“From Madrid, to heaven”

Where’ve you been? Tell me, where’ve you been?
I’ve looked all over the city for you
And couldn’t find you
Today I buried the kisses I gave
Now I don’t have to wait anymore,
Lost in the street,
Lost in the street

– Taxi, “Perdido en la Calle”

I love this song and this video because of the girl who is moving forward through the streets of Madrid while everyone else is backtracking through time. It makes me think of my time in Madrid, and how much of my four years there has involved a similar de-synchronization of my life from that of family and friends at home. I felt like I was leaving not only those people behind while they went about with their lives, but also my early 20’s, the other me.

This, of course, was not the case my first year abroad. I loved everything about Madrid when I first arrived, the people, the parties, the coffee, the nightlife, my roommates, my classmates. And above all, the feeling that I was not at home, I was in this crazy place where people took siestas regularly and I had to fend for myself in the mire of English-teaching, Spanish-learning, Spanish bureaucracy, and Spanish boys. And I loved every minute of it.

But after awhile, I remember it all got a little tiring. I began to miss home a bit, particularly New York City. I would miss the big skyscrapers and the way they made me feel anonymous and small; I missed college, reminisced about living in the city and the adventures I had. I continually compared Madrid to New York and was sometimes annoyed by its shortcomings — like why did people stare so much? Why is nothing open 24 hours? Why are there no cute hipster coffee shops where I can vege on my laptop all day? Why do people party so much?

Yep, when I arrived I couldn’t get enough of going out, and by spring I was already tired of it all. Things were becoming so familiar, the avenues, the restaurants, my classes. I began to wish it were a more beautiful city, or perhaps grittier, with more places to hide and burrow myself into while I was missing home. I found it difficult to have moments like the ones in college, sitting on some stoop in the Lower East Side, feeling strange and poetic and on the verge of vomiting a poem. In New York, things were never predictable and people were never complacent.

I think this is one of those cliche cases of not appreciating things until you lose them. This spring, my friend Allison visited me, and I took her to all the usual places in Madrid — Retiro Park, the Palace, Plaza Mayor, etc. I had never really admired the city aesthetically, but her amazement with Retiro and everything else I showed her made me think again. Yes, I had this gorgeous park a bus-ride away, these old beautiful buildings all over, and so much history that I just simply took for granted. And then there’s the neighborhoods that are such treasure troves of la vida madrileña— Malasaña, Bilbao, Lavapiés, La Latina.

On our evening walk through the Palace gardens, she asked me, “Why would you want to leave this?” And I had second thoughts again. Yes, why would I want to leave? I was starting to feel pangs of regret while we strolled under the Palace lights. I thought about all the walks I took through Sol, the shopping trips on Gran Via, the hours on the Metro, the beautiful springs and the fun nights. And I had to agree with her. I had never admired Madrid the way I did these last couple of months. I began to sincerely say to people that I loved Madrid, that it was an amazing city.

I had built my life from the ground up these last four years there, made great friends, maintained the longest-lasting relationship and adventure I ever had, and grew up, a lot.  I wish my college self had known what I learned in Madrid. In Madrid, I became more outspoken because I was able to navigate life in another language. I figured out the kinds of people I wanted to keep around me, and was okay with not pleasing everyone. I learned how to live with who I loved.  And I was able to develop those things I loved to do — read, write, travel, be with good people. From my old roommate Judy, from Janet, from Cynthia, John, and Isa, from many people, and of course from Javi, I learned these things, and I couldn’t be happier for the times spent with them.

Being in your 20’s and in New York — it always constitutes a lost, romantic condition. I think my disillusionment with Madrid was the lack of this. Days were always sunny, every bar was always full of people, feelings didn’t seem as complex. And perhaps that is why I couldn’t find that in Madrid, because I was never lost there. I always knew, in the back of my mind, what I wanted; that was also a part of the growing up. And I knew, when I returned to Madrid last Christmas from Philly, that it was time to go home.

I was excited when I made the decision. I thought of all the people I’d be seeing at home, all the things I could do once I got there and began living life there again. All the pho I would eat. But when the time came for me to stuff two huge suitcases with all the clothes, shoes, books, and keepsakes I’d collected in four years, I couldn’t stop bawling my eyes out. It was, of course, an impossible task, so I’ve left half of my life there waiting. Madrid will always be my other home, and I’m certain that I’ll return one day.

When it all started, I was 22 and alone, dragging one large suitcase down Paseo de Extramedura, asking people in sloppy Spanish for number 146. And when I had to leave, I didn’t want to leave. But I knew I had to, so that I could reconnect with my other life on the other side of the big pond, and so I could grow up even more and do the things I want to do. It was always hard juggling these two sides that were completely different; it was draining and confusing and made me wish life were simpler. But I feel as if I’m on the right track now, and on the road to piecing them together.  Thanks for everything, Madrid. I love you.

De Madrid al cielo. From Madrid to heaven. 

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The Swallower Swallowed

” – Hay billones y billones de números…Tengo una idea! No sé cómo decirte… Hay billones de números. Hay demasiados para que los podamos conocer todos, retener todos en nuestra cabeza, lleva a todos en nuestro corazón, amar a todos tal como amas a tu árbol, a tu casa, a tu hermano…Si dices: Amo los números, no amas mucho que digamos. Si dices: Amo a los seres humanos, no notas que amas. Pero si tú dices: Amo a Christian, ves a alguien en tu cabeza, sientes el peso de alguien en tu corazón, te acuerdas de las cosas que habeís hecho juntos. Eso es lo que te propongo: escojamos un número cualquiera. Será nuestro número y le querremos con todo nuestro empeño. Entre los billones de números que hay, será el único que tenga una cara. Te dejo elegirlo.”

“There are billions and billions of numbers…I have an idea! I don’t know how to tell it to you…There are billions of numbers. There are too many for us to know them all, to retain them in our heads, to keep them in our hearts, to love all of them like you may love your tree, your house, or your brother…If you say: I love numbers, we could say that you don’t really love much. If you say: I love human beings, you wouldn’t notice yourself loving. But if you say: I love Christian, you see someone in your head, you feel the weight of someone in your heart, you remember all the things which you have done together. That’s what I’m suggesting: that we choose any number. It will be our number and we’ll love it with all our might. I’ll let you choose it.”

— L’avalée des avalés, Réjean Ducharme


New York City and Dylan Thomas

Housing Works Cafe…I somehow always run into this place every time I’m in New York, even though Crosby street in Soho isn’t exactly a street one would encounter easily. I’ve been here on rainy Sundays to take shelter. I’ve sat in the little cafe area with hot tea and a random book from the shelf, so delighted to be alone. I’ve bought used poetry books and novels, among them, I remember, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

Of course this time I had to go browse the small poetry nook found up the winding staircase.  I came upon the same edition of Dylan Thomas’s collected poems that I had lost for some time now, a collection that has lived its meaningful moments during my time in college. Once a guy I was briefly and violently in love with (named Dylan) chose a poem randomly from that book and read it to me before I went to sleep. It turned out to be the best one in the whole collection, or at least I fell in love with it and have not fallen out ever since.

Dylan Thomas was a deeply troubled Welsh poet whose lyrical poems are pretty morbid. But his poems are so beautiful because they are especially concerned with sound: ” I wanted to write poetry in the beginning because I had fallen in love with words. … What the words stood for, symbolized, or meant, was of very secondary importance. What mattered was the sound of them …. And these words were, to me, as the notes of bells, the sounds of musical instruments, the noises of wind, sea, and rain, the rattle of milkcarts, the clopping of hooves on cobbles, the fingering of branches on a window pane…”

Here is that poem:

This Bread I Break

This bread I break was once the oat,
This wine upon a foreign tree
Plunged in its fruit;
Man in the day or wind at night
Laid the crops low, broke the grape’s joy.

Once in this wine the summer blood
Knocked in the flesh that decked the vine,
Once in this bread
The oat was merry in the wind;
Man broke the sun, pulled the wind down.

This flesh you break, this blood you let
Make desolation in the vein,
Were oat and grape
Born of the sensual root and sap;
My wine you drink, my bread you snap.

I memorized this poem, I even analyzed it in workshops.  And since I am not so good at remembering verse, my recitations always confused the words wine, blood, flesh, bread, grapes, oat.  Coincidentally, today I was sent another poem of his by email. I leave off with one haunting stanza:

A dark as deep
My love as a round wave
To hide the wolves of sleep
And mask the grave…