Paving the road to nowhere, one word at a time.

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Location: Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

American born, living in Mexico since 1992.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Gregorio Torres Quintero

Rocio left at five-thirty this morning, I kissed her cheek and sent her off to the hospital with her mother. Simple, outpatient surgery, done with lasers. Silent light. After sleeping and awaking every five minutes or so until a quarter of seven, I went to wake up Anna only to find her already awake and scrounging some cereal from the pantry. Another kiss on the cheek and a cup of coffee went by, and as Anna changed into her official uniform for Escuela Primaria Gregorio Torres Quintero, I opened the front blinds and listened to the birds.

"Cheet! Cheep! Chew! Cheet-cheet!"

How can such small-brained creatures have such a vast vocabulary? Bird-brained orators noisily argued and then agreed and then argued some more, all of the while looking for food or bedding material or whatever. Us human beings do this sometimes, we go on and on about whatever thing that comes to mind while we work or eat. Are the birds mimicking us or are we mimicking the birds? One mind-reading bird in the flock outside of the open blinds might have just then been indignantly answering my question, rhetorically asking this:


I closed the blinds, minding my own business, and I got dressed, I had to take Anna to school.

* * * *

Gregorio Torres Quintero was born in Colima, Colima, Mexico, in 1866, eventually reaching the status of Inspector General of Education for his home state. He is credited with the creation of a teaching method known as onomatopoeia, which is the practice of using a vocal imitation from the natural world to associate with, or even merely suggest, a thing or an action or a concept. He is credited with this here in Mexico, albeit the word onomatopoeia is Greek in origin, and then passed on to Latin, and so on. And never mind that the Japanese language itself is onomatopoeic in nature, or so I have read. Here, in Mexico, even as nothing more than a trivial footnote will quickly point to Torres for his revolutionary teaching methods, this Gregorio Torres Quintero was a teacher that perhaps hundreds of elementary schools had named in his honor.

Nevertheless, Torres probably came up with his teaching methods on his own, Mexico is somewhat notorious for a lack of historical educational influence from much of the world. Torres likened the occasional failure to teach history from a book directly to the same affect that opera might have on some sleepy patrons of that particular art. He felt that in many instances some people have no way to relate to what they are seeing, or reading, or listening; that the teachings, "Don’t accommodate the spiritual receptors."

So he related natural sounds to his lessons, in order to accommodate the spiritual receptors of his students.

As should we all?


* * * *

Me and Anna locked the door behind us, and the birds, the pájaros, flew up noisily to seek peace elsewhere. This could have been the sound that their wings made, once startled into a quick flight:


We walked around the corner, into the alleyway and past the sleeping dogs near the granjero, out onto Díaz Ordaz. Catching a nearly empty calafia up the hill, we walked the Tercera, down Calle Haitianos, the main street into the heart of Infonavít Latinos, past broken car windows and graffiti-ridden cinderblock, down toward where Colonia Lomas de Amistad meets the Northwest edge of the Infonavít. The noise from the street made us silent, so I kissed her goodbye and found a route cab, and we slowly made our way through the already crowded Sobre Ruedas and finally down the hill, and when I got back here the birds were all gone, busy with other things.

Or else, the honking truck of the propane vendor had scared them off for a good while.

I picked her up a few hours later, and we walked the Sobre Ruedas hungry and disappointed. I found my avodados, but no food we wanted was there, nothing looked good enough to settle on. So, we came back down the hill and after she changed clothes I took her out to get some pineapple chicken at a local Chinese food joint adjacent to Calimax. And beef chow mein, white rice, egg rolls, and so on.

And chopsticks. Both Anna and me appreciate chopsticks. We brought it all back to eat it here. Rocio was home by the time we returned, resting in bed. She’ll be off for two weeks, undoubtedly listening to the birds every morning.


* * * *

Gregorio Torres Quintero might have also taught word association, I couldn’t say, and I do not have the time to research it. He might have, though. Tomorrow, I will go back to work, and after departing the trolley at Palomar Street, I will walk across a field that, not even one month ago, produced an amazing event. It was a silent affair, I listened hard but could hear nothing other than my own footsteps while it happened.

As I walked across this field one morning, thousands of butterflies emerged from secret cocoons, hidden and undisturbed by anything other than their owner’s own escaping. And they seemed to fly all at the same time, hatching in unison, beckoned by some force beyond my ability to understand, and they gracefully avoided me while all flying north. North, for whatever reason, a reason that only they knew.


And the butterflies made no sound, they simply filled my vision wherever I looked, with the vivid color and the random grace that only a butterfly can possess. Even when I rejoined Palomar Street and crossed the bridge over interstate five, the butterflies still danced like children on a playground, even approaching the salt mines and into the business park on Bay Boulevard.

I saw Rosa there in the business park, but she didn’t see me. She was trying to catch one of the butterflies, not coming close to succeeding, but trying with the unbreakable will of a twelve-year-old girl. Rosa works where I work, for two hours a day, sweeping the floor. Rosa is twenty-four years old. Rosa’s mind is still only twelve. She became one of my heroes a long time ago. She never misses work. She always asks everyone how they are doing. She always says, "Good morning," even when it isn’t. She is bilingual, while some of the normal Mexicans are not.

An hour later, she leaned on her broom as she saw me walk by on the shop floor.

"Did you see them?" she asked, the butterflies still dancing in her eyes.

"Yes. There were thousands of them," I said.

"I tried to catch one, but I couldn’t," she told me.

"I know. Some things are made for us to chase but not to catch," I nodded.


She continued to sweep the aisle.

A caterpillar is called an oruga in Spanish, they eventually turn into butterflies, or mariposas. And when such special people like Rosa recognize such a special process as this magical metamorphosis, wouldn’t anyone be proud, or orgulloso of her?

Maybe even Gregorio Torres Quintero?



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