Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Listen to the Music; Learn Spanish

Beto Gonzalez and Carlos Gonzalez
Beto, Sandra’s husband, and Carlos, their 20-something son, were playing their guitars and singing as husband Skip and I savored a Sandra’s Restaurant specialty, spicy shrimp with rice and plantains. “Pregúntale,” Beto crooned during each chorus of one melancholy song. With the tune and the phrase still replaying in my head the next day, I consulted my copy of “501 Spanish Verbs.” “Pregúntale” means “ask him.”

“Ask him what?” I wondered. So next time we ate at Sandra’s I requested the song, and tried to grasp a few more Spanish words. “…porque me ha robado todo.” Another look at the “501”: “Ask him why he has robbed me of everything.”

Gratified by my interest in their music, Beto and Carlos picked up their guitars and plugged in the microphone each time Skip and I ate at Sandra’s. Sometimes we were the only patrons, so there was time to chat about the songs. They knew a little English, I knew a little Spanish, we all liked the music -- it worked. They had learned many songs from CD’s, so if I really liked a song, I bought the CD and tried to translate the lyrics into English.

As someone who thinks it’s fun to read a Spanish-English dictionary, this process seemed like a game to me. Translating is easier, I discovered, if I can see the lyrics in writing, so now I buy CD’s accompanied by the little booklets with lyrics. Romance, lost love, nostalgia for a favorite horse or the old hometown -- I learn a lot of new words and enjoy Mexican music for its own sake.

Our five-day car trips between San Pancho and Connecticut have provided long stretches of time for song translation. Since I am always the passenger (Skip insists on doing the driving), I am free to browse through my “501” and my Spanish-English dictionary, always handy in the side pocket of the car door. On one trip I translated “Ojalá Que Te Vaya Bonito” (“I Hope It Goes Well For You”), a ranchera tune popularized by the legendary Vicente Fernández. “An excellent selection for practicing the subjunctive,” my Spanish-speaking, musical son, Ian, tells me.

Vicente Fernández is probably the favorite ranchera singer of most Mexicans, and he’s my favorite too. If there’s a Mexican equivalent of Hank Williams and Frank Sinatra, rolled into one, he’s the man. So when he performed at Madison Square Garden in New York City, I had to go. Singing along with several thousand Mexicans, basking in Mexican culture, I had an unforgettable evening. When I got back to San Pancho, I couldn’t wait to tell Beto and Carlos all about it.

1 comment:

Hewitt Jackson said...

I really enjoy your blog, I have been a frequent visitor to San Pancho and am returning for Thanksgiving week after a 3 year absence.We are staying at Casa Carolia (North end of beach). I imagine there have been a few changes. Can you tell me if La OLa Rica is already open and if Gloria or Triny have e-mail? I am Hewitt Jackson
at jttiweh@yahoo.com
I'm sure we'll meet later this month. Thanks.