Sunday, December 07, 2014

Dubin / Madrid - A Wild Goose at Christmas

This article was first published in The Irish Times newspaper

I deserted the windy Irish shores for a land locked Madrid almost 12 years ago. Many Spanish summers have passed since then and now thirty-six, I have slowly come to consider myself a product of both cultures. However while that may be so, La Navidad never really feels the same in my adopted country. I simply can't seem to tune in. Perhaps it is because the Christmas carols don't sound the same.

That said, I no longer look at Spain with Irish eyes and nor do I expect to find Madrid on the streets of Dublin. I therefore know only too well that the only place for me to be at this time of year is back home in County Meath. It is only here that I can roast my feet at the fire while I get to grips again with milky tea and the newer flavours such as Niall Horan and Love-hate.

Nonetheless, no matter how happy and unrepentant I may be about my life as a Wild Goose, the trip home for the festive season always manages to knock me out of kilter.  It is the easy flow of conversation, the neighbour's backdoor, the courtesy on the streets and that intangible sense of belonging. Of course given the season, all of this is nicely accompanied by marzipan, mince pies and Fanning's Fab 50.  Acting as a well drilled team, these aforementioned delights never fail to rekindle that debate in my mind about the pros and cons of my self-imposed exile. I suddenly become all too aware of what I am missing here or would possibly miss there. It is also when I return for my much needed annual recalibration, where friends merrily take their amigo down a peg or two. 

Experience has taught me that when you are at peace with yourself and your roots, life on foreign soil is always easier. In Spain, as in Ireland, locals will always gravitate towards the foreigner who is most comfortable with who they are and where they come from. In other words, the more at ease you are with kin and country, the better equipped you are to thrive abroad.  Without question there is no better time for us wanderers to access and appreciate our Irish essence.

Sadly however, for my siblings and I this has been our first Christmas without parents at the end of the table. That in itself changes the dynamic that one living overseas has with their homeland. And so it is that the festivities suddenly came to act as an unexpected tool for rebuilding my recently disoriented relationship with Irlanda.  Perhaps spending Christmas in Ireland has functions and meanings for the Irish √©migr√© that those based back home might fail to see.

I only ever begin to feel the festive spirit in Madrid airport on the Friday before the celebrations. This has oddly become for me as much a part of Christmas as midnight mass once was. One year older, the same familiar faces turn up at the departure gate. While waiting to board, we all compete on who will be home for the longest and who managed to get their flight for the best price. Defeated, we then share theories on when is the best time to buy our December tickets.

In this same queue there is always a rookie who in his first year tries to bring back the full leg of cured ham (not knowing that Irish humidity will soon give rise to mold). There is also the red haired five year old who makes us all feel inadequate by her ability to slip seamlessly between two languages. Interestingly this is also the date when expatriates tend to bring the newest, newly found love home for the very first time. It is quite an amusing sight as these love-struck foreigners wear expressions of lost children as they take in all around them.

Finally the EI flight number is called and the epic battle to squeeze and reshape solid presents into equally hard overhead lockers begins. This year, as in every other year, the aircraft successfully managed to defy both gravity and Christmas generosity. It was certainly a turbulent flight home due to bad weather all over the continent. The only difference was that the wind only chooses to speak to me in Ireland.

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