Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Churros and Chocolate

Remember nap time? For most of us this idea is a thing of the past, a reality only in vague memories of kindergarten classrooms, replete with cardboard pinups of the alphabet and hand turkeys on the walls. However, in Spain, nap time, formally titled siesta, is part of daily life, as normal as the double cheek kiss hello and the pig legs hanging over the bar at restaurants.

Three weeks ago I was lucky enough to visit Sevilla in the south of Spain, only a Ryanair skip and a Renfe high speed train jump, from Dublin, Ireland. I was immediately assaulted with a completely foreign culture, complete with 7 Euro tapas meals, bottles of wine for 1.6 Euros, and 2 Euro bus trips to visit ancient ruins (Italica). After nearly fourth months of living abroad you'd guess that I would have become accustomed to culture shock, but Galway, with it's pastoral hills and small-town feel, is easy to make into your home.
Sevilla was quite possibly the most romantic place I've ever been. When you're in love, you typically see the world through idealized glasses. An oil stain becomes a rainbow of colors, a cracked asphalt sidewalk is merely a nesting ground for the dandelions poking through. However, Sevilla provided the glasses without the oxytocin. The air actually does smell like orange blossoms, due to Orange trees dotting each sidewalk, and the Royal Gardens actually do ring out with the music of fountains and children's laughter. Sevilla even has it's very own castle, which, when it's lit up at night, looks like every fairy tale I've ever imagined.

In only a couple months I had allowed myself to become a little smug. I had felt like a pro at navigating Galway's back roads, at locating the nearest grocery store, at bringing my own shopping bags so I wouldn't need to pay when I arrived. Travelling to Spain thrust me into a whole new world, a place where I was once again a stranger. Still, whether due to my past experience of adjusting to culture shock, or simply the welcoming environment of Sevilla itself, it was a much softer landing this time.

Even wandering around the Madrid train station I found myself sucking up the details. The jungle of plant growth that grew wild in the middle of the downstairs floor. The sign that said "No Turtles" that stemmed from people leaving unwanted pets in the giant green space. The ten foot tall stone baby's head that greeted you as you walked out of the station.

I don't know about you, but I often find myself wouldn't what would have been. I typically regret the things I've done more than the things I haven't simply because making a choice means closing a door. As we get older and find more and more options closed off to us, it can be a hard fact to face that we no longer have the option of being a famous ballerina, an astronaut, an Olympian athlete. Going to Sevilla was like having five days to walk around in my "what ifs." What if I had chosen a country other than Ireland? What if I had picked a place that spoke a different language, where the culture was not just the flip side of the page but a whole different book? Leaving Sevilla, I was plagued with a gnat storm of doubts, tiny nagging alternate forks that whizzed through my mind.

When I stepped off the plane into Dublin Airport the air did not smell like orange blossoms. There was no chance of me going go to see a Flamenco performance in a hidden club through a blank red door and no possibility of getting a meal for less than ten euros that wasn't McDonalds. However, I felt something inside of me soften when I heard the first lilt of Irish accents, and a knot in my shoulders that I hadn't known was there loosened at the sight of BusEireann. Coming back to Ireland felt like coming home, and that was enough.

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