Category Archives: Languages

The Monkeys are Coming – Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Mangoes are falling.  Branches shake in the trees high above me, moved by invisible hands.  The monkeys are coming.  I can hear chirps that sound like high-pitch dolphin calls.  Soon a parade of monkeys jumps from tree to tree above our porch at Villa Titi.   I sit frozen, afraid to even sip my coffee.  I do not want to scare them away.  It is early in the morning on our first day in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.  I am enjoying the fresh air of the soon to be humid and hot day on the porch of our rented villa.

As if by magic, I am suddenly surrounded by monkeys.  There must be at least twenty of them in the large mango tree that grows above our villa.  These are the squirrel monkeys; tiny, delicate, light tan monkeys with soft white faces.  My eight year old son Max has come to the door. I slowly gesture him to stop.   Max stares at our tiny guests who beam at us with small intense eyes. They are so close I tingle with excitement.  I have never been this close to monkeys without a fence separating us.  A baby clings to its mother’s back staring back at us in wide-eyed wonder.

After a pause, the monkeys begin the business that brought them to our tree.  It is breakfast time.  They begin their morning routine.  They seem to have forgotten us completely.   They throw the mangoes down from the tree. They run down to the ground to retrieve their fallen treasures.  On the ground, they take a few thoughtful test bites before they carry the mango back up into the tree.  Max and I watch with silly grins on our faces.   As suddenly as they arrive, as if by mutual agreement, they all leave.  The shaking branches and fading chirps mark their retreat.

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Croatian Line Dancing on Valentine’s Day

“Please don’t make me go, please don’t make me go.”  It is Valentine’s Day.   I have on a bright red blouse to match the red purse my husband Frank gave me this morning.  My eight year old son is in the back seat of our Mazda.  We are arriving at the Croatian Cultural Center on Onondaga Avenue just at the corner of Alemany Boulevard in San Francisco.

This neighborhood is old San Francisco.  It is a neighborhood filled with small, compact, single family homes.  The living rooms perch on top of the garages, peering out at the street through their wide windows.  The driveways divide up the street inefficiently, not leaving enough room for street parking between the dipped curbs.  The colors of the house looks like a crayon box on Easter, pastel blue, peach and pink.  An outlier has painted one house bright blue like the dome roofs of Santorini.  This neighborhood remains untouched by San Francisco’s tech explosion.  There are no throngs of twenty somethings, beer gardens, overpriced lattes or fishbowl condos.  In this untouched corner lies the heart of San Francisco’s Croatian culture. Today is the Tamburitza Festival at the Croatian Cultural Center.

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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 the New Year

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.

2015-12-06 15.33.21 Continue reading Atlantis Found in Santorini, Greece