Lemon sole

Lemon sole

(The day I befriended a Cobbler)

It was early January and I was ready to challenge myself again. I needed to find a way to overcome the “7-month silence” that I was experiencing after Navidad. Already-fluent friends reassured me that this was a perfectly normal stage of language learning. It’s the stage where you understand more and more (you might even get a buzz from listening in to someone’s conversation in a café). But when asked a simple question, you clam up and appear to have forgotten everything you have ever learnt! (You certainly would if asked: “Why are you listening to my conversation?” This didn’t happen to me by the way, I’m too subtle).

I was told that the only way to overcome this dreaded confidence-killing-silent-stage was to…HABLAR!

In a bid to follow this advice and start the year as I meant to go on, I pleaded with R to think up a challenge for me!

(Side note: I had already exhausted my own list of “challenge yourself in Spanish” errands. They were becoming pointless! I once convinced myself the dress I bought for a wedding needed altered and spent ages researching tailors nearby. I had my script rehearsed and was about to embark on my mission when it occurred to me that, there was nothing actually wrong with the dress. I must have dreamt up its imperfections just because I was in need of a new challenge! Either that or the August heat was driving me delirious)!

Anyway, it wasn’t long before he came up with something unforeseen…

The very next day as he was leaving for work, the sole fell off one of his shiny new work shoes! How convenient, I thought, this was my chance! I must go and find a cobbler! (A first for me, in any country).

Not fully satisfied at work, I thought now might be a good time to switch vocation and re-train to become a cobbler myself. I was joking of course, but you would be surprised at the things you consider when seeking (preferably non-verbal) work in a foreign land…!

So, off I went in search of the cobbler who would mend the shoe (and maybe even appoint me as their apprentice).

We live in a neighbourhood where there is a local everything; a Frutería, Florestería, Perfumería…even an Acting Academy and a Magician’s studio! You name it, we’ve got it. So, I knew it wouldn’t be hard to come by a Cobblería* (*translation not accurate).

Roaming the streets nearby, it wasn’t long before I found what I was looking for! A shoehorn in a dusty window display was the giveaway and I followed some steps into a dark hovel, below street level.

There, perched upon a stool, was an exceptionally old man mending the shoe of another unfortunate soleless customer. The shop was over 100 years old and I was sure the cobbler couldn’t have been much younger. I liked him at once.

I wasn’t really sure what I was asking for, so in limited Español (and with a smile), I presented the shoe with the flapping sole and he went about inspecting it.

He admired it, in a way that only a Cobbler would, and then went on to show me an array of his handiwork from the back of the cave which I, in turn, admired dutifully. We had a pleasant, broken conversation and he asked where I was from. He looked surprised when I told him. He “thought Spanish” – I was thrilled, but sceptical…

I had used all the common phrases I knew, and my limits had been reached, but seemingly unphased that I couldn’t follow, he just continued talking…and talking. From his mouth came an eruption of words and I frantically tried to pick out anything I understood, desperate to converse more with him!

Yet despite my difficulties, I felt oddly at ease. From this patient old man, there was no expectation or judgement of my proficiency, and there was no hurry either. As he rambled in a dialect that I hoped I would one day understand – I realised that instead of perceiving language as a “barrier”, we should see it as an open door to experiences, to cultures and to people that we would never have accessed otherwise.

Eventually, when the time came to bid “Adiós”, I paid 10€ for the pleasure and headed back into the sunshine.

He did not make me his apprentice, but I was already excited to return for the shoe!

Language success:


2 thoughts on “Lemon sole

  1. Lovely read! I can just imagine you in conversation with the old cobbler – I’m certain you were both communicating beautifully (who needs verbal language?).
    Btw I’m working my way through Gaelic Duolingo – I’m at the stage that I freeze up even when hearing the spoken word on the radio! So I recognised this stage.
    All the best to you both.


  2. What a lovely story proving that we can all survive in a foreign city if you are ready to embrace the lingo and culture xx


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