…you might even find a new client
It wasn’t, perhaps, the most likely place to look for business contacts: the middle of a pine forest alongside one of Catalonia’s most famous historic monuments. Nor were the circumstances very conducive: an early summer Sunday family outing, gradually turning, as these occasions have an unfortunate tendency to do, into a nightmare.
We had set out with high hopes in a rather elderly people-carrier-cum-minibus which was the only vehicle available to us with capacity to carry me, my wife and son, my parents in law and my brother- and sister-in-law. The idea was that we should share the driving and I took the first shift, hoping to be spared after-lunch duties. The sun shone and the countryside looked idyllically green as I gradually coaxed the unwieldy vehicle south around the Barcelona ring road and down the motorway to the south.
To say I have a love-hate relationship with driving would be somewhat economical with the truth. The fact is, it’s mostly hate, and ever since I’ve lived in Catalonia I’ve been in the happy position of not being a car owner. When I do need a vehicle, I simply hire one, but that means I’m used to handling shiny, new cars packed full of more technology than I could ever hope to comprehend, still less in the couple of days they are normally in my possession. This time I was driving something from the automobile Stone Age, which, full as it was, had to be coaxed away from traffic lights like an overloaded elephant, and only reached the motorway speed limit with a very long run-up.
Still, the drive down south was relatively uneventful: we visted a waterfall that turned out to have no water, and then had a pleasant walk around a former Roman quarry before heading off for lunch beside the famous Roman aqueduct near Tarragona. I’d had a break in the middle but was driving once again by this time, and fell foul of the version of Murphy’s Law which says that the more people there are trying to give you directions, the more likely you are to miss the turn. By the time we finally found it, everyone was hot and bothered, myself most of all. I parked, leapt out of the car with relief, went to open the boot… and the handle came off in my hand.
This was a double disaster: not only did we have to find a way of securing the thing for the return journey (we couldn’t just take it off, because it contained the light for the rear numberplate), we also had to think of a way of explaining the mishap to the actual owner of the vehicle, who wasn’t with us for the trip. So it was not a happy party who gathered for lunch on the terrace of the little bar where we had booked a table almost within touching distance of the Roman monument. A sullen silence reigned as the owner of the bar came out with the menu, and the last thing I was thinking of was finding new clients.
But, as well as bringing excellent wine and perfectly decent food (whatever the fussier members of our party might have said), the owner turned out to be exactly the kind of customer I’m on the lookout for. An Italian, resident in Catalonia for ten years, he has his fingers in so many pies that before long he’ll have to use his toes. From restaurants to organic food cooperatives and wine production to environmental consultancy, I discovered that he’s involved in many areas where my translations could be useful to him, good as his Scots-accented English, perfected while living in Edinburgh, was (although we were mainly conversing on neutral ground, in Catalan).
As he brought the second bottle of splendid red wine, I could resist no longer, began to explain what I do for a living, and asked if I could leave him a card. It could, of course, result in nothing, but judging by the interest he showed, it could equally be the beginning of a very interesting professional relationship. Not only that, he sent the restaurant maintenance man to fix the dangling boot handle on the car, which he did with two strategically placed screws. That, combined with a walk across and beneath an astonishing work of engineering that had stood for 2,000 years, and an entirely unexpected late-afternoon concert in the middle of the woods by the quite extraordinary Tàrraco Surfers, absolutely made my day, only going to prove that you never, ever know what you’re going to find, even when you think you’re taking the day off from translation.