things I’m looking forward to in NYC

nyc.jpg

I am moving back to New York on Thursday and I’m excited to (re)start there with a bang: a social gathering, a party, and a protest all within the first weekend. But beyond that, I can’t say I’m enthused about heading back. In fact, I was in the city overnight last weekend and though I was very happy to hang out with friends, New York itself did nothing for me. I did not feel even a slight thrill to be back amongst the skyscrapers and yellow cabs and sidewalks overflowing with people. Just a resigned, “Alright, fine, let’s do this.”

So… clearly I need an attitude adjustment and to remind myself of what I have to look forward to in the city. Off the top of my head:

  • Being close to my friends and family and being able to squeeze my niece and nephew, who live an hour away.
  • Picking out books at Albertine, the lovely French bookstore, and at my favorite used bookstore in Prospect Heights.
  • Having fewer language-based misunderstandings than in Senegal or France.
  • Visiting the next exhibit at the Met’s Costume Institute, which opens in May.
  • Storing my bike at my friend’s place in the Bronx so we can go on impromptu adventures together.
  • Having hundreds of movies to choose from in theaters, and not having to confirm that they’re not overdubbed in French.
  • Being eligible for the jobs I most want. (In Paris I did not even bother trying to break into the French documentary industry because I was too intimidated by my imperfect French.)
  • The ubiquity of clean and well-equipped public bathrooms – as well as private ones you can easily sneak into – so that you need never walk around with a full bladder or pay to pee.
  • The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, my soul mate institution.
  • Gluten-free pizza is relatively abundant.
  • There’s a volunteer oral history recording project I’m excited to get involved in.
  • I can become more deeply involved in the “Resistance,” as the expat Americans activist group I was part of in Paris calls it.
  • Weaving classes at Brooklyn Brainery (I decided I wanted to learn to weave while living two blocks from this studio and never went. Senegal re-inspired me, and I finally took a class last year in London and loved it.)
  • Driving my parents’ cars when I’m in the suburbs – it’s been way too long since I’ve been behind the wheel.
  • Picking back up where I left off with my Spanish learning and being able to practice with NYC residents.
  • Going back to New York as a French speaker and someone who, on a good day, can call myself bilingual.

I suppose that was somewhat refreshing…

I won’t bother listing what I’m not looking forward to – what’s the point of being negative about it?

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My plans, or lack thereof

So… I’m leaving Dakar. Which I know sounds ridiculous coming just days after I posted a love letter to the city. I meant every word of it, and I’m sure I would fall even harder the longer I stayed. But sometimes you can’t be with the one you love. Continue reading

(get over the) hump day inspiration: Terry Pratchett edition

Terry_Pratchett_Travel_Quote.jpgI don’t actually need any hump day inspiration considering that I got back from vacation last night and did literally nothing at work today but hang out and hyperventilate/chatter about said vacation while extremely high on espresso and life.

I’ll share photos once I sift through all 1,500+ of them and find the gemmiest of the many, many gems… Because where I went, it was eye orgasms every which way you looked.

Hasta pronto, mis amigos! No puedo esperar para mostrar mis fotos del más magnífico vacaciones en la historia de vacaciones! (I’m still high on that coffee, fourteen hours later.)

what not to do when planning an international trip

lonely traveler.jpg

1. Buy your airline ticket.
2. Vaguely look into visas and decide you don’t need any for the countries you’re visiting.
3. Wait a month.
4. Two days before your trip, think to yourself, did I adequately check whether I need a visa for that one country?
5. Do a quick Google search.
6. Convince yourself a visa may be necessary even though the vast majority of the information online claims that you can get it in the airport… But there are those one or two sites that differ.
7. Panic.
8. Call the airline and attempt to ask in Spanish (yes, it had to be in Spanish) whether it is in fact possible to get the visa in the airport.
9. Further panic when the customer service guy wants to look up your ticket first, but can’t find it. (Yes, panic, even though when you click on a link in your ticket confirmation email, it takes you to a second confirmation page directly on the airline’s site. And even though the reasonable explanation for the confusion is that you can neither correctly spell your name in Spanish letters nor intelligibly articulate dates or times in Spanish numbers.)
10. Miraculously understand when the guy tells you he’s going to attempt to find someone who speaks English because the conversation will be too complicated otherwise.
11. Wait on hold for fifteen minutes, worried.
12. Call back when phone gets disconnected. Wait on hold another twenty five minutes.
13. Finally get on the line with someone who speaks English, and within the space of two minutes, confirm that your ticket is just fine and that you can get the visa in the airport before your flight, no problem.
14. Hang up the phone, and close ten Chrome tabs on which the same information was written, but which you chose to ignore because you court anxiety like it’s Vitamin C and you’ve got scurvy.

[Photo: JD Hancock]

I’m just loco like that

departures board.jpg

The chapter we’re studying in my Spanish textbook is called “Ida y Vuelta,” and it’s travel-themed. Yesterday, we split into two groups for an in-class activity in which each group had to come up with a travel adventure plan to present to the other group. Details were to include where we’d go, what we’d do, how long we’d prepare for the trip, and how we’d finance it.

I sheepishly reported to my group that I have a real-life travel adventure plan I am hoping to put into action soon. When I told them what it was, it sounded so much like fantasy that I started passing it off as such to hide my embarrassment. “Primero, voy a ir al Senegal para practicar mi francés, y luego voy a ir al Argentina para seguir aprendiendo mi español, y voy a ir de un país al otro país por, erm… no sé… viajar alrededor los otros países del mundo, quizas?” Which, if I spoke proper Spanish, would translate to, “First I’m going to go to Senegal to practice my French and then I’m going to go to Argentina to continue learning Spanish, and I’m going to get from one country to the other by traveling around the world, maybe?”

We ended up fusing that plan with everyone else’s much more modest travel fantasies (tomar el sol en Florida, conducir por México, viajar a Praga para ver los museos) and decided we would finance our now wildly-untenable trip by working really hard in a restaurant for two months beforehand and selling our travel photos to National Geographic during our trip – which actually sounds much more plausible than the idea of me circumnavigating Africa in-between language immersion stints.

At one point while trying to explain the plan, my classmate asked the teacher, “Cómo se dice, ‘crazy'”?

I piped right up, “Loco!” Because if you harbor a dream as far-fetched as mine, you’re going to know that word in many languages.

[Photo: Fumigraphik]

setbacks

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Setback one: After spending day after day checking airfare alerts for the best deals (and there were many: $525 to Seoul, $400 to Hong Kong, $330 to Paris, $275 to Martinique), I ended up buying two decidedly non-deal tickets to the two places I wanted to go to most: Mexico City and, erm, somewhere else nearby.

I leave next Thursday. Last Wednesday, I ran too far in my newish running shoes that just don’t fit very well, and I’ve been increasingly hobbled by my big toe since then. While the day after the run it merely ached, today it is so bad that I’m limping around wondering if I might have somehow broken my toe simply by running on it.

I had planned to spend the entirety of my vacation wandering aimlessly around the streets of the cities I’m visiting, as is my wont, but now I’ll be lucky if I can even step into and out of the taxis and buses I will be relying upon to haul me around. Panicked! Calling a doctor tomorrow…

Setback two: It’s time to register for my next semester of Spanish at work. In order to do that, I need to submit an updated letter from HR saying that I’m expected to be contracted through the end of the course. Problem is, in the pursuit of this letter I found out that my contract will almost certainly not be extended past December 31.

I’ve been at this job long enough to know that anything is possible, including that my contract will be miraculously renewed month by month until April 19, at which point I’ll have filled the post for the full year that it is allowed to be held by a temp. Even if that happens though, what’s fairly certain is that I won’t be able to take a free Spanish class next semester.

Nadie va a escribime la carta, y sin lo [la?? ella??], no puedo tomar el clase. I wrote that without the help of Google Translate! This class has taught me so much, it’s the highlight of my Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and I’m so, so sad that I won’t be able to continue with it in the new year.

 

the simple things

dominoes

I live in a Dominican neighborhood so I have plenty of opportunities to speak Spanish if I so choose. I haven’t thus far because I’m so limited in what I can say and understand.

But this weekend I held the door open for a little old lady with her granddaughter, and she said “Gracias” to me. It took me far too long to switch gears and respond, “De nada,” but I still counted it as a full conversation entirely in Spanish, and I was pleased. You’ve gotta start somewhere.

[Photo: mckinney75402]

español no es fácil

studying dog

Last week, I got demoted in Spanish. The teacher spoke with me after class and told me she thought I’d be better off in Level 3 than Level 4, where I was having trouble holding my own, to put it mildly. Even though I knew she was right, and had asked the Spanish coordinator to go down a level before the class even started (to which he encouraged me to stay put, give it a week, and re-assess), it stung to be called out as the one out-of-her-depth kid holding up all the others. That’s not quite how my teacher put it – but in contrast to my Spanish, my English language inference skills are excellent, and that’s exactly what she meant.

Apart from my wounded pride, though, I’m happy to have made the switch. Level 3 feels much more appropriate to my aptitude, or lack thereof. And my new teacher is from Buenos Aires, which is awesome because a. falling in love with Argentina was my inspiration for picking up Spanish again (fifteen years after falling in love with Barcelona was my inspiration for attempting to learn Spanish the first time), and b. Argentine-accented Spanish is the most amazing-sounding thing on Earth and I want to be around it as much as possible (though I will never in a million years be able to replicate it).

In completely unrelated news, here are some interesting reads that I missed the chance to post last Friday:

The moral case for eliminating borders completely 

I so wish I had gone to a dual-language public school. They are on the rise. 

Six travel apps every solo female traveler should have

Studying the Pompeians’ lives, rather than their deaths

Can you imagine flying across the Atlantic for $150 round-trip? It may soon be possible…

36 hours in Buenos Aires (though my 36 hours would be a lot different than the Times’)

Have a good week!

[Photo: Francisco Martins]

why learn Spanish, part 5

highest well-being countries

Because 7 out of the 10 countries with the highest well-being scores are Spanish-speaking. (Though I think their well-being has as much to do with their average temperatures as their culture.)

On a related note, I start my Spanish class on Wednesday – wish me luck! (I will need it, since I may or may not have crammed a million things I don’t actually know into my head before my placement test, promptly forgotten them all, and then found myself in Level 4 wondering how I will possibly keep up.)

for those who studied Spanish in high school: I salute you

runaway brains

Good call.

If, like me, you attended high school at the dawn of the World Wide Web (or before the digital age entirely), you will recall that there were no WiFi-enabled mobile devices to distract you while you were quizzing yourself on your Spanish verb tables. The Internet is like the Mariana Trench of procrastination possibilities.

And, if you are approximately my age you will also have noticed that your brain was a million times more agile and spongy then than it is now. These days, everything I learn seems to bounce off the impenetrable fortress of my long-term memory and land in the short-term mud.

Did you know that until recently the term “geriatric pregnancy” was used to describe the pregnancy of any woman over the age of 35? (It’s not much better now: “advanced maternal age.”) Horrifying and ridiculous. However, I believe the only appropriate term for someone who studies a language past the age of 35 is geriatric learning. Advanced linguistic age also has a nice ring to it.

And those are my wrinkled, feeble thoughts for today. (Thoughts which I blogged about while avoiding studying for my Spanish placement test.)

[Photo: Anna M]