Yesterday, O took me and J to Tarragona, which is about a fifty-minute train ride from Barcelona. We managed to snag a four-seater and while we talked, O explained some Spanish words that I wrote down on my I Want to Learn Spanish the Slow and Informal Way page. Meanwhile, the scenery outside transformed from urban to rural and as the tracks met up alongside the Mediterranean, we had green and mountains on one side and deep azure blue on the other.
Sitting behind us was a group of Japanese guys around our age and occasionally we’d eavesdrop on their conversation. As we left the train, J overheard one of them saying, “The Spanish here sounds so different from what we were taught.”
J’d said the same thing about the Spanish she learned in school versus the Spanish here – the accent is completely different, and so it makes understanding the language more of an effort at times.
Me, I learned French, so for me the trip so far has been a game of, “Remember the French, figure out the Spanish, translate to English.” I’m also frequently catching myself trying to speak Japanese to the Spanish people around me, because that’s my default foreign language and the urge to use my default foreign language is stronger than my common sense. So when O’s mother says something to me in Spanish, my brain decides: “Ah, Spanish! Throw some なるほど back.”
In terms of second languages, I’m best at Japanese. I chose to learn it in college, so my motivation was strong. French, on the other hand, I learned because I had to. I started learning it in third grade because I lived in Vermont and my school seemed to think Vermont is in constant danger of a polite invasion from Canada so they only offered us French. When I arrived at high school, I had more choices, like Italian and Latin and Spanish, but my parents told me to stick with French since I had at least a (grudging) foundation in it. The fact that I hated French and French plotted my educational demise daily made no impact during my appeal process. Probably because my rebuttal was whined and accompanied by a sullen pout. Fourteen-year-old me had the words down pat, but not the delivery. So I was stuck with French. I remember my friends learning Spanish would sigh dreamily about how easy it was and how awesome their grades were. Meanwhile, I’d scowl in my gloomy French cave, covered in angry red Cs.
Back to Tarragona!
O told us Tarragona has a wealth of ancient ruins scattered around the city, so I – obsessed with ancient civilizations as I am – did a little dance in my head aaall the way from Barcelona to Tarragona. And, sure enough, one of the first things we saw of the city was the coliseum above. The city has some of the most beautifully old-and-new integrated architecture I’ve ever seen. Thick ancient stones pockmarked by sheer age slotted in a wall alongside crisp new bricks, crumbled ruins resting in the middle of a bustling square without a gate or a fence warning people away. It’s truly a city of old and new.
[European Union, Catalonia, Spain, Tarragon]
We paused on the side of the road to take photos of the sea. I imagined the same spot a thousand years ago. The difference in the view, the sounds of ancient languages and dialects, the feel of the road underfoot, the smell of the air.
And then we found a place to spill our Euros.
This shop was run by a man born in Germany of, if I’m remembering this right, Irish and English parents, living in Spain. He was very friendly and he explained some of the origins of the things he’d made in the shop. At one time, he said, he’d backpack around and collect shells that he’d make into jewelry or other crafts. I bought a keychain made from a thick ribbed shell and a cork.
Remember that stone thing I mentioned above? This is that.
Toward the end of the day, we found this side street with two rows of iron pillars. Each one was painted differently, and we had fun identifying each one as we walked.
[We think this is just Japanese gibberish. O and I walked in circles around it trying to make heads or tails of it, and I imagine we looked and sounded like we were trying to summon the Japanese god of pole dancing.]
[La vida és dulce. Life is sweet.]
We pretty much finished the day there. We went back to Barcelona intending to take part in the swing dance class O was teaching, but J had a sudden wave of extreme sickness, so O’s parents were kind enough to come pick us up. They’re so kind, I’ll have to name my firstborn after both of them. ♡