I have a house. Well, I’ve said that before. But this is different. This is Sant Pere Mes Alt. There’s two other streets belonging to Saint Peter… Sant Pere Mes Mitja and Sant Pere Mes Baix. I love saying “Sant Pere Mes Baix” because in Catalan it’s very exotic sounding…”mess buy-sh.” I try to focus on the beauty of Catalan so I won’t get mad at it for not helping me learn Spanish. But I guess I’m done “learning” Spanish, that’s the easy part, now I am embarking on the 5 year journey towards proficiency. And more literally, I have to start learning idioms, curse words, technical vocab and so on and so forth.
I’ve realized that my biggest obstacle to achieving fluency in Spanish is my fear of making a mistake. I just choke up. Which is so weird because I am such a loud mouth in English. I thought I would be a natural at foreign languages because of my pretension to the mastery of English. I don’t know where I should be, but it seems like after sporadic high school Spanish classes, a year of Spanish 102, 201, 202, 301, 302, and eight months in Mexico City, I should pretty damn good at speaking Spanish… but I don’t feel like I am. I can communicate. But that doesn’t betray what is happening to my brain when I am talking. Let me put it simply…pain. My brain has to, literally, finger all the possible variations between SER and ESTAR and the IMPERFECT and the PRETERITE (we won’t even mention the fucking SUBJUNCTIVE here), before I can formulate a sentence about the past, even what I did just yesterday. I don’t know why I’m telling you this, it makes me feel embarrassed. Spanish is statistically the easiest language in the world for English speakers to learn, and the thought of moving on down the linguistic list (next French, then German, then Italian, Russian, etc.) is, well, no longer inspirational.
I had a new “intercambio” tonight, I had posted on Loquo, the Craigslist of Spain, a search for an “artistic” intercambio partner. I ended up meeting Ana, and amazingly interesting multimedia artist who does website design for a living. I couldn’t understand everything she was saying, and I mean, that’s the thing. Of course, I’m at a point where I can speak and understand basic Spanish, but the subtlety of “Ana” was lost on me. And, likewise, I couldn’t really express myself “in essence” to her. I mean we talked all night, for more than three hours, officially one hour in English, one hour in Spanish, the rest in Spanglish, but I couldn’t make a joke, couldn’t talk my somewhat slangy, somewhat poetic way to her, couldn’t be perverted, couldn’t even curse, couldn’t vent, couldn’t shade my mannerisms with subtle turns of language, WHICH IS SUCH A PART OF ME. Ok, well maybe it’s not like THAT devastating, but it did feel like I was half-assing a first impression.
But what can one do to convey the essential self in a foreign language? God, I guess I thought one could impress self-style on another person by clothing, music preferences, well-readness, mannerisms, gesticulations, etcetera, but even those don’t translate here. Ana and I get along, I think, but as far as forming a relationship like I had with my closest American friends, there is much to be desired. And even though I understand, and have even promoted, that a relationship with someone who doesn’t speak English, such as I had with Miguel Ángel in Mexico City, can be astoundingly un-boring and rewarding, there is a sense of sadness for me. I will never, even with a level of fluency, convey the linguistic nuts and bolts that define me. In this sense, and probably also in the new sense I have of being 30 years old, I mourn my departure from America. To be in New York City, sitting with cohorts around a big messy bar table, spitting rhetoric and arguing vehemently, to make puns, similes, allusions, coining -isms, breaking it down, daring perversions, dropping names, well, I’m thinking back on all of it, or towards it, and wondering if a similar intellectual synergy can be found as an “expat.” It doesn’t really matter because I’m not going back, I can’t, not yet. Though sad, lonely, lost even, I have to do this thing. Have to see and taste Spain and Italy and Argentina and Japan.
I have this house now, on Sant Pere Mes Alt, a street (can one call it that?) where there are no cars, only people, walking dogs, and carrying baskets full of roses, and bicycling, and laughing and loving. I’ll keep on missing America and not returning. I’ll keep trying to show Ana what I am made of, with or without words.