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Tales of the City


It’s been an embarrassing lapse of time. Spain was so vivid that it’s been almost entirely bleached out in the past weeks, from over-exposure. We were the least experienced, least prepared visitors, crippled linguistically and clinging to the dictionary and phrasebook. We tried, in order to offer some degree of cultural respect, gesture of friendship. We looked foolish.

In Barcelona, on a searingly hot day, I sought an iced mocha. We went, exhausted, into the Hotel Zurich, a rather posh place (we discovered too late) near the Place de Catalunya. I’d like an iced mocha, I said, embarrassed, flustered, thirsty. The waiter, a distinguished man of impeccable carriage, said a reluctant ‘si’ and began slowly fumbling around for the espresso machine. All of the waiters eyed me up in a tut-tut manner before a younger man approached me in order to tell me it wasn’t possible. No, no, no, said all the others, relieved that the truth had been told at last, that they could leave iced mochas to Starbucks. So I cobbled together more hesitant Spanish to suggest an iced coffee with milk instead. SI! Said the distinguished waiter with pleasure and threw himself into the creation of the coffee. Ah, said the faces of the waiters, she does it the right way, the Spanish way. This is what we drink now, in Barcelona, in the Café Zurich, on the terrace, in summer. There we go, the waiter said, handing me a cup with coffee, milk, ice, sugar, the plastic-stirrer; You have beautiful Spanish.

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