Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Spanish lessons and Mexico City architecture

A letter from Cindy

We need a bumper sticker that says "I brake for archaeological sites."

Saludos a familia y amigos,

I took the plunge in February and attended an intensive Spanish language course - 4 weeks, 5 days a week, 4 hours a day. Two hours of grammar and two of conversation each day and English was never (almost) used. I figured it was the only way I would get through a language program without getting an ulcer - just plow straight ahead with no time to worry about it. It sort of worked. The grammar was easy and the conversation was a dreaded chore. I learned quite a bit and certainly increased some of my language skills but it did not make me any more comfortable conversing in a foreign language.

The irony is that I can get by pretty well with knowing only the basics - "Good day," "How much," "Thank you," and "I don't speak Spanish," which is very useful when approached by store clerks or street vendors wanting to sell you something or have you complete a questionnaire. So the only way to not forget everything I practiced is to force myself to use it. Since the conversation side is very stressful for me and induces a sort of panic reaction (deer in the headlights kind of feeling) I am in the position of practicing something I don't like in order to achieve a very limited mastery of a subject I rarely need. So far I haven't had the discipline to do that.

On the other hand, I enjoy translating Spanish. Really no surprise - I like logic and rules. So I study grammar books and do grammar exercises almost every day, I make dozens of, no, thousands of flash cards (admittedly a compulsion), and I occasionally translate a magazine article with the help of my books and an online dictionary.

Other than adding Spanish grammar to my routine, my days are basically the same as before - exercise, housecleaning, read, cross stitch - with the occasional excursion thrown in for variety. In the past 4 months we've spent another week in Mexico City, a few days in Colima, and almost a week in Austin, TX. Yes, I've been stateside again and it was very refreshing. More on that later.

First I want to share with you some of the things I love about Mexico City. I could walk around the central area of that city for days - and have, in fact, done just that - usually with my head tilted back and swiveling left, right, and back as I try to take in all the wonderful architecture. Colonial, Baroque, Art Deco, Neoclassical, Gothic, Italian Renaissance, contemporary - I barely know one from the other but I can admire them all. While Jim attended his seminar I would just walk, usually with a route and destination in mind, but invariably I would get side tracked by a bell tower 2 blocks over that way...

I especially like towers which is one reason my head is usually tilted back

or a religious niche back that way...

another reason I was always looking up

or a glimmer of colorful tiles in another direction...

I am spellbound by mosaics and geometric designs - must be my mathematical leanings

or a flash of that Latin America dark red that always captures my attention...

I usually didn't make it to my intended destination but had a lot of fun just wandering and goggling. I took hundreds of pictures of buildings that I found appealing that you won't find in any guide book (my kids all gasp in disbelief) - buildings with imposing doors...

I lied; this one is in the guide books - the Palacio de Iturbide (1780's)

fancy windows...

just a store front

plateresque and geometric wall decorations...

office building, I think

And my favorite periods of architectural design - Art Deco...

and the Victorian dollhouse look...

Enough with the buildings already. There are museums, parks, churches, and monuments to visit too.

I got a big kick out of the quirky sculptures and park benches along Paseo de la Reforma, a broad, elegant, tree lined boulevard perfect for strolling.

One of our side trips while in Mexico City was to Xochimilco where we punted along canals built by the Aztecs. View the March blog entry "Tenochtitlan and Xochimilco: Mexico City before the Conquest" for more pictures of our excursion.

The University has lots of holiday time, for the administration as well as the students. The school took a 2 week break for Christmas and New Years holidays and another 2 weeks around Easter. I'm curious about what happens during the summer. We used the 2 week holiday in December to visit several towns in Michoacan, the state to the southeast of us. That 11 day trip is already covered in several earlier blogs. Check out "Bridget, California, and travels in Mexico" in January for a summary of the trip and references to other entries.

April is a good time for a beach trip here but most Mexicans use the Easter holiday to go to the beach so we stayed away. Instead we took a short trip to Colima, a provincial town not too far from Guadalajara that is capital of the state of Colima. The town appears to be very prosperous with beautiful gardens (one with free wi-fi), colonial buildings, and two small archaeological sites on the outskirts.

This is awfully lush for the dry season. There is obviously money in this town to afford to keep the gardens in such good shape. The state is very small but has some important ports and beach resort areas on the Pacific which I surmise generate enough income to benefit the whole state. See more pictures in the April blog entry "Volcanos, Colima, and pre-Colombian sites."

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