Summer drinks in Plaza Tirso de Molina. My Russian friend (who is proficient in Spanish) orders some lamb to eat. It is translated (unusually, for Madrid) into English as ‘lamb stripes’. We assume that it means ‘lamb strips’. But when it arrives, the waiter presents ‘lamb tripe’. Even the Russian, who eats packets of dried squid mailed from Russia, cannot stomach this. She tries to explain (in fluent Spanish) that the dish has been translated incorrectly, but the waiter assumes that she simply doesn’t know what tripe is. After a bit of haggling, he agrees to exchange it free of charge.
Later, I decide to treat myself to a JD and diet coke. Single Spanish measures are equivalent to English triples; sometimes more. I don’t know the word for ‘straw’ so I ask the Russian for the word. She directly asks the waiter for a ‘paja’. Our Spanish friend chokes on her drink, the waiter leaves without responding, and I am confused. Apparently, the Russian has just asked the waiter for a wank. Amid hysterical laughter and stares from other tables, we discover that she should have asked for a ‘pajita’. I am too busy wiping away the tears to ask the waiter the next time he appears, so the Kiwi has to do it for me.
JD and diet coke never tasted so good through a straw.
I leave Madrid in less than 48 hours. In some ways, it feels like I have only just arrived. But I made the decision to leave all the ghosts of memories behind, just before a hedonistic week of new memories was created. Oh well….
I have learnt new lessons in Madrid, as well as revising old ones. The first (which I only discovered a couple of weeks ago) is that people are not as disposable as one dark shadow once led me to believe. From first going to university, I have discovered that it is always possible to make new friends; sometimes life-long ones. However, I have since realised that it is not always the making of friends that is difficult, but maintaining those friendships. For example, there are some friends who miss you as much as you miss them. People whose group is incomplete without you; people whose jokes and flaws and intimacy you need around you on a weekly basis.
I have also learnt that there are some friendships that ignite quickly, appear to burn on a low heat over time and distance, but never burn at full flame again, even when you are reunited in the same country.
And some friendships, the intense ones that are concentrated on shared experiences and distance from a different life, only last as long as the shared experiences do; even when you try to prolong them. There has to be mutual effort. Accepting the end of these friendships can be heart-breaking. It is like being dumped by a lover without being told why; or even without being told at all.
And that brings me to a revised lesson, or at least a proverb that someone wise told me a few years back: “People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. The trick is recognising which category they fall into.” I know that the gods have smiled on me because I have several friends who I can count in the ‘lifetime” box. These are friends you can return to without seeing for years and easily pick up where you left off; friends who have seen the best and worst of you and still message you to breathe the same air and expel it in laughter with them. That is not to under-value the reason and season friends; without them, you wouldn’t get by in foreign cities with new jobs and arrogant locals. But the trick is letting these friends go without sadness or resentment when the reason or season has passed. And that is a lesson I still need to revise.
So, with sadness I leave Madrid, again. But new adventures await. Life is for living and the world is my playground.
The wise one I mentioned is my little sister.
It is 2am. I get off the metro and ascend the steps into Plaza Tirso de Molina. The flower stalls are still there; the vibrant blooms taking on sepia tones under the light-polluted night sky. I marvel that people are selling flowers at this hour. And as I exit the plaza, I remember that I am alone in this city, completely alone. My mother would murder me for walking home alone at this hour; kill me before any of the countless rapists and murderers she imagines are lurking around every corner could assail me. But still, I walk alone.
This city, where I can breathe and be true to myself, is starting to haunt me. One afternoon, I imagine that I see my old best friend across the metro station on the opposite platform. But she is a mother now, living back in her native Italy. I am here, with plenty of acquaintances, a couple of good, old friends, and too much independence. Nothing anchors me; last time I had the blonde Italian and the Mancunian redhead on either side of me. But they are gone now, along with any remnants of our friendship. Now I drift through this city, remembering good times that will never be again, because I have changed, grown. My old anchors have sailed on other ships. The situation is different.
There is still that wild-fire inside of me: the need to party until the sun rises; to not be confined by medieval walls; to have endless options. I am half Irish, and that fire will never be extinguished. We O’Donnells live life until we die. Old age and cancer never stopped any of my legendary aunts from drinking brandy and dancing the night away into their seventies, or cultivating plants at high temperatures until the reaper came along. I guess we make our own rules and live by them.
But now, despite its endless possibilities, my past time in Madrid haunts me. The fire still burns inside me, but it no longer burns in Madrid. Unemployment and poverty stalk the streets, the good times left not long after myself and my former anchors. Now, the world whispers the promise of new adventures to me. I need to go somewhere completely new; somewhere without memories lurking around corners, reminding me that I am alone here. I want an un-lived adventure; to make new memories. Maybe this time the boy from the north will live them with me.
One thing is certain, however; adventure keeps me alive.