This Saturday I woke up next to my old roommate Beth in Omaha after one of our party-weekend visits. She had plans from early-morning on, and I didn’t want to go back to Lincoln just yet, so I went to Blue Line Coffee in Omaha to sit outside in the newly arrived muggy Nebraska heat with the copy of The Sun Also Rises I’d lent Beth months ago. I had bought it at Shakespeare and Sons, my favorite bookstore/cafe/bar in Prague during my semester there.
As I sipped coffee in the sun, I began the book from the beginning, remembering when I too visited Spain, for a month in Summer 2009. I saw Barca, Valencia, Granada, and several places in Castilla la Mancha, including Madrid and a village of 300 people where I stayed for 2 weeks with my friend Maria’s family.
My favorite city was Madrid. I spent two 4-day weekends there during my stay in the village. I stayed at a hostel near Tirso de Molina, where I met several characters. But most of the time I was alone in Madrid. I loved just walking around the city, taking in the architecture, the grand parks and the Prado, the men in panama hats and more than anything else, the cafe culture.
I spent every afternoon in the cafes, drinking beer from short glasses, reading and watching the people. I read The Sun Also Rises again that summer. I felt the romance of Spain in Madrid.
I felt it in the country too, in those hot rolling hills of the Sierra Nevada valley. Many nights I lay awake on the top floor in Maria’s un-air-conditioned house, thinking about my daily broken Spanish conversations with Maria’s grandmother Cecilia, and her friends Puri and Nica. I thought too about how isolated I felt. It was the first long solo travel I ever did. I quickly became well-acquainted to the feelings of loneliness and awkwardness that travel inevitably causes.
Of course, Hemingway didn’t really help in pulling me back into reality. But sometimes when you’re tired of the effort of living it feels wonderful to pour yourself into fiction. A fiction that’s only too familiar when its physicality surrounds you.
It will always be one of my favorite passages:
“‘Well I want to go to South America.’
‘Listen, Robert, going to another country doesn’t make any difference. I’ve tried all that. You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. There’s nothing to that.’
‘But you’ve never been to South America.'”