Wednesday, November 19, 2003

A Year In Madrid.

During my first weeks I doubted very much that I could survive the full year in Spain. As a result I am drawing great satisfaction from what to many is an insignificant milestone. However I cannot for one minute claim that it is down to spirit and effort that has made me last until now. The truth is that a disproportionate amount of luck has consistently fallen my way.

The good fortune all began with an absolute stranger helping me to translate and respond to the accomodation classifieds in the newspaper. Amazingly the subsequent disaster of being evicted from that first dwelling, after only four days, turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It was therefore by default that I found myself living amongst the best cafes, bars and discos that the city has to offer. What was a truly horrible and frustrating experience is now clearly the root cause of my meeting almost every good friend that I have. This second flat, shared with eight people, provided me with the perfect starter pack. I had everything from good company and willing language teachers to endless entertainment. It was also an invaluable early lesson into the Spanish mentality. Similarily my luck continued when I felt forced to leave my first job as a result of working conditions. I not only landed a better job, but also somehow came away with yet more mates and a student base for my all important private classes a year later. The list goes on.

I once wrote that the key to Madrid is its people. Today as I look back, I am highly amused at how my motley group of friends came about. They are my rowdy students, the pretty students, ex flat mates (of which there are many), Spanish teachers, salsa dancers, the people of random cafe conversations, barflies, bartenders, neighbours and colleagues. With time my recruitment of Amigos became quite easy as the Spanish live by the maxim, "a friend of my friend is a friend of mine"...... or put another way....three for the price of one.

The year was certainly full of its of ups and downs. But just as is the case with the Gaeltacht Summers, you subconsciously choose to remember only the great moments. My life in Madrid is now relatively easy. However this has only come about with time. It is of course due to at last speaking the language comfortably, having my pool of friends and understanding the city. That said, it was not a very simple task. There were weeks when I only ever encountered the worst type of person that Madrid has to offer. To put it in perspective, try and imagine a Spaniard experiencing only the rudest characters of Dublin.

My greatest source of knowledge has undoubtedly come from the classroom. I believe that the only way to make a student learn is by making the subject relavent to their own lives. Therefore every class involved discussions on work, family, relationships, opinions, social lives and experiences. I often wonder who is learning more, me or the students.

Given that it is a full year since I arrived, less and less seems curious to me. For this reason fewer subjects jump out as being worth writing about. However I will soon see festivals and traditions for the second time, and now that I am all the wiser about Spain it will be interesting to know if I view them any differently . It is very possible that I will be contradicting myself on a regular basis. Gladly there is still alot more to see and do. I have yet to go to a Bull fight, Barcelona, Flamenco dancing or a Spanish Wedding. I still can t bring myself to wear overtight jeans or dance to songs only fit for the nineteen eighties Eurovision Song Contest. Nor has my skin darkened or can I make Spanish Omelette !

I have learned alot, but what exactly, I m not entirely sure. I am definitely more educated. Perhaps I am more confident in myself. They say that travel humbles you, so maybe that too. I have recognised some of my own faults and certainly those of my countrymen. I have also realised how much I love and need my own culture. I am proud that I have achieved something by coming here and successfully integrating myself. And the adventure continues.