Friday, May 29, 2009

The making of guava paste in Santander, Colombia (1980)

In Christmas 1980, I went with a group of friends to a farming area in the province of Santander in Colombia. The purpose was to spend time assisting a local priest (an American) in his mission work by visiting the campesinos in the countryside and celebrating Christmas in their parish church. The climate there was warm but not exceedingly hot: what is called "tierra templada" (temperate land). The other types of climates in the tropics, depending on the altitude, are "tierra caliente" (hot land), "tierra fría" (cold land), and "tierra helada" (frozen land).

Some of the campesinos made guava paste, which was formed into blocks, wrapped in banana or plantain leaves, and shipped to the rest of Colombia. This paste was what is known as the "bocadillo veleño." Bocadillo refers to the sugary guava paste and veleño means that it comes from the town of Vélez, which we could see from the top of the hill. One of our stops was one of these places where the guavas were crushed and mixed with sugar. I'm trying out the paste, which at that point was still hot and not yet formed. When I got back to Bogotá and told a friend there about my trip, he said that it was not a good idea to eat it hot because it caused diarrhea, but I don't remember suffering any ill effects from it.

Another highlight from the trip was tasting the foam that came out of the cow when the campesinos began the process of milking it. It was sweet, almost like a milk shake.

See my travel website for more information on Colombia.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

More insights into Spanish words

Continuing with my theme of Spanish words, I have found the learning of the language a lifelong process. This is not to discourage anyone from learning, but rather to highlight the interesting things that come up as we're confronted with words that we don't recognize, or where our classroom or book learning can't prepare us for all real-life situations. I liken learning Spanish to what a friend told me about learning to play the guitar: "easy to learn badly but hard to learn well." Spanish throws a lot more at a person than the common misconception of Spanish being easy leads us English speakers to believe.

One example is illustrated on this sign that I photographed in Bogota two years ago. It is advertising a new apartment complex that will have two elevators, a garbage chute, and two social halls or community rooms that are also common in some apartment complexes here in the US. If I hadn't sounded out the word "shut" the way a Spanish-speaking person would, I never would have figured out that it meant "chute." "Shut" is the English word spelled phonetically in Spanish, though the "sh" sound does not exist in Spanish except in countries in southern South America such as Argentina, Uruguay and Chile, and where the sound does exist, it is never spelled "sh" except perhaps in a word borrowed from another language. 

Another even more important example is the word "muchacha," where not knowing how the word is used could create problems. If I had only paid attention to my high school Spanish textbook, I would have assumed that the word always meant girl or young woman. However, "muchacha" could also mean maid or servant girl, and maids sometimes dislike the use of the word when referring to them, preferring the terms "empleada doméstica" or "empleada de servicio" (female domestic or service employee).

See my language learning webpage for more tips.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Learning and re-learning Spanish

It's no secret that, with 21 countries that count Spanish as their official language, there would be differences between these countries regarding which words mean what. Take the Ferris wheel, for example. In Spain the word is "noria," but in Colombia it's called the "rueda de Chicago" (literally, "Chicago wheel") probably because the first Ferris wheel was exhibited in Chicago in 1893 (see By the way, the "noria" in the picture was taken at the April Fair (Feria de Abril) in Seville.

When I first studied Spanish in high school I learned that the word for socks was "calcetines" and the word for women's stockings was "medias," but when I got to Mexico the word "medias" was used for both, as it was in Colombia. I didn't get to Spain until 2006, and while conversing with a Spaniard on the return flight to Philadelphia, I used the word "medias" to mean socks, and he corrected me, bringing back that word "calcetines" that I hadn't heard since high school.

I found that people in Spain were not fond of Anglicized Spanish words or English words mixed in with Spanish. Another Spaniard I met corrected my use of "ok" in a sentence, something that I found common in other places I visited. They would probably cringe if I used the word "lonchar" for "eat lunch" instead of "almorzar", or "checar" or "chequear" to mean to check or review instead of "revisar." However, the Spaniards are not free of English or Anglicized words in their Spanish either. The word for "ticket" can be "boleto" or "tiquete," but in Spain you hear it called "el ticket." While in a restaurant in Seville I found that the waitresses were confused when I asked for "salsa de tomate," which is used in Colombia to mean ketchup, but they understood perfectly when I used the word "ketchup." I thought it was funny because not too long before that, there was a popular song called "Aserejé" sung by a Spanish female singing group called "Las Ketchup"! For more information on "Aserejé" or "The Ketchup Song, " see the article in Wikipedia

For tips on languages, see my webpage on language learning.