Sunday, August 6, 2017

Leavin' on a Jet Plane ... Or Maybe a Bus (Mary Strand)

This month’s theme is traveling and/or leaving home.  The first time I did both in a big way: the summer after high school, when I lived in Mexico.

My high school Spanish teacher, Señor Haakenson, led a group of high school and college students to Mexico every summer.  I didn’t bother to ask my parents, because I was kid # 7, and we didn’t have a ton of extra money.  So imagine my surprise the day Señor Haakenson showed up at my house to urge my parents to send me to Mexico, just because I was good at Spanish.  They actually said yes!

We took a bus all the way there from Wisconsin.  (I still don’t like buses.)  We stopped in San Antonio, then spent a few days in Monterrey, which was like any other big city, except that they spoke Spanish.  Mexico City for 10 days.  Wow.  My favorite memories: the floating gardens of Xochimilco, the pyramids, the Ballet Folklórico, fantastic murals and sculpture, churros ... and wandering around by myself.  Everywhere.  Freedom!
 
Pyramid of the Moon
 
We spent most of the rest of our trip in Guadalajara, where we lived with Mexican families and attended the Escuela de Artes Plásticas and, as I recall, did no studying whatsoever.  That summer, we mostly just lived.  In Spanish.  For me, speaking and thinking and dreaming in Spanish.  I was so immersed that one night, when a group of us went to see a just-released American movie at a theatre, I kept looking at the Spanish subtitles because English had become my second language.

To fully immerse myself in the language, of course, I had a cute Mexican boyfriend.  (Heh heh.)  Alberto sang and played guitar, beautifully, although he never ONCE serenaded me under a balcony, unlike the boyfriend of a girl in the family with whom I lived.  (Naturally, I felt cheated.)  I also had to conduct a romance entirely in Spanish, and let’s just say it wasn’t always an easy task at 18.

Alberto and his guitarra

All these years later, I still remember vividly my little “brother” Beto, who was adorable, and my “brother” Genaro, who was gruff at first but eventually learned to joke around with me because I offered him no other options.  And Lalo, a friend of Alberto, whose brainy and dry sense of humor and kindness probably made him, ultimately, my favorite Mexican friend from that summer.  I just happened to fall for the musician first.  Story of my life!

We did amazing things that summer, all of us.  I particularly loved the long walks I took by myself, all over Mexico City and especially Guadalajara.  Many years later, I found the letters I wrote home, talking about my adventures and my solitary rambles.  I also found out that my mom had read each letter, nearly had several heart attacks, and told everyone that her baby girl was wandering around Mexico BY HERSELF and would likely be killed or SOMETHING.  She never breathed a word of her fears to me, though, because she decided that I should have my adventures.  And hopefully not die.

Since then, I’ve taken long walks by myself and had epic adventures in cities all over the world.  But that summer was special, and the start of it all.  I’ll always be grateful to Señor Haakenson and my parents for that.

13 comments:

  1. What a terrific experience. Thank you for sharing it.

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  2. Thanks, Berek! It's still a lifetime highlight.

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  3. Wow, Mary, that sounds like so much fun (except for the bus part, I can see why you still hate buses!). That's terrific you still have the letters--great research material. So, any idea what happened to Alberto?

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    1. I actually tried doing a Google search on him when I was writing the blog, but nothing came up. Sigh! He was actually the first guy who asked me to marry him. I had doubts about his sincerity, but still!

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    2. Oh, too bad. Well, maybe not. Seeing an old love after so many years could be an iffy proposition at best!

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    3. Ha! No, I'd merely be curious. (Hugh Jackman is another story. ) I harbor no secret fantasies about Alberto; it's just fun to see what old friends (romantic and platonic) are up to.

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  4. Sounds like a fascinating trip! And the best way to learn a new language is like you said, through immersion. It's much easier to learn that way than just by studying the language in a textbook in class.

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    1. Yes! That's why I sent my kids to Spanish camp starting at age 7. They're both now fluent ... and Spanish camp counselors!

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  5. I can't even imagine being so immersed in another language, another culture, that you even think in it. I think that's awesome!

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    1. I actually struggled a little to understand other people's English when I got home that summer. Crazy! I still think in Spanish in some situations. If I'm terrified or really stressed, it's what pops up!

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  6. What fun--you should TOTALLY write about the boyfriend. What a great YA.

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    1. What an intriguing thought! Thanks, Holly!

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  7. What an awesome adventure! Thank you for sharing. I agree with Holly about the boyfriend. :)

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