Every day I spend here in Spain I realize how many things I would love to see here but that I won’t have the time to. There are enough interesting museums alone to occupy me for years to come. One of the assignments for my sketching class involved a reading comparing travelers and tourists that argued that travelers embed themselves in the culture and society of their destination, while tourists simply visit the most well-worn paths of the travelers who have come before them. While I continue to suffer an ever-growing existential crisis, as every day that passes means one less day I will be able to spend in Spain, I feel like I am treading the line between the two.
An essential mode of thought for being part of the culture of a location is one of “I have plenty of time to see that”. As a kid growing up near Boston, it always amazed me that tourists would come to visit the city. Ya it was cool, but it was just Boston, the same as it had always been. The city was always there, a short drive over the bridge or a quick ride on the metro was all it took. Not until my high school years and ultimately college did I really begin to appreciate the nearly limitless activities offered by Boston alone. There are concerts and shows to see, parks to visit, and restaurants to try to name a few activities.
Living in Spain has really brought this dichotomy of the traveler and the inhabitant into focus for me. I find myself confronted daily with different opportunities, like going into Madrid to see a play, trying to get to a jazz concert at a small jazz café, or just making the walk to the weekly market by the facultad de documentación. I started this particular post in October when I still had two months left to take advantage of living in Spain. Now the semester is nearly finished and I have barely three weeks remaining in the country. What I started to realize nearly two months ago, that I was adapting to the mindset of the inhabitant, choosing to sleep in or stay inside instead of making the “trek” into Madrid, has only become more clear in the last few weeks. Time is always this arcane force that we’re constantly moving with while always fighting against. Whenever our particular time limit draws near, we tend to fight more and more until we are ultimately swept over the edge. With such little time remaining I can feel the precipice approaching faster than ever.
All this said, I’ve realized there is a balance that must be found between the feeling of being an inhabitant with all the time in the world and a traveler with limited time. One cannot do everything and it wouldn’t be an enjoyable experience to be running all the time trying to fit as much in as possible. At times the inhabitant must think like a traveler and the traveler like an inhabitant. My past weekend in Madrid is a perfect example of the balance I was able to find. On Friday night the end of the program seemed closer than ever and I had an existential crisis where I decided to live every moment in Spain to the max and take advantage of every opportunity I have here. Predictably this freak out made it difficult to fall asleep and I overslept, ultimately missing the train to get to jazz show I had planned on seeing Saturday morning in Madrid. Joder. I spent the day a little disappointed with myself and met with some friends in a café to do some homework. As the day wore on, however, I realized how much fun I was having just spending time with my friends here in a relaxing environment. Maybe this also counts as taking advantage of my opportunities? When would I be able to just sit in a café with hours, talking, hanging out and doing very little actual homework? That night we went out to an area in Alcalá, La Garena, that I had been meaning to make it to all semester but had never gone because it required taking the train or bus and getting a cab home. With tons of restaurants and bars in a small square it was a blast!
I slept in the next morning and took the train into Madrid at night to see a jazz show with some friends at a club near Sol in Madrid. The show was fantastic! The musician was American and as he improved on the piano he told us to leave all our worries behind and let ourselves be taken away by the music. Just what I needed to hear! It hit me that this was the perfect analogy for finding a balance in studying abroad. You have to adapt to the culture and ultimately forget your worries and let the culture take you away. I am living and studying in Spain, not vacationing or simply visiting. I chose the Tufts in Madrid program for this particular reason. Spanish culture is one of spending time in cafés and restaurants with friends, walking slowly down the street and sharing your experiences with others. Many times this includes going to museums or seeing a show, but other times it requires you to step back and slow down for a bit. As I near the last weeks of my time here, I’m trying to appreciate this relaxed perspective and keep a balance between my desire to fit everything in and the sanity that the Spanish culture helps provide.