It was at the great tengo show El Viejo Almacen in Buenos Aires that I realized (again) how limited my realm of experience is. As a break for the extremely acrobatic dancers they brought out a veteran singer to perform, she could have been 80. Her stage presence was so visceral and emotional I hung on her every word. That is a particular paradox for me as I understand very little Spanish. I began trying to imagine how others are effected emotionally when they do indeed understand the language natively and how the idiosyncrasies of the language change the emotional character of the words. I asked Ewa, who is bilingual (not Spanish though) if this is true and she confirmed that her two languages do have different emotional characteristics even when saying essentially the same things.
So this fairly obvious realization leaves me to bemoan my situation as a monolingual English speaker. I have accumulated several years of Spanish study not to mention half a family background in the language yet that has not been enough to even gain conversational ability. And there at the tengo show I had the familiar feeling that I was missing something. I do know enough Spanish that there’s a slight possibility of really learning it for this life if I invested substantial time and effort.
Another language that intrigues me on a more theoretical level is Chinese. We traveled in China for two months in 2009. Nowhere else did people seem more alien to me (but of course we were the aliens). Those who we met who could speak English were rarely able to take it beyond the superficial point where an emotional connection was forged. The English translations in museums were so strange (often hilarious). I really would like to know what the intent was. A friend who speaks Chinese remarked that those funny translations are actually translated precisely! Even more reason to really grasp the nuance of a language!
In my case experiential limitation goes beyond language. I can pick up a guitar or sit at a piano and make pleasurable (simple) music in the Rock and Roll style (mostly with chords). What I can’t do is read sheet music. I imagine this to be very liberating to a musician to sit at a piano while looking at a piece of marked paper and translate that into intelligible and beautiful music. Some can sit at a piano and just play without any reference. I would love to experience the kind of intimate knowledge of an instrument where the instrument is literally an extension of mind body and soul. My guitar playing is adequate but leans more on the emotional and physical without much of the analytical. I believe I do have the mind for music as a composer. Perhaps that means I’m cursed to know what I’m missing. I spent several months taking private instruction in music theory and composition. Although my training is incomplete those concepts have stayed with me and still factor into my music making. But it is probably a bit strange that I can’t properly play most music I’ve written if I were to sit at a piano. I read in Bryan Ferry’s biography that this economical method of using a piano to write music without being a proper pianist is called “composer’s piano” (I doubt Bach or Mozart had this deficiency.)
I supposed most of us have very limited realms of experience and that can’t be helped. Some experience is cultural and we have little chance of acquiring it without growing up with it. Some is gained by extraordinary time spent in work and study. Some we can get very quickly (travel comes to mind). So I won’t groan about my own experiential limitations too much. Through art, music, reading and travel (to only name a few) my own limited realm of experience is still pretty rich. Yet by acknowledging the vast possibilities of other experience realms I open the door to learning and an even fuller life experience.
I just read A recent Kristoff opinion article in NYT. Among many important New Year’s resolutions I must make good on I’m going to give Spanish another go. I’m finishing this essay in El Calafate, Patagonia having broadened my own realm of experience just a little bit.