What IS Hand?!! Which Hand NOT Panic?!! (Part Dos)

Welcome to the second installment of 20 Ways I Was Lost & Found in Translation in Medellin.

Here, I recount the events for which I come to learn several choice new catchphrases — some are part of actual Medellin slang, while others are broken bi-linguistic fragments made up on the spot by yours truly:

7. Day 4: “WASHED” Business

My prayers answered. I see a BOOKSTORE. I go inside and ask the man behind the counter for a Medellin street map. He shrugs his shoulders and points to the one, single shelf with anything actually stacked on it. There I find the following:

  • A row of Spanish, Cathy Comic Day Calendars — from the year 2005 (“Muerte a Carbs!”).
  • A few Gabriel Garcia Marquez classics
  • AND what I loosely translate to be a “How-To-Guide” on welding a plane fuselage out of steel pipes.

This is a “washed” business; i.e. a fake storefront used for money laundering.

8. Night 4: “TOASTED”

On this night, I inhaled! We all inhaled. And then, we sat around listening to “Portishead” and tried to put together Camilla’s brand-new jigsaw puzzle — which so happened to be of a giant steam train in outer space. Seriously!! 99% of the pieces were the exact same shade of BLACK.

“Toasted” is Medellin’s word for what I call “Perma-Fried Fred” — the guy in college who took too much acid and now goes around wearing tinfoil hats and talking to the little green men in crosswalk signs.

9. Night 5: “What the FARC is happening to me?”

This was the closest I actually came to being taken hostage in Medellin. Camilla’s art gallery hosted a private film screening of the newest movie by a highly recognized indie-director. Seconds before pressing play, the director told us we’d be watching the 2-hour, “rough cut” version…

… IN Portuguese

WITHOUT subtitles!

Luck be this lady — the man sat directly behind me in perfect eyesight of my every twitch, butt adjustment, and head nod SO that I could feel his wilting ego bore into the back of my brain like a Ceti Eel.

10. Day 5: “HAT TRICK”

As I’m walking through the center of Plaza Botero, a piece of paper drops right below my feet. I bend down to pick it up and see it is a lottery ticket. A man with a bouquet of cane-hats appears suddenly at my side and says something like —

“See! It is your destiny that you should buy one of my hats!”

Looks like the street vendors in Medellin know a little something about ‘SEREN-DUPE-ITY

11. Day 5: “Aguanta Menos Hipsters” translation: “I am in favor of LESS Hipsters”

On a concrete wall papered with the “WISHES” of the Medellin people, I spot this sticker.

Turns out, the desire for LESS irony-loving jackbags is universal!

12. Day 6: “Slit my throat now,” ha, ha.

  • In the states, we say “Shoot me now!” and make a gesture of a hand-gun pointed at our head to indicate boredom.
  • In Medellin, people simply take their index finger to one side of their neck and slowly draw it all the way over to the other side. Somehow, their gesture has a lot more bang for its buck.

13. Day 7: “La policia se guepardos, protegar a la poblacion, que son conejitos.”

One of the officers in Parque de Berrio explains to me:

“La policia se guepardos, protegar a la poblacion, que son conejitos.”

Loosely translated, this means: “The police in Colombia are cheetahs, who guard the people, who are like bunnies.”

I couldn’t help think: In nature, don’t cheetahs tear the heads off of cute little bunnies and disembowel them for dinner? But hey, who am I to mess with their metaphors, especially when I fall into the bunny category.

14. Day 8: “SPE-DRUNKING.”

Me in my bamboo bungalow in the Rio Claro nature preserve.Spelunking + A bottle of Malbec = Spe-Drunking

15. Day 8: “Que es Mano?! Cual Mano, No Panic!” Translation: “What is Hand? Which Hand No Panic?!!

Ah yes, how can I forget? The title’s very origin! So Camilla, Fer and I decide to do the Rio Claro Canopy tour. And — as I’m being fitted for my first-ever zip-lining holster, the guide quickly runs through the necessary safety precautions — in SPANISH!

“En ingles, por favor,” I ask with increasing agitation.

“No problemo,” Fer assures me. “It’s super safe. Just make sure you put the glove on the right hand or else it will surely be severed.”

“Right as in derecho? Or right as in right?!!”  I gulp out seconds before feeling a push onto the cable.

And then, the ear-piercing shrills of “Que es Mano? Cual Mano, No Panic!” decreasing in volume as I slide-and-twirl further and further away on the steel wire 20-feet above a raging river.

16. Day 9: “Hacienda Napoles”

There is no shortage of insane Pablo Escobar stories. The man was, apart from being a ruthless drug lord, a complete whackadoo. Hacienda Napoles was his private, 8-square-mile estate turned Island of Dr. Moreau. He had exotic animals flown in from all over the world to coexist in contrived harmony: Hippopotamus with Bengal tigers with giraffes with goats with, yes — dinosaurs.

On the drive to visit Napoles, Fer hit me with this especially ghastly Escobar story:

When she was just a little girl, Escobar asked his daughter what she wanted for her birthday. She answered: A unicorn. So, without flinching, Escobar ordered his staff to deliver on the girl’s request. Fearing for their life, they had an ivory horn sewn onto the forehead of a horse, which stood upright just long enough to satisfy the girl BEFORE keeling over.

17. Day 9: “What Do I Have To Do To Make You Fall In Love With Me?”

Answer: Take me to Queareparaenamorarte, one of the restaurants featured in the Colombia episode of Anthony Bordain’s “No Reservations.”

On my last day in Medellin, Camilla and I drove up the twisted foothills to Rionegro where this very restaurant is tucked. After a 2-hour lunch, all I can say is:

The food there tastes like what it must feel like to cheat death.

18. Day 9-10: “Cosmo”

The cutest Siamese cat SOUTH of the Equator

19. Day 10: Country Home”

This does NOT indicate a quaint little cottage in the woods where you pound your dirty clothes on washboards and churn your own butter. This is Chez Botero, Camilla’s family’s gorgeous ranch SLASH future personal writer’s retreat:

20. Day 10: “Solamente mi saber mortal”

If, perchance, you really want to see the inside of the Anti-Narcoticos office at the Medellin airport, all you have to do is give the following answer to the customs agent when he asks you if you have any “SHARP” items to declare:

“Solamente mi saber mortal.”

(What I thought meant: “Only my deadly wit.”)

(Really meant: “Only my lethally sharp saber.”)

Turns out, the biggest thing that got lost in translation on my trip was my own sense of humor.



What IS Hand?!! Which Hand NOT Panic?!! (Part Uno)

In the spine-tingling words of Jack Nicholson c/o the SHINING —

“I was gone. But now I’m baaaaack!”

And man alive! When this cat goes away, the mice really know how to play — Little Mousey Computer Solitaire! Turns out, instead of the usual, sordid details of desperate on-line dating dilemmas, the sweeping topic of cyber-convo flooding my inbox upon my return was — well — none other than little ole me. Specifically —

Subject Line: “How the fuck was your trip to Medellin?”

Well my lovelies, I’ll tell you how the F.A.R.C.* it was. (*The first of many puns to come!)

Just hours into my very first day, somewhere on a footpath to the Sky-Cable metro, I stumbled upon this huge question-mark sign.

This, in the world of English Lit majors, is what’s known as “FORESHADOWING.” As it turns out, 2 years of college-level Spanish classes and shower-singing to Jonathan Richman’s “Te Vas a Emocionar” does NOT a bilingual me make. And because Medellin’s tourist industry is still in its rubbing-two-sticks-together stage, the only words I ever saw written in English were of a HOOTERS billboard in El Poblado.

So, it all came down to this. 10 Days and 20 ways I was Lost (and found) in Translation in Medellin:

1. Day 1: The flight over. How is it possible for a low-budget airline to offer a $500 round-trip ticket to South America, nearly half the cost of other carriers — you ask?

Well, as I quickly learned:  It’s because their airplanes are fueled by wheel-running hamsters and burning coal fire.

Also, they don’t have to pay their flight attendants. Instead, they volunteer their services in exchange for daily captive audiences to practice their stand-up comedy routines on. My male stewardess had us all — especially the crash-fearing passengers such as myself — in stitches with this little ditty:

“Here on ___ airlines, nothing is FREE. Not the in-flight snacks, the blankets, or even the bathrooms. Remember those oxygen masks I showed you earlier that are supposed to fall down from the ceiling in case of an emergency. They actually require a credit card. Should we start to nose-dive, and  I look down the aisle and see your face turning blue and puffing up like a blow-fish — that means your credit card was denied.”

Seriously: What’s funnier than a joke about free-falling 20,000 miles out of the sky, all the while gasping for what few and final breaths you actually have left — MOMENTS before take-off?

2. Day 1-10: I say most everything is smaller in Colombia. Camilla’s boyfriend Fernando (Fer) disagrees. “Things aren’t smaller,” he counters. “They’re actual size.”

Not pictured:

  • The traditional Colombian horse, which I secretly call a “PONY.”
  • The traditional Colombian cup of coffee, which I secretly call a “thimble.”

3. Day 1-10: Some things ARE bigger in Colombia:

Not pictured: blue herons, full moons, and the machine guns held by police officers guarding the city in-roads.

4.Day 1-10: In Atlanta, my friends go around addressing each other with such dulcet pet names as “Brotato Chip” and “Babe.”

In Medellin, friends and family alike call each other “Mi Amor.”

5. Day 2: When I first told Camilla’s social circle the name of my blog, one of the women asked, DIRTY Romantic?”  To which I replied,

“What? NOooo… wait… hmmm… Actually…”

(Domain name change pending……..)

6. Day 3: Fieldwork. Brunch with Camilla’s female friends to test existing theory that —

Single, well-educated women in Medellin do not fritter away their free time obsessing over guys like we do; but rather, soak up the hours in dark cafes, smoking clove cigarettes and drinking fire water, immersed in heated discussions over political reformation and radical social revisions.

Conclusion: Single, well-educated women in Medellin fritter away their free time obsessing over guys like we do.


(Note: Mailbag Monday will be rescheduled for the end of the week)