It’s been a minute.
In so many ways, I’ve just begun.
Three months is how long one can have a “Tourist Visa” for the Schengen Area, the territory made up of 26 European states (including Spain) that have a common visa policy. Everything after that is, well, just life.
I have been in Madrid just over three months. I am still a visitor.
I’m surrounded by Americans here. My three roommates are all from the States, as are most of the people I associate with on a day-to-day basis. My situation is unique among the group because I am the only one not enrolled in the language school, and thus lack those direct connections and gateways into the wider culture here.
Admittedly, it’s made things difficult.
I never had any illusions. Moving to Spain was always going to be more difficult than any of my 10 US moves for one obvious reason: I don’t speak the language. Every challenge associated with relocating is amplified by that deficiency. Which, of course, is the point. Each challenge should be harder than the one that came before, otherwise, there’s no growth.
I am on my own.
As I said, I have a group of Americans around me, and I’m grateful for their company. We spent Thanksgiving together, traveled to Toledo as a group, and have enjoyed a wide range of activities, both Spanish and otherwise, including photo shoots, dance classes, and bar hopping. Like so many other cities before Madrid, I have landed within the comforting fold of a collective.
But after my many years on the road, I’m acutely aware of the solitude inherent to my life. Carpool lanes don’t exist on this highway.
I scan through a lot of travel blogs and social media posts by people who have moved to another country. A common trope across almost all of these mediums is the grandiose self-examination, the “What have I learned so far?” post.
I get it. Not only are we a species prone to taking stock of where we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going, but our friends and family are always asking us about all that David Copperfield kind of crap. Why move across an ocean if you aren’t going to learn new things about the world and yourself?
So, here’s some knowledge: Mahou, the name of a ubiquitous beer in Madrid, is one syllable and rhymes with “wow.”
Something else? Well, hm, a euro or two is sufficient tip for a full meal.
Still more? I’d rather not.
Three months isn’t long enough to “know” anything. I am new to this country – to this continent – and I have experienced relatively little in the grand scheme of things. If I returned to the States now, I could certainly share insights into life in Spain and on how it differs from life in the US. They would be shallow observations, though, because I haven’t come here to report back on my findings.
I’m here to live. Solo mirando solo.
When the original 10 Cities/10 Years project concluded, my biggest struggle was explaining the “why” of it, both to others and to myself. I did it, it happened, there was nothing more to it. The project was such a massive undertaking that it’s nearly incomprehensible to suggest there was no grand purpose to the endeavor, and yet.
Now in Spain, I feel a similar disconnect. The people I know have different reasons for being here, either seeking a break from their life, or improving their Spanish, or even escaping a painful past. Some will be here a year, others might push it to two. In the end, though, they will return home, because home is something definite to them.
I’ve nothing to return to. I’m home here. And then, some day – a year, two years, a decade from now – I’ll be home somewhere else. Home is always the future, never what’s past.
I have no idea where I will be in a year. In some ways, that’s standard operating procedure for me, but in the past there’s always been scaffolding to provide shape to the uncertain future. I might not have known what city I would be in, but I knew I’d be somewhere new, starting over, getting on with the process of life and building towards New York.
A year from now, I could be in Madrid or Barcelona, some other European country, or somewhere in Asia. Maybe circumstances will force me back to the US or into some heretofore unimaginable corner of the planet. I mean, probably Madrid, but also, if the wind blows, so be it.
I am on my own.
This much I know. Everything is up in the air and the roads undiscovered are plentiful, but there has been one truth to my life that hasn’t changed: I will find my own way.
May it not always be a lonely path. Cada camino es un buen camino.
Madrid sure is pretty, isn’t it?