Piece for Skidmore´s Government Department

A little over a month ago, the  Skidmore Government Department secretary, and a former work study supervisor of mine, Barbara McDonough, sent me an e-mail asking how I was doing, and if I might be interested in writing a piece for the department´s newsletter about my life in Spain. She had come across my current status on the college´s Latin American Department website, and decided that my experience in Arcos could be of interest for the newsletter. With no theme specified, I chose to loosely direct my words at this spring´s graduating class. The following text is what I handed in. The newsletter has not been published yet, but it will be posted on the Government Department´s website, http://cms.skidmore.edu/government/newsletter/index.cfm.

It’s not uncommon for me, suddenly seized by a slight sense of the ridiculous, to remind myself “so this is my life.” I might be walking to work on a calm, balmy January morning, soldiering up the daunting slope into the cliff-dwelling Old Town, when I am faced with a river of pasty-faced tourists flowing against me like a strong river current gushing between the narrow banks. I feel myself fade into the background on their hand-held camcorders, taken for granted as a momentary and arbitrary mark on the scenery, along with that unremarkable working class bar on the corner, or the unacceptably recent New Town constructions.

I live in Arcos de la Frontera, a spectacular, whitewashed hilltop village in the south of Spain that predates the Romans, but which owes much of its current labyrinthine layout to the Muslim conquerors that reached the village within days of their 711 Iberian invasion. Due to its dramatic perch overlooking two 300-foot cliff sheer faces on either side of the Old Town, as well as year-round gorgeous weather, Arcos is now subject to the invasion far more fearsome than the Moors: The socks-and-sandals Brits. While mostly ignored by the locals, the English (and German, and Dutch, and American for that matter) tourists can be a healthy reminder of the true value of integration; speaking no Spanish, staying for just one afternoon, and never interacting with a single local gets you very little, if not drunk at the hotel bar. I, on the other hand, am now in my second year as an elementary school English teacher, with a grant from the Andalusian regional government, and I am proud to say that I am the next best thing to a local. I may be a guiri, an often depreciative Spanish word for foreigners, but people who know me tell me that I might as well be a Spaniard at this point. So this is my life.

As a Spanish major, I amassed volumes of knowledge about the literature and cultures associated with this language. I learned the histories, the biographies, and the tragedies, but my understanding was self-contained. Even when I spent my whole junior year in Madrid, I felt that my place in their society was at times superficial, fleeting. After graduating, I walked a 500 mile pilgrimage route across the entire north of Spain, and I knew that it was the beginning of not just an extended sojourn, but of a true love affair with this country. People used to ask me a couple years ago “so what, you’re going to be a Spanish teacher then, right?” I may not directly apply my knowledge of Golden Age literature or contemporary Spanish poetry towards my livelihood, but absolutely everything I have ever learned in a Spanish classroom has come back to me in some unexpected way, shape or form during my quotidian life in Spain. My students, for example, are not the best Spanish speakers, for being Spanish (Andalusians speak an extremely colloquial dialect of Castillian Spanish), and I find myself correcting their own native subjunctives and conjugations almost as much as their English errors. Or maybe I’ll answer a TV game show question about a novelist correctly, even before the contestant. Maybe I’ll notice something peculiar in the street and say “oh my god, that’s what I read about!”

It is not my academic formation itself, but rather what this knowledge illuminates and enriches that has brought me to where I am now. I am profoundly integrated into my little slice of Spain, Arcos de la Frontera. It may well be that next year this will not be home any longer, but I know that I am always welcome, and that odds are I’ll be living nearby. This is my “real world.” I may not make a lot of money (I may not have a “real job”), but I live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and I hold access to the vast intricacies of this culture at the tip of my tongue. While many seniors have their sights set on New York, D.C., or Boston, I would urge as many as I can to consider taking a scenic detour. When they say that graduating college means venturing out into the real world, let’s not forget that this really means “world,” lest you not always be a tourist in life, folded map, phrasebook and flip-flops.

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~ by lincolnbrody on March 27, 2009.

One Response to “Piece for Skidmore´s Government Department”

  1. this is real nice, and it makes me wish i hadn’t left spain. dang.

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