Sunday, June 22, 2008

this is not a romance with the road

This might end up being a little bit like one of those ‘what did you do during your summer vacation’ reports you’re required to give on returning to school. I was thinking, when posing that question to myself, that I have not done a whole lot. I have not gone anywhere really, have not caught up with all the people I might have thought I would, have not trained for a 5K, have not written a research paper. I barely kept up this blog.

But then I considered that I did not feel like I had particularly missed out. It’s not that I squandered my time. It’s just that my notion of happiness has changed. I spent a month in Spain a year ago, and was it wonderful? Indeed it was. Was I buoyant and unbelievably happy? Absolutely yes. Would I go there again some day? In less than a heartbeat. But would the going, would the being there, would all of it make me happy? No.

I loved Spain, and I will always love it. I will always think of it fondly, and I will remember the trip as one of the best of my life. But part of the reason it will be so memorialized for me is that it came at a time when I was happy. Just happy.

But then I wondered what had happened, where had that happiness suddenly gone? As much as I complain and kvetch, school did not do anything to assail my feelings. It began to dawn on me that I was happy in Spain because I was, maybe for the first and only time in my life, extremely, acutely present. I didn’t dissect or dwell on the past and I did not worry about the future. I just started to see, more clearly, what makes me happy. The feeling of the spray of water from a fountain on a sunny day in Madrid. The cool shade and cracks of light provided by the dark wood door on the Mezquita. Drinking white wine and sherry with an old friend to the point of taking those ridiculous camera shots where one person is holding the camera.

And then, of course, Barcelona. There is all the grandeur of Barcelona, the things you are told to see- Parc Guell and Sagrada Familia, the Miro museum, Las Ramblas and the Boceria. But I have a feeling that is not what I will hold dear. What I will hold dear is going on a search for saffron and in the process finding a bakery that mixed all manner of flavors together in their cookies- coffee and basil, shortbread biscuits with bacon.

I will be tickled by the night I stayed out late to go to the only bar that sells absinthe, where a British man spoke such crap Spanish that I cut him off and asked, “Do you speak English?”.

To which, he replied, “Yes,” and after a long and deliberate pause, asked, “Do you?”

And I will remember all the walking, the quiet walks on bustling streets and the feeling of life pervading all corners. Vibrancy. It kept me happy.

While all of this was lovely and in some ways can only be found in Spain, the underlying fact is that what really makes you happy (or me happy, at least) are little things. Little, blink-and-you-miss-it things. Like this IM chat RR and I had this evening:

    RR: Your first boyfriend, that guy from high school?
    me: No, I don’t count him- he was ultimately too boring.
    RR: I like him already.
    me: Yes, you really would have- he went to West Point.
    RR: Army. But not bad. Hmm.
    RR: Guess being all he could be wasn’t enough for you.

And then later:

    RR: Big T was betting all these blokes in a bar in Windsor when we were in the UK.
    me: Oh man. Knowing him, he probably wound up in a debt.
    RR: That’s what I would have guessed too, so imagine my surprise when the poor sod came over with 20 quid for Big T.
    me: Holy crap! Maybe T does better abroad.
    me: He’s like the Hoff!

Yes, we act like 12-year olds, but it occurs to me that this immature behavior of ours, well, makes me happy.

Other things that make me happy:

  • Given the spontaneously-combustible weather here of late, making tank tops of linen or cotton by hand, and finding they fit better than what I would have wound up buying at some clothing store.

  • Inexplicably, soaking mung beans in preparation for cooking them for dinner.

  • Walking to the market every few days, partly to save money, partly because it felt luxurious to have such time at my disposal.
  • Learning to roll out dough in a proper circle, which translated to learning to make empanadas from scratch, and figuring out how to do that twisty foldover thing that somehow eluded me previously.

  • Cake disasters, followed by leftover cake that turned into a pseudo-truffle idea that worked out to be a good hit with a certain sweet friend.

  • Making strawberry sorbet from scratch, making tart Greek frozen yogurt from scratch, and toying with the ice cream maker for the past month, which included several crash-and-burn episodes with caramel.
    a little something to make me sweeter

So you know. I may not have traveled to distant lands, or had radical shifts in my life. I may not have accomplished anything of note. But I find, in reviewing how I spent my time, that I was, by and large, happy. Really, I cannot have asked for more than that.

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