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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Un Día en la Vida

Me desperté
Salí de la cama
Me pasé el peine por la cabeza
Bajé la escalera y me tomé un té
Y levantando la vista vi que era tarde

The Beatles

I read the news today, oh boy. Big deal. So what? I read the news everyday. The difference is that now I read the news mostly in Spanish and French. Every day I read El País from Madrid and Levante which is one of is the local papers from Valencia. This is what everyone here reads. I read Le Figaro from Paris to improve my French, taking at least one article every day and finding every new word in the dictionary. Once again, it's not a big deal because lots of people here speak and read French. Things that I once considered odd and foreign are now run-of-the-mill and ordinary, bordering on the routine and boring. I suppose this change I have undergone is normal, inevitable, and necessary for anyone who has set up shop in Spain. I also imagine that there are lots of people who move here and just sort of pretend that nothing is different, holding on to their mother language, eating the same sort of food they ate at home, keeping with their own people, and blocking out Spanish daily life as much as possible.

Sometimes I think that for every cup of coffee I share with a Spanish friend, effortlessly ordering, conversing for 45 minutes, greeting acquaintances who pass by on the street, paying the bill, and bidding farewell; for every phone conversation in which I move—without thinking—from present to future, to conditional, to the subjunctive, and perhaps four other verb tenses; for every trip to the market in which I now know exactly what is expected of me as a customer; as more and more of daily life here becomes regular and completely un-foreign to me, I seem to be losing my sense of wonder about Spanish life that defined my first two years in this country. I guess it's like moving to a much higher altitude: you either become acclimatized or you don't. It's a lot more comfortable breathing the new air than gasping and wheezing on what remains of your former existence.

It's just that up until now, most of what I have written about Spain is from the perspective of a newcomer. I think my rookie visa expired months and months ago and it's time to get some sort of new stamp on my writing passport. Don't get me wrong, I'm not at the point where people are going to mistake me for a Spaniard—like a friend of mine who has spent ten years in Sevilla—but that is sort of a lofty goal I entertain. The Spanish life and culture that has been pouring over me for the past two years haven't worn away all of my American edges, but I have definitely noticed a change. Everything is a lot smoother, a lot easier, and more normal. I think that I have reached that tipping point when going back to life in Seattle would be more difficult than moving forward with life in Spain.

I remember the same phenomena when I lived in Greece many years ago. If you were only there for the normal military tour of a year and a half, you would go home with some great memories, but nothing had really changed in your own internal psyche. For those of us who stayed longer, we became marked permanently with the stamp of Greek life. Going back to life in the States was a tough adjustment. The hurried pace of American life seemed silly and pointless. We tried to make our lives in the States more like what we left behind in Athens or on some half-deserted island in the Mediterranean. It was confusing to have certain things missing from our daily routines. It was as if someone had rearranged the furniture in a blind person's home. It took a lot of stumbling to get used to everything once again—if we ever did.

It would be difficult for me to imagine life without all of the familiar Spanish things around me. It's not as if life in Spain is so completely different from America. It's not like I've had to go native like Margaret Mead in Samoa (although a Spanish person might feel this way if they had to live in some place like rural Arkansas). It must admit that I have come to take a lot of things here for granted and if they were taken away I would miss them terribly. I just can picture myself back in the States screaming at some kid in a restaurant because I can't get a sandwich made with tortilla de patatas, or wondering why there aren't bullfight posters on the walls of the bars, or why the car stereos of 16 year old boys are blasting rap instead of flamenco music. The good news is that I don't have to worry about that, at least not for now.