Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Avenida de la Memoria

I stepped off the bus and out into the street, translated for a Texan backpacker who needed to get a taxi, and stood up with my bag properly for the first time in this city. I hadn't quite gotten used to it yet, where I was. I looked right and started to walk. It was a waking flashback, the kind that are only supposed to exist in the movies. You remember all the sights and smells from that time in your past, and the sounds, taste of the air, dirt under your shoes feel just as real as if it were now.

Well, it was real. For the first time in 19 months, I had returned to a city I knew. In 2003, a handful of my friends from high school and I came to Spain for three weeks, as part of a mini exchange program. It was my first time in Europe without my parents. One week touring Castilla y Leon and Castilla la Mancha, then two weeks in Seville, the first being Holy Week. I was sixteen.

And after a 30-minute ferry ride from Africa to Europe, and a bus from Tarifa, I was back. Back in Seville, for the first time in exactly seven years, almost to the day. The buildings looked right. The streets looked right. The smells, the signs, everything looked...

...better. It was like I'd lost contact with a cute girl from middle school and run into her again, grown up into a beautiful woman. The streets were cleaner, the trash was gone, the peeling-paint buildings I remembered with weeds growing from the roofs had been refurbished and renewed. Bike paths with their own signals ran down the sidewalks with public bike kiosks for rental. A streamlined, futuristic streetcar hummed along the major thoroughfares. The new is purring alongside the old which still has all the history and character I remember. The marble and stone is cleaned up to how it must have looked all those centuries ago when it was new. It's the elegance of the old world with the polish of the new. I could see a station for the brand new metro system down the street from where--

--yes, that was definitely it. That's the bridge my roommate and I crossed every day to go to our Spanish class. That's the Plaza de Cuba, and the Torre del Oro on the other side. The first sight of my life before this adventure, since it began.

It's warm, the birds are singing to the sunset, the people look happy, and even though they're not speaking English, I can actually understand what they're saying again! Mostly. Sort of. Maybe I'm kinda rusty. But still!

I spent the first full day sightseeing. There was usual stuff, but it wasn't for the usual reasons. I found the back avenue leading to where we saw the flamenco dancers. I sat under the fountain where I thought I was going to be squeezed to death by the crowd but where I got the perfect view of a holy week procession under the sunset. I climbed the clock tower of the cathedral where I'd tried to take pictures out of, and where I'd forgotten that my old film camera's viewfinder didn't line up with the lens, giving me half my pictures blocked by a metal railing. Even the stupid Texas-themed bar behind the cathedral some of my friends stumbled into one night was still in business.

I think I found the corner where my host family's apartment lived. I definitely found the square where I'd meet a couple of my friends and they'd tell us stories about how their demented host granny kept yelling things at them like "No peleas en la calle!" (Don't fight in the street!). I retraced a chunk of the path where the four of us, without saying a word about it, kicked a coke bottle down the street for at least ten minutes. I sketched out the rough route home we took the first time I ever had to take care of a drunk person, being the only sober one to shush them when they go too excited about the Spanish word for "wall" and when they tried to throw discarded glass bottles from the bridge. Even with them drunk and me sober, they were still better at navigating the streets than I was. There aren't any beer bottles or any other kinds of trash on that bridge now.

I walked along the river, remembering how seven years, three days, and about six hours before, I had moodily strolled along this same spot a night with a coke to have some time alone and to think about something that seemed terribly important at the time. Probably girls, knowing me at sixteen. But also the decision that I needed to call home. I used a payphone across the river and an MCI calling card my parents had given me with 560-something minutes advertised. For overseas calls, it gave us 34. Enough to wish my family a Happy Easter. Afternoon for them. Three am the next day for me.

This time, I hopped into the couchsurfing scene for rooftop barbecues, poetry and music, bars, and of course, tapas. Because reliving old memories is nice, but it's even better making some new ones while you're at it. More paella, bocadillos, and churros con chocolate, more exploring hidden alleyways, more parties, action-packed nights under the stars and lazy mornings that saw us up just in time for siesta again. Even met a couple old friends I'd met in other parts of the world. This was a good return.

I'm not in Seville anymore. I'm in Lisbon. Maybe a little frustrating, going from a country where I (theoretically) understand the language, to one where everybody seems to be speaking the same language's nasal equivalent of pig latin, too fast for me to get any words through my ears into sense. But once more I'm with friends I made in other parts of the trip. It's not often you get to explain that the friend you're staying with is someone you met over mulled wine in a village of mud and wood on an island in Siberia. I love this planet and I love my life on it.

Check out this entry's Photos.


  1. Lovely.

    Sometimes you can go home again.

  2. What are the volcano effect facts from the experienced traveler? We're seeing lots of pictures of the volcano and blog posts from people trying to get from here to there in close time frames that are not working for them. Figure your flexibility gives you an advantage, although affects your plans in a trickle down way that will involve some to much frustration presumably.
    lv, anonymom

  3. Hello..
    Thanks for sharing your travel experience with all of us.. I have been to the Europe before with my family and I must say that it is really an amazing place to enjoy and have fun..