Madrid Takes Your Time
Madrid is a beautiful fever dream. I woke up in the early hours of the morning for the second day in a row, these words burning themselves into my mind's eye.
"Madrid takes your time," a beautiful man in a bar said to me in Spanish two days ago, extending open palms only to close them and pull them gracefully into his chest. He's a newcomer, too, having arrived only four months ago from a country similarly distant to my own. It's the most astute observation I've ever heard about this city. Madrid wraps itself around you and draws you in and before you so much as notice, you're gone.
I head into the city center and end up walking for four hours. I go on a brief run and meander through Retiro Park for five miles. I attend a language exchange at a bar and don't come home until 8am the next morning. I spontaneously decide to take a street art tour, which turns into drinks, which turns into coffee. I visit the Reina Sofia to marvel at Picassos and Mirós and drift into a bar afterwards, lingering over a drink to talk to the man who so perfectly encapsulated Madrid with that sentence.
When I tell people that I may be here indefinitely, they ask me why I chose to be in this city. The only way I can describe my choice is to say that I fell in love with it. Like the blissful, heady heat that coils around my heart when I fall for someone, Madrid is in my veins. It says something that the only reason I ever wanted to move to Barcelona, a city that left me rather cold, is because I was in love with a person who lives there. Only love for a person can override love for a place, I suppose.
When I first came to Madrid five years ago, it was by pure chance. I wanted to study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country, and none of the programs in Latin America worked with my summer internship schedule. Spain was the only option, albeit an enticing one. I love big cities, which left me with Barcelona and Madrid. I chose Madrid because I wanted a language-immersion program and knew that trying to learn Catalan would detract from my focus on improving my Spanish. Though I'd wanted to study abroad since I was old enough to know what that meant, I was a wreck during my first weeks here. I was anxious all the time and hardly slept. Panicked and low on resources, I called my therapist in California and asked her if she thought I should come home. She encouraged me to stick it out for two more weeks before making a decision. By then, it had started: Madrid was taking my time, and I wanted to stay. By the time my program came to a close, I was considering cancelling my flight and staying here for a full year. I went back to my university because I missed my friends, many of whom were graduating that spring. Love for people over love for place.
Coming back here and falling in love all over again, I can't believe it took me so long to return. I miss my community in my adopted home of Washington, DC; I miss my family in California; I miss my friends who live all over the United States, easily accessible when I'm there but now a continent away from me. I will always, always ache to be with them, and for that reason I'm not yet willing to commit to living so far away. This time feels different, though. Maybe, I'm realizing, choosing my love for a place is really choosing myself.