I had a plan.
Which is weird, since nobody in our household is really capable of plans. But anyway, I had one.
“I’m going to Cuba for a two-week Spanish immersion at the end of April,” I went around telling everybody who would listen. “I’ll do a homestay, of course. That’s the way you really learn a language.”
I knew that, since I had lived with a family twice in my life to learn a language. The first time was in 1972, when I stayed with a family in Le Mans, France, for six weeks. I have never worked so hard in my life. At the end of my stay, I was even dreaming in serviceable French. (I had also been taught by the family’s mother that the Americans didn’t do much in World War II — it was mostly the French who saved the day; this is called cross-cultural exchange.)
Then, in 1993, I went with my husband and two kids to Costa Rica for a month. We stayed with a family there, too, while my husband and I took several hours of Spanish lessons every day. At the end, I could get by in Spanish, but forget about the dreaming part.
But time passes and minds empty out and plus ca change, plus you forget. At the moment, the only language I’m fluent in and dream in is my native tongue. So! Total immersion!
I fooled around on the Internet and halfheartedly filled out a fraction of an application to get a journalist’s visa to Cuba. (Evidently, my being there without a visa might prop up the Castro regime for another half-century.) That’s when I read something about an immersion program in Cuenca, Ecuador.
“I thought you were going to Cuba,” one of my nitpicky friends said.
“I’ve changed my mind,” I said.
“You’ll get a very pure form of Spanish in Ecuador,” another friend, Mary, said.
I took her remark as confirmation of my good choice — even though I wouldn’t know pure Spanish if it beat me over the cabeza.
Anyway, I really enjoyed those three or four days when I was going to Ecuador. But that was before my daughter suggested I go to Colombia, instead.
“It’s beautiful,” she said. “You’re going to love Cartagena. Also, they speak very pure Spanish in Colombia, too.”
“Somebody told me the Spanish in Ecuador is quite good, too,” I said.
“I don’t think it’s as good,” our daughter said. She’d never been to Ecuador, but, believe you me, lack of experience never stops anybody in our family from loudly airing their opinions.
She told me to get in touch with her best friend, Carolina, who lives in Bogota. I did. Carolina was very enthusiastic about my coming to Colombia. She put me in touch with a travel agency. They were quite enthusiastic, too.
By this time, I was getting bombarded by emails from Cuba, Ecuador and Colombia. Everybody kept mentioning my trip. My friend Robin said she wasn’t brave enough to go to Colombia. I was just more adventurous than she was, she said. I am just about as adventurous as your average dish towel, but I nodded anyway and tried to look exciting.
Speaking of exciting, everything started happening at once. First, my sister announced she was getting married. (This is my only sibling, who was originally going to be writing this blog with me. But she’s been too busy to write, what with teaching English in Poland and getting engaged and everything.) The point is, her wedding conflicts with my going to Cuba, Ecuador and/or Colombia, and there’s no way I’m going to miss her wedding, even if it means my Spanish is going to stay at its current miserable level of ineptitude and apologetic smiles.
Then, then, I went to see my dentist and the news wasn’t good. Half my mouth is going to be excavated and replaced and reinvigorated with snazzy porcelain crowns, and it’s going to cost a small fortune. (You probably read this and wonder why we don’t have dental insurance. Well, we do. I’m talking out of pocket.)
So much for plans, so much for my mastery of the Spanish language. I intend to smile a really, really big smile at my sister’s wedding so everybody can see what an expensive mouth I have. I believe the word is boca in Spanish, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
(Copyright 2012 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read my upbeat diatribe on what not to say at my funeral, dammit