Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Dancing with Cats (2)


Ten and more years ago J. and I set ourselves to learn Spanish. Every morning at breakfast out came Hugo's Spanish In Three Months. It had an old-fashioned, grammatical approach to language teaching, which we both appreciated, even if the photo on the cover appeared - according to the address on the back - to represent 104 Judd Street, London: a London landmark which had so far passed us by. We made reasonable progress, chattered to each other self-consciously in basic Spanish, and swapped the odd Spanish expression, just for fun, with some of the Spanish-speaking people in the village, of which there are a few, mostly descendants of refugees from the Spanish Civil War.

Then disaster struck. Just as we'd reach el fin in Hugo, with its choice of imperfect subjunctives, just what every elementary language student needs over the croissants and Yorkshire Gold, we went on a 48-hour trip to San Remo, not far beyond the Franco-Italian border. We both have a basic level of Italian. Would any of it come out that night in a San Remo restaurant called '88'? Would it il mio culo.

But the Spanish streamed out as generously as the tagliatelle they served us.


Then a month or two later J. and I took ourselves off for a weekend to one of those pearls of the Mediterranean on the Spanish Costa Brava that we discovered by accident and that nobody seems to know about. Catastrophe struck. All that breakfast Spanish so laboriously garnered had gone. Buzzed off. Vamoosed. Vanished, apart from one or two stock phrases like hay siempre algun jaleo i.e. there's always something that goes wrong.

No problem with Italian, of course. Out it gushed unbidden in all its rich and rounded fullness, like the Rioja they served us.

This would have been a serious setback, had it not been for the fact that everyone's mother tongue in that part of the world isn't Spanish at all, but Catalan. H'm. Back to square 1...

More of these linguistic pretensions next time, but meantime I'd better do something to justify the title. Do enjoy the period photo above, especially the very 1950s fireside compendium.


'Woman Dancing with her Cat': © Meyer Ostroff/Corbis 2002

9 comments:

Dave said...

I wish I could learn other languages, but struggle even with English.

Sarah said...

Dos San Miguel por favor is all you need to know Christopher. Preferably the equivalent in 20 languages.

Spadoman said...

Interesting. Youngest daughter and I are discussing plans to learn Spanish. I took a few years of it in high school and can order food down along the border. Rosetta Stone came up, and the University near my home offers a quick course for Spanish coming up this Fall.
I am of Italian descent, but my parents were of the mind that since Grandpa Alfonso immigrated to America, we'd only speak the language that we call English. (although I see by coming to these Brit Blogs like yours and others of your ilk that we don't come close to speaking proper English)
So, we never learned Italian, (but my cousins did, and I know what you said, mio culo indeed!)
Nice stems on that woman with the cat, friend of yours?

Paz con usted

Charlene said...

I bought a CD and listened to it in the truck when I was going to and fro, for a month. My ear recognizes Spanish. I still cannot speak it.

Geoff said...

I tried the Michel Thomas Spanish CD a few years ago but me and Michel didn't get on.

I speak French like Eric Morecambe played the piano.

mig said...

We did a similar Spanish exercise once long ago, with tapes at bed time.
It was lucky for us that most of the guides spoke a kind of English since no one in Peru spoke French.

Love the dancing pair.

Rog said...

I'd like to learn a proper language
But times they are quite frugal
Instead of buying books and discs
I rely on Mr Google

dinahmow said...

Insert speech bubble for cat, thus; "muyer stupida!"

Christopher said...

Dave: But English is notoriously difficult. Ask Sarah.

Sah: Oops! Sorry! I didn't realise you were next in the queue! It was another Sarah I was referring to, of course.

Spadoman: I should have known there'd be an Italian speaker about. (I was only repeating something my youngest daughter came out with on her blog.) I will do my best henceforth to protect your youngest daughter from Spanish ruderies on this blog, promise.

Pace, caro amico.

Charlene: Hi. Maybe you and Geoff should get together? Maybe you already have?

Geoff: Hi. Maybe you and Charlene should get together? Maybe you already have?

mig: Of course it's a very local dialect in Peru, where apparently Machu Picchu means 'giant sneeze'. Or have I misunderstood? Should that be 'giant's knees'?

Rog: But for everyday things like 'table', 'dish',
You can safely rely on Babelfish.

DM: Absolutely. Particularly when you realise she was dancing to Ronnie Aldridge and the Squadronnaires.