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Posts Tagged ‘Spain’

Barcelona, Spain

October 2011

[See the complete album here.]

Nothing in between me and the rain
And you can’t save me now
I’m in the grip of a hurricane

No hope, don’t want shelter, no calm
Nothing to keep me from the storm
And you can’t hold me down
Cause I belong to the hurricane
It’s going to blow this all away
— Florence + The Machine, “Hurricane Drunk”

[See the complete album here.]

[All pictures taken and edited by me; pictures of me taken by Scott.]

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I met my thirty-five-year-old, hockey-refereeing boyfriend three years ago, when I was a nineteen year old archaeology student studying at GWU. We met playing a game of Kubb with a bunch of Swede expats in University Yard. In the past ten years he had traveled over 1,000,000 miles around the world—just for fun. Scott lives in a 400 square foot, ramshackle apartment. There is a giant hole in the bathroom ceiling where it caved in during a bad snow melt one year. After hanging out with him for about a week I asked myself, how can I get in on this life?

The recession slammed into my family like hurricane waves against the ocean jetties on the island where I grew up. My parents divorced and, not long afterwards, we lost our home in Savannah, Georgia—the house that I’d lived in since I was twelve. I had to box up my entire library, sell all my bedroom furniture, and beg for a place to store my 100-year-old piano. Asking my aunt to house my possessions in her attic, and for the permission to use her address when I renewed my driver’s license, struck home the overwhelming feeling that I was effectively homeless.

During a late-night telephone conversation with my younger sister, who was just starting her freshman year in college, I said, “Don’t think of yourself as being homeless, think of yourself as a nomad. It’s more romantic.”

When you first think about it, travel today might not seem as romantic as it used to. Captain William Clark trail-blazed across the northwestern territories of the modern United States in the early 19th century, armed with scientific equipment, an Indian guide, and a band of hunters and tradesmen in order to truly discover the lands he was visiting—most of which had not been charted correctly or whose species had not been catalogued. This kind of travel is unarguably fantastic and alluring, not to mention dangerous and difficult. But today when the places we visit have already been thoroughly studied, trafficked, and published, what is it that we are looking for?

***

Scott and I arrive in Madrid on a Friday in February and check in to our hostel. It is our first out-of-country trip together. I love the smell of the hostel. The plaster walls and linoleum floor and the rusty bathroom sink all remind me of the old warehouse where I used to fence. I throw my blanket roll on the top bunk, feeling instantly at home.

We lock our bags into the trunk in our room and decide to set out. We emerge onto the sunlit, cobblestone streets of Madrid, shutting the ancient wooden door of the building behind us with an echoing rumble. Ah, Europe. We consult the 8″ x 12″ map the hostel clerk gave us. She had marked with a red circle the location of our lodgings before pushing us out the door. Scott checks the clock on his phone and says that we should head over to the Prado. It’s free admission after five until closing at six thirty.

At the Plaza de Cánovas del Castillo we have to walk through an underground walkway to get across a busy street, and Scott locks on to my wrist, clearly worried of having me snatched. I barely notice because I am reminded of a scene from my favorite Milan Kundera book, Immortality. Between the heavily graffitied walls and puddles of moisture and trash, I find myself scanning the faces of the bums and prostitutes for a character similar to the Lady in Red.

Finally at the Prado, I grab a pamphlet and quickly circle the works most studied in the art history classes I’m taking back home. I am constantly being told that seeing a work photocopied into a textbook is not the same as seeing the pieces in person. I must agree that confirming the fact that such a piece as Bosch’s grisly triptych actually does exist is something indeed. Scott enjoys the scavenger hunt through the echoing marble halls of the museum and assists me in my sneaky attempts to take illegal pictures. I don’t look at every painting, just the ones that catch my eye. I linger especially at every El Greco and Goya—dark, expressive images were my thing for a while.

***

I remember Scott saying once, “If I’m not traveling, I’m not living.” At first I had scratched it off as sentimental dramaticism, but after a year of traveling with him, seeing Spain, Vietnam, Rome, Cairo, Sweden, and Singapore, I started to realize what he meant. The truth is that the world today is a full-blown global community. A significant amount of US money goes to help communities overseas in times of terrorism, oppression, and national disaster. My toothbrush was made in China. My leather jacket was made in Argentina. My favorite dish at the tapas bar downtown is inspired by South African cuisine. I adore the vocals of Macedonian singer Tanja Cavorska, and I’ve already mentioned Czech author Milan Kundera. It’s a step up from the nineteenth century Brits reading French philosophy and enjoying Italian painting. Today the goal is to cross the threshold of savoring foreign imports and step out into the world that makes such treasures.

Of course it doesn’t stop at recipes and art—the beauty of travel is the opportunity to meet new people, to transform the unknown into the happy shouting of Peruvian families strolling in the Parque de Amor at sunset or the frustrated banging of fists on backgammon boards in a Cairo coffeehouse. There are places that I’ve been in the United States where I feel exponentially less safe than I ever did in Nazareth or Buenos Aires or Cape Town—cities about which guidebooks shake themselves silly with statistics of tourists being robbed. The point is not that foreign places are magical kingdoms of beauty and friendliness but that you can’t know what they’re like until you go and experience them for yourself.

It seems to me that the same is probably the case for the nature of relationships. I don’t know much about dating, but I do know something about meeting people. If I were to strike up a conversation with a Belgian expat in a bar in Venice, with the specific intention of making him my new Belgian friend, I have a feeling it might not go so well. What if it turned out he was a magnificent bore? The idea of forcing new places to conform to your expectations is just as hopeless as deciding in advance the kind of person you would like to meet and fall in love with. Maybe that Belgian expat is a bore but knows a lot about the food in Venice and has a kind disposition and is clearly happy to meet someone with whom he can explore the city? I often find that the good in any place properly trumps the bad. I also find that this is the case with most people too.

In the same way I look at every new city with the potential of discovering something exciting, so too do I meet individuals. In Scott I found so much to inspire, and love, and keep that I decided to call him home. Perhaps one day we’ll find a city somewhere who can offer us the same thing. Until then I think we shall be nomads, together.

***

On our last day in Madrid, we rent a car and drive to Toledo and Segovia, returning through the mountain pass of Navacerrada. Toledo is characterized by its architecture’s grand, and somewhat haunting, grey masonry. The moist air and overcast skies lends an exaggerated feel of medievalism to the place, and I think I can detect the faint smell of water trickling over cold, smooth stone—perfect for the town’s transcription into memory. There’s a song I love from Man of La Mancha, the one with the line “And the wild winds of fortune will carry me onward, Oh withersoever they blow!” Scott and I sit on the wall of the city above the Tagus River, eating sandwiches of chorizo sausage and manchego cheese, while that song runs through my mind. Withersoever they blow, I think, feeling, for the twentieth time that trip, that I am right at home.

[Photographs by Steve Kass]

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