Tu nombre me sabe a hierba
de la que nace en el valle
a golpes de sol y de agua. – Joan Manuel Serrat
I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars. – Walt Whitman
Hierba común, señora. De esa que comen los burros. – La hojarasca, Gabriel García Márquez
Such is life; and we are but as grass that is cut down, and put into the oven and baked. – Three Men in a Boat, Jerome K. Jerome
One of life’s chief pleasures is walking barefoot on grass, don’t you agree? I think one of my favorite things about being back in the U.S. has to be that I have two small parks of my very own– my front yard and my back yard. Down in Colombia, I didn’t have a single blade to call my own–ni una brizna. In Bogotá, it was all concrete; in Medellín, bricks ruled the scenery. There are undoubtedly some advantages to living in dense, urban environments, but I think my soul is generally happier and more at peace when it has a carpet of green.
I’ve just remembered that when I first started this blog back in 2011, the header was an image of me lying in a bed of grass in Medellín. If you’ve been reading me that long and remember back that far, you definitely deserve a prize! Or a kiss. See, even in Colombia I dreamed of green. That is, especially in Colombia.
I told you a while back that I was considering moving back to Latin America. I wrestled with it for a long time, but I eventually decided to stay put while sitting on my front porch one day and just surveying my idyllic neighborhood. I had been dwelling for several days on one of my favorite songs, Mercedes Sosa’s Canción de las simple cosas. Its wisdom is so very poignant for me.
Uno se despide, insensiblemente de pequeñas cosas . . .
Uno vuelve siempre a los viejos sitios donde amó la vida
y entonces comprende como están de ausentes las cosas queridas.
Por eso, muchacho, no partas ahora soñando el regreso,
que el amor es simple y a las cosas simples las devora el tiempo.
Without even realizing it, you say goodbye to little details. And when you later realize their worth, it’s too late to go back and recover them. So, think long and hard before you take off because you won’t be able to just waltz back when you realize how good you had it before. Don’t blithely leave only to be haunted by wistfulness and regret down the road. These oh-so-simple things, like love, all evaporate over time. Ah, how this song gets to me. Who’s got a hanky?
Well, I thought hard about what small details I take for granted now but would come to miss immensely. I didn’t want another bout of the regret I experienced after my last departure, even though I knew full well at the time how much I would miss what I was leaving behind. And as I sat there on my porch, I knew that what I would miss most would be the open spaces, the green, the tranquility, and the quiet of my city. I don’t need the stress, chaos, hustle and bustle, and anonymity of a large Latin American city right now. So, that was that. Of course, my job, friendships, family, and personal projects were strong incentives to stay as well. But, grass ended up being the clincher. Of course, I recognize that grass wouldn’t be enough to motivate another person to stay or come.
Flowers have enjoyed their day in the sun before here on Vocabat; here, then, is an ode to grass.
There are several ways to say grass or a lawn in Spanish. There’s hierba, grama, pasto, and césped. In most places, césped best transmits the idea of a manicured lawn, though I usually hear and see jardín for a front or back yard. Patio and yarda also do the same thing (yarda is obviously out-and-out Spanglish). Pasto and hierba really convey the idea of long, lush pasture, the kind that livestock grazed on once upon a time. I know that grama is strictly Latin American. It’s la grama, ignoring that -ma, -pa and little –ta rule you may have learned in a Spanish classroom. Each country will have its particular ways of saying grass, but it’s good to know them all.
And here’s the most recent word I’ve learned for grass: zacate
Nice, eh? I happened to learn it just in the nick of time for summer, and I’ve already heard a few patients use it. Thank goodness I picked it up; I wouldn’t have had a clue otherwise. It’s very Mexican in origin, but check out its purported modern-day diaspora: Mexico, Central America, Philippines, California, and Texas. Zacate comes from the Nahuatl word zacatl which is either a type of grass or merely dry weeds and grass, and the Mexican state of Zacatecas is so named because zacatl apparently is or was common in the region. I’m obviously being a bit lax today about my usually obsessive precision.
Two impetuses started me down this grassy rabbit hole: a patient used a word I didn’t know to say lawnmower, and I later learned how to say sickle-cell disease.
I only knew cortacésped for lawnmower, and all I know is that this guy was saying something else. Now that I’ve looked it up, I’d bet good money that what he said was podadora. It appears to be the most popular word in Mexico for the tool you use to cut the grass. For me, podar was always to prune, but I really like the idea of pruning the grass.
When confounded by sickle-cell disease, I couldn’t make heads or tails of how to translate the components in English. Sickle? I couldn’t even remember what that meant. Ahh, a sickle! Like the hammer and sickle (hoz y martillo). Like the Grim Reaper’s sickle (actually, it’s a scythe–guadaña). You see, sickle-cell disease is characterized by red blood cells that assume a sickle shape. So, a sickle is an hoz, and by moseying about in the dictionary I came to learn that segar is the verb to describe that motion of an arm swiftly reaping tall grass with a sickle. No surprise, then, to learn a few weeks later that segadora is another way of saying lawnmower, especially the large industrial ones.
I never was very sure of how to say the classic line, The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, in Spanish. Once I tried looking it up, though, I went dizzy with all the options and gave up. If you know how to say it, please fill me in!
When I worked at a high school in Bogotá, I’d tote my laptop to and from work every day so my students could use it for presentations. I once accidentally banged one of its corner into a wall and then watched its slow deterioration over the next few months. The protective covering on my screen fell off one corner to expose several wires I always expertly avoided, until one time when I didn’t and shocked myself a few times. This left the whole left side of my body feeling like ice for several days. I remember that one of my surrogate moms down there recommended that I walk barefoot in grass to discharge the electrical current in me. A little easier said than done when you’re living in the concrete jungle of Bogotá (she was in Medellín, where green’s a bit easier to come by), but I was charmed by the suggestion. If I ever move back to Colombia, I’m going to have to keep a Chia pet or something in my apartment so I can follow these old wives’ tale remedies to the letter next time.
And now to go out and sit–where else?–in the grass. Do pour yourself a glass of wine and join me.