Monday, April 14, 2008

oh, Spain, where have you been all my life?

I´m now in Malaga, on the south coast of Spain. A quick itinerary: I flew from Paris to Barcelona (I first spent seven hours in the Beauvais airport, an hour out of Paris and away from everything. I spent my time there getting to know a Belgian-born Tullio who grew up in Ibizia and now lives between Paris and Barcelona, wandering through the village Tille, and writing a short short story); after six sun-soaked days staying in a hostel in Barcelona, I took an overnight train to Granada, finding out six hours before I left that I had a CouchSurfer to stay with when I got there. Upon arrival in Granada, our hosts took me and four other arrivals (US students who study in Barcelona) to their mountain home in Quentar, a half hour out of the city. The next morning we headed to Sevilla, and two days later (which is to say, today) I find myself in Malaga, Spain at another CouchSurfer´s gorgeous flat on his even gorgeouser Mac computer.

Between all those pin points on a map fit many new faces and even more emotions. I hit a wall in my first days in Spain: I contemplated loneliness in a country where I didn´t know the language, witnessed the death of another part of my ego, almost went insane contemplating what it means to disidentify with everything I thought defined me. The universe sent me Daniel, an Aussie who calmly listened to my philosophical meanderings and kept me on an even keel. I said before I left Canada that I´d go to an meeting when it occurred to me to do so, and sitting in sunny Spain and not knowing what else to do, asking for guidance brought me to a webpage with clear instructions on how to get to a meeting. International AA is amazing (of course, of course) - in the four meetings in four days I met travelers, locals, and expats, some residents some visitors, and I found my serenity again. I realized the pride was keeping me from finding what I was looking for, so I got humble and...surprise, found what I needed the moment I admitted I didn´t know it all, after all.

From that moment it´s been a watershed of amazing people and open hearts. Two Singaporean girls and I trekked up a mountain overlooking the city, and Daniel and I wandered the gothic quarter and Gaudi park. Kirsty and Issach, a Kiwi couple who just finished working on a yacht (a big industry in the port cities...a great way to make cash and travel the Meditteranean. I just have to sell my soul to ultra rich yachters, and I´m not sure if I´m ready to make that leap yet...) introduced me to the Barcelona wax museum and another Aussie named Nick who drove me to the train station and saw me off to Granada.

The next few days were a whirlwind: Axel and his family welcomed us to his mountain home, and Sara met us in Plaza Einstein, took us to eat borscht in her flat, invited us to a Spanish fiesta in a friend´s backyard. Diego and David and I (the bickering boys from Barcelona) trekked up to the gypsy caves overlooking the Alhambra and ate tapas to get out of the rain. Even though I don´t understand Spanish, I´ve been lucky enough to find locals who speak English or travelers who speak Spanish, and I´m trying to pick up "un pequito" so I can come back here and live forever.

From Granada to Sevilla for feria, a festival that reminds me of the Calgary Stampede: fairground on one side, complete with overpriced rides and candied apples, and on the other, a remnant of semi-forgotten tradition. In Calgary it´s rodeo, in Sevilla it´s the Sevillana dance (strongly influenced by flamenco) done in the casetas (tents that line the fairground rented out by families and companies). Strolling the grounds with Sarajean and Candace (the other half of the Barcelona foursome) gave me a taste of "traditional" Spain, with horse drawn carriages and girls in flouncy dresses and men in suits, however superficial it may now be.

Last night we prepared to camp out in the bus station until Sarajean got a call from a friend of our CSers in Granada who offered us their flat and a delicious dinner. Thank you, universe. I sent a random email to a CSer in Malaga who answered immediately, so this morning I hopped a bus, met Carlos, got on the back of his motorbike, and slept on his couch as he prepared me a traiditional Spanish lunch (eaten here at three or four in the afternoon) of green beans, potatoes and olive oil, and cold tomato-based soup (gazpatcho). All vegetarian, all deliciousness.

If India taught me how to let go, Spain teaches me to relax absolutely. I´m not sure if it´s the new headspace I found after my old one died in Barcelona, the people I´ve met, or the place itself, but the combination makes this country my favourite yet. I say that about each place I go, but if today is the best day of my entire life, then I can´t wait for tomorrow.

This life, this life: so beautiful and ebullient.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

since then and until soon

I haven´t put up any updates until now because I started to view them as an inconvenience instead of a joy...and I don´t want to live that way anymore! I´m only going to do things either a) when it occurs to me to do them and they make my heart light or b) when the universe tells me it´s time to do them.

This is category b): I´m in an internet cafe surrounded by my new friends´ backpacks, and since they´re not back yet and I can´t carry them all, I will await their return with you. When the arrive I hit "post", so a mid-sentence truncation may follow.

From Brussels to Bruge, a touristy town that is quaint and cute and a UNESCO heritage site. I spent the day meandering and eating fries. I spent the evenings with Marie-Louise, my second CouchSurfing host, and I once again sit amazed and gratified with the kindness of strangers. A train back to Paris and then a meeting with Florine, a French girl with a culinary flair and a zest for all things interesting. I stayed in her one-room flat for two days and two nights - we visited Giverny, Vernon (Vair-none, not Ver-nOn), and of course the opulent palace. We, along with Susan from Norway, talked about France, Canada, and Norway, about the different ways to say I love you (you can´t say "I like you" in French: it´s all or nothing, whereas in Norway you can choose between two, depending on whether you´re referring to familial or romantic love), about Marie Antoinette, about chocolate. Florine grabs experiences and runs with them, expresses everything with certainty, whether optimism about the future or her absolute detestation of people who don´t read CouchSurfing profiles. has changed my life. More than a place to stay, more even than a way to meet someone who knows so much you don´t know and wants to tell you all about it, this community revitalizes my faith in