the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other authors

How to learn Spanish in Guatemala

I’m now at the end of my third week in Antigua, Guatemala, I have one more week here so I want to make the most of this fabulous opportunity to learn Spanish. It was after a fortnight that I noticed I was able to contribute more to the Spanish conversation around the dinner table and I certainly feel much less self conscious when trying to make myself understood. I’ve made a determined effort to learn the conjugations of a few important verbs and can now pose and answer simple questions using the past, imperfect, present and future tenses. The next step is to apply the rules to a greater range of verbs.

Much as my vocabulary in Spanish is growing, I seem to be losing the ability to recall words in English. I frequently have afternoon tea at a garden centre close to the school and when I walk around the grounds, I simply can’t remember the names of plants I recognise. Fortunately for me, the plants have tags which read the same in English as in Spanish (Begonia and Fuschia). Indeed, it strikes me that there are very many words in English that are similar in Spanish which must help to make Spanish one of the easier languages for English speakers to acquire. However, it is also easy to get caught out. For example, the Spanish word embarazada bears a striking resemblance to the English word ’embarrassed’ but actually means pregnant. You can image the humour and confusion in making such a mistake!

There are very many advantages to learning Spanish in Guatemala. For a start, the weather in Guatemala in January is lovely. I enjoy the way Antigua has all four seasons in one day: fresh and spring-like in the morning, a lovely summer’s day by noon, an autumnal chill in the afternoon and cold as winter at night. The city has lots of language schools where one-to-one classes are offered at very reasonable rates. Many Americans come here to brush up their language skills and I’ve enjoyed meeting other students from all over north America as well as others from Europe, Australia and New Zealand. My lessons take place on the roof terrace of the school with fabulous views.

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With my teacher, Jasmin. (See the smoke coming from the volcano in the distance.)

Jasmin is a very patient teacher who is tuned into my utterances and laughs at my frequent malapropisms. Most Guatemaltecos speak at a measured pace and this makes engaging in conversation a whole lot easier.

Some of the other benefits of learning Spanish in Guatemala include:

  • fabulous sights and sounds of the city such as the rhythmic clapping when tortillas are patted into shape on streets stalls and in markets
  • humming birds in the gardens
  • fantastic ruins around every corner
  • Mayan crafts, cultural traditions and archaeology
  • chicken buses for transport around the towns (former US school buses spruced up for service)

I’m sure if I had more time, I would be able to think up many other advantages but as I have homework to do, I’ll leave you with some photos.

 

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A week in the Mani

I was fortunate to spend a week at the beginning of June with Sarah Bower and  Carol McGrath at a house that Carol has taken for a year in the Mani area of Greece. Stoupa is a delightful village with a harbor and sandy beaches at the south of the Peloponnese, quite the best spot for a writing retreat owing to the literary connections. A little way along the coast at Kardamyli is the home of Patrick Leigh Fermor, which was bequeathed to the Benaki Museum following his death. Patrick was made an honorary citizen of the village  following his participation in the Cretan Resistance during World War 2. He wrote about the area in his book titled Mani, Travels in the Southern Peloponnese and he is regarded as one of Britain’s greatest travel writers.

Bruce Chatwin is the other notable writer with links to the Mani. He finished writing The Songlines while staying at the Hotel Kalamitsi in 1985. The book records his experiences of traveling in Australia and his ideas about the necessity of walking to human development. For my undergraduate dissertation I wrote about the works of Bruce Chatwin and I’ve always felt that he had a hand in securing me a first-class honours. So, when the opportunity came to visit the place where his ashes are buried, I was delighted.

Most references to where Chatwin’s ashes are buried refer to a tiny, Byzantine church in the mountains above Kardamyli. Some name Exochori as the nearest village and others refer to Chori. Without definite directions, we set off early in our search, visiting several villages situated in the Taygetos mountains that provide the backdrop to the glorious coastal area. The road took us into Chori where there was a white-washed church beside the road. From there we looked across to the golden stones of a church perched amongst olive trees. We found the path that took us alongside residential houses and out onto a grassy strip of land. The view from the church showed the wide expanse of aqua sea and the land spilling down from the mountains. An ideal final resting place for Bruce Chatwin, someone who loved broad horizons.

The church in Chori

The church in Chori

A picture of Bruce marks the spot where his ashes are buried

A picture of Bruce marks the spot where his ashes are buried

After the excitement of this discovery and the time spent absorbing the atmosphere and the wonderful views, we headed for Kardamyli. At a restaurant beside the beach we enjoyed a mezze of salads for lunch.

My companions at the restaurant

My companions at the restaurant

Cheers to Carol and Sarah for your great company and a big thank you to Carol for being such a brilliant host.

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