On the spur of the moment I decided to hop on a bus to Tlacotalpan, a small fishing village about three hours south of Veracruz that is another UNESCO World heritage Site. Although the bus was not crowded I ended up sitting next to a young man named Miguel Angel Lopez who was returning to work after a long Cinco de Mayo holiday weekend. Miguel, who turned out to be the town judge in Tlacotalpan, spent the entire bus ride telling me about his adopted town and Mexican culture in general. Upon arrival I expected we would go our separate ways, but in the tradition of courtesy so prevalent around Mexico he invited me to walk with him to his office, where I met his secretary and we chatted some more. Half an hour later, as I was again making a departure, Miguel invited me to meet him for coffee at 9 p.m. that evening. I gratefully accepted and we talked until long after midnight, him teaching me about the area and me teaching him how to say English words that begin with the letter ‘y.’
“Como se dice esta palabra?” (How do you say this word?) he asked, writing out the word ‘yes’ on a piece of paper.
“Yes,” I answered.
“Jes,” he repeated.
“No. There is no ‘j’ at the beginning. It is pronounced yes.”
“Jes,” he tried again.
In Mexico the letter ‘y’ is pronounced with a ‘j’ sound in front of it and I quickly realized I would have to approach this from a different direction. I said both words to myself – yes and jes – and noted that my tongue was at the bottom of my mouth behind my teeth, when I used the English pronunciation, but was at the top of my mouth when I said ‘jes.’ And so began an evening of hysterical laughter as I instructed him where to hold his tongue, complete with open-mouth demonstrations, in order to get the English version to sound correct. Miguel did finally get the ‘y’ sound down pat, and in return he walked me through the tongue twisting name of his town (pronounced Tla coh TAHL pahn), which I didn’t fully grasp until a couple of days later, and told me everything I needed to see while I was there.
Armed with this information, the next morning I set out to explore. Tlacotalpan is renowned for its neo-classic buildings, most of which have front porticoes supported by columns or pillars that have been painted lime green, pale pink, sky blue, bright orange, deep rose, burnished gold, lavender, purple, turquoise, and yellow. I wandered the cobblestone streets, enjoying this Continue reading