Learning. I know that the thing I have to learn about learning is that you learn nothing if you don’t try, especially in language. If you are scared of making mistakes, you don’t learn anything at all…you are literally and metaphorically dumb by refusing to speak… Thus one evening I learned, while watching Barcelona playing football against Borussia Dortmund with Señor J and Señora T, that ‘the pilot’ the commentator keeps talking about is not the team captain, piloting his team to victory, but the ball (pelota) they are thumping around the pitch (which Sñra T illustrates enthusiastically whilst almost falling over laughing).
The Señor and Señora speak very little English. Sñra T produces my breakfast and dinner – (so nice not to have to think about it)… and all I have to do is get myself to the escuela (school), 20 minutes or so on the metro from La Sagrada Familia. I am the oldest in my class of 6…by nearly 40 years, (except for Miguel who is 42) and possibly the oldest in the school (I’m vying with an American lady whose Spanish is extremely good). Almost everything I have learnt at my evening class in London seems to have disappeared…the profesors (teachers) speak almost entirely in Spanish and I am clearly the least adept in the class: Christina from Russia – aloof, upright and…very beautiful. Kristien from Amsterdam – lovely, smiley and…very beautiful. Valentina (her Spanish name) from Shanghai in China – with excellent English…also very beautiful. Maria from Munich – a little shy but very clever (she’s going to be a doctor)..and she’s very beautiful. Miguel from Berlin – a tanned beach boy with pretty good, daring, German-accented Spanish. I have no idea why I’m not in the beginners class. Also, (and accepting that every human-being has his/her own beauty), I don’t recall actually being beautiful in my 20s…but I can see that all the 20-somethings, boys and girls, are beautiful..and I’m guessing it must simply be by virtue of youth. Do they all realise that this might be the best they’ll ever look?!
Now…..I have not had this feeling for a very long time…..the feeling, when you arrive at a new school or university, that you will never, I mean never make any friends. No-one will want to know you or talk to you. In any case, I am far TOO OLD, and the youngsters are happier chatting to each other. I call husband, J, and we discuss my problem. Yes, he says…I have the same problem at university in London. What shall I do? I say. Bust your way in he says. OK. But how to do it….?
Dear Miguel provides an opportunity, out of the blue. He has picked up, from class discussions, that me gusta cantar (I like to sing)…and the friend he is staying with doesn’t want to go along to an evening gospel singing class at St. Miguel(!) Church down near the beach in the Barceloneta area of the city….therefore, will I go with him instead?(!!). Yay! Miguel wants to be my friend! So..off we go. There, we meet a bunch of lovely, enthusiastic Catalans, one Frenchman and an American lady called Beth originally from NYC, all ready to sing ‘gospel’ songs, in English. I’ve forgotten the name of the choirmaster/guitarist…we’ll call him Carlos. Carlos runs us through some warm up exercises including standing us one behind the other for back massage. He divides us according to voice and is determined to ensure that our facial expressions exactly match the songs…so we practice looking sad and nostalgic as we fondly ‘remember Zion’ whilst sitting by the rivers of Babylon. When Miguel and I join Beth to ir de copas (go for a drink) afterwards…she said she was in stitches watching me clearly mouthing the lyrics to ‘I will survive’ to my intently watching neighbour; Carlos had decided she will learn the lyrics best by watching me, the native English speaker beside her. But…Spaniards do not really do hard English ‘v’s…just as native English speakers do not do the soft be/ve sound found in Spanish. Thus no amount of exaggerated mouthing on my part stops Carlos and the entire choir from thumping out their rendition of ‘I will surbibe!‘
By total coincidence, I find out while trying to talk to the staff from one of the big kitchenware tiendas (shops)…(I love kitchenware shops)…on Avinguda Diagonal, that I am in Barcelona during the time of their biggest annual festival – when they celebrate their saint – La Mercè (Our Lady of Mercy). Many shops (but not bars and restaurants) will be closed, especially on the last of the 4-day festival. We will be treated to concerts, parades of dragons, devils and giants; columns built of human beings (castellers), free entry to some museums, lots of ‘ir de copas‘ til late into the night and a massive Piromusical in one of the huge squares/avenues. I’m not fond of crowds (in fact I very much like space and time to myself), but it seems silly not to take advantage of being here at this time…so…what to do and who to go with? It struck me that although I appear to be the only one with a ‘friend’ problem…it was quite likely that even the youngsters might be experiencing the same thing. So, having got Miguel’s number, the next day, after Profesor N’s afternoon informal ‘discussion’ lesson with students from other classes…I tell everyone about the festival, obtain a few more numbers and create a Whatsapp group…on the basis that we can all contact each other if we want to do anything together. Friends sorted.