Grab bag


After Christmas, I got to thinking about all of the wrapping paper I’d used over the years. We give a fair number of gifts, so our contribution to the world’s paper waste stream has no doubt been a large one. Of course we recycle what we can, but it occurred to me that using gift bags would be better. Unfortunately, conventional gift bags are made of paper, too, and really can only be reputably reused a couple of times. I therefore decided that making cloth bags for at least most of the presents would be a project for me in 2020. I don’t have or even know how to operate a sewing machine, but this little cutie above is the first of my hand-sewn efforts. I’m rather proud of myself!

Truth be known, I really like opening bags, boxes, and the like to see what’s inside them. I love looking through attics and garage sales and jumble tables to see what’s there, assuming no objectionable creatures make an appearance while I’m searching. Finding a bit of this and a couple of thats can be fun and, often, useful. It’s amazing what can be handy.

I’m finding the process of learning Spanish to be similar. My Spanish definitely has seams that are not quite straight and an amateurish top, but, like my bag, it’s remarkably functional. I can shop, read most signs, ask for rudimentary directions, and find the bathroom the vast majority of the time. Of course, it helps that many people here in Torrevieja speak at least some English. Both the Spaniards and folks from other parts of Europe generally have enough English to do about what I can do in Spanish, if not far more. It’s a point of pride to have several languages.

To work on our language skills, Mark and I do Rosetta Stone lessons online and practice Spanish in two language groups. One meets on Tuesday and is fairly basic, but the people are great, and I always learn something and have lots of fun with friends in the process. Our Thursday group is a bit more serious. It has a theme of the week, sent out over What’s App by our leader, Mara. Each participant (except for one lady from Wales who never says a word, but she seems very nice) prepares a small response to the theme in Spanish and English. For example, one week we talked about a risk we would take. (Mine was going inside the Great Pyramid at Giza, in case you’re interested. I don’t like dark, enclosed places, but this would be worth the inevitable bad dreams that would follow.) Several of the people in these groups know multiple languages. Inevitably, little conversations in Spanish, English, French, Italian, and German pop up, and those are just the languages I can identify. People are rightly proud of being polyglots and want to learn more.

Which brings me to something that happened on Facebook a while ago. I’m still thinking about it. There was a discussion on a friend’s page about speaking English in public in the USA. A friend of my friend- not someone I know – argued that it was justifiable to demand that people speak only English in the USA, because “If you were in Italy they’d get mad at you if you didn’t speak Italian, and if you were in Spain they’d get mad at you if you didn’t speak Spanish.” I normally don’t argue with strangers on Facebook, but I just had to respond. I said that this had not been my experience while traveling in Italy and most certainly was not my experience spending lots of time in Spain. He never replied to my comment, so I have no idea whether it had any impact at all.

All of this makes me wonder why such a big, diverse population as the American people would include so many folks who espouse the English-only stance I saw on Facebook. Is it actually a big deal if you can’t eavesdrop on the two women in front of you in line at the grocery store? Kidding aside, are we really that insular? Do we dislike education that much? And do we honestly think that the world shares our opinions on this subject? People generally are proud of what they know. Why aren’t we proud that people in our country know lots of cool things, including languages other than English? It beats me.

I’ll close this post on the grab bag of language with a fun factoid about a dead Mediterranean language. No, it’s not Latin; it’s Sabir, a Mediterranean lingua franca used from the 11th century up into the 19th century. It was apparently originally a commercial language used by merchants and sailors who needed a common tongue to do their jobs effectively. Later it was used in diplomacy and even shows up in a play by Moliére. Sabir borrowed from Portuguese, French, Spanish, Italian, Genoese, Venetian, Catalan, Occitan, Berber, Turkish, and Arabic to create a tongue that was understood and used throughout the Sea’s many cultures. Apparently you can take free online lessons in Sabir on, but we’ve mostly lost this useful tool. That’s a pity and a cautionary tale. How grateful I am for the many beautiful languages around the globe!



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