“How much does this apartment cost?” I asked Cheng, my Chinese roommate.
She looked confused. “Cuanto cuesta este piso?” We stare at her macbook screen, looking at pictures of tiny euro spaces in Barcelona. I agreed to go with her to look at a new apartment (though I’m leaving this weekend & I should be booking my train ticket to Madrid). Anyways, I said yes; it’s nighttime, and she’s very small. She is also very kind and sociable, so maybe her attitude will be as contagious as her flu (I am an absolute Grinch right now). It’s down the street from our current apartment, and walking– we found the apartment in about 15 minutes (we payed the language school that payed for our current apartment, and they ripped us off).
Communicating with her is a laborious task. I’ve been grumpy lately, because I’m away from my family & dogs . . . but I mire through our conversation as best I can. We climbed up five flights of stairs, “muchas escalaras! cuando tu tienes comestibles, lo sera muy dificil,” I mumble. Knowing she probably won’t understand, but trying anyways.
I gesture wildly, like a cracked out mime. My index and middle finger fly through the air, trying to imitate two legs walking up stairs. After a few more spanish words and embarrassing gestures, I communicate my message. We arrive to the top of the stairs, and a slim woman appears at the door. A stream of Castilian words fill the air, French and Spanish blend euphoniously; I don’t understand any of it. She sees the confused look on our faces and swiftly asks “English or Spanish?” My mind returns to the moment, I was taking a mental note; I must watch Bill Murray’s “Lost in Translation” again. Why had I not watched it earlier during this sojourn in Spain? Was Scarlette Johansson in that? Does it take place in Japan?
We wander around the narrow halls, and Cheng speaks to her potential landlord. I wait outside in the hall, because I’m tired and feel claustrophobic. I want a cigarette, but I’ll wait until we’re outside. Cheng skips into the hallway, gives me a thumbs up and we head down the stairs. I ask if she liked it; she said yes. I asked her if rent was reasonable; she looked confused. I made a rudimentary money sign by rubbing my thumb against four fingers (how did this come to symbolize money in the first place? It seems more like a gesture I’d use to rub something sticky, or dried glue, from my fingertips). She understood and responded.
This interaction made me realize, how effective, really, are words? Regardless of their sincerity, sometimes words aren’t adequate. Sometimes language just doesn’t cut it. Maybe I’ll look for a copy of Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” in Spanish, if memory serves me, I believe that was a major theme.
All in all, I’m in a cynical mood. I love language, but it seems inadequate lately (or maybe my brain is lacking). I’ll have to find another channel for communication.
I’m thinking dance will prove both worthy and comical as a medium . . .