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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Learning Spanish

Well, hello out there. It has been a longer gap than usual between blog posts. Two reasons for that, 1) I lost my camera last Friday or Saturday. (#@&*!!!!). and 2) I have been studying for the Spanish test that my class took yesterday.  
Big deal test, to determine whether you can move up to the next level. Those who fail must return to GO! So, here I am studying (thanks, Adele):

Alas, my efforts were of no avail. I was sent back to GO.

I never was the world’s quickest learner of foreign languages. Back in Madame Brouder's class 5th through 9th grade, I was only saved from being at the very bottom the class by Charles de St. Phalle, who despite his name, never seemed to pick up any French, but spent his time chatting with me (and was distractingly good looking). Well, anyway, I did finally learn French by actually living for one school year with a french family.

I thought I had forgotten most of my French. Happily I find, as I study Spanish, that I actually remember A LOT of it. Sadly, the Spanish do not accept French as a substitute for their language. My teacher definitely did not on the Spanish test.

Oh well, pass or no pass, it has been a good class, and I have enjoyed getting to know the other students.Here is a sampling. I don’t think we have had any two people of the same nationality – except for the two weeks that Matt was with us.

Except for a Korean woman, English has been the shared language that (much to the frustration of the Spanish teachers) the students always revert to out of the classroom. And much of the shared culture is media entertainment from the States.

To make conversation one day, the teacher asked each of us who the most famous contemporary person from their country is. Most of the students had some difficulty coming up with someone everyone knew.

The woman from Scotland, who like many Scots does not fully recognize Scotland to be a part of the UK, rejected people’s suggestions of John Cleese from Monty Python fame, or JK Rowling (wrote some to the first Harry Potter books in Edinburgh, but is English).

So she settled on  Sean Connery, but wanted it known that Alexander Graham Bell is also from Scotland.

The woman from Korea mentioned two people none of us knew and then tried Yu-na Kim, who I and another woman remembered winning the gold in figure skating last year. She was wonderful, so fluid and relaxed.

Roos, from Holland, suggested Cruyff and Bergkamp, two of their most famous soccer player.

The Dutch football team is sort of the Red Sox of Euro Football having come in second more often than any other team without without having ever won the World Cup. Only Robin  new of the soccer players, so Roos tried again with DJ Tiesto,

  Again, only Robin knew him. So she setteled on Van Gough. Not exactly contemporary.

Teresa, from Brazil, then also put forward a soccer player as the most famous person from her country, Pele.

 Even I (thank you, Matt!) knew about Pele, who played during the 60’s and 70’s, and led Brazil to three World Cups, and was a great spokesperson for the poor of Brazil. But he is not so contemporary, so Teresa also suggested a model, Adrianna Lima,
But we did not know her, So she tried another model, who a couple of people knew. Giselle Bundchen who married some guy by the name of Tom Brady. (Okay, I do actually know who he is)
Robin, from Switzerland, nominated DJ Bobo,

 but only Roos knew of him. Guess it is a generational thing. He could not come up with anyone else, so I suggested a couple of people from history, but only Robin knew of  Le Courbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris), a famous architect:

Building by Le Courbusier
and even he did not know of a favorite artist of mine, Jean Tinguely

For Spain, our Spanish teacher, Olga nominated Javier Bardem

Close behind seeing Picasso's Guernica and anything by El Greco and Goya, seeing Spanish men who look like Javier is a perfectly good reason to come to Spain. (Adele disagrees, says he looks like a gorilla)
Even if you have been living in Madrid for just a few days, and you have to have seen the movie, staring Julia Roberts, "Eat, Pray, Love" you will know who he, as posters of the movie are plastered everywhere:

Behind the Statue of King Carlos III of Spain, are Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem in "Eat, Pray, Love"

Olga saved me for last, I suppose because, having done this exercise before, she knew what would happen. I suggested Obama as the most famous American. No one disagreed, but Olga wanted to nominate Michelle, because they love her here for her visit last summer:

Michele and Sasha, being greeted by Spain's King Juan Carlos I
In fact, Everyone wanted to nominate their own favorite American Celebs. This went on for quite a while, but I think the most strongly promoted were (enough with the photos)   Jennifer Anniston, Brad Pitt, Bill Gates, Michael Jackson, Tiger Wood and MC Hammer.

So, there we are. That is it for my language class, at least until I can become more fluent and return to book 2. I just can not return to Go. Meanwhile, I plan to work at a Soup Kitchen where I hope there will not be anyone with better English than my Spanish. It will be a cheaper, and more useful, way to learn the language. But that will be anther blog.

I do hate to offer a story without images! But here, for your amusement, read it if you would like, is one about me and the doorman: 

The language barrier makes for much awkwardness, many difficulties, but also some amusing situations. In the lobby is a very kind and solicitous doorman. He always seems a little sad and a little anxious. I believe he lives behind the door next to the elevator that reads “Servicio” and I have seen a young girl come out of the door occasionally who looks quite like him, of slight build with dark hair and dark, gentle eyes. I think he has told me his name but I have not understood it. It seems awkward after all this time to have to ask his name. He calls me Seniorita, or maybe it is Senora, and I don’t think he wants to call me anything else. So, we mainly smile at each other awkwardly.

One day last week, when I stepped into the lobby, he had a look of delighted anticipation and bowed me over to his small desk where he had a laptop set up. He had typed out a message, I assumed from the landlady. He proudly presented me with the message side by side on the screen with its electronic translation. The original I could not entirely make out, but the translation went something like this:

“Please to inform the Johnsons that I will talk to them over the oven. I hope to have them disposed of forth with.

The key of which they want is to be given for the compartment. But please first I must dispense with my son who is inside of it.”

I laughed till the tears were streaming from my eyes, but the poor doorman only looked perplexed and perhaps a bit wounded by my reaction. Just then a young couple with a baby strapped to the father, came out of the elevator. The doorman looked much relieved as he must have known they spoke English. He ushered them over to the computer and they read the original and the translation. They also broke out laughing, and were able to tell the doorman what the translation was. He then laughed as hard as any of us. It was a lovely moment as I don’t think either of us had seen the other do more than smile anxiously.

(BYW, the orginal letter was something like: Please inform the Johnsons that I will talk to them about the oven. I hope to have it replaced and disposed of soon.

The key to the storage compartment, I will give to them soon. But first we must dispose of what the things that are inside now. )

And that is all I have to say for now.

Hasta Luega! Margot


  1. OMG, the note from the doorman was priceless!

  2. I love the photo of the King kissing Michelle Obama's hand. It reminds me, that even though most European men shake your hand, occasionally, they bend down to kiss it. More than once abroad, I thought the man was going to shake my hand, and I jerked it up and hit his nose!