In the state of Nevada I have two places I can refer to when asked where I live by the locals here in Madrid, although it depends on the time of the year. Reno is my reference during the months at university, and Las Vegas, during any off time from school. Although I feel I could consider Reno as my full time residence, it can never be my home. The city holds to much formality for me. I have used it for my purposes, and soon I will throw it out after graduation, like a tightly squeezed lemon. I will hold close the memories experienced, but they do not have enough history to carve a decent chunk in my heart. The space in my chest where my true home camps is decorated in dusty beige and peach tones; it is lived in and worn and smells like year- old potpourri. Here is my city, Las Vegas. To most it is constantly thriving and moving; it is a place of regrets for most visitors and a place of new opportunity for others. For me it is a freshly changed bed used to recharge on a Sunday afternoon. Here resides my mother, my fiancé, my cat, and my fifteen-year-old, gold granny car. Here nostalgia patiently sits on every corner like the Hispanic car washers with their mobile water tanks sweating in the dry heat. Driving down just one street, Lake Mead Boulevard, named after our drought-affected lake, I see the sandwich shop I had my first job at and I can still feel the sly, stinging cuts that would crop up in the corners of my thumb every time we got a fresh bread knife in, and the rush of adrenaline during lunch when I lead the line. Down the street is my grandmother´s permanent trailer. The once lush ground is now dried and brown because Grammy´s aches killed the garden. I can taste the sweet and crunchy cinnamon toast she would make my sister and me on summer afternoons; she would use the cheapest, whitest, white bread and most florescent yellow butter, but I still believe it is better than any churro con chocolate or bizcocho flan I have experienced in Madrid. Nostalgia is the secret ingredient.
Even with the cushion of reminiscence, in both cities a certain anxiety follows me whenever and wherever I go, causing me to always ask myself, “should I be doing something right now?”, or “Am I being productive?” Largely this restlessness stems from my slightly type-A personality further spurred on by my culture’s emphasis on time and how important it is to not waste it (although we are given no guidelines on what is a waste of time). America enjoys it´s traditions, the older the better, the more obscure, the best! In fact, much of our work ethic today originates from the Puritans, still beating their washings on the side of Plymouth Rock (Dean). Their focus on hard work and frugality in order to become closer to God has been mutilated, reflecting a goal to become closer to our new god: money. This ingrained message has us worshipping all things productive and efficient, otherwise you are just lazy. So this is the reason I find myself jumping from task to task, while giving no credit to idle activities. Every chore, errand, and activity is set out with an end goal in mind. But now I´ve leapt off of the treadmill attempting to cycle towards the American Dream, and found my way to Madrid. Here I assumed I could find similarities to my bright, busy city in Nevada, but I quickly realized that Spain is strolling down the boulevard I have been speeding on. My American-born anxiety over mundane things is slowly waning; Spain is slowing me down and in my dormancy I am discovering what matters to me.
Two very culturally enjoyable aspects one can find in Madrid, and possibly nowhere else outside of Spain, in their original form, are the sobremesa and la siesta. Both terms cannot be directly translated into English, but the first according to Lauren Heineck (n.d) is “a cultural act [where] in Spain people take their meals very seriously [;] hours can be spent at the…table chatting long after the plates have been cleared and the coffee has been served. It’s a time to bond with… guests, savor the moment without rushing and… to digest your food.” Typically a sobremesa occurs during the siesta time, which is a two to three hour break in the day when stores and restaurants close in order for workers to return home and spend time with family, rest and eat lunch together. These traditions, although argued to be changed in order to increase productivity and the economy of Spain (Hamilos, 2013), are what quintessentially create the relaxed, easygoing atmosphere found in this close knit city. Originally created for farmers to avoid heat-strokes during the hottest parts of the day, they now allow for the individual to take time for themselves, whether that is to physically or mentally recuperate. Without these traditions nothing would stop future generations from adopting the ‘time is money’ mindset, and then we travelers will have no place to escape to. In all, for the man-sandal clad traveler or the short-term student resident, the midday Madrid break requires an adjustment period similar to the jet-lag they just relieved themselves of. For myself, I’ve used this time to walk aimlessly; this has become my tradition, interconnected with the deep-rooted cultural practices of Spain.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, where back in the States I would have been diligently crossing items off my to-do list, I decide to take my books and walk to the park. Not whole-heartedly ditching my productive habits, I go with the plan to finish my reading assignments before returning. Heading out of my sixth floor apartment, I am greeted with a multitude of people doing exactly as I, walking with their grandchildren, their mothers, and grandparents, all with the hazy look of having no plans at all. I walk the short distance to the park with a cool breeze in the air from the recent rain fall, and for the first time in two weeks, think that I should have brought a sweater. At the entrance to the elaborate web that is Retiro Park, my feet began to take me the way I have always walked, right down the dusty middle, later to branch out to the left towards the Parisian style rose gardens. I stop abruptly; ditch my knowing ways and take the unfamiliar entrance path to the right, committing myself to exploring the unplanned. I come upon the endings of child’s birthday party where a man in a tan suit, holding a motorcycle helmet, is giving everyone double-cheek kisses in a goodbye gesture, avoiding the gaggle of balloons tied to a shopping wagon next to him. A few paces down at one of the fountains with moss garnished water and surrounded on all sides by thick bushes, there is another child, this one tow-headed, dancing on the fountain edge. I slow down slightly, concerned that he will fall and no one is around, until I spot his grandfather watching some yards away. With my anxiety ebbed I too watch as he reaches for a branch floating towards him in the bubbling water and wait until he smacks the surface with the green, furry stick before continuing my search for the right bench.
Sometime and many turns later, I see a bench under the shade of trees, across from a women tossing birdseed from her large red satchel to the cooing pigeons. I am easily distracted by the sound of the seeds scattering onto the ground, the excited fluttering of wings, and the higher pitched tweeting of inferior birds who cannot reach the middle of the circle. I begin to wonder how my all-American, soldier-marrying, sister would react to this woman across from me, and my mirrored dawdling? Reflecting on our individual contentedness, it is not clear or necessary to say which way of life is better. I sit for an uninterrupted amount of time, never checking or even wondering what time it is, and never fully finishing the task I set out to do. I eventually head back when the sun begins to drop in the sky and I forgot my concern because the anxious feelings will not return when I fly home.
Dean, Brian. "Anxiety Culture: The Puritan Work Ethic." Anxiety Culture: The Puritan Work Ethic. Web. 25 June 2015. <http://www.anxietyculture.com/puritan.htm>.
Hamilos, Paul. "Adiós, Siesta? Spain Considers Ending Franco's Change to Working Hours." The Guardian. 2013. Web. 15 June 2015. .
Heineck, Lauren. "Sobremesa in Spain." Sobremesa in Spain. Blogspot. Web. 15 June 2015.
"La Siesta in Spain - Spanish Siesta Tradition." DonQuijote. Web. 15 June 2015.