Spanish Lessons

Amanda is learning Spanish. She says she wants to go to Latin America, perhaps work there. I am giving her Spanish lessons.

Whenever I see her she usually has something to say about the case between Chevron, the oil company, and the government of Ecuador, which has been going on for 18 years.

Courts in Ecuador have fined Chevron $18bn for polluting parts of its country.

Chevron is refusing to pay.

Now the Court of Arbitration in The Hague has decided it has jurisdiction in the case.

Amanda has been following an online Spanish course called Babbel, which is very basic.

She has also been listening to Spanish popular songs on YouTube.

I have agreed to give her tutorials.

She has some conversation tapes of her own. I am using a big workbook called Repaso.

Amanda is fun. She likes distracting me.

“I think I am an introvert”, she says. She says she has been reading the Psychology Today pages on the web.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I find small talk draining, exhausting. I read that was one of the indicators.”

“Really?” I said.

Now she’s laughing over one of the exercises: two parents are celebrating their 25th anniversary and each member of the family is choosing gifts, as a test for declining the verb excoger, to choose. Yo, that is I, choose una caja de bombones, while the two parents – mis padres — celebrate with una bandeja de plata, a silver tray, and grandmother – la abuela — chooses a set of towels.

She laughs. “I don’t think so. Not quite the way our family works, is it?” She looks up at me sideways and gives me a sort of mock-rueful look.

Of course I have never asked about Amanda’s father – or Lavinia’s, her child, for that matter.

As she goes she says: “The song I was listening to today was called Lento by Julieta Venegas who is Mexican.”

“You should listen to Mercedes Sosa,” I said. “A thrilling voice. Every time she starts to sing Gracias a la Vida I get a frog in my throat and shivers up my spine. Please listen and tell me what you think.”

For many years that voice was a background to my life, mixed in with street sounds, or drifting through a tall-windowed balcony somewhere.