‘Okay boyeez. I am in contact with two Spanish ladies,’ Tim declared, after spending a considerable amount of time pushing buttons – the ones on his phone instead of ours, for a change.
Mac and I stood either side of him and looked at the screen.
Gabriela. Her dimpled smile and perfect teeth dazzled beneath a beret. Tim’s finger swiped right. She was cycling down a country lane. Swipe. Beautiful brown eyes peering up from a huge mug of coffee. The photos finished.
I wondered what she did for a living. Maybe a nurse or Montessori teacher. A model perhaps. Not the high, haughty types of the catwalk but the ones you see in magazines wearing sweaters or smiling in summer dresses.
‘So. That’s her,’ Tim said.
Mac and I made approving noises.
‘She speaks English too.’
‘Perfect,’ Mac and I agreed.
‘And this is Roberta.’
We huddled back over the phone. She was standing in a football stadium; broad-shouldered with long corkscrew hair. Swipe. An Athletic Bilbao tattoo on her left arm. Swipe. A raucous, drunken scene crowded with people.
‘There she is there, I think’ Tim said pointing to the woman in the middle towering over everyone else. He pressed a button and the photos disappeared.
‘Thing is…she doesn’t have any English.’
Mac said what I was thinking.
‘Surely you gotta put your time into Gabriela.’
Mac struggled to get the words out.
‘Cos….’cos…’Cos the other one supports Athletic Bilbao and you support Madrid!’
‘I don’t support Madrid.’
‘ That’s not the point.’ I protested. ‘Gabriela looks gorgeous and speaks English. I mean – Did you see her photos?’
‘Roberta’s the one,’ Tim said and slipped his phone into the front of his shirt.
It didn’t stay in his pocket for long. Every time he received a message from Roberta he had to Google translate it to English, then translate what he wished to say into Spanish and copy and paste that onto his Tinder messages. Thus, Roberta was unaware that Tim hadn’t one word of Spanish and arrangements for a date were being made.
We had timed our holiday to coincide with Festival Bilbao in August. The festival was essentially a massive three-day street party where the city centre was hectic with pop up bars, food vendors and tents housing DJs. The party would start around 11pm with a jaw dropping firework display, after which the revelry would unfold. Thousands of people could drink, dance and merry make openly on the streets until six in the morning. The police presence was minimal and we witnessed no fights.
Pause for a second and imagine the nervous breakdowns people in Ireland would be having if we tried to launch a similar festival considering the furore over a mild-mannered country singer playing from 9pm to 11pm for 5 nights. In a stadium. To a broadly middle-aged audience. That’s how uptight we have become.
Anyhow, on with the story.
We happened upon a group of local girls clad in green, white and orange.
‘Right,’ I said. ‘That’s gotta be a sign. Let’s go talk to these ladies.’
The lads shrugged. Mac had a girlfriend back home and Tim was clearly working off the philosophy that a girl on your phone in the palm of your hand was worth ten standing in front of you. Despite the lads’ indifference we managed to build some sort of a rapport with the girls. They were friendly and spoke English. One of the gang was going to work as an Au-pair in Dundalk, Ireland and her friends were saying goodbye by dressing up like Yanks on Paddy’s Day. They certainly stood out in their tri-colour inspired costumes, but Ireland t-shirts were a common sight on the streets of Bilbao. I got chatting to one of the gang, an attractive girl called Mariana, and I put it to her that I found the frequently spotted green jerseys a peculiar sight, given that we were in Spain.
‘This is not Spain. This is Basque country,’ Mariana corrected in a calm but firm manner. She explained that the affinity with Ireland stemmed from the fact that, as a small nation, we fought to hold on to our language and culture despite efforts from England to stamp out our identity.
‘That’s interesting Mariana. Please tell me more.’
‘As Basque people we too are proud of our culture. Although Spanish is the most widespread language in Bilbao, Basque is also spoken. You may have noticed the many red and white striped jerseys. Those are the colours of our football club, Athletic Bilbao. The club has a Cantera policy meaning they only sign players native to or trained in the Basque region. They have never been relegated from La Liga. This inspires a very loyal and passionate support…’
Roberta’s tattoo certainly testified to that.
Lost in Translation
Mariana seemed to be enjoying acting as Tour guide. She told me loads more stuff that would have been very useful for a site such as this but I forget nearly all of it because my concentration was diverted towards a new venture; how to charm Mariana. This was concentration poorly spent. Charm, to my drunken brain, consisted of picking a few Spanish compliments that were swimming around my head, getting them all wrong and pouring them out my silly mouth.
‘…And that is why the flag…’
‘Tu eres muy hermano,’ I blurted.
Mariana, naturally, looked a little perplexed. To recover I racked my brain to think of the Spanish for eyes.
‘Tes huevos son –‘
She cut me off, just as I was about to complement her eggs.
‘Your friend is very quiet,’ she said looking over my shoulder at Tim and shifting her posture. In this deft little motion the cosy personal bubble in which we were ensconced burst and it was no longer just the two of us. I knew I was a busted flush but had just remembered the Spanish for beautiful.
‘Tu eres muy hermosa,’ is what I meant to say.’
‘He looks like that actor Leonardo Di Caprio,’ she said, ignoring my compliment and still looking at Tim.
This was a little annoying. There I was, putting myself centre stage, taking the tightrope walk from friendly chat to daring flirtation and she was more interested in the guy backstage, showing little regard for anything but his phone. Just as well I had the safety net of alcohol to save me from any hurt.
‘Uno momento,’ I said – the first bit of Spanish that warranted a smile.
I went to the nearby Portaloo. While at this bastion of reflection it occurred to me I had to tell Tim to forget about Tinder and go start a real fire. I was amused and a tad disappointed at how quickly I accelerated from happy-go-lucky tourist to pandering idiot. All it took was a flutter of Mariana’s eyelashes. When I got back I expected those eyelashes to be fluttering at Tim – and they were, but he was unaware. Mac and I had a pint at the bar and then he went exploring. I swallowed beer and pride and went to set Tim straight.
‘Well. Are you meeting Roberta or what?’ I asked.
‘I dunno. She sent a few messages but Google can’t translate them. She’s around somewhere. I think she might be drunk.’
‘Told ya you shoulda went for Gabriela.’
‘Nothing. Mariana’s nice isn’t she?’
He glanced at her, then back to his phone.
‘I think you’re in there man. Maybe you should talk to her.’
‘Mariana. Over there. You should go talk to her. Might be worth your while if you know what I mean.’
Tim looked up. He caught Mariana’s eye. He smiled at her. She smiled back
‘Maybe you’re right,’ he said and strolled towards her.
Convinced I would be recounting these details on their wedding day I watched closely. What I witnessed though was defeat being snatched from the jaws of victory in three quick and easy steps;
1.Tim producing his phone and showing it to Mariana.
2. Mariana stepping back and looking askance at Tim.
3.Mariana berating a sheepish Tim.
Knowing I would be recounting this story to everyone in every bar ever, I stepped closer to hear.
‘Why do you ask me this? You want me to translate messages for you so you can hook up with some girl?’ Mariana spat.
‘I’m sorry. I’ve been messaging her all day. I just thought maybe you could- ‘
‘I don’t know what is wrong with you,’ Mariana said and walked away, all clacking heels and indignant face (a little overdramatic I thought considering she had hardly conversed with Tim all night. Perhaps she wasn’t used to not getting what she wanted. I, you will have noticed, handled it like an old pro).
After a flurry of 11th hour messages Tim’s date with Roberta got lost in translation. We had to postpone dwelling on our catalogue of errors as Mac rushed towards us with exciting news of bars dispensing free booze for a limited period. We hurried through the streets, dashing towards the next adventure like the Famous Five. Except of course, we were still a trio.