Learning and Forgetting Spanish

When I first moved to Spain I taught English privately. Since most of my students were complete beginners I had to translate into Spanish many of the concepts and grammatical rules I was endeavouring to teach.

Now, this was a grand way for me to learn Spanish, especially when I pronounced the words incorrectly. My students would invariably repeat what I had just said, only with the superb, crisp diction that only a native speaker can possess. I hadn't intended to learn Spanish when I was teaching English. It's just the way things worked out.

I had my trusted teeny tiny English/Spanish dictionary snuggled deeply inside a pocket and I'd pull it out any time a student didn't understand an English vocabulary word. I learned an awful lot of new words this way!

Fast forward to when I moved away from Spain to live in the United States. I still wanted to maintain my Spanish. All that work and energy I had expended in order to memorise vocabulary words and those pesky irregular verb conjugations, I did not want to have been in vain.

But, there I was, and here I still am, living in an English speaking country.

I remember years ago being so surprised and annoyed with myself when I couldn't recall the word for 'sleeve'. It's 'manga', by the way. I had to look it up. The only word I remembered for counter top was 'mostrador',  but I did learn 'encimera' after watching a video on Youtube. I don't think I ever had heard of 'encimera' before. Or, maybe it's one of those words that fell by the wayside deep within the convoluted wires of my brain. Now I feel I should be out and about saying 'encimera', 'encimera' to anyone who might care to listen. The word for 'hem' I have a problem remembering. It's 'dobdladillo'. I don't think I've ever said this word, never ever. I've heard it, but not spoken it, so that's a good excuse for not remembering it.

In the United States it's mainly Latin American Spanish that you hear. You should see the looks on people's faces any time I'd use 'vosotros'! They'd gaze at me in amazement and yell, "You speak Spanish like don Quixote!"

Oh dear. Now, after all these years, since I don't know anyone from Spain,  I rarely ever use the 'vosotros' form of the verbs. When I was teaching Spanish I always included it in the lessons, much to the chagrin of my students who pointed out that it's usually Latin American Spanish that is taught in the United States. "Tougho lucko", is what I'd be muttering to myself.

See? I soon learned to speak Spanglish! It's something that you hear a lot in the United States. Here's an example. The word for 'lipstick' is 'lapiz de labios', at least that's what I learned. One day I was teaching Spanish when a Chicano student corrected me. Guess what he said? I still laugh each time I think of it. He said, "Senora, no es lapiz de labios. Es lippysticky." (pronounced, leepysteeky) For a second I thought I had really forgotten the Spanish for lipstick. Lol.

In actual fact, Spanglish is really easy to learn, don't you think?  How about saying 'lonche' for 'lunch'?! And how about using the word 'nice' to describe someone who is, well, in fact nice? La chica es alta, delgada, bonita y muy nice. Really. I rest my case.

In the end, when you're learning a foreign language you have to go with the flow. Communication is what is important, even if you find yourself waving your arms about and making funny faces. And if you find yourself forgetting what you took so long to learn? Don't worry, the verb conjugations will never leave you, certainly not completely. You'll be constantly pleasantly surprised at the words you do remember.

Jumping to Conclusions

During the years that I lived in Spain I think many were the occasions that I jumped to conclusions. Jumping to conclusions, or assuming things, can certainly cause one's life to become both colourful and full of adventure.
When I first moved to the Province of Cadiz, Spain in 1972, at the ripe old age of 23, I assumed that I'd go back home after possibly one year. Although I didn't have a job to go to, I had been assured that something would turn up, especially at the local bilingual school. I guess at the back of my mind I had the vision of possibly spending a school year in Spain, but not longer. Regardless of how long I'd remain in Spain I did assume that at one point I'd go back to Scotland and continue teaching there.
How wrong was I?! I ended up staying for four years in Cadiz. Not only that, I married, had a child and moved to Virginia. I subsequently returned to Spain in 1980 where I lived for yet another 4 years.
I knew very little about the person who had offered to put me up when I first arrived in Spain. A colleague of mine had friends who knew this person. Since my colleague and her friends were all teachers, I simply assumed that the kind person who was willing to let me stay with her for a few days was also a teacher. It didn't occur to me to ask questions. I was actually too excited about moving to Spain to even consider that what I was doing was possibly just plain daft. I did get frowned upon a lot when I gave up my secure position as a Primary School Teacher. People even warned me about Franco, about gypsies, etcetera. Many things crossed my mind as I made my decision to leave Scotland and jazz off to Spain, but I simply didn't consider the possibility that the person with whom I was going to live was a prostitute. Ha ha. Surprise! I had  jumped to the conclusion that she would be a schoolteacher, however, everything did work out well. It was very kind of her to allow me, a complete stranger, to move in with her until I found other accommodation.
When I lived with two teachers from the bilingual school where I managed to get a position, I just assumed that I could leave a container of yogurt on the windowsill in the kitchen. That's what I had done in Scotland and there had never been a problem. Absolutely not. However, no wonder my roommate stared at me in disbelief. I think I appalled her completely. Nobody in their right mind would leave a yogurt on a windowsill in Southern Spain, certainly not when the temperatures are in the 80's. You can well imagine the stench that I caused.
Years later, when I was living in Miami Playa, Tarragona I assumed I had remembered correctly the Spanish word for chickenpox. I had recently looked it up in a huge, heavy dictionary with the tiniest of print. When I told the new neighbors that our son had chickenpox I used the word 'viruela'. They became so upset spluttering how terrible, how awful, then fled inside their house and closed their windows. Oh my! Surely chickenpox wasn't all that bad of a disease? I later discovered my error. Smarty pants me who prided herself in her good Spanish had got mixed up. The word for chickenpox is actually 'varicela'. And just what does 'viruela' mean? It means smallpox!  No wonder the neighbours were so perturbed.
From assuming the fire that was burning way far away over the other the side of the mountains couldn't possibly reach our house to assuming there would be running water after I lathered up in the shower, this jumping to conclusions had me jumping up and down so many times during the years that I lived in Spain.
Here I was living in Pittsburgh, and still jumping to conclusions. It's not right, I know, but, as you can see, there was a pattern already etched out.
I assumed when I went to the local supermarket to purchase bread that it would be an easy task. Not so. You'd think I had learned that there were so many choices of bread after having lived in Virginia. Nope. Somehow, I had forgotten about the vast array of breads that would be eagerly gazing at me. Where to begin? What exactly was Pumpernickel bread anyway?! I picked it up and stared at it, hoping it would talk, tell me what it tasted like. Replaced it. Picked up a different type of bread, squeezed it, just like what you do in Spain, and put it back down too. Oh dear. Just a nice crispy, crunchy bread is all I wanted. A French baguette is what I was looking for, but back in 1984, I didn't see any. In the end, I think it was Wonder bread that I bought, only because it looked like Pan Bimbo, the soft bread that you got in Spain.
I assumed when I enrolled in graduate classes that I would be taught. I really did. I also assumed that I would have to study, work hard, and complete all assignments on time. I was ready to do my part and I naively assumed that the professors would do theirs. Granted, not all the professors were lazy lumps who  thought  by quoting others that somehow this made them appear to be wise and oh so knowledgeable, superior, and God's gift to the University of Pittsburgh. God help those who have the wit to quote themselves, that they may reap the harvest of their ideas. 
Do feel free to quote me on that last sentence! After all, once you get quoted that means you have been ordained into the gathering of Truth and Fiction where surprise and disbelief are sketched into the collective memory.

Musical Notes - Cadiz, 1972

During the week I entered the world of the rich with their antique framed tapestries, oil paintings, cooks and maids. It seemed a stiff, cold  existence, regardless of how perfect everything was. Some of my students were wealthy children who lived in fancy apartments with fancy furniture. Everything was perfect in their lives. They were all handsome and beautiful, and they had  every material item you could wish for, from the tiny leather bound dictionary and the gold chain around their necks, to the expensive clothes purchased in boutiques. They floated about serenely, with not a care in the world. They spoke Spanish with the crisp Castilian accent that revealed their breeding and pride and the fact that they were not your typical Andaluz who was renowned for not finishing the endings of words.   
    At the weekends I’d meet with different people who didn’t seem to be overflowing with riches and who weren’t  dressed up in the latest fashion from some expensive boutique. Most of them were Americans who were easy to get along with and who wore whatever they wanted, including casual clothes. Yes, it was quite common to see even professional people wearing blue jeans.  We marvelled  at how exotic everything was in Spain. How the people were so dramatic, as if they are acting in some tragicomedia. The Americans called the ‘peseta’ a ‘patata’ and didn’t seem to care that it was wrong. Come to think on it, quite possibly they didn’t even know that it was wrong! At least they had good pronunciation of the letter A. It’s not so easy for English-speaking people to pronounce the letter A in Spanish
    In the evenings when you strolled about you sometimes could hear piano music through the open window of some apartment. It could have been a young student practising the scales over and over again. The sound of the piano would stand out above the cacophony of women’s voices speaking loudly, of radios blaring forth long advertisements interspersed with occasional long-winded monologues about something that seemed so important. In reality it was just announcements of upcoming programmes, but everything in Spanish sounded impressive to my ears. 
    Listening to the piano music reminded me of my brother who used to practise the scales, his  tongue doubled over in concentration as he willed his fingers to press the correct keys. He’d stare downwards, his shoulders hunched over making him look like an old man. Music is the international language. It transports all who listen and all who play an instrument to a supreme fertile land where musical notes communicate our thoughts, feelings and desires. Perhaps we should all stop talking and simply listen, play a musical instrument and smile.
   In the early 1970’s you could be out until 4 a.m. and not feel threatened nor be afraid of being mugged.  There was no fear, not even if  you heard footsteps running behind you. You could stroll through the streets following the aroma of fresh-baked bread that piled out on to the street like a welcoming embrace. The closer you got to the ovens the closer you got to the bars which served that thick nectar of hot chocolate. I’d stick my spoon in the hot chocolate to watch it stay upright. People had told me to do this, to prove how thick the hot chocolate was.
    One night, instead of using a spoon, I dipped a finger into the cup of hot of chocolate and licked the delicious nectar, slowly savouring its richness. I looked around to see if anyone had noticed, half expecting someone to stare at me the way people did when I first arrived. I had always been regarded as the extranjera, the foreigner who even had a sunburned nose and who spoke funny Spanish. For the first time it seemed to me nobody so much as glanced in my direction. The clanging noise of the pinball machines ringing out shrilly and the pitch of animated voices sounded like musical notes.  For the first time I felt as if all that I saw and heard around me was normal, that I was no longer some awkward foreigner.

Ever had a fabulous surprise?! Rota, Spain, 1974

   "Surprise!" My husband grinned at me as if he had just received fabulous news and added, "Guess what?" He rubbed his hands together, causing his brand new wedding ring to gleam in the sun rays coming through the kitchen window.

     What could the surprise be?  We had recently returned from the long and arduous trip to Gibraltar where we had got married. You see, since Franco was in the huff the border between Spain and Gibraltar was closed. The only way to get to Gibraltar was to catch the ferry from Algeciras to Tangiers, then turn right round and take another ferry to Gibraltar.  Maybe he had got the photos developed?

    "What's the surprise?" I asked, mouth watering, thinking about a lovely tasty treat of milk chocolate that he had perhaps got me from the Naval Base in Rota where the choices of food seemed endless. There, even the selections of bread were spread out over rows and rows, and many a time I'd stand transfixed trying to figure out which bread to buy. I had been more  accustomed to purchasing only either a barra de pan de un duro (5 pesetas) or Pan Bimbo in the local shops, so limited was the choice.  

     "Come with me." He led me outside to his car, a white Fiat that was normally always dirty unless I gave it a good, thorough bath.   

     "You finally washed the car, is that the surprise?"

He opened the car door and picked up a black furry creature which uttered, "Miaow".

     "I got him free, on the Base."

    I should have added to the list of things you could get at the Naval Base in Rota: poor little kittens who were in need of a home. Some lady was giving away kittens free, and since my husband really liked cats, he couldn't resist.

    "I'll call him Tibby." My husband beamed proudly at me and then the kitten before carefully carrying it inside the house.

    The wee dog I had found inside a box on the pavement was king of our house and perfectly content to be spoiled rotten. He was therefore, not amused one bit when he saw this little furry intruder. He stood up with a startle and started to sniff the cat, then ran around it tapping it with his paw. Growling and moaning he gazed up at me in dismay, as if to say, "Mama, what on earth have you brought into my house?"

    I will say this of my dog, he was a gentleman. He never bit the cat, nor did he bark at him, well not too loudly, at any rate. What he loved to do was chase Tibby all throughout the house. I think the cat quite liked this. He'd run upstairs and then back downstairs, dive underneath the dining room table with the dog lunging behind him. Whenever the dog actually 'caught' Tibby, by placing his paws on him, the game would commence all over again. The cat would turn round and run the other way.  
    This all sounds like some Norman Rockwell painting where domestic bliss had painted rosy cheeks and golden smiles. However, although our cat and dog were indeed fortunate in that they got a good home, outside on the streets, life was not so kind to animals. You'd come across dead cats or dogs who had been run over by irresponsible drivers. I don't think there was any respect for animals back then in the early seventies in Andalucia. I saw drivers go out of their way to swerve towards a dog or a cat. Perhaps they were just trying to frighten them. I don't know why they'd want to do that, though. I used to see teenagers throw stones at stray dogs. Many is the time that I'd speak sharply to them, tell them not to harm the animals.  I'd be met with surprised stares, and for a second they would cease, only to start once again hurting the animals.

    Tibby was an indoor cat whose adventures outside amounted to a fast run around the walled in back yard and a leap back inside the security of our house. We were therefore puzzled one day when we were out for a walk down to the supermarket and found a cat that looked just like Tibby lying dead at the side of the road.


    "He must have got run over by some idiotic driver." My husband's voice was flat as the realisation that Tibby was dead sunk in.

    "He didn't normally go so far from the house. Poor Tibby." I looked around to see if there was some hooligan lurking around on his moped. If there had been I think I might have punched him on the nose.

    "We can't leave him here.  I'll get a towel and carry him home. We can bury him out back."

    It seemed an awfully long walk to our house. I was thinking of Tibby and how much fun he had been, of how he had got on so well with our dog. What a shame he had got run over.

    We entered the house and were greeted with huge licks from our dog. I was about to relate to him the dreadful news about his buddy, Tibby the Cat, when, what did I hear but a loud "miaow". It couldn't be! Yes, there was Tibby curling himself around my legs just like he always did. We had made a mistake believing the dead cat on the road to be ours.

My husband picked him up, hugged him tightly and blurted out, "What a fabulous surprise to see you, Tibby!"

One Giraffe and a Movie, Rota, Spain, 1972 USE FOR EBOOK

You never know how an evening will turn out. You can start off alone watching a movie, then all of a sudden, boom, things change. It happened a lot in Rota. Things simply evolved, right before your very eyes.

If you lived in Rota long enough you soon learned that an evening wasn't complete without a visit to the outdoor movie theater. It was a popular place for teenagers, children, grannies, old aunties, for anyone just wanting something different to do rather than sit on their balcony or patio. It was always hot at night. Even with all the windows opened in your apartment, the heat never really dissipated. You might as well be out and about for it was difficult to sleep what with mosquitoes biting you just when you would be about to doze off, and the blaring of 
"Baby, don't get hooked on me" emanating from nearby bars. The American sailors frequented these bars. You could see them strolling along, tossing their Vantage or Winston cigarette butts onto the dirt road. Some of them could be models for the Malboro Man, wide as their shoulders were.

It's was such a foreign experience meeting military personnel, hearing about people being killed in Vietnam. Since I never drank beer for breakfast, and I wasn't counting the days to when I went it seemed to me that I didn't have much in common with the Americans at all. Well, maybe I did have one thing in common with the Americans. We both liked to discover new places to get cheap wine. In fact, I used to know a place where you could get a litre of wine for 25 pesetas.  I'll drink to that!

Any time I turned up  at the local outdoor theater the place would be teeming with excited teenagers and children all yelling and giggling. The small boys' short trousers were so long that they met their knees, and their shirts looked like girls' blouses. The girls wore these really long dresses that ended around their ankles. Their dainty crocheted socks seemed to cry out "I'm loved!  Everyone loves me!" The adults sat patiently on uncomfortable, wobbly seats, smoking Ducados, chattering loudly all at the same time as they waited for the movie to begin.  Americans didn't generally go to the local outdoor movie theater. They had their own movie theater on the Naval Base where they had the luxury of watching films in English, and where they would eat huge amounts of buttered popcorn, or so I'm told.

It just so happened that the place where I was staying was located adjacent to the outdoor movie theater.  Now, I didn't object at all to paying my entry fee, buying bags of cacahuetes and pipas, and sitting on a hard metal chair. I didn't even mind when people stared at me. They could never figure me out, that's why. I wasn't American, nor Spanish, nor, by the way, in case you're wondering, was I a whore. Not that I mind whores. I just never wanted to ever be considered one.

What I've always liked to do is multi-task. I like to watch a movie and do other things at the same time, something you can't really do if you're sitting in the middle of a crowd of people all staring with big eyes at the large screen. I was fair chuffed when I discovered that if I climbed up on the tiny kitchen counter and carefully positioned a nice comfortable wee stool, and if I sat up as straight as straight can be on the wee stool, lengthened my neck like a giraffe and peeked out the top of the window, I was able to see the movie! Ha ha. "Fiddler on the Roof" was a great movie to watch when multi-tasking.  Topol, who played the main character, was constantly bursting into song and dancing around as if he had something stuck up his rear end. So, when I got fed -up with him I clambered down off the kitchen counter to check the toilet.  Yes, it was important to see how much water was in the cistern. Many times the water just simply stopped running for no reason, so you had to be careful when considering  all things plumbing. If there was actually water, then it was best to avail yourself of the toilet whether you needed to or not.

I usually checked the taps as well. It was always a delight to turn on a tap and see water trickling. It was a constant surprise. I splashed my face and neck, trying to cool down. Whilst Topol was singing "If I were a Rich Man" with all his little hear, a tape of "Everybody Plays the Fool" cheered up the rowdy crowd in the bar across the road and echoed in the hot evening air.

Midst the rabble and cacophony of loud voices singing at the top of their lungs I figured I had time to make myself a bocadillo before Topol's next scene. I always liked doing several things at the same time. Busy hands are happy hands, or something like that. Then I climbed back on the kitchen counter, plonked myself down on the wee stool and peered out the window at "Fiddler on the Roof".  As I steadied myself by placing one foot in the sink, I felt as if I was on the brink of a new adventure. Somehow my crunchy bocadillo de jamón york tasted even better than normal. It was like being on a picnic in some exotic location. Maybe I was a giraffe in a former life? That's why I was so good at stretching my neck to peer out the window at the movie. Gosh, then who knew what awaited behind the next palm tree, or even the next sand dune?!

Bang, bang, bang!

Someone was at the door?  Just when I was all comfy and enjoying myself I had to jump down off the kitchen counter and answered the door. Who could it be?


He had to be an American. Short blond hair, large white teeth and chewing gum, he was certainly not Spanish.

"Do I know you?"  If I did, I didn't remember him.

"Yeah. We met at a party last week-end."

"Okay."  I met loads of people at the party last week-end. Hmm.

"You said you lived next to the outdoor movie theater. And, well, here I am."

"Here you are."  I took another bite of my delicious bocadillo and chewed it rapidly.

"Are you ready?  For the movies? I got a pass for you to go on the Base."

Oops. Now I remembered. His namewas John, or Jim, or James, something like that. And he had talked about how he could get me a pass to go to the movies on the Base. A movie in English! Not bad. I must have sounded really enthusiastic, for here he was, complete with pass. Not only that, his face was so shiny clean, and it looked as if he was wearing a brand new shirt.

"I'll be ready in a tick." I figured I ought to pay a visit to the toilet to check if there was still water. Force of habit. There again, maybe there wasn't a problem with water on the Base. That would be great to use the bathroom whenever, to turn on a tap and have constant running water. I had even heard that there was air conditioning on the Base. I bet you people didn't have to sleep at night with their windows wide open, with mosquitoes zooming around.

"What movie?"

“They’re showing “Fiddler on the Roof”."

I tried not to choke. "Em. I was just watching it when you came. It's almost finished."

"You've seen it then?"

Oh, John, Jim, or James, or whatever you name is...sorry.

He looked disappointed, shuffled his feet and played with the long lapel of his shirt.

"But only in Spanish. It will be lovely to watch it in English." I reassured him.

Constant running water, cisterns that flush, air conditioning, things were looking good. Plus, he did seem a really nice person.

"My name is Shawn, by the way, in case you don’t remember."  He stretched out his hand as if to shake mine.  "We can go bowling after the movie, if you'd like, then get a bite to eat."

"I've never bowled before."

"It's easy. You won't have any problem."  It was his turn to reassure me.

As I said, you never know what's going to happen next, how an evening will turn out. I wonder what else might evolve? Ha ha. Stay tuned!

Ole to the ban on bullfighting

The following is one of several of my articles published at Powder Room Graffiti, an online magazine. This has since been taken over by different people and the name has changed to In the Powder Room.  They seem to have done away with the original articles, unfortunately. The articles were to be short, around 500 words, which was a challenge, as well as a good learning experience.

Ole to Banning Bullfighting

What honor? What choice?
by Sandra Staas (Mon Aug 02, 2010)

The recent ban on bullfighting in Catalonia was based on animal welfare grounds. However, those against the ban state that the reasons are actually political. They believe that the ban on bullfighting is simply a means for Catalonia to show Spain how different it is, and how one day they may actually acquire full independence from Spain.

Catalonia does indeed consider itself separate from the rest of Spain as can be witnessed from the tendency of the people to insist on speaking in Catalan to Spaniards from different regions and even to foreigners. Speak in Spanish to a Catalan and the chances are that he'll reply in his own language. I know because I spent three years in Catalonia.

Regional pride is, well, pride, that‘s all. Retaining one's own regional language or dialect, is understandable, but to insist that others speak this regional language is simply not acceptable. The fact that Catalonia is indeed 'different' from the rest of Spain is undeniable, but to therefore assume that the ban on bullfighting is political, is erroneous.

I remember watching debates on Spanish television when I was living near Madrid. They were heated arguments over whether the bullfight should be banned. One argument that came shining forth, through yelling to the point of hysteria, and arms waving like madmen, was that the bullfight proved that man is superior to beast. Let's assume that this is true. Just how many times do you have to prove that man is superior to beast? Does anyone really need or want to prove this, anyway?

Those against the ban cite the fact that the bulls are bred for bullfighting, that it is an honor for the bull to die in the bullring. Bloody hell. I don't think the bull knows this. Whilst the bull is being stabbed by the picador's lance, whilst the blood is spilling out of him, are we supposed to actually believe that he feels a sense of honor? When the matador fails to kill the bull with one single lunge of the sword, and the bull bellows in pain as its legs crumble to the ground, are we to believe that he's feeling even more honor? When the matador gets gored we're expected to feel compassion for him. But, nobody forced the matador to go into the bullring. It's his choice to do so. The bull, on the other hand, has no choice.

All Dressed up and Nowhere to go -1973, Cadiz, Spain USE FOR EBOOK

I was really lucky for it had  been so easy to get private students in the city of Cadiz.  I had no idea English was such an important language. Word of mouth got  out that a native speaker of English was available to tutor and before you knee it, I was trying to decipher spidery hand writing written by yet someone else who wanted to learn English. The notes were always signed and duly underlined with a flourish.

Everyone seemed to know someone who wanted to learn English. Walk into the corner bar and Julio who would be preparing his famous pinchitos with just the right amount of paprika and garlic would tell  you about someone from down the road whose cousin's best friend's brother really, really wanted to learn English. 

"He wrote his address for you." Julio handed me a transparent, crumpled paper serviette. "There, there’s his signature.”  He pointed to something that looks like an abstract painting.  “You can do the lessons here, if you’d like." Julio grinned. "I can listen in and learn English for free! Ha ha ha!"

"Why do you want to learn English?"

"I could get a good job as a waiter in Torremolinos. Make more money. Make love to the Swedish girls. Ha ha ha!"  Julio was always laughing. He used to even laugh when there was nothing funny.

Businessmen and other professionals had their own ritual of writing their signatures. They would pull out a fountain pen from the inside pocket of their jacket and would write their full name which consisted of four, maybe even six words, with flair and conviction. They underlined this work of art once, sometimes twice with a zigzag design, then beamed at me, as they twirled their black moustache thoughtfully and provocatively.  They lowered their head, and with extreme care and precision gently would blot dry the ink. I was always duly impressed and intrigued by the drama I witnessed.  

One of my students was a sullen person, about my age, who sat with his head down and said nothing of any consequence most of the time. We met at his fancy, expensive flat. Behind him on the wall were dark, ugly paintings with ornate frames. The table we sat at was opulent as were the chairs. Everything was large, formal and cold. I couldn't  smell anything, not even garlic and olive oil, not even cologne, nor chlorine, nor sunflower seeds. The air had no character nor warmth of any kind. There was just a ray of sunshine that pierced the table, almost cutting it in half.

Any time the sullen student opened his mouth he talked about Alice in Wonderland. Occasionally he even asked me out. I didn't bother responding when he invited me out for I got the impression that he was crazy. He loved Alice and even said he could see her. 

When I told  my friends about his invitations to go out with him, they implored me to do so.
"How many times will you ever be invited out by an aristocrat?!"

"You've got to say 'yes' to him!"

I explained that the guy was off his head, that he had conversations with Alice of Alice in Wonderland.

"Who cares?!"

"He'll probably take you somewhere nice."

"You'll meet his friends. Then you can introduce us to them."

In the end, I decided that I'd go out with this distant cousin of the Grimaldis of Monaco, even if he was crazy. Why not? My friends were probably correct. I could have a nice time, and going out with a conde certainly didn't happen to me every day. I reckoned I'd go out with him just the once. No harm in that. 

For the next lesson I decided to wear my brand new fitted pink blouse with pointed lapels and my brand new tight red trousers with huge wide flairs that I could hardly button, let alone zip up. I actually paid full price for both these garments in a local boutique. Normally, I waited for the sales before purchasing clothes, but I really liked the combination of the blouse and trousers. I thought a blouse was more formal than a smock, more ladylike. And, if I was going to be wooed by a hoity toity fellow, I might as well look really nice. I sprayed myself with Shalimar perfume, something I very rarely did. Feeling fashionable and elegant, I was all set to be invited out by the conde boy.

At the next lesson he sat  opposite me with his head down as usual. 

"What did you do yesterday?"  That's always a good question to get people using the preterite.  He was supposed to know English and my job was  just to help him increase his conversational skills.

Out of the blue, he looked up at me and started talking about Alice, about mirrors and how drugs helped him see things that other people didn't. 

"I love Alice. I really love Alice. I love her."  He turned round and gazed at the mirror behind him "Do you see her?  I can."

I listened and I listened, all the while expecting him to get around to asking me out. Instead, he kept talking about Alice in Wonderland and jerking his head to stare at the mirror. I don't think he even noticed my nice clothes nor the fact that I had a seductive aroma emanating from behind my ears. Much as I liked Shalimar, it tended to make me sneeze, so I only used it on special occasions.

Before you knew it our time was up. Well, really.

I couldn't believe it! The very time I was about to say 'yes' to him if he invited me out, he didn't?! What bad luck! And on top of it all, I felt a sneeze coming on.

So much for being wined and dined by a count.

The more I thought on it, I believed it was really for the best. I didn't even like him. And he was so weird.  He was a poor, pathetic, pitiful, portrait of a person. His title, the luxury apartment complete with live-in maids, the rich lifestyle meant nothing.  He was really just another drug addict.  Don't you agree?

'Lo', that Playboy of the Spanish Language - Learning Spanish, Part 5

At times, learning Spanish makes you feel as if you're in some odd planet where 'lo','le', and 'la' make no sense. You mumble the words hoping that nobody really hears them, and you even cover your mouth pretending to cough. It's enough to make you sneeze and scratch your forehead in utter confusion!

Let's check out a little bit of the mysterious world of 'lo'.

¿Tienes el libro?  Sí, lo tengo.   What does the 'lo' refer to? Here 'lo' is being used as a masculine singular direct object pronoun. Do you have the book? Yes, I have it.

Here's another example of 'lo' being used as a masculine singular direct object pronoun. ¿Conoces a Pedro? Sí, lo conozco.  Do you know Pedro? Yes, I know him.

Want to know a funny thing about 'lo' in the above sentence? You can also use 'le'. Le conozco. In actual fact, what I learned way, way back in the seventies was the use of 'le' referring to both the direct and indirect masculine singular object pronoun. That made life a little bit easier. Lol.

I just knew you'd find that intriguing! It's possibly a regional difference. Here's a nice wee link that goes into the concepts of loísmo and leísmo in more depth in case you fancy a trip deep into the wild world of 'le' and 'lo'. http://blogs.transparent.com/spanish/problems-using-la-le-lo-laismo-leismo-loismo/

Here is Mr. 'lo' being used as the neuter direct object pronoun. ¡Yo sé que tú lo sabes!  I know that you know it. No, yo no lo sé. No, I don't know it.

Here's another example.  Nosotros lo comprendemos. We understand it.

Hmm. That sentence could also mean 'we understand him', couldn't it? If you use 'lo' for both him and it, then context becomes very important.

Now, what's going on with this 'lo'? Lo que a mí me interesa hacer hoy es ir de compras.  
He's gone and got himself a buddy. Amigo 'que' has wandered in, and he's not about to leave. How annoying. In English we don't need this 'lo'. Nope. We can say, "What I'm interested in doing today is to go shopping." You just know things are more complicated in Spanish! Think of 'lo que' as meaning 'that which'.

Here's another example of lo que''.  Lo que pasó es que  Ana se despertó muy tarde. What happened is that Ana woke up very late. ( I wonder what else happened? Was she late for work? Did she miss her flight? Pobre Ana.)

'Lo' can have other buddies besides 'que'.  Here he is with 'bueno'.
Lo bueno de estudiar mucho es que sacarás buenas notas.  The good thing about studying a lot is that you'll get good grades.

And here he is with 'malo'
Lo malo de no ahorrar dinero es que no podré comprarme una casa bonita.  Can you guess what 'lo malo' means in English?

As you can see 'lo' is not only the masculine singular direct object pronoun for 'it', 'lo' is also the neuter definite object. But who really cares what he’s called?!

Here is 'lo' sneaking into the land of discussions and beliefs.

Lo de Ana es que siempre se preocupa demasiado. The thing about Ana is she always worries too much.

Lo de las guerras es que nadie en realidad gana. The thing about wars is that in reality nobody wins.

This 'lo' fellow certainly is very fit as he creeps around ready to pounce and surprise you. Here he comes again in different expressions.

Por lo visto              Apparently
Por lo pronto           For now
A lo mejor                 Probably

They simply just use 'lo'. End of that story. Golleee. I'm happy that I don't have to think and wonder too much about the use of 'lo' with these expressions.

Regardless, if you want my opinion, this Mr. lo would be considered a hussy, a complete trollop, if he were a 'la' and not a 'lo'. He just keeps on popping up here, there and everywhere. What a playboy! Is there no loyalty in words? Can't a word just be, just simply mean what it ought to mean? Is there nothing a word will stoop to in order to be used? I rest my case, ladies and gentlemen of the jury.

TAREA (Homework)

Finish the following in complete sentences. Imagination is required!

Lo bueno de vivir en España_____________________________________
Lo malo de no saber cocinar_____________________________________
Lo de Pedro es que ____________________________________________
A lo mejor yo__________________________________________________

Can you guess what ‘sabelotodo’ means?


'Se', the Anti-Hero. Learning Spanish. USE FOR MEMOIR

One day in the autumn of 1980, when I was living in Talavera de la Reina I spent a morning in Madrid. Keen to learn more Spanish, I browsed around a shop selling just about every text book you could think of.  Amongst this array of books, one caught my eye. It was a teeny tiny, skinny minny paperback which looked completely innocuous. However, as I flicked through the pages the contents were enough to make my skinny minny brain puzzled and perplexed.

The only subject of the book was the Spanish word, ‘se’.  Can’t be that bad, can it?  I can hear you mutter. And you’d be correct. He’s just a wee word is this ‘se’.  

But, gollee wollee, he certainly does change the meaning of sentences. He evolves and revolves, slipping and sliding just like any elusive anti-hero we all love to hate.

Let’s look at some uses of ‘se’.
El niño se llama Juan.    (The boy calls himself Juan.  The boy is called Juan.)
Ella se llama Ana.   (She calls herself Ana. She’s called Ana.)
¿Cómo se llama usted? (How do you call yourself? What are you called?)
¿Cómo se llaman ustedes? (How do you call yourselves? What are you called?)
Ellos se llaman Miguel y Juan. (They call themselves Miguel and Juan. They’re called Miguel and Juan.)
Ellas se llaman Marta y Josefina.   (They call themselves Marta and Josefina. They’re called Marta and Josefina.)
As you see from the above sentences ‘se’ can mean himself, herself, yourself, yourselves, themselves.
Here are other examples of sentences using ‘se’:
Ella se baña.  She bathes (herself).
Ellos se levantan a las ocho. They get up at eight o’clock. (They lift or raise themselves)

I’m sure you already have read about reflexive verbs and their reflexive pronouns, so maybe this is a bit too easy, but it’s always good to review things. Let’s look at another use of ‘se’.

The sentences that I love are the ones where you say something along the lines of “I give it to you”. What is the word for ‘it’, and, what is the word for ‘to you’, assuming we are using the formal singular or plural?  This is when you have to really think hard. Or, at least I always used to have to. Hmm. Where to begin?

What does ‘it’ refer to? Let’s assume it’s a book. That’s masculine, singular. ‘Lo’ in Spanish.
Sure would be nice if we just had to say “Doy lo a usted.” Gosh, doesn’t that look weird! It sounds weird too.

The ‘lo’ (it) goes in front of the verb. Most annoying, I know, but you do get used to it.
Lo doy.”  I give it. 

So far so good. But what about the ‘to you’?  Remember, we’ll use the formal ‘you’ here, singular and plural.

Roll of drums….. I wonder what teeny tiny word you need?  

It’s ‘se’!  

Se lo doy.   To you it I give. In other words, I give it to you.  The indirect object pronoun ‘se’ is placed first.

But, wait a minute. That pesky little ‘se’ can also mean ‘to her’, ‘to him’, ‘to them’. He is a pesky little thing, isn’t he?

What are all the possible meanings of “Se lo doy”?

I give it to him. I give it to her. I give it to you (singular and plural, formal). I give it to them.
Oh my!

Let’s clarify things.

Se lo doy a él.  Se lo doy a ella.  Se lo doy a usted.  Se lo doy a ustedes. Se lo doy a ellos/ellas. 

Yep.  Welcome to the exquisite expansion of sentences simply to clarify the meaning brigade.  Not to worry. With a bit of luck the context will let people know what the ‘se’ refers to. That would be good!  

What does this mean?  Se lo doy a Paco.  
(Not going to tell. It’s a secret! Ha ha.)

Have you seen funny things like, “Se habla español”, “Se prohibe fumar” “Se vende casa”? That’s that ‘se’ again just popping up everywhere. Here it can mean “Spanish is spoken”, “Smoking is prohibited”, “House for sale”. It’s the passive voice. Who really cares what it’s called? I know. Life is tough enough without having to get all dramatic over a silly little mannequin called ‘se’.

Here are some other examples of where ‘se’ is used.

Se puede comprar muchas cosas en el supermercado.  You can buy lots of things in the supermarket.
Se conduce muy rápido en España. People drive very fast in Spain.
¿Cómo se dice ‘table’ en español? How do you say ‘table’ in Spanish?

It’s basically the impersonal use. In English one translation is to use ‘one’.  One drives very fast in Spain. Does one? Yes, one does. (Just don’t forget that when you brake, your car doesn’t stop immediately. I don’t think people knew that way back in the seventies and eighties.)

I bet you think that that’s all there is to ‘se’.  Nope. It isn’t.

There’s more. (Yikes!)

Ellos se conocieron en una fiesta.  They met one another at a party.
Ellos se enamoraron. They fell in love with one another.
Ellos se escribieron. They wrote to one another.
Ellos se pelearon. They fought with one another.
Y ahora no se hablan. And now they don’t speak to one another. 

Yes, ‘se’ can also mean “one another”.

This is just some of the numerous meanings for this wee smout of a word.
Se usa muchísimo esta palabra ‘se’ en español, ¿verdad?  This word ‘se’ is used a great deal in Spanish, isn’t it?

So, how do you say ‘se’ in English?!  Well…