Monday, August 25, 2008

The Rain In Spain Falls Mainly On The Plain

I saw Vicky Cristina Barcelona last night. A Woody Allen film financed by the Spanish government, it's a 96-minute-long tourism commercial with a principal cast including Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz. Apparently no one is ugly in Spain (except for wealthy American men), and everyone has spectacular hair (credited to Robert Fama in New York and Manolo Garc├Ča in Spain). It's also the first time I've ever identified with Scarlett's character in a movie, with her "let me immerse myself in this adventure and move on" approach.

Many of its conversations were in Spanish, and though the Spanish I learned as a child living in South America (my dad had a Fulbright fellowship) sounds very different from the film's European Spanish (equivalent to the difference between US and British English), I was pleased by my ability to follow them without referring to the subtitles.

Spanish was the fourth language I learned, at age 10, after English (from birth), French (starting at four) and Hebrew (beginning at seven). I took five years of Latin in my teens, then tried Mandarin in college, but didn't stay with it and, like Cristina in the film, can only remember a few phrases, though they may come in handy when China finishes its conquest of the U.S.A. ("10 million yuan? Xiexie, Mr. Wong!")

These days I keep up my French with trips to Paris and the occasional issue of L'Officiel. Living in New York and California for my entire adult life means continual Spanish-language immersion, and the ability to listen in on other people's conversations while they're assuming I won't understand them.

According to this site, only nine percent of Americans can speak their native language plus another language fluently, as opposed to 53 percent of Europeans. This number may be outdated, given that Latinos under 18 have recently been reported to be the country's fastest-growing population segment and that group is likely to be bilingual, but it still shows an appalling lack of interest in the rest of the world.

When I need to translate another language quickly, I've been going to How to say in ?, which currently lists these as its most popular phrases:
* i want to have sex with you
* i love you
* i miss you
* beautiful
* goodbye
* thank you so much
* my love
* go to hell
* love
* do you have nuclear warheads
* faith
* hello world
* i dont want to die alone
* I love my wife
* evil
All of these, as it happens, are expressed in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Here's Penelope Cruz as "nuclear warheads":

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