¿Habla Español? Poquito

Early winter morning and the woman at Dashi prepares my vanilla soy latte as we chat about summer and holidays. I mention a trip to Barcelona that I’ve always wanted to make. She tells me about her last trip to the Catalan city and how an inadvertent slip-up in coffee ordering had her drinking brandy at 8 o’clock in the morning. That sounds like my kind of town and trying the beverage makes its way up on my list of things to do.

The trip to Barcelona has been up there since high school due to a going away party for a friend’s brother. I’d never talked to him before but we spent the night dancing and the last few minutes saying goodbye. He is off to Spain to become an architect and I find the possibilities of long-distance romance quite enchanting. I write inspired letters with song lyrics and Spanish poetry. He writes back on one side of a torn out notebook page and adds the lyrics to Take My Breath Away on the back. The clichéd failure sits badly along my persistent inability to recognise his voice when he calls so the amazing romance never takes off.

The intrigue with Spain remains however and over a decade after the dance and two and a half years after the morning at Dashi, I arrive in Barcelona for a three-day trip on my own. Spain is hot and the journey begins with Lady Gaga singing the first and last song I remember hearing, ‘Just dance’.

I choose a stop too hastily on the way to the hotel. I walk down the Gran Via during the very warm siesta time and it takes a while before I get to my hotel but it’s one road and it’s straight. I am out the door soon after I check in and my biggest challenge is being comfortable alone in a city that’s not home.

I take my camera with me and it’s a brief few minutes before my focus shifts to my surroundings and not the glances. I disappear and take in only the streets and the buildings. Backpack in front, and camera around my hands and neck, I stop being a person of interest and become just one more tourist. So easy to get lost in a stereotype and I’m happy to oblige.

I take photos of everything and I barely pause to eat as that would take too long. Flauta d’ibéric d.o. jabugo is my favourite  snack along with Spanish coffee con leche, ‘no leche’. I tell people it’s because I forget that leche means milk but the truth is I don’t know how to say black coffee in Spanish – is it nero like in Italian or negro? I plead ignorance.

By the second day I need a new memory card for my camera. Habla Ingles I ask her behind the shop counter and she answers poquito. With some pointing and nodding we get along just fine. A friend in Barcelona gets in touch and over tapas that night I explain to him my quest for a coffee with a brandy and he tells me that I’m looking for a carajillo. We eat tiny baby octopus and various tapas followed by a dessert which gets drenched with a type of liqueur. A bottle of wine and a mojito later and I’m back at the hotel drifting off.

My walk to La Bocqueria on my last day is overloaded and weighed down. I sit at a bar and I order the pimiento and some seafood. I ask for the carajillo and encounter a language problem that I can’t resolve by pointing. He has a follow-up question and I can only assume it’s about what type of brandy to use. I stare blankly and shrug a lot, he stops asking and I get my drink. Success tastes strong, sweet and fragrant and Spanish coffee is a reason I would move there in a heartbeat. I smile when the man behind the counter indicates that the coffee is a treat from him and I walk away feeling tired. One thing off the list leaves space for something new but I put off thinking about that until winter comes along.

January 2010 and Dashi closes down in Bristol Temple Meads. Falling sales and rising prices. I buy my final coffee the day before it shuts but I don’t know that it’s the last time. I am out for dinner at El Puerto a few days later and the final item on a board just past the door is the carajillo – coffee with flaming brandy.

It’s not on my list anymore but I was right about the long distance love affair, it is utterly enchanting. Time to start learning how to order a café solo before summer perhaps. Love is a nice way to start the day.

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