I arrived in Madrid quite ill, but quite happy as well. I think laymen visit Madrid and grow to like the city. But I lived there October 2008 – December 2009 and it’s one of the few places on earth I consider home. As I landed at the airport I caught the metro to go to where I was staying. A Spanish guy from another part of Spain asked for help in Spanish with where he was going. I helped him. And thus began a different experience for me in Spain – one in which I know the local language!
The first night I was dead tired given the time change, illness, and late arrival. As I stumbled down the street jetlagged and tired, a guy I met in Peru, Daniel, saw me and rushed out of a restaurant across the street from the business school we attended to say hi. I did my best, but I was so tired I could barely stand up. I checked my email before going to bed and found a message from a current student there who follows my blog asking if I happened to walk down Maria de Molina Street or if he saw a ghost.
The following day I spent all day at my business school’s campus. I had meetings with friends, former professors, the coordinator for the speech I was giving the following day, and a couple students from a class I gave a Skype talk to a couple months ago.
I planned to be back to where I was staying at 4pm or 5pm. In the end, I kept trying to leave and someone would recognize me and ask to go out for a coffee. It happened right after my last meeting, a student from the class I Skyped with two months prior ran down a hallway asking if we could meet in 15 minutes. Of course I said yes.
Then after we talked for about an hour, I just left the building and a guy who emailed me but didn’t have time to reply to yet yelled out my name as I exited the door. Same thing. He offered to buy me a coffee and I was powerless to say no despite how tired I was.
In the end, The Happy Nomad Tour really struck a chord with him. I didn’t realize how much so until we met up, and he put this touching message on Facebook.
I’ll write a separate post about my speeches the following day, but the rest of my time in Madrid was filled with much of the same – sunny, warm weather, friends, a beautiful city, beautiful people, and so much more.
What do I mean by so much more?
You can’t help but compare your current location to the previous, and my previous location was India. I really had a hard time crossing the road in Spain. I got so used to assuming I’d get run over and killed if I didn’t pour 100% of my attention into crossing the street, that I wasn’t ready at all for people to voluntarily stop and let me cross the street. It wasn’t until I was in India for about three months, in Bangalore I believe, that someone stopped and let me safely cross the street. In Madrid, it kept happening and I kept feeling surprised every single time!
There is virtually no horn honking making walking down the street or sitting on a bench enjoyable. There is far less pollution spewing about and though Madrid is a big city, it’s not overcrowded the way Indian cities are. I could drink water from the tap and eat street food without fearing…death! I didn’t have to be constantly mindful of having small change on me for small purchases, toilet paper is found in all public bathrooms (which are also clean), etc.
I don’t want to be too hard on India. I think my articles from India speak for themselves as I found plenty of reasons to praise it, plenty of opportunity to grow as a person, etc. I don’t seek out comfort anymore, but I definitely appreciate it when I see it.
And beyond that, I don’t know how to define the “so much more” that Spain has for me. It’s just a special place with something in the air, something in the water that I really connect with.
I used to go to the same sandwich place for lunch daily in Madrid. The alternative was paying four times more money for a prepared lunch, which I couldn’t afford.
It became a bit of a tradition for my classmates and me. I would usually get the same thing every day and it was the best 2 euro lunch money can buy in all of Spain. The ladies working there worked so hard, often thanklessly, and we all appreciated their efforts. We often joked we’d improve their system putting into place some of the operations management and supply chain knowledge we were learning, but alas, if it’s not broken you shouldn’t fix it.
I returned to this restaurant, called La Maragata, and had my usual – atun con pimiento en chapata (tuna with bell peppers on chapata bread, also known as ciabatta bread in Italian). Of course, it was still the same ladies working there, working hard as always. I asked one for a picture and she got so embarrassed. I explained in the Spanish I never had while I was a student that I hadn’t been back for years and it was such a nice memory to come back to this place, one carrying so much weight in my mind when I think about Spain. She obliged, with beet red cheeks nevertheless.
Then there was the doorman for the building I lived in (doormen in Spain are common.. I wasn’t living in a fancy place!). His name was Jesus and I never said more than hello and good morning the whole time I lived there. I didn’t know Spanish, so it was all I could offer.
Well, now I speak Spanish and I had to return and say hi. As I approached and said hello, he recognized me after a few seconds. I don’t blame him. I keep on looking younger and my crazy hair makes me look different. And then we did what I always wanted to do, but never had the ability – we had a conversation.
It was nice. I asked about his family, how things are going, etc. He asked me how I was, why I spoke Spanish now, and other pleasantries. It was awesome.
As we wrapped up our conversation he said something I’ll never forget. He said “look, whenever you come back to Madrid you have a friend here” as he pointed to the step he was standing on. Touched, I told him I’d always remember and that the next time I was back in Madrid I’d buy him a coffee at the café on the corner and we’d talk some more.
It’s not hard to see why…