Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sopa de Palabras

They call Cuernavaca “the land of the eternal spring” – la tierra de la enterna primavera. They ought to call it the land of the eternal summer, because right now it feels like Chicago in August. Whatever: I am convinced Cuernavaca came up with a fun-in-the-sun slogan to distract people from the fact that the word cuernavaca really means something about a cow – una vaca – which just doesn’t have the same vacationy ring to it.

I arrived here on Saturday in the late afternoon. Chris put me in a taxi and waved goodbye, and I was on my own. I didn’t understand everything the taxi driver and the bus ticket cashier said to me, but somehow I made it on the bus and down to Cuernavaca. When I got here I didn’t see the promised “official” taxi stand at the bus station, but I staved off a moment of panic and decided to take a chance on a taxi driver who seemed to have proper ID and an official-looking car. I don’t know whether he overcharged me or not (looking at the map later, I think he probably did) but I made it to the house of my homestay safely, and at that moment that was all that mattered. Language school task number 1: done.

My homestay “mom” is really nice. She’s an abuelita (grandma), with grandchildren in Arizona. Her house is very comfortable; there is a TV with cable on which we watch coverage of the Juegos Olimpicos (Olympic Games) nightly. The food is very good; there are few greater culinary pleasures than super-fresh tortillas from the tortilleria around the corner. Also, we have café con leche (coffee made with milk) every night with galletas (cookies) or pan de dulce (sweet bread). It’s not quite as good as the nightly helado (ice cream) that is the tradition in my family back home, but it’s a pretty great end to the day anyway.

Today was our second day of the language program, but only our first day of language classes. Yesterday we were taken on a tour of Cuernavaca. I’d been in Cuernavaca on a similar trip about a year and a half ago, but it was good to get my bearings again and see a few new things this time. Chris has been urging me to visit the Palacio de Cortes, which has even more Diego Rivera murals, something I had missed the last time I was here.

We took the tour as one big group – about eight of us, all citizens of the United States and all church workers or seminarians of some kind. It’s been good to have conversation with other Americans, some of whom are from Chicago and root for either the Cubs (yay) or the White Sox (boo). Still, it’s kind of surreal. These days I do check the baseball standings almost every day, but I’ve also been trying to keep track of the Mexican futbol (soccer) league: who plays where, who’s good, who’s not, etc…and none of my new classmates here is plugged into that at all. I also find myself explaining current issues in Mexican politics as we’re watching the political ads on TV… It’s really weird. The happenings of Mexico seem closer than the happenings of America…it only takes a visit from America to realize how much my world has changed in only three weeks.

And as for the language, well… I still wish I had a better command of it RIGHT NOW. But I’ve discovered that I have a slightly better command of it (with lots of mistakes, I’m sure) than my roommate here at my homestay, which means that I end up doing some translating for him with my homestay mom. I’m doing translating for someone else! How crazy is that?! I also know more vocab than the other students in my beginner Spanish class (so far at least), in part from Chris’s help over the years, but also just from living in Mexico and having come across things like salas (rooms) and nieves (snow…like Tepoznieves!). Again, I guess the point is that even though I have a really long way to go, I know more right now than I thought I did.

Finally, it is hard to describe the feeling of discovering a language when you are on that language’s home turf. My homestay mom doesn’t speak English – and nether does my teacher! So when I learn a new word, I have to test it out by using it in a sentence or phrase in Spanish, and then seeing if I get an understanding big smile and nod (it’s always a really BIG smile when my host mom or my teacher understands) or if I get a blank stare. And if I get a blank stare, I try to say it in a different way, with different words, until I get a reaction in the form of a facial expression that says “I understand!” followed by a bunch of other Spanish words in rapid-fire, which just starts the challenge all over again. It’s kind of fun, really. ☺

One step – one word, una palabra – at a time, the adventure continues.

3 comments:

Maureen said...

Matt:
Great pictures and I do believe I'm reading a professional travel log. I have enjoyed your trip so far. Keep learning spanish. It will make your mother happy that you can communicate. I'll keep reading. Your old neighbor, Maureen

Zach Parris said...

Don't learn Spanish so fast. If you learn it before me, I will be left out next time on Spanish Tuesday or Wednesday.(or whatever day of the week that was)

Eduardo said...

By the end of your stay in Mexico you will speak Spanish better than me. Immersing yourself in a different culture is the best way to learn their language. I'm kind of jealous. I'm glad to hear things are going well and I look forward to more postings. Take care and I'll talk to you later.

Your friend,

Eddie