I went for a long walk today to the top of Montjuic, all the way up to the Olympic Stadium. There are some nice gardens and beautiful views along the way, and the ornate National Palace is visible the whole climb up. For the past couple of days there has been abundant sunshine, but the air is still cool, even chilly when the wind blows. It was a lovely day for a long walk.
When I neared the top of the hill, a man standing by a bus stop addressed me in Spanish as I passed by. He held a map in one hand and a cigar in the other, and he was gesturing at the map with the cigar. He was struggling to ask me a question. It seemed like he didn't really speak Spanish, but I didn't know for sure. "No hablo espanol," I said, holding my hands up to ward off further speech. He looked at me, and I looked at him. It was a strange, awkward moment. He had addressed me in halting Spanish, to which I responded "I don't speak Spanish," also in halting Spanish. What now?
I was reminded of an experience I once had in Paris. I went into an internet cafe one afternoon, intent on printing something out from a disk. I didn't know how to do it, so I needed to find an English-speaking employee to help. But when I walked in, instead of asking in French, "Do you speak English?" I asked, "Do you speak French?"--in French. It made no sense, and I was flustered and embarrassed. This language problem has always been and continues to be a vexing, almost phobia-inducing obstacle.
"I speak English," the man on Montjuic said finally. "Then I can help you," I said. He introduced himself--Luke--and said he was from Chicago; we shook hands. I pointed out the Palace as well as the Poble Espanol on his map, and we chatted briefly about what we were doing in Barcelona. "It's nice to find someone to speak English to," he said. We wished each other well.