Monday, May 5, 2008

A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

that's actually the name of a book i had as a kid, but it works.

here's the truth of the matter: living in a language you don't speak is just plain hard. and trying to do that when you're not well (i have a cold and mo has an upset tummy) is even harder. it started with the taxi ride last night -- well, that's if you don't count the fact that the ferry was running 90 minutes late, and the hotel had no hot water, and the restaurant where we ate lunch smelled like rot, and that i came back to a bad email from a friend. so far i've been all sardonic about our gaffes and our missteps, and it is funny that so far we've managed to order food without pumpkins or horses (which is what happens if you get the vowels in ceballo backwards) but today -- well, today i just wanted things to be easy.

probably not the best frame of mind in which to go to a spanish yoga class in a whole new tradition. the school was founded by maestro deRose, and seems to have as its founding principle, and explicitly as its mission statement, to make as many yoga teachers as possible, who are then instructed to go forth and fill the world with deRose's credo. what exactly that is, i'm not sure, but it seems to involve tantra, ecstasy and the good democratic belief that anyone can experience nirvana. new teachers are required to study for a minimum of four years before they take off with their own studio. it's sort of like slow food meets pyramid scheme: the world will be completely deRosean in, like, two thousand years.


the pollyanna in me would say that taking a yoga class in a foreign language is a great way to learn The Parts of the Body. trouble is, you don't know whether "pecho" is going to be a workhorse word, the kind of thing you might use in conversation -- for instance, if someone steps on it in the subway -- or whether it's going to be all technical, like "anterior cruciate ligament." try using that at the bus stop.

the self-pitying part of me, which really had the upper hand today, has to wonder why on earth i let marcia talk me into this. the very first exercise we did had us hunched over jiggling our abdomens. can you imagine? i go to yoga figuring what the hell, surely my sanskrit will aid me where my spanish lets me down, and if all else fails i'll just follow the guy next to me, and the first thing we do is utterly invisible to the cheating, naked ojo. we're all bent at the waist, hands on our thighs, hauling our stomachs in and letting them fall out approximately 20 times a second. not only is this not the sort of thing you can see through the next guy's t-shirt, but it's also surprisingly difficult. so when the peppy little 21-year-old teacher teacher takes pity on me and comes over to demonstrate, with her taut little 21-year-old midriff, she has to say to me, roughly translated, "no, no, you have to pull your stomach in and then let it out!"

then there's the breathing. in the middle of the class -- yeah, the middle of the class, when we least suspect it -- she has us all lie down and breathe. for, like, half an hour. first we breathe with the lower part of our pechos. then we breathe with the middle part. by that point she realizes she's lost me, so comes over to demonstrate "media," which is insulting enough, who couldn't figure out what that means? but the worst part is that i'm utterly unable to express what i want to, which is, "no, no, actually, this is not a language problem. i just hate the frickin' breathing! just leave me alone to dog it in silence, and pick on that woman over there, the bitch with the perfect pedicure and the concave belly."

so that was yoga.

when i got home, mo informed me that the power in our apartment was off. "did you call someone?," i asked, snottily. of course she had. she had very industriously turned up the name and phone number of the building caretaker and dialed away. however, it turns out that in buenos aires, you can't call a cell phone from a land line. do you need me to repeat that? you can't call a cell phone from a land line. why this is so, heaven only knows (and it might be an issue of short-term rental apartments, or it might be that you need a calling card for any call to which charges accrue, or it might be that on mondays you can only make telephone calls with a calling card), but there it is. so we have to get a phone card to dial the caretaker. who, of course, speaks no english. and i, of course, make the mistake of starting the conversation in spanish. i can't help it, i'm canadian, we're polite that way.

anyway, my bad spanish ("no hay electricidad en el apartamento, qui est-ce a la fitz roy, veinte treinta" -- yeah, cynthia, it's that bad) elicits a flurry of something or other, which i interrupt by saying, icily, "i'm sorry, senor gustavo, but could you convey any of that in english?" which elicits another flurry of something or other, which is abruptly cut off. i'm standing in the apartment holding a dead phone line, wondering: is he coming over? did he tell me to call someone else? is there anyone else to call? did he use any swear words? i caught "cinco," but is that 5pm? five minutes? five apartments ahead of me? five reasons i can go screw myself? i have no idea.

i look at mo, mo looks at me, and we sit on the couch to wait and see what will happen.

around 5:15, senor gustavo shows up. he asks all sorts of questions we can't answer, partly because we don't understand the language and partly because you just never understand questions asked by roofers, plumbers, or appliance installers. did we plug the fridge in? or, is the fridge plugged in? who in the twenty-first century would have to ask? finally he says one thing we understand, "no tocar nada!" he leaves the apartment. five minutes later, the lights are on. he's saying something about "cortado cortado cortado," which means something's been cut, but i have no idea whether he's referring to the phone call or the electricity. but who cares: now that we have internet back, we can look it up. you know, along with other handy travellers' phrases like "the man is taking his duck for a walk" and "say, isn't that the sears tower?"

sometimes, it's just hard. i'm not quite ready to say that my next vacation will be a cruise, but i can say that i understand the attraction. you know, they teach yoga on cruises. in english.


Unknown said...

so glad your blog is back, my day is not complete without a wonderful story be it happy or sad from my Heather.

Anonymous said...

el hombre está tomando su pato para una caminata.

Who love ya baby?