The bells ring in an arrhythmic pattern. It is the sound of joyous celebration. On the 26th of December in this German town, the streets are still and sloped roofs glisten with rain, but the bells pay no attention to the quiet demeanor. They are like the Shepherds’ voices raising high and bringing the news of the most scandalous and glorious birth of all time. They sing because anticipation has finally given way and everything we have been waiting for has, in fact, come. God pitched his tent among us. And that matters more than all the dark things in this world because it means those things have lost and though we will continue to fight them with everything there is, we fight them knowing Light has won. If there is something worth putting up lights and greenery and singing songs in the cold and exchanging gifts and expressing inexplicable joy, it’s that: That Light shines the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
Pronouns will be the death of me. Pronouns and prepositions with a little mix of uncertain past and a desirous future will be the long, slow, torturous end of me. Learning a language has proved more difficult than I had originally planned. One doesn’t actual plan such things, but in my daydreams I would remember words the first time I heard them or diligently write them down and study late into the night with a nice cup of tea and soothing music. I would prance around Salamanca having no fear and walking up, smiling, to the camareros, with an order ready on my lips. When I mispronounced words, everyone would laugh, and I would take it gracefully with humor like we were all in some Katherine Hepburn film. But as things turns out, it isn’t like any movie I’ve ever seen at all. However, it is like some books I’ve read. Les Miserables, for example. An excellent read, but there are a solid 100 pages (at least) were everything is worse than the dreariest day in the most depressing month of the most monotonous year. Four pages later it’s still awful and then 50 pages later nothing has changed. I remember having a strong dislike for Mr. Hugo during that section. I thought to myself, “Those old authors. They have good stories, but what is the deal with the mundane crap fest that all of them seem to put in their novels?” Dostoyevsky in Crime and Punishment, Austen in Mansfield Park, Dickens, Tolstoy, Dumas…They all have these long, seemingly pointless sections in their books. But in living here for 12 weeks, learning a new language and a new culture I’m realizing the stuffy old men and women who scribbled by candlelight in worlds of disease, dirt and slow communication understood far better than us the importance of those tedious periods in our life. They empathized with those seasons and wrote about them. But our generation cuts it out. Jean Valjean’s months and months of this drawn-out tedium isn’t in the musical and hardly in the film adaptations*. I mean who wants to watch a man moping around for 30 min? Those 100 pages aren’t in the abridged version of the book either. In our fast paced world, we just don’t want it to exist , so we cut it out. But I can’t cut it out of my life. And perhaps Victor Hugo couldn’t write it out of Jean Valjean’s life because he was creating a character of brokenness and redemption and struggle and joy and journey. He is a character we relate to and root for. I’m frustrated that remembering which pronoun I need and how it interacts with the particular verb conjugation I am using is taking up a good 100 pages of my life. Granted, comparing my time of acculturation with war torn France and being chased by an over vengeful inspector is a little dramatic. But what I am driving at is the boring and sad exists in stretched out seasons of life. We can’t cut it out. My life isn’t a 2 hour film. It has taken nearly 3 months to grow some love for this place, and I know it will take even longer before the grammar begins to come naturally. I finally find myself applauding those authors of old for writing characters who really have to fight to keep going; who have long periods in their life where everyday they have to overcome and get up and keep on keepin’ on. We all do. One day more! And another and another, and so on and so forth.
*This was edited Jan 14, 2013 after re-watching the musical and confirming: that section isn’t there.
The other night, Alyssa and I made our way to our favorite tapas place on Van Dyck. We saved it for our final stop according to my old standby “save the best for last”. The place was curiously empty for 11:15. (Considering dinner starts around 9, restaurants are open fairly late, according to American standards.) I ordered our costillas, while Alyssa asked if they were closing. She turned to me, “They are closing,” she reported sadly. The proprietor was still happy to serve us, but he must have seen my look of surprise and responded to me, “Hace frio.” My surprise increased as I was sure my ears were deceiving me. I’ve learned a lot of Spanish in the past two months, but I came knowing that phrase. “Hace frio,” he repeated. “It’s cold”.
The reason he was giving me for closing early was that it was cold out. Now, I’m from Atlanta. People flip out when it hits below freezing, but stores don’t close. It was maybe 27°F outside, and Salamanca gets way colder than that. I fumbled for clarification, “Si, hace frio…pero….vale.” (yeah, it’s cold….but…ok). He probably thought I just didn’t understand. Maybe because I initially pronounced costillas wrong. Or because as Alyssa and I left, I couldn’t remember if the empujar plaque meant push or pull on the door and there wasn’t a handle or metal plate thingy to help me make that decision. In reality, with the exception of an epic ice storm that shut my southern city down for a week, I’ve never heard of a place closing because “it was cold” so I didn’t understand. I probably never will, and next time, I will just go there first so I’m not rushing through some really, really excellent ribs.
I didn’t write a Thanksgiving post. The holiday is one of my favorites, but writing about it only twisted the knife of being far away. And I felt like I was lying because I wasn’t very thankful for much. As hard as I tried I couldn’t pull myself into a spirit of gratefulness. But a few weeks have passed and the horror of culture shock is wearing off. While being truly thankful is still not a constant companion or anything, I do find that I like things that are different or specific to Spain. I am hoping these things and the hard stuff can become fruits of thankfulness.
- Milk. It tastes good/different.
- Walking. Not having a car.
- Learning Spanish.
- The Plaza
- Dogs. Well behaved beautiful dogs…
- Street musicians
- Boots (warm, cheap and guay)
- En Vivo
- Teaching fun English expressions to people
- Learning new cultures
- Parque de Jesuitas (this is a beautiful park)
I also like the fact that I have time to make this place my home. It won’t all happen at once. Poco a poco.