Monday, May 20, 2013

How do you say...?

I have no soap.

I will need soap.

During my trip I would like very much to approach people I meet for advice and directions without them spraying me with disinfectant or fleeing in the general direction of away.

This will need to be addressed.

With one week until Dublin, I suddenly began to realize how much stuff I still needed, like a travel-sized tube of toothpaste, a European electric outlet adaptor (if these things do in fact exist as would seem to suggest), a bandana (Why? Did I not say this was an adventure? I mean, I do want to be taken seriously), fingernail clippers, an American dollar (so that I can trade it for its' EU counterpart - about 32 cents), more clothes than I originally packed (because the idea of doing laundry every three days is slightly less appealing than scrubbing my toilet with a toothbrush and then returning it to the medicine cabinet for regular use), and a phrasebook (you know, in case I actually had to communicate with someone in something other than English or grunts and hand gestures).

I began to realize the potential importance of the final item just this weekend as I listened to my girlfriend, who is a native Spanish speaker, talk to her mother. They spoke with an eloquence and softness that had a beautiful, almost musical quality to it. The way they rolled their r’s and annunciated every vowel with accents in all the right places was spellbinding.

It was truly something special to watch and at once I was overcome by the realization that I did not understand one damn thing they were saying.

In my mind they were bantering about philosophy and astronomy and great novels, but really they could have been talking about the dingleberries accumulating on the dog’s backside, or how creepy I looked just now staring at them.

At times I attempt to speak Spanish with them. If you were to review my college transcript, you would be right to assume this well within my abilities given that I took three years worth of holas, casas, and te quieros in college, but you'd be mistaken.

I can barely order from Taco Bell successfully. I am really quite awful. Bad enough that when I tried to tell her family early in our relationship that my fluency with the language was embarrassing I said, "Estoy embarazada."

Turns out the word for embarrassed is avergonzado or something equally impossible to remember.

Instead of explaining that my grasp of the Spanish language was something of an embarrassment for me given the extensive time and tuition I had spent in college toward that pursuit, I had actually informed her family that, "I am pregnant."

This is still something her father has not fully accepted.

I listened to them speak a language that I have extensive experience with and still found myself as lost as Sarah Palin in a library. I began to wonder how I would possibly hope to communicate in German or Italian or French or whatever language they spoke in the Czech Republic.

(Note to self: find out what language they speak in the Czech Republic)

In an attempt to rectify this potential catastrophe I popped into the bookstore a couple miles from my home and began patrolling the travel section for something that might benefit my language deficiency.

There were shelves upon shelves of books devoted to helping you find your way around Ireland and Switzerland and so on. Because I am easily sidetracked, I began thumbing through them. There was so much more to know about these countries than the guidebook I had purchased a month ago led me to believe. The one I had bought was a review of the whole continent with small chapters on individual countries. These were so much more in-depth and, by God, there were pictures!

Surely I would need these. I snatched up one after another for every country I thought I might wander into at some point in my journey. I began piling them up on one shoulder with the precision of someone playing Jenga during an earthquake. Every book I saw was packed full of delightfully comprehensive information about the places I would be visiting.

And then somewhere around Slovenia it hit me. Well, to be more accurate it hit the floor.

The sheer weight of these books was immense and my left arm being of finite strength, I could no longer support the load. My pack at home already weighed 33 pounds and with the added weight of these new books I was fairly certain the scale would need to have an exponents feature for a precise gauge of its’ weight should I add these guides.

And the cost! At $17 to $26 apiece I had spiked almost $300 in books on the floor. This wasn't a winning investment I decided and carefully placed the books back on the shelves making sure to stock the ones whose corners had been damaged by the fall in the back.

I gave a quick glance around to see if anyone had noticed my act of vandalism and, convinced I had evaded detection, swiftly exited the bookstore.

It wasn't until I got halfway home that I realized I had neglected to purchase or even look for a phrasebook. If it had not been for rush hour traffic perhaps I would have turned round, but I was able to convince myself I had gone too far.

Maybe I will return to the bookstore this week before I leave. Perhaps I will wing it alone in a country where I don't speak the language and cannot ask where the nearest toilet is in case of emergency.

Was that not part of the excitement of being in a new place - the thrill of the unknown?

Perhaps foolishly I persuaded myself that I was resourceful enough to survive without being able to communicate or read the arrivals and departures board at a train station.

After all, it might make for a better story to tell.

And if things really got out of hand, I did have the bandana.

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