I’m going to learn Spanish

Every time John and I travel to Europe I whine about wanting to be fluent in a foreign language. Usually the conversation begins with me fantasizing about spending 3 months, 6 months, a year, in a foreign country where I could be immersed in the language I was hoping to learn. Part of my interest is the romantic notion of spending 3 months, 6 months or a year in another country and pretending to be a local. But perhaps even more important to me is my long standing desire to be able to converse in some language other than my own. (Which is English in case you haven’t figured it out yet.)

This desire hits me even more when I am with someone I know who can speak another language. It is one thing to hear bilingual strangers converse, but there is something about hearing a friend bust out in some foreign language that really gets the old envy/self-pity machine going. And so it was this summer in France. Added to my usual fantasy about immersing myself in a language was my best friend Ron using his French as the four of us ran around the green fields of the Loire Valley. In these situations, admiration of the friend’s skill is always closely linked feelings of gross inadequacy. Later, when John and I were in Switzerland we watched a pretty awful movie made for German language TV. What first caught our eye were beautiful scenes of sunny, southern England. It turned out to be an adaptation of a Rosamund Pilcher romance novel. Not really understanding German, what we heard was “German, German, German, Strawberry Cottage, German, German.” For an hour and a half all we understood of the dialog was the frequent use of “Strawberry Cottage”. The melodrama was obvious enough that we didn’t really need to understand the language to know what was going on. Afterwards I launched into my “if only we could live somewhere and be immersed in another language” whining. After all, even watching Strawberry Cottage movies in German would help me learn the language.

Whenever I have these fantasies about learning another language the discussion usually focuses on French or Italian. Both France and Italy are countries that we would love to live in for a time. We both have survival French already. And my college Italian can be put to pretty good use when I need it to, but I suppose even then it is just a click or two above survival level as well. And since moving to either of those countries, even for 3 months, is an impossibility until we retire in 20 or so years, the whining continues. Of course I could always study French or Italian here in DC, but at my age learning another language well really would require a bit of immersion and lots of practice.

Then, as if a light bulb went off over my head, it occurred to me. Spanish! For various reasons I had never really thought about learning Spanish. But it suddenly seemed too obvious. Immersing oneself in Spanish is quite easy here in DC. First, there are Spanish speakers everywhere in this town. It is hard to walk ten feet without hearing Spanish. Second, we have more than one Spanish language TV channel available 24/7 so I can immerse myself in the Spanish version of Strawberry Cottage anytime I feel like it. Third, whether the xenophobes like it or not, the US is quickly and unofficially becoming a bilingual country. Fourth, we even have free Spanish language weeklies available on every street corner. Fifth, Spain is pretty high up our European travel wish list and my good friend Tanya lives in Mexico City and we hope to see her there again as well as explore other parts of Mexico.

And I don’t want to just learn a bit of traveler’s Spanish. I really want to be fluent. I have no delusions of ever being translator-worthy, but the goal here is to not only to be able to function in Spanish but to actually enjoy reading it and speaking it. And to be able to converse on a wide range of topics, not just ask what about menus and train timetables.

It will be no surprise to regular readers that I like a challenge and a goal. (Remember those 40 goals I wanted to reach by the time I turned 40?) So the new goal is to be fluent—at least to my own satisfaction—by the time I am 45. That gives me five years. I already have the books to get started. Just think, I could do this and actually quit whining about not being able to speak a foreign language. Hmm…what ever will I whine about now on vacation? I am sure I will think of something.

What seemingly impossible life goal could you actually achieve by cutting out the excuses and with a little planning and determination? What languages do you speak? Which would you like to learn?

Sunday Morning

Boy am I glad I am done blogging about that 40 by 40 list. Hope it isn’t as tedious to read as it was to write.

We are about to head off to “Julie & Julia.” I loved the book based on the blog, and I loved watching Julia Child as a kid, and I LOVE going to the Julia Child kitchen at the Smithsonian. I am not sure I like Streep’s Julia voice from the trailers, but the film has gotten good reviews so I will reserve my judgement.

I took this photo about 4 years ago on a sunny Sunday morning in London. This fabulous stack of scones was taken in the Orangerie at Kensington Palace. A really wonderful and comfortable place to sit with friends. I am very proud of this picture, I think the lighting is just perfect. Unfortunately, this was taken before I had a digital camera and the only copy I have is this well worn one that has been tacked above various desks over the years, so it doesn’t scan very well. Looks better in person. Maybe I still have the negative somewhere.

40 by 40 Update: #40 Give $10 to Charity for Every Goal Not Completed by August 17, 2009

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

40. Give $10 to Charity for Every Goal Not Completed – COMPLETED
Final Tally: $190.00 to charity.
Thankfully the 40th goal was to give money to charity. Any other goal probably would have put my success/failure rate at 50%. At least this way my failure rate was just below 50%. Some of the goals were good ones, even if I didn’t complete them. And others were the victim of changed priorities. It was a fun experiment. But kind of glad I am done. I don’t really want to contemplate the next milestone (50). I still have 10 years for that.

I am actually going to give the money to two different charities.

Washington Animal Rescue League: A really wonderful animal shelter here in DC and the place where we will hopefully find a nice pound dog next year.

Alzheimer’s Association Southwest Chapter: My dad puts a lot of time and effort into a practically full time volunteer job with the Alzheimer’s Association chapter in Phoenix. Honestly, he puts in too much time and effort. He is supposed to be retired after all. At any rate, his efforts and the cause deserve support. Among other things, they provide Alzheimer’s information and referrals for friends and families of people with Alzheimer’s.

40 by 40 Update: #39 Sing in a Choir


(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

39. Sing in a Choir – NOT COMPLETED
Running Tally: $190.00 to charity.

This is perhaps the most disappointing unmet goal. My interest in singing in a smallish choir that does a mixed bag of repertoire with lots of variety was overwhelmed by my disinterest in giving up Sunday mornings. I wish I could just rehearse with a choir during the week and not have to get up on Sunday. For other, non-church, choir options the problem is that they tend to focus on big symphonic choral works. They spend months preparing a big concert of one or two big works and then they get dressed up and sing. That isn’t the kind of choir singing I like. This is one that I need to work on, it has been too long since I sang in a choir.

40 by 40 Update: #37 Find an Opera/Orchestra/Concert Buddy

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

37. Find an Opera/Orchestra/Concert Buddy – NOT COMPLETED
Running Tally: $170.00 to charity.

No doubt if I had one of these I wouldn’t have such a hard time getting to concerts on weeknights. John likes going to concerts with me, but I was hoping to find a real music egghead that wants to sit around and gossip about orchestras and conductors and temperamental singers. Seeing that I couldn’t find 4 new friends in 2 years time (see #5 below) it was unlikely I was going to pull this one off.

40 by 40 Update: #36 Go to a Concert at the Library of Congress

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

36. Go to a Concert at the Library of Congress – NOT COMPLETED
Running Tally: $160.00 to charity.

The Library of Congress has an amazing concert series, lots of classical chamber music among other things, that is virtually free. I had tickets to go to 3 or 4 different concerts and didn’t make it to any of them. I really have a hard time going to concerts on weeknights.

40 by 40 Update: Go to a BSO Concert at Strathmore


(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

35. Go to a BSO Concert at Strathmore – COMPLETED
Running Tally: $150.00 to charity.

I think this is the only performance-related goal that I met. The Strathmore is a lovely modified shoebox concert hall in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC. In my opinion it is much better aesthetically and acoustically than the National Symphony Orchestra’s home at the Kennedy Center. Very smartly the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra made this their home away from home and do a fairly full season of concerts here, tapping into the affluent suburbs of DC for a customer base that might be reluctant to drive the hour to Baltimore. The orchestra played well, the experience was very nice. We will definitely go back.