1 de agosto 2021

Learning languages concept – flags of Spain, France, Great Britain and other countries, blackboard with text “Learn a new language!”, books and chancellery


Being in Panama now, I have to learn and relearn some basic Spanish. And so, why not start this second missive with a number and a month. Easy enough…in writing, but I assure you that calling this day 1 de agosto would come much more slowly from my mouth or enter into my ears.

Here’s an illustration of this gap. To prepare for a recent trip to Paris, I had to have an antigen test and, with hope, the result would be negative. It was. I had made an appointment for the test in San Francisco, a neighborhood not far my own, Obarrio. I took a cab (another story) and while the cabbie was kind enough to wait for me, I stood in line to wait to be called forward with my reservation papers. The attendant took them in hand and I confidently responded, ‘sí’ to easy things like my name ‘Tomás.’ Then she started saying ‘doce doce’ and my translation mind went into high gear and crashed. In my mind I heard ‘dose’ as in quantity and I responded saying that I wanted an antigen test, not a vaccination. She repeated, ‘doce doce…’ as if I should fill in the blank. I was still lost until she sang, ‘Happy birthday to you.’ As the Irish would say, ‘the penny dropped’ and within nano seconds, I realized that she was saying ‘twelve twelve,’ the day and month of my birth and I was expected to say ‘cincuenta y cinco,’ my birth year so to verify that I am ‘ Tomás.’ It was the perfect moment of reckoning my linguistic interference with the supra-cultural expression, ‘Happy birthday to you!’ We both laughed and I thought to myself that the attendant was brilliant to have come up with such a simple lyric to offer me a way into the dialogue. For myself, I would never have thought of it. And so you see, ‘uno de agosto’ is a valuable lesson and a perfect place to start, the first day of August.


Aside from the above, I was awakened at 4 AM by the sound of my printer, which had gone into a reset mode. Suddenly awakened, I was left with the thoughts I had at the moment. I was apparently thinking about how to start the content of the second day into this blog. I thought to explain historically the days between Grand Forks and Panama City.

My subconscience, however, was bringing up in my sleep a book I am currently reading, Anne Sinclair’s Passé composé (Editions Grasset & Fasquelle, Paris, 2021). As a well-known journalist, she opens her prologue with, and this is my translation, ‘For a long time I refused to imitate my fellow professionals who were all publishing their Mémoires, convinced that their me somehow deserved recognition and that the experiences in their personal and professional lives would be interesting (9).’ She goes on to mention that print and television journalists often have inflated egos.

Anne Sinclair, for many reasons, is famous and I am not. For her to resist an autobiography on the basis of the question, ‘who would care?’ puts an unknown like me into my place. What do I have to offer that millions of other people could not also offer and furthermore who cares about where I was born and where I live today. This sudden insight made me realize why I had chosen for a subtitle the word Pensées à la Blaise Pascal. My blog was to be just thoughts, not a collection of memories that would constitute an autobiography.

From that quick moment of sudden awakening, my mental argument about how to write this blog was resolved. I decided to write my thoughts, my pensées not from a passé composé, a completed past, but from the present. In this sense my thoughts can be historical in nature (passé) but not yet completed (non-composé). Merci, Anne.

Published by Thomas

Retired from active priestly ministry in the Catholic Church; former Benedictine monk; francophile; Holocaust researcher; Delta One Million Miler; Ex-Patriated American to the Republic of Panama

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