winter or hell?

20 07 2009

plazaliteEarly the other morning as I was driving down to the Mrs.’ place, NPR was my travel companion as is the norm.  A story came on that instantly brought tears to my eyes and I had to really concentrate on staying on the road because I couldn’t see.  It was about summer nights in Spain.

There were a million things that flooded my mind – the first being a popular word play that pokes fun of the two seasons in Spain: invierno (winter) and infierno (hell). Sirocco winds blowing off the Sahara desert during these months would make it feel as if we had moved into a convection oven.

persiana2Air conditioning was a luxury that was never part of any of our living situations.  Persianas are plastic or metal horizontal slats mounted outside the windows which could be lowered completely to black out all light or left part way up allowing some airflow. These were lifesavers.  I always loved the polka dot shadows they cast on the walls or the clacking sound they’d make with the slightest breeze.  Especially during these weeks of July, the white noise commentary of the Tour filled dark rooms on suffocating afternoons.  Everyone would move at a snail’s pace so as not to expend unnecessary energy.

It wasn’t until after 8 p.m. that the sun’s arc would be at a tolerable degree in the sky so as to not singe our eyebrows. The persianas would be rolled up letting in any smidgen of breeze.  Little by little the streets came alive.  The darker it got outside – the more people would be on the streets.

Nights that Best Boy and Shop Girl would still be out playing hide-and-go seek or some other foolishness at midnight were the norm.  It was no cause for worry.  It wasn’t dangerous.  No one was going to call Child Protective Services on us.  Half the population of the pueblo was out on the streets soaking in whatever cool the darkness afforded.

Mornings were quiet – given everyone’s love of pushing the envelope on the circadian rhythm thing.  Maybe that pattern really resonated with my ruling planet being the Moon and I got stuck in the cycle. Here so many years later I’d still rather be awake at 2 a.m. and sound asleep till just before noon.

But I don’t live there any more.  Nor do I live in a neighborhood that I’d let my young kids play outside at midnight.  I learned a long time ago that it was wasted energy to pine away for where I’m NOT.  It’s best for me to recognize the good and the bad in each place – see its uniqueness and live in the space that I am physically present in at the time.  Being bi-cultural means embracing the tension.  Easier said than done.

When I was in Spain, I missed the four distinct seasons of the Midwest.  Surviving the rabbit hole winters here in Michigan makes me long for the Mediterranean light.  The acrid smell of scorched earth during the drought month of August in Spain would make me fantasize about standing out in a raging thunderstorm along the shores of Lake Michigan.  And now – one of these nights where a blast of Canadian chill makes for what is referred to as “good sleeping weather” here makes me think of those days when I’d roll around toasting like a corn dog in bed all night long in Madrid.

The best part of experiencing culture is the part that you do when you are viewing it from a distance.  I have journals filled with all the frustration I was really feeling on so many levels during those days – but now all it takes to turn me to mush is to remind me of all the things I took for granted.  So my Catch 22 is winter or hell…hell or winter…or hell, why not winter?  Two more months till Fall.



One response

20 07 2009
Jenny (Shiflett) Ratzlaff

Ahh, summer nights in Barajas. . .my best memories of growing up in Madrid. Maybe that’s why I want to close all of the blinds and lay around today in our 110 degrees today (Fresno, CA!), and head out to play soccer in the streets after the sun goes down. Love you guys!

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