Around a fire

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Sometime over Christmas, a friend dragged me to someone’s cousin’s house somewhere in the middle of nowhere for a fiesta–not a fiesta for anything in particular, but a day of feasting nonetheless. There were about 30 people, and I was the only foreigner. Beer—Cruzcampo, free-flowing—began being handed out at 12 noon, long before lunch was served. By 3:00, there was guitar-playing and singing and dancing, and shouts of ¡Olé! all around. By 5:30, they had made a fire, around which the festivities continued, along with suggestions of “getting to know each other better,” or “putting you and my friend together, wink wink,” all made in good faith, and easy enough to refuse.

At 9:00, one of my friends—Spanish, male, inebriated quite—sat next to me and said, in English, and with greater confidence than I had seen him speak English in the years we’d known each other: “Averill, I hope the time will come when you will get to sit in a place like this with the rest of us and not think of it as a group of Spanish people singing Spanish songs and dancing like Spaniards.” He burped, continued: “I hope you will become so immersed in life in Spain that you will see this for what it is: simply, a group of friends sitting around a fire and having fun.”

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Parades

This is the first post I’m writing from Sevilla. I got here last Tuesday, and have had to live pretty much without internet over the last week. I finally got my connection to work today.

I’ve been spending my days away from everything I’m used to. Here my mobile phone is virtually useless, and I hate using it. (I guess I hated using it in Manila as well anyway.) I’ve been speaking Spanish more than 80 percent of the time–I catch myself now beginning to think thoughts in Spanish, however basic they may be, and I feel this is good progress. Instead of rice and ulam, I have an abundance of cheeses and breads for meals. I’ve been learning to get around on foot, by bus, by metro, and occasionally on my friend’s Vespa. I guess the material comfort I miss the most from my life in Manila is driving my own car. I enjoy my commutes of course, the city is absolutely lovely, but I felt so much more in control of my life when I could come and go as I pleased. Here I feel I am, in a frightening, abstract way, at the mercy of bus schedules and metro stops, of taxis that may or may not pass through. I’ve been able to go everywhere I’ve wanted without much difficulty, without knowing very much about anything. I feel braver, but also more fragile than I’ve ever felt. I’ve never thought of myself as fragile, but I suppose being away from all the things and people who make one feel secure has its own profound effects on one’s temperament.

Spanish lunch: salmorejo, jamon iberico y huevos de perdiz (partridge eggs!) on bread

Spanish lunch: salmorejo, jamon iberico y huevos de perdiz (partridge eggs!) on bread

I have plenty of friends here, more friends than most people do when they move to a new country, I suppose, but I’ve been inevitably spending more of my time alone. I haven’t been as lonely as I expected to be. Mostly I marvel at what an amazing thing it is to be able to pick up and leave and begin an entirely new life in an entirely new language. It makes me wonder what things really make up a life–possessions, relationships, ideas, activities, memories; makes me try to guess at the substance of each individual. What are you and who are you when all you have ever known and been are no longer there? Often I feel like Franz the way Milan Kundera described him in The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Franz felt his book life to be unreal. He yearned for real life, for the touch of people walking side by side with him, for their shouts. It never occurred to him that what he considered unreal (the work he did in the solitude of the office or library) was in fact his real life, whereas the parades he imagined to be reality were nothing but theater, dance, carnival–in other words, a dream.

Maybe all I really am is all that’s here in my head, and even though I’ve moved here to Sevilla, to a place where I long to “be my other self,” I am cursed and blessed to be this same person in the realm of my real life–the life I live in solitude–regardless of my context, and people walking side by side with me, their shouts, are far removed, and cannot really touch me.