Lost in Translation

This bench is hard. I am in a train station. My feet propped up on my bags, waiting for a train that will take me to another city. I am in Madrid, and the only person I know anywhere even remotely close is getting on a plane to go to the United States.

Madrid has been a short visit. I came, saw the sights, saw a friend, and left. I hadn’t seen Alvaro for five years. And then, just like that, we picked up right where we left off one summer night in 2008. He showed me around his neighborhood: an upscale area of the city just north of the historical city center. We went to have beers with his friends.

Talk about an experience. I sat, I laughed, I spoke very little, and I understood even less. I optimistically estimate that I understood five percent of the conversation.

They weren’t my friends, it wasn’t my party, and it is not my country. I had no expectation of anyone speaking English when I went, and that is exactly what happened. I was just happy to have a beer. Everyone’s proficient English skills remained hidden, like superpowers no one wanted to use unless they absolutely had to. I did not warrant such use. It was still fun.

The Spanish kiss everyone. This is amusing to me. Take, for example, one of the Spanish girls that night. When she arrived, she walked around the table and hugged every woman, and every man kissed both of her cheeks. When she left, the same happened. As I kissed her, she said, “Nice to have met you!” This made me laugh. We didn’t meet.  We sat at the same table. I never heard her name and she certainly didn’t know mine. We didn’t talk to one another. Likely, she only vaguely understood that I was Alvaro’s American friend and spoke halting, survival Spanish. So, half of me likes the tradition of the kissing, the half that wants to honestly believe that the joy of meeting and the sadness of departing is genuine, even towards complete strangers. The other half is cynical, believing that the entire exercise is poisoned by a falseness. Like a small child being made to apologize when everyone involved knows that the only regret he has is getting caught, the kissing just seems fake.

So, I’m sitting in a train station. I’m listening to country music. I was listening to “Made in America” by Toby Keith. This song is driving around with friends and cruising country roads. This song is farms and fields and trucks and a hot August night. This song is home. Sitting here, a deep sense of melancholy crept up faster than I expected. But I can’t be surprised; I invited it. I wanted to remember home and feel a little sad for not being there. Mission accomplished. I am certainly aware of how far from home I am. It took me twenty-six days to miss home for the first time. It happened in a train station in Madrid.

But, just like that, my mood has shifted. I’m on an adventure.


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