(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)
Saturday, September 22
Since I injured my ankle, I’ve let my Spanish studies slip. I get the occasional painful nag from Duolingo reminding me my progress is nonexistent. And I haven’t been working through the exercises in my workbook.
I am picking up some new words and phrases here and there, though. Sadly, most of them have to do with ways to describe ankle pain (me duele el tobillo) or to explain that I injured my ankle (me lastimé el tobillo) or the words for sprained ankle (esguince de tobillo).
I’ve been on a pain killer/anti-inflammatory that’s working well but is decimating my stomach, so I reached out via Whats App to the Tico doctor who makes house calls to ask if there’s an alternative. True to form, he pinged me back quickly, within 30 minutes, asking a few questions via text and then he called me. He recommended something that will help my stomach handle the drug and said he’d send a prescription via What’s App. About an hour later, the prescription showed up, along with a profuse apology for taking so long.
I laughed and responded, “no problema.”
So with my prescription on my phone, I called the taxi and set off for la farmacia, figuring I could hit el supermercado at the same time. Never hurts to stock up. The cab let me off at the pharmacy, and from there I hobbled across the street to the grocery store, where I stocked up on fruits and vegetables, including a juice box of red wine and other makings for spaghetti sauce. (I’m hoping Gian will drop off some of Sara’s bread today, and I want to have a sauce on hand that’s worthy of those glorious carbs.)
As I was checking out, I told the clerk in Spanish that I needed to recharge my phone card, which you have to do in person at a store using cash. She plugged in the info, took my money and then told me, also in Spanish, to check my phone for the text from Kolbi confirming the credit had been added.
It was so rapid fire I didn’t catch what she was wanting me to to. Generally, they just hand me the receipt and assume it all worked. Which to date, it has.
Through hand gestures, grunts and broken Spanish I finally got it, checked the phone and sure enough, there was my text.
“Lo siento,” I said sheepishly to the clerk. “Soy solamente un Gringo tonto.” (Sorry, I’m just a dumb gringo.) She started laughing, and one of her cohorts who overheard also started laughing. I’m assuming they encounter more than their share of dumb gringos in this tourist town. I’ve found that’s a great way to defuse situations where my Spanish just isn’t cutting it. I suspect they’re used to getting the opposite response.
Why don’t you speak English?
I always try to be respectful of the fact that I’m in their country. It goes a long way toward generating goodwill. For instance, I never walk in and ask, “Do you speak English.” I back into it, greeting them in Spanish and trying my best to operate in Spanish until the inevitable flood of words swamps me. Then I confess, No hablo español muy bien and we work toward some degree of mutual understanding.
On the way home, I got a quick Spanish lesson from my cab driver, who speaks some English but clearly is more comfortable in Spanish. It had started raining hard, and lightning was erupting all around us.
“Relámpago,” he said after one spectacular flash.
“Ahh,” I replied. “In ingles, es lightning.”
As I repeated “relámpago” over a few times trying to commit it to memory, he did the same with “lightning.” When I got home, I went to Google Translate (amazing resource) to look up thunder: trueno.
So I sat on the deck, reading the final chapter of Under the Volcano while el trueno y relámpago raged all around me. That proved to be a perfect accompaniment to the finale of this beautiful, dismal, tumultuous book. I guess it’s no surprise that Malcolm Lowry died before he turned 50 of alcohol-related misadventure. He definitely knew what he was writing about. But this isn’t just a book about dipsomania. I love the descriptions of Mexico and how layered the novel is. After I finished it, I started Googling around for analysis, realizing there was a lot going on there I was missing, and I found a wonderful resource, The Malcolm Lowry Project, a digital extension of Chris Ackerley’s A Companion to ‘Under the Volcano.’ Sadly, the site uses frames, which I’ve always found to be a horrendously kludgy way to organize digital information. So I extracted the text from each frame and pasted into a doc on my computer so I could read it offline. Turns out, there’s 200,000+ words of analysis there. Damn. It was invaluable, though, especially for the penultimate chapter, where Yvonne is killed. I love Lowry’s final sentence in that chapter.
Yvonne felt herself suddenly gathered upwards and borne towards the stars, through eddies of stars scattering aloft with ever widening circles like rings on water, among which now appeared, like a flock of diamond birds flying softly and steadily toward Orion, the Pleiades …
I have to admit there was a tear in my eye as I just transcribed that. Lowry does such an incredible job showing us the world through this character’s eyes, her desire to flee to British Columbia to live by the sea with the Consul, her sundered dreams of being a movie star, her college obsession with astronomy, the allusion to the “hurricane of immense and gorgeous butterflies” that greeted her ship when she arrived in Acapulco in a final effort to save her marriage and to save the Consul from himself. There’s a sense of transcendence there that I didn’t fully anticipate, even though I’d read the book before many years ago. Of course, the Consul’s experiences in the final chapter are more Dante’s Inferno than return to stardust. Under the Volcano, indeed.
After that light reading, I dialed Kamasi Washington’s Heaven and Earth into my earphones, keeping the volume such that I could hear my howler monkeys arguing with their rivals across the road while birds clucked into their roosts, insects buzzed awake and the jungle wrapped itself in darkness, a call-and-response to Washington’s transcendent saxophone.
Somehow, it felt like a fitting requiem for Yvonne.