Only when I went to Madrid, Segovia, and Toledo for a glorified field trip did I start feeling like I wanted to feel about being here. I have tried very hard, I have forced myself to enjoy my time here, despite jet leg, heat exhaustion, ugly Americans and uglier Spaniards, and the constant feeling of discomfort I face by living in a stranger’s home in a strange country. And I succeeded.
But I got deep into it this weekend. The immense stress that comes with travel (the taxi to bus to airport to metro to bus-ness) was lifted off my shoulders. I had no idea what was in Toledo and Segovia, and only a vague idea about Madrid. I let Mark and Maria, the group directors, load me on a bus with the others and take me to unknown locations. Not having control over where I was going was strangely liberating.
I saw Guernica for the first time. Then I saw Goya and Velazquez for the second time. (Goya will always be my favorite because of his morbid honesty.) I went to El Escorial, a Renaissance palace outside of Madrid, and saw the altar in the church where the king who built it (Felipe or Carlos or something) lived when he was too sick to walk and later died. There were crypts in which almost all the leaders of Spain are interred. These things were good, but not my favorite part of the trip.
In Segovia, there is a castle, the Alcazar, which was supposedly the basis for one of the Disney castles. It is perched on top of a cliff overlooking a forest with a river. There is also something like the second-oldest church in Europe, which I accidently stole a piece of for my collection of rocks and ruins. Castles and churches are all very good, but Segovia was the first time I had seen nature (besides olive trees) in Spain. And it was fall. Actually, it was Halloween. I imagine that there is no better time to be in Segovia than on Halloween. The leaves were all bittersweet colors and so was the air. Being farther north than Andalucía, it was cold, green, and rainy- the best weather. The castle was creepy in the best way possible. There were more happy trees like the ones I found in Portugal. We took a hike and got pleasantly lost, although the castle was never out of sight. For the first time in Spain, I strangely felt like I belonged.
In Toledo I went to mass in the gothic cathedral. I think I have never seen a town with such a high religious building to population ratio. Everywhere I went there were synagogues, chapels, churches, cathedrals. I ventured off on my own and ended up possibly trespassing, scaling down a cliff to look at some bird-infested ruins, and walk along the river. I think it was the first time in two months that there wasn’t a person within fifty feet of me.
I realized that I don’t just like nature, I need nature. When there is nature, you can forget about people, which is essential sometimes. The feeling of discomfort I had been feeling in all the places I’d visited and in Granada as well, was mainly a result of the lack of nature.
Having crawled in the mud and dirt of Segovia and Toledo, I gladly ruined some of my clothes. I breathed in the freshness of the air, and I felt the oldness. I could have been wandering the Spanish moors and forests 500 years ago. It is important, not only to find old things, but to find things untouched by time. I want to feel like I have a time machine.
This trip was possibly the most essential one I had in my time here. I established an inner-independence which I had lacked previously and caused me to make resolutions for the rest of my trip. I refuse to be idle when there is opportunity. I refuse to follow a crowd, even if it means I get lost sometimes. Walls and roofs do very little for me, and companionship, although beyond wonderful when provided by some, is a nuisance when provided by others. Those are the lessons that have defined my November and December.