So begins the great experiment of 2009: can Dan Rubin learn a second language? I have been wanting to learn Spanish for a few years now, since the Writing 1 course I taught used Richard Rodriguez’s Brown–a beautiful, challenging, and witty deconstruction of race, language, and America–as its primary reader and incorporated Gloria Anazulda’s essay “How to Tame a Wild Tongue” into the curriculum. The problem is: a) I have a really poor memory for words (ironically enough), b) I am a horrible speller (a true product of the spellcheck generation), and c) I am not a good vocal mimic (I can do one of Sean Connery’s lines from The Untouchables really well–“They schend one of yoursh to the hoshpital, you shend one of theirsh to the morgue. That’sh the Cshicahgo way!”–and that’s about it). But other than those slight deterents…
I took a semester of Spanish in high school after I finished all the Latin courses (completing my seven year run around the seven hills of conjugating amo/amas/amat…); it was useless. I took a semester of French in college, but it didn’t make me look like less of an idiot when I was ordering croissants in Paris, merci bien. Hopefully this new attempt will not be a waste of time. I don’t think it will be. I am using language software called Fluenz, and so far so good. I was worried that it wouldn’t have a strong writing component because so many people are primarily interested in being able to converse. I am interested in that, but I am even more interested in being able to read plays from Spanish speaking playwrights in the original, as well as being able to correspond with said playwrights. Fluenz is all about the writing though! I wonder what magical realism is like in Spanish. I bet it’s gorgeous.
I began Latin in 6th grade and took it through senior year of high school. I have retained almost none of it. In high school, our teacher was an ex-college professor who was constantly frustrated by our lack of, well, being college students. There were days when we colored. That’s right: colored. She would give us a line drawing of Aeneas or Hera and I would spend 20 minutes cross-hatching with my colored pencils. What I did take away, however, were the stories. Translating was like putting puzzles together: look up every word in a line, lay all the words out in front of you, piece them together in some intelligible order. We became adept at this game. We may not have always gotten the grammar exactly right, but we knew that Medusa turned you to stone and that Hercules had whole lot of quests to get through. For my love of myths and storytelling in general, I will always have Latin to thank.
Tomorrow I begin the dramaturgy for our next fast-approaching production, War Music, an adaptation of a modern translation of the Iliad. I have been charged with creating a who’s who for about 50 Greeks, Trojans, and gods. I’m looking forward to it. It will be like reuniting with old friends! Well, hello there Ajax? How’s the shield holding up. Zeus, you old rascal. Staying out of trouble? Odessyeus you, sly dog. How’s the wife and kid. They look at me confused. “Ego operor non agnosco. Discedo fossor,” they scoff. I back away slowly as the warriors polish their ancient weaponry and Zeus charges his bolts. I recall how nice Dido looked when I shaded her dress a light lavender magenta. It was all the rage in Carthage that year.