far too much writing, far too many photos

Madrid. My first extended stay in a foreign culture (not counting 16 or 17 months spent in L.A.).

Me: ready for change after 40+ years in the States. I’d been to London a few times, been to Ireland twice. Fun, adventure, all that. And for a while I thought I’d like to live in the U.K., but there never seemed to be a way to carry it off.

A year and a half ago, sitting at my desk at work one midwinter New England morning, I opened the paper to find air fares on sale to locations all over Europe. Cheap. And in that moment, Madrid caught my eye.

Why? A fine question. I’d studied Spanish in 7th and 8th grade — and to say that I’m using the word ’studied’ liberally insults the word ‘liberally’ — when it was not cool to pay attention. Learned essentially nothing. And found that, as the years went by, I felt a growing disappointment about that. Found myself wishing I could speak something other than English, think in something other than English. See the world from a foreign perspective, breathe foreign air. Wake up in a flat in a European city, see what that felt like.

That’s part of why. Another, more important, part: the sister of my best friend’s wife lives in Madrid, an American woman married to a Spanish attorney, in Madrid for 17 years. A long time, long enough to see the country go through drastic changes in the wake of Franco’s demise, to witness democracy taking root. I had a connection.

Hopped an overnight flight via London, reached Madrid on a Thursday in mid-February, around noon. Caught a bus into the city from the airport (local traffic featuring an unbelievable number of motorcycles and motor scooters, their drivers navigating the streets as if convinced they were exampt from traffic laws), then a taxi to the hotel. Dragged my sorry, tired hind section up to my teensy little room.

On impulse, turned on the TV — cable, with channels from around Europe: Germany, France, Italy, and of course Spain. Switched to a Spanish channel. Saw an ad featuring a lovely woman. Naked, swimming gracefully underwater, holding a bottle of drinking water — apparently oblivious to the redundancy. Shut the TV off, lay down, passed out for a while.

I didn’t realize it then, but when I woke up I was home.

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