In Cuban Spanish, there exists a word that English simply flounders to explain in translation: querencia, or something like “the place where you are your most authentic self”
In living in Spain, another country, culture, and language outside my own, a sense of liberty and confusion envelopes me. Each normal scene is different. Interactions use besos, or kisses. Plumes of perfume fill the streets, seemingly always packed with people, and the expressive gestures of the Spanish appear truly theatric and unrepeatable by me.
But some cultural habits simply can’t be adapted, despite one’s urgency to become native. A year in Andalusian Spain taught me this well. If was I going to be different, I wanted to be among a crowd of others who didn’t quite fit, either.
The neighborhoods Lavapiés and La Latina are an upheaval of any traditional image of Spain. North African immigrants sell cell phone minutes, while Indians hawk their food in streetside cafés, Chinese captilize on the shortened Spanish workweek and sell necessities from early morning to late, including Sundays.
Yet between the narrow allies and ever-crowded spaces, lies art. On murals, closed shop doors, balconies, windows and benches. Two doors from my apartment lies a historic church and then an independent-based theatre. A Senegalese restaurant is a block away in the opposite direction. On Sundays, the patio is packed with Spaniards seeking the sun and its signature two-option menu: fish or meat. Further afoot is Madrid’s funkiest and most famous tapas bars, a tourist and Madrileño must.
La querencia is here, if it is anywhere in Madrid.