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.
1. Tune in to old rock songs in a red car. Driving away from the city you press your feet into the windshield, relish the feeling of going along a highway driving away, into the mountains
2. At the zoo, the worker ants bring me back to my garden. I peer into their glass farm like a kid. The big fish swirl above, a recurring dream
3. Anger rises from sitting places, sadness and anger dwell in common rooms, they have teeth
4. Pack a tin full of ice cream from the corner shop. Heat descends onto the paths home, between the big banana trees
5. A summer bath, a child’s game of basketball while the sun goes down
6. Evening under the looming monastery, we watch the awful singer-songwriter on stage, sneak away from the crowd stepping carefully over the cobbled stone. The town smells of hot dogs and popcorn and Valencian ice cream
7. Stay in bed, because you want to follow the plotline of some other hidden life. The sun bears down and you bury the feeling that another day has passed
8. To-do lists grow, shorten, lengthen, pause
9. The old bear in the plaza sees more tourists. Everyone else has left, it is a ghost city of visitors and bored wanderers waiting for something to happen
10. Think about years before this city was ever your city, you saw every corner and said it wasn’t enough, and it turned into a given; estrangement, joy. A new heart, on the other side of doubt
11. Pool laps, after all the children have left
Your glance makes me great
Wish we were alone, the two of us
Wandering through Madrid,
Without anything to say,
Because nothing is important
When we make memories
Through the streets of Madrid.
– Maldita Nerea, “Tu Mirada Me Hace Grande”
“Sleepless long nights, that is what my youth is for.”
Late nights become unhurried afternoons, with a view of the rooftops of downtown Madrid from the opened doors of the balcony. Lying on her bed like an old couple on a Sunday morning, we can see the blue of the sky and the pigeons that swoop across. We imagine we’re lying on a beach somewhere and that they’re really seagulls flying by. The whir of approaching cars is really the ocean, the tide coming closer. The warmth of the down blanket is really the warmth of the summer sun.
We talk about Spanish men — Spanish boys. She talks about her frustrations, her desires. We laugh and I am glad that it’s daytime and that we have no obligations whatsoever. It’s a Tuesday, a holiday, and the city is bursting alive five floors below us, but we are lounging like cats in a corner of her tiny but cozy apartment, which is illuminated by the daylight that Spain is so sought out for. It’s December and the balcony doors are wide open, the air comes creeping in as if to clear out all the remnants of night. We’re tired, slightly broken, with aching feet. But the sun is out and we are at peace with ourselves, lying like an old couple with the covers up to our chins.