Mari Katherine Raftopoulos: Besos de Lluvia en Madrid
September 24, 2008
Today we had our first rain of the fall season. The fall of the rain against my cheeks was much like that of happy tears.
The happy tears I get choked up with everyday here in Madrid. The happy tears I get when I sit in my religion class, moved by my teacher’s words. The happy tears I get when our doorman Jose grabs my hand and led me to my destination when I am lost. The happy tears when I discover a poverty stricken neighborhood in Madrid, yet the smiles that fill the streets make me want to stay there forever.
And I want believe that this rain is for me, even though it is for the soil.
The first rainfall of the season washed away all the American stereotypes that were instilled in me before coming to Madrid. The rain was an invitation from Madrid to me, with the subheading reading, “Congrats, you are a becoming a Spaniard, so wash away all your American ideas and just live.”
As I weaved in and out of the hard-working Spanish men in business suits, the grandmothers with umbrellas bigger than themselves and the classy Spanish women whose natural beauty is not tarnished by the wind and rain, I found the city chaos brought me bliss. I stepped in every puddle and let the water soak into my skin. I let the water drip from the cafe umbrellas on my freshly done hair. I smelt the crisp, fresh smell of the September rain wash away the smell of smoke and exhaust of this large city. The rain dusted away the dirt from the streets and buildings to reveal the pure beauty of the city.
I love the way rain makes me feel; it is like taking a long hot shower after a long day of work or morning swim in the ocean after a strenuous run. Or, for me, the feeling of rain is like moving to a different country. To me, the rain is awakening, refreshment that reminds you that the simplest actions of nature are the most amazing.
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I left my umbrella at home, neglecting my senora’s amazing ability to predict the weather.
“Ninas necesitan paraguas, estara lloviendo hoy,” Emilia said.
Throughout this past month, I have learned that after 30 years of hosting students much like myself, Emilia can predict any weather, any illness, any cure; she can predict what you are thinking before you speak it. Whether it’s because this is her job to be a mother to strangers or whether it is in her heart, a heart that has been repaired with open heart surgery, that makes her this way, I am not sure. But I do know that no scars or bruises have changed the pureness of this woman’s heart, just challenged it. Because I know that she does truly love each and every one of us in a special way.
Emilia and I share a bond of happiness and laughter. I know this when she comes into my room sitting on edge of my bed before I rest my head, brushing my hair back with her fingertips as she sings to me in her deep opera voice the Spanish songs with the name Maria in them. I know this when she tells me about the pain in her chest and about her doctor’s appointment with her cardiologist. I know this when she grabs my hand at the dinner table and teaches me the steps to the tango or the salsa, or corrects my grammatical Spanish errors over and over. Although I have only known her a month, this connection we share is just as strong as those with people I have known for a lifetime. She is a woman I aspire to be more like, a woman whose stories I hope will someday become mine. Not only is she my senora, she also is my amiga.
I went to Oporto, Portugal, this past weekend – the home of the finest Port wine in the world. Us girls went on a whim as strangers and came back with memories and new friendships. It was the way the cobblestones trickled down the balcony of the peach-colored apartment that gave this city an antique beauty. The way the men’s worn T-shirts from working in the vineyards during the week and on the boat on the weekends waved against the clothesline in the ocean wind. And although right below the clothesline was a satellite TV dish, these Portuguese families couldn’t give up their old-fashioned ways for a dryer. The weekend marked the first week of travel for me in Europe.
Have you had ever a moment when you look up in the sky, you look around you and you say, “Wow, thank you?” You wonder what you did to deserve this day or this opportunity. You wonder why you are so blessed. Everyday I wake up in the morning here with this feeling of gratefulness. But this past Saturday in particular the feeling of gratefulness was almost too strong to cope with.
We woke to the sounds of a church bell ringing and the sight of a beautiful Portuguese woman and her new husband on their wedding day. As they walked down the long stone staircase, they were welcomed by the cheers and rose petals of their best family and friends and us, the random American tourists who didn’t know them but knew they were in love. I knew that someday they would be that old couple sitting on the bench in the park across street, the woman cozied up in her wool shawl and her husband with one hand around her and the other around his granddaughter. And we continued to see the love the flourish in Oporto air when we accidentally found the Atlantic Ocean nestled in between the river and the cliffs. This is where we spent our afternoon under the shade of a cafe umbrella and with the company of red, red wine, a lunch that lasted the whole afternoon because there were too many laughs and too many connections to go around. And continued through the cellars of Sandeman with a wine-tasting tour with some of the best Port wine in the world. But the best part of the day was the discovery of a bond, when we sat on the dock of the river pressed up against each other to find warmth and watched the fireworks trickle over the mountaintop and onto the river. Oporto was a place where I found friendships that are strong and sweet much like its Port wine, once you have a taste it never leaves your palette.
I make sure to journal these feelings I have while abroad in handwriting. Although it seems easier to type these memories on a computer, the action of recording these feeling in pen outlines the European lifestyle, slow and articulate. Where it is OK to mess up and scribble out an entire sentence or an entire page as long as you say what you want to say. But I have learned the most about love during my travels abroad. I know people are scared of the word ‘love’ in America, because that makes you a little less independent and a little more vulnerable. But I see love everywhere here and I love it.
Where is the love?
The couple embracing each other on the Metro as if they are alone. They way he kisses her forehead when she spills her glass of wine all over his pants on their picnic in the park. The way she responds as she climbs on top of him, throwing rules of PDA out the window and embracing their passion.
The father kicking the soccer ball with his daughter against a graffitied wall in their poverty struck neighborhood hoping that one day she will escape. Someday hoping that somebody will love her as much as he does.
The way the teenage mother kisses her newborn baby as she waits for her boyfriend to get out of class. The little boy dressed up in polo and loafers to pick his mother up from the airport after her two-week long vacation, running towards her to be captured in this long awaited embrace. It is the way my senora kisses my forehead as she tucks me into bed.
It is the old Spanish senora, her lips stained red from the lipstick she has had for 20 years, her hair done up tight in a bun sitting outside the carneceria. She looks put together, but there is something missing; her other half. She doesn’t much care for meat, but her husband does. This is the reason she stands outside of the store reminiscing on their love.
Today would be their 60th anniversary, and maybe tonight she will like meat for dinner – or at least she will pretend to … for him, for their love.
This is the reason I am here in Spain. For these little moments. The moments that bring me back to the beginning. The beginning of life, a point where you can find the answers to your questions. The moments that bring me back down to earth. They might be short, but they are sweet.
Like the last sip of coffee, the first sip or port wine, the first rain of the fall or a missed call from a loved one. But these sweet moments that happen every minute are the difference between a good day and a bad day, and these days are your life.
Believe in fate. Question the truth. Have an opinion. Read Aloud. Dance Alone. Remember your roots. Explore the unknown. Runaway. Stay. Trust your butterflies. Drink and enjoy. Eat and taste. But most of all never waste these moments.