me a lot with my spelling. (However, I apologize for my frequent typing mistakes...)
Clicking on the links Mr. Mark suggested in his post, I found out about this "new" kind of artform (as Mali defines it) called poetry slam. It started in the `80s in Chicago and it cannot really be considered as a new genre of poetry. However, all of those poems that you can "get" by reading them once can fit into the definition of poetry slams. Mali, a famous teacher (he taught English, but also Maths and SAT and is fervent defendant of his profession), seems to be one of greatest exponent of this "artform". He, as well as his poet colleagues, once in a while perform in some new yorker bars where everybody could go to see them and have a pleasant and funny evening.
Check out some videos on youtube!

My TOEFL classes

And here I am, still in the United States but once again behind a desk, in front of a blackboard...yeah, you got it!! I started studying again (thank God!). Today I had my first class, with new classmates who are completely different from my previous ones.

But wait, let`s start from the beginning! It`s been ages that I haven`t written one single word about my life here and this post has started at the very least without any context (oh, my gosh!! what did I do with my 5-year linguistics classes?). Let`s start again: I am taking TOEFL classes at LADO for the second time. From October to December 2007 I took classes in this same school, but in the Silver Spring building. Since they seem never to have TOEFL classes at Silver Spring, I decided to come to Washington DC LADO and take my next level here. So far, it seems it`s been a good choice. The class is much bigger (12 students, I think). Most of them are au pairs like me, and they come from all over the world: Russia, Poland, Germany (of course!), France, Peru, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia. For a change, I`m the only representative for Brazil (and Italy, only nobody know it yet). Also, the atmosphere in DC is nicer...I`m really excited!

In this first class, beside meeting the classmates, I met my teacher, Mark Stoneman, who seems very nice. He started the class with a nice talk about the course and our needs, but he grabbed the chance to give us a lot of homework (read this, read the news every day, read that, write a journal, write every day, listen to npr, watch pbs, etc.). This is why I decided to come back to my blog: see if I can leave short posts every day, so that I can get what Mark called "fluency in writing". It shouldn`t be hard since I really enjoy writing, specially in English. Besides, my post will be back to its first and main objective: making me improve my English writing skills.

Of course, not everything is nice about my classes in DC. The main prolem is time: I will have to wake up really really early to get there on time. I hope it`ll work...but this is one of the reasons why i`m so tired i can`t wait to lie down and fall fast asleep. I have pleny of other things to write about, but I think it is enough for today.

C ya tomorrow :)