Just over a year ago, in this blog’s inaugural post, I wrote:
“While I have previously resided in Spain for three-and-a-half months, and although I anticipate achieving a certain level of comfort and routine as I settle into my new life, I will work to take nothing for granted and embrace extrañeza every day.”
With one year in Madrid under my belt, I can look back and say I’ve done a pretty decent job of following my own advice. This year, comfort with the logistics of daily life plus a new apartment located much closer to the action will allow me to focus even more of my time and energy on taking advantage of everything this city has to offer. These last few weeks, living in Sevilla with study abroad students who are experiencing life in Spain for the first time, I’ve been reminded again of the extrañeza around me, as the students gush to me about their first bite of tortilla, their heartbreak upon realizing iced coffee is not part of this culture, their first night out until sunrise, their amusement by funny menu translations and the random use of English on t-shirts, and their memorable linguistic mishaps.
I’ve moved past a lot of that, but not all of it. I still walk by Sevilla’s cathedral and Madrid’s Palacio de Cibeles and stop to gawk (though I now try to do so without anyone noticing). I still feel giddy when I enjoy delicious tapas or express a particularly complex thought in Spanish without hesitation. There are still many corners of this country I’ve yet to see.
The protagonist in Ben Lerner’s novel Leaving the Atocha Station eloquently describes a similar thought process to mine when deciding whether or not he should stay in Madrid upon the completion of a poetry fellowship:
“But in certain moments, I was convinced I should go home…that this life wasn’t real, wasn’t my own, that nearly a year of being a tourist, which is what I indubitably was, was enough, and that I needed to return to the U.S. to be present for my family, and begin an earnest search for a mate, career, etc. Prolonging my stay was postponing the inevitable…
In other moments, however, the discourse of the real would seem to fall on the same side of Spain; this, I would say to myself…this is experience, not because things in Iberia were inherently more immediate, but because the landscape and my relation to it had not been entirely standardized. There would of course come a point when I would be familiar enough with the language and terrain that it would lose its unfamiliar aspect, a point at which I would no longer see a stone in Spain and think of it as, in some essential sense, stonier than the sedimentary rocks of Kansas, and what applied to stones applies to bodies, light, weather, whatever.
But that moment of familiarization had not yet arrived; why not stay until it was imminent?
Couldn’t have said it better myself. I’ll get back to you in a year about my take on the relative stoniness of Spanish and American stones. Until then, a aprovechar…