Theme Park

Max Harrison-Caldwell
April 25, 2017

The wifi in my homestay hasn’t been working, so on Sunday I went to a local café to work on one of my final essays. Exams start this week and all of a sudden I have a million assignments, so I’ve had to find places to work other than my bedroom, where there is no longer functioning internet. When I arrived the café only had outdoor seating available, so I situated myself at a tiny table on the sidewalk decorated with a cactus in a flowerpot the size of an espresso cup and a shaker of yellow rock salt. The sun was bright and people passed slowly in twos and threes. A city bus whooshed past, barely a foot from where I sat. I tried to figure out what to write about Spanish identity.

 “Valoración de España y los españoles desde España.” The prompt stared me in my American face. It was one of the six prompts I had to respond to in the final paper for my history class and, though they were all unclear, one of the vaguest. How was I supposed to know how the Spanish felt about themselves and their country? An old man walked out of his flower store, next to the café, and stood by the railing that separated the sidewalk from the street.

“¡Perdona!” I called. “Te puedo preguntar una cosa?”

He turned around, surprised. “¿A mi? Sí, dime.”

I explained that I was a student from the United States and had to write an essay about the perception of Spain and Spanish identity within Spain itself. “Entonces, ¿Como percibes España como un país? ¿Y estás orgulloso de ser español?”

The old man thought for a long moment. Finally he turned to me and said,

“Hombre, estoy trabajando,” before turning and walking back into his shop.

Being a foreign student is a strange experience. Before coming here, I imagined that living here as a student wouldn’t be so different from living here and working. In reality, it’s been less of a venture into the great big world, a trial run in post-grad independence, and more of a return to childhood.

My host señora insists on doing all my laundry and all my dishes. I tried to do my own dishes for the first week and she simply wouldn’t let me. She provides a simple breakfast and one big meal (either lunch or dinner, I choose) every day. Until now, my schoolwork hasn’t been too time consuming and I find myself with a great deal of free time. Am I complaining? Certainly not. But suddenly not having to worry about all the responsibilities I’ve been learning to manage does make me feel like a teenager living in my parents’ house again. And more than that, I catch myself feeling like Madrid is a city for my own amusement, a big theme park with room and board included. I suppose that’s why I felt I could ask a random working man a layered and personal question about his national identity. His response was a nice wake up call.


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Max Harrison-Caldwell

<p>I&rsquo;m a Spanish major in my third year at Occidental College. I want to pursue a career in journalism after graduating so right now I&rsquo;m trying to get as much writing experience as I can. In addition to writing, I like skateboarding and pita chips.</p>

2017 Spring
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