Monday, November 1, 2010

No Soy Bruja

I don’t speak Spanish. I wish I did. I feel I’m missing out on so much of the world because I, like so many residents of the USA, am fluent only in English. My favorite musicians are the Gipsy Kings who speak something between French and Spanish, close enough. Think of all the music I could enjoy.

I know there’s always been an argument in my country, somewhere on the “love it or leave it” end of the open-minded negotiations spectrum for some folks, that people who live here should speak our language. I beg to differ. There is no such language as USA-ish. Or maybe it exists only in text messages, license plates and advertising. Wsh u cd b here 2.

Oh, sure, there was a moment when our official language was almost German. Ich auch spreche klein Deutch. Or something like that. I like German as a language. Purely from an outsider’s point of view, I like the way they do nouns. Why create a lot of new nouns for new things when you can splice a couple of good well-used nouns together to get the idea across? It’s kind of a green language that way, recycling a couple of words to create a new one. And, back when we used typewriters instead of computers and printers, I thought the liberal use of capital letters, say with nouns for instance, at least assured a more even wear of the typewriter keys. It seems like a balanced and reasonable language.

One of the things I like about Spanish is the written part, especially punctuation. For instance, when we say something in an excited way, we might write it as, “Wow!” We have to wait until the end of the word or sentence to know how loud we say it. It works fine in English if the message is short. Certainly, “Wow” is a whole different feeling from, “Wow!” Or even, “WOW!” And in one of my favorite all-time Marketing flops when the Ruffles people tried that grease-substitute stuff (for those of us who wish we could eat all the crunchy things and still look like a runway model) and called them “Wow,” my husband and I felt a certain different message was actually the true result of the, er, um, sudden dyspepsia caused by the inability to digest this wonder-grease. We called them, “OH, Wow!” So I don’t mean that English isn’t expressive.

But in Spanish, you know up front if you’re excited when you read something. You’ve got an upside down exclamation point at the beginning of the sentence and a regular one at the end. At least you don’t have to back up and repeat yourself more loudly to make it sound right. It’s nice being prepared for excitement. It kind of builds the excitement.

In grade school, a priest visited our third grade class and started to teach us Spanish. It was fun, uno, dos, tres. When I moved to New Mexico, I found that Spanish was even handier to know since about one third of the school spoke it. I took two years of Spanish in junior high from our very scholarly teacher who was from Deep in the Heart of Dixie. Her Spanish was more standard, according to local ears, than her English and I reveled in being able to repeat useless phrases like “Lobo rueda la bola” both with an Atlanta accent and something closer to my classmates’ tongue. It solidified my lifelong love of regional dialects since I had been teased by my New Mexico classmates for my “British” accent from deep in the heart of central Florida.

I learned just enough Spanish for a couple of key moments. One of them was filled with that sense of karma, that feeling that I’d gone to Catholic school as a non-Catholic to learn to count in Spanish from a priest and had been uprooted from my Wild Kingdom in Florida to the dust of New Mexico precisely for this moment.

I was still in junior high and Spanish, whether Atlanta-accented or not, was still fresh in my ears when a very dusty, tired man perhaps my father’s age, perhaps older, cautiously approached me one searing afternoon. He asked me, in Spanish, where Roswell was, basically, how to get there.

One of the benefits of reading too many books and loving study and language and other bookish things was that I tended to drink in the circumstances, the context of a question. I realized this man was taking a terrible risk talking to a young Anglo girl and knew it. He stood sideways to me at least 10 feet away, his head bowed, his eyes pleading. I recognized that he was likely illegal, sorry he was so far from home, beaten down by false promises of economic opportunity. His hands were rough and split from field work. His shoes were dusty and cut. He had no baggage other than that of his soul. I was touched by his plight, his longing, his dread, his fear, his hope, his exhaustion. He was Don Quixote without the horse, the armor, the best friend or the mission in life. He was lost in a lot of ways. I knew just enough Spanish to tell him to take the highway going south, 90 miles, you can’t miss it, not in that part of the world. I hope he got a ride.

I don’t know what help I gave him. I know what it did for me.

Last night was Halloween and one of my favorite treats is giving free tarot readings for folks who walk up with their kids who are trick-or-treating. I do it once a year, dress up in some gypsy-Zigeuner-Gitana getup with thick socks and a good wool wrap and Birkenstocks. This is Northern California, after all. My husband helps me set up my tent, drape the supports with jack-o-lantern lights and hang the elastic sparkly spider web as atmosphere. This year I had a couple of extra treats for the décor. We had gone to a fund-raiser where the clients of the ARC-Solano and residents of a retirement home had joined forces to create giant heads made of papier-mache covered balloons painted and decorated and set on stands. These were auctioned off along with other fund-raising activities and I bought two of them. One was an irrepressible Happy Ghost with a big grin and rubber-glove hands on either side of its ghoulish face, clad in seasonal white gauze, just the thing for the special specter. The other I dubbed The Eye of Zohar in honor of a vintage tarot game recently purchased by Thalassa of BATS fame. Finally, towards the end of the evening, a neighbor brought me his artfully carved pumpkin, all the fun and none of the goo.

The majority of people I read for last night just happened to be Spanish speaking. Luckily, I had translators handy. One of my young neighbors next door assisted with a couple of readings, so I read for Edgar too when we had a break.

I started out my readings with a very hesitant, “No soy bruja.” They smiled and nodded. Edgar smiled and nodded. “Did I say that right?” I asked him. He smiled, “Yes.” Good, I thought. The last thing I want to do, especially on Halloween, was scare people. And then I laughed at the nonsense of that on so many levels. But at least it was a true statement.

The daughter of a family out for the treats translated for another set of readings. I really focused my message in my attempt to make sure in the simplest language possible the point of the readings would be conveyed. It was hard. It was good. It was exhilarating. I finally folded the tent about 9:30 pm.

Edgar’s parents, Miguel and Martha, were sitting on their steps in the night as I carried my candy cauldron up the steps to my front door.

“You should learn Spanish,” Miguel called. “You could get a lot of business.” I thought for a moment about the time it would take to become really conversant, to talk about all the range of events and emotions and hopes and fears that clients talk about in a tarot reading.

“How about I work out a deal for Edgar as translator?” I called back. “He could use the money, too.”

Like the Page of Wands, that’s how inspiration and the communication of a new project can work. Suddenly on a dark night in October, someone brings a candle to roll back the darkness. This just might work out.

Best wishes.

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