“I can’t believe how lucky I am” – I’m sure I’ve said this to myself more in the past 3 years than in my previous 35 combined. Just last Friday I was relaxing on the beach in Cambrils, Spain and found myself thinking, “I am really happy.” I feel a little shy about sharing these thoughts because I know it’s cheesy, but the thing is that I don’t write this blog for anyone else – I mean, I absolutely love that people want or are willing to follow it, but the driving force is that I want to have these posts to look back on to remember the details of my experiences.
I was on the beach in Cambrils this past week all because of the kindness of Álex, a 12-year old student of mine, and his family wanting to show me their gratitude. So I left Barcelona on Thursday at 11:00 and an hour and a half train ride later I arrived in Cambrils and was met at the station by Álex and his parents. We dropped my luggage off at their apartment and headed down to the beach.
The sand in Cambrils is as soft as can be and has a golden shine to it. When the sand gets stirred up in the sea, it looks like the inside of a snow globe with golden glitter dancing all around. The beaches south of Barcelona make up the “Costa Dorada” (The Golden Coast).
While his parents went right into the water, Álex and I walked up and down the beach all the while speaking in English. I was beaming with pride, so impressed that he was able to have a conversation in English. When I began teaching him less than a year ago, (along with his friends – twin boys who are 2 years older), he couldn’t speak even one complete sentence in English. It is beyond gratifying to see his growth – how he can now hold his own and was even able to help his parents out on a trip to London in July.
After an hour at the beach we headed back to the apartment for a feast of a lunch. Álex’s parents, who spoke with me in Castellano (Spanish) and Catalán, prepared a seafood sampler fit for royalty. There were platters overflowing with mussels, clams and razor clams (which I politely sampled) and langostines, shrimp and prawns, which I helped myself to over and over again until I was stuffed to the gills.
We finished lunch around 4:00 in the afternoon and while Álex’s parents took a siesta, he and I sat on the balcony, looking out at the sea, and played Connect Four – and I lost – every – single – time. Álex has a brilliant mind for all things logical and mathematical. We played countless board games (like Clue and Monopoly) during our 9 months of classes and I don’t think I ever won a single game against him.
After the siesta, we took a nice, leisurely stroll to a lighthouse and then on into town to see the shops. For dinner we went to a pizza place and Álex and I shared an 8-cheese pizza that took up about half of the table. The day of gluttony continued with dessert and a stop at their favorite ice cream shop. My two scoops (more like shovel-fulls) overwhelmed the medium sized cup and I was no match for the melting mess; good thing Álex’s mom lent me a hand.
When we got back to the apartment, Álex’s parents hung out on the balcony while we sat on the couch and practiced some language basics he wanted to work on. We made it like a game where he would say a number in English and then I would say it in Catalán and then we went through the alphabet that way too. When I tried to say the number 9 in Catalán “nou,” Álex tried his best to get me to pronounce it correctly. The sound (at least as I hear it) is somewhere between the sound of “now” and “no” and “no ooh.” After going back and forth at least nine times, Álex said exasperatingly, “NO, you keep saying it with an American accent.” So I said, “You know I’m American, right? So why does it come as a surprise to you that I’m saying this with an American accent?!”
Friday morning we headed to the beach after breakfast. I got to finally try my hand at “petanca” – a game that I see older men play in Barcelona and have always wondered how it works. For the beach version that we played, there were 4 sets of balls (red, yellow, blue, green) and each person gets 2 of the same color. Then there is a “boliche,” similar looking to a ping-pong ball. The first person (and subsequently the winner of each round) throws the “boliche” and then everyone basically takes turns to see who can get their balls closest to the “boliche.” First one to 11 wins. Beginner’s luck helped me to win the first game when I was teamed with Álex’s dad but my luck ran out when Álex and I took on his parents in the second game. By the time we finished, it was getting hot and we were all ready to head into the water to cool off. I floated in the sea and then lay on the beach and couldn’t remember a time that I had been so relaxed.
The previous day I had mentioned in passing how much I like and recommend a rotisserie chicken place in Barcelona that is near their house. So what did we have for lunch on Friday? . . . scrumptious rotisserie chicken from Cambrils. And Álex’s dad picked up a variety of ice cream bars for dessert – to be exact he picked up one of each kind of the Magnum bars that are the most decadent there are. He said he wasn’t sure which one I would like so he got one of each. I was overwhelmed with the way that Álex and his family went out of their way to cater to me and insisted on treating me to every part of my entire stay. They are an incredible family – so caring, such a great sense of humor and so kind.
My initial reaction to the family’s invitation was that it was so nice of them but then I was nervous, thinking that it would be awkward. My hesitations were quickly put to rest soon after I set foot in Cambrils, as it was apparent that we all got along like old friends. Álex and his family wanted to show me gratitude and it gave me another occasion to feel so grateful for the amazing experiences and opportunities that I have had.