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"So what's it like?"
Living in Spain, Madrid specifically, I get this question from folks back home a lot. It’s a good question that comes with a lot of different answers…but most of them distill to things that make choosing to live here understandable if not enviable. Here’s a bit of an overview. In future postings I promise to dig a little deeper on some of the details.
We got here the old fashioned way, accidentally on purpose. For about 3+ years I was commuting to Europe from LA and Montecito monthly sometimes basing here in Madrid and often going on from here to points East. It was fun, exhausting and unsustainable for this old married couple…So we decided to call Madrid home base…with every intention of returning to Montecito and SoCal… at some point. When that project ended and new one began, which only happened because we were already here, we decided to “just say yes” to what the universe was throwing our way and stick around for a bit. That was 2 years ago.
For Californians Spain is like family, maybe an ancestral Auntie, given the State’s Mexican and by extension Spanish roots. It also mirrors a lot of the climate and geography that makes a lot of people want to live in both places: Gorgeous coast lines and beaches, mountains looming in the distance skiable in the winter, dryer than dry desserts, lush greenery, wine country…you get the picture. The differences are rooted in their histories and the centuries of “civilization” that separates them. Spain looks at the US and its 245 year history and says “Kid I’ve got socks older than you are”. After all Columbus got staked for his cruise in the 1490’s and the roots to all of that go back to the Romans and Greeks. So yeah, really old.
That history comes alive in everything. Architecture, Art, language, food, religion; every aspect of family life and day to day living is colored by traditions and history. It all really comes alive in a place like Madrid. Most Americans I know who fancy a trip to Spain start with Barcelona, likely because of the Mediterranean location. In my humble opinion, as lovely as that City is, you’re missing the mark if you don’t target Madrid as a “must experience”. History, beauty, scale (enough of everything and not too much of anything), food, natural beauty, golf (!), and of course commerce. The Spanish Capital’s lifeblood is business and the media business, the vineyard where I have toiled for 4+ decades is right here too. Much of what makes anyplace a great to be is what you get to do there, especially if that’s something that feeds your soul and this work still feeds mine.
And of course, there’s the cost side of things. Wages here are low relative to the US and most of Europe and so prices are in synch with that reality. For US expats not dependent upon a local paycheck, the value equation is beyond favorable. Rents, leisure, food, clothes and luxury goods…all at prices that would astound, particularly those from the places I’m from, both East and West US Coasts. My Club membership here with 4 Jack Nicklaus Golf Courses costs me a little more than my bar bill at an LA Club.
And then there’s the language…It’s beautiful and complicated, like so many other earthly treasures. There are more verb forms than dog hairs on dark carpet. For people who love grammar and are good at the “sight reading” part of learning there’s a bunch to dig into. But for jazz fans like me, those details are mind numbing and it all comes down to listening and repeating often enough that it begins to sound musical and right. My teacher, who teaches at a University in Valencia and works with on Skype is endlessly patient and encouraging. The best part I think is that when you’re in the “immersive” learning opportunity you really need to pay attention to the person speaking to you. It’s a refreshing antidote to the inattentive listening that becomes so much of our day to day habit with attention on screens and other distractions while ostensibly in conversation with another person. When you’re struggling to understand and be understood you make eye contact, you listen carefully and pay attention to gestures…and then you look for reactions as you attempt to respond. It’s so much more human and personal while at the same time somewhat exhausting.
So yes, a lot to love and learn from…which at any stage of life is a gift, and at this stage of the game, an undefinable, unknowable part of the home stretch, even more so. More to come…