Monday, October 27, 2008

Sir Knight of the Rueful Countenance

"There once was a man who read so much he went crazy."  So begins a children's version of Don Quixote that Noah picked up in Donkey Jote, the English language bookstore here.  Originally published in 1605, Quixote is the man who read of knights and chivalry, then decided to style himself as a knight and go adventuring with his "squire" Sancho Panza.  It is Sancho who dubs Quixote "Sir Knight of the Rueful Countenance."

With a museum here dedicated to all things Don Quixote, Guanajuato began celebrating Quixote and author Miguel de Cervantes in the 1950's.  The festival called Cervantino has become a three-week celebration of the arts, and some of the venues offer free seats, so we are sampling music and dance, particularly at the Alhondiga outdoor stage - that's where Dana is in the photo.

Noah's favorite event so far, The Aluminum Show, was a modern dance extravaganza from Israel involving, yes, aluminum.  Dancers variously moved a metallic-looking two-story tall robot through the audience, shot space blanket looking material through a cannon out into the audience, and gyrated energetically. We've also seen several folkloricos, two focusing on traditional Mexican dances and another a Mexican dance group doing a tribute to Israeli folk music, and a ballet/modern dance mix.

We joined the young and hip of Guanajuato at Instituto del Sonido's techno-funk concert.  Tom caught Makossa & Megablast from Austria, and we all liked La Troba Kung Fu because they had a lead accordionist and ska beats. We have also heard a costumed punk band playing on a street stage, various folk guitar groups, and the ubiquitous Peruvian panpipe group.  They were playing Simon & Garfunkel's "I'd Rather Be a Hammer Than a Nail."  Or did Simon & Garfunkel steal a traditional song?
Cervantino means lots of people and vendors wandering the city.  If you suddenly need a Don Quixote fake moustache, you'll find sellers of them on every corner.  There are plenty of street performers as well, from the Insectos (see photo) to various mimes.  Dana's favorite mime is the guy in cowboy attire who is spray-painted silver.  Completely.  He even wears mirrored shades so you can't see any hint of unpainted skin around his eyes.  This type of street performer reminds us of Hollywood Boulevard, except here they stand on a soapbox and don't speak a word.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to read, in English, Cervantes' epic tome.  My copy of Don Quiote is 1142 pages of Three Stooges humor and the longest sentences I've tried since Faulkner in college.  This means it will be finished long after the Cervantino festival concludes.  I decided it is better to read leisurely than have a rueful countenance myself.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Language Envy

Many Mexican people we meet here have studied English in preparatoria (high school) or college, our Escuela Mexicana European classmates are studying Spanigh as their third or fourth language, and Noah's and Dana's classmates are often bi- or tri-lingual as well.

We have Swiss friends, who lived three years in Costa Rica before coming to Guanajuato, that speak German at home, Spanish everywhere, and English as well.  I am envious of six-year-old Florian and ten-year-old Maura's facility in three languages.  And their parents are not just conversational in several languages, but operate professionally in them as well. Wow.

While I wish I had gotten started as a kid, or gone abroad in college, I didn't.  Instead, I am struggling post forty to learn Spanish.  When I start feeling depressed thinking about Dana's friend Danae who is bilingual in Spanish and English and strong in German, or Noah's classmate Eyal, who is bilingual in Spanish and Hebrew and coming on well in English, I try and remember there are folks in my Spanish classes who are in their sixties.  Then I get out my books, study verb conjugations, and feel very thankful that I get this time to learn as much as I can.  Working to learn another language is difficult, but amazing and fascinating as well.  I hope with time and study I'll get there.  Maybe by fifty I'll know something of what Florian knows at six.

Actually, he just turned seven.  We hiked up one of the mountains encircling Guanajuato with his family, and another who have four kids, to celebrate his birthday/cumpleanos/geburtstag. There was a fire for cooking hot dogs and banana boats (chocolate tucked into a banana and heated in not-too-hot coals), birthday cake and singing in several languages, and much running around of children.  Florian speaks to me in Spanish, his sister addresses me in English, and I toss a few German words back to them when some pop into my head leftover from language in classes in college almost 25 years ago.

With our neighbors or people that we see traversing the callejones, at least I know enough Spanish now to be friendly.  I can understand the woman who suggested I not let Noah and Dana slide down the handrail in a steep callejon, greet the shopkeepers we pass each morning
 taking Noah and Dana to school, and even gave the right info when I was asked for directions from some out-of-town Mexicans.  I have to admit it was a shock that they believed I would understand their question and know the info they needed.  I guess there's hope after all.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Dragons, Costumes, and an aside on Rice Crispie Treats

Collegio Yeccan Waldorf students put on a San Micael play where Jorge defeated the dragon in a perfect stone grotto at a park in the hills above Guanajuato.  Costumed first through eighth graders played the threatened farmers, the king and his court (including Noah as one of the guards), and of course the dragon (Dana was one of four fifth graders in the dragon costume).  The kids variously sang and spoke the story to recorder accompaniment - all in Spanish, of course.  It was a great show.

Afterwards, we participated in an intercambio, an exchange of homemade goods as a celebration of the fall harvest.  Our rice crispie treats were not very indicative of autumn, but were certainly a hit.  Regular rice crisp cereal wasn't in the store this week, so we made them with cocoa rice crisp cereal ("Arroz Inflado Sabor Chocolate" the box says, for those interested in the Spanish). Marshmallows here come with various colors in one bag, so there was some debate about whether to use both the strawberry and vanilla marshmallows with the chocolate cereal, creating a neapolitan sort of dessert.  We ended up sorting out the pink marshmallows this time, but Dana's classmates (yes, we've already corrupted them, she has shared at lunch) are familiar with rice crispie treats in several variations.
That's Dana's class taking their post-play bow, with friends Maura and Danae on the left and Dana on the right in the dragon.  The dragoneers moved well together, with one little kid yelling out as they approached, "Will it breathe fire and eat children?"

Our first experience seeing a costumed event however, was when Noah and I hiked through the mountain village of al Mineral del Monte de San Nicolas during a religious festival.  The parade included some fifty people on horseback, like the woman in the photo.  No dragon, but a noisy event with church bells ringing, fireworks going off, and drums and brass instruments playing.

Then there was the weekend we were in San Miguel de Allende, about an hour from Guanajuato, and wandered past costumed dancers with huge headdresses.  Also on that trip, we were in the village of Atotonilco, site of the church where Father Hidalgo led the revolutionaries after his September 16, 1810 speech, and picked up the banner of the Virgin of
 Guadalupe for the group to march under.  The market there was very focused on religious items, such as crosses, rosaries, "Pope trading cards" as Noah said, saint medals, and even latigos for self-flagellation.  The part I liked best was watching the Purepecha women from the countryside.  I practiced taking photos holding the camera down by my side instead of up to my face, so as to be less intrusive.

All these costumes and we're not even to Halloween and Dios de los Muertos yet.  We hear the kids' school assigns a category of costume to each class.  Dana thinks the fifth graders are supposed to be vegetables.  Ah, so much to look forward to.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Learning from Salsa

I knew I would be eating salsa in Mexico, but I hadn't expected to be dancing salsa.  Then we discovered the trimester program for Tom and I includes two extra cultural classes a week, and while Tom is eagerly anticipating cooking, it is salsa dance class right now.  On week four, we're into more complicated steps, occasionally at hyper-speed, depending on the song our teacher selects. I tell Tom to think of it as just a series of moves, like the football plays of his high school years.  And that it's good for him that an activity is easier for me than him, for once.

Maestro Herardo (or Suave to his friends) is an amazing dancer and teacher, with a quick sense of humor.  And don't he and Ester from Norway look good together in the photo? He has reinforced our directional vocabulary as he calls out in Spanish to turn left or right, and as he directs us in the warm-ups before class ("arriba, abajo, arriba, abajo, " as we're to look up and down to warm up our neck and head).  When we went to buy Dana a shoulder bag for school, Tom could describe what we were looking for because he learned the word for shoulder from dance class.

I can hum a few of the salsa tunes now, because we have the cd of the ones used in class.  We also listen to the University of Guanajuato radio station in the apartment, and of course they sometimes play salsa.  The U of Guanajuato station is also like student stations everywhere - it has classical shows and quite a few eclectic time slots where you might hear Mexican heavy metal and then a Spanish folk song.  In other eclectic music notes, Tom got the scoop on Mexican ska from some local folks and has a list of bands to purchase, we heard a five-piece Dixieland group and went to the symphony (they had a super dramatic guest conductor that the kids loved, and Smetner's Ciclo was very engaging), plus there is always street music here.  Now we wish we had our saxes and some of Tom's drums with us.

While we're in salsa class on the terrace at Escuela Mexicana for an hour in the evening a couple times a week, the kids are on site in a classroom trading off reading and using the computer.  Though they have been invited, they haven't ventured onto the dance class with us.  They would do great if they were up for dancing with the adults, such as dance and Spanish classmates Esther and Andrea from New Zealand, with me after class in the photo.  Esther says dancing salsa is not of her culture.  We joke that she is getting in touch with her inner Latina.

The next jump in our salsa education would be to go out to one of the dance clubs and practice our moves.  Tom and  I haven't yet, but we'll have to get brave (and a babysitter) at some point.  New moves and learning from salsa are all part of the adventure.