I’ve walked by beautiful paintings like this in Plaza Mayor since the day I got here, gazing at them and wishing I was one of those financially stable, middle-aged adults who can spend money on art. But today, I finally bought one. The sunniest one I could find.
In an interview last week, a woman tested my Spanish by asking me some questions about my life over here in Madrid. She ended by asking what I will take back with me from Spain when I return home. I had a hard time answering and felt like maybe I had failed this little test. I felt silly. That I should have learned some great lesson by now. But it wasn’t the language that was the problem. I felt like I was supposed to say something grand and poetic and final, that I was supposed to know, but all I could do was fumble and tell her that I learned that there’s more to life than work. That you need to do things for yourself. That it’s not all beautiful. That there are a lot of different things that can bring happiness to you. Things other people may not value too much. But this didn’t sound original. Countless people cite the famed culture of no pasa nada and the eternal fiesta in Spain. But, when said like that, it all seems grossly superficial, and I’m struggling to find the right thing to say that can really encompass the complexity of this year, without sacrificing realness. I don’t think I can.
It made me think, though. What will I take with me from Madrid? I have remnants of all the places I’ve gone. Memories embodied by pottery and postcards and rings, in little forgotten things like metro cards and museum tickets and boarding passes. But Madrid wasn’t a weekend trip, there’s been no scrambling to grab something to make me remember where my feet have stood or what my eyes have taken in, it has been a much longer journey than that. It’s been a hard and life-changing year here and I often feel so disconnected with who I was and how I felt when I first came here. But there’s one thing that makes me remember. Wandering. Walking around alone, not speaking a word, looking at all the colorful buildings, people watching, hearing the faint sounds of an accordion entertaining somewhere, children playing football in the streets. But mostly, the sun. How life evolves and revolves around it, how it spills through tree lines and glitters off the rails of apartment balconies, finds itself in every sliver of thousands of years old cobble stone streets, dances through my hair and across my shoulders, glares in my eyes, fills my apartment in a golden glow, somehow makes the faces of every building radiate pink, backdrops the smokey blue-grey mountain tops in the distance. How it always comes back. How it won’t leave the day alone. How it fills me, with something unspeakable.
When I think about Madrid, I think about the sun. It’s not philosophical or poetic or intellectual. But it’s what I will take with me.