I had wanted to write one more blog post about all the things I longed to do in Spain in my last week. Instead, I ended up doing so many things that I didn’t even have time to write the blog. So here I am on the plane back to the United States (literally 30,000 feet in the air right now) writing this blog not with desires but with reflections. In my last week, I tried to do all the things that I didn’t have time for during the busy semester. I went to Aranjuez (inspiration for the famous Concierto de Aranjuez) and Toledo (the old capital of Spain) where the painter El Greco achieved success more than four centuries ago and where there is still a museum dedicated to him. I attended a concert of classical music at the Teatro Real (the old, European-style opera house of Madrid) and got to see the Concierto de Aranjuez performed live, as well as a couple of phenomenal pieces by the Spanish violinist and composer Sarasate. I went to Plaza de España to see the Temple of Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple deconstructed in the 70s and brought to Spain to save it from being flooded by a hydroelectric project in Egypt. Even simple things, like buying castañas asadas (grilled chestnuts) and strolling the streets of Puerta de Sol to view the sea of beautiful Christmas lights (the Spanish are crazy for Christmas).
Perhaps funniest of all, however, I tried ice-skating for the first time (in a mall called Palacio de Hielo, palace of ice, of all places). Before I stepped onto the ice, I was absolutely terrified. It seemed impossible to me that people could glide so effortlessly over the cold white ice. But after hugging the wall for about twenty minutes, I began to get the hang of skating and actually enjoyed it! I wasn’t half-bad at it (I only fell three times, hah). And something happened to me while watching all the other people skate. Before entering the rink, I had been terrified of falling or embarrassing myself, but looking around I saw that from time to time everyone fell, even some of the more adept skaters. Watching the skaters fall, smile and get back on their feet reminded me of my own fears in speaking a language that I was neither fluent nor comfortable with. I realized in that moment that there is no shame in falling, on the ice or in a language (anything really!). I realized that my fear of saying something poorly or incorrectly had held me back from doing much more. I began to regret my timidity in Spanish (a trait which doesn’t seem to exist in my English mind). I wished I had been more outgoing, more extroverted; I wished I had talked to more people and asked for their stories. It was too late by the time I realized this at the Palacio de Hielo, but perhaps next time I’m in a Spanish-speaking country I won’t be so afraid of my limitations to new people or simply to have a short conversation with them.
What more is there to say, dear reader? There are many things that I neglected to tell you about this country. I never talked about the famous tapas in the bars or the Spanish concept of tomar algo (“to take something,” usually a snack or merienda with your friends). I never mentioned the culture of bullfighting or futbol here, or how you buy stamps at the tobacco store, or how the Spanish seem incapable of walking in a straight line down the street (trust me, it’s true). However, I think the most important observation I took away from this study abroad was the Spanish concept of time. In English, we say that we spend time (I spent a summer here, or I spent the night doing this—“Time is money”). But the Spanish do not spend time—it would make no sense to say, Gasté tres meses en España. The Spanish say pasar tiempo, to pass time: Pasalo bien (“Have a good time”) or Pasé un semestre en España. In English, time is a commodity, but in Spanish time flows over you like a river. I’m not sure which one is right, or if either of them is right. But I know there is no bottling the river of time—I know that it washes us downstream until we reach the ocean of our lives, and from there all our journeys are equally unknown and equally wondrous.