Saturday, May 16, 2009

San Sebastian So Far

This morning, I narrowly avoided missing the 7:40am train for San Sebastian. Now that I've made it, I feel a mixture of relief and excitement. Upon arrival, I was greeted by the familiar salt smell of the ocean - here was my first glimpse of the Atlantic! Much like the Oregon coast of my home, the wind picked up force as I drew close to the shore, bringing with it a definite chill despite the sunshine. Deep turquoise waves, blue skies, and green trees showing off their new springtime leaves; who could ask for more?

Well, you could ask for good food, and you'd definitely get it. Here in San Sebastian, the pintxos rule. And from my limited time here so far, they don't appear to be catering to the tourists, but rather the locals. Heading out from the hotel around 2pm, the beginning of peak lunch hour in Spain, the pintxo bars lining the streets were bustling with life. While my original intent had been to get a sandwich, I couldn't resist the pintxos. A block from the hotel, I chose a basic place with pub atmosphere, choosing one pintxo topped with a seafood salad, another with egg salad, and a spike of olives, peppers, and anchovies on a toothpick. Due to my lack of Spanish skills, I also managed to end up with a Heinekin instead of white wine, but the beer was actually a pretty good accompaniment to the salty olives and anchovies.

Ah yes - my Spanish deficiencies. I seem to know just enough to get me in trouble. Actually, I can often understand what people are saying to me fairly well, but find that I'm unable to respond in kind. Simple one word responses work best: si, no, bueno, etc. But even there I make mistakes. "Certo?" I replied in Italian yesterday when a woman seated next to me at La Boqueria told me that Juan was "lo mas mejor (the most important)" one in the market. And last night, when I called the shrimp at the tapas bar "camarones", I'm fairly certain the man behind the bar thought I had no clue what I was talking about - not that his assumption would be wrong. While I remember learning to call shrimp camarones in Spanish class, it seems here they are referred to as "gambas", closer to the Italian word for the same.

I also realized that my high school Spanish classes of fifteen years ago did not prepare me for travel in Spain. Sure, I came to Spain on a class trip when I was 16, but those circumstances were entirely different. For one thing, I wasn't ordering wine. It's from my botched attempt to order "uva blanca (or did I say vino bianca?)" that I wound up with today's Heinekin. My garbled words and confused expression must have led the waitress to figure that what the tongue-tied foreigner really wanted was a beer.

But I will keep trying, and hopefully some improvement will come. In the meantime, it's a good thing I'm not a picky eater - I never seem to know what I'll end up with!

No comments: