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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why Not The Real Thing?


Anybody who watches TV has probably seen the commercial.
In the ads for this car manufacturer, an apparently unbiased driver explains why he chose this specific model. Since all other carmakers are promoting their sedans as "having the features" that his chosen model has, he says, the decision is clear: why not buy the one they are comparing themselves to?
That take on comparative advertising resembles the one you might probably find in many major American cities. Pictured above is a poster on a Miami Metrobus, where riders are invited to find out about Islam, headlined as "The message of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, & Muhammad."
I'll leave the theologians to debate that.
Not being one, for me the answer is already clear and runs along the lines of the one given by the driver in the aforementioned commercial: I already have Jesus, I'll stay with the real thing.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Teacher


En otro lado, también, tengo esta reminiscencia de mi madre. De nuevo, la versión en español la agregaré luego.
My mother died August 12, 2008. Whatever good I have in me I owe it both to her and to my father, who died April 15, 2004. Anything bad I am or have, of course, it's me... only me.
The way my family tells the story I learned to read at a very early age. Long before I was ready for school and perhaps even longer that school, and teachers were ready for me. As it should be clear to anybody, I don’t recall how it happened. Which probably helps me for the purpose of this story, as the idea is not to provide a detailed account. Needless to say, I cannot tell you either why or when or how did I become conscious of my ability to make sense of the alphabet. And by that I mean not only the skill to identify the individual letters, but also the ability to make sense of how they were to be spelled out once they were strung together into words. Most likely at the beginning it happened with words written in chalk on a blackboard, although I certainly cannot discount the possibility that they were first handwritten on pieces of paper while my two aunts (both my father’s sisters on his mother’s side and both still in elementary school) cared for me and did their school homework. Fresh (should there be anything to be so called after more than half a century of having first happened) is the memory of sitting on their laps and following the rhythms of the spoken word as they learned, practiced and polished their reading skills.
This is not however about me. At a certain point in my life, I’m sure, there may have been some boasting attached to my reading skills. Children, after all, are like that. Go ahead and tell your tot how good he or she looks while frowning or squinting and there will be no end to frowns or squints followed by roars of laughter.
As the story goes, it was at that time of my aunts doing homework when my grandmother discovered my precocious ability to read. Not because of my parroting whatever they were reading at the time. We lived at my grandmother’s house in this semirural town in South-Eastern El Salvador, either by coincidence or design next to the elementary school for girls where my mother was one of the teachers. At times, when my restlessness would make her patience run short and perhaps in an effort to soothe my demands to see my mother—whom I knew to be there just a few steps away, caring for children that weren’t hers—Ma Menche or some other relative attending us (there was already my brother, Reynaldo, to take care of) would carry me to gaze at my mother through the open window, while she labored on showing her pupils the wonders of the alphabet. "Teacher, teacher, your son is at the window again!", the girls would yell. And it was there next to the banana plants and the cashew tree, not far away from where the mango tree shaded the wooden sink where Ma Menche did the laundry later to dry al fresco that I would fall asleep in her arms, while looking at my mother write on the blackboard and lead her pupils in reciting the alphabet and learning the wonders of language through words that in their simple structure had in them hidden the complexity of discoveries yet to be made.
And so it is hyperbolically how one day I was babbling baby-talk and the next I’d be reading off the first-graders book. And sooner than most children, be anxious for the daily paper to arrive to chuckle with the comics. Gazing at my mother while she was busy teaching to other children was not, I think, the only way I learned to read. At bedtime The Arabian Nights stories would come alive with her retellings. Her words I believe did more than just calm down whatever fears you go to bed at night when you are little. Perhaps a better way of explaining this would be to say that by the time I got to see in books or magazines pictures or illustrations of the things that Mayita narrated to me at bedtime, I was not actually looking at something new. More of a side-by-side comparison of images with the ones already planted in my mind by my mother’s words.

The Imagine Game


Por ahí tengo, en otro lado, este relato que hice para mis nietos. La versión en español la agregaré luego.
Wrote this story a long time ago for my grandchildren. There are eight of them now.
“Let’s play the game, Koko!”
As usual, it was CP the one asking her brother to initiate what the five of them had come to know as The Imagine Game. And also as usual Xuxi had only smiled at Koko, glancing at him like saying, “Gee, I was wondering how long it would be this time for Kaké —CP’s other nickname—to ask us that.”
As Xuxi smiled broadly at Koko, Junior stared expectantly at the three of them and L’il Bean, the youngest in the group, did likewise not too far away.
The Game was not properly a game at all.
It was a trio of old Spanish ballads made into a lullaby. Silly phrases off an old fairy tale, some would call it a fable, modified every time the story was retold anew. Phrases that as their mothers knew well made no sense. Words in short that would make them laugh, precisely because they were absurd, long before they knew what absurd meant or were even aware of the existence of such a word.
More importantly, the game was basically just about anything the five of them could come up with every time they played it. As each and every one of them had found out, it was a learning tool. Because in playing it, they had also learned a lot —about each other, and about themselves.
Junior, who was no Junior at all, had been the one to teach them that the one day she had replied to Xuxi’s request that anyone say aloud a four letter word for care and affection.
“Nana!,” Junior had shouted at the top of her lungs.
And L’il Bean, who as both Koko and Cinnamon Panda had been ready to say “love,” knew that she was right.
“Not all four letter words are bad, as you can see,” Xuxi said.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Primer posting


Lo acabo de crear.
¿Por qué Como decíamos ayer?
Simplemente, la frase del fraile ha sido siempre una de mis preferidas y el antetítulo con que mi mentor en periodismo solía publicar sus comentarios editoriales.
Luego abundaré más en el tema, si es necesario.
Pero en síntesis, es porque recoge tanto el que la vida tiene que discurrir sin resentimientos ni rencillas ni rencores (o, de lo contrario, se gasta) como también el que debe ceñirse uno a principios.
En más de 40 años de presencia en el mercado laboral, el grueso de esas cuatro décadas ha sido como periodista. Lo mismo como redactor de EL DIARIO DE HOY de El Salvador en mis inicios que como corresponsal de agencias extranjeras ahí, en mi mismo país, o reporteando desde Washington, D. C., Miami, Fl., o zonas rurales y urbanas de naciones tan diversas como Corea del Sur, Francia, Tailandia o Cuba.
Así las cosas, no tiene nada de curioso que a lo largo de esas cuatro décadas, muchas de las notas que en algún momento he escrito hayan tenido que ver con Cuba.
Para muestra, dos que me he encontrado por ahi al andar, como dice la canción, "buscando cosas viejas".
Hay una nota de 1997 que puede verse aquí, http://www.cubanet.org/CNews/y97/mar97/10social.html, y otra más reciente, ilustrada al tope y que se puede leer aquí, http://www.elsalvador.com/especiales/2008/castro/nota12.asp .
Por ahí nos vemos ... o nos leemos.