Things I’ve Learned Between Spain and San Francisco

So my last post was a big one for me. Not only was it the 100th post I’ve added to this blog, which is a big deal because I neverrrr keep anything up this long (yay me!), but it also marked the passing of exactly one year since the day I moved to Spain.

One year from the day that I stepped off the plane, collected my 70+ pounds of luggage and trekked it sola into Barcelona via soggy Aerobus, I am back, settled in San Francisco, and actually liking it a lot. That’s not to say that I don’t miss Spain so so so much, but I have learned that I need to give the good ol’ USA another shot to see if I can find some of the things that I love so much about Spain right here in my own backyard. I’ve learned some other things too, about Spain, about America, about everything. Here are a few of them:

1. There really is no substitute for cañas and tapas on a terracita in Andalucía or Madrid. I know that even if I find the best Spanish restaurant in San Francisco and I sit outside and I order a beer and all my favorite dishes, it won’t even compare to having a little nasty beer and some olive-oil soaked, fried seafood at even the dingiest little Spanish bar. I might miss this more than anything else, and even though that might seem shallow and petty and a little alcoholic, I think the terracita/tapas/cañas experience says a lot about the Spanish lifestyle, and I do not mean to suggest the typical lazy/party/etc. stereotype. I’m sure I’ll get back to this later at some point.

2. San Francisco is the most European city in America. I haven’t been all over the country, so this claim is really not very well researched, but I am shocked at how “European” San Francisco feels. I don’t really know what I mean by European, but I think it involves being able to walk to one store to get your (daily) bread, walking to another store to get your fruit, walking to work (!!!), taking public transportation, hearing dozens of different languages every day on the street, seeing hundreds of tourists from all over the world, hearing church bells from my bedroom window (hello, Baeza), being able to drink in a park (kinda), and a number of other things. I feel like people enjoy life here, not to the degree that I think the Spanish do, but more than what I remembered of California when I was abroad. There is a huge appreciation for great food and great wine and the outdoors and eating on sidewalks, and I definitely feel a bit of that joie de vivre (alegría de vivir?) that I love Europe for.

3. I love traveling and I love backpacking, but I don’t like living out of a backpack. After spending five months in Andalucía essentially moving a week’s worth of living supplies every four days, I really appreciate being able to come home, throw my things on the floor, and not have to immediately start doing my laundry because I know that it is going to take four days to hang dry everything when it’s snowing outside. Traveling is my favorite thing in the world, but there really is something great about that first night of sleep in your own bed, especially when you get to snuggle into an awesome bed in an awesome city. There is also something great about being able to have a full-time, secure, legal job that pays you enough to survive and not having to ask yourself “will it fit in my suitcase?” every time you see something awesome at a store. Also, I love buying furniture and plants, and after a year of holding myself back, I am ready for a shopping spree!

4. Unlimited cell phone plans > pre-paid Nokia cell phones from 2001 that cost 27 Euro cents/minute. Also, unlimited data and gps has changed my life. Goodbye, Yoigo!

5. I am addicted to olive oil. I remember the year before I went to Spain I used about a bottle and a half of oil….the whole year…while cooking for two people almost every night. Granted, I used some butter, but mostly I used the oil. In the past month and a half I have used the same amount that I used that entire year. Next purchase, to my roommates’ dismay: una freidora.

6. Parks are cool. Parks are cooler when you can drink alcohol in them. I think this speaks for itself. I will cite some examples where you should try this activity out with minimal risk of bodily harm/imprisonment: Parque del Buen Retiro, Dolores Park, Washington Square Park.

7. Vermouth is good on the rocks, and it’s just as good on a rooftop terrace in San Francisco as it is at a bar in Madrid.

8. Pan Tumaca and a cafe con leche is still my favorite breakfast. But only if I know that later in the afternoon I’ll be having a huge multi-course lunch, followed by a generous nap.

9. America is awesome, if only for the lack of siesta and presence of 24-hour everythings. I can get anything in San Francisco, and I can get it whenever I want it. Yes, I am in a freezing cold, artificially lit grey cubicle all day, straight through the time that would be siesta time if it existed here, but I don’t care. I take comfort in knowing that across the street from my office, there is a Walgreens that sells everything I could ever need, and it is always open. And if it’s not, there is a Walgreen’s every other block along my route home and at least ten of them will be open and selling everything from Cheetos to shoes to picture frames. Go USA.

10. Taking pictures is always worth it. Even when I feel like a total tourist, even when I have to embarrass myself to get the photo or feel lame for snapping a cheesy shot, it’s always worth it. I have to try to remember this here, because I want so badly to not look like a tourist in a place where I can finally feel like a local (well at least I speak the local language). I’m not saying you should get some random, ill-lit shots of the Eiffel Tower or the Golden Gate. Take pictures you want to remember. Take pictures you can frame and put up on your walls, or share with your kids, or give as gifts to people you were with. The really good pictures I have are some of my most valuable possessions, and they are the best souvenirs you could possibly take home from a trip.

11. Hearing cool noises from your bedroom window gets old fast, no matter where you are. First it was the bats in Baeza. I could hear them squeaking away all night. Awesome! For like two seconds. Then it was the church bells. Then horse hooves. Then sheep and firecrakers in La Puerta de Segura. What a combo. Now here in San Francisco, I started with the fog horn. FOG HORNS! Who wakes up to a fog horn in the middle of the night besides a wayward seaman? Moments ago, I discovered that on beautiful clear nights like tonight, the sound of barking sea lions will carry clear across the ten or so blocks that separate my home from theirs, straight into my bedroom window. I used to like sea lions.

12. I have never seen so many bizarre/crazy/creepy people on the streets in my life as I’ve seen in the past month in San Francisco. Maybe New York has more, but San Francisco’s got them beat on the crazy/sane ratio. Maybe I never really noticed the sheer volume when I lived in L.A., but Europe seemed to have much fewer homeless, and much fewer crazies (though many more homeless amputees, weirdly). It’s interesting, sad, and a little scary all at once. It also makes riding on a MUNI bus a farrrrrrr weirder experience than any metro ride I ever took in Madrid.

13. The best view of Alcatraz, and of the whole Bay is from the hill path in Fort Mason, right before sunset, when the sun has fallen below the fog layer so that everything on top is dark and gloomy and everything on the bottom is burning gold and pink. It’s absolutely beautiful, and every time I see it I like San Francisco a little bit more.

So there are 13 things I learned. There will be more to come, because there is a lot to learn, a lot to eat, and a lot to do in this great city, and like it or not, I compare everything to Spain now. Spain is still my favorite place on earth, and I doubt that’s going to change any time soon, but for now I am pretty darn happy to call San Francisco home.

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