Spanish lessons

In 1989-90, before I joined the Census Bureau, my younger son John and I spent several weeks in the Netherlands around the time of the Van Gogh retrospective.  John quickly made friends with students he met in the pubs. The two of us spent much time with one of these fellows, a curator with a private collection housed in Amsterdam.  Our curator friend arranged a visit for us to his place of work,   the home of the famous Rembrandt painting of Jan Six. 

Jan Six —>

Around this time, Simon Schama had published a long piece  in The New Yorker, concerning the Rembrandt Research Project and the paintings the RRP deemed authentic works(including the Six portrait). One evening, John’s friend and I had a heated discussion about the authenticity of the Polish Rider, purported to be an authentic Rembrandt, which hangs in the Frick in NYC, but discredited by the RRP. 


After we returned to the States, John went back to Amsterdam and lived for several months with his friend, the art curator. 

Later, John became nomadic, using skills learned in restaurant work to support himself as he moved from pillar to post, finally spending the last six months of his European sojourn in Spain living near his older brother, stationed in Rota with the Navy. 

While in Spain, John reported that he

1/ “ran with the bulls” and

2/ owing to the sprinkler system had been run out of a Madrid park at 5AM which thoroughly doused all the students sleeping the grounds.

3/ Most importantly, he learned how to speak Spanish, a skill that continues to serve him well. Today, he works with English as a second language (ESL) children in a rural Virginia school system.  

My daughter was the most proficient student of languages, studying Latin, German, and Spanish.  Today, she is a linguist and teaches special needs high school kids (ADHD and others) how to speak, read, and write in English. 

By the time he reached high school age, my oldest son Richard had moved to southwestern Virginia to live with his dad in a part of Virginia where nothing but Appalachian English was spoken for many years. Although he studied Spanish in high school and lived in Spain for a total of 10 years, Richard is not as proficient in speaking Spanish as his siblings.

My youngest son John goofed off in high school, but managed to graduate and even put a few years of college under his belt before he took off to “see the world.” Although he pulled “Cs” in Spanish classes, he learned foreign languages in foreign countries.

Today, all of my children and several of my grandchildren have traveled to, or lived in Spain and several of my grandchildren speak Spanish.   


7 thoughts on “Spanish lessons

  1. My kids took Spanish as kids, but were never able to really master it, I’m afraid. My son tried to learn French when he was in the Peace Corps in Mali, but couldn’t get a hang of it. Instead he was only able to do some Bambara. Other than languages, your son sounds a lot like mine. I hope he didn’t give you too many gray hairs.


  2. I studied Latin for 2 years in high school, French for 2-1/2 years at UH, Thai for 10 months in Thailand, Korean for 2 years at UH and Columbia, German for 1 semester at Columbia, and Russian for 1 semester at Columbia — but am not conversant in any of those languages. However, I did manage to pass written translation exams in German and French, which were required for grad school at Columbia. It’s too bad I can’t put any of those languages to good use in Hawaii, as these days I am exposed only to people who speak English.


    • I too studied Latin and many years of Spanish. I became somewhat proficient at the latter and used it for grad school. My other language was Fortran, beleive it or not.

      Hawaii certainly gets its share of immigrants, mostly from Asia. The majority of Asian immigrants tend to be highly educated and speak English. My kids mostly work with children from Latin America where the skill level is not as high. Many folks from Latin America live here in Virginia.


  3. I think it is always good when someone is multilingual. It opens horizons and teaches the student about other nations and cultures, which can only lead to a better understanding of oneself.

    As Kipling said “what should they know of England who only England know”; it goes for every nation’s son and daughter.


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