Around a fire


Sometime over Christmas, a friend dragged me to someone’s cousin’s house somewhere in the middle of nowhere for a fiesta–not a fiesta for anything in particular, but a day of feasting nonetheless. There were about 30 people, and I was the only foreigner. Beer—Cruzcampo, free-flowing—began being handed out at 12 noon, long before lunch was served. By 3:00, there was guitar-playing and singing and dancing, and shouts of ¡Olé! all around. By 5:30, they had made a fire, around which the festivities continued, along with suggestions of “getting to know each other better,” or “putting you and my friend together, wink wink,” all made in good faith, and easy enough to refuse.

At 9:00, one of my friends—Spanish, male, inebriated quite—sat next to me and said, in English, and with greater confidence than I had seen him speak English in the years we’d known each other: “Averill, I hope the time will come when you will get to sit in a place like this with the rest of us and not think of it as a group of Spanish people singing Spanish songs and dancing like Spaniards.” He burped, continued: “I hope you will become so immersed in life in Spain that you will see this for what it is: simply, a group of friends sitting around a fire and having fun.”


Notes from the far side of the world

An earlier version of this article was published in the Manila Bulletin on April 4, 2012.

I write this from a computer I can hardly operate, hoping to make it in time for the Manila deadline. The document is entitled “Sin Titulo 1.” I have been on six flights to five cities in three weeks: it is the first time I have ever traveled alone, and the farthest I have ever been from home. Most importantly, no European romances have yet materialized for me; I don’t understand how they always happen in the movies during trips like this.

Still, there have been many other things I’m understanding better: the Spanish language, myself, my country, the world outside it and the worlds within. More than anything, I know for sure that San Miguel Beer is the best beer in the world.

Traveling has been fun, especially because I’m young: I’m curious enough to want to see things (like my first Picasso or Gaudi or real flamenco), stubborn enough to go find them (with a map, on foot or by bus or metro, and getting lost an obligatory five times), and naïve enough to be endlessly amazed by them when I do.

Barça briefs, anyone?

Barça briefs, anyone?

But what they don’t often tell you is that traveling is also, essentially, a lonely thing. It’s hard to be talkative when there’s no one to talk to, when no one understands (literally–lo siento, no lo entiendo). Sooner or later you will find that there is no one to call, even when you know locals or are traveling with a group, and you will have to learn that it’s okay.

To travel is to go an adventure in solitude. You must be able to sit with yourself for long periods of time without going crazy, and I’ve had only moderate success in this area. I’ve taken to writing more, and drinking more (which, in wine country, is acceptable behavior). Sometimes, I’d wake up in the early morning hours, check my watch, and catch myself singing, “It’s five o’clock in the morning / the conversation got boring…” Other than that, I think I’m okay.

Once, I had to buy moisturizer from the local drugstore to keep my skin from freezing to death. The saleslady and I spent several minutes pointing back and forth from L’Oreal to Olay to Ponds to Nivea. She was trying to give me facial scrub, I was trying to say, “I may have pimples but that’s not what I’m looking for.” Finally she got the hang of the charade, pointed to a moisturizer with an English translation, dia y noche, I answered si, and paid for it. I think it was the longest time I ever spent shopping. The point is that I was able to shop.

Because while cultural and linguistic barriers block you off and cause severe difficulty in some places (purchasing moisturizer, for instance), one of the most pleasant discoveries I’ve made in my adventures is that the desire to communicate can transcend these limits.

During my trip I paid a visit to the Andalucía, the replica of a 17th century Galleon ship, which incidentally visited the Philippines back in 2010. One of the engineers who built the Andalucía and actually sailed to Manila on it (which is enough material for another column altogether) proudly gave me a tour and talked animatedly, incessantly, the whole morning. He fumbled every so often, trying to find the right word in English, and I listened and understood. They were stories–of how it was built, how they first set sail, the inside jokes among the crew, the run-ins with sharks and fires and pirates that aren’t supposed to happen in real life but do. They had been many places, and had plenty of stories to tell, all surprising and amusing, and I wondered how much funnier or more exciting they would be if I could grasp them in their original language.

But perhaps the stories themselves were the language. Perhaps Spanish and English are too small to contain them. Everyone understands stories. In a way, I think, traveling is about finding stories to tell.

Because no good story every started with eating a salad.

Because no good story every started with eating a salad.

While walking across a bridge over a quiet river, my engineer friend asked me to stop and look up into the vast night sky. The streetlights burned bright; I couldn’t see the stars so clearly.

“Light pollution,” he muttered.

I strained to look as he, with sailor’s eyes, began pointing out different constellations, starting with Orion’s Belt. The pinpricks were faint, but they were there. I had never seen them before. We have always had them in our sky back home.

“Not all those who wander are lost,” wrote Tolkien truthfully in The Lord of the Rings. Ultimately, we wander in order to make our way home. I’m excited to come back. I’m no balikbayan, but I think I’ll join in the clapping when my plane touches ground in Manila.

It’s simple, you see: San Miguel Beer is the best beer in the world.

Buwan ng Wika Special: Spagalog 101

Hindi ko palalampasin ang Buwan ng Wika nang hindi nagsusulat ng blog tungkol sa mga natututunan kong kakaibang bagay tungkol sa wika. Mga 8 months na akong nag-aaral ng Spanish. Mayabang ako, pero hindi pa ako masyadong magaling. Sa katunayan, in moments of greatest testing, ganito ang nangyayari:

“Estoy ninenerbyos, porque tengo una entrevista en español,” bigla akong mapapasigaw, habang nakapila sa Puregold at pinag-iisipan ang (kawalan ng) direksyon ng buhay ko. “¡Qué katakot!”

Tinatawag ko itong Spagalog. (Spanish+Tagalog ang ibig sabihin nito, hindi spaghetti+gambas+itlog.)

Sabi nila pag Pinoy ka daw, hindi ka masyadong mahihirapang matuto ng Espanyol: kasi nga maraming mga salitang mahuhulaan mo ang ibig sabihin, at marunong ka nang mag-English at mag-Filipino, kaya medyo may alam ka na sa pag-aaral ng bagong wika. Totoo naman. Pero nakakalito din talaga.

Sa tinagal-tagal ng mga Kastila sa Pilipinas, napakarami nga naman talagang salitang nagkakatulad, nagkakaiba ng konti, at nakakaloko. I-she-share ko sa inyo ang sampung halimbawa:

1. Kung sa Ingles, tuna ang tawag sa tuna, sa Espanyol, ang tawag nila ay “atun.”


Ngayon alam ko na kung saan natin nakuha ang mga salitang noypi, erpats, todits at repapips.

2. Sa Espanyol, may salitang “demasiado” na ang ibig sabihin ay “masyado.”

In English, “too” or “exceedingly.” O kaya “super.” Use in a sentence: El hombre es demasiado guapo. Translation: Sobrang pogi nung lalaki.

Pero sa Tagalog, pag sinabi mong “‘di masyado”… Di masyadong gwapo, di masyadong matalino. Wag na lang.

3. Sa kanila din galing ang salitang “casilla.” Ang ibig sabihin nito ay “hut.”

Hindi ito lugar kung saan nagna-number 2 ang mga espanyol. Hindi ito plural (casillas), unless dalawa o higit pa ang casillas mo. Kung may maganda kang kubo ka sa beach, casilla ang tawag dito. Hindi ito kadiri.

Ang hula ko, dati kasi jumejebs yung mga tao sa isang hut sa labas ng bahay. Tawag ng mga Kastila, casillas, o hut, at ang tawag ng mga Pinoy, kasilyas, o banyo. Pero Kastila ang salitang baño at ang ibig sabihin nito ay…


4. Ang merienda at cena ay dalawang magkaibang bagay.

Ang merienda ay merienda at ang cena ay hapunan. Magkasunod sila pag nilista mo lahat ng kinakain mo sa isang araw, pero hindi iisang bagay na katulad ng paggamit natin ng “merienda cena” dito sa Pilipinas.

5. Kung ang Pilipino nagsasabi ng “pwede,” ang espanyol naman ay may dagdag: “puede ser.” Pareho ang ibig nilang sabihin.

Ang puede ay present tense third person singular ng salitang poder (can, may): it can. Ang ser ay ang Spanish equivalent ng “to be.”

Tao ba ‘to, tao? “Puede ser.” Bagay? Hayop? Pook? “Puede ser.” Gamit sa bahay? “Puede ser.”

Nagalit ang nanay ko dito kasi chauvinist daw. Dapat daw pwede rin (puede ser tambien) ang “puede mam.”

7. Meron namang mga salitang halos kapareho lang ng gamit natin, may ilang pagkakaiba lang sa spelling o accent.

Katulad ng mesa, tenidor, libro, carne, zapatos, coche, guapo, presidente at cerveza. At ang mga paburito (favorito) ko: bigote, barba at calvo.

la foto

8. Merong mga salitang ginagamit natin sa Filipino na may kaunting pagkakaiba ang ibig sabihin sa Espanyol.

Pag sinabi nating graciosa, ibig sabihin ay gracious. Pero sa Espanyol, ang ibig sabihin nito ay witty.

Pag sinabi nating aburido, ibig sabihin troubled o di mapakali. Sa Espanyol, ang aburrido (double r) ay bored o boring.

At ang pinaka-nakakalito sa lahat: ang ibig sabihin ng derecho ay deretso, pero ang derecha ay kanan.

9. Dalawang Mahalagang Tips sa Pagsakay ng Taxi:

Una sa lahat: Wag kang sasakay kung ang taxi ay hindi LIBRE.

taxi libre esp

Isang libreng taxi sa Barcelona, Spain

Isang libreng taxi sa Mexico City

Isang libreng taxi sa Mexico City, Mexico

NGUNIT: Kahit LIBRE ang taxi, kailangan mo pa ring magbayad.

9. Kapag nagkaroon ka ng problema habang nagbi-biyahe sa Espanya (hindi yung Espanya na may baha), at pag kinailangan mo ng tulong, o naligaw ka, dapat kang lumapit sa…

guardia civil

Guardia Civil.


Oo, Guardia Civil.

Wag kang matakot. Hindi ka nila sasaksakin ng bayoneta (hindi na sila gumagamit nito), ikukulong o gugulpihin pag hindi ka nakapag-pakita ng cedula (maliban na lang sa kung pinunit mo, ibang usapan na yan). May kaibigan nga akong nanghihingi ng direksyon sa Guardia Civil kahit hindi naman siya naliligaw dahil kadalasan, pogi sila.

10. Kapag tumawa ang mga Espanyol sa WhatsApp, Viber, email at Skype, ganito ang tawa nila:


Hindi sila jejemon, Espanyol sila.

Isang tumatawang caballo

Isang tumatawang caballo