Sunday, August 23, 2015

Why saying goodbye is so difficult

{bus rides out of Madrid}

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a friend from D.C. about study abroad. She was trying to decide between Spain and Thailand and wanted me to share a bit about my experience. She asked me what my favorite part about being here in Madrid was and I honestly didn't know how to answer. "Ask me again after I leave," I joked.

Sometimes I forget that a part of me, however small, is actually a teensy bit excited to go back. I have a semester of only classes I want to take, rather than courses for general education requirements I need to fulfill. I have an internship I'm looking forward to starting. I have all my friends and family and a new dorm room and my city. So it's not that I'm returning to a life that makes me miserable or even unhappy.

But the thing is, my time in Madrid has been everything I expected and then so much more.

Are you in love with your life? I'm not asking if you're happy, if you're not depressed, if you like your job and friends and house and car. I'm asking if you wake up every day genuinely excited to do things, whether they're part of your daily routine or adventures that are wholly new. I'm asking if you have fun, the way you did as a little kid, running around and screaming and laughing so hard your stomach hurt.

Because I really do love my life here. I love waking up and having breakfast in the backyard, where it's quiet and sunny and kind of cool and I have a blanket, a mug of tea, and a notebook. I love spending a couple hours with my host kids and feeling kind of like a kid myself. I love exploring my city every day without worrying about assignments or due dates or schedules and just seeing where the day takes me. And I love having dinners as a family and talking long after the food is finished about anything and everything.

And again, it's not that I don't have things about my life in D.C. or home in Jersey that I love, too.

It's just that I'm happy here. Really, really happy. Happy in a way that scares me, makes me wonder if I was almost living my life wrong before and if there are things I need to change, makes me wonder if this is too good to be true and if the way I feel will fade once I get on that plane back to Newark.

That's my favorite thing about this cityI'm happy here. I go to dance classes and spend weekends in new cities and buy too many things from ZARA and ride bikes for hours in the park and eat fried potatoes dripping in oil and slathered in sauce and I love it all. And it's not as though my life here is perfect; it's not and expecting it to be would be ridiculous. I couldn't go on being an au pair forever, and I miss taking classes and seeing people I love and going to a Taco Bell that has vegetarian options. And sometimes it really gets quite lonely. But things don't have to be perfect to make you so happy it hurts.

The thing is, I don't have to deal with a lot of the crap that makes me unhappy at home. There are no stressors, be they social or professional or academic. And that's taught me what I need to cut out of my life now, how I need to develop a better outlook on my future, and how I need to better deal with stress related to school by taking time out for myself to just sit and think and breathe. But even beyond the fact that I don't have any stress here, it's also that I get to learn something new every single day. I'm constantly growing and learning and progressing and it's wonderful and invigorating to feel such a change in yourself and your life.

The takeway for me here is that there are so many changes I want to implement in my life in the States, to add what is needed and subtract what is not and to thus allow this experience and its influence to spread beyond these twelve weeks, beyond this city and country and continent and who I am in it. And I plan to do just that. But keeping all this in mind doesn't make me any less reluctant to go, doesn't make it any easier to let it all go.

But I'll be back for you Madrid. I'll be back before you can forget me and before I can forget who I am here. I'll be back and this timeit'll be for good.

~ V

Saturday, August 22, 2015

15 Things I'll Miss About Madrid

Tomorrow is my last day in Madrid, the end of best summer I've had yet. Knowing that it's almost over makes me think of all that I'm sad to say goodbye to. Here are 15 things I'll miss about Madrid.

1. The free time. I've read so much while I've been here and finally got around to starting Game of Thrones. And when you spend three hours a day sitting on or waiting for a bus or train you have free time to sit and think and reflect, which I hardly get to do during the school year. If I'm at my internship I think about work and otherwise I am constantly thinking about school or homework or my to-do list. It's nice being completely stress-free for a change.
2. The weather. The lack of humidity in Madrid is well worth the heat, especially for my hair. And the incredibly hot summers here are always better than winter. I love fall, but it doesn't make me happy to let this go.
3. The location. Madrid is in the center of Spain, so it's easy traveling to other cities or to Portugal, and the rest of Europe is a relatively short flight away. I visited thirteen cities in twelve weeks, and value this more than I can explain.
4. The people. Madrileños are known for being abiertos, open and welcoming. They are so friendly, especially when compared to the experiences I've had in many other European countries, and they're one of the biggest things I love about this city.
5. 100 Montaditos. I'll miss this chain of cheap eats. How am I going to get a jarra of cervesa and a mini sandwich for less than $3 at home?!
{la Reina Sofía}
6. La Reina Sofía. This museum is one of my favorite spots in the entire city and I've visited it nearly ten times in these past twelve weeks. It's absolutely beautiful and I'll miss escaping the heat for a couple hours in its endless halls.
{Picasso forever}
7. Speaking Spanish every day. I've practiced my Spanish so much here and I definitely think I've improved. And living in Madrid goes so much beyond what you can learn in a classroom; the lingo, the jokes, the cultureI learned all of that here and I'm sad I won't get the same level and type of knowledge back at school. 
{my life in Spain}
8. The streets. Madrid's architecture is absolutely gorgeous and often varies from one barrio to the next. There's beauty everywhere I go and I love it.
9. The balance between city and nature. Madrid has more trees than people and the mountains that surround the region provide a gorgeous escape. I'm not just looking at concrete all day and since I'm happier around nature, I've appreciated this so much. The summer also brings with it brilliant blue skies and I've loved watching clouds pass while just sitting in the park. Beyond this, Madrileños value plantlife more than Americans, and homes often have dozens and dozens of beautiful plants. And getting to see the stars here at night is nothing compared to what I can see at home. 
10. Cheek kisses. Here in Madrid, we greet each other with two cheek kisses and while this made me nervous when I first arrived (I was convinced I was going to do it wrong somehow!), I've come to love how sweet the gesture is. A friend and I were people watching a few weeks back and saw two groups greet each other. Every person in the group cheek-kissed every other in a group of maybe ten, and it was endearing to see them all take the effort out to personally great each other. 
{Plaza de España}
11. Having a pool. In a city this hot everyone has access to a pool in the summer, whether it be in their backyard or in a community. As someone who never had a pool as a kid, having access to one now has been so much fun, whether I'm spending hours playing with the kids or even just floating around and listening to music by myself.
12. The cost of living. Madrid is incredibly cheap when compared to Washington, D.C. or even my small town in New Jersey. I've been eating out, traveling, and shopping so much more than I can back in the States and am not completely thrilled about going back to being a broke college kid.
13. Learning something new every day. My weekly posts don't cover the full extent of how much Spain has taught me. I can't possibly write down every new word and phrase and cultural difference and similarity and moment that has made me grow, and this experience goes beyond what words can convey.
{la luz}
14. Not being obsessed with time and productivity. I know that the relaxed nature of my life this summer has been due in part to the au pair role and dynamic, but there's no denying the fact that Spaniards are better at looking at things such as time, schedules, leisure, and productivity. There's a greater emphasis on living a balanced lifestyle here, while my life in D.C. features the constant pressure of needing to be productive. If I'm not working or studying, you can bet I'm planning my to-do list in my head, trying to tackle all the things I feel like I absolutely have to get done. The only time that pushy little voice in my head shuts up is when I'm distracted by Netflix or a night out with friends. I'm going to miss this sense of leisurely fulfillment, when your days aren't packed completely to the point where you're constantly worried about fitting everything into the few hours you have in a day, but you still have enough to do so that you're not bored or unsatisfied or restless or unfulfilled.
{una de las cuatro torres}
15. My family. I have been so incredibly fortunate to find a host family that is as incredibly kind, welcoming, and considerate as mine. They are all so warm-hearted and I've felt completely at home here. I value my relationship with them so much and while it makes me incredibly sad to think that I won't get to see them every day anymore, I know I have a visit from them to look forward to.
Ultimately, I'm reminded how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so difficult. Hope you are enjoying the last days of summer as well!
~ V

Thursday, August 20, 2015

I'm never leaving Spain.

Today, after our last language exchange, I said goodbye to Javier and decided I was really craving patatas bravas and patatas aioli. So I walked over to a bar I had passed a hundred times, a little hole in the wall that seems like only really old people ever visit, the kind of place that hasn't been renovated in years and is dirty and old and vintage in an unironic way. And I went in and ordered the best deep fried potatoes slathered in sauce I'd ever tasted and was sitting there writing about things on my mind about Spain and leaving and learning and loving and all off a sudden I was trying not to cry. I'm 20 years old and it is in no way socially acceptable to cry in a bar in the middle of the day—especially not with only a glass of water and fried potatoes by my side. 
But I just didn't want to leave Spain and felt overwhelmed by the feeling that I was being forced to do so against my will, forced to go too soon before getting a chance to learn all that I have to learn. And what do you know, the universe decides now is a good time to play "Uptown Girl" on the crappy old TV in the bar, the kind that is too old and big to even be hooked up on the wall. And mild spoiler alert if you haven't seen Trainwreck (in which case, please get on that ASAP) but "Uptown Girl" is ~v important~ and ~eMoTiOnAl~ and I couldn't believe it was playing right at that moment. In the film, the song plays at moments of emotional upheaval and catharsis (by which I really just mean an 80s movie-esque musical number and confession of tru luv) and here in real life it played at my moment of kind of freaking out over having to leave and trying to hold it together in public. And I just stared at the TV and started laughing a little bit, and while I don't think my laugh was full-on maniacal in a somebody-get-this-girl-a-straightjacket kind of way, it must have been a little bit concerning guessing by the way the elderly couple sitting behind me me smiled at me sadly on their way out. 
And because I'm apparently a masochist I decided to listen to "Vienna" on my way back, and while I really don't understand why Vienna is waiting for me or what good it's going to do when it's Madrid I want, I do know that I've got so much to do and only so many hours in a day and only four days left at that, so that's where I'm at right now.
I mean I guess I should go back and finish my undergrad and see my friends and family or whatever. I'm just not going to pretend that leaving doesn't absolutely suck. Any advice for yr girl on dealing with this feeling? 
~ V 

Week 11: Five Things I Learned This Week in Spain and Portugal

This week was absolutely fantastic. I went to Portugal, celebrated my twentieth birthday, and went to my first bachata class. I'm kind of in denial about the fact that I only have four days left (!!!), and I'm trying to enjoy my time here without worrying about when it will end. Here's what I learned this week:

{street art, Lisbon}

1. Lisbon is perfect. Lisbon might be my favorite of the fourteen cities I've visited this summer, not including Madrid because I just can't make that comparison. Lisbon reminded me a lot of San Francisco, with its hilly streets, red bridge, cold water, and vibrant atmosphere. The weather was an incredibly perfect 80 degrees, a sharp contrast to nearly everywhere else on my trip, and I spent two days on the beach (and have a ridiculously pink sunburn to prove it) and my evenings wandering the city. Lisbon is so incredibly beautiful and I can't wait to go back.


2. What it's like to turn 20alone. I've never celebrated my birthday alone. I'm always around family and as long as I'm in the country, I spend time with friends as well. But at this point in my trip, all the au pair friends I've made have already left and rather than spending the day with strangers, I decided to celebrate my twentieth alone. And while I don't think I'd ever actively seek spending my birthday alone, I ended up having an amazing day and am glad I got to experience it at least once. I visited all my favorite spots in the city, ate all my favorite foods, and fit in a lot of shopping. After a particularly filling lunch at a new Thai restaurant near Atocha, I ended up walking around and spontaneously buying tickets to see Trainwreck. I'd never been to the movies alone and had wanted to do so for a while now and again, while I don't think I'll ever actively seek out going to the movies alone, I know I won't feel afraid or awkward to do so in the future.


3. That being said, Trainwreck is brilliant. The film features cameos from comedians like SNL cast members, Dave Attell, Colin Quinn, and Mike Birbiglia (and several athletes too, if you're into that kind of thing) and the jokes are the kind of laugh-out-loud funny where you have to check to make sure you're not laughing too loudly and bothering the others in the movie theatre. I absolutely love Amy Schumer and Bill Hader, and although the romance tale between them was predictable, I still found it adorable and liked that the film delved beyond the standard rom-com by featuring issues like fear of intimacy, alcoholism, etc. And more than anything, I love that the film was non-apologetically feminist and didn't ever slut shame. Do yourself a favor and watch this movie, please.


4. What youth looks like. In all seriousness, I know I'm not old. But turning twenty means that you're not a teenager anymore, and as a friend pointed out, this is the decade where so many of us will be starting our careers, getting real apartments, maybe even getting married and/or having kids. It all still feels incredibly far away (thank god), but I met a girl on the eight-hour bus ride back from Lisbon who reminded me that maybe it's not as far as I thought. Manuela was sixteen and incredibly energetic and vibrant and she reminded me of how I used to be. (When did I get so old?!) She was incredibly open and talkative and told me all about her family in Colombia, her puppy, and her dream of becoming a veterinarian. We bonded over being vegetarians, which is nearly impossible in Spain, and our loves for Lisbon and Madrid. She was adorable and hilarious and reminded me of the qualities I hope to keep from my ~youth~.

{Lisboa Oriente}

5. Parque Juan Carlos > Parque Retiro. It's amazing to still be discovering new spots at this point in my trip and this week I went to Parque Juan Carlos I. It's off to the edge of the city, and while it's incredibly close to where I live, I never thought to make the trip since it's never mentioned on any travel websites or anything. And although it's not as iconic or old as Retiro, I think it's absolutely beautiful and provides more shade and scenery without the big crowds. You can rent bikes and even go on a train rideall for freeand there are tons of really cool modern art sculptures, a greenhouse, and a dedication to Spain's three major religionsChristianity, Judaism, and Islam. If you're in Madrid definitely don't leave without making a trip to this park.

All in all, this week was one of the best I've had this summer. Hope you enjoy the rest of yours! Here are a few more pictures from my trip to Lisbon:

~ V

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

What Color Looks Like

{los Palacios Nazaríes}

I've spent a lot of this past year thinking about depression. There are times in which I wonder if I've ever been depressed, while in others I question if I always have. I know that winters are always hardest for me. Without even getting into the emotional aspect of what the winter does to me, I know that I lose motivation and drive and passion and I'm always drained; I'm just not me. This winter was particularly hard, the worst it's ever been, but since I've never talked to a professional about it, I'm reluctant to align my experiences with any labels, so whether my depression is seasonal or not, or whether it even is depression, I don't know. But the way this manifests for me, the way the experience functions and affects my life, is multidimensional and spreads in ways I have trouble putting into words. 

It's hard to get that distance from yourself, to find a sort of clarity where you feel like you're judging yourself objectively and fairly and accurately. And when it comes to mental health, it's even harder. But one big thing beyond the motivation and beyond my general outlook on my life and my future and my friends and everything else around me, is color. I know I'm depressed when things begin to literally look bleak. The grass isn't as green, which is funny because it's both literally and metaphorically true. And beyond the fact that all colors lose their vibrance and brightness, I also can't see things clearly or sharply. It's like there's a film in front of my eyes and I can rub them all I want and even get new glasses but at the end of the day all I have to do is wait for summer, wait for the depression to pass. 

And every summer, it's the same. I go through the same patterns over and over. First I'll be walking around town or driving on the highway and all of a sudden I'll notice how the greeness of the trees is so insanely bright. It's so vibrant and in your face that I'll think it's just the way the sun is hitting at that hour or I've had too much coffee or I'm just high off of Vitamin D. But then it'll keep happening. I can't tell you the amount of times I stopped to look at the different types of flowers on my visit to the Alhambra this weekend. Have you ever seen a purple so bright? A red that popped so much against a green so vibrant it looks almost comical, cartoon-like? And then I remember, this is what colors actually look like. And I realize wow, I was more depressed than I had thought. 

And then I start noticing how much more alive I am. How much more I feel and how much more deeply I am affected by beauty and happiness and moments of peace and contentment.  How much more I value sunsets and spending time with the people I care about and watching hours pass in the backyard with my notebooks and pens and pencils, just writing or sketching or whatever. I appreciate it all more and I'm able to value it and think about it and feel it on a deeper level than I'm capable of in the winter. I'm more passionate, more me.

So I don't know if this is all in my head or if I'm depressed or never have been or still am. But I do know how summer makes me feel, how the sun makes everything a thousand times better. And I know that it's a matter of time before I slip back into that again, that sort of bleak darkness. Winter is coming. And sometimes it worries me. I'm not ready to let go of all this yet. It seems like I just got the sun and all that comes with it. I just became me again, and knowing that it's all going to go away in a matter of months makes me sad and a little scared.

But at the end of the day, I think I'm okay with it. What's the good without the bad? How much would I appreciate the summer and the sun and the heat if I didn't have winter to compare it against? Maybe it's not completely healthy or wise to be okay with it, okay with whatever winter does to me. But for now, when I'm running high off of endorphins and adrenaline and Vitamin D and Spanish air, I'm just going to take a moment to appreciate this: how much and how deeply I feel about everything in my life right now, how much this experience has meant to me and has affected me, and more than anythinghow damn happy I am. 

~ V

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Week 10: Four Things I Learned This Week in Spain

{view from la Alhambra}

This has been the fastest and best summer of my life. It seems like I say that every year, but in all honesty, I can remember every day I've been here in such detail that it seems impossible that three whole months have passed by. While the last days of summer are always the sweetest, I'm never quite ready for the season to end and having to come to terms with leaving Madrid and Spain really isn't making this any easier.

{el Generalife}

1. Separation anxiety is a thing. Really, thoughI'm not ready to leave. There's so much about my life in Spain that has opened my eyes and made me think: the differences in the ways children are raised here, the importance of history and the rich and deep history that Spain has, the differences in women's issues between the now three countries I call home, the ways that race is regarded, etc. These are things I haven't even touched upon in my posts here, but that's because I'm still learning; I would never want to put a half-informed observation on here, never want to risk offending any one person, never mind a whole country and culture that I'm not yet a part of. I learn so much every day that I'm here, even on the days when I go about my routine of spending the morning with the kids, having lunch, and hitting up the same cafe and shops in the city center. But as much as I have learned, I know that my journey isn't finishedI still have so much more to learn to gain from here and I seriously CAN'T leave. You see that right? I HAVE to stay here longer. I'm basically obligated to. Realistically I'm fully aware of the fact that I can't stay here any longer (at least not without a visa), nor can I just take a semester off of GW to continue being an au pair in Madrid. In all honesty though, knowing that doesn't make leaving any easier.

{Casa de Zafra}
2. Goodbyes are a bitch. I have gotten so incredibly lucky with my host family that it almost feels too good to be true. My host parents are so considerate and accommodating and always go out of their way to make sure I am comfortable and happy and that I am getting the most of my experience. They've taught me so much about Spanish history and culture and have endless recommendations and words of wisdom. The amazing thing about the au pair-host parent dynamic is that they're not completely authority figures in the way that parents are; they're like cool, older friends who know so much but still get where I'm coming from and what it's like to be nineteen and want what I want. Mine are both such incredibly intelligent and kindhearted people and I've had some amazing, fulfilling conversations with them. Real, good conversation is one of the most valuable things to me and I've appreciated everything they've done for me, every opportunity they've provided for me, while I've been here. I'm so sad to be leaving them and to not know when I'll see them again. 

And let's not forget the kids! I've learned so much about them these past ten weeks and I mean, you can't help but grow to love them. They're incredibly sweet and adorable, even at their "worst." They're both going to grow up to be such amazing people and it hurts to think I won't get to see it happen. It's impossible to live with such an amazing and inspiring family for three months without getting attached, and I expected as much coming in. I just didn't know it would hurt so much to leave. Would it be a tad bit clingy if I moved in forever and never, ever left?

{view from Mirador de San Nicolas}

3. Being a romantic doesn't make you hopeless. Javier and I were discussing how dating differs across countries and cultures and we got to talking about flattery and compliments. He taught me the words halagos and piropos, which describe excessive, flirtatious flattery, used when a suitor tells the object of his/her affections that he/she is beautiful or smart or funny or whatever. I told him how behavior like this can sometimes be not only annoying but also offensive. Why use words you don't mean? Why ruin them or debase them or devalue them by using them when you don't fully and completely mean the sentiments they convey? If you tell someone that you love them you (hopefully) mean it. In the same way, why call someone beautiful or kind or inspiring or funny if you don't mean the compliment in the fullest and most sincere way possible? And this goes beyond romantic relationships, too. We should use our words consciously; otherwise we risk doing an injustice to the words themselves or to the people we share them with. And in the case of my conversation with Javier, the excessive nature of using words all willy nilly detracts from the very compliment, turns it into something that isn't the simple act of one person offering a kindness to another, one person expressing their interest for the other. It's an insult to words and an insult to the person you're throwing them at.

Javier responded by laughing and saying that if he thought a woman was beautiful he was going to tell her; if not, he sure as hell wouldn't tell her she was ugly. I laughed and told him that was besides the pointthe issue is when you use words you don't mean one hundred percent, when you throw around compliments and words of love and affection when they do not fully or accurately reflect your true feelings. It's dishonest and insulting. We're all adults here. There's not need to feed each other sugarcoated lies, sweet and meaningless compliments. Javier just looked at me and smirked. He explained to me, in Spanish, that he thinks the issue here is that I'm a romantic.

{hello MTV, welcome to my crib}

I looked at him and scoffed. Me? No way. I mean when you grow up on a diet of Disney and Bollywood, you can't help but have a certain appreciation for fairly tale romances. But then you grow up and mature beyond that. I sometimes joke that any bit of romanticism I hold is balanced with just as much cynicism.

But after I explained this to him, he pointed out that I clearly valued sincerity very, very much, that honesty and truth in words and sentiments were important to me. I couldn't disagree; I'd said as much myself. But he pointed out that the world doesn't exactly work that way. I nodded. This was true, too. He just looked at me and told me to be careful, that "alguien puede hacer mucho daño," meaning that someone could easily hurt me, and that I should remember that life doesn't work the way I wanted to. After all, not everyone regards and values words and their usage in the same way.

I was shocked. Javier barely knows me. Our conversations barely skim the surfaces of our strong opinions and beliefs; the most interesting thing Javier knows about me is that I don't eat meat. And while this is particularly rare and "exotic" in Spain, it's not exactly some groundbreaking truth about my soul.

{Palacio de Dar al-Horra}

And yet here this man was, clearly having figured out something I wasn't too happy to know about myself. But I guess just because I'm a *shudders* romantic doesn't mean I have no hope, no control, no sensibility. I don't expect the world to be a better place than it is and I don't live my life with some idealistic hope and vision of what it should be. I know what I want (in this case, for people to value words as they deserve to be valued, and to recognize the weight that they hold) but I'm not so blind as to think that my dreams are reality. So I guess this is me coming out in the open as a romantic. But hey, it's okay because any sense of hope you throw my way I'll be sure to knock down with a healthy dose of cynicism and skepticism. Because I'm no Carrie or Charlotte; I'm Miranda, goddamnit.

{bus ride to Granda}

4. Granada is perfect. I went on my second solo-travel trip this past weekend, and while Granada doesn't have a beach, it is an amazing city. I lucked out with the weather and managed to avoid the stifling humidity that's common in the South during this time of the year, and I found a pretty good hostel and cheap bus tickets. I spent my days in Granada exploring the Alhambra and other monuments around the city, walking through the most beautiful streets, and eating at great cafes and bars. My favorite thing about Granada is definitely the architecture. The city is characterized by its Islamic historical legacy and you can see the Spanish-Muslim influence everywhere. I loved letting myself get lost in random streets all over the city and just appreciate the unique houses and buildings everywhere. And because the city is so hilly, I got to see some amazing views, extending from the city outskirts all the way to the mountains.

{check out the hands on this one}

I have two weeks left and plan on finishing everything on my Madrid bucket list this week. That way, my last few days in this city will be spent just redoing my favorite things rather than rushing to fit everything in. Hope you are all enjoying the end of the summer!

{Casa del Chapiz}
{merienda at a cave in Sacromonte}
{el Bañuelo}
{el Generalife}
{more jardines}
{la Alhambra}
{la Alhambra}
{outside el Palacio de Carlos V}

{la Alcazaba}
{exploring los jardines del Generalife}
{Corral de Carbón}
~ V
Read also:Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4Week 5Week 6Week 7Week 8, Week 9