When the End is in Sight

Mar 10th 2010: Travel

(continuation of Spanglish Matters)

The concept of “sink or swim” is fundamentally flawed. Suitable only for the kindergarten pool session it forces a harsh decision on the delicate shades of gray which make life so much more interesting. Would you like your steak plain raw or thoroughly through? 120-hour work week or unemployed? Binges or abstinence? Black or yellow? In the end we tend to grab for that big straw that allows us to breath and float underneath the surface without being dragged to the bottom.

By spending several hours a day on top of the regular Spanish classes on homework and brute force flash card memorization of the vocabulary of a three year old, I managed to significantly move up in the world. No longer am I the sad owner of the title of the worst student in class by far! but I am now proud to call myself one of the worst students in class. A hard earned honor. Blessed with the rather useless gift of being able to often finish grammar exercises faster than anyone else, faster even than the 15 year old, trilingual wiz kid, I am still left stammering when trying to explain how I spent the previous afternoon – a painful ritual at the beginning of every class. It is especially tragic since, unlike my peers who have spent their afternoons doing exciting touristy things (and are able to convey them), I spend my time the same way every day: first a two hour private class, then an hour commute home in an overly crowded, and I am talking nasty sweaty skin-on-skin crowded, hot and moist subway car. I then relax a little, go out for a longer dinner, the most exciting part of my day, after which I spend the rest of the cozy evening with my new friends, the indirect objects and the reflexive verbs. We really have a grand time together.

At least that’s what last week looked like. With a new set of motivated, overly optimistic people coming in this past Monday morning, I found myself once again closer towards the bottom than I had hoped. The dreadful daily ritual of regurgitating yesterday’s schedule has remained, but to make things worse my new private teacher for this week seems to have given up all hope for me after the first ten minutes of our first class and our dislike for each other is now quite mutual. Every afternoon we just sit and try to make Spanish small talk on topics like the worldwide destruction of the environment, obesity ratios in various countries, and the origin and future of bull fighting. It usually goes like this:

Teacher: “Tell me about the destruction of the earth due to carbon monoxide and other pollutants from cars.”
Me: “It … is … quite … bad.”
Teacher: “Very good. Now tell me about the destruction of the earth due to xwrstdhd from humans.”
Me: “What … is … xwrstdhd?”
Teacher: “It’s the hdhdjs people do when shdjdkfh-ing.”
Me: “Aaah …. hmmm …. It … is … quite … bad … also.”
Teacher: “VERY good.”

Two hours like that go by slowly. Very, very painfully slowly. Now you might ask why I have not changed my teacher (the previous one was very helpful) and I have to admit that, with two days left, my spirit has been broken. I am way too excited about moving to my new apartment next week, about starting to take photos, and about the private Tango classes I have lined up three times per week for the next few weeks – in which I do hope I will fare better than with my Spanish classes. Looking at these exciting prospects in the near future, I simply do not want to deal with the present anymore. I’m tired of being in school all day. And honestly, after the first few weeks here, I am actually getting comfortable with my slightly improved Spanish. Yesterday was I not only able to find my way to the apparently only store in Buenos Aires still selling film and chemicals (although calling it a store is an exaggeration: shady backroom is much more accurate), but I was also able to converse with the old, crazy wild haired owner. Using body language and basic Spanish we happily recognized each other as the last preservers of a dying art and bonded over a discussion of this developer from the U.S. vs. that developer made right here in Argentina. He gave me a number of very useful tricks he used to use in his darkroom days which will make my developing process down here much easier. Assuming I understood them right. But even if not, I don’t mind going back there and getting clarification using ten fingers and my toddler vocabulary. It surely beats talking about the uneventful history of Mexican soap operas (“… not … good.”).

And so, slowly, I withdraw my Spanish sucking straw and let myself sink to the bottom of the pool. Who knew the tile work down here is quite pretty?

Posted in Travel by Ernst Bruening on March 10th, 2010 at 3:19 pm.

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