Having successfully made it to my new home alive, all that remained to do was… live in it.
These few weeks in Elche were meant originally to be my “vacation” from vacationing. But once you’re on a roll, that’s difficult to accomplish.
First, some background on Elche:
As in most of Spain, the city of Elche has a complicated past. It was originally founded by Greeks, then taken over during the Gothic occupation of Spain, then conquered by the Moors in the 9th century, and then taken back by the Spaniards in the 13th century. Now, the city is known for its bazillion palm trees (and the Palm Grove of Elche was declared a UNESCO world heritage site) and according to locals, moving even one of the trees requires a permit and significant paperwork because of said status. Essentially, every tree is a UNESCO world heritage site.
An archaeological find of a bust of a woman has become famous as the symbol of the city of the culture that existed before modern times; her name is simply “La Dama de Elche” (“The Lady of Elche”). Because of the influence of Catholicism in Spain (after its reconquest following the Moorish occupation), she has become one with the Virgin Mary as a symbolic figure in the city/region.
In the 60s and 70s, Elche became an industrialized city dealing mainly with the production of shoes, fruit (dates, figs, pomegranate, citrus, olives), cotton, and almonds. As such, the city in general smells like fruit, especially near the ‘industrial’ and ‘campo’ sections of the city where these factories are and where there are what seem like forests of fruit trees.
If you can imagine Arizona with lots of typical beach flora, that would give you Elche. Also of note is the fact that it’s part of “La comunidad Valenciana,” which means that the native language is Catalan in addition to Spanish, but locals call it Valenciano (and will swear up and down that they are not the same language).
Anyway, back to the interesting stuff.
A couple days after moving in, my flatmate made it back from vacation. His name is Dilyan, and he’s from Bulgaria originally, but has lived in Spain for most of his life, and speaks Spanish, Catalan, Bulgarian, and English. He’s a couple years younger than me and living in Elche to study biochemistry at the local public university. He did a great job of showing me around the city and introducing me to Spanish cultural concepts I didn’t really grasp during my last visit.
First of all, the siesta. The siesta is the greatest thing I’ve ever experienced as a cultural phenomenon. According to people that live here, the sun is quite strong and hot, and the air is dry in the afternoon. Depending on the region, this can start anywhere from 12 – 2:30PM and end anywhere from 5 – 7 PM. During this period, most shops close, people stay indoors or get in the shade, visit a bar or restaurant, and just chill. They just chill or sleep. It’s common to get a beer or coffee with a friend and eventually go back to work when the heat has let down. During my time here, it hasn’t been so intense, but it has come very close and it’s only May. Either way, when it gets hot, and when you’ve been working all morning, I can’t see why the rest of the world doesn’t do something like this… except for the fact that nothing ever gets done in Spain, ever.
The Spanish use this word “mañana” very liberally. Technically it just means “tomorrow,” but it almost never works that way. A conversation will usually go something like this:
“I really need to get X done.”
A few days pass.
“Hey, did you get X done?”
It’s not terrible. It’s not great. It just is. And it exemplifies most important bit about culture here, in my opinion. Life just happens. You roll with it. Be happy, and worry about the details later. When shit really hits the fan, things will get done, but until that point? Life is just grand.
I love it.
I also had my first real exercise in Spanish late-night clubbing. Here, dance clubs are called discos and don’t pick up energy until between 1-2AM. Normally in the USA, that’s when bars start closing. But not here. Here, you dance, and dance, and dance some more until you’re really sick of dancing, and then you keep dancing because there is no public transport to get you home at 5 in the morning. And then finally, with just a couple hours until you need to wake up, the first buses of the day start to run just as the disco is closing. You make it home as the morning sun is just beginning to warm the dew off the grass (just kidding, there is no dew because it’s too warm at night and there isn’t really grass anywhere).
There are a great many things I wanted to accomplish in life, and a great many things I’d still like to do. But life in Spain has had an effect on me that I wouldn’t have seen coming. It’s as if everything I’ve been working toward my whole life has been to prepare for some great and immeasurable future that required too much of myself and too much of my time to be worthwhile. But here, I find balance. I find peace. I find easy friendship and beautiful, long, hot days marked by a new café at breakfast time and a novel bar at night.
I don’t want to leave.