It occurred to me, maybe 2 weeks into my month-long intensive language course, that I didn’t really care about perfecting my Spanish. I sat in the classroom next-door to the upmarket dressmakers and let my eyes wander out of the window, choosing to pay scant attention to the discussion around me about the differences between Italian and Spanish cemeteries. The topic itself was of much interest to me – in Spain, unlike the UK, tombs are often stacked vertically; in Italy, cemeteries are like underground caverns, spanning 3, 4, 5 floors – and the thought of using Spanish to express such ideas interested me too. But I could feel my love for for the language being chipped away at with every practice exercise, every practice conversation, every practice listening exam. No teacher or classmate could be at fault for my lack of interest; my disengagement came from the rigour of the lesson itself.
Fragments of conversation would arrive in front of me and demand attention. “The grandmothers in Italy sometimes go to try and find their husband’s grave and stop and think, wow, is he on the same floor as my brother? Or is that my cousin…” Laughter. I’d look back and chuckle. Maybe add something of my own, like, “That would be a funny story to tell at the weekly swim,” then I’d go back to watching a French bulldog struggle to haul itself along the path to Retiro Park. How do dogs get so fat? Isn’t their entire life built around 30 minutes of daily exercise? Come summer, that dog is going to look back on the mild February morning and sigh a sloppy bulldog sigh, dreaming of mere 11 degree heat.
And that’s how my days would go. I’d spend the morning attending my class, paying enough attention to make my time feel worthwhile, then head over to the Biblioteca Nacional to prepare for the day’s lesson in the afternoon, and return home in the evening to cook, run, read. If my Spanish were to improve, so be it. It would have to be content with a secondary position, though.
Because what I really cared about was working out how to leave my shed.
“Do you have a euro?”
“I need to buy a café con leche.”
“You don’t need to buy a café con leche.”
“Please, sir. All I’m asking for is enough money to start my day with a café con leche.”
The guy sat in a cardboard box outside of my local metro station, Ventas. He was stocky, tanned, middle aged. As far as I could tell, he was Mexican. But he could just as easily have been Puerto Rican. I’m not great with placing people.
He was still there.
“Fine. Take your euro,” I said, roughly, although I was enjoying the exchange.
He nodded at me and turned to the next person passing by. “Do you have a euro?”
I walked away.