Sunday, June 22, 2008

My MTC District - Puente Alto
(January-March 1979)

This photo shows my MTC district (Puente Alto) in early March 1979, shortly before we departed Provo for the mission field. Standing (L-R): Gene Whiting (Grand Junction, CO), Steve Arbuckle (Van Nuys, CA), Wayne Illes (Mississauga, Ont., Canada), Ronald Dunn (Tacoma, WA), Scott Kimball (Long Beach, CA), Joe Grigg (La Cañada, CA). Sitting (L-R): Steve Timm (West Valley City, UT), Mark Anderson (Sacramento, CA), and Kevin Kartchner (Albuquerque, NM).

I could probably write an entire book about the MTC and all of my compadres in Puente Alto, but for purposes of this blog, I think I'll pass. I will say the following, however:

1. The MTC often seemed to me to be calculated to impose the utmost in adversity on the missionaries passing through it, and time hasn't altered that perception. Thank goodness, however, that someone finally saw the light concerning the "Speak Your Language" program as it existed then: nowadays, according to my son Darren, the "requirement" to speak exclusively in one's mission language doesn't kick in until after four weeks, and there is no longer a daily self-rating system (an odious guilt-trip mechanism that instilled in most of us little more than a strong tendency to rationalize).

2. Puente Alto definitely was composed of a bright bunch of guys, which stoked a fairly stiff level of "competition" in the classroom. I remember that we were the guinea pigs for a pilot program called "Teaching Skills," which was an early, unsuccessful precursor to today's teach-it-in-your-own-words missionary lessons. We were supposed to go out and dazzle our trainer companions with what we'd learned, a misguided notion at best; the worst part was that after our mission president later formally instructed us to scrap the program, we had to go back and re-memorize the "canned" discussions, putting everything back in that "Teaching Skills" had cut out or rearranged.

3. Except for Gene Whiting, who served somewhere in California, all of Puente Alto went to the Chile Santiago South Mission (which, as other missions were created in the metropolitan area and the mission boundary gradually moved southward, later became known as the Chile Rancagua Mission).

4. My companion in the MTC was Wayne Illes (although Joe Grigg was our companion in a "threesome" for a couple of weeks after Joe's companion Elder Hubbard went home with health issues). I think Wayne and I got along pretty well, given that we didn't share too many interests; however, he almost certainly regarded me as overly serious and self-focused, whereas I thought he had a few too many distractions in light of the task at hand. I remember one occasion when Wayne wanted to go to the mall in Orem on p-day, whereas I wanted to stay at the MTC, write letters, and unwind a little. We tried to arrange for an unofficial "split" with two other missionaries so that each of us could do what he wanted; however, our branch president, Max Caldwell (who was later called as a general authority), found out about it and gave me a pretty good dressing-down, telling me that I'd have to go out into the world soon enough and that I might as well practice for it by accompanying my companion to the mall. (In that light, I find it extremely ironic that missionaries routinely aren't even allowed to leave the MTC these days except to attend the temple.)

5. Ron Dunn, our district leader, was thirty years old when he began his mission, and of course he seemed ancient to the rest of us. I think the church has since imposed a maximum "starting" age of 26 for (single) male missionaries, and thus Ron couldn't have served today.

6. Looking back, it seems odd that Steve Timm was the only one of us who was from Utah. I think it says a lot about how demographics in the church have changed in the last generation that a much-greater proportion of young men who serve missions now, at least from the U.S. and Canada, seem to be from Utah. (Not only are Utahns the most fertile of Mormons, but many church members who grew up elsewhere -- my four brothers being good examples -- later settled in Utah, all of which serves to explain why the Wasatch Front is a mass of humanity and a giant traffic jam.)

As I stated above, I could write a lot more -- and perhaps one day I will -- but this is a good place to stop.

Juan Carlos Duque's "Promesas"

I recently was able to identify and locate a song, by a Chilean artist, that has long haunted my memories of my early days as a missionary in Santiago, Chile in 1979. One reason I'd had such difficulty locating it was that at least a couple of Chileans I'd known had unwittingly given me inaccurate information about the artist and the title of the song; thus, for decades I thought the song was called "No tengo a quién amar" and was sung by someone named Juan Antonio Laura. It's no wonder I could never find references to it on the Internet, inasmuch as the true artist was named Juan Carlos Duque and the song was actually titled "Promesas." I only discovered this recently when it occurred to me to do a Google search on "'no tengo a quién amar' + chile"; mirabile dictu, I found a few links that enabled me to ascertain the artist and title. Moreover, I was able to find another blog,, which has a link to download a .rar file of Duque's greatest-hits album. (I want to make clear that I'm not in the habit of downloading copyrighted works for "free"; I will only do it if the music is otherwise unavailable. I'll be happy to buy a CD of the album if someone tells me how I can get it for a reasonable price.)

It turns out that "Promesas" was Chile's entry in the international competition in the 1979 "Festival de la canción" in Viña del Mar, Chile, and that it took third prize. That particular Festival took place just before my MTC group arrived from the U.S. in March 1979, which explains why the song was popular at that moment and why I associate it strongly with my first area in the comuna of La Florida in metropolitan Santiago.

The original recording of "Promesas" is somewhat clunkier than I'd remembered, as it has that annoying sort of late-70s/early-80s synthesizer vibe that doesn't even attempt to sound like another instrument. (It reminds me of the Vangelis soundtrack for the film Chariots of Fire, which sounded cool in the 80s but which now sounds completely incongruous with the subject matter and period depicted in the movie.) However, I still like the tune and the lyrics, and I'll probably try to work out a guitar arrangement and learn to sing it. I especially like the image of the man who has lost his love and thus feels shipwrecked and cast-away:

Soy un náufrago, un desierto,
y no tengo a quién amar.
Amar no es cosa de uno;
es algo entre tú y yo.
Tú te fuiste y solo estoy;
ya no siento más tu voz.
Murmullo de tristeza
un canto de soledad.
This tune also points up something interesting about Spanish-language poetry, which I would not have learned had I not majored in Spanish in college. It is that whereas poetic meter in English depends heavily on where accents fall, it is acceptable to "misplace" accents in Spanish poetry. (It's notable that a sonnet in English must be written in iambic pentameter -- ta-DA-ta-DA-ta-DA-ta-DA-ta-DA -- whereas a sonnet in Spanish must only have a specified number of syllables per line.) This explains why the word "canto" in the last line of "Promesas" comes out as "cantó" when it's sung. When I was going through the MTC, I remember that I was often a little dismayed by the "misplaced" accents in the Spanish translations of LDS hymns; in fact, I remember one of our teachers, "Elder" Rob Smead, telling us he didn't like how many of the hymns were rendered in Spanish for that very reason. However, knowing what I know now, I realize that phenomenon was perfectly normal in the context of the Spanish language. What dismays me now is the fact that the church has gone back and re-translated many or most of the hymns from the old Spanish hymnal to give them a more-literal rendering from the English, which to my way of thinking destroyed most of the poetry inherent in them. (I wonder whose idea that was!)

(Update: I couldn't find Duque's original version of "Promesas" on Youtube; however, I did find a "modern" version done by María Jimena Pereyra. Note that she changes the last line of the chorus to "Murmullo de tristeza mi canción en soledad," which causes the accent to fall "naturally.")

[Update January 31, 2009: There is now a Youtube video of Duque's original recording.]