A Very Good Thing

Whenever we step out of the building, other residents always greet people. “Buenas tardes…” In a city so crowded, unlike Toronto where people don’t dare to look in other people’s eyes, here people greet each other. Remarkable. And a very good thing, I say.

Intriguing Procedure

Before leaving for Mexico, I was due for a visit to the dentist for my semi-annual maintenance regimen of teeth cleaning, which usually involves a lot of scaling. But since I haven’t found a dentist yet in Montréal — to be honest, I haven’t looked very hard — I figured I would put that appointment off until my return. When I mentioned this to Esposo, he was shocked to hear that I still got that procedure done and suggested we pay a visit to his dentist friend for a high-pressure water treatment instead. I have to admit I had never heard of this and I was very intrigued, so I agreed to an appointment.

Should be interesting. I’ll know Wednesday if I find this less barbaric approach as effective to what I’m used to. My former dental hygienist in Halifax might not agree, but I’m too curious not to try avoiding that discomfort I’ve come to accept as a necessary evil. It might not be so necessary after all.

Still a Very Long Way to Go, pero

I just finished watching the Swedish version of My Life as a Dog with Spanish subtitles and actually followed fairly well. Esposo, as you can imagine, has been doing a shitload of translation for me since I’ve been here, but figuring I could follow the plot without translation, I urged him not to bother. Granted, the plot of this chestnut of a film is hardly a complicated psychological thriller, but I’m rather pleased with myself to have managed.

A moment like this brings a few thoughts to my mind. First, I am SO looking forward to beginning formal Spanish classes in September, as clearly there is hope for me. Second, a week of attempting to read signs, TV ads, and explications in museums, combined with the lessons Esposo has given me over the months we’ve been together, is paying off, albeit perhaps more slowly than he (and I) would wish.

A part of me is still deathly worried that I will be like my dear mother, who tried and tried and tried for years to learn English but never managed. But now I’m starting to banish that thought. A few notions are gelling, such as:

— Jovana’s American roommate has been living in the City since October and can carry a conversation in Spanish quite well. She claims that she still feels “like an idiot” when speaking Spanish because her knowledge of structure and vocabulary is still pretty basic, which is a burden for someone who earns her living as a writer in her native tongue. But she not only perseveres; she also has a genuine curiosity for “cool words” in the language.

— While visiting Montréal late last month, Hiker made the excellent suggestion that I set aside my obsession with grammar and simply spit out words and rudimentary sentences, even if that means leaving the verb in the infinitive to start. In other words, acquire vocabulary and use it as much as possible.

— I need to suck up my perfectionist ways and realize that it’s far better to feel and sound like an idiot speaking Spanish badly than being (or seeming to be) one of those who doesn’t even want to try to learn the language. Besides, it’s only with practice that it will get better.

— Closely related to that last point, I hate standing out like a sore thumb. I hate having Esposo’s friends who know some English switching to that language just for me. It’s not right. It reminds me too much of how, while growing up in Moncton, a group of francophones would switch to English for the sake of ONE anglophone — no offence intended to my unilingual anglophone friends. Except that, in my mind, forcing this switch on Mexicans in MEXICO is far more egregious.

I know building the confidence to hold simple conversations in Spanish won’t happen overnight, let alone fully following spirited conversations by those for whom Spanish is their mother tongue. But I want it badly. Not just so that I can stop feeling like just another damn gringo in Mexico. But for Esposo especially.

Wish me good luck. Or should I say, buena suerte.

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…