Saturday, July 2, 2011

Friday- July 1st. Madrid Barajas Airport. 1:06pm

I just went through security after hugging who I would count as my best Spanish friend-

“You really are a good actress!” he joked as I started to tear up.
“Yes! I’m going to go win my Oscar!”

The security man smiled.

I am amazed that I have friends who in nine months will not only meet me for a coffee to say goodbye but will actually offer to go to the airport with me. He carried my backpack and found a cart for my suitcases. He told me not to stress when the airline informed they would charge me fifteen Canadian dollars for every kilo my suitcases weighed over the limit. He helped me consolidate all of my belongings into one suitcase- pull out the boots to put on and put the lighter tennis shoes in- “Muy bien ‘look’ para Canada!”

A good ‘look’ for Canada- suede boots and all my jackets piled on. He weighed my one suitcase until we were sure it was under 25 kilos and took my empty one for me- “No te preocupes.”

He’s the one who told me he’d been my friend months ago and meant it. He consistnently went out of his way for me- to make sure I was okay when I seemed “off” or to be sure something said wasn’t lost in translation. He made an effort to help me intergrate into the school and even came to see me in the play I was in. He’s listened to me complain and put up with my teasing. When I’ve said it’s hard to make Spanish friends I discounted him- I shouldn’t have. He’s a friend for life and not just for here.

Last night I went out to my favorite Argentine resturant with my two girlfriends left in the city- my fellow American companera and my Italian friend. They’ve both been with me since the beginning. Mari gave me a collage of photos of us and Caterina bought me my dinner and gave me a card. The waiter put dulce de leche on my brownie and gave us free chupitas- “solo porque es tu ultima noche” - just because it’s your last night. It was surreal and special and exactly my favorite kind of Madrid night. I don’t know if anyone can understand our jokes- our mess of Spanish, English, Italian and Spanglish but I know that whatever it is we’re speaking I am so happy I know how. I’m so happy I’ve know them.

I didn’t think I’d feel sad to leave Spain. I knew I’d feel worn out as I’ve felt that for weeks now but this feeling is more unexpected. I’ve met some beautiful people on this side of the world. And despite the fact that I have never quite felt like I’ve found my footing in Spain- the people that gave me the most ground to stand on are people I don’t want to let go of.

It must be a typical airport feeling- the anxiety always comes with customs and boarding passes and making everything just in time. The uncertainity of what awaits you and wondering how home has changed. Maybe it has and maybe it hasn’t but you can never really tell becaue inevitably in so many ways- you yourself have changed.

You’ve gone further then you’d imagined going and still as hard as it has been the friend who just left you is proof that you’ve gained something good.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Last night I walked from my house to the club in Goya. It's more like a milonga then the dance studio in Lavapies. There are no bars along the walls but there are floor-length mirrors. There are no bright florescent lights. The lights are low. It's atmospheric.
I dance my first tango with Luciano- my professors' son. Everything feels so easy. Luciano dances the way most people breath- instinctually. I know to put my knees together, to keep my feet on the floor, to move slowly- but it is coming from a place deep within me. It is becoming my instinct too. We are fluid and it feels beautiful. When we finish Luciano asks his father, Claudio, if he saw me dancing-
"Yes she dances well" - and I think that's enough. Seven euros is worth one tango with Luciano and a compliment from the prof.
In the middle of another tango Luciano looks up at me and asks me if I've gone somewhere else to learn.
"No- have I improved?"
He nods dramatically,"I can do more with you now!"
"Maybe I'm more relaxed?"
"Hmmm! That could be!"
I can't help but remember the question his mother- Caro- had asked me my first month here in Madrid when I'd force myself out of my apartment to go dance: Why are you so timid?
I didn't want there to be but there was an insecurity behind my dancing and a desire for perfection that was laced with anxiety. It was winter and afterwards I'd walk home alone in the cold staring at the streetlights and looking at the closed shops' window displays wondering how to make this city mine and what it would take to move my life along.
But now- it is months later and I know how to walk to this new place from my apartment. It's summertime and there is a pale white moon in the still light blue sky. So much has happened between then and now. I have learned how to live in Madrid. I have learned how to move across more then just dance floors and now tango is what it ought to be- not something to catapult me into life- but an expression of what I love.
Que es esta? - Luciano says as he imitates me clasping my hands together. What is this?
Esta es 'por favor baila conmigo!" - I tell him. This is 'please dance with me!'
The truly great moments are when we are not talking at all- just moving. And I know that it's different this time. I can feel it too. I'm happy.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


I fell a little in love with Pablo Picasso in Malaga. The last time he ever visited his birthplace was at 19 but they still claim him as their own and the museum there is a beautiful collection of his work. I was mesmerized. Some of his works are like Sesame Street cartoons- comical with eyes too big for their faces and their bodies in a jumble- a puzzle for the mind to put together. I can imagine the woman bather tangled up in a wave is me when I was thrown into the pebbles and shells at the Malaga beach by a large wave- my top coming off and then me frantically putting it back in place- long limbs and wide eyes. A mess.
Then some are so gripping and stirring that they disturb the core of one's expectations. Something hurt responded to the daggers in his paintings and I felt like that was beautiful- art is meant to be relatable and I related. I think the anti-conformist and anti-academic nature of his work is so liberating. I love the idea that beauty does not have to be conventional and not what the infamous they declares it to be. Beauty is not always definable. It is like life. It's multifaceted with layers and complications and not all its works are pleasing ascetically but it's still art. It has its own beauty even if you can't discover it at first glance- like the bather. And sometimes you do see it- it is subtle like the romantic woman with the melancholy eyes whose body becomes an outline and fades out into lines- strokes- space. It doesn't look like he had a plan but the end result is stunning.

Someone wrote me asking what the next plan is for me- after the play I was in- and I thought of all the ways I could answer- I could have written that I have another part- a real part this time- it's small but she's a character with a backbone and I want to play her- but that's not a plan- it's just a part. I could have written that I'm here till the end of June with a break most likely in the States and then back here to Madrid again. But that's not a plan either. It's just the progression of my life at the moment. So really, it comes down to that- my life is being lived in the present and all plans are hypothetical, theoretical, slightly crazy and mostly just dreams.
Sometimes I think I'm much like that woman in the wave- tied up in knots- and I have to remind myself that that too is a story. It's okay to be a jumble. It's okay to be a puzzle. And then sometimes I think I'm the melancholy woman who can't quite find her body behind all the lines and that's okay too. Each moment is a picture; a work of art in the story that is life.

If perfection is relative does that make it impossible? Perhaps but impossible in a hopeful way- in a way that there is no joy in pursuing the unobtainable. Go for what brings you joy- God and love and life. And the result can be what it was meant to be without a grid and without carefully met expectations. That is not to say there is no planning and no buying some paint and canvas but it's not always what you think it need be. That's what I was reminded of in the museum in Malaga. And that's why I fell a little in love with Picasso- for telling me everything I feel and putting into a painting for me.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Semana Santa

There are times when I wish I could write in Spanish because I want to write for people who speak Spanish as their first language. I feel certain things and experience them in Spanish and it has a certain poetic quality that English does not hold for me. But even memories made in Spanish still translate themselves to English in my head and when I want to write something personal it only makes sense to do so in my mother tongue. So if I could write this in Spanish and say what I wanted- I would. In fact, if I could always say what I meant when speaking Spanish, well, I would do that too. But, for now, English will have to do.

"Have you written about us yet?" - Lucas asked me (in Spanish).
"What did you write?"
"Ah! You've written so many things you don't remember"

I hadn't yet but here goes- we all met in the hostel in Sevilla on the rooftop terrace when Lucas invited us to sit down and share some drinks. Two Argentine boys and an Italian girl traveling together and then us three girls- British, Italian and North American. The next day we made plans to meet up and went to to the river to drink mate- my first mate since I was in Argentina. I suddenly remembered sitting in Centro Conviven- passing around the mate cup- the fall sun shining through the open windows. Was it really so long ago? And was it so surreal to be in Sevilla- a place I never thought I'd go to- drinking yerba mate with new friends in a new country? From then on it seemed from there on out we were like a family on vacation. We stuck together.

"Can I try some?" I wanted some of Lucas's empanada- I was already so full from the best empanadas I've had in Spain but I wanted to try a caprese one.
"Just take a piece- as if we were friends our whole lives instead of for just two days" he said. That's how easy he is to get along with. I would like to be more like that. I would like the ability to just let people be my friend so easily instead of thinking about the last time I got hurt or worrying about whether I talk too much and if people like me. It must be easier to be that relaxed and it's a more beautiful way to be- welcoming.
Or be more optimistic like Panchi- who seems to have a positive word for everything and a balanced perspective. He seems to have the ability to just take it in and then give it all back. These are the two guys who will dive into the ocean with you and your crazy friend when the weather couldn't be any less beach-like just because you are there.
Then there are the girls, of course, who are so easy to just be with and make me revel slightly in the fact that we can have much-needed girl talk in our second language (with Italian and English thrown in). It's a bit miraculous if I think about it.
I wish I had more time to get to know Silvi better because she has an undeniable and obvious depth combined with a fantastic sense of humor. She is the kind of person you look across the table at and you both know what you are laughing about without saying anything.
The girls I came with who are some of the first people I met here in Madrid and I can really be myself with them. Pepa, my British girl- so sweet and intelligent and Maria- my faithful theater class friend- who looked at me when we are shivering in the sea and said "Who would have thought that when we met in Madrid that we would be here now together?" I don't think I did but at that moment I felt so happy and so grateful.

Meeting people is one of the best possible reasons to travel and I am blessed to have had both the opportunity to travel and really wonderful people to meet. It's other people who allow you to move past yourself and open up your mind to new ways of being and thinking. Sometimes people are the ones that hold up a mirror and make you realize you need to give others the second chances you wish to receive. The guys made me rethink the way I'm not really fair when I'm mean about Argentine men or say that they are too "pesados" because my experiences are and were limited and I'm generalizing too much. I set my standards for the world so high that I forget to let people exceed them, meet them, surprise me. I leave out the positive as if everything good doesn't count but it does. It counts for a lot. I have a lot to learn. It's humbling. And yet, the fact that people have the patience to let me learn along with them in the same way they don't seem to mind bearing with my broken international mess of Spanish means a lot.

Maybe we'll all travel together again or run into each other in some other corner of the world but for now I'm just happy to know that I have these people to add into my memories of this year. Because when I remember Sevilla I'll remember the narrow streets and tiled bars, the flamenco music playing on the radio and when I think of Malaga I'll think of the cold gray sea and clouds but mostly I'll remember the joy in being with this unexpected group and the feeling of new friends.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Through It

"Sometimes you just have to get through it," My tango teacher told me as we sat at a table in the closest thing to a milonga I will ever find in Madrid. That was midway through December and I had had my job as a teacher’s assistant in a bilingual school for two months at that point. I kept turning her words over in my head and now in the new year they continue to return to me only this time they are not like a mantra but a revelation.

She told me about how she had only one true friend here- the kind of friend you can call up crying- the kind who will come over for no other reason then you need someone to be with. “She’s rare,: my maestra said, “It’s hard to make friends here.”
She told me how lonely she had felt but whenever she thought of returning to Buenos Aires she realized she didn't have anything left to go back to. Her husband and son are here in Spain. Her life is here now. And there I was sitting there waiting for someone to ask me to dance and wondering why I couldn't just be happy. I felt badly as the words spilled forth from my mouth as if it was the first time anybody ever talked to me. But it felt like she was the first real live person here who not only cared but immediately understood. Her empathy was an incredible comfort.

My experience here in Spain is less of an experience in the sense that my study abroad semester was. I felt like I had to make the most of it in Argentina and although I felt pressured at times to behave or speak a certain way I accepted it because I understood why I was there. When I got to Madrid I just felt empty. I didn't know why I was here. I can not help but contrast my life here in Madrid with what it was in Buenos Aires.
The first thing I did was find a tango class and scouted out the good Argentine eateries and bakeries. I downloaded El Gotan Project to listen to as I took the metro and walked through Lavapies to tango class. It was almost instinctual- I was trying to make Madrid mean something to me in the only ways I knew how. That had made me feel better once upon a time, where was the magic now when I needed it?

I’m not going to lie- this past year (year and a half?!) was nothing like I thought it would be. It was a hard year for me- full of learning new lessons and swallowing the fact that not everything always goes as planned. Looking back I can see that it it was hard in a good way. I have and am growing. But I’ll admit it was enough to give my cynical side solid footing. In the midst of it all I lost faith - not in everything- but enough to be weary and apprehensive. If you have been hurt you want to protect yourself. And moving past that is a matter of healing. But you can move past it. You can get through. Sometimes, most times, you have to.
And a little bit of your faith comes back with every thoughtful action you receive making you wish to be thoughtful in return. Being picked up from the airport by people who knew you when you were little. Being invited to see castles and being lent a phone because you need one and someone happens to have an extra. Going for tapas with your hostel mate and having him pay telling you he’s happy for the company- your company. You start to carve out a life. You meet people, you make friends. Slowly but surely, your faith is increased. Mustard seeds, perhaps, but nonetheless, plantable.

My teacher is right. At first, when she said that - I envisioned getting on a plane and going back to the dark cold North Country promising this time to really make a start but I knew that I had to see my time here through. Now I wonder if that’s what Madrid has been for me- a start. A gentle introduction to the world- hello, you’re not studying abroad, you’re living your life. Let’s get through the start and then you can enjoy the beautiful middle of it all. I am always dreaming but now I am beginning to realize reality has a very deep sweetness- living moment to moment has a joy of its own.

I woke up this past weekend and the last with somewhere to go- somewhere I really wanted to be and I’ve woken up lately with more then just my coffee to get me out of bed. Somehow so mercifully and so unbelievably beautifully I have a small collection of people in my life here who... care. I had felt as if that were impossible here. I felt like Madrid was always going to be all quiet and all alone. But it’s not.

Now I feel like this was what was supposed to happen all along. It is such a gracious feeling.

I’ve gotten through.