Monthly Archives: January 2011

Learning Spanish As An Adult

I admit it – I have been learning Spanish for about 25  years, although I was never truly focused on that goal until recently (necessity being a strong motivator). 

And I’ll explain here a sort of pet peeve. Beginning of soapbox: I think it’s an odd way to discuss learning languages by using the term “my” French, or “my” Japanese. I’m quite sure I used that term before, (when I was but a child!) but now it seems annoying to me to describe a language as belonging to you when what you are really discussing is your fluency and skills. 
I also feel strongly that if a person chooses to live in a country with a different national language, he or she should strive to learn the language. The citizens of the US practically demand it of immigrants, and in Mexico, I have noticed that people in general really appreciate it when I try to converse with them, even though I make lots and lots of mistakes. Lots! End of soapbox.
Somehow I thought that I would wait, silently learning, until I could speak nearly perfectly to start trying. That is not a satisfactory method of learning. (Duh! As a teacher, I surely should have known better!) Now I just jump in, and I probably make one or more mistakes in every other sentence. Everything is different – the sounds, and the word order: nouns have genders in Spanish, too.
Anyway, I began to learn Spanish, I would have to say, from singing songs in Spanish – and, by the way, it was hard for me to believe that so much music had been so completely unknown to me. There was an entire repertoire of popular music in Spanish that I was completely unaware of! I had heard two popular Spanish songs in the seventies that made a deep impression on me. I even remember where I was when I first heard them. 
Beginning of ramble:
The first of the two songs was performed by a singer named Jose Jose (although I didn’t know his name at the time). It was called La Barca Del Olvido. One reason I think I liked it so much was that I could understand a lot of the chorus, probably from singing in Italian. The chorus lyrics begin 
Espera un poco, un poquito mas,
Para llevarte mi felicidad.
and I would say that means
Wait a little, just a little more,
To take away my happiness.
The memorable part of the chorus employs a musical device called melodic sequence, the repetition of a melodic phrase at different levels of pitch. 
The other song was by a group called Mocedades, from Spain. It is a very beautiful, famous, meaningful love song, and won a world-level prize in a songwriting competition. Its title is Eres Tu, and it is still very well-known. The beginning of the chorus, roughly translated, is
You are like the water in my fountain,
You are the flame in my hearth,
You are the wheat in m y bread,
Hmm – it’s so much more beautiful in Spanish!! No wonder I’ve never heard an English translation!
End of rambling aside.
I began to sing and perform songs in Spanish in the mid-eighties. From my traditional music training I knew that it was essential not just to sing the sounds of the language, but to understand them, and I translated every word, with Chon’s patient help. I learned and performed many songs. 
But the first time I visited Mexico I didn’t understand anything at all. I could speak “food” pretty well, with reasonably good pronunciation, and that was it. In our house Chon and I only spoke English, so I really never praticed speaking Spanish unless I was in Mexico, and that was only for one, two, or three weeks every year. I tried, though, and Chon’s family was patient, too. They didn’t have much choice, really, and they always treated me extremely well. There are very few people in our little town even now who speak English. And something I have noticed is that even though students here take classes in English, they do not learn to speak it. There seems to be no “Conversational English” offered. Even students who get high grades in English only can read it (a little).
In case you have never thought about it, an English speaker must learn to use different muscles to correctly pronounce Spanish, so for many English speakers our speech will always have a big, fat accent, and we sound to Spanish speakers just as many adults who learn English sound to us English speakers. (Congratulations if you were able to follow that sentence!)
Anyway, I’d like to encourage anyone to learn a new language. If it interests you, or if you are motivated for some reason, give it a try! There are lots of good classes in the states. If you learn some beginning Spanish, your hispanic friends will enjoy your efforts, and it’s probably really good exercise for the brain. 

We Arrive At Home Again

When we arrived at the house Elena seemed very happy to see us, and bustled us into the kitchen to eat a good caldo de res. We really needed its good, warming, invigorating effect. We felt very cared for – a good bowl of soup can do that for you!
We went to Purisima to ask about the permit to remove the tree, and – surprise! it was ready! We went, too, to SAPAP, the water company, to arrange to get the water source for Victoria’s house moved, because it is right in the way of the new gate. We found it, and made arrangements. They told us there that the two-man crew would arrive at ten the next day.
We also went to the place wehere they asked for Chon’s ID to re-enroll to receive the government assistance, procampo , for his two fields. We even stopped by the pharmacy to ask if I can get my two prescriptions here. I will need one in a couple of weeks. In an hour or so, we accomplished all that!
In the evening we went to Jalpa to liquidate the bill at the building supply place. The manager accepts dollars there, at a favorable rate.
When we woke up the next morning, Sabino had already cut the limbs of the tree that is in the way of the new gate.  We took the large branches to the back, and passed them across the rock fence to Chon, who stacked them for Dona Elena’s use. She has a fogon in her kitchen, a hornilla, where she cooks with wood. It is something like a tiny fireplace with a grill above the coals, especially for cooking.
Chavela arrived early on Tuesday to give Elena a day off. In short order, she had cleaned both bathrooms, and started on the kitchen. There were a lot of mouse droppings there, although everyone has been saying there are no mice in the kitchen anymore.
The men arrived to change the water, right at ten o’clock, as scheduled! That might have been the very fist time a professional appointment happened as scheduled! Chon, Pepe and Gordo had to move a lot of the gravel (bigger rocks than gravel, really), so that the water guys could move the water. (I forget what that is called, if I ever knew – it’s the place the water gets to the house from the main. Here it’s called a “toma”.) The rest of the pile of gravel will be used when they make the concrete roof for the new construction. Chon said he was out of shape for shoveling gravel, but I noticed that he shoveled more than the other two during his turns.
In the evening Isabel and I made a plan to attempt to manage mornings. We decided to fix breakfast, as a trial run. We decided to get up at 7:15 and fix breakfast for ourselves, the people who live here. We decided to cook scrambled eggs, because someone gave Elena a dozen eggs from their chickens. 
Here’s what happened: we decided that the dozen eggs would be enough for the 6 of us who are here right now, and in the morning little Ana Cristina cut up (she’s only 5!) onions, tomatoes and green chiles. We cooked them a little bit, then added the eggs, and four of us ate (Chon was upstairs, practicing). Then I found out that Brisa was still here, not having gone to school because her “nose hurt a lot”. Then Chayo, the mother, showed up. Isabel and I planned to give breakfast to Chon’s mother, but Elena came back from her house and did that. Then she heated up “sopa”, what some people call “Spanish rice” for Brisa, who complained that there wasn’t any lemon. Then the kitchen felt too crowded for me, and I moved out to the portal to write this. (Chon hasn’t eaten breakfast yet, but there are probably enough eggs left). Like my Swedish Grandpa A used to say with a twinkle in his eye “Too many cooks in the kitchen!”
The result of the breakfast experiment? I’d give it about a C-. There is not much order here, and one never knows exactly how many people might be here at eating time, although today, at least, everything is sparkling clean because of Chavela’s work yesterday. We are going to keep trying. I need to go back to my self-appointed sweeping job, because Elena has been doing it, and it’s really not good for her asthma. 
Today we need to go back to San Pancho, for several reasons:
1. We are going to visit the doctor, to see what he found out about the availability of the two medicines that I need. We will also ask him his opinion about the big lump that remains on Chons’s mother’s cheek after her fall on the 31st.
2. We will check to see the availability and prices of flights to Los Mochis (to retrieve the legalized Foxy).
We did those things. The doctor sold us two remdies for the hematoma on Dona Coco’s face. Since then we have returned to the doctor/pharmacist, and so far he hasn’t been able to  locate either of the things I need. After calling four laboratories, he said, he found Synthroid in 100 mg and 125 mg. I take 112 mg.  I also take a hormone replacement, and he says that only injections are available. Soon we’ll take a trip to a Sam’s Club we saw in Leon as we approached the end of our bus trip from Nogales.
The plane tickets from Leon to Los Mochis cost about $240 apiece! We will go back on the bus!
The construction continues – the project this week is to replace the big gate in my earlier photo; the change I said was making people mad. But now that the old gate is gone, and the new, wide pasada is visible, people are starting to get it. Lots of folks don’t seem to have the imagination to picture how it will be, but now it is clear. The sister-in-law’s family is still mad, but I figure that will last a long, long time.
We received a call from Chon’s nephew in Florida, demanding that we tear down the new construction. We didn’t. 
It’s been one of those weeks when nearly everything you plan gets done – we really have been chopping wood and carrying water. That is to say we burned the dry weeds and grass in the lot next door, we removed the brush that was there, we took the PT Cruiser to nearby Jalpa to get the hood painted, and many other small, necessary things.
The breakfast plan went into its second day, and it worked a little better. We waited until everybody else (all the extra people who seem to show up) had eaten, then we made pancakes. The kids were dubious that pancakes made from a recipe would be as good as pancakes from a mix, but they quickly changed their minds. So that was satisfying.
I wanted this entry to be informative, and a good reminder for me later when I want to remember How Things Happened. It ended up being a bit gossipy. Sorry (to all of my faithful readers) (haha).

Bus Trip – From The Border To Leon


We decided to leave this place after we got our money and documents returned to us. Alfonso stopped by our home, room 107, to let us know that there shouldn’t be any problem passing Kilometro 21, as long as we had the pink slip and registration. Samuel tried to pry $300 from us, to have his cousin allow us to pass K21. But fortified with Alfonso’s information, we decided to – just cross.
So on the morning of the ninth, we got up and prepared to leave. Foxy started right up, and I let her warm up a bit before we left. This is how far we got.

There, right there in front of the hotel,Foxy died. We had some brief, intense conversations, switched gas tanks, tried and tried, and finally, about half an hour later, we got the truck started again. We have puzzled quite a bit over what happened, but we probably will never know. There are two gas tanks, and we have noticed that the truck doesn’t start as well when we use the back tank. 
Anyway, we drove to the town of Santa Ana, stopping only once , to sample the pulque at a local restaurant on the way. We arrived in Santa Ana, but had a difficult time decyphering the map Alfonso gave us. We gave up and called him, and he came to find us. He bought us breakfast in Coyota Maya (?) (Coyota Something). We found out later what coyotas are.
We got on the bus at Santa Ana at about 12:30. The tickets cost about $230 for the two of us, from Santa Ana to Leon (maybe around 1,800 miles. It seemed like an awful lot until we compared the price to the price of two tickets from Los Angeles to Chicago, for example. Still, we think a flight might have been more economical.
At Hermosillo  for about $2 Chon bought us four coyotas (a Sonoran tradition). They look like flour tortillas, and they have a filling. Chon bought the ones with piloncillo that tasted quite a bit like molasses. And they had an ever-so-slight flavor of wood smoke.

We left there, and in about ten minutes the bus driver stopped again. The bus driver announced a stop of 20 minutes to eat. It was a road-side place that served toasted buns with chopped-up meat on one half, and onions, tomatoes, and other goodies on the other half. We took them on to the bus to eat, and they were wonderful!

We tried to sleep on the bus with some success, and arrived at Mazatlan at 5 a.m. We grabbed some pre-made sandwiches from the  bus stop and hit the road again for Nayarit.
Somewhere in Nayarit the bus stopped to let a passenger off, at a junction of another road. It was still pretty early, and most of the passengers were sleeping. The young man stood by near the road, after jumping across a little ditch, pulling out his cellphone.  It made me think, as I had before, about the secret destinations of the passengers. 
Mexican roads in general are quite good, in spite of what you might read in travel books, especially the roads the buses take, the cuotas (toll roads). You pay, though, for the excellent quality. These cuotas run nearly parallel to the libres (free). The libres pass through all the towns, and the cuotas avoid them.
The bus companies have nices buses with bathrooms. The buses are fairly new, with comfortable seats, but sometimes the windows are  pretty rattly.
We made a stop in Nayarit, at a town called Jala, around breakfast time. Chon got us quesadillas with meat, made with hand-made tortillas. I added salsa from the molcajetes. I thought I should have added more salsa, but I put plenty – it was picosa! and the quesadillas were quite wonderful. There were many indiginous people there, and you could hear their language, which impressed me as sounding similar to Asian languages. One young woman with a baby slung on her back in a rebozo went to the sinks for washing hands, and washed her head, and not the long dark hair that hung down her back.

The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful, except for the remarkable fact that we didn’t enter the bus depot in Guadalajara, but just dropped off the riders stopping there right on the street outside the station.
We arrived in Leon at 4, and right away got headed towards home, and got inexpensive tickets right to El Pedernal. When we grabbed our things and got off the bus at the top of the main street, some kids we know were there, and they helped us carry our things to the house – Chon had brought three guitars, and we had various other bags to carry. 


So many people have warned us (as they probably have warned you, too), about being careful in the border areas. Well, we will continue to be careful. But I’d like to say that the people I have met here are very nice. And, yay, our agent Samuel, as inept as he may be, just returned our money. All the money. And our pink slip. We still don’t really know what happened, but Samuel says he is considering a career change.  Supposedly, our truck is eligible for Mexican registration and plates. But it didn’t get registered (!*#*^). We are making new plans.

So Samuel is on our list of People Who Didn’t Take Advantage Of Us. So is Don David, the cook, who gave us enormous servings of food, a little more each day, because he knew we were stuck here, and that we were making two meals out of each restaurant visit. So is the manager of the hotel, Jorge, who lowered the price of our room even lower than Chon was going to ask him to. So is beautiful Alma, a front-desk lady who we engaged in many conversations. This is Alma.

I promise the photos will be better soon – I didn’t bring my camera, so these are phone photos. Rocio cooked a meal for us on New Year’s Day, when the cook didn’t show up.  Every person here was friendly, sympathetic and simpatico.

The Hotel Estrella Dorada Internacional is not fancy, but it’s got everything a traveler needs. I know, because I stayed here A WEEK! I certainly can recommend it to you if you need a place to stay in Nogales (on the Mexican side.)

The View Past My Knees

Samuel the agent texts: “deme chansa” (give me a chance; or, better, give me time). What a laugh.

Alfonso our friend the customs agent came to the restaurant, and says he can do it for us if we get the pink slip and money back from Samuel. We can drive to Alfonso’s house in Santa Ana and leave the truck, moeny, and papers there. We would then take the bus to Guanajuato, our destination, then travel back to Los Mochis in a couple of weeks, after Alfonso completes the paper-work, and drive the truck home from there. Does this weaken our resolve? NO!

I realize that many folks would just stop right there and say Ya! Basta! Enough! No more throwing good money after bad, etc. But not us. We are made of different stuff.

We have already gone through so much with this old truck.  It was very hard to get it smogged last fall, and that was an epic story in itself that I won’t inflict on you, but it involved getting in touch with junk yards all over the US, and spending several days waiting at a smog repair place, as Foxy was minus an air filter cannister and lid. We’ve decided that no matter how much people laugh at us, we’re going to get it to our house in Mexico no matter what!

I had chilaquiles again tonight, after eating three pancakes. I made and ate so many pancakes when I lived in the midwest that I am not a fan, but they tasted mighty good today. Chon and I think we’ve each lost a couple of pounds on our special one-meal-per-day-since-we-are-running-out-of-money diet. Chon actually ordered the pancakes, but I confess I was dreaming of carbs myself – I was craving Frosted Flakes! Straight out of the box. This evening was the first time we indulged in lots of carbs during our stay here. (Of course, chilaquiles, made from crispy fried tortillas with salsa, are reasonably high on the carb charts, but they are usually nicely balanced with chicken or eggs – I had mine with machaca, which has sent me on an obsessive online hunt for recipes).

Sorry – bad lighting. The white stuff is nice crumbly cheese and lettuce. Underneath are the chilaquiles, with machaca on top of them.

We save the left-overs for later. We keep telling each other we’ll eat these left-overs On The Road. Tomorrow, because it’s already nearly eight p.m. But we’re still waiting for Samuel. To call. Or come with the papers. Any minute, now.


Our agent Samuel came to see us last night. He tells us that he is just waiting – the permissions arrive from Mexico City. He can get our money back, and we could try with a different agency, but what if the permissions are arriving as we take our next breath? 
We have also checked other options. If I had my FM3, my longterm visa, I could take a car into Mexico with California plates, and keep it there. There’s a consulate right here in Nogales, but it appears that it takes at least a couple of weeks to get the visa.
We also called in bigger guns. Alfonso, the customs agent we used for our move, also works with vehicles – who knew? He was going to stop by last night to give us advice, but he just – didn’t. We called him this morning but he was in a meeting. But he might be able to do this for us – he’s had years of experience.

We give up. We are staring another weekend in the face, drinking thermos coffee the cook gives secretly gives us. There’s nothing to be done. But wait. Limbo.

Thursday Update

By noon on Thursday we have called the agent twice today. He sent a text to  give him some time, and that he would call us.  We are watching TV (not much to do here). We are sighing from time to time, and our stomachs frequently gurgle in unison. We have been managing with one meal a day, in the afternoon, with leftovers for later in the evening, or the next morning. We are getting hungry, and naturally we are irritable.
We want the agent to freaking return our money, and the title, so we can make some kind of alternative plan. The waiting has become excruciating, and it’s hard to see the humor in the situation any more. We say all kinds of brave things to each other, but still, we are pretty much stuck here. Now the agent says he’ll come here talk over the situation.  But when will he come? Just like every other day, that is the question. When? Cuando? Cuando? Cuando?

The hotel manager called his friend who still works at the agency.  He says that today, January 6, is the first day of something called Amparo, which changes the fees for importation; that yesterday it would have cost about $4,000 to import Foxy (because it is a commercial vehicle? because of its weight? he didn’t make it clear). He says that today the fees will be much lower. We wonder – why didn’t our agent give us this information?

Car Registration – Suspicions

WILL Chon and Gail get the much-needed permit? WILL the agent turn out to be just an innocent beginner with no juice? IS he an agent at all?  HAVE they been robbed? That’s pretty much what we’ve been thinking about.
We just can’t stay here any longer.
Chon  paid for yet another night here.  He visited with the hotel manager, who, as it turns out, used to be a customs agent. Up until now, the comments have all been soothing, like “Oh, it happens sometimes – we get desperate travelers sitting here in the lobby, just waiting,” and “Boy, you’ve been waiting a long time, but there have been others who have waited this long, too.”
But last night the manager said that this smells fishy – he suspects that the agency has NOT received our money, and the papers are NOT in the queue. I myself have had images of movies where the temptation of so much money was just too much, and the agent/person “borrowed” it.  It was, after all, right before Kings’ Day, when the entire Catholic world gives gifts.  Anyway, we plan to confront the agent, or go to the agency ourselves – we found out which one it is (there are many, possibly hundreds of them in the phone book.)
We really must settle this. We really must leave. This is where we need to be:

Still in Nogales – More Car Registration

There’s our truck, parked in front of room 107. Chon says he’s going to write Symphony 107.
Tomorrow it will have been a week staying in Hotel Estrella Dorada Internacional. We have spoken with the agent several more times. A few minutes ago he told us that the agency he is using had electrical problems today, and that they had been without electricity all morning. He offered to take us there so we would believe him, and that this is the longest it has ever taken him to get a new registration. He told us to trust him, and that he had worked on it all day. He said this is very bad for his business, as he works through referrals. We probably will never have many opportunities to recommend anyone for this job, but he’s right; we probably would not refer anyone to him.
By now all the employees here know about our plight. We’re practically family! We are friends with the cook, Don David, who confided yesterday that he is in love with Alma, who works the front desk. The manager, Jorge, is acquainted with Samuel, our agent, and says he is known for his alacrity and efficiency(!). Alma has four children from her previous marriage with a car collector who often left them without food because he spent so much money on cars. Rocio also works the front desk. 
Literally everyone here knows about registering cars, as the hotel gets most of its business from people who are registering their cars have other customs business. Everyone knows at least one agent, and now we know that the agents work on their own, usually for one certain customs company. You can do it yourself without an agent. Yes, we could have done without an agent, if we had only known…


Did you think I wouldn’t tell you about the blog name?

Galileo is what we named our group about 24 years ago. Chon the poet thought of the name, and I loved it right away.

In the little town (rancho) that Chon is from, everybody, but everybody has a nickname. When he was a musician in Chicago, he was called Diego (by an enterprising promoter), Leo by fans (pronounced Lay-o by Spanish speakers, Lee-o by English speakers). He even had a couple of different names at his day jobs. Chon is a nickname, as well, for his given name.

Well, my name is Gail, certainly not hispanic-compatible, and at the time we began practicing together in Los Angeles, planning to start a group, I was working with a Spanish speaking woman who pronounced my name Gali (sort of like Golly). We became, then, Galileo.

Our first paying gig, I think, was in a restaurant in Pasadena. I was really new at this kind of performing. I was a “classically trained” pianist, a reader, and suddenly I was playing from “charts” with chords and lyrics – in Spanish! Not much longer after this period, we began playing on Olvera Street, at La Golondrina regularly, and then for their annual posadas.

The group has gone through many changes. At one time Chon trained a bass player, Karina. She was a very pleasant person, easy-going and fun, who often fell asleep on stage. Then he trained another bass player, Cindy, a teacher, who attempted to take over the management of the group.  He trained a drummer, Dinora. Together we trained three little girls, all nearly the same age, to sing and play rhythm. We did several performances with them. They grew up and went their various directions. We trained three older girls, sisters, but that didn’t really work out.

We added Chon’s brother, Jorge, as a bass player. An artist, he much prefers art to practicing. We added a Guatemalan drummer, a sad-faced, excellent baterista whose heart was not really in it. We tried adding other percussionists, and other guitarists.

Then Sara came. She chose her own nickname, Chiquita. She was very small – many years later, still is! In a short while she improved all her native talents. She is a wonderful human being with a beautiful voice and positive attitude. She plays drums and sings! People love her, and they love her singing. When the three of us play there are so many possibilities. Our voices sound great together in any combination, and we are a force to deal with.

Galileo has been called Grupo Galileo, Grupåzo Galileo, Dueto Galileo, Orquesta Galileo, Banda Galileo. But right now Galileo is Chon and me, the way we did our annual holiday performance on Olvera Street, or Chon and Sara and me.

This is where we played on our roof last New Year’s Eve. If we ever get out of Nogales, maybe the three of us will give a concert on the new stage we have built!