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No Habla Bupa

I am in Aruba, the A in the ABC Dutch Antilles, B for Bonaire, C for Curacao. What a relief not to be able to get the NYT and the WSJ, not to hear about the S&P.

Everyone speaks Papiamento, the local Portuguese/Spanish mishmash patois. It was apparently brought here by Ladino-speaking Jews from Portugal hundreds of years ago, who took it to the Cape Verde Islands too. I like it: the words are simple and when you see it written somewhere you can figure out what it means, mostly, from the Latin roots. It looks like a natural kind of Esperanto. Bon bini is their nice and simple tourist version of bienvenido.

All around the hotel I’m in are people carrying bags that say Bupa Aruba. Bupa sounds like a Papiamento word. Could it be a Ladino word for a Portuguese Jewish grandmother, I thought, and were these people carrying the bags part of some grandparents’ convention? But then a man in a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches asked me if I was with Bupa, and I thought Bupa might be the British University Professors Association. It wasn’t. I thought it could be the Brazilian Aruban Papiamento Union –yes, I know that make Bapu, not Bupa, but surely you know that AIDS is SIDA in France and it’s still the same thing.

Anyhow, I was wrong. Bupa, it turns out, is the British United Provident Association, some sort of healthcare thing. Convention-al.

I’m usually not crazy about animals, but this hotel has some amazingly intelligent parrots in the garden. They can do hellos in male and female voices. It also has four of what Papiamento speakers call Patu Pretu, or Pato Preto in some parts of ABC, and if you want to know what that is look at my photograph above, taken with my cellphone camera. This pato preto has a white-tipped beak and a white underside to its wing. Patu” or “Pato” is technically a duck, but nevertheless, I was told, the photo is of a pato preto. It’s a little weird to run into a metaphor.

I have been thinking about models and metaphors. People, even people who curse models, try to understand their world with metaphors, explaining one part of it they don’t understand by analogy with another part they think they do. But not everything is a metaphor, and metaphors are limited. If you step on a sharp shell while running on the beach and exclaim “ow!”, that’s not a metaphor. If you struggle to climb out of a low place to a high place against gravity and pant and your chest heaves, that’s not one either. If you have some trouble in life and you say you feel low, that is one.

A memorable metaphorical story about a patu pretu is Thomas Mann’s 1952 novella called the English version of Patu Pretu. It is much less well known than “Death in Venice”, but very good.

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