Jul/Aug 2007 Spotlight

Lengua del Burro

by William Reese Hamilton

Photography by William Reese Hamilton

Spanish isn't really such a hard language to learn. I don't need to have classes. I'll listen to tapes, get a few books, watch TV, talk to the natives, just forge ahead. After all, I picked up Mandarin when I was one, and Romanian when I was in my twenties.

But as I've gotten older, I've noticed it takes a bit longer to tune my ear and tongue. For a while, I get by telling people I'm really quite intelligent for a two-year-old, a three-year-old, a four-year-old, but now that I've been around more than five years, I think the young are starting to outstrip my verbal skills.

While I'm in the cemetery one day, checking out the headstones, Francia comes up the path.

"Y porque estas aquí?" I ask. "And why are you here?"

"Para visitar mi puta madre," I hear her say. "To visit my whore of a mother." Well, I think to myself, I wonder if my kids will talk of me in such colorful terms?

Later, when I mention this strange exchange to Marisol, she wonders, "But that's so weird, Francia loved her mother." She thinks it over awhile, then starts to laugh out loud. "No, Bill, what she said was, 'Para visitar mi difunta madre, to visit my dead mother.'"

And so it goes, Mr. Vonnegut. God only knows whom I might have offended along the way, for these grotesqueries are coming from an aging gringo, not a child.

"Quieres un colito?" I shout out at a woman by the road as my car climbs the mountain. And she stares at me, open mouthed, in shock. What I have meant to say is, "Quieres una colita, do you want a ride?" What she must have heard was, "Quieres un culito?" which means "Want a piece of ass?"


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