Archive for November, 2013

We lived for nearly five years in South America during the first part of my career and I spent the rest of it wandering in and out of that fascinating part of the world.

During that time, my normal mode of operation was to arrange a meeting with a few of the most knowledgeable folk wherever I found myself to let them tell me what it was like living where they lived.

One of those places was Pasto, Colombia—a sleepy little city high up in the cordillera just above the elevation where the coca plant grows best and where a few of the local wise guys had just tunneled their way into the bank—from the jail where they had recently been tossed. Pasto is that kind of place.

I stopped there on my way to Chile once. And to get things started on a project to have the local farmers convert their really, really, great cash crop to something like switch grass, I asked the fellow I was to work with if he could arrange such a meeting for when I got back in four days. Six or seven experts would be the right number for a good discussion.

Volcán Galeras, Pasto, Colombia (Wikipedia Commons)

Volcán Galeras, Pasto, Colombia (Wikipedia Commons)

Early on the day I returned, I asked if everything was set and he said, “Yes. For 5:30.” At 5:00 on the dot, we took a short drive to the university where we were met by its rector. The three of us stood for about 15 minutes in a hallway of the school and then the door we were standing by opened and I was politely asked to go in first. I did and as I did, I heard a fellow standing on a stage, microphone in hand, talking to a small group of 200 members of the nation’s Association of Geographers and he was introducing me as the one to give an hour-long key-note address on “Recent Advancements in Environmental Impact Evaluation.”

It was the first I new of it. As a matter of fact, it was the first I knew of the Asociación de Geógrafos Colombianos. Pasto is that kind of place.

So, I started off by saying that an hour was probably 55 minutes longer than the five minutes I hadn’t prepared for and went on from there.

On the positive side, I haven’t had a problem with public speaking in Spanish since, and that experience gives me the background to advise those of you who may attempt translation of Forrest Fenn’s Memoir into Spanish—especially when you get to that part about the “home of Brown” which, apparently, is where some of you are.

First, in his Memoir, Forrest Fenn, while admitting to a certain admiration for his Spanish teacher, likewise admits that he should have flunked the class. So believing that Forrest Fenn could sneak in a clue in Spanish is your first error. I’ve little doubt that the best Forrest could do is “Houso da Browno” and that his only other phrase of value is “Dondi is la bano.”

The second error lies in translating “brown” as “moreno” instead of what it really means, which is “marrón.” Yes, I know that “moreno” can mean “brown” but only in the sense of a suntan. It’s like my wife commenting on how “brown” I got putting the new roof on when what she really means is how “dark” my ageing skin had become.

Likewise, when a friend of mine admires the “morena” instead of the “rubia” when two of the “girls from Impanema” walk by, he is saying that he admires the one with dark hair over the blond no matter the skin color. On the other hand, when a young lady from Impanema admires the “moreno,” nine times out of ten he is the one with dark skin. Thus, concentrating a search to the Moreno Valley of Northern New Mexico just because one believes it to be the “Brown Valley” could be an error.

A third error has to do with the Cimarron River. That is, “Cimarrón,” though containing “marrón,” is not even close to ”brown” no matter how many of us walk that river in search of Forrest’s treasure. The word means “wild” as in “runaway,” be it a plant, a horse, or a younger brother.

The fourth error—which is not so clear, has to do with the differences between “casa,” “hogar,” and “querencia.” “Casa,” of course means “house” as in “Voy a la casa” which is “I go to the house.” Generally, “home” is translated as “hogar;” as the place where we sometimes eat, sleep and watch Seinfeld reruns. “Querencia,” on the other hand, is the term that best fits the “home” in “home of Brown.”

At least that is how I interpret it and I do so because it best fits one of Forrest’s “unknown knowns” and it has to do with “home” as a special place that carries a significance far beyond that building where we show up to eat or to sleep or to watch television or because it has “free” wi-fi. Conservation writers, landscape architects, and certain philosophers call the phenomenon “Sense of Place” and for me, the best articulation of the concept is given by Barry Lopez (The Rediscovery of North America) who uses the argument of “La Querencia” as the basis for his understanding of “sense of place.”

That is, La Querencia is that spot in the bull ring where the bull goes to rest, to gather himself, to put aside the wounds from the lances, the darts, and the confusion that he has just been made to go through. It is that place where he gathers his strength and focus for the renewal of his fight with those who wish him ill. And he goes there because he understands it to be that very special place.

My guess is that such a place is the real “home of Brown” and Forrest Fenn knows it well.

Te wi miti baka,

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