Week four begins...Spanish!


Okay.  It's been over a week since my last update and it's long overdue.  In the realm of Spanish language acquisition, things are better.  They'd better be, right!  I hit a pretty rough patch in the first half of last week.  I likened my journey with Spanish to being in an old building.  I'm in a room and I see that on a spot on the wall where the paint is chipped, there is something painted, like a little town scene.  I chip away a little more paint with my fingernail and reveal a square inch or so.  I'm amazed by how much detail there is in this little inch of the painting.  I study it.  Then I chip away a little more and reveal streets and shops and people.  It's at this point that I realize that underneath the old paint, this detailed painting stretches out to cover all four walls, and the ceiling, and under the carpet and into all the other rooms and floors of the building.  See what I mean?  It's an age-old truth: The more you know, the more you realize what you don't know.


San Sebastian Festival


It's Saturday and day three of the San Sebastian festival in Old San Juan.  I went Thursday and Friday and had a fantastic time.  My music woes are waning as I discover these cultural pockets of celebration.  On Thursday we watched the parades of people and Plena bands make their way through OSJ.  Plena is a local Puerto Rican style involving primarily panderos - circular frame drums similar to tambourines, but with no jingles.  They appear to range in size from about 10-20".  Also present are guiros, which most of us would recognize.  It is a longish gourd with many parallel ridges cut into it so when scraped it makes a quick rhythmic whir.  The guiros salsa musicians use most are larger and plastic and are scraped with a plastic stick.  These are real gourds and scraped with a hair pick.  Plena moves very fast and the guiros are whirring like crazy.  The panderos of different sizes appear to be playing different counter rhythms that work together.  This is consistent with hand-drumming all over the east coast of the Americas and the Caribbean influenced by so many African cultures.


Week two...


This could not have been a more magical day.  My language lesson went really well.  I was concerned that I'm taking too much time to say things because I want to get the grammar right, but by the end of the three hour session, I was moving more quickly without trying, and compare what I'm doing right now to what I was doing one week ago today (my first day), I'm zipping along.

At the end of the lesson, I was singing Solamente Una Vez, which is a Mexican bolero.  I was thinking out loud to Joel, my teacher, that I'd like to learn the words, but maybe I should find another tune because I'm in Puerto Rico.  More on this later.  It was a good language day.


End of week one.


After a few busy days, I'm finally back to writing.  A topic I was going to get to the other day with some passion and concern is music.  The passion is still there; the concern has lightened up somewhat.  I'll still pose the question I was thinking the other day: Where is the music?  If I had asked it the other day, I would have said, "Where is the music??????"  Though I'm not as concerned as I was, I can still make the statement that I'm encountering way less live music than I thought I would.  I remember in either Buena Vista Social Club or Calle 54 (both great documentaries) seeing scenes of people in cafes tapping out rhumbas on beer bottles and the narrator saying, "Rhumba is everywhere."  That could be happening somewhere around here, but I haven't seen anything of the sort in my first full week in San Juan - not even a finger tapping.  I saw one little old man playing a little accordion at the mall and I saw another little old man playing a little accordion in Old San Juan.  They were both busking.  I haven't seen anyone making music just because....well, except for me.  I haven't touched a piano in over a week and so I'm playing montunos on my harmonic while I'm walking.  Or I'm geekily tapping out cascara while listening to salsa in my headphones.  So far, I'm the most openly musical person I've observed on the street.


Day 3


January 8, 2014

There's so much going on.  I'm not sure I can get to most of it.  One of the most significant things that's happening is the Japanese/Spanish battle that's taking place in my head.  Today was even worse than yesterday.  (Actually, I'm going to stop myself right there.  After talking about this with my instructor today, I'm convinced that, though frustrating, I shouldn't judge this phenomenon. I should observe it and embrace it.  I'm of course grateful that I have another language in my head to get in the way of learning yet another language.  It's not bad, it's just infuriating.)  Regularly, like maybe every other sentence I would create and say, Japanese words and the syntax that goes along with them, would come into my head instantly.  This happened and is happening, A LOT.  Like twice as much as yesterday.  There's no reason for me to believe that it's not going to get worse (better!) before it gets better (worse?).  There are words and grammatical concepts coming up that I haven't thought about in ten years.  It's no doubt due to my stimulating some part of my brain (the second-language part) that has been lying dormant for a while.


The next day...


January 7, 2014

Wow.  I haven't even been here 48 hours and my mind is blown.  The first session today (four hours) with my private Spanish instructor was fantastic.  Between that and being surrounded by Spanish constantly, I really can't imagine what my speaking skills will be like after four months. (!!)  I not only noticed improvement skills-wise after the session, but I noticed a change in my thinking.  After only two days, I'm already thinking in Spanish.  I don't always know what I'm thinking though because my vocabulary is limited.  (kidding)


First day in PR


I'm here!  My suitcase isn't yet, but I am.  I was picked up last night by a guy from the Spanish school.  He was very nice.  He told me that one of the instructors at the Spanish school is a salsa percussionist.  Connections! 

My homestay madre is very sweet.  She lives with her son, his wife and their two boys, 7 and 10.  Everyone's been really cool.  Today is the Three Kings day (I think).  It's a major family holiday in which over night last night the three kings who visited Jesus visit every home and bring toys for the children.  They leave out a small box of grass for the camels to eat, which is of course spread around on the floor in the morning.


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