Monday, December 08, 2014

'tis the season

If you think I am announcing the arrival of Christmas, you do not know me very well.  I am not a big fan of Christmas celebrations.  Never have been.

What I am a fan of, apparently, is birthdays.  I started the month with an essay (children of the light) about my invitation to a Mexican girl's third birthday party.  We are merely a week into the month, and I have had two more birthday celebrations.

The first, I did not attend.  Yesterday was my younger brother's birthday.  He is fast catching up with me in age.  At least, proportionately.

There is little chance that I will ever forget his birthday.  It is on Pearl Harbor Day.  And the day before my parents' anniversary. 

Dad, to my mother's unease, loved to tell people that Darrel was born the day before they were married.  Of course, several years separated the two dates.  But he always got a good laugh out of it.  And that is far more important than factual accuracy.  (See?  I come by it naturally.)

I, of course, would have enjoyed being in Bend with Darrel to celebrate.  If all goes well, we will be celebrating a series of his birthdays at the new house.  And soon.

The second was a surprise birthday party for Dan Patman.  You know Dan.  He operates Mex-ECO Tours here in town.  We have shared various adventures on the road with him.

Dan is English by birth; Mexican by choice, and by marriage -- which I guess is another form of choice.  When Dan's business partner, Ruth, told me of the party, I cleared my calendar.

I knew there would be a mixture of guests.  Dan's mother and father have moved here from England.  They had just bought a house in Barra de Navidad on the day of the party from my realtor.  There were also a handful of expatriate and tourists that knew Dan through his work.

And, of course, his wife's family were there.  Mother.  Sisters.  In-laws.  Cousins.  One of the joys of Mexican family gatherings is that there is always plenty of family.

And here most of us are.

I mentioned in my essay at Yoisi's party, the tourist and expatriate visitors all sat at one table.  And that is what happened at this party.  With a few exceptions.

If someone did not know the context, it would look as if we have been separated by skin shades.  But that would be inaccurate.

There was an obvious division -- by language.  Those who could converse in Spanish sat at two tables.  Those who felt comfortable conversing only in English sat at a separate table.

I understand why.  Once you have exhausted the casual conversation Spanish phrases, there is not much to say.  And I am speaking of myself here.

At Yoisi's party, I mingled -- and talked to a lot of people who had no English.  But I was a floater.  I never got into any in-depth conversations, and I think most people were happy that I did not try.  After all, I was an outsider who had been immersed in a family celebration.

It is moments like this that I remind myself that I need to take learning Spanish as seriously as I have taken learning about Mexican food.  I have learned a lot just living in a neighborhood where Spanish is the only language spoken. 

But language is not the flu; you do not just pick it up.  I am still at the stage where I know lots of nouns and very few verbs.  It is as if my world is filled with many things, but they are inert.

I now have another incentive.  If I am serious about earning Mexican citizenship, I not only need to stay in the country more frequently (the limitation on leaving the country during the five-year waiting period is draconian), but I absolutely must learn enough Spanish to convince the examiner that I can get by in the language of my adopted country.

Knowing Spanish was not required at the party, though, to enjoy a very Mexican custom.  The celebrant's face is often pushed into the cake during the candle-blowing ceremony.  By a trusted friend.

In Dan's case, he merely ended up with a frosted forehead -- looking a bit like an actor getting into his Klingon makeup.

Before long, I hope to be circulating at one of these parties to the whispers of Mexican guests: "With that accent, he must be from Spain."

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