Does learning Spanish help to read menus?

I suppose the short answer is obviously yes, but a more complex answer is “not very much”. It is also tied to how one “learns Spanish”. Most any form of Spanish instruction is oriented to a broad brush of the language, mostly focused on conversational forms and vocabulary. That could be handy in dining conversation but not so much for reading menus.

I used a variety of learning methods: 1) mostly Duolingo, which seems roughly equivalent to most online courses, 2) more recently actual teacher course that quickly became virtual due to COVID, but is interactive and responsive to individual student needs, 3) reading, although mostly the typical books for beginners and students, so little emphasis on food or dining, and, 4) listening, a variety of sources, Netflix Spanish language movies, Spanish language TV and Spanish language podcasts – this is a helpful adjunct to the other methods, but I have yet to find a Spanish language cooking show.

So in all these methods only a small fraction of the learning time is focused on food. Sometimes the lessons on shopping contain as many food nouns and the lessons on dining.

So as the only real quantitative data I can provide from 89 lessons (about 60%) of Duolingo in 502 days I have 202 terms (nouns, verbs, adjectives) directly or at least related to dining. Of those, and just masculine singular version of nouns, I have 124 (only 87 of which I’ve seen on menus) which I’ll list here:


aceite, agua, alcohol, almuerzo, arroz, azúcar, banana, bar, bebida, boca, bosque, botella, brazo, cabeza, café, cafetería, camarero, campo, carne, carta, casa, cebolla, cena, cerdo, cereal, cerveza, champán, champiñón, chef, chocolate, chorizo, cliente, cocina, comida, conejo, copa, corazón, cuchara, cuchillo, cuello, cuenta, cuerpo, dedo, desayuno, dulce, ensalada, espalda, estómago, frijol, fruta, fuego, galleta, granja, grupo, hamburguesa, hielo, huevo, jamón, jugo, leche, limón, limonada, mango, mano, mantequilla, manzana, mar, menú, mermelada, mesa, miel, naranja, nariz, océano, ojo, oreja, oveja, pan, papa, paquete, parrilla, pasta, pastel, pato, patata, pera, pescado, pez, pie, pierna, pimiento, pizza, planta, plátano, plato, pollo, postre, precio, primavera, primero, queso, refresco, reserva, restaurante, sal, salsa, sándwich, silla, sopa, taza, tazón, té, tenedor, tinto, tomate, tostada, vaca, vaso, vegetal, vegetariano, verdura, vino, yogur

If you compare this list to my glossary you’ll see this is only a small fraction of what I’ve compiled just from the menus I’ve looked at.

So, IOW, you’re not going to learn very much of the vocabulary you’ll find on menus in a generic Spanish class. And it will be worse if you just do some quickie conversation class before going on a trip.

Now, OTOH, I have two phrasebooks (one acquired over 30 years ago) and since dining is a big part of what is covered in those guides the vocabulary from those (which I can only report anecdotally as I don’t have detailed analysis) is actually quite a bit larger than I’ve learned in 500+ days of various Spanish learning methods. So a phrasebook can be handy BUT, frankly, those also cover only a fraction of what one finds on menus.

A menu is not prose so all the grammar and verb conjugations and such are almost entirely useless for reading menus. The vocabulary used is quite extensive compared to standard classes. And, especially in Spain, many of the words on a menu aren’t even in any dictionary, so rather unlikely to have been encountered in any Spanish courses. And beyond nouns, other words in the menu entries are closely tied to unique vocabulary of cooking. And some of those words not in dictionaries are just the names of dishes or ingredients.

So, you want to learn how to read menus, here’s what I would suggest (and I’ve never seen any class or book oriented to this curriculum).

  1. read cookbooks, in Spanish, doing whatever you have to do (Google Translate, dictionary lookups, web searches for terms not in dictionaries) to “read” the material and then make your own set of flashcards of every word you think you’ll need to know.
  2. read online recetas (recipes) websites which are easier to analyze and translate and create a set of flashcards from that.
  3. search for any websites oriented to cooking, in Spanish of course, and extract what you can from those.
  4. And, guess what, do what I’ve been doing, i.e. finding menus online and analyzing them.

Now when it comes to food you definitely have to be careful to concentrate your study on the country you expect to visit and be reading menus. There is a huge diversity of food/cuisine terminology in the Western Hemisphere Spanish-speaking countries where terms have different meanings in different countries (or often are unique to just a few countries, even regions within the larger countries) and are quite different (even contradictory) to Spain.

So you’re in for a major bit of work to spend weeks in Spain, dining with only Spanish source material (menus or verbal). So the difficulty of finding what one needs means there is a big hole to fill, which can be the revised purpose of my effort here. A couple more years of studying Spanish and then doing a ton of my four steps above, and then converting all that learning into a form that can be more easily accessed for someone who is merely going to visit.

 

 

A couple of food pictures

I just felt like posting a couple of my photos. I have a ton, though only a few I’ve converted to screen saver backgrounds. And, since I’ve never been there, none from Spain (alas, when I was close, in Portugal, I didn’t have a digital camera). But pictures are pictures and these show an interesting contrast, with what I’d expect to find in Spain.

KA26

This is from an open air market (mercado) near Oaxaca Mexico. Oaxaca is a popular foodie destination and some of its charm is access to wonderful local ingredients. When I took this picture I knew no Spanish so hopefully I can do a market stroll again and have a bit of conversation.

So here’s an interesting contrast:

YY92

It’s not completely clear this is China (Beijing) but given I saw markets like this in Japan (before I had a digital camera) it’s very easy for me to tell the difference: a) no English in Japanese markets, b) no katakana or hiragana in the signage in China, just pure Kanji, and, c) just a bit more utilitarian and less luxury oriented than Japan. This is a real market, not just gifts for party hosts, as so many in Japan.

I’ve always enjoyed going to markets, mostly observing from a distance as I didn’t speak the language (even once in Germany where I was amused to see artichokes from California, given I’d come from California).

I think markets, and good in general, say a lot about a culture. While many people only encounter border and “gringo” Mexican food, wow, is this a foodie culture. And China is staggering. I once had dinner with a local who was (politely) offended by my referring to some food item as “chinese food”. He said to me, again politely, you wouldn’t call Italian and French food “European”. He had a point, cuisine in the country of China is enormously complex and has too many major variations to ever be put under a single label.

There really is no such label as “Spanish” food, which is entirely appropriate because Spain and Mexico are really different, but then Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, Argentina, and more are really different. People put down TexMex or CaliMex, but after all those geographical areas were part of Mexico and its food heritage almost as long as they are part of the US.

Food is just a wonderful way to explore the world. We all have to eat, so it’s really fun to eat well. On my first European trip, a bicycle ride through Germany and Austria an Iowa couple (which has a lot of German heritage) was so excited to get to Munich and go to McDonalds. Are you kidding me? The best French Fries (amusingly often called pome frites in Germany) were fantastic!

Since I can’t go there, previously and especially now with COVID, I at least got one popular item from Galicia. My wife is an avid gardener and I only participate in that a little, but once while following her shopping for seedlings I saw Padrón Peppers. We got a couple of plants and had a substantial yield. I tried two ways to imitate preparing them as one might get in a restaurant in Santiago – fried (lots of oil) and even deep-fried (oh, yum, I sold my wife on a childhood favorite of okra and so have a good frier). Tried both crunch Kosher salt and sea salt. I get the fascination. Most of the peppers are mild, but every now and then one is hot (at least by Spain standards, still pretty tame by USA standards). We got so many from a couple of plants we kinda got sick of them by the end of the summer.

Well, anyway I digress but every now and then I’ll try to throw in some photos for a bit more visual interest than my usual long and tedious “academic” posts about Spanish food vocabulary.

Unplanned post of menu translation

Instead of my planned post I’ve digressed into analyzing the menu of restaurant in San Sebastián Spain, recommended by a loyal reader, Gandarias.

I’ve been working (offline) on a series of posts comparing my experience of now nearly 500 days of learning Spanish language with my original approach of analyzing menus from Spain and deducing menu vocabulary. My purpose has been to first find source material and translate it, create a corpus of translated material, extract from that corpus “translations” (not word-by-word, but more meaningful translations) and then create a smartphone app to contain all the deduced vocabulary and food/cooking terminology for a person trying to read menus in Spain.

I had originally planned to find source material and create a corpus without learning Spanish. I felt I could accomplish my purpose without language fluency. But somehow I got convinced to learn Spanish (I’m not good at languages so this is quite a challenge for me) and so for the past year I’ve had few posts about menus and interesting items I was finding. Just having a Spanish dictionary is not very helpful for figuring out what items on a menu happen to be.

So before posting some more on this general topic I had planned to show some menu items to just present some examples of some of the issues. I’d picked a restaurant, more or less at random, in Leon and had some examples ready to go. Instead circumstances provided me a different opportunity. While reading a post of another travel blogger about San Sebastián I decided to take a hint. While I can’t actually go to the restaurant, as recommended, I did find it had a good website that also resulted in an unexpected adventure.

On most of my previous analysis of menus I have not had a human English translation, partly because I was looking at small restaurants along the Camino de Santiago. So for my initial analysis I’m dependent on Google Translate, which often botches menus as I’ve pointed out in previous posts, plus then other investigation to figure out items.

In a few of the larger cities restaurants sometimes do have English translation and this provides some extra calibration. When one is trying to build a corpus it is inevitable some errors creep in, but the quality of the final consensus view of translating menu items is enhanced by having as much raw material as possible, so human English translations really supplement the guesses, I and Google, are making in our translations.

So Restaurante Gandarias has both Spanish and English, as well as Euskara, the Basque language given this restaurant is in the heart of Basque Country. It is also a very popular resort and thus likely to attract many clients who will appreciate the English version. And even in the Spanish menu some items still use the Euskara terms.

Now a note about “menu”. In most restaurants that’s what a diner gets, but in Spain it is common that there are designed menú, that is several courses chosen by the restaurant and combined as a single order, also as prix fixe to use the French term. The “menu” I had originally planned to use for this post is in that category. OTOH, some restaurants (and their websites) also provide a carta, which Google translates as ‘letter’ which is nominally correct and totally correct in other circumstances (ahora escribo una carta, see I’ve learned something, did that from memory) and it can also mean card, as in cartas de juego (playing cards, as opposed to tarjeta de credito for credit card; also fun when there are so many meanings for words, both to and from Spanish). But for this restaurant carta has the meaning, from the French and sometimes found in USA, a la carte. Or basically individual items ordered separately at the diner’s choice.

For the Gandarias carta it’s divided into sections: Todas (all), Ensaladas (salads), Entrantes (starters), Pascados (fish), Carnes (meat) and Postre (desert) – and yes, I’ve had all but Entrantes in my Spanish lessons. So I selected Todas (in Spanish version) and got four webpages of pictures of food with captions as to the item. Fine, I scooped up all four pages, did some fiddling to reformat and created the first column of my typical table I use for analysis. Knowing there was English I wanted to get the Google Translate first so I did that and lined up items in a second column of those (all this will be at the end of the post).

Then in what I expected would be a routine mechanical process I switched to the English version of the website.  Since Ensalada de bogavante was the first item I didn’t even need the picture to realize that Roasted baby lamb was not the same thing. A bit more poking around and I realized while it appeared the English and Spanish menu had the same items they were in totally different orders.

AH. A challenge. Now I have to take the English description of the item and find the corresponding Spanish. Now for this item,  Lettuce and onion salad I was able to pick   Ensalada de lechuga y cebolla even without looking at the Google Translate with is exactly the same, easy-peasy.

But it wasn’t all so easy; for instance Scrambled eggs with cod matches with Revuelto de bacalao, not just because one easily remembers bacalao is cod (about as common a food term as there is in Spain, even obvious from bacalhau where I actually had it multiple times in Portugal).  But also because while  Revuelto has dictionary translations: messy, upside down, mixed up, disheveled,  untidy, nauseous, cloudy, turbulent (and more), but most usefully scrambled. I have dug through enough menus in Spain to known that scrambled (and implied to be of eggs) fits, hence scrambled eggs with cod (even though huevo is missing in the Spanish). Amusingly Google doesn’t get the implied eggs and therefore thinks it’s the cod that got scrambled so it says: Scrambled cod so if you were using your phone do you think you’d order this.

Now a few stumped me a bit more than others, but like one of those games where you match up things in columns I only had a few left and thus got my clue:  Grilled magret was the human English translation. ¿Qué?  Magret stumped my usual translation sources and Google had missed it, but in a Spanish dictionary (with Spanish definitions of Spanish words, not translation) I did find:

Filete de pechuga de pato o de ganso muy utilizado en la cocina francesa.

which I can almost translate myself but here’s the GT

Duck breast or goose fillet widely used in French cuisine.

So, in other words, it isn’t a Spanish word, but the key hint (as well, a bit, the picture) is pato, so I was able to match up with Magret de pato (I never just did searches in my text, instead trying to translate myself).

So I wanted to do a couple of more to finish my point, about some challenges of translating menus (which, btw, are NOT solved by just learning to speak Spanish):

Almejas a la marinera Clams a la marinera Fisherman´s style clams

So it helps to know, a la marinera, which one would more typically associate with Italian food, is a particular style, really, just a typical tomato sauce, EXCEPT, typically in Spain and with clams it is NOT a tomato sauce – fooled yah. Yep, the human translation of Fisherman style is real helpful, might be useful in San Francisco.

Arroz con leche casero Rice with homemade Milk Rice pudding

Google is just too literal, arroz con leche is just rice pudding so the homemade (a valid translation of casero) just applies to the desert, not the milk,

Besugo a la plancha Grilled sea bream Grilled sea bream
Bogavante a la plancha Grilled lobster Fresh lobster grilled

Both of these provide a little fun as to exactly what a la plancha means. Yes, it does, more or less means, grilled, but then think about what a la parilla means (also grilled).  Usually a la plancha (literally on a plate, or in Italian, on the iron) means just cooked on a hot steel plate, cast iron pan or ‘flattop” in a diner.  a la parilla usually means a grate over some kind of open heat, either just gas or it can be wood (a la brasa). Now being fairly good with a grill myself these are quite different and I’d want to know which it really was. Which therefore brings up another point – reading a menu is not enough so being able to speak to your waiter (if knowledgeable) or even the chef may be required to really figure out if this is the dish you want. And therefore, that’s a different reason to actually learn to speak Spanish.

Chipirones a la plancha Grilled squid Grilled squids

chipirones can be interesting because it’s only one of the words for squid, but in this case it means baby (small) squid and frequently, in Spain, battered and fried squid, or as we’d order in USA as fried calamari. BUT, in this restaurant, given the picture, that’s not what this dish is.

Now: A brief side personal digression. For a couple of years I made multiple business trips to Japan. Learning Japanese was not going to happen but worst trying to learn the written is hard. My job required me to learn how Japanese is written (not the 1945 standard Kanji, just the algorithms of typography). At the time most Japanese restaurants had displays of plastic food (rarely picture menus) with little labels in Kanji. I quickly learned, while I had no clue what the Kanji meant, how to copy them into a little notebook and chose my item from the plastic food and then show the Kanji to the waiter. It worked fine and I always got what I expected. But I have no idea if the actual menu in this restaurant (unlike the website) would have the really dumbed-down version to show the pictures.

Now a few interesting ones that being fairly fluent in Spanish or knowing much about Spanish food won’t help so much, plus these stumped Google a bit.

Changurro al horno Baked Changurro Baked spider crab

You see Google didn’t know changurro. BUT, remember we’re in Basque country, so a bit more searching is that this word is really txangurro, where the tx, even just the x is a giveaway this is the Basque word and thus the Spanish spelling of it.

Kokotxas de bacalao al Pil-Pil con almejas Cod Kokotxas al Pil-Pil with clams Cod cheeks in pil-pil sauce with clams

The unusual spelling of kokotxas is another giveaway this is the Basque word, literally, cheeks, and really one needs to know this is a particular dish unique to Basque cooking to really have a clue what this means.

And

Pantxineta Pantxineta Pantxineta

I think you get this, obviously Basque, dessert where this is as good a description as any.

Rodaballo con su refrito ligado Turbot with its tied rehash Turbot with its thickened sauté

An amusing Google translation.

Tarta “Gandarias” elaborada por Rafa Gorrotxategi “Gandarias” cake made by Rafa Gorrotxategi Pastry chef Rafa Gorrotxategi´s “Gandarias” cheesecake

Totally meaningless terms, in any language. Even the generic Spanish tarta is ambivalent exactly what this might be.

Solomillo de vaca vieja con foie al Oporto Old beef sirloin with foie gras in Porto Old cow sirloin with foie in Oporto style

So here are a couple of interesting terms that just don’t translate (at least from Spanish): foie (the French word for liver, most foodies would just know this as language independent) and Oporto (second biggest city in Spain so probably most travelers would recognize it, but is it Port or OPorto (clue, in some language O is the)). And what style is that? If I was telling you about BBQ and said “Texas” style would you know that’s brisket withOUT sauce?

Tabla de ibéricos de bellota «Joselito» Table of Iberico de bellota «Joselito» Mixed iberian “Joselito”

I’ve mentioned Iberico de bellota in many posts before and if you go to Spain you’d better know what this means as you’ll pay a seriously premium price to get some slices of ham.

Personal Note: Here in flyover Nebraska there is actually a farmer who grows very similar pigs and lets them roam, yes, among oak trees and eat some acorns. AND, there is a gourmet butcher in Fort Calhoun, CURE (just there yesterday) who makes very similar (air dried, no smoke or salt) hams from those pigs, and, yes for a really serious price. I may never had had Spanish Lomo but it’s delicious from CURE.

Callos calluses Tripes

I had to include this one because, well, one reason I want to know about menus in Spanish is there are things I choose not to eat and this is one of them. Given Google can’t translate it, I’m glad I’ve got this in my lexicon.

And just for fun

Coulant de chocolate Chocolate coulant Chocolate fondant

chocolate is the literal word in Spanish for the same word in English (and nearly the same in French) BUT it doesn’t belong to any of these languages since it’s really xocolātl, so even Spanish has plenty of loanwords. But what about coulant, which is really a French word, meaning flowing, but interesting fondant in Spanish but that’s just another French word. And there is no English word, so if you don’t know what this is, there is no point in trying to translate.

So after a long post, you’re probably ready for dessert, so how about

Crema de yogur con mango crujiente y sirope de fresa Yogurt cream with crispy mango and strawberry syrup Yoghurt cream with crispy mango and strawberry syrup

Looking at the words on menus only reveals a bit about dining. Knowing a bit more about cooking, in general and Spanish in general, helps a lot. But if a person only had one chance to go to this restaurant and wanted to get the most interesting items some discussion with, hopefully, knowledgeable, waiter is essential.

So one conclusion from all this is that the basic idea of my project, translating food, is fundamentally a failure. One can translate words, or even combinations or words, and still have little idea what a menu item is.

Translation, as it is said in math, is a necessary, but not sufficient condition.

Serious dining in San Sebastián

I’ve been moving to return to doing posts about translating restaurant menus after nearly 500 days of spending most of the my free time working on learning Spanish instead of studying menus. I’ll comment more about this in a future post I’m working on, but as luck would have it I bumped into a subject that requires this post now.

I’ve been fortunate in life to, very rarely, have some superb dining experiences but nothing like I’ll show you here. Interestingly my most fantastic (nearing the level of this San Sebastián restaurant) were in Tokyo or in Beijing, which was expense account business dining (ridiculous companies get the tax write-offs but that didn’t stop me from enjoying my luxury). And for a few very special occasions I’ve indulged in luxury, but again never at this level.

What do I mean? Well how about 240€ per person! And with no drinks! (and given the look of their wine cellar I’d guess that would double the tab). I can’t quite even imagine blowing $1000 for our next anniversary dinner (though it might be fun).

Anyway I’ll get on with this subject. I bumped in an article about one of my favorite people, Lidia Bastianich (I’ve managed to at least go to her restaurant in Kansas City, nothing like this place). In the article she’s talking about her five favorite dinners and she mentions:

Hotel Akelarre

in the hills west of San Sebastián. The hotel itself is really beautiful (and seriously expensive) but its restaurant is over the top. Now I’m sure Lidia can afford this, and as a famous chef she got the VIP treatment I can’t even imagine, but can only dream about. But it’s places like this that make me think about my life choice to pursue “interesting” work over a more lucrative option, but, no regrets, I’ll settle to just dream, especially also the beautiful site (search for this in Google Maps for some fantastic photos)

They have three set menus (9 courses, choice for “main” course, each 240€) that look fantastic. I’ve extracted the menu in Spanish and the English (from the website) and then appended the Google Translations. Of course there is a lot of “exotic” culinary vocabulary on top of the ordinary Spanish. So I’ll come back to some parts of this menu in a future post, but here it is now (a little easier than scanning the website).

First I’ll post the text and human (&Google) translations that explain the three menus I post after that.

La fórmula de menú degustación tiene tres propuestas variadas diseñadas a conciencia para que disfrutéis de la alta gastronomía desde todos los sentidos y puntos de vista.

 

Los clásicos de AKELARRE es una fórmula con la que conocerás nuestra cocina a través de platos que llevan muchos años en nuestra carta.

 

Los Menús Aranori y Bekarki son dos variantes que te ofrecemos para combinar diferentes opciones que incluyen nuestras últimas recetas.

We propose three choices of thoughtfully curated tasting menus, designed to offer you an unforgettable dining experience you will thoroughly enjoy.

 

 

 

The Akelarre Classics is a selection of the most representative dishes of our cuisine through the years,

 

 

whilst the Aranori and the Bekarki are two proposals that combine signature dishes and our latest creations.

The tasting menu formula has three varied proposals carefully designed so that you enjoy haute cuisine from all senses and points of view.

 

 

 

The AKELARRE classics is a formula with which you will get to know our cuisine through dishes that have been on our menu for many years.

 

The Aranori and Bekarki Menus are two variants that we offer you to combine different options that include our latest recipes.

and following the menus I’ll post a quick (edited, generic or non Spanish removed, but a few Basque left in) lexicon of the vocabulary from these menus – see how many of these words you know. OR, guess how many one might learn in 500 days of generic Spanish lessons (hint: not many)

Note: The first column is Spanish (from Website, minor editing), the restaurant’s English translation (definitely human) and the third column is the literal Google Translate with a few of the amusing and classic mistakes.

 

Aranori    
     
Huevo con Caviar sobre puré de Coliflor y Mantequilla de Cebollino. Egg with caviar over cauliflower purée and chive butter. Egg with Caviar on Cauliflower Puree and Chive Butter.
Ostra a la parrilla con salsa Ostra. Grilled oyster with oyster sauce. Grilled oyster with oyster sauce.
Xangurro en Ensalada de Hojas. Txangurro (crab) in leaf salad. Xangurro in Leaf Salad.
Finísimo y ligero Tartar de Buey, nueva Patata Soufflé y Pan de Hierbas Aromáticas. Very thin and light beef tartare, new potato soufflé and aromatic herbs bread. Fine and light Beef Tartar, new Potato Soufflé and Aromatic Herb Bread.
Merluza al Vapor de Algas. Plancton y Hoja de Ostra. Hake in seaweed steam with plankton and oyster leaves. Algae Steamed Hake. Plankton and Oyster Leaf.
Calamar como un Risotto, Flor de Mantequilla. Risotto-like squid, butter blossom. Squid like a Risotto, Butter Flower.
Pojarski de Cierva, Especiado. Spiced Deer, pojarski. Pojarski de Cierva, Spicy.
o or or
Lomo de Cordero y Rulo de Hierbas Frescas. Loin of lamb and fresh herbs roll. Lamb Loin and Fresh Herb Roll.
El Postre de la Leche de Oveja. Sheep’s milk dessert. Sheep’s Milk Dessert.
Refrescante de Cítricos Exóticos. Exotic citrus fruits refresher. Refreshing Exotic Citrus.
     
240€ (IVA incluido) – Bebidas aparte €240 (VAT inc.) – Drinks not included € 240 (VAT included) – Drinks apart

 

 

Bekarki    
     
Gambas con Vainas al Fuego de Orujo y huevas del mar. Prawns and green beans on orujo fire and sea roe. Prawns with Pods in Orujo Fire and roe from the sea.

 

Las hojas y el Foie bajo la lluvia. Kokotxa, Emulsion de Pipas de Calabaza Pan de Ajo y Perejil. Leaves and foie gras in the rain.

Kokotxa, pumpkin seeds emulsion, garlic and parsley bread.

Leaves and Foie in the rain. Kokotxa, Emulsion of Pumpkin Pipes Garlic Bread and Parsley.
Infusión de Caldo Verde, Cigala y Rape Ahumado. Green broth, langoustines and smoked monkfish infusion. Infusion of Green Broth, Norway Lobster and Smoked Monkfish.
Pulpo mimético. Mimetic octopus. Mimic octopus.
Lubina “UMAMI”. Sea bass “Umami”. Sea bass “UMAMI”.

or

Presa de Ibérico a la Brasa, Risotto de semillas de Pimiento y Ajo en tres variantes. Grilled Iberian “presa”, three versions of pepper seeds and garlic risotto. Grilled Iberian pork, Pepper and Garlic Risotto in three variants.
o or or
Pato Azulón Glaseado y Etiqueta Especiada. Glazed blue duck and spiced label. Blue Glazed Duck and Spicy Label.
“Un Poco de Queso antes del Postre”. “A bit of cheese before desserts”. “A Little Cheese Before Dessert”.
La Otra Tarta de Manzana. The other apple tart. The Other Apple Pie.
     
240€ (IVA incluido) – Bebidas aparte €240 (VAT inc.) – Drinks not included € 240 (VAT included) – Drinks apart

 

 

Los clásicos de AKELARRE The AKELARRE classics The AKELARRE classics
     
Ensalada de Verduras del Huerto y Bogavante. Garden vegetables and lobster salad. Vegetable Salad from the Garden and Lobster.
Tubérculos en Infusión de Hierbas. Tubers in Herbal Infusion. Herb-Infused Tubers.

 

Carpaccio de Pasta, Piquillo e Ibérico con Setas y Parmesano. Pasta, Piquillo peppers and Iberico carpaccio with mushrooms and Parmesan. Pasta, Piquillo and Iberian Carpaccio with Mushrooms and Parmesan.
Arroz con Caracoles y Karrakelas en film de Tomate y Albahaca. Snails and periwinkles rice in a tomato and basil film. Rice with Snails and Karrakelas in Tomato and Basil film.
Foie Fresco a la sartén con «Escamas de Sal y Pimienta en Grano». Pan-seared foie-gras with “salt flakes and pepper grains”. Pan-fried Fresh Foie with «Salt and Pepper Flakes in Grain».
Salmonete Integral con “Fusili” de Salsa. Integral red mullet with “fusilli” sauce. Wholemeal Mullet with “Fusili” Sauce.
Trinchado de Vacuno Mayor, Tendón y Piel lacada, “Patatas y Pimientos”. Carved beef, tendon and lacquered skin, “potatoes and peppers”. Carving of Greater Beef, Tendon and Lacquered Skin, “Potatoes and Peppers”.
o or or
Royal de Pichón con Morokil. Pigeon royale with “morokil” (polenta). Royal Pigeon with Morokil.
Gin-Tonic en Plato. Gin & Tonic on a plate. Gin-Tonic on Plate.
“Xaxu” con Helado Espumoso de Coco. “Xaxu” with foamy coconut ice cream. “Xaxu” with Sparkling Coconut Ice Cream.
     
240€ (IVA incluido) – Bebidas aparte €240 (VAT inc.) – Drinks not included € 240 (VAT included) – Drinks apart

Lexicon of these menus (non food words removed, non Spain words removed); words learned in first 88 lessons in Duolingo (equivalent to a one term generic Spanish class) marked in bold. Basque words in pink. So think about how much of these menus you could “read” with a year of high school Spanish!

ahumado ajo albahaca algas aromáticas arroz azulón bebidas bogavante brasa buey calabaza calamar caldo caracoles cebollino cierva cigala cítricos coco coliflor cordero ensalada escamas especiada especiado espumoso etiqueta exóticos finísimo flor frescas fresco fuego gambas glaseado grano helado hierbas hojas huerto huevas huevo Ibérico incluido infusión integral IVA karrakelas kokotxa lacada leche ligero lluvia lomo lubina mantequilla manzana mar mayor merluza mimético morokil orujo ostra oveja parmesano parrilla pasta patatas pato perejil pichón piel pimienta pimientos pipas piquillo plancton plato Pojarski postre presa pulpo puré queso rape refrescante risotto sal salmonete salsa sartén semillas setas tarta tartar tendón tomate trinchado tubérculos vacuno vainas vapor variantes verduras xangurro xaxu

 

De nada por usar mi glosario

Thanks for using my glossary.

I’ve noticed an uptick in hits on my glossary and verbs pages and that’s fine with me. I’ve spent a lot of time searching for clues about Spanish food words online and have found a lot of material. So now that I’ve assembled my list I’m happy to give back. I hope no one extracts by glossary directly, not so much because I’m worried about IP rights (intellectual property) but because anything online should definitely be considered of dubious authoritative meaning.

In my glossary I tried hard to get reasonably accurate English equivalents, but: a) I have only a little Spanish fluency and thus might easily make mistakes, and, b) without thorough proofreading and review even correct information may have errors, especially typos.

Also exactly where (geographically) a word is used matters. Once when I just blindly compiled and merged some glossaries I found I didn’t realize that the same Spanish word, in Spain, in Mexico, in Puerto Rico and other Spanish speaking countries doesn’t have the same meaning, especially for food. If you think this is a minor issue, see what you get (being used to Western Hemisphere food) when you order a tortilla in Spain or tostada in a Mexican restaurant in USA.

I think I’ve found most of the online glossaries and dictionaries and be assured I’ve found lots of mistakes and inconsistencies in them. So it would be a big surprise that mine also doesn’t have numerous mistakes. I’d love it if I had readers that wanted to comment corrections or even disputes about word meanings. I’ve found a few web sites where people do debate the meaning of Spanish words, but, thus far, haven’t managed to bring that kind of discussion to my blog, which I’d really like. But, Oh Well, at least someone is extracting something from my glossary.

I’d also note that both my glossary and my cooking verb list is an ongoing project, especially the verb list. I am spending as much time as I can immersed in Spanish, but recently mostly actually learning Spanish (I gave in and finally signed up for a real course, not just my self-study). So the time I have to continue to improve my glossary (I have a lot of source material I could compile, edit and add to my glossary) and I really need to get back to my verb list (quite extensive, but not thoroughly researched or published).

I enjoy doing this project even without any sharing with anyone, but it’s even better if the work I’m doing somehow benefits someone else. But, again, while I don’t mind people extracting material from this site, just be aware its quality is somewhat suspect and you should not think this is some authoritative source. Use my material but use your own judgment about its accuracy.

A year with Duolingo learning Spanish

Hurrah for me! Yesterday I did my 365th day with Duolingo, learning Spanish and “playing” with other languages. As I’ve mentioned before I originally set out to develop an extensive glossary of Spanish terms for food and for restaurant menus WITHOUT attempting to learn the language itself. I was relatively sure I could accomplish this goal despite persuasion from others that I should learn the language.

My main resistance to trying to learn Spanish was failure in my previous attempts using conventional learning materials, initially audio tapes, then later with DVDs. These materials weren’t much help but also used a different learning technique (also more traditional) than Duolingo. So when I discovered Duolingo AND began to try to learn some Spanish with it I found it was much more helpful. And the early success I had encouraged me to keep going, ultimately leading to much of my available time devoted to learning Spanish rather than working on menus, as was my original intent.

Not only does Duolingo take full advantage of newer cloud-based technology it seems to have the attitude of making learning “fun” through various gamification tactics. Since it’s free and its revenue comes for ads it also encourages you to do more study than you might otherwise so. Over the year Duolingo has even increased these incentives with various “competitions” (just for bragging rights) but designed to give you more “rewards” than just learning the lessons. All this worked for me and I soon found myself nearly addicted to doing Duolingo every day.

I mostly used the PC version of Duo instead of the phone app version. Mostly I hate trying to type on phones (plus spell correct initially changed some Spanish words to English and thus I got the drills “wrong”), but also typing, especially after I learned how to setup typing on my PC to type Spanish (i.e. accents and ¿ and ¡ easier. Since Duo drills involve a lot of typing (transcribing audio, translating sentences) the PC version worked better for me.

As I used Duo more and more I decided to also explore other languages. While I’m doing the Spanish lessons thoroughly (each “skill” has five levels, in Spanish I complete all five levels before moving on (the next lesson is “unlocked” after finishing level 1, but I do all the levels) I also decided to have “fun” with other languages. I had two years of French in middle school with a very conversational approach and then two years of German in high school with a more conventional “academic” approach. Duo is a mixture of these two styles of learning language. So, despite German being my least well learned foreign language I actually rushed through the lessons and got my first “owl” (completing all lessons to at least one level) in German. I remembered French better (plus it’s an easier language) so I went through more levels in French but haven’t finish the entire “tree” (the complete set of “skills”).

For fun I also did some Portuguese, Italian and Catalan. I’ve visited Portugal, without knowing any of the language (again I got tapes and a book and learned nothing). I’d had some exposure to Italian because my first attempt, decades ago, at developing a glossary for food/restaurant terms was for Italian, after once visiting a restaurant in California where the menu was entirely in Italian and I was lost ordering. So since I, someday, want to do Italian and Portuguese more thoroughly I only did a few of those lessons. Interestingly learning Catalan is not available from an English base; instead you learn Catalan from Spanish and since I didn’t know Spanish I couldn’t get far with those lessons.

And, then, after reading a lot of the comments the Duo community generates I also decided to start the learn English from Spanish tree after I’d done about 20 skills in Spanish. The vocabulary used in the English lessons generally matches the vocabulary in the Spanish learning so by the time I started “learning” English I knew most of the Spanish words used to create the drill questions.

So the consequence of all this is I’ve: a) learned quite a bit, and, b) piled up a lot of the various scores Duo uses for incentives to keep learning. So, as a summary I’ve accumulated 118,559 XPs. Usually 10 XPs are granted for completing a drill (usually about 20 questions) with some bonus points, in any language. Also I soon discovered “stories” (for Spanish, English, French, German and Portuguese) which are a dialog (rather than isolated drill sentences) and generally completing one of the stories generates about 24 XPs. So this translates to having done about 8000 individual sets of drills or stories, or about 20/day, which translates to about an hour a day, well over the “minimum” (15 minutes) that Duo recommends. That means I’ve done about 400 hours in Duo and they claim 35 hours is equivalent to a semester. Now for Spanish I’ve acquired 71,691 XPs which means about 60% of my time in Duo is for Spanish or approximately 160 hours. So, have I done five semesters. NO WAY! Using a different system of rating language fluency, the CERF system, I’ve done online tests and have just barely achieved the A1 level (and maybe 1/2 of A2). One could expect to achieve this level of fluency in less than a year of classic classes (either high school or college level). I’ve spent more hours than classes would require but I’ve learned less. BUT, I’ve learned way more than I could have expected based on previous (failed) attempts.

I’ve also now done 78 of the Spanish “skills” so I’m only about half way through what Duo has to offer. So projecting it’s going to take me another full year to finish the Duo Spanish course. I would expect after completing my next year to be somewhere past the A2 level which should be good enough for most “tourist” conversations in a Spanish speaking country. Duo makes the learning fun so I do believe I will finish all Duo has to offer for Spanish and then I’ll need to supplement my learning with other sources.

In addition I have received 1114 crowns, an award given for completing any level within a skill. For Spanish I have 388 crowns which is nearly half of the 797 maximum. I’ve also gotten 300 crowns in French and 288 in German. Duo says I’ve learned 2174 words in Spanish. Since I’m obsessed with this I wrote my own program for drills (smart flashcards) and so I accumulated all the vocabulary I’d encountered in Duo (along with both masculine and feminine forms (mostly for adjectives) and plurals, even though Duo doesn’t count all these variations). For verbs I also enter all the conjugations (the five persons used in all Spanish countries, Duo doesn’t do much with the plural “you” (vosotros)). By now at 78 lessons I’ve had three conjugations in indicative mood (present, preterite and imperfect) and one conjugation in imperative. Spanish verbs are fairly regular but nonetheless there are still two indicative tenses (future and conditional) I haven’t hit (yet) in Duo and all of the subjunctive. So still a lot to do with verbs. But according to my drill file (the XML that contains all the words from Duo, with all the variants) I have “learned” (at least encountered) 1453 “root” words (the masculine singular or verb infinitive) and 3129 total forms; IOW, assuming I actually know all these (and I usually remember about 98%) that’s learning around 9 “words” per day. And that is a tiny fraction of the vocabulary (even only considering fairly common words) of Spanish. For instance, in comparison, I’ve encountered 128 verbs and meanwhile, as part of my original project, I’ve found over 500 verbs related to cooking. I believe one needs to know around 300 verbs in order to at least stumble through simple conversations, so again all these metrics indicate I’m still about a year away from any conversation in Spain or Ecuador (I could probably stumble through ordering in a restaurant, in conjunction with the 2000+ words I’ve accumulated through menu study (only a few of these appear in Duo).

SO, IOW, I’ve made a lot of progress, more than I could have expected, and simultaneously I have a huge amount left to learn. Maybe I’ll keep doing this blog long enough that eventually I can claim “fluency” in restaurant and/or cooking conversation.

All of this is a pleasant achievement for me BUT there is a major flaw in my learning. Most of what I “know” is in written form, not audible. Duo provides some practice in listening but almost none in speaking. Thus “conversation” would still be nearly impossible for me.

When I first heard audible drills in Duo (beyond just a word or simple phrase) it was all just a jumble of sound. Spanish is spoken rapidly and pauses between words are almost non-existence. Thus “parsing” an utterance was nearly impossible for me, at first; now, it’s just hard. So I’ve tried to supplement Duo with an obvious resource: TV. My cable subscription has tons of Spanish language stations, some of which have closed captioning (not the same as sub-titles) and a few channels allow selecting either English or Spanish captions. Listening to those, without captions, I hear almost nothing, and with captions I hear a little more. So I have a huge hill to climb before I could understand what a waiter might say to me in a restaurant.

Speaking and listening are different problems. While I have no way to practice speaking, nonetheless I can probably stumble through that better than listening. While speaking I can take time, in my head, to think of what I want to say. And while I might pronounce the words badly I could probably (mostly) use the right words, at least for a simple request or query. But listening one has to do in “real time”, i.e. the sounds flies by and you get it or not, with no control over the speed.

So I have two major challenges, on top of learning to read/write Spanish and that is hearing (just have to get faster at parsing utterances) and speaking (pronunciation, plus details of sentence structure that sound correct, rather than sorta Spanglish). I do know that knowing more words (and at least having heard them in Duo exercises) makes hearing a sentence easier. Listening to Spanish TV I literally wouldn’t “hear” anything without the work I’ve done, but, still, unlike reading (where I can skip an unknown word and “read” the rest, then maybe guess the unknown word from context), I’ll just have to have a ton more practice before I can hear.

So on one hand I’m happy with my first year of Spanish and simultaneously totally unhappy about how little I really do know, especially for a conversation.

So, Dear Reader, catch up with me in a year and see whether I can claim at least simple conversational fluency. At least, both from Duo and my menu reading project, I should be able to read the menus and order in Spain.

¡Volví! ¿me extrañaste? Ha sido un tiempo.

Si, puedo tutearse ya que nosotros son amigos. Or IOW, I can address you, Dear Reader, as since we’re friends here. And to my new friends, who may read this blog for the first time I’m old and thus more likely senior to you and so I don’t have to use the formal ustedes.

I haven’t written any posts about Spanish to use for food and restaurants as is the plan for this blog since I’ve been very busy. I haven’t lost interest and intend to continue more exciting posts about interesting Spanish terminology you’ll find on menus in Spain (and, mostly, for other Spanish speaking countries).

When I started finding and decoding menus along the Camino de Santiago in Spain I didn’t know any Spanish. I thought I could still figure out the Spanish on menus by associating what I find on menus with either human or automated translations, plus a lot of searching for more obscure (non dictionary) terms. Several people insisted I’d need to learn Spanish in order to do this, but, initially, I dismissed that suggestion.

I didn’t try to learn Spanish because I had tried in the past with little success, using the conventional learning materials. But, fortunately, there are new tools today. So I’m now on my 352nd day of using Duolingo to actually try to learn the language. Duolingo is great and I’m about half way through its Spanish course. But at the same time I found I needed to do other things and fortunately there are lots of other sources to use for study.

So I’ve done about 64,000 individual drills in Duolingo and so have picked up over 3000 words. I can (just barely) get through the A1 CERF tests. I’ve also “read” about 50 beginner stories, plus even tried some literature (way beyond even A2 level, but interesting to try). I’ve “read” (with lots of help from dictionary since the vocabulary is more extensive than Duolingo) lots of recipes (recetas) and descriptive text at numerous restaurant websites in Spain. So I get a lot of practice reading.

But I don’t get any practice speaking (no partner/tutor/teacher for that) and not much practice listening (Duo’s audio is easier than real speaking), but I try to follow numerous TV programs or even specialized programs, like the wonder La Casa de las Flores on Netflix. When I started all spoken Spanish was just a blur of sound to me, but now I can catch a little bit. I still don’t have enough vocabulary to recognize enough of the words to detect word boundaries, which really (to my ear) blur together in spoken Spanish.

So while I have another year to study ahead, to finish the Duolingo course and probably get near the A2 level and then also maybe have 5000 word vocabulary I’ve learned enough that it’s much easier for me to read restaurant websites. I’ve had lots of opportunity to see what the automated translation does right and wrong and so I can use both my knowledge, the automated translations and additional analysis to get most of the content.

Thus I should be able to do even better posts. Even though I didn’t know the language, before, I did figure out enough, IMHO, to find and describe some interesting things about Spanish menus, so now I expect to do even better.

Also, in previous posts I described my “virtual” trek on the Camino. Simply, to encourage myself to do exercise on my treadmill, I converted my exercise mileage along a GPS track to find my location on Google Maps and then use their overhead views, photos, the StreetView (when available) and other geotagged sites to “explore” the Camino. And as I previously posted I eventually did the entire distance, 796.4km (about 500 miles) to  Santiago de Compostela.

So, after getting there, I needed a new “virtual” trek goal so as I previously posted I started the French part of the Camino, starting a Le Puy en Velay and I’ve now reached Conques, 125 miles. While “walking” the Spanish part I “stopped” at every restaurant and hotel/albergue to look at all the photos, mostly of food or menus. I could do the same thing in France (and sometimes do) but information about that route is less plentiful and what I find on Google Maps is both French language and French food, which is wonderful (I did have some French in school), but not my goal. So that virtual trek has not been as engaging to me and thus I haven’t done any posts about it (and probably won’t).

Meanwhile I really want to turn all this purely vicarious activity into something real so I continue to look at two things: a) some Spanish speaking country to visit, not just as tourist, but really trying to get to know, and now my focus is on Ecuador, but probably only after some of the political unrest there settles down, and, b) trying to do one of the immersive language study programs in a Spanish speaking country (some excellent sources of these things can be found online).

So I have lots to keep me busy and thus I won’t have time for as many posts as I was originally doing, but now I’ll try to find something, still focused on food, to discuss.

One of my next projects will be this:

abarquillar abrillantar abrir acabar acanalar acaramelar aceitar aceptar achicharrar acidular acitronar aderezar adobar agregar ahumar albardar alcanzar aliñar almibarar almorzar amar amasar añadir andar anisar apagar aparecer aplanar aplastar aprender aromatizar asar asustar atar aviar ayudar bañar bardar batir beber blanquear brasear bridar buscar caer calentar cambiar capear caramelizar cascar catar cenar cepillar cernir chafar chamuscar chorrear cincelar clarificar cocer cocinar colar combinar comenzar comer comprar comprender condimentar conducir confitar congelar conocer conseguir conservar considerar contar convertir correr cortar crear creer cuajar cubrir cumplir dar deber decantar decidir decir decorar degustar dejar derramar derretir desalar desayunar desbabar desbardar desbridar descamar descansar descongelar descubrir desengrasar desglasar desgranar desgrasar deshuesador deshuesar desleír desmoldar desnatar desplumar desvenar dirigir disfrutar doblar dorar dormir echar emborrachar embridar empanar empanizar empezar emplatar emulsionar encender encontrar endulzar enfriar engrasar enharinar entender entrar envolver escabechar escaldar escalfar escamar escribir escuchar escurrir especiar esperar espesar espolvorear espumar estar estirar estofar estudiar evaporar existir explicar exprimir fermentar filetear flambear flamear formar forrar freír frotar fundir ganar glasear gratinar guisar gustar haber hablar hacer helar hervir hornear humear humedecer imaginar incorporar instilar intentar introducir ir jugar laminar lavar leer levantar levar ligar limpiar llamar llegar llenar llevar lograr machacar majar mantener marear marinar masticar mechar medir mezclar mirar mojar moldear moler mondar montar morir mover nacer napar necesitar nevar ocurrir ofrecer oír oler pagar paño parecer partir pasar pasteurizar pedir pelar pensar perder perfumar permitir picar pinchar pochar poder poner precalentar preguntar preparar presentar probar producir quedar quemar querer quitar rallar realizar rebanar rebozar recalentar recibir recomendar reconocer recordar reducir regar regresar rehogar rellenar remojar remover repetir reservar restregar resultar revisar revolver rociar romper rostir saber sabor sacar salar salir salpicar salpimentar saltear sancochar sazonar secar seguir sellar sentir ser servir soasar socarrar sofreír subir sumergir suponer tajar tamizar tapar tener terminar tocar tomar tostar trabajar traducir traer transferir tratar trinchar triturar trocear trufar untar usar utilizar vaciar vaporar vaporear vaporizar venir ver verter viajar vivir voltear volver

Yes, that’s a massive list of the verbs I’ve found in over twenty different sources that relate to cooking or dining. Finding, extracting, cleaning up, merging and then getting “consensus” translations is tedious work but I’m chugging through this list (far bigger than any single list I found anywhere online) and will surely have some material for posts and probably another page (like my glossary) to provide what I think will be the most comprehensive online list. The one I marked with bold are the ones I now just know from my Duolingo study, not bad for an old dog who knew zero Spanish a year ago. But this also shows how little food/cooking/restaurant information is available in standard Spanish courses and how much more there is to learn.

By the way here are some verbos of interest:

desayunar to eat breakfast (el desayuno)
almorzar to eat lunch (el almuerzo)
cenar to eat dinner (la cena)
comer to eat
beber/tomar to drink

So plenty to do and hopefully more interesting posts to follow.

So

Vamos a caminar y comer.

and

¡buen provecho!

 

Santiago is only the destination

I’ve been busy, mostly doing lots of actual learning of Spanish (instead of my original goal of just translating menus in Spain) but I’ve kept up my exercise, both bicycle and treadmill. I translate my distance on the treadmill to distance along the Camino de Santiago. Since I only do a short mileage per day I can follow, in detail, on Google Maps the route. I have a list of distances along the Camino (presumably correct, but after all I found it on the Net which makes it a bit suspect for accuracy) and so now I can announce that I’ve created the trip from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela, 494.86 miles, just under 800km (the road sign at the start of the movie The Way showed 800km).

Now a “virtual” trek along the Camino may sound silly, but here’s my point: 1) I’m not in Spain so I can’t actually do the Camino, 2) I need a reason to pound out exercise miles in my basement (with the “hope” that being in shape means I could do a real walk) and converting miles to locations along the Camino provides an incentive, and, 3) if nothing else I can at least see what I might encounter along the way, as poor a substitute that satellite photos, human geotagged photos and Google StreetView might provide. But as Joost says, “a man can dream!”.

So now I’ve “seen” everything along the Camino, or did I? Like most people I thought the Camino was just that 800km from French border to NW Spain. Yes, I learned there are numerous Camino routes. When Spain was under Moorish conquest the route became the Camino del Norte, a more rugged (and frankly more interesting,to me) route. But why is the route just Spain? Sure in theory it’s to reach St. James but there are lots of routes pilgrims can take.

Now just a bit more on my stats. As the movie says “I started my pilgrimage” on 22Nov2017 (rather that’s when I started with my current file of records, I’d actually done 42.2 miles before then). And you might say, awfully slow there old chap. Yep, my average daily distance is a tiny fraction of what a real trek requires. All I can say in defense is that I’ve also done 10435.9 miles on my stationary bike at the same time, a bit more impressive 25.3 miles a day since starting my virtual Camino. IOW, I could have done the Camino about 20 times (or 10 there and back) on my back in the same time it took me to “walk” it.

But why did I label my post as I did?

It turns out I’ve been reading a fun little Kindle book “The Journey in Between” by Keith Foskett. Of the various stories (movies, documentaries) I’ve seen about the Camino this one was interesting. It’s the personal story of a young Brit who since a young age just loves walking. The Camino had none of the usual interest to him, just a good walking route. And as I’ve now learned he started another 740 km (various measures of the distance exist) Before St. Jean-Pied-de-Port in Le Puy France. He has an interesting story of his personal journey so I’ll let you read that for yourself, but I just want to include two tidbits:

relative to the idea that “Santiago is only the destination”

There is no defining event, no sudden enlightenment. I needed to live in the moment, enjoy the journey.

and

The text summarized my journey. My mindset at the beginning was simple: El Camino had a start and an end. Begin at Le Puy en Velay, finish in Santiago, and complete the challenge. But I realized that the answers lay between those points; neither end mattered.

I’ve wondered why I’ve become so fascinated with the Camino and probably until I try to do it I won’t know. But like Keith (Fozzie) I too have liked to walk my entire life. I grew up in Montana where at least at a kid level I could take long walks. In high school I read of Hemingway talking about hiking near Red Lodge Montana and wanted to go (my parents were not so accommodating on my impulses). I climbed Mt. Washington in bad weather once I started college in Boston. I did my first backpacking trip in the middle of a hurricane. I gradually got better equipment and more skill and have tested myself against the Sierra, the Cascades and the Rockies.

Backpacking or even just wilderness hiking is way different than the Camino. But both emphasize self-sufficiency and rising to cope with whatever comes your way. The Camino (or other long walks in Europe) are oriented to frequent stops in towns and lots of encounters with people whereas the long walks in the USA (Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail – I’ve done segments of each) are more remote, with fewer creature comforts. Albergues in Spain (or Gîtes in France as I’ve just learned from Fozzie’s book) may be a bit rough but it’s not quite the same as really sleeping on the ground.

But what is it about walking? Sure, lots of people do the Camino for religious or spiritual reasons, the original reason. But today most do it for some other purpose. It’s not as crazy as the mobs on Everest now with a few dying due to overcrowding, but somehow we humans like to get out and move around, and push ourselves into more difficult efforts than we thought we could do. But again, why?

I think the real think about walking, even the short hikes I do on a couple of local trails is just our sense of time and space and, most important, of ourselves changes from the life we normally lead. A good walk may take 6 hours in a distance a car moves in 15 minutes, but how different is the experience. Humans evolved to react to our environment at the pace of walking, not cars or planes, or even bicycles. Somehow the rhythmic thing of one foot in front of another changes us.

And time changes. The constant hurry of our normal world is now replaced by a loss of sense of time. Time is measured by when scenery changes, when someone else is on the path, approaching in the distance, getting larger and larger, then saying hello, and then gone, all in more time than the typical business meeting. Time is when I reach the bend I can see ahead. And time is a lot, hours of walking, more of a single thing than we normally do. And mostly solitary. Even if walking with companions talking is only some of the time. We spend more time with just ourselves than we do in any other event, except perhaps sleeping.

And then somehow physical exertion, being very aware of our bodies (especially aches and pains), the slow passing of time, the building of fatigue (or hunger or thirst or needing to pee) just become our focus. The other stuff falls away.

So the most meaningless part of my “virtual” Camino is not disconnecting with normal life and connecting with life on the road. I’ve known this well enough, in my multi-day backpacks and bikepacks, to understand what it means. And somehow it is compelling.

The Camino, for me, is not as enticing as it was before I did my “virtual” version of it. I’ve looked at enough of the path (often a gravel path right next to a highway with lots of traffic and no shade,  I have a place nearby, called the Cowboy Trail, that can provide that) to reduce the glamour. I’ve read enough accounts, books and online diaries, to see some of the bad, or just the mundane, along with the good. My illusions are less, my enthusiasm is less.

But the wanderlust is still there. One point of the Camino, for someone who does just want to take a long walk, is all the accommodations for pilgrims. Being able to stop at night, find food along the way, etc. fits my age better than my backpacking days. When I did my first bike camping trip, along the California coast, I quickly saw some advantages over backpacking. I had to stay at campgrounds (not just on any piece of ground) and those are near towns. So forget lugging food. Unpack the gear from the bike, set up the tent, and head to town, not just for heavy (none of the freeze dried nearly inedible stuff) food but also a nice bottle of wine, unthinkable to carry on a multiday backpack. So the idea of carrying even less, as in trekking on the Camino, sounds pretty good. Sleeping in a bad bunk bed in a dormitory, not so much.

So I still haven’t found my dream (and also, at this point in my life, “bucket list”) walk, but I’ll keep looking. The people who do the Camino have a letdown when they’re done, often finding an excuse to go further (or perhaps reverse course and go back where they started). Because the destination is not a place, it’s a state of mind, and it’s not a time, it’s forever. The geodashing I do has a slogan “getting there is all the fun”. Anyone on the Camino would understand this.

estoy de vuelta de Oklahoma

I had some family business in Oklahoma and so planned some other sightseeing for about a week. But things didn’t work out. I read that this has been the most rain over twelve ever recorded for the USA. Certainly I can personally attest to that around here. So what is normally hot and dry and dusty area was a swamp. Two different Interstate highways were closed. But I did get to my farm and check out the grass (all it grows) and the wind turbine (which was really turning, but we didn’t get cancer or see any “carnage” of dead birds so I don’t know which wind turbine Trumpidot visited to see such things but in the real world it’s all lies). But that aside.

What does any mean for the primary topic of this blog. Well first I also visited my birth town of Amarillo Texas. Never when I lived there did I know: a) amarillo is Spanish for yellow, and, b) it’s not pronounced ama-rell-o. And the original state was really Tejas and later anglicized to Texas. And we visited Palo Duro Canyon which was just a name to me, as in ‘hard stick’ as Google translates and Wikipedia confirms but I see no connection with that place. But the point is a great deal of names for things in Texas are from Spanish which of course makes sense as Texas was part of Spain, then Mexico, longer than it has been part of the USA, something most Texans choose to ignore. So I grew up surrounded by Spanish but was hardly aware of it. Later I spent most of my professional life in California. By that time I knew the first town I lived in, Palo Alto, and the next, Los Altos, certainly were Spanish names and that the main street of both, El Camino Real, were Spanish. It was a long time after living there that I learned Los Gatos was named for the mountain lions.  So in some ways it’s remarkable to me that it’s taken me 71 years to really attempt to learn Spanish.

I planned to keep up my language study on Duolingo on the trip but I’d started a process of recording exactly what drills I did, first in an Excel spreadsheet and then in an app I wrote. Both were working fine when I transferred these over to the laptop we use exclusively for travel. Of course, when I needed them both failed. I had the source code of my app, but my development environment was expired and I’d lost all the passwords, then my Office 365, while not expired, demanded a login and I didn’t have that password. So with no way to record my study in Spanish I essentially stopped doing it. I did a few drills in French and German just to keep up my “streak”, but basically I lost about 6 days.

And I’m amazed at then how much I forgot. Certainly I remembered 98% but several words I’d used in drills just before leaving on the trip I could no longer recall.

I’ve been grappling with this for a while. Duolingo does a lot of repetition, especially if you do every drill in every exercise (instead of testing out) but then there isn’t a lot of repetition of previous material. I had already developed an app to counter this, something I could use daily to refresh my memory, but since it was just vocabulary drill (glorified flashcards) that wasn’t enough. So I wanted to repeat entire drills (usually 20 individual questions) to also deal with grammar, word order, gender and verb conjugation. But a lot of repetition of previously learned material cuts into learning new material. For me it’s not so much a question of time, which I have in sufficient quantity, as merely endurance, i.e. I can only take so much language study each day.

And in development my app to manage what Duolingo material I’d do I also did a simulation and my first results in that indicated it would take nearly two years to complete the full Duolingo “tree” (their entire course which puts you somewhere in the A2 (CERF) range). With the initial algorithm I had for also including repetition it shot out to more than three years to finish. Given I’d like to visit some Spanish speaking country sooner than that it means: a) I have to carefully ratio repetition, just enough to retain what I’ve learned, and, b) actually increase my daily effort. To stay on schedule, i.e. aim at the big picture each day requires more than casual attention so my app, with all the data recording, statistical analysis and prediction is necessary, at least for someone like me to make the right daily progress toward a long term goal.

So I’ll leave you with a trail photo. While this is up in the mountains of Wyoming we saw a lot of this on this trip, including some flooding over the roads too much to cross at all.