Tour Guide

Max Harrison-Caldwell
March 21, 2017

My friend TJ came to visit last week. He called from the airport and told me he was tired but when I saw him, an hour or so after he arrived, he was bouncing with excitement. He had sprinted out the door of his Airbnb, his shorts matching his fishing hat (both camouflage), and straight into me, embracing me in a bear hug. 

“I’m so excited to be wearing shorts right now!” he exclaimed. An older lady walked by in a fur coat, her husband in a heavy black jacket, and gave us a curious look.

TJ goes to school in Vermont, where there is still a decent amount of snow on the ground. The excitement of escaping the cold and getting out of the United States, along with the somewhat delirious effect of staying up through a transatlantic flight, put him in a state of enthusiastic wonder that whole first day. Minutes after we met up, he was bombing down a dirt hill on his skateboard. The dirt was packed and dry and for a moment it seemed like he was going to make it, but towards the bottom he ollied an errant rock and his wheels caught on the landing, sending him tumbling into the dust, a camouflage boulder in an avalanche. He was laughing so hard he couldn’t talk for a moment when he got up.

“I really thought I had it,” he said at last, brushing the earth from his t-shirt.

That night, like each other day and night throughout the week he was here, we went out skating. I acted as tour guide, bringing him to Paseo de Recoletos, Plaza de Colón, Tetuán, Legazpi, Congresos, Hortaleza, and all the other spots my Spanish friends have shown me in the past two months. He was more amazed by each new spot than the last, gaping at the perfect granite ledges of Congresos, the wonderfully smooth tiled flat ground of Tetuán, saying over and over that he had never seen anything like it. He was impressed, too, by the openness of Spanish skaters.

“It’s sick that you can just say what’s up to anyone, you never have to wonder if you can or not,” he remarked one day. I agreed wholeheartedly, realizing that I had begun to take Spanish friendliness for granted. Each time I showed him a spot I was able to appreciate it as I had the first time I’d seen it, and through his wonder I relived my first days in Madrid. I was able to reflect on how accustomed I really have grown to living here. The places I see every day have lost a bit of their shine, but showing them to someone who had never seen them before made them once again spectacular.

The week passed quickly. We went to the Prado for an afternoon and I regurgitated information from my art history class. We devoured tapas ravenously after long days of street skating. Finally, Friday night rolled around. He was flying out early Saturday morning so we stayed out all night on Friday with my Spanish friend Rubens, who we had been skating with earlier. Rubens was asking TJ about his favorite aspects of Spanish life, and TJ was giving all the answers I had given to the same question seven weeks prior: the food, the people, the architecture, the convenient metro, obviously the skate spots.

In the seven weeks since I told Rubens the best features of my new home, I had begun to look forward less to meals, dreading too many French fries and not enough fresh vegetables, and to look at the ground instead of the buildings when I was walking around. Hearing TJ excitedly describe Madrid, however, broke me out of my familiarity with the city. My first blog post from Spain describes my effort to avoid routine, but avoiding routine has been impossible. Now, luckily, I can make an effort to avoid simple acceptance of the remarkable city I’m lucky enough to live in. 

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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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