Tag Archives: Foreign Language Studies

Someday Soon I’m Gonna Tell the Moon

While the minutes ticked away as we waited for our driver, I talked to the hotel receptionist in Spanish.

“You liked Medellin?” she inquired, clearly proud of her city.

“Yes,” we loved it,” I replied.  “It’s nice that this hotel is so close to Park Lloras, because everyone knows where it is and that made it easy to get around.”

Actually, I probably said something like, “This hotel it nice close by Park Lloras, because all people are wise about it and it was much easy for to travel around this place.”

She gave me a blank look.

I had done it again—in addition to my crap Spanish, I had called it Park Lloras, which means Crying Park, instead of Park Lleras, its name.

“I meant Park Lleras,” I corrected myself. What a difference one little letter can make.  The evening before, Lynn and I had hailed a cab back to the park to meet Roxana and Ricardo.  I told the driver we were going to Park Lloras.

“To where?” the driver asked.  I repeated the wrong name several times, slower and with clearer enunciation.  How could this guy not know about Park Lloras!  He must have figured out what I meant because he laughed and turned the radio up to drown me out.  It took almost an hour in rush hour traffic, but he dropped us off in the park.  The park, as in a deserted wooded area a few blocks from all the bars.  It had grown dark and was pouring rain, but we got where we needed to go in the end despite my best efforts at speaking Spanish.

About an hour later it suddenly hit me what I had been saying; I told the group and they had a good laugh at my expense and we all started laughing about how there could have been a place called The Crying Park in that old movie The Crying Game.

Responsible Travel kept messaging me to say they were working to find our driver.  By now he was almost an hour late.  I told them we would call a taxi.  Then there was a knock at the front door of the hotel, which was kept locked, and there was a man with a van.

He was young and had braces; his hair was wet and his clothes were damp but impeccable.  The van was deluxe and appeared just-bought.  He wasn’t in any hurry until the receptionist explained the situation to him with much urgency and arm waving.  Apparently he hadn’t been briefed that we were running an hour behind.

And so he drove fast, and texted nonstop.  He had placed his phone on a dashboard holder, but still—we were going 50 or 60 mph on winding roads overlooking steep cliffs. Every few minutes he would jerk the steering wheel to keep us from drifting into the oncoming lane or the cliff edge.  Lynn and I, through a series of silent facial expressions meaning, “We’re going to die!” to “We have to get to the airport!”, agreed to let it pass.

Then he pulled over onto the side of the road.  Was this it?  Was this the real Medellin, still full of criminals and murders?  Was this where he robbed us and buried us in a shallow grave?

Instead, he spoke into his phone, then turned it around to face us in the back seat.  A canned-computer-generated voice translated, “You must pay 60,000 pesos for this ride.”  He beamed at us, proud of his app.

Just think.  On the positive side, you may never make a mistake speaking another language by using a translation app.  On the negative, you’ll never know the exhilaration of trying to master a language.  And you’ll never have the laughs from making mistakes.

I explained, more cautious to get my Spanish correct this time, “We already paid the tour company.”  He was off like a bullet again, this time yammering with the phone to his ear to confirm we had paid, swerving as he drove one handed.

This was the most memorable thing in the airport: screens over the sinks with ads and public health messages.  Ugh. Is there no escape!?

Wrestling with Restless

I started a blog in 2011 and fizzled out after about six weeks.  It was called Wrestling with Restless, and that could still be a perfect theme for me.

I’ve got a great life, from any outside perspective.  I’m healthy.  I have friends and family I’m connected to.  I’ve got an interesting job that pays decently and has good benefits.  My condo is beautiful and my son is out of prison and doing well.  I live in an area where the cost of living is reasonable and you can always find a parking spot.  We’re big on the arts—we’ve got loads of theater companies, symphony orchestras and chamber orchestras and operas, modern and traditional art museums, and sports teams.  Not that I care about sports.

It’s clean here.  It’s green.  We have good tap water.  It’s diverse—not like New York City diverse, but we’ve got the largest populations of Somali and Hmong and Burmese immigrants in the U.S.  There’s an international airport 10 minutes from my house but there’s also a state park with a lake and two rivers 5 minutes from the airport.  We’ve got light rail and bike lanes and farmers markets and microbreweries and farm-to-table restaurants and someone has even proposed opening a mill to make artisanal flour.  We’re one of the most progressive states, politically.   We’re always on those lists like “Top 10 Cities for Working Moms,” “Best Overall Quality of Life,” “Greenest Cities,” “Most LGBT Friendly Cities,” and on and on.

So why would I want to leave?

When I turned 40, in short order my boyfriend dumped me, I was fired from my job, and I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  So I did what anyone would do—I booked myself into a one-week Spanish immersion class in Mexico.

I looked out the plane window as we flew over Mexico City.  I timed it—20 minutes to fly across from one end to the other.  That’s a long time!  I had never traveled to a developing country before, except to Cost Rica the year before with the ex-boyfriend, and we had stayed at a luxury resort.  When the exit doors of the airport slid open, a hundred men started yelling and waving at me.  “It’s a riot!” I thought, but they were only taxi drivers trying to get my business.

I picked the closest one, who took me to the hotel where I would spend one night before taking a bus to my school, in Cuernavaca.  At the desk, the clerk asked me, “Cual es su nombre?” and I answered “Uno,” thinking nombre must mean number, as in how many are in your party.  He somehow got my name out of me, then rattled off the list of things desk clerks tell you, including that something was “el sexto.”  I clutched my belongings about me and hurried off to my room, where it dawned on me he had been saying “sixth floor,” not propositioning me for sex.

That’s right, I spoke only about 10 words of Spanish.  I sat in my tiny concrete room trying to memorize the key phrases I would need to buy a bus ticket and get to Cuernavaca the next day.  There was one very small, square window near the top of the high ceiling, and all night I heard what sounded like a rabid baboon baying.  There was no glass or screen on the window.  Could whatever it was get into my room?  Why hadn’t I brought that mace someone had given me as a parting gift and which I had left at home to show how worry free I was?

As is usual with my series of posts, I will eventually make a point that that connects to my original question.

But until then: I have mentioned a lot of companies on this blog—Bob Barker, My Pillow, Wells Fargo, Ecolab, etc.—always with withering disdain.  I am happy to now highly recommend a company called Amerispan.  I went to Mexico three times and to Spain once to study Spanish with the help of Amerispan.  My niece used them to do the same in Costa Rica.   More about them next time.