Hacer, traer. dormir: many irregular verbs in my Spanish class these days. It is a rocky relationship.
It’s early Saturday morning and the language school is closed. I live with a family near the school, but the clanging of pots and pans and the clamor of TV ads jangle my concentration. Where to study? I don’t know my way around Antigua yet.
Stashing my grammar book, dictionary, notebooks, and several sharpened pencils into my backpack, I head out. It’s January and I’m in shirtsleeves. Masses of colorful bougainvillea cascade down adobe walls. I step down broken cobblestone sidewalks toward the center of town. I see a café. I step inside. The place is small and dimly lit, but offers large tables and a comfortable-looking couch. There’s plenty of room — I’m one of the first customers of the day.
I spread out my books and settle in with a cup of tea.
Hago, haces, hace, I whisper as I write. Hice, hisiste, hize, hicimon, hicieron. The indicativo and pretérito have become my universe. It’s hard. When it’s especially hard, I wonder what possessed me, a woman in my sixties, to come to Guatemala and study Spanish. Oh yes, I am escaping the rainy, gray, eternally dreary Seattle winter – and learning a language I admire.
I don’t know how much time has passed when I feel a hand on my shoulder. It is the proprietor.
“Hello,” he says in perfect English. “I am sorry, but you must move to a different table. I need to seat this couple.“ I look up to see that every table in the room is full.
“But where can I sit?”
“Come with me. I’ll show you.”
He leads me down a poorly lit passageway, opens a door, and before me, bathed in sunlight, is a secluded courtyard. Orchids, ferns, palms, and brightly colored bromeliads thrive in earthenware pots. Tables and chairs are arranged on a tiled floor that runs along the perimeter of the courtyard. Baskets hung above the tables overflow with red and pink begonias. The proprietor leads me to a table, pulls out a chair, smiles, and invites me to sit. I sit, yes, but I cannot open my books. I am entranced with the perfect dome of the deep blue sky, the lush garden, the colors of the flowers.
Finally, I spread out my books and resume studying. It is about ten o’clock. The sun is full on my table and in my eyes, but I would rather squint than move.
In the background, I hear the busy footsteps of waiters intermingled with the murmur of conversations in English, Spanish, German and French, the clink of cups against saucers, the tapping of forks and knives against plates, and the scraping of chairs as people rise to leave.
The sun shifts out of my eyes and the table is in light and shadow. A breeze lightly twirls the flower basket above my table. The angled sun creates patterns of leaves on my open book. The random play of light and shadow and shape is captivating. I don’t know how long I am absorbed before I come to and get back to work.
Dormí, dormiste, durmió. Deep in concentration, I sense something moving near me. Looking up, I see a very old Mayan woman setting up a loom not two feet away. One end of her loom is tied to a post, the other wraps around her back. Another very old woman joins her, and also sets up a loom. They have spread a blanket in the center of the courtyard with an array of hand-woven bags, belts, tablecloths, and shawls for sale. I have never seen such vibrant reds, blues, yellows, and greens.
The woman closest to me works from a paper pattern that she balances on the loom. She studies the pattern, counts the fibers, then wraps a long threaded needle around her right hand and tucks it horizontally over and under the vertical threads. She also weaves with her left hand, pushing a shuttle over and under the fibers, then pulls it taut to tighten the fabric. Every time she pulls the shuttle, it thunks softly against the lower rod of the loom. The steady rhythm weaves itself into the play of shadows moving across my book. I am hypnotized.
The two women speak softly to each other, moving back and forth between their language and Spanish.
Now, the cafe is almost empty, and I hear a sound I haven’t noticed before — the gentle gurgling of water from a fountain at the far end. Then I hear the faint ring of chimes, and look up to see the old woman reach into her bag and pull out her cell phone.
I was entranced with your story, Mary, and was disappointed when it ended. How lovely and vibrant were your descriptions, fully evoking the day.
Adventurous! So invigorating to immerse in new experiences. Would love to sit in that setting and write a book or something. Thanks for the glimpse.
I enjoyed your story. I was going to go to Guatemala this January, by myself, age 64, minimal Spanish, but chickened out. Would love to know how your trip went.
I was with you! I tasted the tea and smelled the bougainvillea. I saw the lint from the yarn weaving in the air. How lovely. Living in another culture is my idea of heaven. How much to learn with the languages and temperature of the walls. sigh! I am there.
Thank you, Nancy! It was a rich experience indeed.