I once lived in an apartment with a ladybug infestation. That was weird. I’ve also dealt with ants, slugs, weird smells, bad pets and roommates of every sort. Living in Spain has been mostly normal considering the dozen or so other places I’ve called home. Our place doesn’t smell, I have great roommates, enough space and light. We have an excellent landlord and no pest problems. There is a portion of our hallway that has been broken since October. Although I enjoy complaining about it, ever since I applied duct tape to the foam covering, it’s stopped tripping me and I don’t really care anymore. Recently, though, we’ve had some unexpected visitors. Moths. It began a few weeks ago when I was pulling laundry off the line and my hand grabbed not a sock, but a large fuzzy insect. I was startled, but not scared. I see few bugs here, and I have found that I miss the tiny buzzing lives that are prolific in the South (except mosquitos, of course). Anyway, about five moths came in with my laundry. With the fair weather, we keep the windows open, so even more have fluttered their way into our lives since. I’m rather indifferent to their presence. I’d take moths over mosquitos or other biting bugs any day. My roommate from Syracuse, however, is terrified of them. In her defense, they also scuttle out at the most inconvenient times and places, and they are rather big. She calls them bats. I think if we had a bat problem, then I would be concerned.
(click the pic for your Goonies reference of the year). But for now, they just add to the list of small things that make life in Spain different.
One of the most frustrating things about learning a new language is the inability to express the correct emotion. During my half marathon for example, there was a desperate moment where I needed a bathroom.
“Hay un baño?” I asked a bit frantically*. But no one seemed to understand that this was no conversation piece. They shrugged their shoulders casually.
“No, there’s no bathroom on the race.” Asking again, I tried to look panicked to express how important a toilet was. But the response remained nonchalant.
“Well, there might be one in the bar just down the road, but I doubt its open.” In Spain, a bit of pessimism is normal. It’s also sensible to have a little doubt as to whether a place is open. Nevertheless, I took the detour to the bar and barely acknowledged the staff as I went into the restroom. When I got back to the course one of the race volunteers finally seemed to understand that I hadn’t simply wanted a tinkle break. He asked me if I was alright and if I needed an ambulance.
“No, I don’t need an ambulance. I want to keep trying.” I looked around and took a deep breath. I can do this. I can keep going. I was only at 8k out of 21k. I couldn’t stop there. So with a quick smile and a dose of determination I made my way.
At 19k, I experienced the same situation but opposite. I had just made it to the top of a big hill and I had to pause at the intersection for the policeman to stop the cars for me. My body giving out is a different post, however it did. I knew at that moment my legs weren’t going to take me any further, even if it was only 2k. Now there was nothing that needed immediate medical attention, I just couldn’t run anymore. The policeman saw my look of defeat and came over.
“Are you ok?” I shook my head.
“I can’t finish.” It was everything I could do to keep from crying.
“I’m getting the ambulance,” the policeman decided.
“No, I’m not sick,” I repeated, “I just can’t finish.” But no matter how much I tried to downplay the situation the policeman didn’t understand. I finally got him to agree with me, and he let me just wait for the van that marks the end of the race to pick me up and take me to the finish line.
Even now as I look back, I am confounded by my inability to communicate a sense of emergency when I needed a bathroom and a sense of simple defeat, but non urgency, when I couldn’t finish. In studying a foreign language, I learn words and expressions, but I never thought that I would have to relearn emotional communication. I still do not know what I could have done differently to express the correct emotion. At least I made interesting friends along the way and I have a story to tell about the time I tried to run half marathon in Spain.
* For practicality, all dialogue is in English. But everything happened in Spanish.
For such a dinky little cube, it’s amazing what journeys our front loading washing machine takes with every cycle. After adding water and soap, it starts with a typical churn, stop, spin, stop, churn. This is the preparation. Because that little guy is planning on going to the moon. As it really gets into spin mode, it makes a noise like a rocket on its maiden voyage. Starting low, whhiirrrrr, it gradually gets louder and faster and more intense: wwhhiiIIIIIRRRRRRRRRR!! RRRRRR!! RRR!! With every ounce of effort that lavadora is going to launch one day, and take my clothes with it. The machine takes about 2 hours to do a load, (which equals forever in my American estimation) so I think it actually could being going to Saturn and back. I just hope I get a souvenir next time, but perhaps it’s holding out until it gets to Pluto. Goodness knows I mean no disrespect. It’s an enormous step forward having a functioning washing machine in this apartment. And what’s 2 hours, when it can take anywhere from 6 hours to days to dry the clothes depending on the weather. Oh, yes, my clothes hang on a line with clothes pins. How quaint! I laughed to myself the other day when I was walking in blue skies and unseasonable warm weather and my initial thought was, “What a good day to do the laundry.” But the washing machine probably likes having blue skies for its atmospheric ventures, and I don’t have to hang clothes with numb fingers; a win-win by all accounts. Up, up and away.
The other night, Alyssa and I made our way to our favorite tapas place on Van Dyck. We saved it for our final stop according to my old standby “save the best for last”. The place was curiously empty for 11:15. (Considering dinner starts around 9, restaurants are open fairly late, according to American standards.) I ordered our costillas, while Alyssa asked if they were closing. She turned to me, “They are closing,” she reported sadly. The proprietor was still happy to serve us, but he must have seen my look of surprise and responded to me, “Hace frio.” My surprise increased as I was sure my ears were deceiving me. I’ve learned a lot of Spanish in the past two months, but I came knowing that phrase. “Hace frio,” he repeated. “It’s cold”.
The reason he was giving me for closing early was that it was cold out. Now, I’m from Atlanta. People flip out when it hits below freezing, but stores don’t close. It was maybe 27°F outside, and Salamanca gets way colder than that. I fumbled for clarification, “Si, hace frio…pero….vale.” (yeah, it’s cold….but…ok). He probably thought I just didn’t understand. Maybe because I initially pronounced costillas wrong. Or because as Alyssa and I left, I couldn’t remember if the empujar plaque meant push or pull on the door and there wasn’t a handle or metal plate thingy to help me make that decision. In reality, with the exception of an epic ice storm that shut my southern city down for a week, I’ve never heard of a place closing because “it was cold” so I didn’t understand. I probably never will, and next time, I will just go there first so I’m not rushing through some really, really excellent ribs.