Every day now here in Mexico I try to learn a new word (or two or three, and sometimes more) in Spanish that will actually stick.
I try to be realistic. There’s little point, I’ve discovered, in trying to memorize long, dry lists of vocabulary words or verb conjugations at this stage because they soon fly out of my brain. (Easy language acquisition is clearly for the young.) The new (for me) Spanish words that stay with me, on the other hand, are those few each day that are relevant to my life in the moment. These words, I’ve found, need to be practical and applicable to be truly memorable. I try to make a game of it.
Take, for example, my new word for today, arruga. I found it this morning in an ad on Mexican Yahoo! for a nueva crema antiarrugas. Accompanying these words were two photos of an older white woman, one “before” and the other “after” (antes y después – more new words for me). Without even looking up arruga in my handy diccionario, I knew what they were selling. The woman’s face in the “before” photo was a map of wrinkles. Her face in the “after” shot was smooth as a calm lake.
Funny that this word should come to me just as I had wrinkles on my mind. Ever since my recent laser eye surgery, I’ve been able to see everything so much more clearly and sharply than before – including, it turns out, my own face in the mirror.
What a shock to see wrinkles that weren’t evident to me even as recently as last week. Is it possible to age that much, that quickly, I wondered? Should I consider these “new” crevices I see by my eyes laugh lines, and the deep grooves in my cheeks dimples? Alas, no.
The blurry person I used to try to smile at in the mirror when I fixed my hair, the one whose wrinkles I was pretty much blind to, has metamorphosed into the new, clear-sighted me. Win some, lose some, I tell myself; get used to it.
The larger issue, of course, is why we women are made to feel ashamed of our wrinkles – or let’s use today’s word in the plural, arrugas – even here in not-as-ageist-as-the-States Mexico. Is the U.S. now exporting the worst of its culture here too?
I study the bent and wizened old Mexican women, wrapped in shawls against the morning chill, who pass me on the sidewalk, their beautiful mahogany faces crisscrossed with wrinkles, and I think how they’d laugh at the idea of this nueva crema antiarrugas. I’m sure if they had the words for it, they’d wisely call such a product “snake oil.”
There are, I’ve just learned, roughly 100,000 words in the Spanish language. If I choose, let’s say, to add three new (to me) words each day, in addition to the handful of words that have stuck so far, I’d have to live about ninety more years to learn them all.
Just imagine all the wrinkles I’d have by then! But, more importantly, think of all the wonderful words I’d know.