A traveler walks along an abandoned road. Behind him, Toledo. In front of him, Madrid. Inside of him, the blurry faces of friends made on street corners, the soft-welcoming lights of deserted roads at midnight, and music, so much music.
And you, oh traveler, what do you see as you trudge along? What is inside of you?
In Spain, the gentle murmur of content voices gently flow from the open doors of bright cafés onto sun-drenched streets, and sometimes, you forget that you have responsibilities. For a day only, you say, this café will be yours. Then, because after all you are in Spain, after having only sat for an hour or so, you are swept up and away, going somewhere new. In Spain – after having rambled from cafés to bars to sandlots where old men play petanca every Sunday, you might sit down for a meal, but you’ll probably end up standing in a bar sipping vermouth, feeling very much like a writer from the lost generation, and substituting your dinner for the olives that are served alongside the vermouth. Here, there is not enough time in the day for something as orderly as a sit-down meal.
In Madrid, every person you meet is an artist. And, somehow, rather than doubting or judging, you accept this as the truth. You abandon your judgement and predisposition. By freeing yourself of the prohibitive social constructs, the music becomes part of you. Perhaps you are in a bar, perhaps you are observing a lone guitarist on an empty plaza, perhaps you are standing, perhaps you are sitting, but when the singer begins, no matter how scratchy his voice, the song leaves your muscles tense. Your hair stands on end. The song flows through you and over you as if you were a smoothed rock in a bubbling stream. You give yourself into the melodic sounds freely and willingly. The notes overtake every sense and the sounds become the cacophony of a busy metropolitan city. From your bedroom window it bursts into the bars and streams into the streets. In Sol, Madrid’s epicenter, Ukranian street travelling musicians play as an ever-growing crowd looks on wholly engaged. In Lavapiés, a musician with a torn and worn accordion, might stop and serenade you until long into the night. Here, when someone plays, no one is doing business on cell phones. Here, everyone listens. Here, everyone lives in the moment.
In Madrid, the clubs are dark, smoky, and crowded. You’ll stand, only half aware of the music engulfing the moving bodies around you. Yet, somehow, in this moment you feel more connected to those moving bodies, more whole than you have ever felt defending your thesis, swearing your allegiance to the flag or even saying your vows. You are here. You are now. And in this chaos the current that shoots through these moving bodies makes you whole.
Then again there are moments of silence. At times, often at night, or in the morning as you walk with the sun rising in front of you, after having escaped the clubs with their shuttered windows which leave no indication of the actual time, perhaps then you are struck by the immensity of it all. As you walk past El Palacio Real, the soft golden morning light reflects off the intimidating white walls onto a wide plaza. On your side, a man with a shaggy white Maltese dog distances himself. You don’t mind. When the light shines in just that way, you and the glow of morning are the only things that matter. Let the man with the pampered dog keep his distance! For now, these morning rays warm your face, and warm your very being. After all, you think, we only live once, so live well. On these early mornings, the light, the buildings and your own disorientation leave you lost and unsure of what century you are in. But then, for the first time in a long time this doesn’t matter. Whether you are a peddler in the 18th century or a college student in the 21st, what matters is that you are here now and that the sun is shining invitingly.
But, you, oh traveler, will move on. Spain opens its arms wide. She welcomes you, holds you tight in a lover’s embrace, but even she knows you will leave. Still, like any great love she is never really forgotten. As you sit, desperately struggling through some book in some airport, you know that the emotions, the passion, the energy that you felt pulsating from one membrane to another will never leave you. Spain is in your veins. At home, the streets upon which you walk never shine quite as bright. Your next-door neighbors won’t call out to you from their balconies and there will be nowhere to sit and listen to chords floating around you. Their absence will be acute and painful and only then will you realize. Spain remains. Always.
Your Spain may be an orange and yellow tiled kitchen. Your Spain may be a dark bar where you once could not recognize your own reflection in the mirror. Your Spain may be a dirty klippan ikea sofa stained by too much wine and beer. Your Spain may be the stomping feet and intense strumming of Flamenco. Your Spain may be the amalgam of flavors: rooted in Arabic, bourgeois condescension, and peasant ingenuity. Your Spain may be the melodic cadence of a Spanish tête-á-tête overheard in a café. No matter what your Spain is, she has torn you open, seeped into your veins. Years from now, you may be standing in a cathedral, you may be bumped along on a noisy busy street, you may hear notes of a long forgotten song that had once played so clearly, you’ll be taken back and then you’ll know.
Spain is part of you and always will be.
And for those who are unconvinced by the words. A photo essay instead (luckily my roommate Maga took some great pictures):