My opinion of Spain, and Madrid in particular, has changed a lot since I visited for the first time back in spring 2005. In March 2010, after having lived in Spain for a total of six months, I wrote the following to describe just how my relationship with the country had changed since transitioning from being a tourist to a local:
I fell in love with Spain during the spring of 2005 while enjoying café con leches in Madrid’s Plaza Santa Ana and while bonding with friends over picnics in Madrid’s oasis–Retiro Park. Since that time my feelings towards Spain, and Madrid in particular, have changed. The thrill and awe I experienced at visiting Europe for the first time have faded and I’ve been introduced to the realities of day to day life half a world away from home. It turns out Spain is not a land of lazy siesta filled afternoons, that I can’t stay up until 6am dancing every night and just because there are things that bother me about the American culture and way of life, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Spaniards are superb in all of these areas. I have to set my alarm most days of the week and although I fantasize about siestas, they are rarely a reality. I’m constantly aware of my budget, I frequently wait in long lines and have to accept the often sad reality that although my relationships back home are important, I can’t stay constantly abreast with what is happening with each and every one important to me in Seattle. All that being said, I feel like my feelings for Spain have not diminished, only that the relationship has matured from uninformed infatuation into an enduring and honest romance.
As a soon-to-be thirty year old, my ideas about romantic love, and my love for Spain and Madrid, have matured a great deal over the past decade. In fall 2013 I ended a two year break from living in Madrid (during which I’d lived in the suburbs of the nearby town Alcala de Henares, an interesting experience in of itself), by moving smack dab into Madrid’s city center. You could not be more centrally located than my apartment, which is only steps away from Madrid’s Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor.
With this move and new centrally located space from which to explore, started my journey of getting reacquainted with the city. I´ve had the chance to remember all of the things I loved about life in Madrid: The endless art and cultural opportunities, the sidewalk cafes, the ease with which I can walk from one side of the city to the other. However, I´ve also been surprised to find that things I missed, like going out all the time, are really just things I miss when I can´t have them. Now I often spend Saturday nights at home instead of going out to fight the crowds milling about the streets surrounding my house.
I’ve also been pleasantly surprised to discover that Madrid has actually changed quite a bit since I left. Smoking is no longer allowed indoors, which is a huge sigh of relief for those of us non-smokers. Tracking down free wifi in bars and cafes is a painless experience, with Starbucks and McDonalds no longer monopolizing this market. The free whatsapp messenger for cell phones has revolutionized apartment hunting. No need to challenge your listening skills in Spanish as the landlord hurriedly tells you the address of the apartment, and you don’t waste money on a phone call to see an apartment that you probably won’t like.
And there are so many things I love about the “new” Madrid. Like the quirky cafes in Malasaña, the Humana thrift stores popping up all over the city, the ever increasing diversity of the people calling this place their home (and fighting to make Spain a place they´re proud to call home) and my latest favorite-Madrid Rio.
Of course, if I sat down to think about it, I could come up with a whole list of reasons why this city, and Spain as a whole, drives me absolutely crazy sometimes. The lack of efficiency, the political corruption, the fact that Target still hasn´t made its way over here…but what city is going to be perfect, right? I doubt I would ever find a city that I could say without a doubt met every single one of my needs. In Madrid I´ve found that so many of the needs that I thought could only be met in one particular way can actually be met in other ways. I can find substitutes for my favorite beauty products from home, I can enjoy a burrito at a Chipotle wannabe restaurant when I´m missing my favorite Tex-Mex burritos, I can cut up chocolate bars when chocolate chips aren´t readily available. These may seem like silly things, but they can drive us expats crazy when we first come here. But I think those of us that decide to stay find ways to work with what we have (which sometimes makes for an even richer, and definitely more blogworthy, experience).
And when what we have doesn´t work, we search for other solutions. Like asking for help from lawyer friends when bureaucracy has you pulling your hair out, or joining up with protesters to express your frustration with a government that, for the time being, should have YOUR best interests at heart as well. It´s a tough time in Spain with the ¨crisis,¨ but being back in the big city I´ve seen lots of examples of Madrileños (whether they´ve been one since birth or just recently) joining together and doing incredible things to foster a sense of community in a big city. This is what my relationship with Madrid was lacking before. The feeling that this city is full of people invested in making this their home, in not just blindly accepting the circumstances, in saying–¨I want more,¨ and finding a way to fight for it, or create it. El Campo de Cebada, La Tabacalera, Espiritu 23, La Casa Encedida, Entredos and the numerous “huertos colectivos” (community gardens) springing up in the outskirts of the city are just some examples of the people of Madrid coming together to create a community.
Everything I’ve rediscovered about Madrid in the past year is just another reminder that my feelings for this city really were ¨love at first sight,¨ in the sense that my intuition told me within a week that this was the place for me, but in that moment I could have never ever imagined what lay ahead for me and Madrid, or just how much it would surprise me time and time again with what it has to offer. I´ve had a love-hate relationship with this city at times, but I always manage to find a way to work things out and in the end I´ve found that usually my frustration with Madrid has a great deal to do with my stubbornness of wanting things how I want them, when I want them. Well, Madrid doesn´t work like that. And the more I accept the city, the more I appreciate it for the sometimes chaotic, bursting with life place that is always beckoning me to search out stories awaiting to be told in its streets, plazas, and sidewalk cafes.
What made you fall in love with the city you now call home? How has it changed since you first moved there?