Thursday, June 3, 2010

Con Mucho Gusto!

One of the more endearing terms used by Costa Ricans with frequency is, "Con mucho gusto," which is often shortened to simply, "Mucho gusto." Any time you try out your amateur Spanish by thanking someone with a "gracias," or really showing off with a "mucho gracias," the automatic response will be that simple phrase--Mucho gusto. It is a lovely retort and I prefer it to our standard, "you're welcome." Whether you are in a restaurant or the grocery check-out line, any time you find yourself giving a perfunctory thanks to someone they will respond, "with pleasure," or "with much pleasure."

One of the sure marks of an amateur writer these days is the use of what we were taught to call the exclamation mark or point. Fairly soon into your writing career or your MFA program you will learn to indicate all forms of excitement and horror along with all adverbs by simply choosing a better verb to denote the exact extreme emotion you are attempting to convey. (Thus, the blurb at the top of my blog.) I freely admit that I, myself, am a formerly-frequent user of the now-dreaded and tres-gauche punctuation mark I used to put at the end of almost every sentence of every email I ever wrote to denote my happiness and excitement to my friends and family. Then I had a friend tell me her husband says reading exclamation marks makes him feel like he is being yelled at. This was certainly never my intent and thankfully I have never written to him or he would have run from the room, hands over eyes, screaming with a trail of periods following behind. And then I had an editor tell me you are allowed maybe three exclamation marks per book. What? Well, admission is the first step and I trainable. So I am well on my way to being the writer formerly known by her profligate usage of the exclamation mark. Not to mention those pesky adverbs...

Now without further ado, let me put these two seemingly disparate paragraphs together with a little Memorial Day tale. On Sunday we had a brief break in the rain here on the coast where a 3-day weekend fills every road and all vacant spaces with campers and I don't mean tents. I mean enough equipment to duplicate all the comforts of home BUT you are "camping." Seeing a bit of blue open up in the heavens above was all we needed by way of encouragement and we headed for the beach which was uncharacteristically packed with people, many of whom actually thought that frolicking in near-freezing water was great holiday fun. Until they did it. We had a nice long walk to the "big stump" which is a huge redwood remnant that has been sticking up out of the sands since Andy can remember and that is something on a beach where full-length trees are tossed about like match sticks by the waves and tides and nothing stays put. Except that stump. Bella packed snacks and books and we took a stump break and the five of us generally enjoyed ourselves to the point where we even stripped down to one layer for a moment or two.

Our journey yielded not even one intact sand dollar, given the hordes combing the intertidal zone, and upon our return we sat down to put on our shoes because in spite of the fact that the weather is worse now than in the winter, we bravely marched forth in our bare feet in deference to the calendar more than anything else. As we sat collecting ourselves Isaiah began to write a B in the sand with his stick. "Look, a "B," I noted to Bella sitting next to me, "I wonder what Isaiah is going to write?" "E," I continued, I guess he is writing "be."

She laughed with the assurance of a 6-year-old, "No, he's writing Bella." (Note: Here my natural inclination is to end her sentence with the exclamation point that follows almost every sentence of a 6-year-old with all their enthusiasm for even the most mundane aspects of life, all of which, of course, are still new and exciting to them. But I have learned to slap the little finger of my left hand when it wanders too close to that now-rarely-used key which can only be touched when typing the number 1.) And sure enough, Isaiah continued to write two L's and an A. "Bella," Bella exclaimed period. But then Isaiah continued to draw another line.

"Hmmm, now what is he writing?" I asked her, "Kittel?" But just then he lifted his stick and then poked it back into the sand with a flourish and finality, to her delight.

"A Gusto Mark," she exclaimed. (Again, see note above.) We all looked at each other and at her with curiosity and laughed. A gusto mark? I have no idea where she got this name for the punctuation formerly known as an exclamation something. Did she learn it in Kindergarten, as she said? Or did she hear the teacher wrong and put her Spanish and English vocabularies together in a cheerful new Spanglish punctuation term? Either way, it is a very fitting name for the much-maligned sentence ending which has fallen from grace. But I think Bella could well be on her way to changing that. (Or her middle name is not...)


PS The photo is of the very-excited Bella at her dance recital which was akin to Christmas with the counting down of days and everything.

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