After Spanish class…
The Spanish language ladies have come to the coffee shop to continue their conversation after class. Graying hair, Baggallinis, and Birkenstocks. These sandals are made for walking – good for the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, the Santiago Trail across Spain, the white powder beach below the Maya ruins in Tulum, or scaling Teotihuacan in Mexico. Waiting to go somewhere, they are here in a coffeehouse in the burbs with their textbooks and perfect pedicures — toenails painted pink. The Spanish language ladies with graying hair and Baggallinis and Birkenstocks never paint their toenails purple or green or black. They converse, confusing cepillo, cebolla, caballo. Words in English easily distinguished from each other — brush, onion, horse. I can’t help smiling when they “horse” their hair or ride their “onions” or eat “brushes” on burgers. The aging ladies are entertaining. But they’re trying. That’s important. I know what it’s like to say the wrong word and to provide this sort of entertainment for native speakers. I picture them hailing a taxi in Miraflores or Madrid or Mexico City…ah, to be a fly on the window.
The Words We Stress…
Three millennials sipping lattes –
- “Last night was awesome!”
- “It was awesome.”
- “Talk about awesome. Did you see that guy with Anna?”
- “Yes! Totally awesome dude.”
I’m looking down at a fresh latte, hesitating to take a drink and mess up the perfect foam leaf floating on top. The artistic young man is barista today. I like to come here on his days. Coffee is not cheap and all baristas are not created equal. He makes hearts and frilly fern leaves and smiley faces to perfection. I don’t know if I can stand all this awesomeness!
Once Upon a Time…
The Middle Eastern man is always sitting alone with his laptop. Outside if it’s not too cold or too hot or raining. Maybe he’s a writer or a wanna-be writer. He is diligent. Or maybe he’s playing the stock market. Sometimes he looks intensely at the screen, does a lot of backspacing and deleting. Or maybe he’s emailing relatives back home. Sometimes he smiles to himself as if he’s had a moment of happy memory. At a half cup of espresso and half a lumpy scone (white and dark chocolate deliciousness), another man (blonde, blue shirt, jeans) joins him, asks if he’s making progress, wants to see his work. No, he says, he’s not comfortable showing his work to others before it’s “in good form.” So…just read me some, says Blondie.
He’ll read the first sentence he says, smiling, looking down at the screen. “Kan, ya ma kan.”
Blondie shrugs. “That’s it? What does it mean?”
“Once there was, and there was not.”
“That’s sorta odd,” says Blondie. “I mean…”
“It’s like you saying Once Upon a Time. But in Arabic it is more accurate to the story, since the story is fiction; it is not true. Once there was, and there was not.”
(I Google. Kan ya ma kan. The first sentence in many Arabic stories about the past…a popular song by a number of artists, the title of an album, a restaurant in Casablanca, a Facebook page that looks like a gallery, and possibly a breed of dog. And then there is this: Kan Ya Ma Kan was a three-weekend-long program in Los Angeles that featured the culinary traditions, music, and culture of the Arab-Jewish diaspora in Iraq, Syria, and North Africa. Politics may never bring people together, but music and food? Maybe.)
Once there was, and there was not…