The Universal Language

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Several years ago, when I first moved to Atlanta, I had to find an apartment, one that would take not only me but the dog I then had, a 90-pound Rhodesian Ridgeback that was the very definition of a big dog. Most apartments had rules that dogs could not exceed 15 pounds, roughly the size of my dog’s left rear leg, so I had to look outside the cool neighborhoods and wound up in heavily immigrant area off Buford Highway, living in an apartment complex that was about 90% Mexican.

At the time, my Spanish was a few degrees less horrible than it is now, but wasn’t anything you would call “conversational” unless your idea of conversation involved a lot of grunting and gesturing, so I didn’t talk to my neighbors much, but I followed along with the activities of the complex, which was an almost perfect slice of Mexico carved out and dropped 500 miles north, right down to the shy woman who came door-to-door every Thursday selling homemade tamales (they were fantastic), the guy who ran a Mexican lottery out of his apartment, and the paleta man who came along selling ice creams on steamy summer afternoons. I was involved with everyone – broken spanish, grunting, gesturing – and if things went wrong and I wound up with a mango paleta instead of a strawberry one, well, at least I still had ice cream.

I had one interaction when I was there that has always stuck with me – I can picture it in my head to this day.  It’s a bit weird to call it an interaction, since it was just a conversation I observed while sitting on the balcony, but I became just as invested in it as the speaker –

Two men were standing out by their van, and one of them began telling the other a long, involved story. The second listened with interest, and then more interest, and started egging the first speaker on. To me, it sounded like this:

Man 1: “spanish spanish spanish spanish, si?”

Man 2: “si, si.”

Man 1: “spanish spanish spanish…. spanish spanish”

Man 2 : (amused) “heh, heh… si, claro… vaya…” (heh, I get it, go on…”)

And I suddenly realized – based on nothing but body language and the tone of their voices – hey… wait a minute...he’s telling a joke!

And I watched, fascinated, as Man 1 continued the setup, with Man 2 getting more and more amused, and right when you would expect it, Man 1 burst out with, “spanish spanish spanish…MUCHACHOS!!!!” and both of them absolutely lost it, laughing so hard they were pounding on the side of the van and there were tears streaming down their faces. And I burst out giggling as well – not because I understood the joke; to this day I have no idea what they talked about – but just from their infectious merriment and my pleasure in having followed along. I felt like I’d tapped into some deep universal commonality, but instead of some mystical, serious revelation I found…giggles.

Two friends making each other laugh.

The best type of language there is.


*photo above of backlit Cosmos flowers in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which has nothing at all to do with today’s story. Sorry about that. I’ll eat a tamale later, though.




Photo of the Week: Fall, in full color

The weather has finally taken a serious turn for fall. When I photographed this brilliant Japanese Maple, the backlighting made it seem like the tree was on fire. Time to break out the cozy clothes and fill the tank for the fireplace….

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By the way, don’t forget to follow me on Instagram – I have new photos there almost every day.



This is a sort of unexpected post, as I don’t usually go into personal depths on this blog, but hey, first time for everything, right? Above, please see my beloved Cannondale, which I ride two-three times weekly in an attempt to stay in some sort of reasonable state of fitness (you can read “reasonable” as “anything smaller than a couch”).

Last Saturday morning, my loyal steed and I were in a fairly serious accident – the details are a bit fuzzy, but it appears I swerved to miss someone/something on a crowded part of my ride, hit a curb, and was ejected over the handlebars, resulting in a face-meets-pavement impact that left unconcious and with what later turned out to be a laceration above my eye and a broken cheekbone. (And a mild concussion). I was, thank goodness, wearing a helmet, so the paramedics who swept me away did not have to put my brains back in my head before loading me into the ambulance, and I am on the road to recovery as we speak, animatedly discussing whether I should attempt to remove my own stitches to get badass points (the consensus from friends is, NO.)

So I would just like to take a moment to thank the above-mentioned paramedics, who probably saved my ass, and my friends who have rallied around to make sure my brain is back into my head as correctly as possible, and the kind fire department workers who kept my bike safe at their firehouse for five days until I was able to track it down, and… everybody, really. Including everyone who reads this blog. It makes me so happy that other people get to see my photos and enjoy them, and I wonder sometimes who gets more benefit out of that arrangement – you all, or me. Either way, thank you for being part of the fun, and I’m glad we aren’t going to be rudely interrupted just as things were getting good.

Also, at the risk of sounding like your mom, I’d like to take a moment to beg you, if you engage in a sport that has safety equipment, to wear it. Helmet, flotation device, eye protection, padded underwear – I know it’s often uncomfortable, and sometimes dorky, but I am here to tell you that it’s worth it. I bitched all the time about how sweaty my helmet made my head, but boy howdy am I glad I always wore it. Your brain, unlike your hard drive, doesn’t have a backup, so keep that sucker safe. I want to see everything you have to contribute to the world.

Okay, enough of that! Have a good weekend, everyone, and don’t fall off of anything!