Sunday, January 10, 2016

Les Chaises Longues

This morning Elena declared that she wanted to go to the beach. Charlie and I took our time getting up and about, had leftover mole for breakfast, and then we all headed out. Tony and Elena had been shown a staff-only paved pathway between some of the buildings that she could use to take her wheelchair to the beach. Where the resort met the beach there were several palapas with chaises longues beneath them, adjacent to a small bar with wooden swings (in place of stools) suspended from the awning. Elena's wheelchair could not operate on sand and when we got there, the only reclining chairs in the shade were a little ways away from the pavement. A staff managers stood nearby and noticed that we were considering our options. He told us, “We will take her anywhere she wants to go.” We pointed out a seat and he called over three other young men to help him. They lifted Elena in her wheelchair and set her down next to the beach chair she would occupy for the better part of the afternoon.

The rest of us installed ourselves next to her and read, relaxed, or people-watched. We noticed a little boy wearing a Seattle Seahawks jersey and discussed how we couldn’t escape football even here. There had even been signs around the resort advertising upcoming football games and we had seen some Americans watching a college game on the big TV in the lounge. The beach was pretty quiet, and fortunately the wind had died down so the temperature was great. Charlie and I took another walk along the shore so that he could smoke cigar, and then rejoined Tony and Elena under the palapas.

Waiters came by periodically to see if we needed anything to eat or drink. We eventually ordered some very good fish ceviche, a couple plates of French fries, and chiles rellenos. Nearby three aspiring Adonises stood around displaying their fairly cut but wispy thin bodies. The most jacked of them wore one of those itty bitty speedo-type bathing suits that doesn’t look good on anyone. They were all tanned beyond was what was prudent and were clearly trying to impress each other and anyone else who might be watching. The skinniest of them even went as far as doing some half-assed push-ups in the sand. The only woman among them wore a thong bikini and had very large, very fake breasts. It was like an episode of Baywatch.

After lunch Charlie and I decided to go swimming in the pool. Charlie really wanted to swim in the ocean but there were signs prohibiting this due to the large sharp rocks hidden beneath the waves just a little ways out. The waves themselves were also pretty imposing. Despite the prohibition, there was a lifeguard on duty, although he spent most of the afternoon crouched in the shade behind his lifeguard stand, facing away from the water. We found a place to swim in a fairly deserted corner of the large pool. The resort's website had advertised it as a heated pool, but it was pretty damn cold and took some getting used to. The sun began to sink in the sky and the palm trees partially shaded this section of the pool. We didn’t last long before we were too cold to swim and decided to get out. As we walked toward the pool steps, I noticed a mother and her young son and daughter sitting under a poolside umbrella. A pair of red Crocs was slowly floating away from them in the water. The girl, who looked maybe four years-old, noticed us and pointed at the shoes expectantly but didn’t say anything. She might not have been sure whether we spoke her language. “Did you lose your shoes?” I asked her in Spanish. She pointed at her slightly older brother, “They’re his! They fell off!” I brought her the shoes and their mother thanked me.

Charlie and I found a couple chaises longues in the sun and decided to lie there awhile to let the water evaporate off of us. It wasn’t long before we felt that we were baking, so we went up to our room. Tony and Elena had just gotten there as well. They reported that people had been riding loud dune buggies on the beach so it was no longer peaceful and quiet.


That evening Charlie cooked marinated chicken and sautéed potatoes. He had been making due quite well with his pocketknife, two cooking pots, and two weak burners. At one point he happened to look out the big window in our sitting room and reported that the bellboys were racing each other down a paved hill on the luggage carts. After dinner he and I went out to sit by the pool again so that he could have a cigar. I was trying to read The Martian, but every time we sat down to read together we ended up talking so I didn't get very far.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Day I Got a Girlfriend

Charlie slept about twelve hours and I got at least nine. There’s nothing like being sleep deprived and jetlagged to help you get through what would otherwise have been a restless night on an uncomfortable bed in an unfamiliar place. My back didn’t even hurt when I woke. I had been dreaming that Charlie and I were seated side-by-side at a library, looking at a picture of Michelle Obama. The president came up behind us and I said to him, “Your wife is a hot babe.” I immediately realized that this was a disrespectful thing to say to a man of his standing, so I added, “… Sir.”

Charlie and I reluctantly pulled ourselves out of bed, showered, and reconsolidated our belongings. We went down stairs and checked out and then went into the resort's third and newest building to drop our bags in Tony and Elena’s provisional room. We would all be relocated to a single room later that afternoon.

Looking southeast from our first building

Looking east from our balcony over Villa Marina

Northern view over Royal Country with mountains in the distance

Tony and Elena had a rest because they had already been up for hours, and Charlie and I went down to have breakfast at the resort’s restaurant. On the way we passed the woman who I had locked eyes with the day before in the lobby. She greeted me with more intense eye contact, placed her hand over her heart and bowed subtly. After we had passed her Charlie and I looked at one another and raised our eyebrows. “She looooves you,” he said.

The restaurant was serving a buffet of both standard American fare and Mexican food. We went for the latter and ate chilaquiles with both red and green salsa, pork taquitos, refried beans, and potatoes cooked with onions and peppers. Once again service took so long that we were antsy to leave by the time the bill was brought, but at least the food was good. Unfortunately, we had to listen to ABBA being played over the loudspeakers that surrounded the adjacent pool.

We four travelers had previously agreed that all we would do that day was sit by the pool. We found a comfy spot, adjusted the umbrella and proceeded to lounge around. It was quite windy so the temperature was almost perfect when sitting in the sun, but we knew our translucent Seattle skin would not allow us to sit in the sun all day. However, the shade proved to be a little too cold at times.

After a while, Charlie and I took a walk down the long beach, Playa Cerritos, next to the resort. The sand was wonderfully smooth and warm, and there weren’t many people around. We were approached by the occasional vendor selling hats, jewelry, and very fake "Cuban" cigars, but none of them were very pushy and left us alone after a simple, “No, gracias.”

Facing north on Playa Cerritos

Cha partaking

After the smokewalk we rejoined Tony and Elena at the pool. It was too hot to sit in the sun and a little too breezy to sit in the shade, so I moved from chair to chair. We watched a woman feed fruit to a large iguana who was parked under a palm tree. I had seen pictures of iguanas on the resort’s Trip Advisor page, but this was the first one I actually saw in person. A family noticed the iguana and approached it, the adults wisely keeping their distance. One busy bodied little boy traipsed around as little boys are wont to do, and the iguana watched intently to make sure there was no threat. Had the boy come any closer than he did, I feared he would be in for a nasty tail whip or even a bite.

King of Pool Island


Tony and Charlie had an appointment to talk to reception about the new room that we would all be moved into that afternoon, so they withdrew from the poolside to do so. They came back some time later and assured us that it was up to standards. I was very pleased when I finally saw it. The room was large and bright with big windows facing inland. We had a small kitchen, large dining table, and a bedroom with a king size bed and private balcony for Tony and Elena. There were too newer, albeit still slightly stained sofas with trundles similar to the ones we had planned sleeping on in the other room. We decided we would just push the sofas together to make a mega bed with retaining walls. It worked quite well.

In the afternoon we all decided to pay a visit to the supermarket to stock up on some basics so that we weren’t dependent on restaurants the entire week. I had been speaking to the staff in Spanish since we arrived and found that we tended to get better information when I did so. I spoke to a couple of bellboys about what was around for shopping and they immediately recommended a nearby American hypermarket chain. I told them we’d rather shop at a smaller local place. They discussed it a bit and, considering the long distance we would have to travel to reach these places and the fact that they would less accommodating to Elena’s wheelchair, they settled on the Mexican version of a different American hypermarket chain. I asked them to call us a taxi that would fit all of us and a wheelchair, but the car that showed up was just a standard compact sedan. We put Elena in the front seat and squeezed our remaining wide bodies into the back seat. It was a snug fit and I was tilted sideways on one hip for the whole ride. The rear bumper scraped the pavement as soon as we went over the first speed bump on our way out of the hotel.

The bellboys had told the driver where we wanted to go, but he immediately tried to convince us to go to the closer, more convenient American store. He offered to wait outside for us if we went there so that we didn’t have to call another taxi and quoted us a decent price for his troubles, so I relented. The driver was very kind and chatty along the way, switching back and forth between Spanish and simple English for the benefit of the other occupants. We shopped and returned to the resort where Charlie made us beef mole and rice with a side of cabbage and cucumber slaw. It was the best meal we’d had since arriving.


Later Charlie and I went to sit by the poolside so that he could smoke and I could read. I was surprised at how cold it was and was ill-prepared in terms of my clothing. It’s not supposed to be cold in Mexico! Several resort staff roamed around surveying the grounds. We had begun to suspect that the pith helmeted staff members were some kind of security team. Charlie spotted Intense Eye-contact Girl lurking nearby and teased, “There’s your girlfriend.”

Friday, January 8, 2016

Aterrizaje

I have always wanted to visit Mexico, but never imagined that my first trip to the country would take the form that it did. For one thing, I always imagined I would go with my dad. I wanted to visit Monterrey, where the Mexican side of my family came from and where several relatives still live. We would stay with family or friends and get to see the region from a local’s perspective. What really happened was that Charlie's parents invited us to spend a week with them at a beach resort in Mazatlán where they had timeshare weeks to use. I didn't know much about Mazatlán other than the fact that it was a popular destination for American tourists, similar to Cancún or Cabo San Lucas. While this was very different from what I envisioned my first Mexico trip ­– my “heritage” trip, if you will – would be like, I was rather looking forward to a week of lazing about, getting high doses of vitamin D, and eating all the tacos.

We had a well-stocked mileage account with Delta thanks to our previous travels. For this reason, I chose to book a ludicrously long and arduous itinerary with them. I soon regretted that choice and would be kicking myself even harder on the two-stop return journey the following week. We had decided to use our miles to splurge on first-class tickets since this seemed to make long international flights more bearable. If you can afford it, a little physical comfort goes a long way during what is generally a fairly restrictive and uncomfortable way to travel. Our journey started with a red-eye flight departing Seattle at 12:35 AM destined for Minneapolis, of all places. There we would endure a four-hour layover, followed by another four-hour flight to Mazatlán. The first leg of our journey was on an older plane with surprisingly uncomfortable seats for a first class experience. As a result, we barely slept a wink. The only good thing about the seemingly illogical connection was that we got to eat Shanghai noodles at an airport restaurant called Shoyu. It had been recommended by a musician friend who flew through there frequently and ended it up being the best airport food I have ever had.

By the time the second leg of the flight commenced I was exhausted enough to doze off, only to be periodically shaken awake by turbulence. When my body finally gave up on sleeping, I was disappointed to find that only two of the four hours of flight had elapsed. Soon after, the captain announced that we had crossed into Mexico. I leaned over Charlie to get a glimpse of it out the window and saw the barren brownness of the Sonoran desert, veined with the snaking patterns of dried riverbeds. Later, when Charlie got up from his seat to use the lavatory, I took advantage and occupied his empty space, pressing myself against the window as we approached the low greenish foothills where the Sonora meets the western Sierra Madre. The geological features of this area were magnificent. Dark green trees blanketed even the steepest, most serrated edges of the sierra (which also means “saw” in Spanish, by the way). As we moved deeper into the system, the ridges became pointier and the raised areas more folded over one another like a pleated fabric. Occasionally, and in the remotest of areas, a little village would appear atop one of these seemingly impassible areas, in the tiniest of clearings where the ground was just level enough to press together a few modest dwellings. I tried to imagine what life would be like for those people. I knew that at one point my grandmother had lived in a similar place called Mata de Guaje, a tiny community on the outskirts of Monterrey.

As we neared Mazatlán, the sierra began to lie down into vast expanses of bright green farmland. On the horizon was the shining Pacific Ocean, which looked like a band of deep grayish blue set firmly atop the edge of the land. As the plane descended over the fields in the direction of the runway, I saw fast flashes of tiny wooden huts, farm machinery, and other evidence of occupation.

We landed without incident and were ushered through a painless immigration and customs procedure with the usual humorless staff one encounters during these situations. As soon as we were cleared, we exited and were immediately given a sales pitch by an aggressive but slick timeshare salesperson. We didn’t even realize it until he invited us to give him one hour of our time. We declined and instead proceeded to the lobby to meet our driver, a short, broad and very cheerful man named Juanito. He made sure our documents were in order and inquired as to why I could speak Spanish. When he asked whether Charlie knew any, I told him that he worked in a kitchen and had only learned the bad words. Juanito found this very amusing.

While waiting for a few more passengers on our transport to clear customs, we chatted with a nice couple from Virginia who were staying at the same resort as us, the Mayan Palace. They gave us a few pointers for places to eat and activities. Then another tourist wrangler appeared and led us all outside and onto a large charter bus. Out the window, a jeep full of camouflage-dressed, heavily armed Sinaloa state police sped by.

The drive seemed long, but probably didn’t exceed 40 minutes. I looked out the window the whole time, observing locals going to a fro, analyzing the different types of dwellings and businesses. These varied from brightly painted, well-maintained, gated buildings to falling down wooden sheds draped with holey tarps and cardboard. Smatterings of mostly unintelligible graffiti decorated countless walls. The one spray painted tag that stood out to me read, “SKELETOR”. We even drove by a prison complex that had an unnecessarily long name painted in large black letters on one outward facing stone wall. When literally translated, it read something like, “Center for Carrying Out Legal Punishments against Crimes” and underneath, very simply, “Mazatlán Penitentiary.”

When we finally arrived at the resort, a swarm of bellboys on the cusp of being bellmen, who were dressed in blue guayaberas, came out to greet us. It became immediately obvious that they were trying to pile on the courtesy in hopes of earning tips. We tried to insist on schlepping our own luggage so that we wouldn’t bankrupt ourselves paying for simple things we were able-bodied enough to do. The check-in process was long, but the staff was courteous. One of the bellboys escorted us to the suite we would share with Charlie’s parents on the ninth floor of one of the resorts three buildings.

The lobby, pool area, restaurant, and multiple lounges we passed along the way gave us the impression that we were staying in much nicer place than we would ever try to afford on our own. However, when we exited the elevator on the ninth floor, the property immediately took on a feel of a low- to middle-class high-rise apartment building. Our flat was just around the corner and as soon as the bellboy opened the door, the smell of mildew assaulted my nostrils. This odor is typical of places near the ocean, but I have never stayed in a place where it was quite this strong. The bellboy left and we surveyed the scene. It wasn’t dirty, but all of the flooring and furnishings were so old that they looked dirty anyway. One room had a rock-hard king size bed, which would go to Tony and Elena. The other room was dark and windowless and contained a shabby, deflated twin-size sofa bed with a low trundle that could be pulled out next to it. Since the height of these sleeping surfaces differed by about eight inches, cuddling would be out of the question. There were no sheets either. We contemplated sleeping in separate sections on the marginally more comfortable looking L-shaped couch. Our bigger concern was the lack of accessibility. Charlie’s mother Elena uses a wheelchair and would have a hard time maneuvering through the tight spaces of this flat. We didn’t think Charlie’s parents would be pleased when they arrived.

It was about an hour and a half before the parents got to the resort and we spent much of it sitting on the nice furniture in the lobby, swinging at a mosquito that kept trying to land on us. At one point, a young female staff member with a pith helmet walked by. Her unusual headware caught my attention and I inadvertently stared at her. She noticed me, made eye contact, and then held my gaze for longer than was comfortable. Charlie noticed this and then we discussed whether she was looking at him or me (but it was obviously me). I was totally getting a gay vibe from her.

When Tony and Elena arrived, we exchanged warm greetings and then explained the situation about the room. Charlie’s dad, Tony, went to the desk to try to straighten things out since he had called weeks ahead to specifically request an accessible room with a walk-in shower. Those particular rooms were booked up for the next two weeks, of course, but they managed to secure another that would suffice for the evening. Charlie and I would remain in the originally assigned flat that night and the following day we would consolidate into another suite that was better suited to Elena’s needs.

Once the parents were squared away, we reconvened in the lobby to eat dinner at the resort’s main restaurant. The food was decent, but not as amazing as the price indicated it should be. The service was maddeningly slow for how empty it was and our hunger only augmented our annoyance. It took several suggestive stares from each person at our table to get the waitstaff to bring the bill. Bellies full, we retired to our respective rooms for the evening. Charlie lay down on the rock-hard king size bed with his still-shoed feet hanging off the edge and was snoring within five minutes. Shortly after, I settled into the musty linens for what I hoped would not be a fitful night of back torture.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Reason I Do This: My Abuela

Before I tell you about my trip to Mexico, I want to tell you about my grandmother, Evangelina Garcia, who immigrated to the U.S. from Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico with her husband, Enrique, in the early forties. I began thinking about and planning this entry more than four years ago, when she had yet again taken ill. It seemed more serious that time, like she might not pull through. I began to reflect on my experiences with her throughout my life and what she had meant to me. In doing so, I discovered that she had been a huge impetus behind who I am now and, in a way, she has been responsible for many of the wonderful experiences I have had over the last several years. She is even partially responsible for the existence of this blog and, as such, merits recognition. She passed away on June 6, 2012. I only hope this story does her justice.

Much of my relationship with my grandmother was fraught with verbal miscommunication. She only spoke Spanish, and English was my first language. Although I had almost daily exposure to Spanish as a very young child, I didn't really begin speaking it until I was fourteen. 

Moments of linguistic confusion dot my early memories of being around my grandmother. To begin with, my extended family called her Abuela (Grandma) and pronounced it in such a way that I always heard it as 'Uela (which I imagined was spelled "Wayla"). Since I didn't know the word, I just assumed that "Wayla" was her name. I didn't learn that her name was actually Evangelina until I was verging on adolescence. My grandfather, Enrique (aka 'Uelo), was slightly more proficient at English. He was gregarious and sweet and was always laughing. He had thick white hair, was blind and wore big dark glasses. He was also a talented woodworker and his creations decorated my childhood home. Whenever I came to their house, he would pull me onto his lap, run his hand over my face and say in his thick accent, "You are so beeyooteefull!"

Despite not literally understanding much of what my grandmother said to me early on, I learned a lot about her through our interactions. I knew she could cook, even though I was picky and just assumed I wouldn't like her food a lot of the time. Boy, was I mistaken! Her house always smelled like fried meat, tortillas, and the garlands of garlic that hung in her pantry. I watched her make tortillas and coveted the heavy, black molcajete she kept in a low cabinet in her kitchen. Now that was an impressive piece of kitchenware! I didn't actually know what it was for until I was much older though. I remember wondering why on earth she had a bowl with a rock in it in the kitchen. It seemed huge to me when I was a kid and was difficult to lift. It was rough, made of some kind of porous, volcanic rock, and the pestle was shaped like a pointy egg. I liked to roll it around inside the mortar so that it made a satisfying stone-on-stone sound. 

In addition to cooking, she loved feeding people, especially children. While I was often ungrateful about what she served me, I could see how excited she was to serve it. One of the first phrases I learned from her was "¿Quieres?" (Do you want some?). She used to make up silly songs about what she was preparing, with lyrics like "Macalón, macalón..." (a song about macaroni and cheese). My favorite song was the one she would sing when she would make Kool-Aid. She would add the ingredients into a big plastic container, put the lid on and then shake it rhythmically while chanting, "Culei, culei, culei..." The children under her care would look on in anticipation for the sweet drink they were about to enjoy. One of my earliest memories is of one occasion when my maternal cousin Mindy came with us to my grandparents' house. Mindy was still pretty small and was being held in someone's arms at the entrance to the kitchen. There my grandmother stood shaking the aforementioned plastic jug, singing the Kool-Aid song. She paused, smiling at Mindy. "¿Quieres?" she asked her. Mindy started to cry.

She seemed to love children, as if that wasn't obvious by the fact that she bore fourteen of her own, eleven of whom survive. She babysat my brother and I when we were very young and always seemed cheerful when we visited. She sometimes watched other people's children too. I could also tell that she was very proud of her own children and grandchildren. The walls of her small home and every horizontal surface were absolutely covered with pictures of her family, almost to the point of clutter. Her photos ranged from old, black and white images of classy-looking, attractive relatives, to the brightly colored ones of the newest born additions to her ever-growing legacy.

Enrique and Evangelina on their wedding day

Although she loved children, she had a very low tolerance for nonsense, especially when her telenovelas (Spanish-language soap operas) were on. She could often be found her lying on her side on the couch, engrossed in these shows. When someone would get out of line, in particular when children started fighting with each other, she would prop herself up on one elbow and grab one of her dreaded chanclas (house shoes). She would raise it above her head and yell orders in Spanish. Whatever she yelled was unintelligible to my brother and me at the time, but we knew what she meant. Sometimes she yelled a word that sounded like, "¡State!" (pronounced STAH-tay), which we knew meant "Knock it off!" I think she may have actually been saying something like stápate, a Spanglish construction consisting of "stop it" pronounced with a Spanish accent and -te, meaning "you". I never actually saw her strike anyone with her chancla, but no one dared call her bluff.

Her home decor also showed that she was religious. My favorite items in her home were pieces of religious decor because, in true Mexican style, they were brightly colored and sparkly. My favorite object to examine in her house was a small, folding triptych that she had on one of her end tables. I don't remember what it had on it, but I think it had something to do with the Virgin Mary. Before going down for the naps she would make us take, I would see her kneel at the side of her bed, hands folded in prayer. At the end, she would kiss a little gold cross on a chain. It may have been a necklace or a rosary - I don't remember clearly. In addition to being religious, she was also superstitious and had nailed a horseshoe over the front door for good luck.

She was adept at sewing. In one corner stood a beautiful treadle sewing machine. The machine itself was black and gold and built into a gorgeous wood cabinet with decorative embellishments. Below was an ornate, heavy black wrought-iron treadle. I loved crawling under it and rocking the treadle back and forth with my hands to make the wheel spin. When I was older, she also taught me embroidery and gave me an old green cookie tin full of thread, needles, fabric, and an embroidery hoop so that I could work on my projects at home.

While I didn't know much about her history, there was plenty that I could tell about her just by her appearance. I knew she had had a physically strenuous life, probably due to the hard physical work she had done over the years and the number of children she had borne and reared. She tipped back and forth like a penguin when she walked, as if her knees didn't really bend. I loved her long, black hair and I think she did too. She always had it in a braid or in a bun and sometimes braided my hair too. When I was older I resolved to keep my hair long when I was an old lady, just like her. For most of my childhood, she only had one tooth, and later on someone provided her with dentures. She had lots of wrinkles on her face that amplified her expressions of joy and would put the fear of God into you when she was angry. I once saw her cry very briefly, shortly after my grandfather moved into his own place. I knew he had moved, and I might have even had a vague understanding about why, but for some reason felt compelled to ask her about it (as if I could even understand her answer). "Where's grandpa?" I asked. She didn't answer with words, but with a sudden, loud sob, turning away from me and dropping her face into her open hands. I felt terrible for asking. My grandfather passed away in 1993.

Enrique and Evangelina

After I had learned to read in English, I became more curious about my grandmother's language and how to go about communicating with her. I remember occasionally asking my dad how to say different things. The only phrase that stuck was "¿Cómo está?" (How are you?), and I used it every time we saw her during our greeting hug. I started to pay attention to the other Spanish words I would hear and tried to discern both their spelling and their meaning just from context. I was usually way off on both accounts.

Most of the notable Spanish words I heard were uttered during exchanges between my dad and my uncle Frank. Perhaps they stood out because they were said in an exaggerated way and were usually swearwords, insults, or components of dirty jokes. Once in a while I would repeat these words with the full knowledge that I might get in trouble for doing so. I never did, but my dad would visibly tense up, his eyes would widen and he would command sternly, "Don't EVER say that in front of your grandma!" Unfortunately, most of the words I learned prior to taking proper language classes carried this warning. I wasn't the only Garcia child to have heard it either. One summer during a family camping trip I called my cousin a pendejo (dumbass). He asked me, "Do you even know what that means?"
"No," I admitted sheepishly.
"Well, you shouldn't say it if you don't know what it means. And definitely don't say it in front of grandma."

My freshman year of high school arrived and Spanish was finally being offered at my school. I enrolled with the express purpose of eventually being able to communicate with my grandmother. I excelled in class because I loved it, and classmates often looked to me for help with their own work, even the kids who spoke Spanish as a first language. At last I had acquired a few basic phrases that I could use to communicate with my grandma and made a few shy attempts to do so. They were simple things like introducing a friend to her, offering her food or drink, or just getting through basic salutations and small talk. She taught me a couple of words along the way that I might not have picked up given the European leanings of the Spanish taught in most American schools. At one family party when I brought her a plate of food, she asked me to bring her a trinche. I looked at her blankly, embarrassed that I didn't know this word. "¿Un trinche?" I asked, repeating the word back to her to make sure I had heard it correctly. "Sí." I was at a loss, so I asked her what it was. "TE-NE-DOR," she enunciated in a loud, annoyed voice. I knew that word. It meant "fork".

I began to appreciate her sense of humor, which I had never been able to grasp before. One year during Christmas, we were sitting together talking while she enjoyed a beer. She suddenly realized she was missing something and began looking around in her chair and on the floor. "What did you lose?" I asked. Right then she patted her front shirt pocket and a look of relief graced her face. She reached in and pulled out the missing object. It was her dentures. We both had a good laugh. Another time I went to her house for a visit with my dad. As usual, she was watching Univision, the major Spanish language network that broadcasts in the U.S. We all happened to look at the television the exact moment the screen displayed a well-endowed blond woman jogging on a beach in slow motion, à la Baywatch. My grandmother giggled and said something I didn't understand, cupped her palms upward in front of her, and raised and lowered each hand in an alternating fashion to imitate the bouncing of the woman's breasts.

Once I was competent enough to do so, I would make it a point to try to converse a bit with my grandmother every time I saw her. I actually knew very few details about her life and was anxious to find out more, and it wasn't until I was in college that we were able to have a mutually comprehensible dialogue.

Evangelina and her sister Lucita

Unfortunately, my grandmother spent the last couple years of her life in a state of poor health and permanent confusion. Sometimes when I would visit her she wouldn't know who I was and that was really disappointing. But it hurt more to see a woman who had always been tough as nails reduced to a frail, immobile little old lady. As a young child, I remember sometimes thinking she was mean, probably because of her incomprehensible yelling while wielding a chancla. Seeing her in her final years made me wish she was mean again. Despite this, she was still her old self in the better ways, always joking and giving people hell. I could understand her fully by that point and actually managed to learn a lot about her past from listening to her phase in and out of different periods of her life. Her dementia acted as a non-chronological narrator of her history.

Wanting to know my grandmother more deeply sparked my desire to learn Spanish. After a while, I got pretty good at it. About eleven years ago I moved to Spain, where I got really good at it. During that trip I also got my first translation job by accident and, while working on it, had an epiphany that this was what I wanted to do for a living. While abroad I was also bitten by the travel bug and infected with an incurable wanderlust. As a result, I have now traveled to ten different countries, at a rate of about one per year, and have dabbled in the languages of each. I created this blog so that I can better reflect on my experiences and share them with other people. I hope that this work can bring about some sort of understanding, however superficial, between different people and their cultures.