Travel Narrative

Old man bars and being ‘the other’

Sitting in a dark corner of a very typical Spanish old man bar, I have the pleasure of observing the ebb and flow of daily life.  Seated at the bar, an old lady talks animatedly about politics and playfully gives the barmen hell.  In turn, they smirk, looking at her with kindness; I assume she’s a regular.  Across the room, a scholarly looking woman shuffles intently through sheets of paper.  I like to fancy she too is a writer although likely drawing inspiration from vastly different subjects.  It’s all too easy to write about “the other.”  Observing the unfamiliar provides much more fodder for the imagination.

But this place is not entirely unfamiliar to me.  That same arid land, with its twisted trees, scrub brush, and shades of brown greeted me as we touched down.  Gazing out the window on the bus en route to Avenida de America, I smiled as my eyes eagerly drank in the scene; boxy architecture and the palpable feeling that time moves more slowly here.  It’s like nothing else I’ve experienced in any other country.

During my year in residence here, I always had the sensation that time was endless.  After giving private lessons on Wednesday nights, I chose to walk the hour home rather than take the metro and be in my flat in a fraction of that time.  I never felt rushed.  It was like I had all the time in the world.  In Dublin, and certainly to a much greater extent in Baltimore, it seems there are never enough hours in the day.  It’s like an eternal race against the clock to enjoy myself while I can.

But while I retrace my steps from years past, memory alone guiding my feet through the cobbled side streets, there is a sense that I don’t totally belong here; that I will always be writing about the other irrespective of how often I find myself here.  I think another mistake that negatively colored my year here was my expectation to feel like I belonged.  I wanted the culture to conform to my way of thinking and ideals of social interaction.  My intentions were pure and my longing for belonging intense, but I was approaching it all wrong.  I see that now and I believe these incremental revelations help me to slowly appreciate this place more and more.

It’s here, in this old man bar, where I sit drinking tea while everyone else drinks café con leche, that I fully accept that I am the other.  And it’s not half bad.


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