Happy New Year


El Ángel de la Victoria

I want to wish everyone a belated Happy New Year! ¡Próspero Año Nuevo! I was too busy to write this post on New Year’s Day because I celebrated in Mexico City. This was the only the second time I celebrated New Year’s Eve in Mexico. The first time was way back in 1965, but all I really remember is breaking a piñata with my cousins. I do remember this New Year’s Eve, however.

We started with a few drinks on an empty stomach because dinner wasn’t served until after midnight! We watched celebrations from other cities on TV. When the countdown to the New Year started, we were all ready with a glass of apple cider, a glass of water, and twelve grapes. The tradition of eating twelve grapes began in 1909 in Spain and is now also followed in Mexico, Chile, and Argentina–Chile and Argentina eat raisins instead. No one is sure why we eat twelve grapes, but speculation is that it’s one for each month of the year or one for each toll of the bell at midnight. At the stroke of midnight, we ate the grapes to bring us good luck throughout the year. (I learned these interesting tidbits of information while watching TV before our New Year’s Eve celebration!) We had a toast with the glass of cider. Then we threw out the glass of water in the yard. The water represents the tears we will avoid throughout the rest of the year. Everyone danced in yard–including me, but not very well. Everyone took turns walking around the yard rolling a suitcase behind them. This was done with the hopes that they get to travel somewhere exotic on vacation during the next year.

I make no New Year’s resolutions this year since I never manage to keep them for very long anyway.

Get Smart


I took my sons tonight to see the new movie Get Smart. I remember watching the original TV series created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry when I was a boy. (I still think that anything created by Mel Brooks is funny and I will watch it.) I used to laugh so hard while watching Get Smart that my mother thought that I had a serious mental problem. Sometimes, I would laugh at something funny hours later. My mother would ask me why on earth I was laughing and I would attempt to tell her between laughs, but she still didn’t understand why I was laughing.

So when my sons and I saw the previews for Get Smart, I told them about the old TV series. They didn’t seem that interested. I showed them some old clips from TV series Get Smart on YouTube.com, but that didn’t capture their interest either. Then, when they least expected it, I would describe some of the funniest scenes that I remembered from Get Smart. They laughed at them. I told them that we had to see the movie the first day that it came out. Everytime we saw the preview, there were more scenes and they were very funny. I was hoping that those wouldn’t be the only funny scenes in the movie. I was really pitching the movie to my sons, otherwise they might not want to see it and I would have to see it when it came out on DVD. But we did see it tonight, the first day it was released.

Well, the movie was based on the original TV series, but was not totally dependent on it. Steve Carell replaces Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, Agent 86. Anne Hathaway plays Agent 99, replacing Barbara Feldon. But I was happy that they brought back some of the objects and characters from the original. I don’t know why, but I always loved when Max insisted on using the Cone of Silence even though it never worked properly. I also loved seeing the shoe phone back in action. I loved when they brought back Hymie at the end of the movie. Okay, you Hymie lovers, I should have yelled SPOILER ALERT! Sorry!

Well, I loved the movie even though it was different than the original, but if it would have followed it too closely, I’m sure that I would have been disappointed. I guess they got Smart, though. I was especially pleased that my sons liked the movie!

Missed it by that much!

New Year’s Eve


Making tamales with TLC

I have many fond memories of New Year’s Eve beginning in my childhood when our entire family would go to my Uncle Simon’s and Aunt Mari’s house. The party always involved eating a lot of  Mexican food and real hard play among cousins. At midnight, everyone, I mean children, too, toasted with a glass of champagne. That was the only time of the year I drank alcohol–until I became an altar boy and my friend once talked me into taking a sip of altar wine before mass.  But I only indulged that once because I felt so guilty and sinful afterwards.

Once, we were in Mexico for New Year’s Eve and we celebrated by making tamales and eating them. In Chicago, my mother made the masa during the day and then made buñuelos at midnight as a way of ringing in the new year. I think that New Year’s Eve wasn’t as exciting once we stopped going to my aunt’s and uncle’s house. I don’t really remember too many of those later celebrations now. When I was married, I was content to stay home with my wife and son and watch the festivities in Chicago on TV. When I lived in Bridgeport, I used to take my oldest son to the attic window at midnight where we could see the fireworks downtown. When the twins were born, we moved farther away from downtown, so we could no longer see the fireworks from the window. But we watched them on TV, although not quite as dramatic.

Later, after my divorce, my Mexicana girlfriend decided that we would make tamales for New Year’s Eve. She bought a giant pot for the tamales and lots and lots of masa. We would make tamales together, just the two of us. Actually, I enjoyed making the tamales. In Mexico, I only got to watch the women of the family make the tamales; males weren’t allowed to touch the masa. My girlfriend showed me how to mix the meat into the masa and stuff the masa into the corn husk. She had made tamales a few times and actually knew what she was doing. We even made some sweet tamales with raisins. We had about six different kinds of tamales. We literally did this for at least two hours and the giant pot was still only half-full. However, she insisted that we fill the pot all the way to the top. We filled the pot at about 3:00 a.m. And I was exhausted! But wait! She put a penny at the bottom of the pot where there was boiling water to steam the tamales. The flame underneath had to be at just the right temperature and you could tell if the temperature was just right because the penny would keep making noise as the boiling water moved it. The only time I really saw tamales made was in Mexico as a boy, but my mother and aunts cooked the tamales over a bonfire. Well, I went to bed about 6:00 a.m. because I couldn’t stay awake anymore. She stayed up to keep adding water and ensuring that the tamales cooked properly. I didn’t realize they would involve so much work. She woke me up a few hours later when they were done. She had stayed up the whole time! We then ate the tamales and they were so delicious! We ate them later that day. And the next day, too. There were so many tamales that she put some in her fridge and froze the some in her freezer. And there were still some tamales leftover! So I took some home and put them in my freezer. We ate tamales until the Fourth of July! And we never got tired of them. We loved them!

¡Happy New Year! ¡Próspero Año Nuevo!

Please! No more tamales!

Napoleón Dinamita


Vote for Pedro!

I love the movie Napoleon Dynamite with Jon Heder so much that I’ve seen it at least twenty times. I saw it the first time because my oldest son want me to rent it from Blockbuster. I thought I would end up seeing it all by myself as when I’ve rented other movies for him that he really, really wanted to see, like the Lords of Dogtown–and I ended up watching it alone, which I really loved by the way!

Anyway, I knew I had to own Napoleon Dynamite on DVD! When it first came out on DVD, it was only available at a clothing store called Hot Topic. Once I bought it, my twins started watching it repeatedly because they loved the movie, too. Well, I couldn’t walk by the TV without stopping to watch Napoleon and his misadventures. So I watched it repeatedly along with my sons. Once we watched the movie all the way to the end and I told my sons not to start it over until I had read the credits; I don’t why, but I like to read the credits to see who the keygrip is. (This goes back to the days of my youth when my friends Jim, Vito, and I would go to show and sit through all the credits so we could applaud for the keygrip.) So, after the credits were completely over–yes, I read them all–there was another scene in which Kip marries La Fawnduh! My sons and I were pleasantly surprised!

Of course, this made me wonder what other surprises were in store for us on the rest of the DVD. Surprise, surprise! Not only does the DVD have subtitles in Spanish and French, but the movie is also dubbed in Spanish! I started watching it with Napoleon speaking Spanish, but my non-Spanish-speaking-Mexican sons wouldn’t watch it in Spanish!

Anyway, sometimes the topic of the movie Napoleon Dynamite comes up in Spanish class because the new student Pedro at Napoleon’s high school is Mexican. I often tell my students that they should watch the movie in Spanish some day. I was planning on watching it all the way through in Spanish one day. Since I’m always open to suggestions in Spanish class, last week, a student recommended that we Napoleon Dynamite in Spanish. I agreed as long as we didn’t use the subtitles. They resisted, but I insisted. Then, we reached a compromise: We would watch the movie dubbed in Spanish with Spanish subtitles. Since the students were fourth semester Spanish students and most had already seen the movie, I knew they would understand the action and plot development of the movie. I was amazed at how much the students laughed!

Napoleon Dynamite is actually much funnier in Spanish, especially when Napoleon says, “¡Idiota!” I was wondering how they would translate words like “liger,” which is half-lion, half-tiger. Well, Napoleon says that he’s drawing his favorite animal, “el legre,” which is “medio león, medio tigre.” However, lost in the translation is, “But lips hurt really bad!”, which is translated as, “Pero mis labios están resecos” and Pedro’s “Maybe I’ll build her a cake or something.” The Spanish used is standard Spanish and doesn’t really capture the slangy colloquialisms of high school teenagers.

Also, the subtitles don’t always match the Spanish dubbing. In the beginning Napoleon says, “¡Rayos!”, but in the subtitles, we read, “¡Cielos!” Obviously, there were two translators at work. Overall, the Spanish captures the feel of the original movie. I would recommend for all Spanish teacher to watch this movie with their high school or college students in Spanish. It was definitely a very entertaining way to reinforce some of the Spanish lessons learned in class.