Thursday, December 23, 2004

7 gay flatmates, 6 dead plants, 5 jobs, 4 apartments, 3 cold winters, 2 governments and 1 u2 album later.

I first moved to Spain in November 2002 and to the surprise of many including myself, I am still here. This is a considerable amount of time to spend in any foreign country and I can now safely say that there is a marked difference between having lived only one year and living two years in Madrid. The main difference of course is that I now longer feel like a passing tourist nor am I treated as one. This city no longer feels foreign or Spanish to me as it is now the familiar town and neighbourhood where I have my home. Two years means that many places ring a vague bell and I take for granted the authentic smells and sounds that you first notice in the Spanish capital. It is rare that I find myself wandering down an undiscovered street with most parts already bringing to mind an obscure personal memory or it the hostal where I spent my first nights, the office of my most boring class, one of my former flats or even the house of a party that took me all night to find.

My length of stay hit home a short while ago when I found myself at the third annual party of a friend. I suddenly realized that I too was qualified enough to comment on how the Madrid Christmas rush begins earlier each year. I also noted that a large number of the people who I met in my first weeks remain very close friends. These people now delight in describing to others how our friendships came about, without ever forgetting of course to mention my then lack of vocabularly and my annoying early propensity to talk about all events, past and future, in the present tense.

When you first move to a new country you spend most of your time comparing and contrasting. I think that I have spent so much energy doing this that thankfully there is not much left to judge with my Irish eye. Nowadays I try to take the local habits and customs for what they are and where they are, without filling out a mental score sheet. That said, one thing that will never cease to draw my attention is the complete lack of aggression that the Spanish show towards each other. Unfortunately I notice this most when I return to Dublin and see the entire population walking the night streets with clenched fists in their pockets. In my two or more years of Madrid nightlife aswell as living in the very center of the city, I have yet to see a punch thrown by a Spaniard. I have however witnessed street fights on two occasions, both of which involved English tourists only. What is it about us Anglo-Saxons ?

Music culture is almost non existent in Madrid as regards live venues, new groups or even musical knowledge. This is something that I miss greatly about Dublin. Ireland is a country with a strong tradition of music and literature, while in Spain it is one of aesthetics and visual art. I think the fact that the private lives of architects rival the Beckhams for magazine comment says everything about the culture and its heroes. Such is the case that one of the most studied third level subjects in Spain is History of Art. I can t play a musical instrument to save my life. However I can work a camera and know how to skip the qeue of the Prado Museum. Perhaps this is why I am still here.

I was initially very curious about how Madrid and the people would change me. The first twelve months were without a doubt the steepest learning curve of my life. Becoming streetwise, learning the lingo and understanding the society was an unstoppable, simultaneous bombardment of information. Nowadays while the curve may have flattened out somewhat, each day still teaches me something new. My second year in Madrid has enabled me to observe a city and country in great change. Coming from a politically stable republic I never thought that I would find such passionately, polar opposite, political ideals in a Modern European Nation...and then even end up taking sides ! Nor did I think that my taxes would ever go towards paying for a nuisance of a Royal Wedding !! However whether it is for the better or worse the city is transforming, and I was here to see the sad event that precipitated much of this. I m the Irish lad who had to go abroad before he properly feared, understood or experienced terrorism. It was a horrible event and I knew people who were lost. Naturally I wish it did not occur but at the same time I am glad that I was here if it really did have to be. That tragedy taught me more about human nature and human resilience than I could ever hope learn about España and Español. I think that in time the city will speak in terms of the Madrid Before and the Madrid After.

I do not think that Madrid or Spain for that matter are better than Ireland. They are not. It is just a case of where I prefer and where suits me more at this point in time. I love Madrid and feel very comfortable here. But it is a city and like every city it can get on top of you on occasions. Spain is also a great country and there are many places that I have yet to visit including Sevilla, Cordoba, Valencia and Zaragoza. I enjoy the drier healthier climate where you can expect to wake up most winter mornings to a cold but sunny day. I enjoy the language, the lifestyle, the people and quite simply.......the difference.

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