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I learned Spanish the good old fashion way!

I learned Spanish the good old fashion way!

. . . while making out in a living room in Colonia Nueva Santa Maria ~ Mexico City

When I was in high school, it was common and considered very safe for us teenagers to take the trolley into Downtown Atlanta . . . and there were very few Latin Americans living in the Eastern United States between Tampa and New York City. Before going to college, the only Latin American I had ever met was Dolly, the Puerto Rican wife of our Methodist minister.  Once at Georgia Tech, I quickly made friends with several classmates from South of the Border.  In fact, one of my closest friends was Freddie Aponte from San Juan, Puerto Rico.  He had a very successful practice in Puerto Rico until 1995, when Congress cancelled the tax incentives for industries to locate there.  The island’s economy quickly collapsed, so Freddie moved to Texas, where his bilingual skills would harvest many Mexican-American clients.

In the world of my high school days, Spanish seemed like a waste of time, while at least French would enable me to read several top notch architecture magazines.  I also took two years of Latin . . . which would turn out the key to being able to read Spanish.

Then during winter quarter of my Junior year, I learned that I had been awarded the first Barrett Fellowship.  There were seven courses I was required to take before leaving for Mexico in June.  I already had 48 hours of class time, so that took quite some squeezing in.  Dolly helped with Spanish the best she could on Sunday afternoons, when we both had free time.  Basically, she got me to the point where I could read simple Spanish text to Latin Americans and they would understand me, but I often didn’t know the full meaning of what I was saying.

The fellowship would have probably been a disaster, except that I almost died of the same strain of salmonella that we now know wiped out about 90% of the indigenous population in the highlands of Mexico.  Apparently, Gringo Indios are also vulnerable to this pathogen.  As it turned out,  the parents of the former secretary to the Mexican Consul in Atlanta invited me over for dinner.   I danced to Credence Clearwater Revival music with their two daughters until late in the evening, so their parents invited me to spend the night there.   During the night, I threw up all over their 17 year old daughter’s bed room. By morning, I was paralyzed.

This form of Salmonella is very much like Cholera, it kills quickly. I was intentionally give Cholera in February of 2016, but fortunately had taken a cholera vaccine shot the last time I went to Mexico, so the symptoms only last about a day.  Cholera causes your sweat to look like skim milk.

Would you believe that even today, I connected with those two senoritas and several of their offspring via LinkedIn?

Fortunately,  the Soto’s paid for a doctor to visit me and take blood tests.  He owned a small pharmaceutical company and so could literally grab the right antibiotic from his assembly line.  I met Alicia at their 17 year old daughter’s high school graduation about a week later.  Alicia was a former graduate of the same school and lived about a block and a half from the Soto’s house.  They were on Calle Begonias.  She lived on Calle Guanabana.

So . . . very quickly the contact with Alicia developed into a very serious relationship.  Alicia was completely fluent in three languages, and desperately wanted to get out of the conservative attitudes of most Middle Class Mexican males.  Mexico had just legalized birth control pills when I arrived in the country. Whenever I was in Mexico City, I would spend most evenings with Alicia, watching TV and listening to rock radio stations.   Alicia and I were telepathic, so she could often translate Spanish words I didn’t understand without speaking.    That’s the quickest way to learn a language . . . if you happen to be telepathic with someone.

HOWEVER,  the Spanish pronunciation that I picked up was like that of the male actors on TV and the male DJ’s on the Mexican rock stations. Latin Americans tell me that my Spanish has an unusual accent from that experience.  Perhaps some of POOF’s readers can tell me what that eccentric accent is, so I can correct it.  Click the first Keywords below.



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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.



    Hi Richard, Well you have been through so many ups and downs. That Salmonella poisoning sounds horrendous . By the way I must tell you that my fabourite song since childhood when my mom used to sing it a lot, I bet you know it. ” South of the Border” down Mexico way, Its a wonderful tune to dance to and I happen to have the film on disc which starred Gen Autry. John my partner and I dance even now, at our retirement age the Rhumba to this tune. I hope one day you will be in touch with Alicia again.

    • Happy Poskita . . . It is good day for you to dance.


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