The South is famous for its sedate pace. Its inhabitants never seem to be in as much a hurry as the rest of the world. Even in the larger cities their bustling has an air of nonchalance. Their attitude often clearly says, “Yes I’m late. No, I don’t care.”
But ever since I was a little girl I dreamed of leaving this quiet place and moving to a big city – somewhere like New York or even abroad to London or Paris. I loved everything about being on the move and much of that was contributed to my ADD. As a child I was given Ritalin, but if they’d paid attention they would have realized that the same effect could be achieved without medicine - I could drool on myself just listening to them drone on and on about their dull workdays and interests. “She just cannot sit still”, they would say in the parent/teacher conferences. Silly, narrow minded adults. I would sit still for hours with a book in my hand or a travel documentary on the television. I didn’t need the zombie side effects of Ritalin, I needed stimulation. To my knowledge, there’s no drug for selective ADD.
I never minded long road trips. I was comfortable curling up in the backseat with a pillow, my portable CD player, and a book or two. I’d watch the landscape whiz by with complete contentment, happy just knowing we were getting further and further away from that dull place called home. Hotel rooms, no matter how rudimentary, held a certain charm. I was sleeping in a foreign bed, living out of a suitcase, and eating “continental” breakfasts. How exciting!
The first time I set foot in an airport I was fifteen. I was going to Spain for two weeks with a tour group and for a small town, middle class girl it was the traveling lottery. My birthday would come and go while we were away, so my father hired a limo to drive me and my friends from our house to the airport in Charlotte, two hours away, as an early present. It was a very strange gift, but at the time I thought it was wonderful.
The trip was a scant three months before 9/11 and getting through the airport was a breeze. Checking bags was free, carry on rules were pretty lax, and security was friendly. Completely different from flying today.
I spent the entire flight to Barcelona fighting to stay awake, to take every single bit of it in: the in flight movie, the peanuts I hated but was determined to eat none-the-less, the tiny bathroom I insisted on inspecting, storing my luggage in the overhead compartment, the noises the plane made. I loved it all, but perhaps the part I loved most was getting off: Gathering my things together and striding purposefully up the gangway, collecting my luggage from the carousel, standing in front of the terminal and looking out at the people and the cars...knowing that I was actually standing on the other side of the world.
And wouldn’t you know it – the first hotel we stayed at was breathtaking. It was small and quaint – crammed together with a bunch of other buildings. The outside walls were old and peeling and the street out front was steep and narrow, but when we ventured inside everything was immaculate, shiny, and new. Our room had a set of tall double windows that opened up to a small wrought iron balcony, vines weaving their way through its bars. I remember leaning on that railing, looking out over the crowded city and having the sudden urge to cry.
We went on a whirlwind tour across the country. If I hadn’t taken picture after picture to prove it, sometimes I feel as if I’d never been there at all. Barcelona, Valencia, Granada, Toledo, Seville, Costa del Sol, Madrid - I’d have to locate my old itinerary to do our schedule justice. It’s funny, the things and places I remember most aren’t the guided tours and planned outings (though the tour of The Alhambra was brilliant) – they’re the free nights and afternoons when we were allowed to explore. Dancing in a discotheque, strolling along the Ramblas, eating lunch in a crowded plaza, drinking daiquiris at a beach hut, buying a sword at the factory in Toledo, my first encounter with a taxi AND a subway (both of which left me just a tad scarred).
We took the ferry and did a day trip into Morocco which was a bit terrifying. It might have been the men with guns, the snake charmers in the crowded streets, or the camels. Take your pick. Our tour guide claimed his name was Michael Douglas. “Just like the actor!” I had a strange, and overwhelming, urge to punch him in the face.
The market places were interesting, but there were children everywhere, reaching out for you and demanding your attention, trying to sell tiny drums and fans. I suppose my favorite part was lunch. We ate in the strangest looking restaurant – very ornate floors and iron grills, men balancing trays of candles on their heads. Everything looked sort of faded and surreal. We ate couscous from giant platters in the middle of the table and drank Coca Cola from small glass bottles.
It was the trip of a lifetime. And when I returned home looked even less appealing to me than usual. I became even more obsessed with travel than I’d been before. Unfortunately I’ve yet to leave the country again. Oh, I’ve been to various places in the US and enjoyed it very much, but everything gets stacked against Spain and falls flat.
This past weekend I realized why that was. (You know, aside from the fact that it’s another country and that’s exciting and romantic.)
Sunday morning I slept late. The kid finally wandered in to wake me up, struggled up onto the high bed, nestled against me and giggled when I tickled her sides. We drank coffee and ate breakfast together in the living room while cartoons played in the background.
After dishes were washed and put away my sister and I agreed to take her swimming. As always, with that promise, a brief flurry of activity commenced. Towels were gathered from the hall closet, bathing suits put on, sunscreen applied, ice cold drinks made, and all other necessary items were stored in beach bags.
We spent several hours lounging on the dock and on floats, swimming in lazy circles, and drenching each other with cannon balls off the high dive platform. It was the epitome of relaxation. (With the exception of Larry the goose attempting to drown Air Hose in the shallow end. The poor fat kid squalled like a wounded cat until we rescued her. For some reason Larry has recently gotten in the habit of sharing our floats and was under the impression that Air Hose would allow him to perch on top of her life jacket/head. Not so, unfortunately. )
It was later, on a long leisurely boat ride, that I started thinking about Spain. Stretched out on a seat, towel arranged under me, I lay on my stomach and watched the waves. I listened to the engine, the splashing, the radio pumping out country music. The sun beat down on my exposed skin and my hair whipped out behind me.
I realized that one of the reasons I felt so at home in that beautiful country overseas was the attitude, the feeling of the people. They’re unrushed; they take siestas in the afternoon. “Yes, I’m late. No, I don’t care.”
The language might be different, the architecture might be older and more ornate, the food more interesting, the music exotic – but the feeling of contentment and happiness I had on that boat was the same as the one I had wandering the beautiful gardens of a Spanish palace.
I’m lucky. I haven’t lost my wanderlust, but if I never get to travel again, at least I’m finally aware of the beauty in my surroundings.
There’s something to be said for my little corner of the world.
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