Ella Frances Sanders’s first book, Lost in Translation, captured the imagination of readers with its charmingly illustrated words that have no direct English translation. Now, the New York Times-bestselling author is back with an illustrated collection that addresses the nuances of language in the form of sayings from around the world. From the French idiom “to pedal in the sauerkraut,” (i.e., “to spin your wheels,”) to the Japanese idiom “even monkeys fall from trees” (meaning, “even experts can be wrong”), Sanders presents sayings that reveal the remarkable diversity, humor, and poignancy of the world’s languages and cultures.
I haven’t traveled a whole lot, but I want to. And in an ideal world, I’m the kind of person who would rather take two or three weeks and rent an Airbnb and shop at the local market and cook my own food — live in a place for awhile rather than tour it as a viewer. But this is not an ideal world — who has the time or money for that? Luckily, I found this book, which is probably as close as I will get to living in many foreign cultures.
The Illustrated Book of Sayings is both a brief and an intimate look at 52 cultures from around the world. Sanders picks an idiom from a language, and spends around 150 words explaining the meaning, and where it comes from. Whimsical illustrations accompany each idiom. If this sounds at all boring or dry, I’m doing a bad job of explaining. Sanders dips her toe into linguistics (which as a word nerd, I loved), but also relates the idiom to some idiosyncrasy of the people who use it. It makes you feel like you’re in that country for a moment, chatting with the natives.
Plus, wordy facts aren’t all you get. Many idioms are animal related, and Sanders seems to enjoy adding animal facts along with her explanations. For example, did you know that “one of the largest members of the pelican family — the Dalmatian pelican — lives in Denmark”?
Sanders’ explanations are as informative as they are quirky. And if you just really, really hate reading, you can at least have a fun time looking at the illustrations. This is a great book to keep on the coffee table to flip through on the days you are too broke to buy a plane ticket.
I received this book from Waterbrook Multnomah’s Blogging for Books for free in exchange for this honest review.
Back in America after twenty years in Britain, Bill Bryson decided to reacquaint himself with his native country by walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail. The AT offers an astonishing landscape of silent forests and sparkling lakes — and to a writer with the comic genius of Bill Bryson, it also provides endless opportunities to witness the majestic silliness of his fellow human beings. Bryson’s acute eye is a wise witness to this beautiful but fragile trail, and as he tells its fascinating history, he makes a moving plea for the conservation of America’s last great wilderness. An adventure, a comedy, and a celebration, A Walk in the Woods has become a modern classic of travel literature.
I like travel. I like comedy. I like to hike, and I even live near parts of the Appalachian Trail. What’s not to like about a book that encompasses all three? While not a book that gripped me from the beginning, I thoroughly enjoyed Bryson’s descriptions of the trail and his interaction with Katz, his companion, and other people he met along the trail. I laughed out loud at several points, and I even enjoyed his descriptions about the history of the trail, which is not something I would normally be interested in.
My problem with the book came around the middle. It was the part of the timeline where Bryson and Katz had to take a break from the trail — they had been on it for weeks (maybe months?) and needed to go back home for awhile before finishing. Bryson describes his attempts to continue the AT by doing short day hikes, and this is where I lost interest. Perhaps it was because Bryson himself was bored during this part of the trip, and that boredom bled through his writing. I also think I simply missed the banter between Bryson and Katz, and the gap lasted too long to hold my interest.
In all fairness, I did try to read this book during the middle of a very busy semester in which I was doing a lot of other reading, and I probably would have been able to push through and finish it had the timing been better. Things being as they were, I stopped at page 196/274, and as it has been almost three months since I have even thought about the book, I’m just going to go ahead and classify it as DNF. I still give it three stars, however, because of how I enjoyed the parts I did read, and I think I would enjoy the rest if I were to go back and try to finish it.
I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.
It was months ago when I wrote about my plans to travel to Costa Rica, and it’s been weeks since I’ve been there and back. I had planned on writing about my trip each week while I was there, but as it happens, it’s much more fun to go do stuff and write about it later. So here I sit in my very U.S. living room, thinking back to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.
It had been about three years since I’d been on a plane, so the night before I left I was super nervous and couldn’t sleep. I had to catch my flight pretty early Sunday morning, and my wonderful boyfriend and parents drove me to the airport. I’ll be honest; I had been super excited before that point, but exhaustion and excitement caught up to me and in that moment I really didn’t want to go. But I hugged the people I love and got on the plane, and about seven hours and a few transfers later I was on a 12-person plane over Costa Rica heading for the coast.
When I landed in Quepos, which is a small town right next to the more touristy Manuel Antonio, there was a bit of confusion on where I was supposed to go next, but eventually I ended up with my host parents, Carlos and Janett. They showed me to my room and let me unpack my stuff, and then they took me on a mini-tour of Quepos and Manuel Antonio, showing me where my school and bus stops were and how to get to the beach.
At this point, I was exhausted, and I understood only about 60% of what was being said, because, of course, everything was now in Spanish. That night I met about half of Janett’s family when they all got together for a party, and I’m afraid I had exactly zero idea what was going on.
That got better the next day, after I had slept. I found my way to the bus station with only one wrong turn and made it to the school early. There, I met the director, David, who thankfully spoke English. He gave me a brief oral exam to assess my level and put me in a class, and then I met my teacher.
Both my teachers and the classes were amazing. I went through the Intermedio I textbook during my stay, which covered every verb form imaginable, plus vocabulary and culture studies. A lot of the grammar I had seen before, which was helpful. But I learned it much better this time around because I would use the grammar immediately and continuously when chatting with the teachers, my host parents, and locals on the street.
My confidence in speaking grew exponentially. For one, I was forced to speak Spanish if I wanted to order food or ask questions about the town. For two, once the person to whom I spoke realized I was a student, they were almost always happy to speak slower and correct my grammar if need be. And I got much better at using words I do know to explain something I don’t know how to say, rather than just using the English word, as I would in a U.S. classroom. A lot of the verbs and vocabulary I’ve learned but could never remember are now solidified in my brain, because I had to describe them in Spanish.
The school was only a thirty minute walk to the beach, and it’s impossible for me to be near a beach and not go. In the four weeks I was in Costa Rica, I think I only skipped the beach two or three days. It became my routine after class to buy a smoothie or falafel from the falafel bar up the street, then I’d take a walk. While it was a steep walk, the view was absolutely worth it.
For the first two weeks I was there, I was the only student my age at the school, so I hung out on my own for most of that time. I will admit, it did get a little lonely. But it was easy to distract myself from that at the beach. I love me some good people-watching, and man, it was great in Costa Rica. There were always people surfing, both professionals and amateurs of all ages and nationalities, no matter how far down the beach I walked. On the left side, the side of the beach closer to Manuel Antonio National Park, there were a lot of restaurants and shops across the street. This was where non-locals hung out, and where surf instructors and the parasailing vendors set up their tents. Farther down, toward the middle, there were chairs set up for rent, where families both local and foreign came to play in the waves. The right side of the beach butted up against ritzy resorts, and that was where fruit and jewelry vendors walked back and forth selling their wares. And of course, monkeys and sloths could be spotted anywhere along the beach at any given time.
I did get the chance to take a guided tour of the national park, which was expensive, but worth it because of the pictures. Admittedly, they’re not the best quality, but that doesn’t take away from the level of awesomeness.
To my delight, another student, F, showed up my third week into the course. She and I hit it off, and we hung out after class most days, at the beach or walking around in Quepos when it rained. Sometimes we chatted in Spanish and sometimes in English, and mostly a mix. We spoke at roughly the same level, which was nice, and we even had class together during my last week.
F likes to dance, so one night we went to a salsa club and danced bachata and merengue and another very complicated Latin dance that I never quite caught the name of. I had never been to a club before, and I don’t know if Latin clubs in the U.S. are similar, but if they are, I’ll go. It was a lot of fun to dance, even though I had no idea what I was doing. I just followed while my partners swung me around — one even dipped me several times, which caught me off guard every single time. It was a blast.
It was also with F that I discovered what kind of alcohol I like. I’m underage in the U.S., but not in Costa Rica, so I got to try a few different things. I’m not ashamed to admit that my favorites are the fruity ones with little paper umbrellas.
By my last week in Costa Rica, I was using Spanish without even thinking about it, at least some of the time. In the morning, Carlos would ask me a question, and I would respond immediately, my brain pulling the words I needed automatically. I would only realize I had spoken Spanish after the words left my mouth. It was absolutely amazing. I was nowhere near perfect, however — during the last week, I helped out some with a children’s class in the afternoon, and I really had to think to remember some of the vocabulary we were teaching. Still, it was great review for me, and the speed at which the kids learned was astonishing to see.
At the end of my trip, I left Costa Rica wanting to go back as soon as possible. I know I want to keep using Spanish in the future — hopefully, eventually, in my job. It’s not going to go away. But there really is nothing like being in a completely different, completely amazing culture. There’s always something new to learn, no matter how long you stay. I’m already saving up to go back.
Bonus: My Travel Guide to Quepos (or, tips because I’ve been there once and am now obviously an expert)
For cheap, authentic food, eat at the sodas! Restaurants can be nice, but they get pricey. Follow the locals!
Buses are cheaper than taxis.
But if you must take a taxi, use the red ones, which are registered and insured.
Don’t forget that in Costa Rica, pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way.
Make friends with locals on the beach and you might get a discount on chairs, surf lessons, and other stuff.
If you’re female, try not to go out alone after dark.
In the national park, don’t pay for a guided tour. Just be sure to look where the guides are pointing as you walk by and you’ll see animals (although if you want pictures, the guide is the best option).
Don’t exchange your money at the airport! It’s expensive!
Leave your passport hidden in your suitcase unless you’re going to the bank.
When on the beach, don’t leave your stuff too close to the trees. Leave it in the open where you can keep an eye on it from the ocean. Thieves are less likely to steal from exposed areas.
Don’t put your purse or backpack on the back of your chair in a restaurant.
Mostly, it’s okay to note differences between your home country and Costa Rica, but don’t get hung up on it! Just have fun!
Disclaimer: All these tips come from my personal experience and the people I met there. Always use your own judgment when traveling abroad.
YouTube videos can be hilarious; everyone who has ever been on the Internet knows that. I go through phases where I find one and watch it over and over and over, until all my friends and family are sick of it. And then I happen upon a new one, and the cycle starts over. Recently, this very terrifying chicken ran a close second to my favorite YouTube video of all time.
In other news, it’s almost time for my trip to Costa Rica! In about two weeks, I’ll have been struggling along in Spanish for awhile and the first of four posts from that lovely tropical country will go up. You can expect Spanish- and travel- and adventure-related posts for the forseeable future — one post for every week I’m there is the plan! I’m incredibly excited, and a bit nervous, understandably, but I know it’s going to be an awesome adventure and I can’t wait to start it! GET PUMPED.
Before you read the rest of this post, look to the right. There’s a little blurb, underneath that super awesome picture of me. Read it now. I’ll wait.
Did you read it? Good. See how there’s that little word “figuratively”? Well, scratch that word out of the sentence now and put “literally” in its place.
Because I am going abroad.
I have been waiting for this moment for years. I’ve always wanted to travel, and study abroad programs were a big part of my college-decision-making process. Lucky for me, the college I chose has a great one. I’m becoming a fairly decent Spanish speaker (my recent oral exam grade proves it! woo!), and I love warm, beachy climates, so after the spring semester ends, it’s off to Costa Rica!
I’ll be in Spanish classes while I’m there, and I still have a lot of planning and studying to do. But as far as I understand, we are allowed to explore the area as we like when class is not in session, and I cannot wait to discover the beauty of the language and the people — and especially the national parks. Apparently, Costa Rica is the home of actual, real-live sloths. Here at school, I’m affectionately (I think) known as “the sloth” by my friends, so I think it’s decidedly appropriate for me to meet some of them.
My blogging plan for Costa Rica is to post once a week while I’m there. I’ll be taking copious amounts of photos, and I’m sure I’ll need to vent about all the ups and downs of living in a foreign country for the first time. Also — and this is what I’m really excited about — I plan to write each week’s post both in English and Spanish. This is as much for me to practice as it is for any Spanish speakers out there who may stumble upon my blog. The two versions may not be the exact same, as I’m much more fluent in English, but I’m extremely excited to experiment.
Inquilina peregrina con una maleta de paso, cargada de añejas querencias, una hoja en blanco y lápiz. Una bicicleta con la que recorro galaxias, un morral donde atesoro quimeras, concierto de grillos y fulgor de luciérnagas. Soy Ilka, dividida entre las fronteras de reminiscencias e imaginación, nadando en el mar bravío de la migración. Entre otras faenas, indocumentada con maestría en discriminación y racismo.