Are You Listening?
I write this from who knows how many thousands of feet up in the air, since I finally managed to leave Spanish soil this morning. There is a massive group of young Spaniards seated directly behind me. Judging by their cries of “¡Que vivan los novios! ¡Vivan!” (“Long live the bride and groom!”) and copious orders of airline booze, they’re headed to Amsterdam for a bachelor’s party. Though I’ve barely slept in the last two days, their boisterous voices are keeping me awake. A stern Dutch flight attendant came back here to reprimand them at one point, but someone just shouted “¡Que vivan!” at him and they all cheered. The attendant skulked away, defeated, but I don’t mind. Though I’m not listening to any music, I can still hear a melody amid the din.
I was in Spain for just over a month: two weeks each in Madrid and Andalucía. I’m traveling for another month or so before coming back. That feels like an eternity. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t wait to touch down in the Netherlands and see Amsterdam for the first time. And as soon as I get to Venice after that, I’ll be happily knocking back espressos and practicing my barely-existent Italian on unsuspecting locals. But Spain feels like home.
Spanish cities keep me coming back again and again. I left and returned to Madrid, Sevilla, Córdoba, like a moth that flutters away from a lightbulb only to be drawn back to its brilliance a moment later. I was last in Córdoba, which I visited no fewer than three times because I was too quick to leave the first and second.
I had been to Sevilla and Granada before, but never to Córdoba. Smaller, less touristy, and so possessing a more intimate kind of magic than either of those other cities, Córdoba captivated me. I admit that I felt most relaxed there, despite how much I love the buzz of Madrid. Córdoba was the only city where I fell into an easy rhythm instantly upon first arriving, spending the mornings sleeping, the afternoons walking and writing, the evenings drinking wine and listening to music.
Hostels are always filled with hardy backpackers and frenetic weekenders trying to conquer a lifetime’s worth of sights in three days, but the one where I stayed during my first days in Córdoba was mellow. I lazed on the rooftop for hours in the sun. Taking cues from the city, everyone’s movement was slow and serene.
By my third time in Córdoba, I had found my favorite haunts, returning to them daily to write with a coffee in hand. I meandered through the winding streets and felt waves of tranquility wash over me, punctuated by the small thrills of glimpsing a hidden patio or stumbling into a tiny plaza. The city’s cadence wrapped itself around me. Seeing me wandering, someone asked if they could help me find where I was going. I smiled and told them I wasn't going anywhere but here.
And then there was the music.
I'd forgotten that to spend time with a musician - as a fallen-away violinist, that's something I used to do quite often - is to be surrounded by music, always. There was so much music that I can still hear it clearly now, surrounded by a million other sounds while on my way to a different country.
On my last night in Córdoba, I went to a flamenco taberna where the musician was playing. I sat down and the man across the table from me poured me a glass of tart white wine. I drank it and watched and listened. I ordered another glass and offered one to the man, who declined and then, a moment later, gently touched my elbow at the bar to say he'd changed his mind. During a break in the music, we introduced ourselves and I told him that I am a writer and that I am moving to Madrid. He asked me if I'm sure that I want to move there rather than Córdoba, and, pulling a book out of his bag, handed it to me and said it might convince me to change my mind.
It was a children's book that he'd written, a fairy tale laden with the history of the city. I turned the slim volume over in my hands and read the description on the back. A sentence leapt off the page: Un ambiente mágico, que atrapa a las gentes que tienen la suerte de vivirnos. A magical atmosphere, which entraps the people who are lucky enough to live here. I had used the word atrapar, to entrap, almost daily since coming to Córdoba. Entrapped, I was. By choice. I was beckoned and yielded easily, sweetly.
We are each of us called in this life. The question is: are you listening?