Friday, April 25, 2008

"Online Spanish references: the amusing & the accurate"

(Published April 26, 2008 in the Guadalajara Reporter)

“Health became duck with the studies of the River Santiago.” That is the translation of Monday’s headline in Guadalajara newspaper El Publico, and also one more piece of evidence that language is tricky and electronic translators should never be trusted. Specifically, AltaVista’s online application Babel Fish (, notorious for such silly linguistic conversions.

But “Salud se hizo pato con los estudios del rio Santiago,” the original text I translated, is far from silly. It seems that hacerse pato actually means to play dumb, and discovering state health officials are casually circumventing environmental studies promised weeks ago to address serious health risks, I’ll elect a different translator next time I need the facts.

A good online dictionary is indispensable. Babel Fish cannot be completely disqualified – it’s a great form of amusement, to say the least. Its name is taken from a fictional animal in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who can instantly translate any language. The application can convert about a dozen languages, and going from one to another can be like playing the telephone game.

In fact, a popular website called Lost in Translation ( allows the user to translate a piece of text consecutively ten times. “I’m a little teapot, short and stout” becomes “They are a small potentiometer, short circuits and a beer of malzes of the tea.”

The sole advantage of Babel Fish, beyond entertainment, is that it translates large blocks of text and also entire websites, so that a basic, if flawed, understanding is gained by its user.

There are countless free online dictionaries that will translate just about any language from one to the other, and many, like Google Translate, offer the same block text conversions as Babel Fish.

So where do I turn for accuracy? The single most valuable online translator is Word Reference (, which has offered free online bilingual dictionaries since 1999.

Word Reference, once discovered by desperate language students and linguistic junkies, will become a permanent bookmark online. It is an immense glossary, boasting a catalog of 120,000 Spanish words with 250,000 translations.

Type a word into the search box, “decir” for instance, and a long list of definitions pops up along with a speaker icon to click if you’d like to hear it pronounced aloud. Along with every definition (in this case, one noun form and five verb forms) comes an example and its translation. Decir’s third definition implies to opinar, afirmar, proponer: “¿Qué me dices de mi nuevo corte de pelo?” is “what do you think of my new haircut?”

Then the site lists countless idioms and expressions below the definitions. “Ni que decir tiene,” means “needless to say,” and “!No me digas!” is “really!” according to Word Reference.

And at the end of that list is the reason Word Reference rocks: forums. If you search a word and it doesn’t appear, or the use you sought is not addressed in its definition or idiom list, chances are another person had the same problem and requested assistance in the forum from other users.

An entire thread of the responses, including the original user’s question along with opinions from native speakers from around the world, appears when you click on the thread’s title. Under decir, link to these inquiries read “cabe decir,” “’to claim ... decir, mostrar, or afirmar?’” and “al decir.”

In order not to seem too prejudiced (I have found no site more informative and user-friendly than Word Reference), I’ll say that there are so many free dictionaries online these days that it’s probably hard to go wrong. For instance, Reverso ( is a compilation of various technical dictionaries-business, medical, and computer-and will instantly conjugate any verb. If you’ve got Google Translate set up as your homepage for a quick conversion every now and then, by all means, translate away.

Word Reference, however, is the anti-Babel Fish. It insists that you read into a word before going off and using it willy-nilly, that you know its alternate definitions and compound forms, and that you understand hacerse pato is not a cooking technique for poultry.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

An Update

So the gods of travel, economics, and new apartments threw me into a temporary internet exile, which I survived begrudgingly, and which explains my lack of blog posts and communication with the rest of the world not in a ten-block radius of downtown Guadalajara. An update is in order.

I moved on March 5, found a place smack-dab in the historic central district, a good-sized neighborhood away from the stingy gossip of a landlady who attempted to bill me an extra day’s rent (and internet charges) for the couple hours I spent moving out in the early morning of the 5th. In our final stand I insisted her that if she charged me the day I would stay the day, the same another tenant was planning to arrive at noon (whom I’m sure would also be charged). She acquiesced but still billed me laundry dues for the entire month of March, and is holding my deposit hostage until she receives my last note from the telephone company.

My new apartment is on the roof floor of the orangest house I’ve ever seen, above the shop of a mechanic who bangs around all day on water pumps and also welds together fruit juicing machines. At half the price I was paying before I can’t complain, not even for the rustic character-building skills I’ve learned like washing laundry in a paint bucket, grappling and swishing around a broom handle and sawed-off coke bottle device per a borrowed Chiapas technique (according to my roommate).

I share the place with two artists, the owners of the flat, a portrait painter and an abstract collagist respectively. And also with a sour Swiss girl, who loafs around in a constant stream of bitterness directed towards unfaithful ex-boyfriends and her own mismanagement of a home hair dye job; and a German girl, a slight, pretty dancer with a new pink scar that runs across her neck in the shape of a smile, acquired from ongoing cancer treatments. She’ll only stay a month.

My routine of teaching and writing for the Reporter is unchanged, except I’m doing a bit more web-editing now that the new site’s up (New and Improved! Click on the link: I find myself sitting most nights at dusk on the wall overlooking my new street, the only time of day I don’t fear sunburn at five minutes exposure, with a drink in hand and headphones on. Without skyscrapers, which Mexican cities don’t tend to build, I can make out the stars behind the dim brown haze of Guadalajara’s ozone, while tepid evening breezes try to cool off the panting hot pavement.

Facing the small intersection, I can see the caddy-cornered abarrotes shop manned by La Güera, an affectionate, middle-aged natural blonde (thus her nickname) who appears to be on a first name basis with about a quarter of Guadalajara’s population. Discovering I’m from North Carolina she bragged that her 27 year-old daughter once lived two years there at a military base after joining the U.S. army, and now she’s on tour in Italy.

An ugly transvestite works nights against the wall opposite the corner-store (she lives above it), whispering obscenities to male passers-by. I asked my roommates about her and they shrugged it off, adding only that they consider her outfit of particularly poor taste. Since I face her directly from my rooftop perch and am a liable witness to all potential encounters, I’ve begun to wonder if I’m negatively affecting her business and have felt guilty on occasion.

With lack of other personal news, some things of interest have happened lately in this part of the world. First, the U.S. Marine accused of killing a pregnant peer in North Carolina, who fled the country months back, was apprehended last week in Michoacan (a state bordering Jalisco) at a roadblock in the middle of nowhere. He was born in Guadalajara so the FBI tracked him down here—and word is last month he dropped by Zapopan to say hi to a cousin, who had no idea he was a fugitive and reported the meeting a little too late.

Also, the governor of Jalisco has developed a scheme so mightily corrupt you’d think he were trying to out-do his colleagues in other strains of fraud and crookedness. Emilio Gonzalez has found a mere $90 million pesos lying around somewhere in those forgotten stashes of money generally stored in the dark closets of Mexican tax offices, and is putting it to use: he will build the grandest cathedral ever seen in Jalisco—of course, not by donation of tax-payers’ “leftover money” directly to the Catholic church (that would be unconstitutional, you see), but though contracting companies who will then very directly fund the construction. The plan is strongly opposed by most citizens, secularists and faithful alike, but will surely be realized nonetheless. As Stephen Colbert once billed a bit on the Daily Show, “constitution, schmonstitution.”

See recent Reporter contributions below. New posts proximamente.

"Medications on your doorstep"

(Published April 19, 2008 in the Guadalajara Reporter)

The new pharmaceutical company Medicity understands that for a very sick patient, a trip out of bed and to the pharmacy may be an effort. Or for an elderly diabetic patient, that simply locating the correct medications, their combinations and dosages every day is a challenge. As easy as ordering a pizza by delivery, Medicity brings medications right to your doorstep.

Delivery riders use Medicity’s colorful motorbikes to bring medications to customers’ doors within 30 minutes of an order being placed by telephone.

The company’s working concept is explained in three parts: a warehouse stocked with pharmaceuticals, from aspirin to difficult-to-find chronic medications to homeopathic remedies; knowledgeable medical consultants posted at a 24-hour call center; and a flock of motorcycles dispatched from various points in the metropolitan area (Guadalajara, Zapopan, Tlaquepaque and Tonala), arriving promptly at a patient’s doorstep with medication in hand.

To have medications delivered at home, a patient simply dials 8000-8000 (a local, not 1-800, number) and speaks briefly to a sales consultant to explain his needs. Doctors are also available to clarify questions about a prescription and to verify those called in.

A trial of the service proved any doubts I had wrong. After speaking with a representative and soliciting an order, a courier dressed like a fluorescent ghostbuster arrived at my house in under a half hour driving a cute blue-hooded Medicity motocycle. The price of my order was the same as what I pay at a regular pharmacy, though 20 pesos less than normal retail value, according to my invoice. A complimentary pill box was thrown in the bag.

Delivery can also be arranged on Medicity’s website. There is no minimum purchase required, and almost all forms of payment are acceptable, including cash, credit and debit. The service is completely free and phone reps insist no tip is required-it is included in the price.

An agent at the corporate office said that Medicity’s services are unique to Guadalajara, and have been in existence for only a month. Unfortunately, for the time being there are no English-speaking doctors available.

Medicity explains that its services are aimed at various groups of people who may have difficulty purchasing medication at a pharmacy, for whatever reason, including people who cannot drive, patients with an at-home emergency, patients with chronic illnesses who wish to pre-schedule all dosages (Medicity will program deliveries), and those who are simply too sick to leave the house.

"Face-to-face online Spanish tutoring"

(Published April 19, 2008 in the Guadalajara Reporter)

When learning a new language, it’s one thing to laze on the sofa with headphones and a cassette recording, mimicking common and phrases like a parrot. It’s quite another to sit face to face with a native speaker and chat back and forth – and that’s what Hablando Live, an online Spanish school started about a year ago, seeks to offer.

Partnered with Visual Link and a Spanish school in Cuzco, Peru called Wiracocha, Hablando Live uses a method of distance learning to get students talking and interacting from day one.

“It’s very difficult to gain conversation practice through a CD or tape program,” said Chandra Bringhurst, the company’s business development manager based in the Agora Hills, California office. I spoke with Bringhurst via Skype, a free Internet phone connection and chat spot through which Hablando Live’s students communicate (in addition to Google Talk).

Bringhurst explained that the only devices required to access the program are an Internet connection and headset with both receiver and microphone. The student may also use a web-cam to see the teacher. During the live class, a virtual blackboard is present on which the teacher can sketch words or explain ideas.

After the student registers for a class, which costs from 18 to 20 dollars per hour depending on the package, he arranges a time to begin class with a Wiracocha teacher, who will remain with him throughout the course.

The methodology is simple: each class consists of a conversation to practice material learned in the last session, introduction of new vocabulary and grammar, and a Latin American culture topic to wrap up. The program not only emphasizes speaking, but provides an overview of topics unfamiliar to many foreign learners. Subjects may include the Patagonia in Argentina, the Latin American kitchen, and costs of living in Peru.

“Where we’re focusing right now is working with different tour operators, clients who travel and like to pick up another language, or want to learn more when they come back,” said Bringhurst.

Hablando Live is unique in its connection with a school in Peru, which provides its students with consistent native speakers. But the service has many online competitors, including Interlingua, which works with a school in Guatemala and offers roughly the same service at a reasonable price. Both programs beat other methods such as private lessons, which can run up to 40 dollars a pop.

Other popular learning options include Rosetta Stone, which does not offer an online program, but courses for interactive study on the computer. The Berlitz language school uses an “audio-lingual” approach; that is, grammar is secondary to speaking and listening. Berlitz has language centers around the world as well as an online interactive course.

Bringhurst warns that other distance learning programs, while affordable, may not assure consistent communication with a native speaker. And because Hablando Live is based at a Spanish school, a student may call and chat with a teacher for a half an hour.

What all online programs can promise is a sense of confidence from the first day of learning a new language. While not ideal, simply because complete immersion is impossible, the face-to-face distance approach is possibly the best learning opportunity available aside from a private tutor.

"New tequila packs a piquant punch"

(Published [in part] April 19, 2008 in the Guadalajara Reporter)

The Jalisco company Tequila La Cofradia has found a successful and rapidly growing business opportunity in the form of a unique “chili peppered-cured” tequila called Agave Loco, containing the combined flavors of six chilis. The new investment, in partnership with a Chicago wine and spirits distributor, is in step with several other tequileras hoping to boost foreign enterprise in the form of distinctive liquors.

A bottle of Agave Loco is sold exclusively to the United States with a retail price of 20 dollars, according to La Cofradia’s general director Carlos Hernandez.

“The idea came from some Americans that came to Guadalajara and demonstrated their project, and developed it with us,” Hernandez reported to El Mural. The first order of 2,200 cases was exported to the U.S. last month, and will be sold by various retailers in May.

Tom Maas, Agave Loco’s brand owner who has 30 years in the wine and spirits business in connection with Jim Beam, was discussing tequila among friends when the idea came up.

“We were at a private home and the story came up as we were talking about tequila in the old days, how it used to be made. There’s a story that people used to store peppers in tequila.”

Agave Loco’s website cites the “legend” of a man who finds a jar of chilis in his grandmother’s home, pickled in this fashion. The chilis were delicious and so was the leftover tequila, which was found to be smoother than its un-spiced derivation. El Torito, a traditional drink from Guerrero, is a version of this style, consisting of green chili, onion, tomatoes and cheese soaked in mezcal and vinegar.

Agave Loco’s own formula is based on this tequila plus hot chili concept. Pepper-curing, says the company, reduces the “harsh alcohol burn” one experiences with a normal tequila, leaving only the aftertaste of jalapeño and serrano peppers, as well as a little heat.

“It’s sweet, with the spicyness of medium salsa,” says Maas, who adds that the tequila makes a tasty margarita.

Agave Loco will be promoted intensely in liquor showcases throughout the U.S. to establish its position on the market. The spicy drink has been well-received so far thanks to successful marketing strategies, reports Hernandez.

Tequila Patron and Tequila Herradura are also establishing their standing in the U.S. market. Hernandez noted that establishing a new brand can turn around a five- to six-million dollar profit in the first year, but can expect to sell around 100 million dollars of product in the future once the company gains a stronghold. Many American entrepreneurs see already-established tequileras as a reliable business venture and are investing increasingly.

La Cofradia’s business will expand in Russia by 400%, according to Hernandez, where sales have been consistent in past years. Plans are also in order to export tequila to India in bulk, where it will there be bottled and distributed. He explains the measure is used to circumvent protective tariffs imposed on shipping pre-bottled tequila, a practice whisky and beer companies already follow.

Maas says that Agave Loco will soon look for distribution in Mexico. “It’s the only kind of its type, and we really feel it’s going to be tremendous.”

"La Santa Muerte: A Catholic cult celebrates death"

(Published March 29, 2008 in the Guadalajara Reporter)

Cecilia Varela, a follower of the Catholic cult of la Santa Muerte, wore red and black, thick eyeliner, and a small animal claw pendant around her neck. She carried with her a white mantle meant to be draped over the daunting female skeleton guarding a corner of the altar, with scythe, flowers and rosary in hand.

The altar devoted to la Santa Muerte, the personification of death called an "angel of god" and "la Nina Blanca" by her followers, is the first established in Jalisco. It is located on a dusty corner of Juan de la Barrera in Tlaquepaque next to a railroad crossing. Devotee Jose Sam and his "brother," who prefers the title "el General," founded the improvised chapel on August 22, 2007. The Catholic Church refuses to recognize worship of la Santa Muerte as a valid form of Catholicism, as it deviates from the doctrine of holy trinity.

When asked about the Santa Muerte mass, held on the 22nd of every month at the Tlaquepaque altar, Ms. Varela said she wishes people would come to the service instead of asking about it (refering to recent attention in the press), and insisted there are no distinctions between their and a traditional Catholic mass.

"Our lord God is the only god," Varela said. "He is the only one. Our father blesses you, and she [la Santa Muerte] protects you."

Followers of la Santisima treat her with a distinct, personal affection, and believe that, just as humans were brought into this life by God, they will one day be taken by death, thus la Muerte is owed equal respect.

"In the end, who will I remain with? It's better to get close to death now," Varela said.

Varela, for instance, brought the mantle not only out of respect, but to complete her end of a bargain with la Santa Muerte. She had asked la Santa to bring to her the "love of her life," a favor the angel did not fulfill. Varela said she realized she asked for too much, but even so, she promised to look after la Santa's effigy, and now feels at peace.

Members of the Catholic sect have often neared death themselves. Along the dangerous crossing between the United States and Mexico border, vendors sell candles and medallions of la Santisima. And in Mexico City's rougher neighborhoods, la Santa Muerte has gained popularity within marginalized communities -- delinquents, drug-traffickers and prostitutes, among others.

The local temple's co-founder Jose Sam led such a life at one time, and it was "el General" who saved him. They refer to each other as brothers, although by blood they qualify only as good friends.

"He showed me what it was to be a Catholic," Jose Sam reflected. "I took my vows 13 years ago. Before that there wasn't a bigger drug addict than me. I barely had any veins left. I walked around with no shoes and I didn't have any conscience."

Jose Sam and his "brother" now lead a wholly sober life. They made a pact together promising to live by "honor, loyalty, and discipline."

Because la Santisima is so sharply criticized and often believed to be a form of Satanism, the "brothers" refrain from judging others, and consider harmony to be the most important principle they have learned from la Santa Muerte. A prayer air-brushed on the altar's wall reads, "I pray for my friends and my enemies, for world peace…Let harmony and understanding flourish."

Devotion to la Santa Muerte's image is also essential; both men are quick to pull their t-shirts over their heads, revealing tattoos of religious script and the morbid figure herself.

What would surprise most people, said Jose Sam, is that on each day of mass, the little room is so packed that devotees spill out into the street. "A lot of people criticize us, but you wouldn't believe how many people come."

People of all backgrounds attend, he said, including neatly dressed children with their grandmothers -- not the expected image. A priest from Puebla leads the congregation every month, and as a video clip on Varela's cell phone showed, the proceedings appear quite ordinary.

What the "brothers" believe this indicates is that there are many more Santa Muerte followers that practice the alternative religion in closed quarters for fear of condemnation. Since the establishment of the altar, people in their community have been supportive, and there is no fear of the church.

Jose Sam and "el General" welcome anyone curious to attend the mass, which begins at 5 p.m. The Santa Muerte community will celebrate the one-year anniversary of the establishment in August, complete with a bounty of food and a mariachi band.

"Putting worthy literature in the hands of children"

(Published March 22, 2008 in the Guadalajara Reporter)

Petra Ediciones, a small children's book publisher based in Guadalajara, operates out of an office appropriately situated in a neighborhood where all streets are named after literary greats. The company, in existence since 1990, has been recognized internationally for its innovation in a country whose market, as the publisher's director Peggy Espinosa remarked, "doesn't have the custom of buying books for children."

Each book Petra Ediciones publishes, from preschool-aged, cardboard picture books to larger reference books about geometry and famous authors, provokes an experience rarely observed in children's literature. The company collaborates with contemporary Mexican artists to create visual stimulation for its readers, providing early ex
posure to complex concepts.

"We offer images of high quality," Espinosa said. "We think about how we can present books to young readers so that they can have a deeper reading experience, something they can enjoy but also find meaning in."

In one way, it's like pouring chocolate over broccoli, a tasty incentive to dive in and get to the stuff of substance. For example, Petra Ediciones publishes an "art game" called the Photographic Mexican Lottery. Each bingo card in the set contains four-by-four rows of simple, black and white photographs of objects from Mexican culture taken by Jill Hartley, along with a name for the image.

One square, for example, features a long-straw broom leaning against a wall, and is titled "La escoba."
Young children playing the game, more likely drawn to cartoon characters than to black and white photos, can then locate "La escoba" in the game's handbook and read a short verse: "Teque teteque/ Por los rincones/ tu de puntitas/ yo de talones."

On the other hand, Petra Ediciones isn't just hiding deeper concepts under pretty pictures. They are doing what good children's books do best: enhance and exaggerate a story with visuals until the narrative peaks, and in that breathless moment, words disappear altogether and the art speaks for itself.

It's like when Max, the boy protagonist of Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are," proclaims himself king before threats of mutiny. There is that moment where the page turns and the narrative pauses -- and in an act of pure hubris and elation, Max swings joyously from jungle branches along with the Wild Things. The wordless two-page spread is exhilarating, managing to accomplish more within the narrative than any other page in the book.

Such is "Primavera," one of Petra Ediciones' latest publications, illustrated by Manuel Marin. In fact, the book is entirely wordless, a technique the author calls "cinematographic."

It uses color as its narrative catalyst, as whimsically tinted insects that look like glider planes fly over a minimalist white garden of line-drawn geometrical flowers and go about pollinating. Page one shows only the sparse garden, each flower of a different silly shape; on the next page a yellow insect arrives, bleeding yellow color into the flower it visits. The last spread is a full, rainbow-dyed garden, surely waiting to be discovered.

"Image by image, it puts you in a little universe of that art," Espinosa said of the effect.

"I like insects and they agitate me," Marin explained. "They pollinate and they are of great importance for the existence of all kinds of life on the planet. However we rarely think about them. So, I imagined the pollination of the flowers, and I exemplified what the insects do by making them give color to the flowers through their contact. In the end, all the flowers have color thanks to the insects' pollination."

"Primavera" was recently nominated for the IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) Honour List 2008. Every two years IBBY selects books from around the world to be included in a catalogue, considered to be the best representatives of children's literature from each country. Marin will travel to Copenhagen in September of this year for the official presentation of his book.

Petra Ediciones has an impressive history of international accolade. Another book called "Dias Tonaltin," by Greek illustrator Lanna Andreadis, won the Bologna Ragazzi Award in 2006. The book contains 20 monochromatic images painted like thick Japanese calligraphy, each a representation of one day in the Aztec calendar. The images are labeled in both Spanish and nahuatl; crocodile, for instance, reads 'cocodrillo/cipactli.'

In 1997 the Petra Ediciones book "Una Cabeza de Caballo" was selected as one of the best children's books by the pretigious Banco de Libro de Venezuela. It is a fully interactive design experience: the reader follows sculptor Sebastian's monument in Mexico City's Glorieta del Caballito, from its construction to its geometric principles, then can construct his own model from paper cutouts provided with the book.

The objective, said Espinosa, is not that children can construct a perfect sculpture, but that they can experience making it hands-on.

Marin, who is also an art professor at UNAM and teaches children's workshops, says that what most interests him about children is how they can play and imagine freely, even while reading a book.

"They're not directed by anyone. They laugh and point at figures that they're looking at. They play with what they see."

Petra Ediciones has plans to expand to a foreign market, where the books would have a more consistent promotion with large booksellers like Barnes & Nobles. The Mexican market is fickle, and at times a book might sit on the shelf for months before selling. For now, the publisher remains busy looking for artists and authors with new and provocative ideas in children's literature.

"Translation is not always as it seems"

(Published March 22, 2008 in the Guadalajara Reporter)

This week during an English class I helped a student of mine, employed in the safety and health department of a large manufacturing company out of El Salto, translate an accident report from Spanish to English. A lab worker suffered a minor laceration to her palm caused by a broken flask. Although my students at that company would rather be tinkering with lab equipment than pouring over foreign languages, I gave them free range and recommended they follow the original Spanish text faithfully to translate. That is, 'especificacion' is 'specification,' 'laboratory' is 'laboratorio,' 'evaluation' is 'evaluacion,' and so on. And it worked well, at least in that scientific context.

But things are not always as they seem, as Spanish students learn on day one when the teacher explains we do not 'atender' la clase --as we certainly 'attend' class in English-- we 'asistir' it. Then what is it to 'assist' my mother with her housework, we ask. 'Asistir' similarly means 'to help': la asisto a mi mama con los deberes.

The same goes for 'discutir,' which in Spanish only means 'to discuss' if it's in the euphemistic sense your parents used when they wouldn't admit they were arguing. That's why my students gave me a funny look when I suggested we have a discussion about Helen Keller's biography, as if I assumed it should provoke a heated debate. In Spanish, instead, we would 'platicar' or 'conversar,' and leave 'la discusion' to politicians and landladies.

'Pretender' is another deceptive word whose meaning has little to do with what one might think in English: 'pretend,' as in to act in an untruthful way, is more accurately 'fingir' in Spanish. To 'pretender' is to express intention, effort, and or hope toward something planned. Pretendo ser actriz would translate roughly to I'm aiming to (or aspiring to) be an actress.

There are look-a-like words too that don't alter so drastically in meaning as pretender and pretend, more like a small tweak. Take investigar, for example. It means simply 'to investigate,' just as you'd think, only used more commonly as English-speakers use 'look into' and 'find out.' When I first came to Guadalajara and went apartment hunting, I visited a promising one found in an ad; later that day a friend sent me the text "Que investigaste?" Thinking for a moment like a detective, I wondered what it was exactly I had investigated, until I realized she simply wanted to know what I found out about the place.

I also began to wonder why Mexicans so often perceive circumstances as 'desperate.' That is, 'desesperado,' which I overhear in rather unremarkable situations that don't seem to justify such dramatic estimation.

A student once remarked that I was 'desesperada' with him, and my immediate thought was, what have I done? I mean, he's not really getting the present perfect, but I'm not to the point of desperation! 'Desesperar,' like it would seem in English, does mean 'to drive to the point of despair,' but usually it's used to express mere frustration or exasperation.

The grand prize of confusing translation would go to 'decepcionar.' One might assume the noun 'decepcion' would mean what it does in English: deceipt, fraud, falsehood, etc. But in Spanish it means what one might feel after being deceived: 'disappointment.' The verb that actually means 'to deceive' is 'engañar.' So, tu me decepcionaste means you disappointed me, and tu me engañaste means you deceived me. Whew!

And the list goes on. The early days of my Spanish education are gone, when I was apt to twist the pronunciation of an English word, maybe add an 'a' or 'o' to the butt of it, and hoping it would slide (it still does, now and then…). But now, I pretendo ser more careful with my word choice, lest I be engañada.

"IXE opens string of trendy banks"

(Published March 22, 2008 in the Guadalajara Reporter)

The first thought that comes to mind stepping into one of the 12 new IXE banks in Guadalajara is that you've accidentally walked into a Starbucks. And just as your eyes adjust to the warm, designer lamps you notice that there is, in fact, a café to your right…and is that Norah Jones playing overhead?

IXE Grupo Financiero has, since only October of last year, neatly established its attractive, trendy bank branches all over the city. The company plans to open a total of 20 locations, each one appearing to be pulled straight from an Ikea catalog with a striking absence of every hassle a bank trip normally entails.

IXE, a word in nahuatl that essentially means "he who practices what he preaches," has for the last 13 years been one of the front-runners in Mexico's investment sector, providing foreign exchange, asset and wealth management to corporate and private clients. IXE most recently added banking services to that list.

Roberto Manuel Bejar Orozco, director of the Ladron de Guevara branch in Guadalajara, explains that the bank grew out of their investment house (casa de bolsa) in Mexico City. Clients of IXE's services there complained of having to use separate institutions for banking and brokerage.

"It was our clients that asked for the bank services," Orozco explains. "It was very successful in D.F., and now it's growing at a national level."

Many current members of IXE bank services were top clients of other investment firms, as well as former clients of IXE employed bankers who brought them along when they joined the new company. Orozco refers to IXE's clientele as the "premier" sector.

That explains the absence of long, ticker-tape lines-the idea is to maintain few clients, exclusively of professional and corporate backgrounds, in order to provide a high quality experience. The more clients a bank has, says Orozco, the more it will lose. In fact, IXE bank barely advertises; most new clients come by word of mouth.

Unlike most banks that require a minimal sum to start an account, an IXE account opens at a hefty 20,000 pesos. This exclusivity, however, is exactly what a typical bank does not provide even to its premier customers, and is what draws big investors to the new bank. Because investment and banking services are combined, IXE is able to offer lower fees than most brokers.

Pamphlets and signs inside the bank emphasize the bank's personalized services. "Because you deserve it," says one, referring to a rewards program. "We treat every client as if he were the only one, and every client is the most important one."

This sentiment is immediately perceived: customers are genially greeted upon entering and promptly offered a beverage from the coffee bar. Three shiny Macintosh computers are available in the front window for browsing the Internet.
IXE prides itself on small details, such as a toll-free phone line for clients sans robot assistance-a live voice will always answer inquiries. The bank even provides a free document courier service to clients' home or office addresses.

"The main benefit is that at IXE bank you are treated like a person, with unique and high quality service," Orozco says.