Back to SummaryJustine Massey - Student Advisor Profile
MINOR: Creative Writing
It’s hard for me to begin writing about my experience in Madrid because it makes up such a colossal part of my life and how I view myself now that it doesn’t quite fit into a document, I’m not sure I can do it justice. But I will try.
I was drawn to Madrid by Picasso’s Guernica, which had alluded me on my first visit to Spain with my family. Shut out of the Reina Sofia by a surprise (to me) national holiday, I vowed to return to Madrid as soon as possible. Luckily, Stanford agreed with me that Picasso was worth an expedition, and accepted me for the Autumn quarter of 2008. My first day in Madrid, I bolted to the museum and stood in front of Picasso’s materpiece. Absolutely worth the 6143 miles.
I stayed another six months past the initial satisfaction of my pilgrimage, and through that time I grew into the young woman that I am today. I learned to navigate my way through a city, not just around the stone streets, but actually tapping into the resources of the place, crafting essays in old-fashioned cafés, checking out El Rastro flea market on Sundays, bars with good music that stay open until the metro reopens at 6am, even better: a bar with poetry reading every Wednesday night and some of the best friends I’ve ever made who not only taught me about Spanish culture, they invited me to live it, right from our very first meeting.
Back at home, I recall the delicate pronunciation of their c’s and z’s, “Bella” whispered softly in a passing ear, the carnival that is El Retiro park on Sundays with a voluptuous clown dancing at the side of the lake, but what I miss most of all about being Spanish is the double kiss.
The double kiss is a touch of affection starting with the very first encounter with a person. The double kiss allows people to feel each other’s cheeks, smell perfume, sometimes even touch noses accidentally. For me, the double kiss is a symbol of the affection of the people of Spain and the intimacy that they share among themselves—it is quite special to be included in that simple but elegant tradition. In the US, we offer our hands formally or give hugs that can be sincere or crashes of awkward bodies. At times we just salute each other with a hand wave, but in Spain they put their faces together for two kisses, one on each cheek.
During my six months in Spain, I gave the double kiss to handsome boys, to my Spanish sister, to the grandmother of the family, to drunk Italians outside a dance club, to the girls who chatted with us to help improve our Spanish, to my friends in the program, to a bartender (who happened to be my friend), to the kids I taught English to (and to their lovely parents too). Some had smooth soft cheeks, others had barbed chins stretched over strong bones, and each person had their own style. Some make a marvelous raucous with their lips, almost to the point of deafening the kissee, while other kisses are so delicate they are like the flight of an owl.
Beyond the tradition of the double kiss, I also noticed a common thread between the parts of Spain that I visited: in Burgos, Comillas, León, Toledo, Ávila, and Madrid Spaniards live with the past. In some cases, they preserve it carefully, but what most impresses me is that they include the past in their daily lives. They take advantage of the old strong buildings, those great skeletons left by Muslims with their organic and geometric designs and by the Christians with their crosses and great painters (like El Greco, whose paintings I saw in person!) Modern Spaniards walk the ancient streets and enjoy the structures that they have inherited from their ancestors. In these cities, the people shed their long jackets to enter fine restaurants that before were grand houses, where the stone walls still remember how the lady of the house yelled at the maids. Spaniards live comfortably in this mix of now and before. Dinner table conversations with my host father often wound toward topics of history, and Spaniards know the stories, even the dates.
These are some of the memories that I have from living and studying in Madrid, but there are pages and pages of adventures to be recounted, and whole new worlds of experience for other travelers as well. I encourage you to contact me if you are interested in finding out more, or better yet—go! I’m already planning my return.