Friday, August 2, 2013

Foreign Tongue

I was a bit of a hellion in high school. Shocking, right?! I was an outspoken, brash, mouthy, rebellious teen. I know, I haven't changed a whole heckuva lot in the past 30 years. And my rebel streak got me into a bit of trouble when it came to my grades. If I was truly interested in a subject, I got straight A's. If I couldn't care less, or if I didn't get along with the teacher, I lost any motivation in the subject, and would pull a D. It took me three attempts to pass Algebra, but my Journalism and English teachers loved me.

And then along came Señora Brewold.

Back in junior high I choose Spanish as my foreign language, and while I wasn't a great student, I managed to continue with the subject through high school. My motivation? If my sister and I kept at it, our parents would take us to Mexico (because my mother did NOT speak Spanish and needed a translator). So we did...and they did...and by the time we returned, I wasn't just speaking in Spanish, I was dreaming in Spanish.

My Spanish teacher in high school was a woman that someone long before me had nicknamed La Bruja Del Mar. The Sea Witch. Señora Brewold. I don't know why or how she got that nickname. But there was definitely something a little scary and tough about Señora Brewold. She wore sensible shoes and A-line skirts, and sometimes yelled & slammed things down on the counter to get your attention. Well, my attention. I just wasn't motivated. I'd rather sit and chat with my friends in English instead of learning Spanish. I just didn't care that much. Until the day that Señora Brewold made me stay after class, and told me that I had better get my shit together or she was going to eject me permanently from the classroom (which meant no trip to Mexico).

I was insolent, rebellious, mouthy. I had better things to do after school, like hang out with my boyfriend. I was not happy. I said some bad words. And she gave them right back. And more. I wasn't expecting that. She knew every word that I did, plus a slew of Spanish curse words that I didn't, and she wasn't afraid of using them on me.

Suddenly, I was impressed! She had my attention. I think I cocked my head to the side and realized that maybe I wanted to be in this classroom after all. By the end of our half hour shouting session, she had shown me that however badass I thought I was at 16, she'd been badass for at least 3 or 4 times that long. And that's how I found instant respect for La Bruja Del Mar. I stayed in her class. And I passed that class. I was totally motivated, and ended up with a B instead of a D. Years later, she was the one teacher from high school that came to my wedding.

This 4th of July I went home, and bumped into Señora Brewold at the parade. We talked animatedly for a half hour and laughed all over again about our blow out, and how she conjugated the word chingar for me. I 'll save you the trouble of looking it up. It's the F word. In Spanish. I love that woman.

By the time I graduated from high school, I was hungry to learn more foreign language. So I switched to French for a few years. The day after I received my bachelor's degree, I flew to the Greek Isles and spent the summer learning Greek. I'm told I speak Greek like a country bumpkin from the south. I've got a heavy, southern Cretan drawl. Which makes sense, because that's where I learned it...from a beautiful, young Greek boyfriend from a small village on the southern tip of Crete who didn't speak much English.

For over a decade, I went to Europe every other year, spending 6 to 8 weeks traveling through the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Hungary, France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey. In every one of those countries I tried to learn as much of the language that I could, and tried my hardest to mimic their accents.

 Fast forward to today. When people ask me what I do, I tell them I pronounce foreign words all day long. Words like Mstislav Rostropovich, Esa Pekka Salonen, Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Lang Lang (it's not pronounced how it looks) and my favorite Greek composer, Eleni Karaindrou. I say phrases like "Les Baricades Misterieuses," and "El Sombrero de Tres Picos," and I'm expected to translate as well! I speak phrases and words in Russian and Finnish and Japanese, although I don't know these languages at all, but I give it a good college try. Well, more accurately, I give it a good high school try, right? Because that's what I do. But I don't know if I could have done it without La Bruja Del Mar. Gracias, Señora Brewold. Muchas gracias por su dedicación y su sentido del humor. Usted era un gran maestro.

In honor of la Señora, I'm sharing some of my favorite foreign music with you today. Don't worry, it's not classical. None of it, in fact. Some of it's actually American bands singing in foreign languages, like Pink Martini (Sidenote: who didn't fall in love with Storm Large when she sang in Farsi, Italian, Spanish and Italian at their performance at the Cascade Theatre last month?) Now you know why they're my favorite band in the world. Because they're making it their mission to conquer every language in the world, one country at a time!

Foreign Tongue by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark

  1. Cro - Easy This is my favorite band of the week right now, thanks to my daughter. They're from Germany, and the lead singer wears a panda mask when he performs, supposedly so that he can maintain some anonymity when he's not on stage. 
  2. Mexican Institute of Sound - A Girl Like You I never how cool music could be south of the border, until I heard this song. 
  3. Manu Chau - Me Gustas Tu
  4. Pork Tornado - Guabi Guabi A South African song that Arlo Guthrie also performs. I hope he'll do it, and explain what the heck these lyrics mean, when he performs at the Cascade later this season.
  5. Pink Martini - Sympathique - The song that introduced me to my favorite band in the world.
  6. Brazil 66 - Mas Que Nada
  7. Paolo Conte - Via Con Me This singer is from Italy, sings in Italian (and English on occasion) but is so big in France. Like super huge.
  8. Pink Martini - Donde Estas Yolanda
  9. Lhasa de Sela - El Payande This amazing singer was raised south of the border, but she was actually born in New York. RIP Lhasa. She was taken by cancer way too young.
  10. Paolo Conte - Sparring Partner
  11. Madeleine Peyroux - La Vie En Rose
  12. La Negresses Vertes - Voila L'Ete
  13. Alkistis Protopsaiti - Pame Xavai With a name this complicated, you know it's got to be Greek!
  14. Cesaria Evoria - Carneval de Sao Vicente
  15. Cafe Quijano - La Lola Now here's a band that's from Spain, but they're huge in Italy! There's got to be a band from France that's huge in Spain, just to complete this trifecta. But I haven't found them yet.
  16. Backyard Dog - Baddest Ruffest OK, this one is my dirty secret. It's actually in English. But it's British-English, actually Manchester. And who can understand a Manchester accent? I seriously thought, until today, that these lyrics were foreign. Because I can't make heads or tails of what they're singing, can you?
  17. B21 - Darshan
  18. PSY - Gangnam Style I love me some K-Pop!
  19. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan - Piya Re Piya Re
  20. Trio Mocoto - Voltei Amor
  21. De-Phazz - Dummes Spiel This band, let by wunderkind producer Pit Baumgartner, doesn't normally sing in Pit's native German tongue. This is the only one I've found so far.
  22. Udit Narayan & Abhijeet - Chori Chori Gori Se
  23. Plastic Bertrand - Ca Plane Pour Moi This French song translates to "This is the life for me." I know this because I actually translated the lyrics back in 1986, with the help of my tres hip college French instructor. Thanks to you too, Roger!

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