You may have noticed that my murderous threats towards oceanographic graduate students are really nothing more than filibuster as I stall on my post about Cuba and the realizations it delivered to me. The reason/excuse I haven’t yet posted about Cuba is that I’m extremely curious to read what our good friend Peter is going to say about his recent trip there. Though our political outlooks differ plenty, I have a feeling that many of our observations and realizations will coincide.
Plenty of impressions coming back from Monterrey into Tijuana and then San Diego. First, as Divafina noted a couple days ago, SD changes while TJ stays the same.
It was a pretty hectic trip back to San Diego. After spending a couple days in Cuatro Cienegas, we got back to Torreon (where the governator just was) in the late afternoon on Thursday, bought a small fish which inexplicably is named iPod, had one last meal of tacos, got my suitcases together and then headed for the bus station around 1:30 a.m. My bus was scheduled to leave at 2 a.m. and I was to arrive in Monterrey at 7 a.m., pick up my paycheck, and take a taxi to the airport for my 9:30 a.m. flight. Instead, my bus left at 3:45 a.m., got in at 8:30 a.m., forewent the paycheck, and headed straight for the airport, where miraculously I wasn’t charged for over-weight baggage. (mad props to orbitz, e-ticketing, and self-check-in)
40 minutes later (there is a two hour time difference), I was in Tijuana being reminded for the umpteenth time that I really need to purchase a tourist visa when traveling further than 50 miles south of the border. “I no espeaka espanish,” I say and they sigh.
I forgot to mention the money issue. Because I didn’t pick up my paycheck (which actually is ‘paycash’ and always handed over with mafia-like severity), I had precisely 150 pesos ($13) coming out of the Monterrey bus station. After some intense bargaining and a 110 peso taxi ride to the airport, I landed into TJ with 40 pesos. This ruled out taking a taxi to the border, which was ok because I remember someone telling me there is a 15 peso bus which dropped you off close by.
15 pesos was true, close by was not. So I ended up having to lug what felt like 150 pounds of luggage (including a virtual office) through the not so pedestrian friendly streets of Tijuana, up and over a new bridge at the border and then, to the port of entry. Luckily, there was no line at all crosssing the border. I recognized the border patrol guard – a meaty Filipino guy with a Pancho Villa like mustache who was always a culero to everyone but children who he greeted with a huge white-teethed smile.
Through the turnstyle, heaving my bags on the x-ray machine, having to explain why there is a virtual office in a climbing gear bag, across the trolley line to the dollar exchange where, unbelievably, I’m able to convince the lady to exchange not just my 20 peso bill, but also my 5 peso coin which gives me just enough for a trolley ticket.
Now this is when something really occured to me for the first time. All of a sudden I had to start speaking English. Now, you might point out to me that I spent every day in Monterrey teaching English to other people. That I wrote almost daily on this blog and others in English. That I had a friend from Kentucky with whom I spoke English with. But still, not until crossing the border, had I any idea just how much I thought in Spanish. It really never occured to me. I remember when first learning Spanish that I would trip out when I ever thought myself having a thought in Spanish or even more strangely, dreaming in Spanish.
But somehow or another, me di cuenta que, I had completely converted my thinking process into Spanish. And my first day back in San Diego, I was 100% aware of the fact that every time I spoke English, I was translating a Spanish thought into something which was hopefully reasonably articulate. I also caught myself making a few grammatical mistakes, which would have been structurally correct in Spanish.
Also, my mouth began to hurt. English is undoubtedly a language that is spoken with our lips and jaws whereas Spanish is all tongue. So, getting back into the flow of really speaking English at a quick pace with people, my mouth felt like it was getting a gnarly workout while my tongue became depressed from such inactivity and lack of attention.
Riding North up the trolley, all seemed the same until coming into downtown (now called “East Village” since the recent hipster invasion into “artist lofts”). This isn’t a development boom, this is a development explosion. A few new condos and urban developments were up near the new ballpark before I left, but now the whole neighborhood – which just last year was full of run down mom and pops places – is a completely new place with a completely new feel.
In fact, I just met Chris Nelson (who lives close to downtown) for the first time yesterday morning and we were talking about exactly this. He said most the condos are still empty and that there’s no way the developers are gonna be able to meet morgatge rates with what they can get for rental rates. The disconnect between property value and what San Diegans can afford to rent a place is mind-boggling.
I didn’t get home until around 6 p.m. and only had about 8 hours sleep in the past three days. Still, I had a lot to get done before falling asleep so around 9 I walked over to a nearby Starbucks for a cup of joe. Just as it was difficult for me to learn how to say English words with a Mexican-Spanish accent in Monterrey, here I was in front of an over-friendly corporate barista, racking my brain to remember how to say “grande” in America. I’m gonna sound like such an idiot if I say grande like it should be pronounced, I was thinking to myself, but I couldn’t for the life of me, remember how to say it here. I think I ended up over-compensating and coming up with something like “graaaaanday coffee please.”
After nothing but English for a couple days, it was comforting to speak to Laura on the phone in Spanish. The first couple minutes felt strange – my tongue felt like a fish out of water, spasming all around my mouth. But then it felt natural again … and, comforting I guess is the word.
I’m not one to order my veggie burritos in well-intentioned Spanish II as seems to be official etiquette here in San Diego (“Yo qeero un carnee uhsawduh buhreetow poor fuhvoor”), so I don’t really get a chance to speak Spanish except with three Argentine friends of mine. This took me a couple days to get used to as well. Argentine Spanish and Mexican Spanish are as different as Bible-Belt English and Train-Spotting Scottish. At first I was disappointed, thinking my Spanish really didn’t improve at all while in Monterrey, but then I realized I just needed to get used to the Argentine accent and vocabulary again.
Now, just after a few days, I’m speaking a hybrid of Argentine and Mexican Spanish myself. A slight Italian sing-song pronunciation, plata instead of lana, j’s instead of y’s and ll’s, and (most importantly) como? instead of mande.
These posts recently are just going all over the place. Talk about stream of consciousness. My thinking was I’d write about what it’s like to be back in San Diego. What it’s like to not have to light the stove with a lighter or match, to not have to turn on the water heater before taking a shower (though I had stopped taking hot showers long ago), and of course, most importantly, what it’s like to drink really really good coffee again. Instead I come up with this.