M does not visit Oaxaca with me in the summers. He must work at his job in Sacramento. He also cheerfully keeps the cats company, waters the garden.
Some people here are certain M’s a fiction, that I have stock photos filed on my phone, for what man would permit his wife to wander the streets alone? I try to remember that I am a tourist in a culture sometimes so different it might be a different time.
This morning, I was confronted by Carolina, a blouse vendor, who, after asking how I was doing and making other small talk, inquired about how my FRIEND is.
She wanted me to know she’d seen me sitting under the laurel with C, listening to the band on Sunday afternoon. She wanted me to know that I was the star of hot gossip, that people were watching my show.
I reported that my FRIEND is fine and that I hadn’t seen him since the concert as he is staying in another part of the city. She had all sorts of questions. I offered few answers wanting instead to maintain the intrigue.
Reluctantly starring in town gossip, in a town where I’m a tourist, is somewhat exciting and makes me feel a bit torn as Johnny Cash in the following excerpt of his poem “Don’t Make a Movie About Me:”
If anybody made a movie out of my life
I wouldn’t like it, but I’d watch it twice
If they halfway tried to do it right
There’d be forty screen writers workin’ day and nite.
- What is the gossip? How does it energize the plot in a positive way?
After nearly a week of searching, I first bumped into Mateo (14). Immediately after, I encountered Cecelia and Agostino. Agostino immediately reminded me of how we first met, that I permit him to use my phone, that we sometimes have coffee over there under those trees, and popsicles, and corn, and… I asked him if he had a new show, any new tricks. He reported that he had nothing to offer.
I told him and Cecelia that I’d expect: chistes, bromas, burlas, una charla, or un show tomorrow. They both giggled and said they’d be ready with some kind of a stunning performance.
I wonder how long we will know each other, how things will change in our lives, what fortunes await us. Then, Cecelia informs me that Mateo is married and she introduces me to her sister-in-law, his bride.
I am stunned; I try to say felicidades. I try to understand. I try to remember Jane Hirshfield’s “A Blessing for a Wedding:”
Read the whole poem at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/53393/a-blessing-for-wedding
Let the vow of this day keep itself wildly and wholly
Spoken and silent, surprise you inside your ears
Sleeping and waking, unfold itself inside your eyes
Let its fierceness and tenderness hold you
Let its vastness be undisguised in all your days
- What does your character fail to say? Why does she fail?
I came across ¡Pío Peep! Rimas Tradicionales en Español (Traditional Spanish Nursery Rhymes) and was immediately struck by the unique adaptations of the rhymes. They are clearly not straight translations and made me wonder what makes a rhyme work in two languages and what is lost and what is found in the process of adapting–especially when rhyme is a central part of the experience.
In Spanish, “El sol es de oro” is, although concise in both languages, very different in English.
El sol es de oro
El sol es de oro
la luna es de plate
y las estrellitas
son de hoja de lata.
The sun is of gold
the moon is of silver
and the little stars
are of tin.
The English adaptation, on the other hand,
The Sun’s a Gold Medallion
The sun’s a gold medallion.
The moon’s a silver ball.
The little stars are only tin;
I love them best of all.
One that was closest in translation was unfamiliar except for the form. This one seemed to be counted on the hand as the more familiar (to me at least) “This Little Piggy” is counted on toes.
Aquí puso la pajarita el huevo
Aquí puso la pajarita el huevo.
Éste lo agarró,
éste lo partió,
éste lo cocinó,
éste le echó la sal,
y este pícaro gordo
se lo comió.
Here the Bird Laid the Egg
Here the bird laid one round egg.
This one found it,
this one cracked it,
this one cooked it,
this one put salt on it,
and this fat rascal
gobbled it up!
from ¡Pío Peep! Rimas Tradicionales en Español (Traditional Spanish Nursery Rhymes)
- What is lost and found in translation? How does this rob or enrich you or a character? What happens when we try to rely on literal translation?
As I am traveling, one of the ways I cope with culture shock is to make lists of experiences that I would never encounter in the US: entire pineapples hucked out to the crowd at a Guelaguetza show, a shopping cart with a bbq to heat bananas, wide-open holes on a busy sidewalk, or fireworks set off in the middle of a crowd.
When I return home, I can’t help but note things that are uniquely American: enormous plates of food (think turkey platters of jambalaya from Cheesecake Factory) and these sweet dogs suspended from their owners as babies.
The other day as I was navigating an unfamiliar street and preparing for an unusual conversation, I must have had a serious look on my face. A man commanded me in Spanish and then English to smile. I had to laugh at how serious I was with my errand, how I had been rehearsing my lines. Always concerned about being appropriately polite, I also wasn’t so sure if the words for what I wanted.
Of course, I smiled. In fact, I practically laughed at the irony because, especially in photos (or drawings), Oaxacans often assume a serious posture that typically does not include a smile. They may be grinning up to the minute the shot is taken, but almost always, this neutral to serious face appears, provoking me to want to command: Smile.
Watching another fifteen-year-old emerge from Santo Domingo Church as a woman with her little sister by her side dreaming of her day, I can remember my sixteenth birthday. I celebrated sixteen in London while on a thirty-eight day tour with the People to People program. We visited Russia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, West Germany, Scotland, England, and Washington DC.
I didn’t drive until I was twenty-one. I didn’t even begin to learn until I was eighteen, so sixteen wasn’t the same rite of passage many people in the US experience. It was something equally impressive though.
At the same time, I can’t remember fifteen at all. I certainly can’t recall feeling as if I’d become a woman. (Sometimes I still don’t feel adult yet.)
Having a birthday in the summer is great. Birthdays in general are among my favorite holidays. I especially liked going to the public pool, something we’d do a couple of times a week in the summer anyway and having Thrifty ice cream. Once mom brought a bowl from home and had them fill it with a scoop of every flavor.
Instead of an elaborate celebration (which is, of course, perfect for some people), my parents planted the seed of travel and the value of celebrating what I have.
This mural is being produced by an artist named Jobe. He was happy to permit photos and to let me witness his process.
As he spoke, he spoke English clearly and interrogated me as much as I him. In fact, upon learning I live in Sacramento, he offered that he has a large mural in Davis. He told me where to find it (near Monsanto). I told him I’d check it out.
Many places are commissioning murals to cut down graffiti. We need more beauty such as this.