Kick me in the nuts
at a pre-arranged time
A year ago I was talking to someone in Mexico and realized mid-conversation that I had been using the wrong form of address.
“Oops I’m sorry,” I said. “Whenever I speak Spanish, I am accidentally rude.”
Or, that is what I tried to say. What I actually said was: “Oops I’m sorry. Whenever I speak Spanish, I accidentally become horny.”
Ugh. I wish I could contract a foreign language as easily as a disease: just get a native speaker to cough on me and 24 hours later I’m infected with fluency.
I should be more proficient. Spanish was the required foreign language in middle school but it didn’t strike 6th-grade Molly as being utile, so I cheated through it the way I cheated through other irrelevant-seeming subjects. Not literal cheating as in copying someone’s test but conceptual cheating as in “Why bother to memorize the future tense of any verb when I can just say Voy a [infinitive] and make myself understood?"
At the time this type of cheating seemed like a shrewd way to clear mental space for more important material. Now I see it as the telltale maneuver of a person who is quick but not deep, intellectually. Schooling in America rewards minds like this—minds like mine—which I didn’t realize until I was finished with school.
Anyhow, my urge for a Spanish re-do is 80% rooted in shame (undignified but effective, as motivations go) and 20% rooted in a desire to submit to the intelligent authority of a foreign language (dignified but way less motivating).
As a result I’ve spent the past months facing grammatical obstacles that I’d previously slalomed around: the future tense, the subjunctive, the ethical dative. Unfortunately, I hate grammar. Many people do. But it is the insoluble fiber of language acquisition and one must incorporate it into one’s diet.
When I wish to do something hard with no external reinforcement, the only solution is to construct an elaborate palace of self-deception. A crucial element of my Learning Spanish palace is Martin Scorsese’s “One for them, one for me” maxim.The “one for them” = an hour of prepositions or irregular verbs. The “one for me” = an hour of translating Jary Franco lyrics or watching telenovelas. (In this framework “them” is an alloy of my superego and the people of Mexico.)
Happily, it turns out that alternating textbooks with YouTube cowboys is totally symbiotic. When Jary Franco croons a word I don’t know, I can usually figure it out if I think about it for between 5 and 500 minutes.
In the song above, for instance, I didn’t recognize the word detallista but I knew that detalle is “detail” and ista connotes enthusiasm or expertise (Zapatista, fashionista), so detallista must mean… “detail enthusiast”? (And indeed, it means meticulous or thoughtful—close enough.)
Another activity in the “one for me” bucket is decoding colloquialisms. A common phrase is No tengo vela en el entierro— “I don’t have a candle in this funeral.” People tend to use it as a preamble to gossip. “I don’t have a candle in this funeral but everyone knows X is cheating on Y; why doesn’t she dump him?” It’s like saying “I don’t have a dog in this fight” or “I don’t have a horse in this race.”
The grammar sessions have their rewards, but they aren’t as tangible. Often I will reach an impasse where I don’t know whether a) I just need to keep trying and eventually I will grasp the concept, or b) no amount of effort will be sufficient, and to learn how to use soler (e.g.) by brute force would be like willing myself to grow a tail or become a redhead. In these situations the question is always, do I cut my losses and move on or keep trying? And if I move on, is it because of my shameful “quick but not deep” intellect or is it pragmatism?
OR is it c) none of the above and I’m just a late-blooming masochist?
Many years ago, my friend Daniele found a Craigslist ad from a guy seeking a female to kick him in the nuts on a crowded New York City subway at a pre-arranged time. Perhaps it would be a lie to pretend, while suffering through the intricacies of soler, that I have nothing in common with that man. His female is my Spanish…his nuts, my brain.
Also attributed to Burt Reynolds, according to the internet. Maybe this thought arrives independently to the majestically eyebrowèd.
The chorus is equally fun to decipher. “Y tu nieve? De qué la quieres?” means “And your fancy gelato? What flavor do you want?” It’s a sardonic way of responding when someone asks for the impossible. In the video Jary is directing his plaint to a hot girl with a laundry list of dating non-negotiables: she wants a boyfriend who is handsome, rich, chivalrous, cool, not a drunkard, drives a sick car, etc— and at the end he’s like “OK and also what flavor gelato would you like?” meaning “That’s all? Nothing else?” (I can’t think of a pithy English equivalent but surely it exists.)