Tuesday, December 31, 2013


From 2013-12 December
I was going to write about Christmas. I wanted to say something about contrasts, about the fact that we started our celebrations in cold/snowy Boston and continued them in warm/sunny San Francisco. I would have talked about the wonderful people whose company we enjoyed in both places and referred to pictures of happy people opening presents.

But Alla got hit by a car. She’s surprisingly OK, considering what happened, but it’s been pretty rough on her. The driver knew that Alla was walking behind the car when she stepped on the gas. She just thought she’d shifted into a forward gear. In reverse, she struck Alla from the back, knocking her to her face on the pavement and then driving over her. Fortunately, Alla was between the wheels and the driver managed to stop before breaking any bones. We ended up in the hospital twice, first treating the superficial wounds and then checking for complications from concussion.

The doctors assured Alla that she could fly and Alla was ready to go home to Belarus, so we continued on our planned journey, though we left San Francisco a day late and Alla wasn’t able to prepare for her next trip in all the usual ways.

We traveled unusually well from Boston, since we had enough miles to book ourselves some “free” travel on British Airways’ lay-flat seats. We did lie down and sleep a couple of hours, but got less sleep than usual because we were distracted by wave after wave of delicious food and we didn’t want to miss anything. So when we got to Prague, we took a nap. I don’t usually nap when I travel because I’m eager to adjust to the new time zone, but since I want to stay up until midnight tonight I figured it might be OK to take a little nap. Just this once.

From 2013-12 December
Alla took a big nap, so I entertained myself alone this afternoon on the streets of Prague. It’s a giant party out there, and I think I’ve only seen the warm-up so far. I think we’ll enjoy a lively evening.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Posada Navideña

From 2013-12 December
Our friends Gabriela and Henry invited us to a Posada Navideña last week. This is a traditional Mexican procession with songs and food. I'm not sure who organizes such things in Mexico, but I think ours arose out of the generosity of a Mexican grocery store and a Mexican restaurant in the little community of Roslindale. When we arrived at the grocery store, they were giving out free tamales, tripe soup and hot chocolate. The crowded store steamed with the heat of the many people milling around with their food and socializing. I would have loved to take off my jacket, but had no place to set it down and my hands were occupied with food and drink.

Presently a mariachi band arrived. They weren't as accomplished as the professional musicians we usually hear in tourist areas of Mexico, but they played with such enthusiasm and abandon that nobody seemed to care. We practiced a few songs together in the grocery store and then set out on our procession, singing for the proprietors of various neighborhood businesses. Some of the businesses responded with treats: The library gave away used books, somebody else gave out churros, and we finally ended up inside a restaurant with lots more food and two piñatas for the kids.

Before getting inside the restaurant, however, we participated in a call-and-response song with the people inside the restaurant playing the part of reluctant hosts and the people on the street playing the part of insistent guests. The mariachis accompanied us during the whole walk and led the singing. We had a great time, and this reinforces my opinion that Mexicans generally know how to have a good time. I'm glad we have so many Latinos in Boston and that we got to participate.

From 2013-12 December

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Fun with English

When I first knew Alla, she claimed that her English improved after she’d had a glass of wine. By now, her English is pretty steady, but I got a good laugh after she had a glass of chardonnay on an empty stomach and then called the hotel operator. We’re still in Cancun, and Alla now knows a little Spanish. The operator answers the phone in Spanish, so Alla responded “Buenos dias… Buenas tardes.” Realizing it was after 6 pm, she added “Buenas noches.”

From there she proceeded to offer the operator a room number ten less than our actual room and breathlessly intoned, “We have a lamp burned down.” English is the hotel operator’s second language too, and I feared she’d get the wrong impression and call the fire department. I figured that the simplest way to correct any misunderstanding would be to make sure the operator knew Alla was talking about a light bulb.

“Light bulb,” I said.

“Oh,” Alla said to the operator. “We have a light bowl burned down.”

I offered more information to Alla: “We have a light bulb burned out.”

Alla improved her report, saying, “We have a light bowl burned out.” Following with a little spate of general confusion, Alla hung up the phone. We hadn’t gotten to the part about our actual room number, but I trusted that the operator had caller ID, so I let it slide as we began to wait in semi-darkness.

We ate bowls of soup, but nobody came. Discussing what had happened, Alla suggested that perhaps people with hoses and water buckets were right now pounding on the door of room 505. I decided it might be best if I were to call the operator myself. I think the operator already understood what we wanted, and she said that the maintenance department would come soon. It all ended very nicely, but as I’ve discovered when making a fool of myself in Russian, the structures and concepts in one language don’t always map directly to another.