Pretending to be busy at HanSo Cafe near Opera—I’m supposed to be finishing my first article of the year, but having decided a few days ago that this would be my last school year in Spain, my mind is understandably keen to procrastinate. And so this blog entry was born.
The same way I arrived at my decision to move to Spain at the height of the pandemic, the choice to eventually leave all this loveliness behind—just when I finally have a cozy community here in Madrid—is not a decision I’ve come to lightly.
I didn’t come to Spain with the intention to move here permanently. I came under a student visa, clear in my head that being an auxiliar de conversacion was a means to an end: to experience living in a European city, or even any city outside the Philippines. It was only supposed to be for a school year, but having arrived when all the regions closed its borders to each other had me staying put in Madrid for the first half-year, making me feel I needed to stay longer.
I decided to linger for another year and eventually came to love, really love, living in Madrid. Who wouldn’t, with its multi-cultural neighborhoods, its plethora of bars and cafes and restaurants (a year and a half into it, I’ve only really tried the tip of the iceberg), the language (I sometimes swear in Español now lol), the events and festivals, the museums and galleries, the bookstores and independent shops, its cool AF people, oh and have I mentioned easy access to other places in Spain and the EU?
Madrid is a city I would love to put down roots. It has all the qualities I’ve always felt frustrated about that was missing in Manila: an extensive transport network that works seamlessly; picturesque, instagram-worthy streets designed for people (not for cars!); al fresco dining and drinking all day, every day, any damn day; massive parks all within a kilometer radius of my flat; and an unhurried pace of living that I have never experienced before. This probably has to do with my 16-hour, four-day work week, but also the hours of daylight that change with the season. I never thought I would ever conform to Spanish eating hours (dinner here is at 9:30-10) until summer came to prove me wrong: a week into it, I walked around feeling jet-lagged. A day felt like two days crammed into one, affecting the hours I felt both productive and social. Having dinner at 7:30 p.m. when it looked like it was still friggin 4pm? Simply not how it’s done!
Even with the ugliness of November 2021 tainting my experience of Madrid (oh this is a long story best told with copious amounts of alcohol—or a plate- or TV-breaking session in Tarlac; look it up), I honestly do not want to leave. But I also don’t want to stay knowing I have a lot of unfinished business in Manila. To say I left in a haste is an understatement: my apartment remains empty, I’m still paying the bills, and I’ve put off taking the foreign service test far too long. Lately I’ve had this nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach that I’m really here escaping. It’s definitely the sweetest escape (I still walk around the streets of Madrid feeling so lucky I got myself to this riot of a city, even with Covid-19 making it doubly challenging)… but with my birthday just around the corner—yep I can no longer deny that I am indeed in my late 30s—I feel like I should face the music. I came to Spain, if I were to be painfully honest, to buy myself time as I figure out the next chapter of my life. Pandemic or no pandemic, I needed to do this in a different environment.
Eventually I really did come to love Madrid, to the point that my sweet escape felt more like coming home. I want to put down roots here—I want it so much I even considered renewing as an auxiliar to stay. But employing the same means to my desired end also feels like I’m betraying a part of myself because as much as I have such newfound respect and awe of people in the teaching profession, my heart is still not into it. I think I’ll leave the massive responsibility of shaping young minds to my rockstar teacher friends.
At the same time, I feel afraid—terrified, really—that the moment I return to Manila, I revert to my old way of living…and I don’t really want that anymore. As much as I am a nostalgic person—god knows I’ve romanticized the past one too many times—the direction towards which I live my life has always been forward. Sometimes I’d take a detour, revisit an old favorite, but I’ve never really felt the desire to relive anything. The desire to be in the great wide somewhere has always been, well, great—and this doesn’t even have to mean a place; most of the time I crave to be “somewhere” I feel widens the mind.
I’ve always resonated with what the German playwright Johann Wolfgang van Goethe said: Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it; Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.
I am well aware of the fact that going back to Manila doesn’t seem like a beginning when I’m already in a place I want to be, but I was on the train from Seville with my good friend Brian last weekend and while I already knew this, maybe I needed someone to remind me of it: People always speak in terms of absolutes, but it’s not the best lens to view the world.
Leaving Madrid now doesn’t necessarily mean I’m never coming back. I feel it in my gut that I will—be it a holiday or to settle down in the city. But when that time comes, I want to come here for the right reasons, and in circumstances that I’ve proactively created for myself. Some well-meaning folks have advised that I just stay anyway, but my late Aunt C would probably turn over in her grave if I employ, er, underground measures. Actually, she was cremated so her ashes would probably rise from the grave and travel all the way to Madrid to give me a good whack in the head…well, she was not one for violence, so I would probably be walking around Casa de Campo one day and be enveloped by a sudden gust of ashy wind. Ya get it.
Morbid turn there… I guess the point I’m driving at is, I came to Spain because I wanted to get out of a rut. When I did that, it was fast-forward all the way, damn the consequences, I needed to get out of my current environment. That rut—while having ebbed a bit because of the great distraction that is this vibrant country on the Iberian peninsula—is still here. Wherever you go, you apparently take yourself with you—huh, imagine that. 😛
The difference today, though, is that while I’ve been feeling in limbo again, I know I could choose to get myself out of it. I think that was the lesson I got from moving to another continent in the middle of a pandemic. I don’t really view coming home to Manila as backpedalling, as going back to my old way of doing things. Given the global pandemic, is that still even possible? Paradigms have shifted at tectonic levels. I don’t think any of us will ever be the same after this.
Besides, if there is anything that years of driving thru traffic-plagued Manila and impossible-parallel-parking by my old newsroom in Intramuros has taught me, it’s that to get out of a jam, most of the time you need to look back at that rearview mirror and put the car on reverse. This so-called life we happen to be living in—on borrowed time, as my friend Papu reminded me a few weeks ago—isn’t always linear. Life is wild and sweet, and most of the time incredibly loopy. And while it took a good amount of being SHOOKT (lol I hate this word, but on this occasion it is PERFECT) to get me here, I think I am totally cool with that. Entonces, loopy it is.
P.S. I solemnly swear to write vignettes of life in Spain after this…for those curious enough to read about my life here, but, really, mostly for me ❤️