It’s no secret that in my most recent writings, my feelings toward Spain have been lukewarm at best, disheartened at worst. My year and a half back living in Madrid has been a period of near-constant drama and transition, leaving many friends and family back in the States—and often me, too– to wonder what the heck I’m still doing here and why I don’t just go home. But as the temperature warms and I find myself coming out of the fog of a gloomy, anxiety-ridden winter, I find my feelings toward Madrid warming as well. Or re-warming. Re-heating? Like a microwave heating up last night’s tortilla. But the truth is, cold or hot, Madrid—much like tortilla—is, in my heart, great always.
Some of you already know the story. When I left my study abroad semester in Madrid four years ago, I was in love. I had fallen completely head over heels for the city–its beautiful streets, the charming and innumerable bars and cafes, the lifestyle and culture, the language, the tapas — and how it made me feel, and the idea of coming back never left my mind. So I got myself back here.
But when I moved back to Madrid, things were rougher. Instead of seeing Madrid through the rosy-glasses of nostalgia and the intense and compact infatuation that comes with a 6-month study abroad program, I found myself having to make a life here, having to bring all the difficult parts of a life in transition–adjusting to a new job, co-existing with new people, managing a long-distance relationship– into my idyllic Madrid bubble. I could no longer see Madrid as perfect. As I struggled to adjust to “real life” in Madrid, I came to know the city’s many flaws, and for a while I was a bit disillusioned with it. I didn’t feel the same gusto for Madrid I once had. My tough year changed my view of the city, and while I couldn’t blame Madrid for all the bad things that were happening last year, they felt inherently tied into my life here.
So when my yearlong teaching contract ended last June, I was torn about whether or not to renew it for another year. Even when I left at the end of June to go back to Florida for the summer, I wasn’t sure if I’d be returning to Madrid in the fall. My first year back in Madrid had treated me so badly. Would returning to a place that was the setting of possibly the worst year of my life up ‘til now make me an optimist—returning with hope and blind faith that my next year would be better–or a masochist—jumping back into the ring to have life abroad beat me up all over again?
But it wasn’t the city, or even the fact that I was living abroad, that had made my year so difficult. It was some bad roommates and dishonest landlords, some tough decisions, a less-than-satisfying job, a long-distance romance and, more recently, a devastating breakup. It was anxiety and, quite possibly, a bout of depression. It wasn’t the city itself but new challenges and unfamiliar scenarios and my ability or inability to adapt to or cope with them. So packing up my things and leaving a city I loved really wasn’t going to fix any of that, and possibly could have made things worse. I realized bad people are everywhere. Tough decisions, I’ve regrettably found, come up all the time no matter what your life looks like or where it’s set. I wasn’t ready to make sacrifices for someone I loved. And I didn’t have any prospect of a job as stable as my Madrid teaching job anywhere else in the world, and I definitely wanted to continue living abroad. I felt like I owed it to myself and Madrid to give us a chance to patch things up, so I came back. And I’m really, really glad I did.
My relationship with Madrid has morphed during my second chapter here. I used to put Madrid on a pedestal and now I know it intimately. I was frustrated with it for being the source of my problems, and saw it as the antagonist to myself, the victim, and now I see it wasn’t at fault. Madrid and I now have a more stable, more real relationship. I love it constantly yet there are still moments I’d like to punch it in its beautiful face.
And while I know it’s flawed in many ways, no city is perfect. But of all the imperfect cities I’ve visited and lived in, Madrid is my favorite—the love of my life, geographically speaking. Yes, I’m in love with Madrid. Steadily if not passionately; unconditionally if not perfectly; truly madly deeply in love with the city of Madrid.
I’m drawn to Madrid like a moth to a flame and for now–de momento–it’s home.