Monday, October 29, 2012

A new focus

Seven a.m. is just too damn early and too cold. My down comforter envelops me in two different types of warmth, like hot mulled wine when the alcohol kicks in. I slip the sheets off my shivering body and scoot the cat, Gala, out of the bathroom to get ready in peace.
Then I remember:
The metro workers are on strike today. I’ll be late.
I swallow my oatmeal with fury as I shoo Gala away from the sandwich I have made for lunch. Hat, shoes, coat, scarf, keys – go.

Pounding the pavement outside my apartment, avoiding cobblestone, I dash towards the center of town to hail a taxi. I can’t miss my first class. Worry runs through my mind a few more times as I’m bounding towards La Puerta del Sol, ribbons of frost whipping my bloodless face. I spot a cab that says
LIBRE and raise my hand to it. The car pulls up to me in haste.
, I say as I swing the door open, rushing every movement. I glance in the rearview mirror. The driver is a cheery, middle-aged man with cheeks I can only describe as jolly. Rosy and smiling, he mentions that it is very cold outside. I agree, and I add that I’m from California, so I’m not accustomed to the below-freezing weather this time of year.

The conversation vacillates back and forth easily and without pause. It starts with the weather, flows to schoolwork, which leads to why I’m here, and eventually turns to a topical discussion about society as a whole in California compared to Madrid. We talk about vagabonds, Roman ruins, travel, poetry, New York, hippies, and it goes on.

Now, I haven’t been feeling incredibly encouraged about my Spanish conversation abilities lately, but in this conversation, I feel confident and self-assured. Though his accent is thick and he cuts many words short, I can understand and follow the discussion with ease.

When I arrive at school, he thanks me for the rich conversation and tells me that I am a girl with a lot of personality. When I try to thank him for that comment, he says, “It’s not something you need to thank me for. It’s something you either have or you don’t.”

I hand him the money and thank him again, wishing him a good day.

I realize my worries about being late have melted. Being late one day to class is not part of the so-called “big picture.” It’s a spot on my windshield that I can easily sweep away. Good conversations in Spanish with strangers are part of the reason why I am here. I want to experience the culture and empathize with the population here.

I am surely to remember these moments more than tests, papers, or lectures. I’m here to expand my outlook, and that’s just what I’m doing.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Learning a foreign language in the United States is like riding a bike with training wheels. In my case, I rocked a tricycle for about ten years. I'd go to class at my tiny all-girls' school, learn and recite grammar rules, and then innocently skip off to my next class, letting Spanish words escape my mind as I walked.

To put it mildly, those ten years of classes were incredibly deceiving. When I arrived in Spain, it was like someone took off my training wheels without warning and let me go (Still haven't forgotten that day, Dad). I thought I already knew how to ride a bike! I was coasting with the best of them!

Without those two extra wheels, I'm flat-out struggling. I'm forgetting words that I've known for years, mixing up verb tenses, butchering subject-verb agreements... It makes me wonder how I ever did well in my Spanish classes at Cal.

In my current state, I'm alternating between frustration and hope. Maybe I can get through a long sentence without stumbling or pausing to think. Or maybe I should have worked harder back in my college classes instead of taking advantage of the fact that my professors did not really care much about grammar or correct phraseology. This mental war with myself is exhausting, but I need to keep pushing through so I can get to the next stage of learning.

The light at the end of the tunnel: The more times I wipe the dirt off my scraped knees, the more I ignore the fear of falling, the closer I get to being able to ride a two-wheeler.