Not a Story about Parking

Kirsten and I were walking to the car tonight, hoping to move its parking place to something a little less visible (parked as it is at the curb of Beverly and Catalina in a little spotlit space of its own) and a little more anonymous. Passing the spot I hoped to move it to, however, we found another car parked just in front of the spot. There was still room for me to move my car into place, but it wasn't clear if the two women in the car were preparing to move their car into what I conveniently thought of as my spot or if they were simply waiting in the fire hydrant zone for some foretold event.

We paused a moment before deciding that it wasn't worth trying to move the car into the spot if the two women were just going to park their car in the spot while we were moving my car from its precarious position, turned on our heels, and walked back to the apartment. We could have asked them if they were going to actually park in the spot that it looked like they were going to park in, but if I were going to ask them if they were going to park in the spot that it looked like they might park in, I wanted to ask in Spanish.

Problem is, my Spanish is less than good. It passes from time to time as properly spoken Spanish, but it's a limited thing, and on the walk back I thought a moment about how we're asked to evaluate our language proficiencies: One can be a native speaker, one can be fluent, but after that there's something of an ambiguous space for language. One can be an advanced speaker, but that might count for little on the street of some foreign-tongued land. Likewise, one might only be tested as one of intermediate proficiency and at the same time find oneself gabbing along in some distant souk. It all varies.

But in that brief walk back, I hit upon it: I would describe my language skills in architectural terms! This is, of course, not particularly novel. People have described memory, for example, in architectural terms for centuries; the method of loci, Wikipedia informs me, was a way of memorizing speeches by linking them to movement through an architectural space. All that said, this is what I came up with:

My Spanish is like an old house, now fallen into some disrepair. From a distance, it could almost pass for a dwelling, but up close you realize the windows have had bricks lobbed through them, a fire has gutted the bedrooms and the master bath, and the skylight over the kitchen has fallen in. Strangely, the foyer and the living room are strangely intact, enough to give the impression of a family only recently departed, but even sitting there long enough, you see the cracks in the wall, places where the insulation is sagging through the wallpaper.

Arabic, on the other hand, is an apartment thrown up in a hurry to rent out at a premium rent. It's kind of like moving to Koreatown into a just-renovated condo and finding that all of the repairs only glossed the surface. Again, it looks good from a distance, and it even functions as a domicile. But live in it long enough and you realize it has thin walls, loud neighbors, and that all of the new plumbing fixtures are prone to leaking in the middle of the night.

Then there's Turkish: I'd like to say it's like moving back into your parents' now empty house after long absence and finding that you only have enough furniture to fill two of the rooms. You know that there are supposed to be couches and a china set and a well-stocked linen closet, but for whatever reason, you're left to furnish an entire house with a sagging dorm futon from Wal-Mart and an overstuffed arm chair picked up from the curb. You're optimistic that things will change (Get a job, get a life, get things together) but the timeline on all of that is still a bit fuzzy.

As for English? It's grandmother's house: Stuffed with four decades of magazine subscriptions and an Erector set to which you've lost not only the directions but the motor that runs everything, English is where other languages come to live. Once I wondered if my English would ever be inflected by the Arabic I was learning, if I might be able to glean new ways of thinking about the English language by way of reflecting on the origins of Arabic (how, for example, the Arabic root of human might be linked to the root for forgetting). I'm not sure that it is, but grandmother's house is filled with relics of safari, a scrimshaw piece from her aunt who grew up on a whaling ship, the boardgames her sons used to fit over in the now dusty parlor.

All this because I couldn't find a parking space.


Jordan M said…
So, did you actually talk to them first to see if they really spoke Spanish, or just assume they did?
Timur said…
They were speaking in Spanish - and I'm sure we could have spoken English as well and made it through fine, but sometimes I like to plan ahead in my head how to say important things like, "Are you going to park there?"
Jordan M said…
You were scared, it's ok.
And did your car get jacked?
Timur said…
No, the car's fine - irrational paranoia.

As for being scared, I don't think that's quite the word: Reluctant, timid, not sure how to socialize with people because I still feel out of place in the neighborhood.

Popular Posts