Dragging my gently worn suitcases outside, I hoisted 100 pounds of my life into to car. Four hours from that moment, after a quick lunch at Portillo’s and a long goodbye, I’d be on a plane bound for Madrid-Barajas with my grandmother, ready to reimmerse myself in Spanish life for two weeks before making a nine-month move to Seville.
Ha, what would my life be if it actually happened like that?
That, my friends, was four years ago today. That’s about 12 percent of my life, as long as I called myself a Hawkeye, twice as long as I thought I’d ever make it in the land of Sunshine and Siestas. But, here I am, quasi married, españolizada’d and just plain happy with where I’m at.
When Helen left Spain a few weeks later, after we’d spent hours on trains, long meals getting to know each other, and discovering just how many facets Iberia seems to have, she left not just Spain, but me, too. I was all alone.
I took her to the airport in Granada and cried. Where would I go from here? Well, I went to Carrefour, Spain’s closest thing to Target, and bought a comforter. This had to mean I was a real Spaniard now, right?
As I read the reactions of first timers in Spain, I like to think I hit the ground running on this whole “España” thing. When Kike and I went to a wedding and I belted out the words to an 80s song touting just how great Spain is, I received cheers, and Kike pats on the back. I love Spain, and Spain loves me right back.
McDonalds is made of skinny cows? Deep.
So, in honor of my four years in the wonderful word of Cervantes, machos, lack of tacos and people in desperate need of my native tongue (aka I have a way to earn money always), here’s four things I love about it (hint: it’s not fútbol or flamenco):
Esa semana tan emblamética…There are no words sufficient enough to describe the sight of thousands dressed in flamenco dresses, the smell of fried food and sherry (ok, and a whiff of horse poop) and the sound of lively flamenco music pouring out of striped tents. I’ve lived some of my favorite moments in the Real, a stark stretch of nothing 51 weeks of the year, and many of them have left me feeling more Spanish than American (ruffles and a big old comb stuck in your head will do that to a girl).
My mother always said that food was a way to a man’s heart, employing me in the business of baked goods goddess when I was barely old enough to reach the counter. While it isn’t easy to cook in Spain with the conversion to the metric system, grabbing a tapa is as easy as walking ten meters in any direction. And, dude, do I love it all – dátiles con beicon, fabada, lentejas, gazpacho, solomillo. Since Spain has influences from around the Mediterranean and I’m the sixth member of a Spanish family, I am no longer concerned that I will whittle away to ná.
What’s more, meals in Spain are sacred. Midday grub is hearty and often lasts hours, stretching to café and then cognac. Going out for tapas is the way to be seen, be fed, and be happy – the ultimate social experiment. And Fernan Adrià has put tapas and haûte cuisine on the map in Spain, bringing fame to San Sebastian’s pintxos, Granada’s free tapas and a squealing little cochinillo in the central regions.
If you’re really daring, ask me what I eat. While I’ve never been picky, I’m certainly more adventurous (though I will never forgive my boyfriend for once feeding my pig kidney soaked in wine. Ew).
Maybe it’s simply because Switzerland was cloudy while I was there, but I love the varied landscapes Spain bets with. As one of the most mountainous regions in all of Europe, I have no shortage of valleys, rivers, peaks and everything in between. What’s more, Andalucía, the region I call home, meets the sea – both Mediterranean and Atlantic. The North has lush, rolling hills in Santander, stark plains in Castilla La Mancha and acre after acre of sunflower fields all over the country. Train and bus rides aren’t mundane – they’re inspiring.
La manera de ser
Call me crazy, but I love Spanish people, especially Andalusians and Galicians. The way a people can be so aware of their past, so adherent to their traditions and so stuck on living la vida buena. Anyone who knew me pre-Spain knows me as wound-up, neurotic and biting off way more than even fits in my mouse. But Spain’s attitude of mañana, mañana– just plain old taking it easy – has helped me calm down and take things as they come. That foreigner’s office business? Meh, this is Spain friends. And not having a job when school started? Well, this is the way things work here.
But somehow, I think I’ve ended up just where I wanted to be. And where I was meant to, too.