Twelve years ago Kevin and I went to Spain to escape Christmas, escape the Minnesota winter and study Spanish. But mostly to pretend that Christmas wasn't happening.
What actually happened was we ran out of money and got sick of everyone telling us how WRONG our Mexican accents were and how we needed to talk CORRECTLY. This was from the instructors we were paying to talk to us; we couldn't get a word out of anyone else regardless of how many cups of coffee and newspapers we tried to use to strike up conversations. I thought that Spaniards seemed cold and too busy shopping to chat.
My mood then wasn't helped by the everlasting Christmas carols pumped into the streets. After burning through our cash in three weeks, Kevin maxed out his credit cards and we went back to Minneapolis. We signed up for whatever last minute classes we could find, resigned to a cold winter and personal mission to find a school elsewhere for us to transfer to.
That experience of Spain was our fault. We hadn't done our homework on how much more expensive Spain was than Mexico or Puerto Rico and hadn't investigated enough about culture or religion before leaving. Knowing it was our fault didn't make me much happier, however. If I wasn't jolly before, the trip to Spain had NOT helped.
Last week I walked around Madrid, meditating on how beautiful it felt, its old buildings and narrow streets throbbing with life. My sense of the city was changed.
I walked into a plaza where Christmas market booths sold everything from religious figurines to Gary Coleman caricatures. Looking up, I remembered being there before. I'd taken a photo of Kevin from one of the shuttered balconies a few stories high. I remembered writing on the back of the photo 'Plaza Mayor' and that it was a nice, laughing photograph.
I don't remember what he and I were laughing about then but last week I stood still and watched people and laughed to myself about the Spaniards' holiday wigs: grannies as sparkly clowns, old men in seventies afros, Pippi Longstocking, Dr. Seuss, mohawks, bright pink, orange, and blue.
Tapas bars everywhere overflowed with people. There was room only to stand over plates and share food and I kind of wanted to be Spanish and spend my Sunday mornings drinking sangria outside, ordering six paellas for the table.
I don't know how I missed this that first time in Madrid, how I left feeling such separateness. The Spaniards I met this time seemed JUST ONLY BARELY able to contain their enthusiasm.
They talked and laughed quickly and easily and once I nearly tripped because the man I was working with and walking next to was gesturing and leaning into me so much that I almost lost my balance. I found out later that he was totally drunk but whatever.
After returning to London, I wandered around Soho, Covent Garden, and Trafalgar Square with Lindsay and found myself, beyond all expectation, digging the Christmas lights and giant ornaments strung from one building to another. I thought IT JUST FEELS LIKE CHRISTMAS HERE. And don't tell anyone but I liked that.