Friday, October 11, 2013

Strangers in Paradise

When you're retired in a foreign country relying on meager language skills and fading powers of concentration, life is full of small humiliations.

One of mine came several years ago during happy hour in a fancy boutique hotel just up the hill from us, actually the place where we were staying when we bought our home.

The owner was having a margarita with us, special attention bestowed because I wrote a travel piece on her business the previous year that brought her a cataract of customers.

A small mariachi group was providing background music as they did every evening in those pre-recession days. They paused at the end of a set and invited requests. Nobody spoke up.

I was well into my second drink and forgot, again, that not every silence needs to be filled by me.

"'Las MaƱanitas'," I said brightly. Not a tune I really wanted to hear, but it was the only Mexican song title I knew, dredged up from my primary school days in south Texas. More recently I had heard children singing it frequently in the school on our street.

"Oh, is it your birthday?" the head mariachi asked. That's when I realized the song was the Mexican "Happy Birthday." Instead of just saying "yes," I glazed over and mumbled, but they chuckled and played it anyway.

How I envy Elizabeth, the top of whose head can be seen here at lower left as the assembled student body of La Casa Azul sings "Las MaƱanitas" for Gabriella, the school's director.

There's a cake on the table whenever Elizabeth sings that song, so she'll always know exactly what it's for. And being culturally and linguistically clueless is normal experience for a toddler, so adjusting to Spanish for her is easier, or so I presume.

Besides, her classroom amigo Riley, whose father is Australian, sometimes translates for her. Que caballero!

I think that might loosely translate to something like "What a gentleman." But I guess I should run it by Google Translate before I try it on him out loud.

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