Around this time last year, my boyfriend and I were getting on a plane from Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires. We were staying at the house of a schoolmate of ours, whose parents world-traveling diplomats–needless to say, I was more than a little nervous.

Making matters worse, my boyfriend ever-so-gently decided that it was finally time to inform me that I had been holding my fork and knife the wrong way my entire life.

Hiding my face in shame.

As a child, I placed the knife between the rungs of my fork, and I suppose that I had just gone years without being corrected. I’ve always tried to be polite, but I’ve never had a “Finishing School” experience.

Anyway, I’ve been slowly making my way through Debrett’s Etiquette for Girls for a while now to cover any remaining social missteps that may rear their ugly head in the near future, and I can think of a few situations where a nuanced reading of the material would have seriously helped.

(For instance: about a month ago I was a guest at the house of a friend-of-a-friend-of-the-family’s house, where the only appetizer was large cuts of slippery smoked salmon on toasted crackers… delicious. Debrett’s: Never attempt to eat smoked salmon if it requires more than one bite. Heed that advice, or you might end up like me, dropping half of your salmon on your chin before being forced to cram it in your already-full mouth with a half a cracker left over. Not awesome.)

Take this self-aware tidbit about canapés, for instance:

Are canapés a conspiracy invented by resentful caterers? What other possible explanation could there be for something so eternally unmanageable? … Imagine the hilarity back in the kitchens as the hotshots and bigwigs are incapacited by gobstopping vol-au-vents or humiliated as their cherry tomato spurts into the eye of an important associate.

What I love about this book is that it casually makes fun of its uppity content at the same time that is seriously embraces it: the authors truly do appreciate etiquette but they also understand the unapproachability of the subject.

The book covers absolutely everything, from underwear to office romance.

Although… nothing says anything about how to avoid dropping not one but two wine glasses in a night at the party that your boyfriend’s family threw so that you could meet the family. Also, everything is happening in your second language.

Shudder. To be explicit, that was me.

This was the spread at the party, about T-2 hours before doomsday hit. Despite that, an awesome example of Chilean canapés.

Advertisements

Court Robe, late 19th Century, China. via non-westernhistoricalfashion.tumblr.com.

I am so close I can almost taste it. I am enchanted with Mandarin Chinese, Chinese folk history and song, but I still feel as if I know nothing about the country’s pop culture–I still can’t help but think of the damning word foreign when I imagine China.

In explanation: I am spending four months in Beijing, my first travel destination outside of the Americas and Europe… and my first destination where I will not be able to read the signs or barter with locals (not yet, anyway). I will participate in an intensive 3-week language training before I start my 3 class civilization sequence (in English), and I will live on the Renmin University campus with a Chinese roommate.

Rice terraces, Guangxi

To ensure that I get the most out of my experience, I have a list of personal goals to meet:
1. Engage myself with the art of Beijing and its residents.
2. Learn as much Chinese as possible–focus on your bartering tactics!
3. Take pictures every day. Even if it’s just one.
4. Update your blog daily (hi!).
5. Don’t waste time napping–get out there and live!
6. Be the 20-year-old female version of Andrew Zimmern. Eat a bug, a snake, whatever–as long as it’s edible and not poisonous, it’ll be a good story.

and the slightly less sensational:

7. Remember to go to the gym. 3 months without running is physically painful.

These sculptures and stenciled graffiti were created by the artist NeSpoon, who describes her work as “jewelry of the public space.”

In her works, she rejects the classic interpretation of lace and doilies as stuffy, grandmotherly items and attempts to redefine their forms by stenciling them in gritty and/or unexpected locations such as urban streets, Baltic beaches, and public parks.

NeSpoon has succeeded in making once-outdated lace designs urban and contemporary, and in the process has brought new life to dilapidated and dull city streets. To some extent, she has also decreased the gendered associations with lace by engaging the general public with her art, opening lace up to future exploration within art and academia.

Click here for more information (NeSpoon’s personal blog).

Alt. Latino, a podcast on NPR hosted by Argentinian Jasmine Garsd and Mexican-American Felix Contreras, is one of the best podcasts I have ever listened to–it is full of colorful music and voices, providing a developed cultural background for each of the new artists that they cover.

Hosts Garsd, right, and Contreras, left.

Today I listened to the Ana Tijoux interview, an artist which I previously mentioned in my post about Café con Música (the CD that I bought from a local Starbucks). Throughout the course of the podcast, Ana told her life story through music, including a thorough explanation of her issues of national identification which served as an inspiration for many of her songs: the daughter of Chileans exiled from Pinochet’s reign, she was raised in France, where issues of xenophobia and immigration are hot-button topics even today.

Give it a listen–no Spanish necessary!

This is an image from photographer Gerard Castello-Lopes, a “disciple of Henri Cartier-Bresson.” Although you can see the resemblance between Cartier-Bresson’s images and Castello-Lopes’ images, there is obviously a large disconnect in the modernity of their thought and material.

Castello-Lopes took photographs in a war-torn era accompanied by an overall break with uncontested national pride. The result is a beautiful meditation in modern life, heavily influenced by new forms of media (like film).