Facts are simple and facts are straight
Facts are lazy and facts are late
Facts all come with points of view
Facts don’t do what I want them to
Crosseyed and Painless from “Remain in Light” by Talking Heads
This morning, I felt the euphoria of being selected as a Rockford Peach. If you understand that reference from “A League of Their Own,” then you are worthy of being my friend. Haha. But all kidding aside, today was our first day of class at the Pontificia. The results of our assessment tests were posted and we were systematically conquered and divided into our next level of language tribes. I’m in Group 7, the advanced class, the smallest group. 10 people. 4 different colleges. 1 specific goal: to learn.
As I powered my way through an empty Plaza Mayor, I realized I was in a heightened state. Maybe it was due to drinking too much of Manoli’s coffee this early AM. Or maybe it was the anticipation of having something stir my brain that much more. Perhaps it was just the nervous excitement of discovering where I belong, a theme that has been haunting me for quite some time. I had a flashback to a conversation with the most empathic friend I know, Kimberly Clo.
Last year, when I started to feel my way through the haze of my mid-life crisis, I went to Nashville to restore some balance with the past. Seeing the still-welcoming family of my ex, the Herndons-Robinsons, brought some peace to an area that had been causing me much consternation for so long. Later in that glorious fall visit, I sat down for southern style tapas and beer in the Five Points section of East Nashville with Kim Clo. It was with her I received another gift: the knowledge that I have still to find my people.
Now, I know this may strike a note of derision. I have some of the best friends in the world. How could they not be “My People?” Community is everything to me. I believe in having honest, loving witnesses to our lives. But, at times I feel they don’t quite understand this hunger I can’t seem to sate. I’m trying to reach a different point of awareness, of finding purpose on a journey that’s in need of being rerouted. Is it wanderlust? Is it my ridiculous searching for things to worry about? The joy I’m feeling these days tells me otherwise. It may be the effects of this destination, but knowing I had the power all along to turn any place in this world into something transformative has been a source of real inspiration to me.
Again, Kim’s gentle turn of phrase resonated with me for months to come, and it returned to caress my brain again as I walked through a just awakening Plaza Mayor. The words bounced off the slick stone walkways, following me to the entrance of the Pontificia. A certain hope rose in my chest. Who would be my people at this place of higher learning? Would they share or impact my journey? Would I do the same for them? Meeting up with some of the students from the LA contingent, we solemnly walked up the stairs in a collective search for our respective fates. And then, we saw it, pinned up on a bulletin board with delicate care were the pages with names and locations listing where we would gather and, hopefully, learn.
Group 7. Aula 21.
What transpired in the more than four hours of instruction later I will never forget. And it all had to do with the power of words.
I took my place in Aula 21, waiting for the rest of the tribe to converge. Two by two, one by one they entered in what felt like a theater in the round. All young faces, mostly female, all seeking to have that singular experience that comes from leaving your comfort zone of home and country.
“Hello, I’m from Pittsburgh.”
“Greetings, I’m from Montreal.”
“I’m representing East Los Angeles.”
Of course, I’m the mature man from ELAC, which is not a bad distinction. But when it all comes down to it, if you’re a bonny lass from Pittsburgh, you’re going to want to sit next to the cute boy from Leeds.
I’m having quite a time documenting the young folk in these anecdotes. Makes me feel like Margaret Mead. “Next, we will review the Habits of the Horny American YA’s Studying Abroad!” At times, I see what I was in these kids. Then again, I also see what I wasn’t. But they’ve become their own tribe. It reminded me of the The Kids from “Fame,” who appeared everywhere en masse to the beat of really bad TV music. Loud, brash and in a constant state of “OMG.” As they discovered their class selections, you’d think they were chosen for the cool dodgeball team. I couldn’t tell if it was relief or joy, but they were with people they have already claimed as their own. Maybe it is need or necessity, an avoidance of being alone in an unfamiliar world? Funny how we never lose that instinct. Belonging to a group. It’s as genuine as making sure we sit next to the cute boy from Leeds.
After we completed the first section of grammar lecture, I realized I had found my people for this Salamancan journey. And, despite the convoluted way our professor explained “como conectamos el imperfecto del subjuntivo o pluscuamperfecto con los condicionales,” my people can be found in the power of words.
I loved the way our professor equated the Imperfect tense as being “El rey de la gramática.” She then joked she would actually marry the Imperfect tense. (Here’s a Meller Jr. High reference, my professor looks just like my middle school English teacher, Della Bruhn. Coincidence? I think not!) The passion with which she expressed her love of language was invigorating. It was how she explained the connections that make the language work that made me take notice. Connections. Connectivity. These are the very themes central to what many of us feel is missing in our modern world. “Hay que unir las frases” – “We must connect the phrases.” Whether we’re talking about language or the human condition, such connections are the most basic foundations on which we build our identities! Yet, we’ve made it all so complex to the point of diminishing their importance to live in an artificial iCloud of isolation.
From grammar to the conversation class. Ah, here was more music to my ears in this room. God, I love the sound of that accompanies the exchange of ideas. It didn’t matter their level of fluency, that determination to be heard and understood was liberating. More, we allowed ourselves a moment of connection by revealing just a little bit of who we are in this world. It had context. It had a beginning, middle and end. We shared an honest, real, piece of ourselves without judgment. Later, a young Filipina from Canada, who is working to go to Cambridge next year, turned to me in the literature class we also shared to say I should take a more advanced conversation class. That they would hold me back. I said, no. I liked the dynamic of the class. It fit. Then she said something I’ve never heard before. “Good! I think I can learn something from you.”
To that new classmate, thanks for making me feel like the boy from Leeds! But we will learn from each other in the end.
True, I judge these young whippersnappers for exhibiting more passion for a night out. Yes, they’re missing out on the context of living life by isolating single moments for their precious social networks. But they have formed a community, one that suits their needs for this moment in time. They are not alone. In hearing my professor, my faulty compass had recalibrated itself. I know where I’m heading. Sé que estoy enganchado a la droga que es Salamanca. Y sé que voy a tener que expresar lo que me está pasando en español pronto. Pero no estoy listo aún para documentar este viaje transformador en otro idioma por el momento.
I was given a profound reminder as to why my love of language and ideas was forged in the first place. Our grammar professor is also our literature professor. She saved the best for last as the enthusiasm she had for language was eclipsed by her mania for the printed word. As she walked us through the evolution of Spanish literature, our shaping of culture became so clear to me again. We first looked to God, then we gave into temptation and strayed from ourselves. We were reminded of our failures and looked within ourselves to find the good and bad in our nature. Societies will change, but literature will never just cut itself off. No, narratives will unite us because they will always encompass change.
I’ve been shaping this blog all day. The apex of it all was reached when I used the library inside the Pontificia. It is being surrounded by all this beauty, history and the constant sight of human achievements that are making me want more. I knew from an early age that reading books and the art of writing was where I belonged. I have been skirting this destination for so long, confusing it with being lost and directionless. But I am settling into a sense of peace now. It took a while, yes. But, within the centuries old walls of the Pontificia, I finally found my way back home.
Wednesday, July 2 at Manoli’s house in Salamanca, Spain.