I took a train from Bilbao to Madrid. I met an old woman and we talked about Valladolid as it passed by the window. In 2007 I lived in Valladolid for 5 weeks. It was a working class town that gave me a nice insight into everyday Spanish life. It was also my first experience abroad without my family. I was with my professors from Bloomsburg most of the time so it gave me a false sense of confidence before going to China later that year. I had partied in Spain for five weeks. How could an industrial city on the North Korean border possibly challenge me?
The train pulled into Madrid and it was another 20 minutes on regional rail to Coslada. Eric was there waiting for me at the station. Eric was one of my closest friends in high school; in fact, our mothers joined together and threw us a combined party on our 18th birthday. He met a wonderful Spanish woman, Zaida, and married her. When I arrived they had a 3 month old son. We hadn’t seen each other for more than 7 years and I was excited to see him and hear his stories about teaching on Native American reservations in North Dakota and his other adventures. I was also excited for the solo room and good night’s sleep; I’m all hosteled out.
The bed and reunion were both great, as was meeting his son, but it was the endless supply of gazpacho that really stole my heart. I slept and ate to my heart’s content.
The next day I woke up refreshed and took the train into Madrid. I arrived in Plaza de Sol and got lost as soon as I could. I had some Korean food where the waitresses spoke Chinese and I patted myself on the back. I found my way to HanSo cafe on Pez street to write a bit. It was a cool cafe and there was Pu Erh tea again. Then I walked around that block until I found a Chinese restaurant and had myself some eggplant and another pat on the back.
The next day we went to Alcalá together so I could see his English school. There was a medieval market so I walked through it a few times and sat for fresh paella. Then it was time to visit Eric’s school. He named it EZ academy, I’m assuming after Eric and Zaída. In high school he was always elected vice president and had a knack for creating slogans like EP for VP (his last name starts with a P) and then after that it was EP for VP for repeat. No one else stood a chance. Actually, I spent a good hour or two the other morning trying to figure out what an elected official does in high school. Now that I think of it, my junior high had a president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer. Do they really have different jobs? I can’t imagine being saddled with the task of organizing reunions for the rest of my life just for the glory of high school presidency. Anyway, EZ Academy, a brilliant name. The school itself had a great atmosphere and everybody, teachers and students alike, were smiling and laughing the whole time.
I sat in on two classes. The first was with two gym teachers. They wore gym shorts and soccer jerseys. One was a forty-something phys ed teacher named Bruno and the other was a younger guy who worked at a gym. Eric had designed their English class to center around sports and they learned via athletic terms. In fact, Eric started this class by having them teach us physical warm-ups in English. So we dribbled invisible balls around class and passed them to each other. We got to talking about some random things and eventually the documentary Pumping Iron was brought up and I started giggling. Yes, I was giggling. This is a movie that follows Arnold Schwarzenegger as he attempts (successfully) his sixth Mr. Universe title. But whenever anyone mentions this documentary, all I can remember is the speech he makes where he says that after he lifts weights his muscles are flushed with “pump” and it feels so good that he claims he’s cumming while he’s lifting weights, cumming directly afterwards from the “pump”, and then goes home to have sex so he’s basically cumming all the time. It’s arguably one of the greatest moments caught on film. Eric and the students thought that I was laughing at the way they pronounced his last name and they joked about trying to say “Schwarzenegger” correctly, but I insisted that no, no, they said it perfectly. Then they asked what I was laughing about and I stuttered a bit and looked at Eric, thought that I shouldn’t continue, but then shrugged and blurted out the whole thing about cumming constantly. Bruno looked at me without speaking and the other student had absolutely no idea what it meant so I explained it further. “You know, when he’s talking about feeling so good after lifting weights that he’s cumming all the time.” I glanced at Eric and he continued to stare at me while smiling and I could see his brain working out how to walk through this one. He graciously shifted gears to translating words for orgasms for a few minutes and then got right back on track with phrases used in gym classes.
The next class was with three students at a more advanced level of English and Eric had a prepared a lesson talking about polyglots. A polyglot is someone who speaks more than one language. I read stories about people who spoke more than 70 languages. Francis Sommer had mastered 94 languages.
We read articles about polyglots in English and one paragraph stuck with me.
Many polyglots wince at being called superhuman. “It’s more like a musical talent than anything else,” says Kenneth Hale, a linguistics professor, who speaks about fifty languages. “I didn’t do very well as a student. I wanted to learn languages, and I let everything else slide.” Their motivation, they say, is the sheer delight of mastering a new form of expression.
We talked about the word “wince”, and the phrase, “letting it slide”, and then one of the students, a yoga teacher with curly blonde hair, and I had a debate about languages being like a musical talent, with me arguing that it’s merely a matter of understanding rhythm – if you can feel the rhythm of a song then it’s the same as languages. I thought about the tour guide my Dad and I had in Brussels and how even though his level of vocabulary was high, his English sounded awful because he spoke it in the rhythm of French.
Eric told them that I spoke Chinese and I got up and gave a lesson in the history of Chinese characters, drawing the simplified version and then the pictures they originated from. My favorite is the character for “west” and how it comes from a picture of birds sitting on their eggs as the sun went down – in the west.
“East” is originally a sun rising in the trees.
But I always make sure to write “sky”, with the straight line at the top to show that nothing is above the sky.
And then I correct myself that there is a word considered above the sky, it’s husband. I slowly draw the line above the top and I glance around the room for the reaction. Usually it’s “Ohhhhhhhhhh shit.”