Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ida y vuelta

I'm reading a book of personal essays in Spanish called "La Loca de la Casa" by Rosa Montero. She writes that she has become accustomed to organizing her memories according to lovers and the books that she's written. She says all humans do this, categorize their life using idiosyncratically-chosen landmarks.

Todos los humanos recurrimos a trucos semejantes: sé de personas que cuentan sus vidas por las casas en las que han residido, o por los hijos, o por los empleos, e incluso por los coches. Puede que sea obsesión que algunos muestran por cambiar de automóvil cada año no sea más que una estrategia desesperada para tener algo que recordar.

All of us have similar tricks: I know people who tell their lives by the houses they lived in, or by their children, or by their jobs, or even by their cars. It's possible that this obsession people have of changing their car every year is nothing more than a desperate strategy to have something to remember things by.

Basically, I've figured out mine is moving to different places. I remember my time in each state I've lived in—New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Colorado—because of that state. I go first to the place. Then I recall events, loves, friends, jobs, storms, losses. It is easy to build chapters this way.

But although I left Spain for the U.S. on Feb. 4—coincidentally my intended date of permanent departure—I wasn't quite done with this chapter yet. So I came back.

I spent five days getting buried under the worst snowstorm in history with good friends in D.C., saw my mother in New Jersey, and flew back to Spain the night before all Continental flights out of my home state were canceled due to the severe weather.

Because for now, Madrid is home to me. I'm building a life here, although it has taken me three months to feel the roots of it.

I have girl friends from four other countries, and when we get together, we speak in five different languages (as my Italiana says, "Lo que quieras, aquí tenemos.") It makes me feel safe in an inexplicable way. Like with this many languages, we couldn't possibly get lost.

I teach English to a little boy named Jaime who amazes me daily with his intelligence, intuitiveness and generosity. He just turned eight, but his soul is much older. I looked at him today during our lesson, when he had started drawing a picture of a beach to explain a Spanish word to me, and I nearly burst into tears at the thought that I will lose him, and that he is exactly what I would want in a son. I stopped myself, said, "Jellyfish, madusa, thank you," and we moved on.

I take an hour-long Spanish class every day, then spend the rest of my afternoon studying what I've learned over café con leche largo de café. The other day in Pepe Botella, two of my extranjeras and I spent 5 minutes talking about one verb—just one Spanish word, enorgullecerse, to be/feel proud—and it didn't feel like a chore. It's because we want to dissect the language that much, to liquefy it and inject it into ourselves so it stays with us forever.

And so Feb. 9 I had one more plane ticket than I thought I would have. Because I could not imagine tearing myself from Madrid after only three months. How I ever thought I could has been another lesson in knowing myself better.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A curious Spanish day

Today, three months after I arrived in Madrid, I finally started Spanish classes at my appropriate level, of which I am quite proud (B2, according to the European standard for language proficiency). Afterwards I spent a languorous afternoon relaxing in the sun in Puerta del Sol, sipping café cortados with my Italian and German girl friends.

I ate lunch at one of my favorite vegetarian restaurants, during which a tiny Spanish baby waddled over to me carrying big metal salad servers he had stolen from his parent's table. Excited, I said, "Hola!" and started speaking to him in Spanish. As a response he placed the giant tonsils into his mouth and gurgled. Yes, little one, this is what I want to do instead of speaking Spanish sometimes, too

As I was walking to a café later, I passed a crazy homeless man shouting into the air. All major cities are blessed with this phenomenon, however I find that when the hollering is in Spanish it is a lot less alarming.

"¿Cuántas pipas hay?!" he screamed at a building.

I am not sure how many sunflower seeds there are, sir, but I hope you figure it out.

On my way home, I passed by another cute child. Except this one was being held in the air by his parents, allowing him to pee on a small tree on the side of the road. In my upper-middle class suburban neighborhood. His pants down, happily relieving himself on the tree like a puppy.

And so tonight, I am staying in, indulging in an episode of Desperate Housewives in English, and turning my brain happily, delightfully and completely off.