Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Super Charo, Huecazo, and Esquipi

One of the greatest things about growing up with parents whose first language was different to the one spoken in my homeland is that there will inevitably be some misunderstandings when trying to communicate with each other, often due to pronunciation.

My dear Colombian mother's first language was Spanish, and while she has certainly adopted a working knowledge of basic to intermediate English in the thirty-plus years of living in the good ol' U.S. of A., there have been moments in which a slight change in pronunciation due to her accent have led to some lost in translation gaffes.

The following is a selection of some of the more memorable highlights.

Super Charo

My mother once needed to go to the airport to catch an early flight and no one at the time could provide her with the lengthy drive from our Miami home to Fort Lauderdale International Airport to catch a low-cost flight. To solve her transportation problem, she enlisted the help of a service she referred to as "Super Charo."

Her utterance evoked a mental image of the eccentric Spanish singer dressed in a Superman outfit.

Super Charo: the most flamboyant superhero of all


For days, I was left perplexed thinking what the heck "Super Charo" could possibly be. I began to seriously entertain the possibility whether or not a red-caped Charo would arrive to our doorstep belting show tunes.


(C'mon, sing it now! Ervry meng/Han ervry hoomang/Want the same thing)

On the morning of her flight, as my mother busied herself with last-minute verification that she had everything necessary for the trip, my grandmother exclaimed that the transport service had arrived. I eagerly rushed to the window to satisfy my curiosity over what "Super Charo" could be.

Lo and behold, I saw this pull up to the driveway:

Link to image


Cuchi-cuchi, indeed.



Huecazo (Large hole)

The Spanish word for "hole" is hueco. A huecazo denotes an impressively-sized hole, one large enough to swallow an entire village or, in the following case, a car tire.



Driving across the parking lot of a nearby supermarket, I spotted a large hole in the road. I felt it was important to make its presence known to my mother so she could avoid it.

"Mom, look out, there's a huecazo."

"WHAT?! REALLY?! WHERE IS IT?!"

I thought it was odd to see her so enthusiastic about a hole and decided to shrug it off.

"It's right over there."

"Where? I don't see it."

"The huecazo is right there! You are about to drive past it. Watch out!"

"But I don't see the huecazo anywhere!"

"Don't worry, you just drove by it."

"Hold on, let me drive around again because I want to get some burgers!"

Huh? What? Burgers? What was she talking about?

"What do you mean 'burgers?' Do you want to go to McDonald's?"

"No! Not McDonald's! Didn't you say there's a huecazo around here? I can't believe they've brought them to Florida! I really miss their mini-burgers."

That's when it clicked.

Prior to moving to Florida, we originally lived in New Jersey, home of the famous White Castle burger chain (and their sliders made infamous by the film Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle).

Coincidentally, there will be no French Bean Goes to White Castle. I'm not high enough to make the journey from France to the nearest White Castle location (which is apparently in New York). 


Apparently, the way I said "large hole" was similar to the way she pronounced "white castle" with her heavy accent, something around the lines of "why-kasso."

(Note: "huecazo" is not pronounced like "why-kasso.")

"No, Mom, not WHITE CASTLE, huecazo, as in a large hole?"

"Oh. So...there's no White Castle?"

"I'm afraid not."

"Dang it. I was hoping to eat some White Castle burgers..."

Huecazo has become a bit of an inside joke between us and to this day whenever Mom mentions having spotted a large hole, I ask her where the burgers are.


Esquipi (Eh-skee-pee)

In late 2009, I moved across the Atlantic Ocean to live in Dijon, France. Being the first time since I had left the proverbial nest, it was crucial for my mother and me to maintain contact. Moreover, in my absence, I worried over how my mother would cope with a general lack of knowledge over all things computer-related.

So imagine my surprise when she proposed a solution and announced:

"You should get Esquipi! You can use it on the computer!"

Esquipi? I thought. What the heck is that?

"Mom, what's Esquipi?"

"You don't know what Esquipi is?"

"Uh, no?"

"How can you not know what Esquipi is? EVERYBODY knows about it! Even I know what Esquipi is!"

In a rare moment of her one-upping my technological savvy, rather than letting her berate me further due to my ignorance of this damned Esquipi, I asked her to elucidate on what this unknown technology entailed.

"Well, essentially, So-and-So said--You remember So-and-So, right?"

"No, I don't."

"Yes, you know who So-and-So is! How can you not remember them?"

"Mom, I don't--"

 "Anyway, So-and-So told me that Esquipi is this thing that you find on the Internet (I don't know how that's done), that lets you call other people by telephone and have conversations with them. You can even see them on the camera."

Her explanation caused the wheels in my head to turn. Back in 2009, this thing that she had described was still a bit of a novelty, but I had certainly heard about it. Putting the pieces together, I had to ask one more question to be absolutely certain on what she was talking about.

"Mom," I started cautiously, "how do you spell 'Esquipi?'"

"Hold on, hold on, I have to find the paper where So-and-So wrote it down for me."

The phone clattered on a hard surface. I waited for her to retrieve the information. The silence from the phone ended with some rustling and her voice returned.

"Okay, I got."

"Great. So how is it spelled?"

"S-K-Y-P-E."

My palm crashed against my forehead, leaving a red, five-fingered silhouette.

"Mom, that's pronounced SKYPE!"

"Es-sky?"

"NO, Skype!"

"Es-sky?"

"No, SKY-PUH!"

"Ah, well, you understood me."


Speaking can be a real hoot sometimes.

Barb the French Bean

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Death of a Duck

(In case the title wasn't already enough of a spoiler for you, here's the story.)

I grew up in a house that has a backyard adjacent to a canal. During the spring, it was a common occurrence for me to see entire broods of Muscovy duckling waddling to and fro and paddling their way across the canal, their little webbed feet working furiously under the water in an attempt to keep up with their mother. Over the course of a few days, it was not uncommon to see a well-populated brood dwindle to only a handful of ducklings awkwardly tumbling behind the mother duck.

Being exposed to not other wild animals besides the Muscovy ducks, I went through a period in my childhood in which I suddenly declared that ducks were my absolute favorite animals in the entire world, in particular the Pekin variety. And as it often is with children's desires, I wanted a pet duck.

Naturally, my parents refused, stating that I could pretend that all of the Muscovy ducks belonged to me. In my child's mind, Muscovy ducks, with warty, red growths encroaching across their bills, were no where near the same caliber of finesse as the Pekin duck, but I was still content to provide them with bits of bread to eat.

To further add insult to injury, my mother ordered me to never, EVER  go near my "pet" ducklings.

"Well, why not?" I huffed.

"Because the mother duck with very over-protective, and if she sees you trying to go for her babies, she will attack you."

I shuddered. Why would she attack the person feeding her bits of bread?

"Ducks don't understand loyalty, Barbara," Mom explained.

My curiosity had been provoked. "Then how would she attack if she's not loyal to her duckies?"

"Oh, no, she's loyal to them. Not to us. She'd bite."

"Do duck bites hurt, Mommy?"

"Yes, I tell you this from experience. Don't get close to them." The severity in her tone suggested that I should heed her warning. I always made sure that whenever I gave the ducks bread, I would stay several feet away. It was difficult to see a number of fluffy, peeping ducklings and not be able to caress one of them. I wondered if I would ever get the chance to touch a duckling someday.

That chance would come. Several years ago, Miami faced a period in which it rained for three days straight that led to floods. This continuous rain, oddly enough, was not related to a hurricane pattern. Still, this meteorological fluke ensured impromptu school closures and prohibited people from safely driving to work. It was great to be able to stay home with Mom and Dad and feel like I had somehow struck gold from not going to school.

The novelty waned by the second day. During the rainstorm, I lamented being cooped in my room and dreamed about going outside to walk around the canal's edge, its presence taunting me from the window. All of a sudden, amid a strong gust parting the water, I spotted a flash of yellow.



With the rain's relentless pounding in thick curtains of water, it was difficult at first to decipher what the yellow bundle could possibly be when I saw it move!

There was no mistaking the clumsy waddle. It was a lost duckling! I yelled for my parents to come look.

"Mom! Dad! There's a duckling outside! It's all alone. What should we do?"

Without hesitation, Dad slipped on his American school bus yellow raincoat and marched deftly into the pelting rain to save the duckling.

I was so happy! My family would finally have a real pet duckling to take care of! For the time-being, Mom contrived a little home for the duckling using a plastic crate, a towel and some old newspapers. I thought the accommodations were too spartan for him and asked my mother if I could place a duck plushie to make him feel even more at home.

"Absolutely not," Mom replied.



As the duckling cheeped and explored his relatively cozy confines, I hovered above the crate and watched his every move.



My mind raced with what I would name the duckling, deeming "Quackers" as being a suitable option. Yes, I had only known the duckling for a few hours, but by naming it, I demonstrated a deep sense of attachment. In fact, the way I glowered at it prompted my mother to tell me to go off and leave the duckling alone.

I didn't want to, of course.

"For how long should I leave him?"

"Oh...a few minutes. He needs his peace and quiet, too."

I went to my room and stared at the clock, waiting for "a few minutes" to pass. Twenty minutes to be sufficient time to have left Quackers on his own. Thinking that he was probably hungry, I ran to the kitchen and scrounged for a slice of bread, betting that Quackers would love to eat what he found in his natural habitat. The spongy slice in hand, I made a beeline for his crate. I stood on my tiptoes and looked down at him.



Quackers laid on his side, no longer peeping.



I bent my knees and gently nudged his little plump body with an index finger, seeing if he would react to my presence. Nothing.

His limp body rolled back and forth based on how poked him. Still nothing. He remained inert and silent.

I couldn't understand it. He was fine only a few minutes ago, and now he's not moving, I thought.

"Mommy? What's wrong with Quackers?"

Mom peered over the crate and gave a sharp intake of breath. What she said next was uttered in a soothing tone, the one mothers reserve for when they are faced with the difficult task of needing to comfort while presenting bad news.

"Oh...Barbara. I think he's died."

Until that fateful moment, death had been a foreign concept to me. Yes, I was aware that it happened to other people and animals, and that it was met with sadness. In fact, when I was even younger, I wasn't able to understand that Charlie the German Shepherd from All Dogs Go to Heaven was supposed to be dead and escaping death throughout the whole film. (Huh. Another title with a spoiler.)

This poignant moment marked the first true encounter that I had with the senseless loss of life. Not only had my hopes of finally having a pet duckling been dashed, Quackers wouldn't even have the chance for me to show him how much my family and I would love him in the comfort of a warm home.

My child self was distraught and reacted by the only means possible: crying.

But I didn't just simply cry. Oh, no. In that despair, it was if someone had opened the floodgates to my soul.

I sobbed until my eyes ached and were reduced to swollen, red globules. My anguish made me inconsolable to the extent that my parents' voice of reason and attempts to quell my tears were deflected. Life became a blur.

An hour later, my father coaxed me towards him to join him in watching a bout of television. Cuddling me closer to his side, he decided to embark on educating me about how life was not fair.

"I'b gobing to miss the bucky, Dabby," I snorted thickly, my voice muffled with a heavy coating of snot. "Why dib he hab to die?"

"Look, honey, I know it's not just to see something so small and innocent pass away, but death is another part of this life. And, yes, it is unfortunate, but you can't let it stop you from living. All you can do now is remember the good times you had with the ducky."

His words probably would have had a bigger impact had my allotted time with Quackers surpassed more than a mere three hours.

"But he dibbint deserb to die so soon," I bawled.

"Think about this: at least he died surrounded by people instead of being all alone in the wild, right?"

"Uh-huh."

"We made sure he was comfortable in his final moments on this Earth. So, don't worry. He is going to be okay, as are you. Now, let's watch the T.V."

I don't recall which program we had sat down to watch. I gave a bleary glare at the dancing images bouncing off the screen. My raspy breathing slowed, the inhales steady, the exhales calm. The tears stopped.

"Yes, that's it. You see?"

A sniffle was my answer.

"Here, let's just keep watching the T.V., all right? It'll distract you."

"Okay, Daddy."



My poor father. Not even he could have predicted that the very first commercial to appear during the commercial break would be for a toilet cleaning product which has for a mascot... a small, quacking duck.



The following is a rough interpretation of how the commercial, with its unfortunate timing, sounded in my head.






Fast-forward a couple of decades and you will find me not only using "Canard," the French version of said toilet cleaner, but also occasionally feasting on Magret de Canard without batting an eye.

As it was, Quackers wouldn't be the only pet duck in my life, and that one led a more successful and happier time with us.

But that's a story for another day.

Barb the French Bean

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Wisdom Tooth: Part Deux

This past Tuesday, I had the opportunity to have my first dental appointment in France (with a Dutch dentist, no less). While my visit was certainly not wisdom tooth related, the appointment reminded me that I needed to finish the second part to the Wisdom Tooth story.

And for those of you who may have been wondering: I had my wisdom teeth extracted between the ages of 14 and 15.

Yes, really. I had one side of my mouth done when I was fourteen then allowed a month of healing before having the other side be done after I turned fifteen.

I was a fairly early bloomer not only in puberty but also in getting bothersome teeth, much to the surprise of my parents and my former dentist who has since retired from her profession.


Enough chit-chat. Here's "Wisdom Tooth: Part Deux."




























Never underestimate a wisdom tooth.

Barb the French Bean

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Potency of Café Cubano (Cuban Coffee)

Returning to my roots in Miami as I do for one month every summer gives me the opportunity to re-examine the things that are in absence of my life in France. For the first few days of what will ultimately be a brief stay, I am lured by the bright blue skies frequently interrupted by spurts of intense showers and decent Cuban cuisine. Amid the comestibles to re-discover, Cuban coffee is at the top of the list.


Being an avid coffee drinker, I'd like to believe that I have a good tolerance for caffeine. There have been times in which people have told me that they customarily stave from drinking any more of the liquid gold past four in the afternoon to prevent undergoing a sleepless night. I contemplate how I have never been able to understand this behavior as I drink my fourth cup of java at six o'clock in the evening.

I should mention that while I do have access to Cuban coffee while living in France, I ration myself to one cup of café con leche in the mornings and supply the rest of the intake with either soluble Nescafé or whatever is offered in the local bars in town. Be what it may, my resistance to caffeine is quite strong and don't have any issues going to bed at a decent time. 

Or so I thought.

On one fine afternoon, I sought shelter from the dense humidity seeping the Miami streets like a suffocating wool blanket and found myself glancing at a menu selling several drink varieties of café cubano. As the time was nearing 5:30 p.m., I reasoned that a café con leche would be too much to drink and that its smaller cousin, the cortadito, would hit the spot. True, while the volume of the cortadito seems puny in comparison to the run-of-the-mill Starbucks latte giants, its power lies in the sweetened espresso mixed with just the right amount of milk. 

I stared at the menu. I read the words "cortadito/colada." I made a mental note that when it would be my turn to place an order, I should say "cortadito" with conviction.

Cortadito, cortadito, cortadito. 

The person in front of me left the line. I stepped closer to the counter. The attendant asked me what I would like to order.

My mind thought "cortadito, cortadito, cortadito."

My mouth uttered "colada." 

In the haze of that silent chant, my mind didn't notice the mistake until I was handed a small cup filled with four shots of sweetened espresso. 

My brain screamed "WHAT THE HELL?! THIS ISN'T WHAT I HAD ORDERED!!! SHE GOT MY ORDER WRONG!!!" In the moment I was going to make my musings vocal, a little voice that had played the past few minutes in vivid succession recalled that, actually, yes, I had indeed ordered a colada, that I was too stupid to have not realized the error earlier and that it was now too late to backtrack and ask the poor attendant to make me another drink.

I forced a smile, paid for the drink then slumped away from the counter preparing myself to face the fate of drinking four sweetened shots of dark espresso. With the colada in hand, I imagined that this was what a walk to the gallows must have been like. I had resigned myself to facing severe heart palpitations and possibly never sleeping again.

Both the mind and mouth pleaded for me not to drink it. I drank it anyway.

At first, it seemed as if the colada's potency would have no effect on me. Yes, I felt more alert than I had been some moments before, but as far as I could tell, there was no perceivable difference as to how I would have felt had I downed a simple cortadito. I was duped into thinking that I was the caffeine-resistant champion of Java land.

I didn't go to sleep until 4:30 a.m.

Now I know why people here refer to the coffee as "Cuban Crack."



Barb the French Bean

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Random Cartoon: Wisdom Tooth, Part 1

Occasionally, my funny little mind conjures crazy thoughts which eventually manifest in the form of a cartoon.

Here is one of those crazy cartoons.









To be continued.

Barb the French Bean

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Good-bye, Neigh-bors (An Abrupt Alteration)

My personal life has gone through a significant change within the past week: I am no longer living in Sablé-sur-Sarthe.

I have said good-bye to this:

The Neigh-bors had a kid



And openly greeted the Plantagenêt Cité in Le Mans on Friday July 4th. The decision to move was coordinated on Wednesday July 2nd. Le Mans may only be 40 kilometers away from Sablé, but it is worlds apart.

The Saint Julien Cathedral is Le Mans' shining architectural glory

Le Mans, home of the 24 Hours of Le Mans

After two years of being surrounded by cornfields and horses, I had forgotten how noisy bustling cities can be. While I do find myself at times missing the peace and quiet of the countryside, the adjustment to having an efficient, reliable public transportation system with frequent buses and trams and to seeing people my own age makes the transition much smoother.

Plus, seeing this store whenever I walk home never fails to coax a smile across my lips.



Barb the French Bean