In approximately thirty days, I will be leaving Spain, this beautiful country I’ve called home for the past three years and four months, and journeying back to the nation of American-style football, multiple-lane freeways, 7-Eleven’s on every corner, and 24-hour customer service. I don’t write this with sarcasm or a snarky tone; I’m actually quite looking forward to it. Maybe not the football part, but America in general, heck yes. I can’t wait to be able to shop on Sundays, walk into a restaurant at three in the afternoon and have it be open for business, and listen in on a stranger’s conversation and know exactly what they’re saying.
I have mixed emotions though.
Last night the husband and I went out for some dinner in the little fisherman/beach town of Rota, which is literally a stone’s throw from the naval base gate. The town is so small and so close to where we live, that to consider anything but walking to your destination is laughable (I remember three years ago, when we first arrived and wanted to venture into this small town, I felt that the opposite was true; the only “walking” I was used to was from the parking lot to the store). On this night, however, we decided to take a cab in case we wanted to drink anything stronger than an orange fanta with dinner.
Our restaurant of choice is a place we’ve been to many times before, serving Spanish-Mexican style food and killer margaritas. We sit outside on the patio in true Spanish form, because if there’s anything I’ve learned while living here, it’s that the Spanish love to eat/drink/socialize outdoors, and will do so at every opportunity. And on this night, it would be a crime not to; the sun is going down, the weather is mild, and since we’re right next to a busy sidewalk, it’s the perfect place to people-watch.
I give my order to the waitress in Spanish with no hesitation or self-consciousness, and I am proud of this fact, even though I am nowhere near fluent in the language. Despite the fact that I studied Spanish for several years in school, it is quite something else to actually go to a country where that language is spoken and attempt to converse with the locals. My first year here, I was afraid to try out my broken Spanish. They speak so fast. They have a different accent. Surely, they’ll laugh at me. In my own experience, the Spanish are so generous and forgiving when I have made at least an attempt to speak their language. Eventually, my self-consciousness waned. It’s a small victory, but I’ll take it.
We watch locals and tourists walk by as we eat; some are walking their dogs, others have beach chairs in tow as they head away from no doubt an all-day beach excursion. Some people are on bicycles, and some have shopping bags in their hands. Everyone looks tan and happy. I jokingly remark that I don’t see any shirtless old men watching the street from their apartment balcony, something Vince and I are used to seeing every time we go into Rota. It’s a little joke between us that that will be me some day (minus the shirtless part), spying on my neighbors from a vantage point. I can’t really argue. I’m a watcher, a thinker, the one who’s much more comfortable contemplating and observing.
Vince is the complete opposite in this respect. He’s a doer, a talker, a charmer. This has worked so well in his favor during our time in Spain. When I was too shy to try my muddled Spanish on a store clerk, he would step up, and using a combination of sign language and sheepish laughter, get the job done. While I would silently sit in the back of a taxi, pondering the evening ahead, he would casually ask the driver about the fútbol game that was on the radio, and within two minutes, be laughing and talking with the driver in Spanish as if they were old friends. I am in awe of this. I still don’t really know how he does it, but it is one of the many things I love and admire about him.
On this night, however, both our attentions are on each other. Our dinner date was originally supposed to be a double date with friends, but due to a last-minute mishap, it’s just us. But it’s okay. I relish the one-on-one time with him. Even if it’s just to talk about my disappointment in the Sookie-Eric relationship in the current season of Trueblood, and debating whether that dog on the street was a french bulldog or boston terrier. We’re keeping it light. Light is good sometimes.
Our bellies are full, but we could use one more drink. I tell him about the little bar I went to with some girlfriends recently, that served a pretty mean mojito. He’s game. We make our way there and sit at a little two-top table that’s sort of half in, half outside the bar. Again, with a prime people-watching view. The entire town seems to be out and about, and it strikes me how much more active Spain is at night. Everyone’s walking, shopping, herding their children across the street, standing around outdoor tables with a beer in their hands. I love that everyone’s mixed in with each other; families with the young singles, old married couples with the young parents pushing strollers, Spanish locals with U.S. military sailors. We’re all out, we’re here, we’re present.
After our mojito dessert, we hit up an ATM to get some cab fare and then onward to a little furniture shop that I’d been eyeing for weeks (but was always closed due to my stumbling upon it in the afternoons, aka siesta time). But on our way there, we get sidetracked. And I absolutely love getting sidetracked. Especially when it’s Spanish hippies selling their handmade jewelry in the middle of a plaza. “Gifts for friends and family!” I exclaim to Vince as a way to entice him to stick around long enough for me to peruse the goods. And, true to my word, I do pick out some things for our friends and family back home, as well as one for myself. This is such a happy surprise, seeing these vendors out and about selling their neat little things, and produces feelings in me of the “god-I’m-going-to-miss-this-place” variety. It’s a happy and sad feeling, and I’ve been getting it a lot lately.
My jewelry hoarding comes with a price though, as we find out that the furniture shop closed not ten minutes ago. But no worries, we’ll hit it up another night. We make our way to the taxi stand, and lo and behold, we get in the exact same cab that brought us there. The driver even remembers our address (whether that’s due to a good memory or a slow night, who knows). We both sit quietly in the back, with my hand over his, both of us looking forward to a good night’s sleep. I am happy and peaceful in this moment.
If there’s one thing I’m grateful for, it’s that living in Spain has taught me not to take any place I happen to live for granted. There’s always some place to explore, some hidden gem of a neighborhood to see, interesting characters to meet and talk to. Maybe it comes with being older, but I now see that I used to be quite selfish in my own pursuits before moving here, to the point where I didn’t even really know my own city, how much it had to offer, and how many hidden surprises I probably missed. I never really took advantage of that. And I deeply regret it.
But that’s also why I can’t really be too sad about leaving here. My adventure with Spain will end, but a new adventure with San Diego will begin. It’s weird to say, but I think I’m more excited about this move to California than I was about moving to Spain; not because I didn’t want to move across the Atlantic Ocean to a foreign country, but because I didn’t have the outlook then that I have now. One that’s more hopeful, open, and accepting of the unknown. And for that, Spain, I thank you.