My love of languages


Recently one of my posts was liked by a blogger called “Operation X”. My interest was piqued; a 007 fan or something more sinister? Did you know that the word sinister is derived from the Latin word for left? To my surprise and delight, Ken Ho’s blog focuses on minority languages. One particular post on Frisian languages caught my eye and it turns out my husband knows a Frisian speaker. After commenting on his post, Ken asked me if I would collaborate on the subject.

Y’all (Southern USA dialect) know my moniker ‘Chatty Kerry’ and I really do chatter in a variety of languages but only proficiently in English. I was born in San Francisco to an Irish mother and Mexican American father. My grandmother Juanita Ortega spoke Spanish although her family had been in California for generations.

As a child we moved from the USA to Formentera, part of the Balearic Islands east of the Spanish mainland. I have no memory of this experience but my mum later taught me some basic Spanish words. Then we moved to Scotland where I lived with my Nana, Mum and extended family. Although Nana had been brought up in Liverpool, England, with a rather plummy accent, she had married my grandfather Daniel McHugh who had a farm in County Sligo, Ireland. My aunt told me that they learned Irish Gaelic at school but after the death of my grandfather they moved to Scotland to learn yet another form of English. As a child, my Nana taught me my numbers in Irish Gaelic.

We lived on a public housing estate that was full of first generation Irish immigrants many of whom were from County Donegal. Gaelic was still spoken as a first language there and immigrants brought it with them to Glasgow. I watched housewives with headscarves and pinafores chat in Irish Gaelic on street corners. My Nana told me that they talked in Gaelic so they could gossip privately but I think that it was just a comfort to speak in the language of your country. All their children spoke English as a first language and few of them retained any Irish Gaelic. When I was 12 I went to a huge Roman Catholic High School with so many languages spoken at home. This was in the early 70’s so Glasgow had an influx of immigrants after WWII. The Catholics came from Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Italy for the most part. For the most part their parents still spoke the language of their birth country but all the children quickly segued into English like most second generation immigrants.

One of my childhood friends spoke some Scots Gaelic and I was fascinated! Scots and Irish Gaelic are similar in origin but they sound very different. Scots Gaelic was mostly spoken as a first language in the Western Islands. In an odd twist of fate after the Protestant reformation, each of the islands became predominately Protestant or Catholic. My friend’s family comes from South Uist which was Catholic, yet North Uist is Protestant. Her family members still speak Scots Gaelic fluently. Then I met my husband whose family were Protestant and from the North East of Scotland.

Shortly after I married, I met most of his family from Peterhead, the biggest fishing port in Europe. The dialect is so strong in that area that I barely understood what his uncle was saying. The language is interspersed with Scandinavian, Dutch and old Pictish words. Many of the local towns start with PIT, such as Pitmedden, which indicates it was a Pictish nameplace. We lived in two villages in the 80s and 90s. One was Auchnagatt, a derivation of an old Gaelic word Achadh nan Cat that translates to field of the cats. The other was Maud which derives from Allt Madadh translated as stream of the dog/wolf. It very often rained cats and dogs in both villages… Scots Gaelic was spoken in the area generations before but the language had evolved in a complex dialect of English. Each fishing or farming community had distinct differences in language.

Immediately after we married we moved to North Wales were locals still actively speak Welsh, another Celtic language. There was some enmity between English incomers and the local population but they accepted us because we had Scottish accents. I regularly mediated in arguments between the opposing factions. Wales has made a huge effort to increase the language usage. All public documents have to be printed in Welsh and English. Children learn both languages at school. It is astonishing that they put such effort into a language spoken by so few people but admirable. It became obvious that you couldn’t really work for the local government without having a working knowledge of Welsh.

In 2002 we moved to Egypt and I had to learn some Egyptian Arabic, distinctly different from Gulf Arabic, for example. Their second language was English or French both of whom colonized Egypt at some point in the past. I took Arabic classes but I honed my skills by talking to shop-keepers and taxi driver who delighted in correcting my accent. It was then that I realized that the best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in it. My Arabic was good enough to argue at the souk or get the correct groceries but it would have taken many more years to learn it fluently. It was fun learning a new language with a good friend from Ukraine. She also learned English from me and her new husband from New Zealand – how strange her accent was.

In 2004 we unexpectedly moved to Houston, Texas, USA – which is officially the most ethnically diverse city in the USA with the most languages spoken. We brought three Egyptian street cats who understood commands in both English and Arabic. When they were naughty, I would say, No! If that didn’t work I had to revert to Arabic, Laa! That always worked and until they died they understood Arabic commands. To my surprise, I found that I had deep roots in Texas from my paternal grandfather’s family. Not only had my great-grandparents been married just north of Dallas but my grandfather was an Oiler in the 20’s and 30’s.

It would be a mistake to think that Texans speak the same form of English that we did in Scotland. Not only is the dialect and phraseology unique but there are nuances lost on a European. Rarely do southern women use curse words but it is increasingly common to F bomb in the UK. The sweetest of Texan phrases, “Why bless your heart!” has a sting in the tail. In Texas it really means you are stupid or ignorant. Since moving here, I have had worked for the airport system, with clients and passengers. I started working there because I still had some rudimentary Arabic but now I speak ‘Aeroporto Espanol’. Houston is a hub for Latin America and who knew so many variations of Spanish existed? Only the Peruvians speak Castilian Spanish which is similar to modern European Spanish. In Lima, I was able to argue effectively for a decent taxi fare to the annoyance of the machismo taxi driver. I can now identify different types of Latin Spanish but Uruguay defeats me. They speak the strangest mix of Spanish and Italian evolving from the early settlers.

One of our first travel trips from Houston was to Louisiana, specifically to Cajun country, where they speak an archaic blend of French and local patois. Don’t ever tell a French Canadian from Quebec that it is an archaic form of French…apparently it is one of the most quickly evolving languages! In the late 1700’s settlers came from France to Quebec in Canada and Louisiana in the USA. They remained isolated partly because of the extreme conditions of both places. Cajuns live in a Waterworld of swamps and bayous. Their ancestors survived on hunting – everything! Heron was one of the favorite dishes (gah!) but raccoon and opossums also make their way into pies. Houston has been badly affected by many recent floods and we are so grateful to volunteers named ‘The Cajun Navy’. At the height of the devastation by Hurricane Harvey, the Cajun Navy came from East Texas and Louisiana in their big trucks with boats attached. They rescued so many people from flooded homes and areas. Their skills with living in a harsh environment have made them naturally skilled in water evacuations. I watched a TV interview with a Cajun hero during the Hurricane and I still don’t know what he said!

Much more recently I discovered from a DNA test that some of my ancestors were Native Mexican – I could not have been more excited or surprised. This started a series of trips into Mexico from Baja to the Yucatan. On a trip to Merida in the Yucatan, I was staying at a boutique hotel. The owners were French but the chef was native Mexican. The menu was in French and the local language, Yucatec Maya. It may as well have been Klingon… I studied French at school for many years so I can read a menu but some words could not be translated, in particular local vegetables. The consonant X was used frequently and soft intonations. My driver kept correcting my pronunciation of Spanish despite my laughing protest that I had to speak regular Mexican Spanish at work. The word, “Yo” meaning I, is spoken as it sounds in most of Mexico but in the Yucatan they say “Cho” or “Sho”. I noticed that some of my colleagues in Houston are shy to use their limited Spanish but that is the only way to learn it properly even if it causes someone to laugh. My bad Spanish has allowed me to trek safely around Latin America. Most countries appreciate you trying to speak their language no matter how bad it is. Usually I start a sentence with an apology, “Mi Espanol es malo…” and the response is almost always, “Mi ingles es malo tambien!” (My English is bad too).

We hope to retire in Texas, our feet firmly planted in the soil, and I look forward to many new languages crossing my path. It is pretty easy in Houston – everyone is from somewhere else. My hairdresser is Thai, our handyman is from Chile, the gardener is from Mexico and our street is like a small UN base. We have neighbors from Ukraine, Argentina, Japan, India, France and even some Yankees. Well, nowhere is perfect!

Advertisements

Courtship by an Angel…


I saved my most surprising tale from Merida for just before Valentine’s Day. As you know, I had a marvelous driver, Angel, who I paid to drive me all over the Yucatan. We are both naturally chatty and speaking different languages didn’t stop us. I had a Spanish/English book and he had Google Translate when we were in cell phone range. When we first met, he asked me if I wanted to travel in the front or the back. It would have been weird to have been in the back, as though he was limousine driver, so I jumped in the front.

We learned a lot about each other over two days. He showed me photos of his pretty wife and children. They had been married for 14 years and he was astonished that I had been married for 35 years (so am I…) I think he thought I was in my mid 40’s and I would have guessed he was in his late 30’s. On the first day, we chatted about my Mexican Spanish heritage and I told him about my mum and dad. He asked me if I was famous which perplexed and amused me. I think it was because I told him I was a writer and my mum was a model. As many of you now know, being a published writer doesn’t necessarily make you ‘famoso’ or wealthy.

By the second day, we had got into a good groove with our Spanglish banter. I was feeling good and I put on some mascara and lipstick. Maybe he thought it was for him? Both days I just dressed in t-shirts and leggings because the rural Yucatan areas are quite conservative. My expeditions were into potentially dusty and dirty areas, so no point in being glamorous. He was very intuitive about what I would enjoy and had asked all the right questions. Yes, I wanted to see unusual pyramids (no turistas, por favor) but I got most excited about handling an iguana and seeing fruit bats. Curiously, when I showed him my photograph of the Carpenter Woodpecker he knew immediately what it was. Perhaps he had worked in another field before driving.

I make a good traveling companion, if my health is good, and I could see that he enjoyed all the laughter. He told me that I was a really nice, funny person. There are police checkpoints all over the Yucatan and I said, “Lento, Policia!” which means ‘slowly, police!’ Angel wasn’t speeding (he was an excellent driver) but he thoroughly enjoyed my mime of what I do when I see the Texas police, braking really fast. They seem less afraid of Mexican police than we are of Texan ones…

About an hour before we returned to Merida on the second day, he told me that I was very pretty. I laughed and said, ‘Pero vieja (but old)’ “No, no” he insisted “Muy bonita”. Finally, I just accepted the compliment. Then he asked me if I liked to dance and my face lit up. Salsa is my favorite, I shared, and it is very popular in Houston. “Do you have lots of boyfriends?” “No!” I squealed, “I am married.” “Did I have lots of boyfriends before I married?” I explained that I married at age 21 but yes, I did have lots of boyfriends. Of course I did!

So, after beautifully predating courting me for 2 days he came up with the final stunning question, “¿Haces trampa?” which means do I cheat (on my husband). Another squeal of NO from me followed by delighted giggles. I have had plenty of propositions even in recent years but I was beginning to think I was getting to my ‘best before’ date. Then I explained that even though my husband was REALLY old, he was very romantic, telling me he loves me most days and that I love him.

We reached the hotel, having previously organized that he would pick me up for my early flight the third day. He ran around to open my door (please take note, Teddy) and we shook hands while Angel looked at me with big brown eyes. Just at that moment a few Europeans appeared across the road. One of the men shouted in broken English, “You should take her!” Angel didn’t understand what he was saying but I thought, “He very nearly did.”

I was a little anxious about the atmosphere on the ride to the airport the following morning, after my rejection of my suitor. He usually turned up early and I was pacing at the hotel door. Then the red car turned up and I ran out with my suitcase. A woman got out of the car – he had sent his wife!! She was really very pretty and charming. One of his little daughters was in her school uniform, for an unusual school run via the airport with a strange blond lady who spoke bad Spanish. It is not the first time that a much younger man has approached me, even when they know my age. I am complimented and fascinated. Perhaps some of the ageism has disappeared from society. Maybe a good figure and a fun personality negate the age barrier? Keep it coming, guys, because it makes me feel fantastic!

PS. Before anyone mentions hashtags, bear in mind that no boundaries were crossed. I was perfectly comfortable and he just asked me questions. As to whether he was a cheater; I am not sure. It was curious that he showed me his wife and children immediately. Perhaps I just enchanted him and he saw a once in a lifetime opportunity with a quirky white cougar who might be really good in bed….

Huehuecoyotl is my new best friend…

My gorgeous four poster bed in Merida…note the mosquito net

Doesn’t it look gorgeous?  The tiles are original from the 17th century mansion.  The French owners have recently created this boutique hotel and coordinated everything with the tiles.  The back wall is the palest dove gray as is the new futon beside the bed.  The lamps were made of local limestone and I am taking the photograph from the stairs (yes two levels) in my suite leading to the brand new bathroom.  It was exquisitely designed with local stone in the huge shower.

So far, so good, eh?  The bed was rather hard but the bedding was lovely.  The mosquito net was not for decoration and the fumigator turned up on the second day (it smells of roses, Senorita…).  I look like I have had measles.  Eventually I caught one of the little f***ers and my blood oozed out of it.  The exquisite shower had only cold water.  On one fortuitous occasion I had a tepid shower – yay!  I was offered three other rooms which barely had a trickle of still cold water and realized I had the best room.  My French fellow guests had a trickle of cold water for their whole stay. Dirty froggies…🐸.  I know that is terribly un PC but it’s one of my resolutions.

The menu was translated by French people into English and they need not have bothered.  There is a local Maya language spoken and I have no idea what the menu said.  I ate dessert and breakfast with unidentifiable fruit.  I rarely spoke English to anyone.  Everyone at the hotel spoke French including the staff.  My driver’s English was as good as my Spanish and yet we talked for hours each day.  Google Translate helped with certain words until we were out of cell phone range.

THIS WAS THE BEST VACATION EVER!!!  I don’t know why but I loved every second of it, even my Eco toilet which means no paper down the drain (there was a little lidded bucket for the poo smeared paper).  It felt like glamping or glhostelling.  The day before I left I had received bad news about four friends with health and other problems.  I was so upset that I momentarily considered not going.  The saddest news was the death of our fellow blogger Pan otherwise known as Linda, beautifully memorialized by John Ray and Osyth. If you click on John and Osyth’s names you will see their posts about Linda. My head still has an image of her dog guarding her dead body for two days.

My mental health must be stronger than I imagined and I decided that life really was too short.  I compartmentalized all my bad news, got on the plane and prayed at every church that I saw in Merida.  I got lost twice in the pitch black but kept finding churches so perhaps Huehuecoyotl had an auspicious plan.  The beauty of nature and the kind, warm people of the Yucatan soothed my soul and provided much needed balm.  I have many stories to tell but I have a busy week helping friends and doing paid work so it may be a week or so before I share more.

I climbed a pyramid!


This is a shot from Mayapan, a huge Maya city that has NO tourists! My various DNA tests did not show that I am part mountain goat…all those years hill-climbing with my school friends, Katharine and AnneMarie have left me with a core strength. There was a small group of local school teenagers who struggled to keep up with me…

Most importantly, may Linda rest in peace. She was a loyal, funny and delightful blogger friend that I will miss.

Anything but books tag

Sweet Potato and Bison casserole with brown rice

Thank you to Lisa from Life of an El Paso Woman  for nominating me for this blog challenge.  Lisa’s blog is a fun mix of music, romance and topical subjects.  I have a soft spot for Lisa because she is the only blogger friend I have met so far.  I have been struggling to write anything so this challenge is a good distraction

Q1 What is your favorite cartoon

Minions and/or Despicable Me!  What’s not to love?  Phrases that I incorporate into regular life such as “It’s so fluffy I could die!”  Everything about the film appeals to me from the forgotten orphans with retro names to their loving Despicable (but not really) Dad and their new mom.  I particularly liked the bad Minions, “Bah,” and the evil Spanish chicken, ‘el pollo diablo’

As for old ‘toons’, my favorite was always Roadrunner and Wiley Coyote.  Why do you think I live in Texas?  When I see a roadrunner, I always look up for a giant anvil falling out of the sky.

Q2 What is your favorite song right now

Camila Cabello – Havana ft. Young Thug.  I love the slow sexy Cuban vibe and her beautiful voice.  Just imagine moving your hips to this slow salsa beat on the hot sands of somewhere, anywhere, in Latin America.

Q3 What could you do for hours that isn’t reading

Binge watching some new cable series that everyone has been raving about.  There is a new British series called Liar that I sat and watched for 6 hours straight – hooked!  Then I had nightmares all night.

Q4 What is something you love to do that your followers would be surprised about

I make handmade soaps with unusual shapes and scents.  One of my favorites is vanilla cupcake in a cupcake mold.  Many years ago I started a business but after making endless soapy party favors for two baby showers, my sinuses and allergies waved a white flag of surrender.  I am still allergic to the very expensive perfume oils but now just make them for grateful friends.

Q5 What is your favorite thing to learn about

Languages and real news.  I am NOT a Trump supporter but I would like to hear more balanced news stories about global events and not just bloody politics.  Working at an airport, I collect small phrases in different languages – for example, “Eet smakelijk” which means enjoy your meal in Dutch.  My bad Spanish comes in very handy at times, especially with a Scottish accent.🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

Q6 What is something unusual that you know how to do

Impersonations.  One of my favorites is Donald Duck.  Teddy says that the words are incomprehensible (my Donald Duck is a slow learner) but most others laugh.  In a toy shop in Grand Junction, Colorado, I had a Donald Duck competition with a Dad.  The poor child looked frightened…LOL!  The next impersonation is R rated and certainly not politically correct.  Sometimes, when I want to get Teddy in the mood, I impersonate a South East Asian sex worker. “Come on Big Boy.  You pay money, I do trick! Maybe ping pong ball?”  Occasionally it actually works but mostly it makes him laugh.  Let’s just say I am fun in bed…

Q7 Name something you have made in the last year

Soaps!  I also made a bison and sweet potato casserole, photographed above, in an attempt to get Teddy to eat well.  My cooking skills are good but my desire is lacking.

Q8 What is your most recent personal project

Does the intro page of my memoir count?  I keep starting stuff but can barely even manage to write on my blog which I love.  Anxiety and boredom, a strange combination, has been my bug-a-boo this year.

Q9 Tell us something that’s your favorite (food?), that is oddly specific

I assumed from Lisa’s blog that this question referred to food.  I like a sandwich of Dave’s Killer Organic Bread, buttered with salted chips or crisps inside it.  Other favorites are a bowl of cooked peas with butter.  My food choices reflect my Irish heritage – anything with butter on it.

And now I tag

Lana at Travelling Vegan Christian

Mohamad at Mohamad El Karbi

Evil at Evil Squirrel’s Nest

Lyn at Lynz Real Cooking

Please feel free to ignore this tag challenge 😁

A precious moment

istanbul abu dhabi 259

I was going to complete my week’s blogging with some more flower photographs but I had a precious moment today that I thought I would share with you. Those of you who regularly follow my blog know that I have been unwell of late and seem to be having a protracted recovery. This week I have turned a corner and regularly walk to the local cafe for a delicious cappuccino. It was previously a bakery and the owners retired. We were all excited that a new Argentinean bakery and coffee shop was opening.

It has been an instant success both with regular gringos and many different Latino people who live here. We have a local wealthy population of Latinos who have immigrated from countries that are unstable, such as Venezuela, and also from Mexico. I really enjoy hearing all the dialects chatting about how delicious the pastries are. They have a funny chalkboard outside that implores us to eat pastries because skinny people are easier to kidnap. The nice young man, who I assumed was Latino, asked me if I would like a pastry. I said, “I would but I am not going to…” The man next to me said, “Didn’t you see the sign outside saying skinny people are easier to kidnap?” We all laughed and I told them that I lived too close to the cafe to regularly eat pastries.

The young man asked me where I was from (Scottish accent) and I, in turn, asked him. To my surprise he said Jerusalem. “Arabie or Hebrew?”, I asked. His face lit up with delight when he realized I spoke a little Arabic. I wished him a good afternoon in Arabic and he beamed. Eventually (good coffee is slow) my coffee was ready and I thanked him in Arabic. He said, “It is so lovely to speak Arabic!” We forget that immigrants can feel lonely in their new country and, let’s face it, Arabic speakers are not particularly popular right now. I was always very grateful to Egyptian taxi drivers speaking a little English to match my little Arabic. Pay it forward, folks and have a good weekend!

One sleep to Halloween….

TREE LICE SILK1

This is the Halloween story I promised following the Cougar and the Cherokee blog – https://chattykerry.wordpress.com/2015/10/01/the-cougar-and-the-cherokee/ I had gone into our local hardware store to speak to the master gardener about a strange webbing all over our Live Oak. Both my husband and I thought that it was a very industrious spider but then the web was literally all over an oak tree that is as tall as our house. I was chatting with a friend who queried whether it could be something harmful like a silk worm.

To my astonishment, the master gardener brought up some photos on her computer of the perpetrators and their web – it was bark lice. They are amazing little friends of nature. Live Oaks attract lichen because of their open bark and this can kill the tree. The bark lice eat lichen so they come as a landscaping team – probably speaking Spanish – cover their web all over the tree, eat the lichen, roll the web back into a ball and take it with them to the next tree. Isn’t that fantastic?

Here is a link to more information about them. http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/galveston/beneficials/beneficial-41_barklice2_Cerastipscus_sp.htm

I looked very hard for Ernesto, Adelpho or Pedro but I couldn’t see the little stripy critters under the webbing. I hoped it would last until Halloween and I could cover the tree in fake spiders but their job is done and our tiny landscapers have moved onto another tree. Nature is full of joy and mystery.
BARKLICE2

San Juan, Puerto Rico

COASTAL VISTA
This is the wonderful vista overlooking San Felipe Del Morro Fort in the Old San Juan, Puerto Rico with the Atlantic Ocean in the background. Finally, we got the opportunity to go on a real vacation to somewhere warm and interesting. Puerto Rico is an American Territory, perhaps, one day, the 51st state, in a strategic part of the Caribbean. It is part of the Antilles in the south west of the Caribbean Sea. The original natives are the Taino and it was settled by the Spanish in the 1500s; an important part of the Spice Trade Route back to Europe. Slaves were brought there to tend the sugar cane plantations and most of them were from Congo. Today’s Puerto Ricans’ are an intriguing blend of European, Native and African and these traditions are reflected in the cuisine, dancing and heritage. Only 20% of islanders speak English and the rest speak a Spanish dialect which has Taino and African words in the patois. One of the locals told me that it would already have been a State if they had any money, or oil in the local water, and perhaps that’s a good thing. There is a familiarity and yet a unique foreign feel to the island. It is a volcanic island so there is little diversity in the fauna and what animals and plants are there were brought by air, sea or human. One little creature makes a very distinctive noise, all over the island – Coquí. It is a little frog, with an onomatopoetic name for the mating call – kockee, kockee. Once you have your ear in, that is all you can hear and there are 17 separate species in Puerto Rico. There are number of distinct ecosystems on the island and we went from hot, windy San Juan to cool, tropical rainforest in just a couple of hours. There is also a dry forest and bioluminescent lake. Old San Juan is full of original buildings with amazing hilly cobble-stone streets. A British trade ship left it’s ballast of iron ore centuries ago and they were carved into wonderful blue, iridescent cobbles that shimmer in daylight and look like moonstones at dusk. Puerto Rico was so amazing that I have divided it into two posts and the next one will be about El Yunque, the rainforest. Click on the red link to see more fabulous photos of architecture and the people of San Juan. POSTCARD FROM SAN JUAN – click here