A year ago, I was living in another Spain. Though just four hours away from my current life in Madrid, it was as if stepping into another country, a place you may have heard of, called Andalucía.
As I knew Baeza, my small city in Jaén, it was a place defined by poetic words, an Andalusian spirit, and olives.
If you’re unfamiliar with Spain’s educational system, you’re probably curious as to how I, an American with only a Spanish student visa, ended up here for 8 months. After a small stint teaching in China, I applied to Spain’s Auxiliar de Conversacíon program. Idyllic in theory, though not always in practice, the program randomly assigns applicants to various regions in Spain (currently those that aren’t so shackled with crushing debt) to assist in various English classrooms for a school year. As the country strives to become bilingual, thousands of Americans (and British, Irish, Canadians, etc.) have been fortunate, through the simple gift of their native English tongue, to live la vida buena. In my case, it was amongst Andalucía’s olive trees.
One hundred years prior, Antonio Machado was lured to Baeza in a similar fashion–to teach. One of Spain’s most famous poets, a man who wrote of the people and for the people, lived here. As Baezanos will have you know, his lasting mark is evident. Or, perhaps, that was them who made it so. Regardless, as the words etched on my olive tree bookmark from Baeza say,
Everything passes on and everything remains,
But our lot is to pass on,
To go on making paths,
Paths across the sea.
This English translation from Machado’s poem, titled Traveller, There is no Path, is a favorite of mine. It’s message pins a sensation that so many who have lived abroad, or traveled like a wandering gypsy, can understand deeply. Our lot is to pass on.
Among the intersections of mountainous sierras, hundreds of olive trees align in hypnotic patterns. In Baeza, this is where life begins. As one foreigner among a small handful of others, I learned to discern local customs. Such as harvest time (an influx of workers from northern Africa descend), olive eating season (all year-long, order a caña, get a tapa, plus olives) and olive oil factory time (the scent is strong enough to diffuse itself everywhere).
Rather quickly, I settled into my routine here. Thursdays usually involved a glass (or three) of wine, always accompanied with a tapa. Sometimes this was at the bull fighting arena bar, or the flamenco haven, or any of the other favorites; we knew them all.
Living in Spain’s lesser populated cities (official head count of Baeza is 16,000) isn’t for everyone. In the midst of Spain’s economic crisis, most young people have fled their villages to find work in Spain’s larger cities, or in some cases, other European Union countries. Additionally, Andalusians can be notoriously fickle. Yet, the chance to see a slice of Spain that few outsiders glimpse is worth every awkward moment trying to decipher Andaluz, the equally notorious accent (noted for its lack of letters and enunciation to foreigners). No vemo, ¿no? (We’ll see each other, right?, or in proper Spanish, Nos vemos, ¿no?)
No matter which light I paint it, eight months here has taught me more about Spain* than Madrid could ever glimmer.
Spain* : Noted as such because while Spain itself is a country, and one that’s actually smaller than the state of Texas, the regions are so diverse and varied that no select region can teach you all about “Spain”.
** The pictures posted of the procession of red robes is just one special part of Baeza’s Easter week celebrations, typical throughout southern Spain. They’re worn with one intent purpose: religion, not racism.
Enjoying a typical Andalusian feast, err, lunch (this was just phase one with many missing guests in the kitchen).