I was on my own. For the first time and last time in my life I was a firm believer in human agency unencumbered by an increasingly more flexible structure wherein I could invent myself.
I was meant to be in Sevilla for university but had a few weeks to situate myself in my new world. My parents had generously put me up in the Hotel California on the Gran Via in Madrid for a couple of nights to gather my bearings until I could manage to find a hostel or some other arrangement and make my way down south where I was expected.
I took no pictures of that hotel room on the Gran Via to conserve my memory. Film at that time was reserved for splendid cathedrals, quaint plazas, important monuments, things I thought I might only see for a short time, not knowing I would walk by them every day for years en route to work. Even without pictures, my memory conserves the tall ceilings, old world decorations and the busy street below my window that I gazed out of. The tub was miniature, the faucets and light switches and pillows all different. I stared at the bidet in befuddlement. Something inside me told me this memory is important; keep it.
I knew loneliness wasn't far off, but for the moment I cherished that I alone made every decision for myself. I decided which streets were worthy of walking down, what I wanted to eat and when and where. I felt in charge of my fate. It's a feeling that only comes accompanied by solitude but that I am grateful is a part of the assemblage of my human experience.
I wandered around Madrid alone. A child of new America, sprawl America, strip mall America, who had never so much as been to Chicago, New York or San Francisco, I stared up at the tall buildings until my neck could no longer take it. I watched all the busy, beautiful people in their perfectly tailored and pressed clothes. I looked down at my own dorky attire but couldn't pinpoint exactly where I had gone wrong. I just knew I wasn't quite right.
I wandered into a cafe where I realized that after three years of high school and college Spanish I was incapable of even ordering breakfast.
"Un croissant y un cafe con leche", a man barked to the waiter.
"Un croissant y un cafe con leche", I repeated insecurely when the waiter finally muttered something unintelligible to me. I salivated at the gorgeous looking orange juice I saw others enjoying and tried to remember how to say it. Jugo de...something or another. Oh well, cafe con leche it shall be. I wanted desperatly not to look like a dumb tourist and would give up orange juice to do so.
I wandered up to what appeared to be a train station with loads of people rushing up and down the stairs in a fury. The sign above the stairway, plain as day, read "Sevilla". Excellent, I thought. I'll get my trip to Sevilla all figured out, it will be one less thing to have to worry about. I went down the steps and told the woman at the ticket counter that I wanted a ticket to Sevilla, since obviously this was the train to Sevilla. She stared at me dumbfounded and answered, "But you are in Sevilla." I thanked her and walked away in complete provincial confusion and worked my way back up to the street level. It was days later that I realized this was the Madrid subway. I had been at the subway stop called "Sevilla". I had never seen a real underground before. The awareness of my own ignorance was humbling.
I thought about where I had come from and I felt an aching to be someone else. No, I wanted to be someone.
Months and years later I clung to being the person that moved to Spain that had learned Spanish and became this bicultural entity. It was the only thing that had ever defined me. In Spain I was Bluestreak, la americana. At home I was Bluestreak, "she lives in Spain, dude." I guess I thought this gave me the social and cultural capital to trump all the motherfuckers who had pushed me aside. I had been chiseled out into something worth mention. Or something. That feeling wore off a long time ago and metamorphisized into something resembling inadequacy.
For awhile I have arithmetically examined my life and summed up all of the parts of me that remained after culture had blended beyond a novelty, after I had subtracted people being impressed with me living in Spain which was now nothing other than an annoyance to me that they thought it interesting, or people here finding it curious that I was an American that spoke such good Spanish which equally annoyed me, after I had subtracted all the scabs I'd shed over the years. The sum total terrified me that I was left with an embodied dialectic, a person who had defined themselves by a contradiction.
But I'd be a hopeless idiot and a waste to think that I can't reinvent myself whenever I want.
Maybe I'll never have the same sense of agency that I had those first few days in Madrid when I was just 21. There may be times I want to take a bite of food that I decide on and Luigi says, "Don't eat that, babe, that's nasty, you're gonna get sick." There may be streets I want to take and he will say, "No, cariño, that's not the right way, we're gonna get lost, let's go my way". But as any structure that impinges on any actor, these structures also enable me, and I´d be floating off into fucking nothingness without them...without him. And this one who licked my war/love wounds and helped coagulate my blood, and gave me the go ahead when my scabs were clear for picking doesn't deserve the tired, defeated version of me. He deserves the hope-spangled one.
And so do I.
P.S. I´ve missed you guys. I´m catching up on your blogs slowly. I know it goes without saying, but I´ve needed a break from the pixelated wonderland to find my voice again, and I hope I´m not fucking jinxing it again. Thanks for sticking around.
Artwork Hopper, Edward Hotel Room, 1931 and Automat 1927.
It's great to see you back again (and the cheery new look for the blog!) Neat to read more of your story, too. I hope things are looking up...
I have no idea how I found your blog many months ago but this post today is absolutely beautiful. I'm happy you're back with us!
Love, love, love Hopper. Some people think his work is pedestrian but I think he's the best. So sad. His paintings are even more fetching in person than they are on posters or pixels. Take that, Europe!
oh such a wonderful piece of writing! I loved it. Powerful words on simple foundations casting tall shadows into my mind
I have to go back and read this slowly when I can give it the time it deserves--just wanted you to know that you've been missed.
Oh Blue girl... you have no idea how this post hits home for me... your description of your first days in Madrid ring so true to my own first in Paris. That exhilirating feeling of beeing FREE and BRAVE and INDEPENDENT and doing something that no one back home had the guts to do..... and yet... knowing in the back of your mind that you are alone.
In time, I think the sum total as you call it is something that we learn to live with. I'm not quite there yet, there's still the dark moments, but looking back and trying to figure out what the alternative could've been leaves me with no answer... I know that this is the road I chose and no other could've made me happy at that time in my life.
The question now is TOMORROW. What to do from now on?
I like to think that it's not over yet. That the "viaje" is not finished yet. That this is only a pitt stop, even if feels like it's going on forevever, and that soon I will move on. I will move forward.
Anyway... thanks for such a great post.
I really really loved this post. The sheer bravery it takes to move to another country and wing it by yourself is totally admirable. and while it was filled with mixed emotions, it only filled me with one emotion. Envy. a sin i know but I really really wish before i started a family and settled down that I had fulfilled my adventurous nature when I was single and free. sigh. now i can only do so with all inclusive packages - a hold my hand type of vacation to experience everything as much as possible before my two week vacation is up and I have to go back to real life. and so it goes. and it's just not the same.
I've always admired people who can just show up in another country and say "Here I am!" That admiration increased after travelling to France and realizing just how alone you can feel.
Hi Bluestreak! I was so glad to see you show up in my reader (yes, I actually use one now).
All I have for you is 'yes...yes you do deserve it...'
And a title from an AC/DC song...'For Those About to Rock (We Salute You).
Yeah, well I DID cry at the part in the subway.
People will "stick around" when the payoff is this good.
Horrible writing. You only think of yourself and not the reader.
Poor me in Spain? Fuck you.
"Here we are now, entertain us."
Going inside yourself only counts when others can see the same things in them selves.
Maybe I'm wrong. Who ar eyou writing for?
@kate - thanks
@LilSass - Thank you for reading. always good to see a new face.
@Unbearable Banishment - his paintings are a whole story, that's what I love about them.
@Neil - that's a huge compliment. (Blush, blush)
@Hereinfranklin - well, I only wrote it cause you nudged me.
@Fned - I know you get it. We have such similar lives.
@Yo Momma - Hey! I thought you studied abroad for a semester or something. You were in Europe for awhile weren't you? Was that with kiddies in tow ? Not THAT would be brave.
@Cubicle - I admired it too, until I did it, and then I admired people who had never left, sometimes. Only sometimes.
@Mongolian - Look at you gettin all savvy. 'Bout time, beotch.
@Rassles - Ha ha. I'm glad I didn't make you cry.
@Prayingtodarwin - I almost cried at that part to, for what a dumb-ass I was.
@RTL - thanks for the encouragement. "Going inside yourself only counts when others can see the same things in them selves". This is exactly why I read blogs, and usually if/when it stops happening, I delete the blog in question from my reader. So be my guest. Who do I write for? Your question got me thinking for sure. I think it's easy for someone who does not blog to stop by and think it's all about the writing and one way communication, and so you just pick topics out of the sky and write about them. For me at least, it's not. In most cases (not in yours except through your comments) it's reciprocal communication. I share a little of me, because they've shared a little of themselves that I've connected with on their blogs. You know how some people hang out on news forums and discussion board and they connect with people in that way? And over time they learn about the people they discuss with and make some sort of connection across the interwebs? Well, this is what I do on the interwebs. I read and write for the people I have ongoing communication with via blogging. Oh, and lest I forget, for myself.
Why don't I break down Spanish culture from an American socioligist point of view instead of mental masturbation? Yeah, and why don't I get a job instead of hanging out on the couch all day? Good question. The answer is probably the same in both cases.
Anyway, RTL, thanks for reading. I know there are other people I know in real life out there that read and never comment, and I appreciate that you let me know you were here.
I'm trying to find the right thing to say.
This was a lovely read.
The only way I can explain why is that there is so much NOT said, not written. They way you wrote this makes me want to read what you haven't written here, go down those alleys in the spaces between the words you have.
Longing, sad, wishful, and blue.
@Xbox, thank you. I envy you prolific ones, especially the ones that are good ALL the damn time. I guess I take myself too seriously and should be willing to put out more of my shitty drafts for the scathing eyes to see. Let me be honest, I don´t even have that many shitty drafts. Besides, scathing eyes rarely make themselves known on the blogoworld. Maybe we all just pat each others backs. I´ve been thinking about one of your posts constantly since I read it, the one about the woman that lost something on the scooter. I wish I had words to describe fleeting moments like that, cause it captures a world in a moment. Maybe I should go outside myself a bit like RTL recommends, but I guess I lose interest with reeling people in with just writing, as opposed to communicating something about myself. Maybe because I rarely get reeled into other blogs unless I´m hooked on who they are as a person, whoever it is they transmit in their writing.
I didn't actually mean the frequency of your posting at all, more that this post gave glimpses of stories and observances that you've not gone into.
It tastes of more. It was like a good movie trailer.
On the other blog I've published stuff I KNOW is poor, but I feel better for doing it. Just write, and don't be too afraid to suck.
I remember the Hotel California. Echo de menos mi Madrid.
Wow you gots lots o comments!
I was going to say that it's interesting how people think your special or even WE think we're special just because we are an expat.
I remember telling people, "Oh, I live here" and watching people's reactions. They kind of look at you like your famous or extra special.
Truth is, it takes a lot of guts to do what you did so guess what bitch? You are special.
You found it. Nicely done, really brings me back to my first few days in Oxford.
By the way 'The Fountainhead'? Ayn Rand and Old Europe seem kind of mutually exclusive, no?
@Xbox - I reread your comment and it's clearer now what you were saying. yeah, I find your other site a bit more experimental, but always a good read even if some of it isn't as fine tuned as xbox4nappyrash. And while I love Xbox4nappyrash, I wished I could read your thoughts on other things and am glad you started the new one too.
@Clarissa - I do too. but then I go there and can't handle more than three days of the madness, but you live in London, so you're used to madness.
@My Way - I've never considered it guts. Now, when I was Ecuador that took guts although not many cause I didn't live there, as you did living in Mexico. When you stay within the first world, differences aren't as important and are more like minor annoyances. I've never lived face to face with poverty and don't know if I could, truth be told.
@A Free Man - exactly! that's why I'm a walking contradiction. Which is why I had to post an American realists paintings to reflect my experience in Europe.
Blue, Blue, Blue. You are a much better human than I will ever be.
I love this, the sentiment, the phrasing, the art and the hopefulness.
I am awed by your bravery to start over fresh in a new place, a new country. Sometimes I wish I had the balls, the wisdom, to do that when I was younger. I admire you for that, and also for your incredible talent. You write beautifully. I'm glad you're back.
I admit: it does sound better to be unemployed in Spain and walking the streets, than it does to be unemployed in a small town in nowheresville, USA.
That said, being poor sucks, wherever you are, and finding oneself? Priceless.
God, I miss that feeling, that I'm here to take on the world and I'm scared and it's new but I'm going to do it anyway and holy crap that guy is peeing on a church.
Also, I understand needing to step away from the keys. Truly.
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