Category Archives: Languages

Greek Sushi

“Are you Greek?”  I shake my head.  “is your husband Greek?”  Again I shake my head.  “Your parents?”  “Όχι” (no) I respond.  “How do you know how to speak Greek?” asks the man working behind the coffee cart.  He is making me a φραπέ, an iced coffee drink with condensed milk and Nescafe.  “I learned Greek for this vacation.  It is a hobby of mine.”  He whistles through his teeth and adds a complementary cookie to my order.  He winks at me as he hands me my change.

Learning a language and then going on a vacation to a place where that language is spoken has been my hobby for the past eight years.  I am not a linguist, just a geek.  I love to talk, so adding more languages just seemed to be a natural extension of my gregarious nature.  In June of 2009, on the day that the Euro hit an all time low and Greece was in the midst of beginning of the debt crisis, my family traveled to Greece.  For twelve months prior to our departure, I taught myself Greek.

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How Learning a New Language Can Set Your Theme for 2016

Every year, I make New Year’s resolutions.  Resolutions to exercise more, pay off my debt, watch what I eat and save more money.  I know some people who make resolutions and some who do  not.  But at the end of the day, don’t these resolutions end up sounding pretty generic? They are more like declarations of values versus something new and exciting.  Last year’s resolutions blur into the previous year’s.

So instead of making resolutions, why not pick a Theme for the year.  Project Based Learning is all the rage now in early education.  PBL is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge.  Cool.  Here’s how you pick your 2016 Theme PBL style.   Pick a country where they do not speak your language, pick a language and plan a trip.  There you go, you have a theme.  For me, my theme for 2016 is half Croatian/ half Vietnamese.  Kinda sounds like a San Francisco food truck.  The plan is Croatia in June and then Vietnam next year.

So now that you have a theme, here are all the fun things that you can spend your year doing.

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Catalan – The Language of Resilience in Barcelona

Dancing the Sardana on Easter Sunday

We are standing in front of the Barcelona’s La Seu cathedral in the Ciutat Vella (old city) of Barcelona.  It is Easter Sunday.  Less than a half an hour earlier, I drag Claudia from her bed and we rush through the cobblestone maze of  alleys from La Rambla to arrive in time.   I do not want to be late.  Already, a large crowd has formed in the plaza in front of the church.  I push ahead in the crowd, not quite sure where the performance will begin.

It starts to happen.  As if by silent cue, a few old ladies and old men solemnly place their belongings in a pile together.  They join hands and back up, creating a circle with the items that they have placed together in the center.  The placing of all of their belongings together symbolizes trust and community.  Similar groups simultaneously begin to pile up their belongings and join hands.  All around us, the crowd is now more filled with participants than it is with spectators.  The circles, like ripples in a pond during a rain storm, are forming all around us.  We are in the center.  I can feel an electricity of anticipation.  I see young and old, men and women, traditionally dressed and in jeans, join together in circles.  As the music begins, slowly at first, the dancers execute little hop-touch steps.  As the music accelerates, the dancers raise their hands, their faces fill with pride and emotion.

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The Ferryman of Paros and the Princess

The Ferryman of Paros

“Tickets,” demands the man in the uniform, his hand out stretched with impatience.   His face is filled with disgust and disapproval.  I can hear him tapping his foot.  We are seated in four very comfortable, squishy chairs on the air-conditioned interior of a ferry headed from Athens to Paros.  In our group is my husband, Frank, my 2 year old son, Max, and my 14 year old daughter, Claudia.

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We found these beautifully vacant chairs after searching high and low on the gigantic ferry.  On the deck of the ferry the heat of the summer and the smoke of the cigarettes cling to the deck like a frightened sailor, afraid of being swept into the sea.  This combination of smoke and heat is suffocating.  There are no available seats.  We boarded late and now everything is taken.  It is like a game of musical chairs and we arrived after the music stopped.  As we search desperately for a place to sit for the five hour journey, we drag our suitcases behind us like balls and chains.  Finally we spot four large, beautiful, cushioned chairs side by side in the cool air conditioned interior of the boat just around the corner from the bathroom.  They are tucked in a corner as if forgotten.  Gratefully we sink into this heavenly oasis.

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Atlantis Found in Santorini, Greece

Fur Elise

The wind is blowing fiercely.  Our ferry heads directly towards a sheer cliff. It looks as if we are going to smash into the giant cliff face. Then I notice a narrow  line of buildings huddled together at the base of the cliff.   This lonely group of buildings and narrow road does not seem large enough to receive  the avalanche of human bodies and cargo that is about to erupt from the interior of our ferry.  I stand with my husband, my son and my daughter in the bowels of the ferry waiting to disembark.  The sea is rough and we wait for the ferry to steady.  Finally, the giant ramp begins to slowly lower.   As the giant ramp lowers, a digital version of Fur Elise plays eerily over and over again, a strange accompaniment to the methodical, mechanical descent of the back flap of the boat.  As the ever widening patch of light and the howl of the wind entering the dark interior of the ferry, the light melody repeats as if we are trapped in a giant music box.

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The Light of Paris Will Always Drive Away Darkness.

So come with me, where dreams are born, and time is never planned. Just think of happy things, and your heart will fly on wings, forever, in Never Never Land!

J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

To write about travel adventures seemed so trivial in wake of the dark events that occurred on Friday the 13th in Paris. As I read the Twitter feed and scour the news, I am horrified but cannot disconnect my phone from my hand.  At a certain point the news contains the same morbid facts about death and carnage, but I continue to read the same information over and over again.  I want to turn away, but I cannot. It is the same morbid hypnosis I felt as I watch the events of 9/11 unfold 14 years ago.

Fear fills me as I think of my own 20 year old daughter in New York City, my aunt in DC and my family in San Francisco. We all live in major American cities. Are any of us safe?

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It All Started with Paris.

It All Started with Paris

“Make one day Day One.” I saw this phrase yesterday on an advertisement. What a great phrase. Reminds me of how this whole crazy idea of mine started; the idea of learning a language and traveling to the country where people speak that language.  Make your one day Day One.  Paris was always a one-day-I-would-love-to-go dream.  Suddenly I was forty. My daughter, Claudia, was on the verge of high school and our one days together seemed to be numbered.  I had never even been to Europe.

My infatuation with Paris and French began in the ballet classes of my childhood.  French is the language of ballet.  I chose French for my second language in middle school.  Madame Champion taught it ineffectually by having us conjugate verbs and memorize words for spelling tests.  She spent most of her time marching up and down the aisle of the classroom monitoring my conduct and calling home to complain of my impertinent mouth.  I remember telling a boy that his mother wore combat boots.  I remember that remark leading to a call home.  What I do not remember is speaking French.  Claudia, on the other hand, attended Notre Dame des Victoires where she started learning French in kindergarten.  She learned poems and songs,  However, by seventh grade, if anyone spoke to her in French, she turned red and grew mute. She had all of her language locked in her head.  She lacked the confidence to engage in conversation.

One day, our book group read a very dreary book about a women who was diagnosed with brain cancer.  Our discussion of the book centered on the thought of what if we each had only one year to live.  Would we do anything differently.  If we would do things differently, why weren’t we living that way now.  What would we change to make the year really count.  Suddenly, all of those one days seemed urgent.  Why was I delaying my dreams to one day?  I decided Paris was going to happen.  I was going to learn French so I could help Claudia become more confident in her French.  One day became Day One of Project April in Paris.

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