Thursday, August 07, 2008

20 Years Ago It Was...

One of the advantages of a blog is that the writer can record events that can aid ancestry researchers and generations to come to assess the events and writing techniques of the time. Following is my fading recollection of three weeks in NYC.

About to re-enter the teaching world after 10 years of writing and compiling construction information into a weekly newsletter, I searched for a short summer school session where I could revive my skills in Spanish. With son S’s consent, I chose The New School in NYC and moved into his two-room apartment, seven floors up in a brownstone on 76th street W.

My routine began with a train ride to 16th street, then walking back two blocks to the building housing the school. This was my first time to attend a school within a city, not on a wide-spread campus.

My first impression of the class was the circle of chairs around the room, the immediate speaking of Spanish when the bell rang (and I usually arrived at the bell), and the charming Mexican professor, Senor David Zuniga. Students were few enough to enjoy: a priest, a young college student, a woman married to an Argentine, another woman recently moved from Jamaica, a third woman teaching Spanish to adults, a businessman interested in improving the language, and a few others I’ve totally forgotten about. And, yes, Me, Myself and I. We introduced ourselves the first day in Spanish. I explained I was from Mississippi reentering the teaching field and wanted to speak and use more Spanish in the classroom.

By the second week I was getting to class five minutes early. This allowed conversations in English. My plans were to sit in different chairs every few days in order to get to know those around the room. I chose first , the priest who said, “I’ve been waiting to see if you spoke Southern, as you don’t in your Spanish.” That broke the ice with the others, and soon I was arriving 10 minutes early so we could all chat. I switched seats several more times before the end of the session.

The class was a review of Spanish grammar as well as conversation. We had to read the La Prensa that our prof’s partner edited. This gentleman visited the class and my friend who was married to the Argentine was the only one who could understand him. She had felt lost with the Mexican-accented words of Sr. Zuniga. The rest of us were lost with the Argentine accent of Mr. Editor. That class session was recorded for ever with the photograph above.

Those three weeks were filled with various classmates’ directions to see this and see that, to avoid this subway and that street. All this occurred after I was asked how I got to and from the apartment every day. Explaining the difficulty of climbing up seven flights of stairs daily was limited to one time only, I told how I slowly walked from 14th to 76th, taking all afternoon, stopping for lunch, sitting on public benches, lounging in book stores, strolling through parks. One woman insisted on taking me on several occasions to a different place after class. She showed me the market at Washington Square, introduced me to my first Japanese lunch, took me to Forbes Building to show me the boyhood toys of the family,saw the telephone building with displays of old and new telephones, and pointed out various shopping areas. Then the Jamaican woman insisted on taking me to the tourist office where I could get discounted tickets to visit museums, use the subway, attend plays, etc. She warned me not to go into the underground at that location because of the high incidence of crime. And this came because I was from the South. I played the part of a bumbling Fanny Mae and enjoyed every minute of their aid.

Those days were filled with wonderment at my second time in the big city. I reveled in losing my way trying to find a subway station that was different from my usual route, discovering a high school in the city, stumbling around SoHo, wandering through Chinatown-- all during the month of June. And at the end of each day as I arrived at 76th street I’d buy a dinner and trudge up the flight of stairs I swear was a replica of those of the Pyramids outside Mexico City—steep, steep, steep.

These memories came flooding back when I found the newspaper photo. Now, which woman is the author of this blog? Hint: she on the front row and is holding a copy of the paper. Find who looks more Southern, and you have ME! (And remember, hang near the prof for a good grade!)

1 comment:

lala said...

As a teacher, maybe would be a nice out-of-class resource for you students. The spanishdict dictionary is pretty accurate (I teach at a high school in PA).