Arrival anywhere, no matter how similar it may be to your home country, always feels like going down one of those horrid waterslides—the ones at waterparks shaped and colored like intestines, where children are screaming and your bathing suit ends up half-way up your arse, you get thrown around a couple of not-as-soft-as-they-should-be plastic corners, and then dumped into a pool that is colder than you thought it would be, or too chlorinated, or not quite chlorinated enough.
So goes our arrival in Sevilla. We are dumped unceremoniously into the Plaza Del Salvador at around 5:30pm. It’s Sunday. The square is almost like Spain-of-my-dreams: there are orange trees ripe with fruit. Two churches stand across from each other like an old couple married hundreds of years, their faces worn and bored and luminous and so different from each other. Yet they have somehow taken each other on, the baroque nose of the husband complimenting the gothic chunk of his wife. The sky is a fairytale winter blue, and it’s about 60 degrees outside.
(Where’s the bathing suit up-the-arse? you’re wondering—don’t worry, we’re there.)
The cabbie does not have change. He runs to a nearby café to get some. This starts a traffic jam and everyone is honking at us. He uses this chaos to stiff me on el cambio, which I don’t realize until a few seconds later, after he’s screeched away into the maze of old Sevilla, and we are walking across the plaza, which is littered with empty beer bottles. Wadded up balls of newspaper are blowing around like tumbleweed. We dodge a pack of mangy, fighting dogs. There is some serious mystery moisture on the ancient cobbles. I’m trying to avoid it but of course, I’m dragging all six pairs of shoes I couldn’t leave behind.
We miss the turn to our apartment, and we stand around stupidly for a moment, thinking, there was no right turn back there, was there? There was: it’s an alley the width of a ruler. I breathe in that smell that only ancient cities have: part plaster and moth ball and sewer and flowers and now oranges and smoked pork and all the thousands of people who have passed through here on their way home.
Inside, our attic apartment is a breath of tranquil air. It’s beautiful. There is a terrace—actually two terraces (terri?). The tiles of the terrace feel sunbaked on my feet. The owner has decorated the apartment with care and a local touch that is both exotic and homey. Our bedroom is drenched in light from the sun that’s still somehow above the horizon. Is this where duende shows up? I’m wondering. Not yet—we are still too jetlagged and travel-shocked to truly see this place with our eyes open. Duende is not that easy.
Tonight, instead, he appears in his folklore costume of old to imp all over our new home. He gets into the wiring just when I plug in my hairdryer and blows the electricity in the whole apartment with a sturdy woooom. (I used the transformer and the adaptor! I did!) He decides we will not have fast Internet, not today, something we stressed that we needed more than water. He determines we won’t go to sleep (It’s only 6pm back home!) and keeps us awake with all our anxieties for company: Should we have done this? What were we thinking? We should have had babies and moved to Waltham. We don’t belong here, and so on.
How is it that after so many travels (36 countries and counting) a little city in Spain still manages to make me feel so dumb-footed? But this is the task of traveling, of becoming extranjeros. Literally, foreign ones.
And while we can find plenty of evidence of the country we left yesterday lurking around (it is western Europe after all) we are now making a shift. We have no friends here. We have left our house with others living in it. We will need to seriously get real about learning Spanish (I have used nothing but my poor high school Spanish in the past 12 hours –shout out Señora Cunningham!). We will eventually fall asleep, and in waking, start to discover Sevilla with fresh eyes, recalling the reason we left home in the first place, that thirst for another location, time, culture, people, spirit. Duende.
I will frequently include words of poets working in the Spanish language on this blog, either translating them myself or utilizing the good translations of others. Today, I think it’s appropriate to evoke Argentine poet Juan Gelman and his poem “La Extranjera,” provided in his English.
The foreigner doesn’t know
that her blood is her house, that
all her birds
can only sing there and open
wings to her summer and pounce
reach, launch, rise,
like a thirst for the world
that you cannot turn off.