Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tiempo de niebla, tiempo de esperanza

            This is my fourth month in Valladolid and I’m beginning to come around to understanding its ways. If you’ve been one of the people whom have asked me how things have been going, I’ve probably given you a response that was only partially true. Truth be told, up until recently I have struggled with this city of Vieja Castilla. To catapult from being immersed in the friendly, outgoing nature of Oregonians, to the windswept reserve of vallesoletanos has been shocking. The cultural differences are more befuddling than any language barrier, the latter of which is no small obstacle.
            For weeks, I have felt lost, wandering these tiled streets. I’m sure many expatriates feel this same way during the first part of their sojourn. Many faces were scornful and uninviting, to my eyes at least, and the prototypical concrete-block apartment buildings that I now realize are so classically Spain became terrible eyesores, mocking my sense of pleasurable aesthetics. It was as if no one cared how I felt, even the architects. There were so many things that I couldn’t believe, so many things that I couldn’t stand. I was incredulous. And then I became scornful myself. I became distrustful.
            Throughout my “dark gray period”, one thing remained a luz at the end of the tunnel, and that was my students and my school. I have nothing but the utmost respect and love for everyone at IES Las Salinas in Laguna de Duero, and everyone there has been so great to me – the silly American. Despite the fact that many of my classes seem more circus-like than pedagogical, I have learned so many things from mis niños and I wouldn’t trade the time I’ve had with them for the world.
            Recently, though, the “dark gray cloud” has begun to lift. Things have not seemed so sin esperanza, people have not seemed so scornful, and I have found myself more confident and capable of taking on challenges. I realized that, to some extent, there’s no point in fighting the way things are, and especially the way people act. Sometimes, we have to make adjustments to our own minds and attitudes in order to adapt to the environment we find ourselves in. Then, and only then, can we change the world around us. Fighting it does no good.

            Valladolid is known throughout Spain for its fog – la niebla. Many vallesoletanos complain about this meteorological phenomenon, especially because it often comes hand in hand with temperatures bajo cero. However, after having spent the last five-odd years of my life in the Pacific Northwest, the chill of the fog hauls in a welcome wave of nostalgia for me.

            It was the other day, was on my daily walk home from work that I realized just how thick and all-encompassing the fog was. Instead of walking the mile or so straight to my house, I decided to take a right turn on a street that jutted off to the right, into a neighborhood I had never explored before. On both sides were low-slung rows of buildings, some of which had those classic, ochre Spanish-tile roofs (à la the quasi-Iberian architecture of Southern California housing developments, but the real thing). There were the typical grizzled men wearing flatcaps smoking short cigarettes clustered around the entrance to every bar. The smoke from their cigarettes mixed with their frozen breath and the fog as it wisped upwards. A school had just let out and there were kids everywhere, laughing, shrieking vivid obscenities, and wringing their hands to ward off the shock from the cold air.
            After a kilometer or so (don’t worry Americans – I’m just rounding up a little bit from half a mile), I came to a wall blocking the street off from the train tracks that bisect the city. As in any city in the whole universe, train tracks are the Shangri-la of ne’er-do-wells, graffiti-taggers, and general mischief-seekers everywhere, so I thought it would be a great place to take some pictures of the Real Spain.

The Real Spain is not the mosque at Córdoba, it’s not La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and it’s not la Costa del Sol in Andalucía. The Real Spain, to me, is miles of lonesome train tracks disappearing into the distance; it’s a pre-1978-democracy warehouse that has been abandoned to the elements, both human and temporal. The Real Spain is an incongruous, Lego-assortment of buildings that looked like they were Tetris’d out of the sky, but in that very sense are perfect just how they are. The Real Spain is kids running out of school, screaming vivid obscenities, and the Real Spain is coquettish but serious-looking women looking at you but trying hard to avoid like they’re looking at you at all costs, out of habitually avoiding piquing the avarice and encouraging advances from their shameless, macho counterparts.
The Real Spain is a controlled-chaos circus that’s impossible to figure out, and the only way to give you an idea is to list some examples of its characteristics. The Real Spain, whom I have come to not only accept, but love and embrace, is a place of live ghosts and just plain life, and you have to be with it for a while to figure out how to not figure it out.
And like Camus, I’m really starting to embrace the absurd.
Oh, and you know what the name of the street was?

Camino de Esperanza.

(Get out your Spanish dictionaries)