Plaza de España, Sevilla
Here I am, sitting on the balcony of the apartment I’m calling home for the next three months, drinking wine and looking out over the Plaza Nueva. Around this time of year six years ago, I was getting used to life in Costa Rica. I was all at once enamored, curious, and painfully homesick. Then, I lived with a host family–to this day, some of my favorite people in the world–and went to a small, neoconservative Catholic school. I was fifteen, my Spanish was halting, and I was terrified to go out alone or try to find my way around the city. Now I live with roommates, and tomorrow I start classes at Universidad Pablo de Olavide in their Hispanic Studies program. I’m 21, comfortable speaking Spanish (though far from the holy grail of bilingualism), enamored and curious once again, and the fear and homesickness that were so all-consuming have yet to appear.
I arrived to Madrid early in the morning-la madrugada-two days ago. It was too early to check into my hotel, so I dropped my bag off and stumbled around the city in jet-lagged confusion. I had a map, and (much to the surprise of anyone who knows my garbage sense of direction) navigated myself around the city. I went to the park and ate a lunch of tortilla española: an egg and potato omelette that seemed much more like a quiche than a tortilla to me. Finally, it was late enough that I could go to the hotel and nap. I woke up long enough to go get ice cream for dinner, and then went back to my hotel room.
The next day, I came to Sevilla on a train. I found my way to the apartment that I’m sharing with three other ASU students while we study at UPO. We spent the rest of the day exploring the city on foot and eating tapas.
Sevilla is warm and beautiful. The buildings are historic and the streets are paved with cobblestones. Every couple hundred meters, there is a shop boasting colorful palates of ice cream in their front windows. People dine outside; the restaurants have shaded sidewalk tables and canopies that spray mist over the diners. It’s an idyllic city, and I wonder if I’m just in that honeymoon phase of travel where everything tastes better and looks more beautiful, if only because it’s new.
But honeymoon phase or not, there is something about this city that is different for me than other places I’ve been. Normally I’m wary when I travel; I clutch my purse tightly and assume that I could easily be robbed on the street or kidnapped in a taxi. Here I don’t feel that. It reminds me of being in Paris when I was small, before Paris overwhelmed me with feelings of linguistic inadequacy and made me feel like an obese fashion disaster. I would like to think that I don’t stick out all that much here, that maybe I look and dress like I could actually be Spanish, that I’m not so obviously an outsider. Maybe the only difference is that I don’t feel quite so much like an outsider this time.
I’ve never felt competent while traveling before now. It’s weird to say that, since it’s been a passion of mine for so long. But it’s always been an anxious passion. Language barriers, my constant fear of getting lost, and that nagging feeling of never quite being able to relax in a place that was never quite home. Something about that has changed for me, and I’m sure there are a million psychological explanations for it, but I’d rather give the credit to this city. For being a place where I can go explore old buildings and parks. For having such delicious meats and cheeses and ice cream (my favorite food and least guilty pleasure). For selling me good red wine for less than 2 euro per bottle and providing me a shaded balcony where I can sit and drink it.