Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The modernist traveler

As I delved into studying for my last final exam in Madrid, the sticky June heat begging me to take a walk outside, I realized how little I knew about my 20th century Spanish literature course. Where was I when these terms were introduced? Who the hell are these people with long names and a prolific writing background?! Needless to say, early June was spent indoors at a tiny desk. I learned the meaning of "cramming" in Spain.

Since my brain had spent most of my studying time memorizing miniscule facts, I decided it was time to take a look at the bigger picture. I thought I knew what modernism was, but did I really? There was only one way to find out: Wikipedia.

I made my way to the "Modernist literature" page (in English, because I'd become lazy from the summer heat). One passage really whirred around in my cabeza:

"For the first-time reader, modernist writing can seem frustrating to understand because of the use of a fragmented style and a lack of conciseness. Furthermore the plot, characters and themes of the text are not always presented in a linear way" (Wikipedia).

Wikipedia (of all things) stirred a sense of familiarity within me as I read. The anxieties and frustrations I faced during the first few months in Spain resurfaced as I scanned the first sentence: "For the first-time reader, modernist writing can seem frustrating to understand because of the use of a fragmented style and a lack of conciseness." In my mind, the word "reader" could have been substituted with "traveler".

Life was certainly "fragmented" at the beginning of my journey: rushing to turn in visa forms, figuring out which classes I wouldn't fail, speaking in broken Spanish. I compartmentalized all of these stressful, emotionally draining experiences so that I wouldn't be overwhelmed by the feat of making a home for myself in a new country. As I worked towards each one, my confidence as a traveler fortified. I'd hit my stride.

However, in Madrid, I certainly experienced "a lack of conciseness", testing that confidence. Nothing was short and to the point for the foreigners in la capital. Trying to order a public transportation pass and understanding the university were some of the many ordeals I ran into as an extranjera. Each was an extensive process that gave me a surge of empowerment each trudge I took towards the police department after my phone was pick-pocketed. From every lengthy and painful experience I had in Madrid, I gained more self-respect. I went out, with aplomb, to tackle the rest of the many travel problems I would face.

Each issue I saw as a challenge. Every grueling process I perceived as a way to make me a more flexible and well-rounded person. None of it really mattered. I could run off to Ireland or Morocco at a moment's notice, and I was grateful for every second I was abroad. However, I never forgot my first home in California.

It was as if I existed in separate timelines while I was abroad (à la 'Community'). It's like Wikipedia says: "The plot, characters and themes of the text are not always presented in a linear way." In a very Modernist fashion, the plot and characters of my life were in separate locations and time zones, but I lived in both. In one timeline, I was jetting off to different countries every other weekend, crammed into a tiny airplane whose airline sucked every bit of money it could from its patrons. Anything to keep me moving and seeing different places. I fell in love with that starving traveler lifestyle. I made two-day friends, week-long friends and lifelong friends all within the span of a year. New inside jokes were hatched, café con leche traditions were made, ambitions were scrawled out in a tiny notebook as I hoped that writing them down would make them feel more attainable. All my friends in this timeline wanted to venture out into unfamiliarity, just as I did.

In the other, more comfortable timeline,  I was at home in California, sitting in my chaotic Berkeley apartment while nerding-out on 19th century literature. I met my Cal friends at a cool new place to get happy hour, talking about how being an "adult" sucks. I held my dog while watching some cheesy reality show with my dad in my parents' house. I was driving to get frozen yogurt with my mom, laughing about a funny thing my sister had said. I was visiting my brother at his new university, wishing him well on his first year of college and making sure his dorm room is chick-friendly ("No, you can't get the lava lamp.")

Before I left, I worried about missing these key moments in California. In reality, I didn't miss a thing. I was in these two timelines, living two lives in a completely non-linear way. I felt as if by going abroad, my community merely expanded; it didn't shift from one country to another. I still partly live in Madrid, wandering the barrios, looking for a tapas place to start out the night with my friends. My feet still pound the pavement that Cervantes walked on in the 16th century. I still attempt to make jokes in Spanish (usually failing) while eating chocolate neopolitanas in the university cafeteria.

I exist in two different environments, and I could never have done so if I hadn't taken the plunge and touched down in Spain that fateful August day last year. To future travelers that have anxiety about leaving their friends and family behind as they live in a different country, just remember: you have the opportunity to be a Modernist traveler. You can forge your own non-linear, long-winded, fragmented world. You can carve two lives for yourself, and I suggest you do just that. You won't regret it.

No comments:

Post a Comment