I’m Going Back to School!

Well, today I did it! I went to the downtown Y, wrote the placement test, and enrolled in a Spanish course. Classes begin a month from tomorrow.

The only thing in French or English on the placement test was the basic instructions: “Don’t guess. Simply stop the test when you find it too hard.” Everything else was in Spanish. The frustrating part was that I understood at least three-quarters of what I was reading, including how context dictated that I had to fill the blank with the past, present or future of the verb given in the infinitive. But the drill on numbers Esposo did with me while I was in Mexico paid off.

The Spanish instructor I met after writing the test immediately determined I wasn’t a neophyte of Spanish — or as someone might say, I’ve long ago popped my cherry as far as Spanish goes. But I explained to her my problem: as soon as someone speaks to me in Spanish, I seize up and my (very limited) vocabularly and ability to conjugate in the present tense simply vanish. She responded by asking me to conjugate the verb ser, which I did correctly after a slow start — my brain must be equipped with extremely limited RAM — pausing at the second person plural.

— Do you teach Spanish as spoken in Spain or in Latin America?” I asked her.
— Oh, Spain!” she said.
— In that case, I don’t remember what goes with ‘vosotros’ because I’ve more recently been re-taught, rather adamantly, to say ‘ustedes son‘.”
— She smiled. “Muy bien, Mauricio. We keep in mind the differences in our courses.”

I also confided how I took a year of Spanish at university more than 20 years ago but, to my chagrin, really didn’t pay as much attention as I should have. “Back then, I never thought I would marry a Mexican.” To which she simply said, again with a smile, “But then, life happened…”

So, she enrolled me in the “doble” Levels 1 & 2 on Monday and Wednesday evenings, which means that if I don’t go mad by the end of October after a period of three hours of Spanish instruction after a full day’s work twice weekly, I could complete Levels 3 & 4 by Christmas. Level 4 is described in the Y’s website as follows.

Again, we begin with a review of [the first three levels]: direct and indirect objects; the verbs ser, estar, haber and tener in the present indicative and present perfect. You finish learning the imperative, and learn new prepositions of place and time as well as adjectives and indefinite pronouns. Vocabulary about health and consulting a medical professional are also studied. Now is the time to tackle the immediate future, preterite and preterite imperfect so you can describe events in the past, present and future. Comparative adjectives are also examined. Your vocabulary grows, enabling you to accurately and effectively express your feelings and emotions.

The claim is that, after Level 1, “you can introduce yourself, talk about someone, describe a city or your home, and ask and answer questions.” After Level 2, “you are able to carry on a conversation in a restaurant, gym or shop, and to talk about geography using vocabulary about the family, sports, animals, time, purchases and vacations, and numbers up to 1,000.” And after Level 3, “your study of the imperative will enable you to give instructions, advice and permission, and to advise against, ask for information and make invitations … and you will be able to organize meetings and talk about your daily activities.”

I’m a little bit nervous about how the Spanish taught is more that of Spain, but there’s a glimmer of hope. She took care to call me Ma-u-ri-si-o, not Ma-u-ri-thi-o like my now-retired Spanish teacher from 20+ years ago. And really, better to take a structured course after which Esposo can clean up than not taking a course at all.

From the Rainy Megapolis

Whenever I would tell people at the day job that I would be spending two-weeks’ vacation in Mexico, they would invariably go on about how lucky I was to go laying on a beach and how I shouldn’t forget the sunscreen. What they didn’t realize is that I would be spending that time in the Mexico City area, which on average is much cooler than what most Canadians think of “typical Mexican weather” due to being so elevated and in the centre of the country. What’s more, summer in the tropics is the rainy season, so unlike my previous trip here last December when I didn’t see a drop of rain, this time there hasn’t been a day yet without rain — and often monsoon-worthy downpours. Apparently it hasn’t always been this cool and wet in July in Mexico City; many believe it’s yet another sign of climate change.

But we haven’t let the weather dampen our spirits. It’s actually difficult for me to list off all the places where we’ve been so far. Perhaps our most remarkable and discombobulating (for me) journey came yesterday as we travelled through the channels at Xochimilco, one of Mexico’s numerous UNESCO World Heritage sites. We had planned to visit another such site today, namely Teotihuacan which is some 40 km northeast of the City, but the weather and the fact Esposo stayed up late surfing the Web last night may bring us to postpone this trip.

Mexico — both the city and the country — is all about culture. Or, should I say for the sake of accuracy, a richness of cultures and history going back to the first millennium CE. While visiting the castillo at Chapultepec Park, which is in the centre of the City and much larger than New York City’s Central Park, a peculiar thought came to me: the history of Canada becoming a nation is pretty tame compared to Mexico’s. To be honest, this observation leaves me with mixed feelings. But, clearly in my mind, it must explain in part why patriotism among Canadians, especially anglophones, is such a comparatively muted sentiment.

And what can I say about Mexican cuisine! I hardly know where to begin, but I can assure you that most commercial “Tex-Mex” attempts in Canada have nothing to do with it. Since I’ve been here, Esposo and I have had consistently good, multi-course meals that would cost about $10 for both of us. But the affordability is secondary to the taste experience and the feeling that this is food for the soul as well as the body. Little wonder that home cuisine is perhaps what Mexicans miss most when they are away from their country.

Finally, totally unrelated: one of the best line I’ve heard all week came from the mouth of Jovana. Few of us would dispute that someone’s accent can make him or her even more sexy. Well, she argues that women are even more sensitive to accents, claiming that “women have a clit in their ear.” Which, of course, brought me to remark that I’ll look at her with a bemused smile if I ever catch her scratching her ear…

I Feel I Should Write

Today’s my first full day without Esposo, a.k.a. El Poema or Fernando. And it feels weird. In other words, what I had come to view as normal seems weird. We were together constantly for just over three weeks, and now he’s not here.

Tornwordo left an interesting remark on my previous post: When he applied for his Canadian permanent residency, he could be in Canada as a visitor and work towards learning French even though he applied from outside Canada, as Esposo and I intend to do. I definitely intend to look into that. (I did a bit tonight, but I’m too tired and I still intend to consult a lawyer to ensure we fill everything out right.) In other words, we don’t want to screw up our application. But if indeed he can come, then we could have more than 3 weeks together by the end of the application, which is all the vacation time I have this year to travel to Mexico. Esposo thought this was wonderful news, although he doesn’t regret being back in the warm weather of his hometown. No one can blame him for that!

Watching our wedding video again last night, I couldn’t help but laugh. Not once did the Justice of the Peace say Esposo’s name correctly. But all the paperwork is right, which is what really matters. Of course, that’s not as funny for Esposo but, as he said, his friends back in Mexico will get a laugh at how the guerro just couldn’t get it right. Except this guerro.

The one comfort I have is knowing that time passes quickly. It was odd to speak to Esposo on Skype tonight. So very odd.

I felt bad for Esposo some of the time because I had to work. That was part of the reason for his trip: to see first-hand what it’s like to be with someone who works from home and has a job requiring quiet while he talks on the phone with people all over North America. But a full day at work for me leaves me feeling pretty tired. The situation helped reinforce how it’s better for him to apply for permanent residence from Mexico, since here he couldn’t work. But, at the same time, it would be different in Montréal: he could enrol in a French course and go out more on his own in a city he knows. Mind you, nothing prevented him for going out on his own here in Halifax …except the cold. He couldn’t really get lost in such a small town, plus he speaks the language. But he chose to stay close. And now he really knows that I “work very hard.” He’s already on a bit of a mission to ensure I take better care of myself.

Just like the true esposo that he is.

It Really Did Happen, Huh?

As I’m writing this, Fernando is probably spending his last hours in Canada for a while at Pearson International in Toronto. Montréal or Toronto to Mexico City isn’t too bad, but add that extra bit from Halifax and it makes for a very long day of travelling. More on the travelling bit, but first…

As promised, here are some photos of our wedding. Fernando and I saw the video for the first time last night and, I must say, I was moved: We really did it! It wasn’t just a figment of our imagination. We really did get married on February 22, 2008.

But although we are now wed and have an apartment in Montréal as of April 1, we are not physically together yet. After much thought and consideration, we decided it would be better if he applied for his Canadian permanent residence from Mexico. If we applied from within Canada, not only might it take as long or longer, but also he wouldn’t be allowed to do much, especially work. Those who have gone through the process from within can vouch that the wait is boring, not to mention that the applicant can feel completely dependent on the sponsor. Meanwhile, Fernando has a lot of stuff to tidy up, so why not use the wait time to do that? According to the federal government website, 80 percent of applications from Mexico City are processed in about 9 months. During that time, however, the applicant cannot come to the country, so it looks like I will be spending 2 or 3 weeks in Mexico in 2008. I can hear the tiny violins playing — poor me, having to spend some time in Mexico! — but hey! Consider that I’d rather have my spouse with me. But we’re being reasonable about it. And one day, heaven knows when, it will be my turn to do the same.

As it turns out, the apartment in Montréal is a 5-minute walk from the Snowdon metro, on Queen Mary at Victoria. The building dates back to the 1930s or ’40s and the 2-bedroom apartment is big and has much character. But although it’s on a busy street, it’s at the back of the building where it’s quiet, so it offers the best of both worlds. Personally I like being next door to a branch of my bank, which will become my mailing transit, a large grocery store nearby and culturally diverse inhabitants populating the neighbourhood. Also, the Snowdon metro is the intersection of the orange and blue lines: orange to go downtown or the Atwater Market, and blue to cross east on the northern flank of Mont Royal towards Marché Jean-Talon.

The move is only four weeks away. Oh my gosh! There’s so much to do before then! And not being close to my spouse, well, really sucks. But it’s only a matter of time and patience now.

It’s -4C in Halifax and 14C in Mexico City. As I told Fernando, he can boasts to his friends back in Mexico that he lived through nearly a month of the worst Canadian winter in at least 15 years. Not bad for someone who had never seen snow until February 9 of this year!