Well, the years of living in Spain must have counted for something: the guided tour around the houses of Los Indianos in Sitges in Spanish was basically understood by me as long as I concentrated. And therein lies the rub. Art, poetry, gastronomy, swimming, music, literature and so on and so on - they are all more interesting than studying Spanish for me.
As a past language teacher I should find the acquisition of a new mode of communication an exciting challenge. The trouble is, I don’t. And don’t think that I haven’t rehearsed all the possible arguments in favour of knuckling down and getting stuck in and putting various parts of my anatomy to gyrating rough surfaces, I have. And I have yet to be convinced.
You would think, would you not, that someone with my proven inability to keep silent on any subject completely irrespective of how much, or indeed if any, knowledge informed my contributions, would embrace the chance of finding another mode of expression. But no. I do my homework with sullen resentment and little sticks. I have gone over verb endings (-í, -iste, -ió) in various modes (-ía, -ías, -ía) and at various times (-é, -ás, -á) and I still look at such constructions with unalloyed, clear, blank, incomprehension.
And Spanish has two verbs for the English verb ‘to be’ so ‘I am’ can be ‘yo soy’ or ‘yo estoy’! So, the English sentence ‘I am ill’ can be written in Spanish as either ‘Yo soy infermo’ or ‘Yo estoy infermo’ - but they mean different things. And you probably wouldn’t use the ‘Yo’ in Spanish either, because the verb form tells you the person. So, ‘Estoy infermo’ would indicate that you have something like a cough that you hope will clear up soon, while ‘Soy infermo’ means that you are permanently ill. That’s quite a useful differentiation, but not useful enough to merit having to use two different verbs, when the use of an explanatory phrase might clear things up! But one has the learn the language as it is and not as one would like it to be. And English has phrasal verbs that are revenge enough for Spanish learners of our tongue!
Anyway, I was quite pleased with myself for following a fairly detailed social, historical and architectural wander through the narrow streets of Sitges and there were always English speaking friends to fall back on in the group when the sheer concentration on sequences of foreign words just got too much!
I got more pleasure from finding out that the name Sitges is derived from the word for silo! There was, in times past, a small natural harbour near what is now the church and a brisk trade in the commodities that were stored on the shore in silos. These silos were used for twenty years or so and then demolished and new ones built. For archaeologists the delight is finding one of these disused silos because they are always filled in with rubbish, but historic rubbish, the bits and discarded pieces of what our ancestors thought worthless, broken and lost. They were described by the guide in enthusiastic terms because of the ‘treasures’ they reveal to modern eyes.
We went to Sitges by train and I cycled up to the station, as there are racks and bicibox to store bikes. As my bike is a fairly flash electric number I am very much disinclined to leave it on public display - even with the sturdy steel jointed lock that looks the business. Far better to have my tastefully blue bike hidden from questing eyes. The bicibox is a sort of Nissan hut looking construction that has a series of slotted covers that can be raised by the resting of a special credit card sized ‘key’ on the operating pad of the ‘hut’. A screen will inform you of the available spaces for your bike and you can select a ‘box’ open it and place the bike securely inside. That, at least is the theory. For the first time in my experience I found that all the spaces in the bicibox outside the station had been taken.
There was a Plan B. Behind the station in a large car park for the commuters who go to Barcelona every day there is another bicibox. I confidently cycled a couple of minutes to that box and took the last available space. Never before have I experienced such demand - even by the station. I fear that what was a good idea used only by the few has now become an accepted way of bici life! This is disturbing because if I cannot put my bike in one of these bici boxes I will not leave it out in the open air when using the train. And for two full bici boxes there is no Plan C. I will have to give this some thought.
Which I have now done and I have reminded myself that there is a third bici box a hundred yards away form the front of the station in the car park by the church. So that is Plan B, but what do I do if all three of the bici boxes are filled? There really is no Plan C - apart from returning home and taking the car! Which rather defeats the whole idea.
I am typing this with the Diana Newall book, ‘Art and its global histories: A Reader’ lurking tauntingly or teasingly on my left. The ideas from yesterday’s read are still fresh in my mind and I yearn for more information. I have just opened the book at random in the section for ‘Art, commerce and colonialism 1600-1800’ and have seen a primary source text entitled:
‘Iohn Huighen van Linschoten. his discours of voyages into ye Easte & West Indies Deuided into foure books (London: John Wolfe, 1598)
that the Reader informs me is, “one of the great travel narratives of the early modern period” - as any fule kno! Well, I didn’t. But do now, and I love that sort of thing! And the spelling has been modernised for ease of reading - who can ask for more!
I have replayed the interview of Alfonso Dastis, the foreign minister of the minority right wing National Government of Spain and Tim Sebastian (see yesterday’s blog) for the unadulterated pleasure of seeing an over-confident Conservative apologist discomforted.