“The pressure of adversity does not affect the mind of the brave man… It is more powerful than external circumstances.”
a Lesson on Learning Languages
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
– Theodore Roosevelt, Citizenship In A Republic, delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France23 April, 1910
Without hesitation, I can freely admit that my español is terrible. Maybe “middling” at best. Weekly Spanish lessons have propagated a sharp increase in my everyday, conversational speech, but the eureka sensation has yet to sprout. On my own, I read poems written by the likes of Federico García Lorca and Alejandra Pizarnik, with the aid of SpanishDict! and Google Translate. Actually, this is how I came to the realization that when compared to English, Spanish is completely backwards! When everyone around you is speaking the language that you’re still in the process of learning, it’s almost impossible to be immune to the pangs of inadequacy, or even stupidity. The common Spanish phrases that are used to inoculate these pangs are “tranquilo” and “poco a poco”. The sentiment is present, though if you’re anything like me, these phrases will frustrate more than alleviate grammatical vexations.
I am ambitious. I fancy to attain fluency in a matter of weeks after first initialization, so maybe I’m more impatient than anything else. However, if I have learned anything about language-learning whilst traveling and living abroad, it would have to be that to learn, one must practice.
Fail at speaking the language!
Practicing What I Preach
The plane alighted in Sofia, Bulgaria around 1AM. De-boarding was relatively easy since I only travel with carry-on luggage, as well as the time was late enough for the tiny airport to not receive too much air traffic. I managed to find a taxi driver almost immediately, or rather, he found me. The drive to the hostel was super quick and light. Neither the taxi driver nor I had much to say to each other. In fact, even when we got to the hostel and I was duly ripped-off on the price — a price that is extremely laughable — I didn’t exchange more than a few words with him. This isn’t because of the time, our individual moods, nor due to a mutual, instantaneous disdain for one another. The onslaught of silence was perpetuated by the lack of possible words that we could’ve said to each other that would be understood. It may come as a surprise, but the Bulgarian dialect and the English language are completely different! The alphabets are different from each other too! How could we possibly have had a conversation when I couldn’t even say “hello” in the native tongue?
Well, when I got inside the hostel, I was determined to right that wrong. For five minutes upon first introductions, I had the hostel receptionist repeat “hello” in Bulgarian until I could accurately pronounce it. This was at 2AM. Bless her soul, she is a trooper for dealing with my curious antics at such an early hour.
Over the following two weeks, I acquired some basic words, greetings, and questions to add to my Bulgarian language repertoire. I committed a TON of errors, but I wouldn’t have progressed without asking questions and speaking the language.
I then translated this working theory into learning basic Turkish, Italian, and Slovenian. While I am not fluent in any of the four languages, I was able to understand the conversational flow for each of them. This was incredibly eye-opening, as well as entertaining, considering the amount of time I spent in each country.
Ambition doesn’t prohibit humility or modesty.
Re-read that last sentence again. It can be tailored for any and all goals and aspirations.
I might have a dismal Spanish vocabulary and grammatical knowledge, but I am comfortable with speaking, writing, and reading in Spanish. I might not have attained fluency yet, but I have accepted my own deficiency.
Fallar, preguntar, probar, y mas importante, estar humilde.
pizarnik__alejandra_-_poesia_completa – Poesia Completa by Alejandra Pizarnik. A huuuugggggeeeee pdf to read at your own leisure.
http://www.hostelmostel.com/ – The best hostel in Sofia, as well as Veliko Tarnovo. A bit biased, but oh well!
http://www.spanishdict.com/ – AHHHHHH, the more precise and accurate alternative to Google Translate. This company has a mobile application that works offline as well! Perfect for wandering through any Spanish-speaking country.
Здрасти (‘zdrasti) ZDRAHS-tee – hello (informal) in Bulgarian.
Beneath Madrid, There Is A Community Of Creatives…
Aridity strikes me upon first entering into the furtive, literally underground, art gallery. I shouldn’t be too surprised though, since the location of this gala was imparted to me through sideways glances and hushed whispers. This is one of the last places to go to in Madrid that has not been industrialized nor soiled by heavy tourism. This is the real, seedy, creatively prosperous Madrid.
Finding the massive gray door was surprisingly a challenge since it’s placed in a location that goes unnoticed in plain sight — comparative to one of the many same-colored doors in Manhattan that most people tend to walk by without a glance, unless you are a resident, of course. I was fortunate that the door was unlocked and unbarred, for I had been forewarned that the location is closed off occasionally. The aridity of the plain manila walls upon entrance was underwhelming. The room was host to a barrage of embattled and tattered clothing that had been donated and strewed across white racks, white tables, and the dirty, white tiled floor. I had walked into an alcove of secondhand treasures and I kept on briskly walking past it. Today was not the day that I was to grapple with a Madrileño over a torn t-shirt; nein!
After ascending a small flight of stairs, I was greeted by sticker-ridden dividers that separated the two rooms. Sucking in one last breath of air, I pushed aside the flaps. The succeeding room opened up into a dark, damp, abandoned space. Graffiti marked all available space, exactly what I had been promised. The word ‘graffiti’ doesn’t do the markings and murals any justice however — this was true art. There were depictions of a swimmer performing front strokes around the circumference of the room fused with bright, vibrant clothing squeezed together to emulate faces reminiscent of a Picasso painting. I was astounded and awed, standing stolidly in the center of the room, swiveling my body in a perfect circle to soak in the view. Banners of black and white tags littered the ceiling, carving a path to the dilapidated stage in the back of the room. I didn’t dare hop on stage and perform a little jig, but I sure-as-hell felt like moving. And moving I did, at least, moving down the ramp and into the basement.
The basement broke off into two different pathways; one veering left, the other veering right. I chose the right path since I could see around the corner. Every inch of these walls were demarcated with vivid paintings, bold fills, and dark, counterculture themes. Fluorescent lights cast spotlights onto the artwork, leaving me to slink through the shadowy middle of the lane. The archaic lanes resembled the labyrinthine maze of Ancient Greece. I half-expected to walk upon a rampaging minotaur! I was in luck since no minotaurs were found, but I did stumble upon a rampaging garage band at a dead-end in the puzzle. The music was blaring in their neon-orange lit room that was tucked away in the back of the maze. I listened to their jam session for a few minutes and then continued my trek through the labyrinth.
Weaving my way through room after room, I came across an entrance to the outer walls of the building: the courtyard. It was drizzling, but that didn’t stop me from going out to explore the hidden gems in the massive backyard. Larger-than-life murals were painted on walls and garages alike, but what stuck out to me the most was the verdurous garden growing in the back of the backyard. A substantial amount of plants had apparently been growing for sometime now, leading me to conjecture that it is a community garden. I wandered through the brush and then sauntered over to an entrance of a gloomy building.
Inside, I was greeted by a saturnine fellow perched on a rickety white lawn chair. I said my courtesies and then proceeded to snap some shots of the spacious room, which I believe was previously a gymnastics gymnasium. This proved difficult and uncomfortable though. Difficulty lay in the dismal amount of lighting; uncomfortableness resided in the frosty, unrelenting stare of the pseudo-bouncer in the chair. After getting a shot that I was OK with, I gathered myself and briskly walked into the room at the end of the building.
PSA: If you ever feel uncomfortable because of the presence of a mysterious, shady character, NEVER, I repeat, NEVER walk into a room that only has one exit.
Lime green pillars trickled down to meet the burgundy floor, all cast in a late afternoon shadow provided by the slitted window. It is an eerie experience, a seemingly haunted room. I’m relieved to find that it is still in use, ghosts or not, when a squadron of dancers enter moments later. The space is apparently used as a dance studio, to my utter surprise. I vacate the premise due to the fact that I had left my ballerina pumps back at my apartment.
The sun began to set outside, thus sparking the desire to find my way out of this maze. The murals twisted and turned, my vertigo spinning with each bend. I came across a myriad of dilapidated rooms, all of which were in use. I walked into an art studio, where creatives were hard at work constructing prints on an elongated mahogany table; a recording studio, where Senegalese were blasting reggae, dancing away their troubles (and the smoke); a bathroom, where the toilet was indistinguishable from what went inside of it. All of this warrants a certain attention that I happily doled out. Now that I was lost in the labyrinth again, all sense of time withered, as well as my aforementioned panic.
After what felt like an eternity, I came across the entrance from whence I came, and reemerged into the dank, dark room. I peered around one last time, and then stole my farewells with me back out onto the streets. Outside, it was as dark as it was underground, although bereft of all the amazing art that I had just witnessed.