IT DIDN’T TAKE LONG to realize that what I’d learned in high school and subsequent classes in Barcelona and Madrid was only useful up to a point. Yeah, I could employ the subjunctive when called for, and I could even manage the complex form of the conditional contrary to fact. But it was only after I’d been there for a while and heard the idiomatic expressions that pepper everyday Spanish that I felt I could really converse, even make jokes.
One of my teachers, both in the classroom and in the bars, was a man named Miguel. Miguel was a very educated man with an enormous vocabulary which he was always exercising on me. I learned much of this from him.