Over the weekend I saw Youssou N’Dour perform in Brooklyn. I don’t say this lightly: it was transportive. The music is so overwhelmingly life-affirming, and I’m chomping at the bit to go to Senegal. So I spent the entire show alternately blissing out in the moment and imagining myself living in Dakar in the near future, making a weekend routine of going out to dance to West African music.
The band kept announcing him as the “minister of the people” but I would more aptly call N’Dour the minister of tourism because within minutes of his arrival onstage I was ready to pack up and go.* Lo and behold, I just looked up his discography and he is indeed Senegal’s minister of tourism and culture as of 2012! That is both hilarious and entirely appropriate.
Sometimes I think I’m going to wimp out on my language sabbatical but then a night like Saturday’s reminds me of how much fun I will have and eradicates the fear. In fact, I spent a good part of the show wallowing in fantasy-land “logistics” planning: I’d move to Senegal next November and spend the winter months learning French eight hours a day, then visit every country in West Africa after becoming proficient, next head south to Zimbabwe and South Africa just because, then cut back up to Rwanda, then turn east into Tanzania and Kenya, and finally somehow end up in the south of France in time for summer. Oh, and there’d also magically be time and money for Mozambique and Madagascar. And then I’d move to South America for Spanish immersion.
It’s good to dream… And eventually, when the time is ripe, I will become a bit more realistic about my dreams and turn them into reality. (With God as my witness.)
Because Isabel Allende’s “Eva Luna” must be even more beautiful in its original language.
I’m reading it in English now on the recommendation of several people who told me that if I love Gabriel Garcia Marquez I’ll love her, too. They were right. I’m halfway through and absorbed in the story in a way I haven’t been since grade school. I read it every day on the subway to and from work and am amazed when I find myself at my destination seemingly without commuting.
On Monday I skipped French conversation to go to a filmmakers’ gathering at a bar instead. When the bartender saw me carrying “Eva Luna” she broke into the hugest smile and just gushed and gushed about how much she loves Allende and how halfway through “The House of the Spirits” (which I’m planning to read next) she put the book down because she never wanted it to end.
Can you imagine if something is that powerful in translation what it must be like in the original?
One day! One day I will know, because I WILL learn enough Spanish to at least take a clumsy stab at it. Con Dios como mi testigo. I should learn that phrase in every language, I seem to use it far more here than, “Where are the toilets?”
It’s been about three months since I committed to doing an hour of French and/or Spanish every day. I kept it up almost every one of those 90-something days – I guess that’s a good run. But now I’ve hit a period of sluggish, zero-motivation, would-rather-be-doing-anything-else apathy.
I know enough about myself to know that this happens whenever I take on challenging projects, and that most of the time I come out of my slump and get back on track, until the next dip, from which I eventually emerge, ad infinitum. There are highs and lows and I just need to take the lows with a grain of salt and the assumption that I will get back on the horse when the spirit moves me.
So for now I am giving myself a reprieve from my hour-a-day rule because I’ll only get mad at myself for inevitably breaking it. But this coming Monday I will force myself to attend a French Meetup and try to use that momentum to start up those Anki flashcard thingies soon thereafter.
Avec Dieu comme mon témoin, j’apprendrai le français! Because after all…
I have like five readers but I would welcome your words of keep-on-keeping-on, even from strangers! Especially from strangers. That would be neat.
“You’ve got to embrace discomfort,” he said. “It’s the only way you can put yourself in situations where you can learn, and the only way you can keep your senses fresh once you’re there.”
This needs to be my mantra as I psych myself up to go back to French conversation Meetups for the first time in more than a year. I find them so awkward and deflating. My everyday self-consciousness balloons seven-fold at the prospect of not understanding anyone and/or butchering such a melodic language. And it’s exhaustingly hard work to catch every word the person speaking to you is saying and to formulate a response that both makes sense and talks around the words you don’t know. Without fail, I leave feeling like Sisyphus instead of patting myself on the back for taking the baby steps that will eventually add up to progress.
But! Meetups are the best, cheapest way available to me now to get over the listening and speaking hump and the more I do, the easier it’ll be when I go abroad for full-on immersion.
One of the reasons I started this blog, actually, was to force me to go to Meetups so I’d have something to write about.
I’m giving myself the month of May to dive back in. With this blog as my witness!
P.S. This week’s inspirational quote is pretty much a reframed version of last week’s quote. I’m a one-trick quote pony I guess.