Friday, April 20, 2007

Feeling Lucky

If you've ever spent any substantial time with people from a foreign country you inevitably broached the topic of stereotypes and preconceived notions. What are the stereotypical things of Spain? Bullfighting and flamenco dancing. How about the States? Hamburgers and guns. Are those accurate representations of the culture as a whole? Of course not, but for most people their exposure to foreign cultures is limited, sometimes coming only from movies or TV. I wouldn't classify those people as ignorant, just unlucky. I am a firm believer in luck. What was it that Eddie Vedder said? "He won the lottery the day he was born." That's how I feel most of my life. The exposure that I've had to other cultures has been, in large part, a matter of luck. Sure, it was my choice to move to Madrid, but I couldn't have done it without tons of family support. And I wouldn't have WANTED to do it had I not been given two travelers for parents.

I was calling the other day to see about canceling my car insurance policy when I leave. This is the exchange I had with the agent helping me.

Insurance agent: Why are you canceling your policy?
Me: I'm moving to Spain.
Insurance Agent: Spain?!?! Like near England?!?!
Me: Yes, Spain. Near England.
Insurance Agent: What side of the road do they drive on there?
Me: It's NEAR England, not IN England...
Insurance Agent: [Silence]
Me: The right side.

Is he ignorant for not knowing which side of the road the Spanish drive on? Of course not. I think he's just unlucky that he's never been to Spain to see for himself.

Monday, April 16, 2007

It could certainly be worse...

When I talk about my upcoming move and encourage people to come visit, they always complain about the long flight. Click on the image above and check out step #23 to see Google's reminder that the trip could definitely be worse than 9 hours in Economy class.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Pondering the Pueblo

Last weekend was Easter. In America that means a visit from the Easter Bunny (or Easter Bubba in my house) and an early morning scavenger hunt for goodies. In Madrid that means a visit with family and friends and a hunt for the quickest exit out of town. Semana santa, like so many other Spanish holidays, means everyone heads to their pueblo. Well, perhaps not always their pueblo; sometimes it's to the hometown of a friend, or a friend of a friend, or the sister of a friend of your coworker. Point is, many people head out of town to a much quieter spot for a few days. Hearing all of this from Nacho (he went to the house of the paternal grandmother of his maternal cousin) got me to thinking about the pueblo in general, and MY pueblo in particular.

The tradition of returning to the pueblo comes from the idea of people leaving the small town in search of fortune in the big cities. For a lot of modern native madrileños (certainly those of my generation) the pueblo is the town that held their grandparents’ homes or the parents’ childhood memories. For Nacho, it's the town in which he spent extended summer breaks, frequently with his cousins, running free and generally terrorizing the local girls. More than anything, I think the pueblo is a reminder of the less stressful times in life - certainly childhood, but also holiday weekends and long summer nights. It is a place that knows you as well as you know it.

As I ponder my upcoming move to Madrid, I am realizing that St. Louis has become my pueblo. Though I haven't truly lived there for almost 10 years, over the past decade St. Louis has still, undoubtedly, always been home. Moving forward, I find that it is transitioning from being "home" to being "where I'm from.” A simple change in speech, but a momentous one in meaning. St. Louis is the place that abounds with childhood memories, familiar sites, and an innate restfulness for me. But it isn’t home anymore. Home, for better or worse, brings with it the daily struggles and stresses, achievements and triumphs of life. The pueblo is an escape from that.

I've planned a week in my pueblo - a week of homegrown comforts - before my departure for Spain. And I look forward to stepping off the plane in St. Louis just as a teacher looks forward to the first week of summer break – a momentary respite before a return to the real world.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Page-A-Day Wisdom

For Christmas Santa got me Page-A-Day desk calender. He does that for pretty much everyone in my family each year. This year mine is Getting in Touch with Your Inner Bitch. I'm finding that I don't really need to work on that. I'm pretty in touch with her as it is. But today's page was a good one, and quite apropos in light of my upcoming move (3 weeks from tomorrow!).

"Adventure can be an end in itself.
Self-discovery is the secret ingredient that fuels daring."
-Grace Lichtenstein

In fact, blogging is somewhat of an adventure in itself. Certainly the self-discovery part is right on cue...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Getting Started

Inspired by the many others who somehow think their personal thoughts and reflections will be interesting to the outside world, I am starting this blog. Despite my being an engineer, I have always had a hidden slant towards the world of letters. Perhaps it's the result (either genetic or learned) of having two English-teacher parents. Whatever the reason, I have long kept journals and diaries, chronicling the relatively tame world of a now 20-something from the suburbs of the Midwest. Tame that is until an innocent college semester studying abroad in Madrid, Spain.

Duke in Madrid probably changed my life. I’m not going to claim that it was such a profound educational experience that I arrived back on US shores with a newfound sense of self and surroundings. But there is no denying that my life was shaped by those 4 months. More than anything else, I was left with a desire to return. I’m sure that many people find themselves with the same urge, the same itch. In all honesty I cannot even claim that my desire was caused by a deep love or appreciation for Spain and the Spanish people. Quite possibly it was the simple result of 4 months of home cooking, unbeatable nightlife, trips around Europe, and very little schoolwork. Regardless, I left with a longing to return - little more than a year later I was given the opportunity.

They say that the enchufe (or connection) is invaluable in Spain – it opens countless doors, be they job interviews, real estate opportunities, or VIP treatment. It is only fitting, then, that my chance to return to Madrid was given to me by the daughter of an acquaintance of my mother. The connection was a tangled one but it left my good friend and I with an incredible apartment near the Parque del Buen Retiro for the summer after college graduation. We arrived with return tickets and suitcases packed with summer clothes only. It wasn’t too long before we were phoning home to announce that we weren’t ready to leave after all and begging our parents to send fall and winter clothes.

For the next two years we taught English classes to a myriad of clients, from 3 year-olds to VPs of major companies. My tenure even involved leading English-language aerobic and dance classes in elementary schools! Neither of us were top-level English teachers, but that profession gave us the ability to stay in Madrid and the flexibility to travel around, seeing the best of Europe – from San Fermín to Las Fallas, the Love Parade to Oktoberfest. At the end of those two years we both left, knowing that it was time we “grew up” and got real jobs. We couldn’t play in Madrid forever. When I left that time I did indeed take with me a true love for Spain and for its people. And for one person in particular.

I met Nacho towards the end of those two years. When I left we figured out a way to still be together and he moved with me to South Florida. Over the past four years we created a life in the States. We started careers, got married, and bought our first home, all the while missing the lifestyle of Madrid.

And so it is that we’re on the brink of returning there. Nacho, in fact, is already there – having left just after we sold our condo to begin the search for a job and an apartment. I’m leaving in just about 3 weeks and my intention is to chronicle the adventure on these pages. From suburbanite to city girl... As if the culture shock alone wasn’t enough!! The coming months will surely be stressful and exhausting as I begin the paperwork for my residency and work permits, and then the search for a job. Perhaps an enchufe will surface to help me out…