The Habit of People Watching

Sunrise I witnessed yesterday morning on Playa Postiguet.

Sunrise I witnessed yesterday morning on Playa Postiguet. Just some eye candy for you readers. 🙂

I can understand why the Spanish have siesta time. It’s not very hot here in Alicante, Spain, but even in the mild weather, walking for two hours has made me super tired! In fact, my roomies are all taking advantage of siesta time right now, while I’m being lame and writing this blog post. I enjoy the quiet though, so that’s why I’m up and working.

Already, there are so many things I’m learning about myself while living abroad. The biggest thing I’m trying to figure out is just how to find rhythm with all this “free time”–which, if you’re a freelancer like I am, is not really free time. I’m learning how to create a schedule that isn’t too rigid but still allows me to be productive and meet client deadlines.

I’ve been reading Daily Rituals by Mason Currey–which I highly recommend–and it’s about how many famous artists and creative types schedule or scheduled their days. Disturbing but unsurprising, many artists struggled with drug use, alcohol abuse, and self-medication. Many claimed to need the stimulation to either keep their ideas coming, or to maintain enough energy to get all those ideas out of their head and into the final product. I like alcohol and whatnot as much as the next person, but I personally don’t need a slew of amphetamines to write a novel. Nevertheless, studying other people’s habits is very fascinating to me, and I most definitely have indulged in a glass of sangria or two (or three!) while reading Daily Rituals.

Daily Rituals by Mason Currey

Daily Rituals by Mason Currey

This fascination I have in observing others comes into play while traveling. I have ever been an avid people-watcher. In fact, my first essay at 12 years old was about people-watching at Disneyland. So, part of my new routine in living abroad involves vast amounts of observing those around me in the day-to-day. There’s a cafe down the street from my apartment–Cafe Gadea–and I go there nearly every day. When it’s really nice outside, I’ll eat my lunch on the tables outside and watch people walk by, as well as try to listen in on the conversations in Spanish happening at the next table over. I notice the nuances of every interaction between the Spanish versus Americans or other cultures.

For example, in the United States, when we walk on the street, most of us avoid even touching someone else’s arm at all costs. It’s like we think everyone has the plague or something. But here, in Europe, and especially in Spain, it’s almost as if people are drawn to one another without thinking twice about it. Even when I’m walking on a sidewalk with ample room, and someone is walking towards me, he or she seems to be caught in some gravitational pull and will pass very closely to me. It doesn’t matter who it is–a man, woman, child, older person, teenager–they ALL do it. And I just accept it.

I’ve also witnessed more affection in relationships–affection that is shown in public. And it’s not just between lovers, it’s also between friends. Many people here are very affectionate towards one another. I mean, even when you first meet someone, you kiss each other’s cheeks. When I met my roommate last week, we said “hola” and gave the customary greeting of kissing each side cheek. Being half Hispanic myself, that is something I’m used to experiencing from my Latino side of the family. But for most Americans? A simple handshake will do. (Which I actually HATE, by the way. Why can’t we all just be affectionate? Ha!) As a stranger (estranjero) in a strange land, that type of affection makes me feel more connected, even without knowing anyone around me or having someone to talk to all the time.

I’d like to think that many of us creatives are people-watchers to some degree. Even the most introverted among us. For me, watching people is like reading a textbook in school and gathering information–except that the process is more interesting and organic. Life is our teacher, people are the study materials, and we test ourselves by what we produce. So really, there isn’t much opportunity for failure; there’s opportunity to learn. It’s all around us and we only fail if we refuse to learn anything.

Cool filter for a photo I took of my bedroom windows.

Cool filter for a photo I took of my bedroom windows.

But before I continue to think that I’m Socrates or something, I will reiterate that this travel thing has done me good. I’m learning so much and loving every minute–even the lonely and fear-filled ones. I am very glad that I made the decision to step way outside of my comfort zone and try something new. And, of course, I am thoroughly enjoying all the new faces and behaviors to watch. 😉

The Romance (or not) In Travel

(As previously seen on Writer With a Passport.)

View of Alicante from the Castillo de Santa Barabara.

View of Alicante from the Castillo de Santa Barabara.

I’m a writer and artist living abroad for the summer, experiencing a new culture and language, and developing a routine in order to thrive creatively. Read that first sentence aloud, and it sounds sexier than simply reading it in your mind. But it’s not all romance when traveling abroad, especially when you’re alone.

Today, I woke up before the sunrise–which in Spain, during this time of year, is before 7am. Most people had just arrived home from the night just an hour before that, and I definitely heard them. ALL. Nevertheless, I felt refreshed and ready to start the day.

I made myself cafe con leche and had some croissants with jam and butter while reading articles, slowly waking up. Then I read for an hour or so and took my time getting dressed and putting on makeup. After I finished, it was 11am, and I was ready to go for my daily walk. At this point, I’m sure you’re not so convinced of this “non-romance” I hinted at earlier.

My walk towards the coastline was wonderful. It’s Saturday and EVERYONE is out. Everyone, that is, except for the party-goers of last night, all of whom were probably still sleeping off their hangovers. After walking down one of the main streets, La Rambla, I made it to the coastline, which is where it gets really touristy and, sometimes, annoying.

The vendors, who are mostly African men (and some women), were all out and about, trying to sell their loot: fake designer purses, sunglasses, battery-operated toys, you name it. One began to follow me, speaking in Spanish: “Hola! Mira aqui! Hola, guapa!” I just ignored him, walking away without even looking to the side. When I failed to respond in Spanish, or in any language for that matter, he tried Italian. He finally gave up, and I found a quiet bench that overlooked the port, and sat for a bit while soaking up the sun.

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When I began to walk again, ready to hit up my new favorite cafe for lunch, I got clicked at. Yes, CLICKED at. Perhaps that’s the Spanish mating call? The guy who did it wasn’t bad-looking–at all–but I was so surprised that I continued to walk, without any reaction, while processing this new way of being cat-called. Then I kind of chuckled to myself and carried on about my business.

I made it to the cafe without any further incident, ordered a tortilla espanola with vino blanco, and settled in to read a book while I waited. Honestly, it was bliss. I sat there, uninterrupted, eating my meal and drinking some wine. Then, because I felt like it, I ordered a cafe con leche and continued to read.

Something I really appreciate about the Europeans is that they don’t come and check on you all the time like in America. I cannot fully express how nice it is to eat in peace without having someone come to to check on me every ten minutes: “How’s your food? Can I get you anything else? Is everything okay?”

One of the books I'm currently reading. It's very fascinating and I highly recommend it.

One of the books I’m currently reading. It’s very fascinating and I highly recommend it.

Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate hospitality, but the Europeans have something right about meals that we Americans fail to understand: meal time is sacred. It’s a time to either socialize with friends, or individually regroup and reflect on the day, etc. Here in Spain, if I want something, I get the server’s attention and ask for it–even the check (la cuenta). It may be alien to those who have never traveled here before, but once you get used to it, it’s really nice. At least, it is for me. (Says the “ambivert” who needs social AND alone time every day.)

Corte Ingles is like Target, JC Penny, the gourmet food section of Whole Foods, and a supermarket all in one.

Corte Ingles is like Target, JC Penny, the gourmet food section of Whole Foods, and a supermarket all in one.

After lunch, I walked back to my apartment (passing a Corte Ingles) and climbed the six flights of stairs–which I’m still getting used to. My building doesn’t have a lift, and I prefer it to be that way. Walking up all those stairs those is definitely not a romantic part of living and traveling abroad. Still…it’s surprising what you get used to when you accept that things are done in a different manner in other parts of the world.

Okay, so perhaps my traveling life thus far has more “romance” than otherwise. I can agree with that. But I also came here, expecting to not be catered to. I mean, I’m not even sure if people know I’m an American, which is fine by me. I force myself to stumble through the language and go out every day–even if it’s just for a walk and coffee. The other night, someone asked me for directions and I was actually able to direct them to the right place. Perhaps I’m blending in better than I thought.

But even when there’s a lack of this romance in the day-to-day of being somewhere else, I look for magic and always find it. I find the magic in the old, dirty windows of my bedroom that let in too much noise. I find it in the bathtub that clogs within 20 seconds of being in the shower. I find it in the broken lamp on my nightstand. I even find it when the Internet is dodgy in the middle of writing a blog post. I feel it, see it, and hear it all around me. And that’s where the romance in travel shows itself to me and I embrace each experience and nuance. So, I smile, remember to be grateful for every minute of my life and look forward to what’s ahead.

Plaza de los Lucero, right by my apartment.

Plaza de los Lucero, right by my apartment.

The Magic in the Noise

(As previously seen on Writer With a Passport.)

There’s something magical about noise when I’m traveling. Not everyone enjoys noise, especially during the wee hours of the night. But I love it. The Spanish sometimes remind me of New Yorkers–especially here in Alicante. It feels like the city that never sleeps.

The esplanada in Alicante at night.

The Esplanada in Alicante at night.

When the summer is here, as I’ve witnessed firsthand six years ago, the nightlife will be even more alive. Right now, especially during the weekday, it’s not as busy. And yet, it seems that there’s always something going on.

It’s 9am and I have my coffee and an apple for breakfast. My window is wide open and I can hear all the noise of the morning bustle. True, many places do not open until later, but there are many businesses that operate earlier than 10am. Buses are flying by on the street, and I can hear people talking on the sidewalk.

Later in the day, there will be another burst of noise as people gather at the sidewalk cafes for lunch and “siesta.” Tonight, there will be lots of people going out for tapas, drinks, and dancing–especially because it’s Friday–el fin de semana: Fiesta time! When they come home in the early morning, I’ll probably hear them chatting excitedly to one another, regaling the new memories just made–and they’ll probably be borrachos. But even before that, around 1 or 2 in the morning, the garbage truck and street cleaners will be in my neighborhood, making more noise.

The view of the street from my apartment window.

The view of the street from my apartment window.

So why do I like all this noise? Because it represents life. Life and humanity. When you travel alone, even if you don’t have a direct connection to another person, there is always life around you (unless you’re a complete hermit, of course). It’s in the noise of the city, it’s in being confined in small spaces like a tram or metro and remembering that most other cultures don’t have a personal bubble when it comes to the daily commute, and it’s in watching people interact. I’ve always been an avid people-watcher, and now, as a writer who travels, being in another country is like being a scientist who has just been granted access to one of the best experimental labs in the world.

There is magic all around me, but it’s especially in the noise. It’s there when I’m trying to sleep at 2am and I hear someone’s conversation four stories down, almost amplified by the old window in my room. Finding that magic while traveling, I think, is important. It’s what helps me keep an open mind, pushing me to try new things, when I have fear or feel intimidated by language barriers.

The next time YOU find yourself traveling, no matter where it is, stop and find the magic in the noise. Look at life all around you and take time to appreciate what a miracle it is to be alive. Maybe it’ll help you sleep better; maybe it won’t. But, I bet you’ll look at things with a new appreciation, and isn’t that what travel is all about?

Until next time,

Salud!

Time To Explore

I’ve made a pretty big decision over the past several months, and I’m finally ready to share it with everyone:

I’m moving abroad this summer in order to see if I have what it takes to be an expat and travel writer!

Saying “this summer” sounds a little noncommittal, but I DO know that when I come back to my hometown for a short visit in August, I do not intend to stay. Perhaps I will be headed back to Spain, which is where I’ll be most of the summer, or perhaps I’ll be headed for somewhere else. It really doesn’t matter right now, however; what matters most to me is that I am giving myself the freedom to have an open mind and heart as I get ready to go on a new adventure.

I’ve had several people ask: Why Spain?

My answer:

Why not?

Making friends with a starfish in Alicante, Spain.

Making friends with a starfish in Alicante, Spain in 2008.

I’m going on an adventure because I want to, because I need to get out of my comfort zone, and because I CAN. That’s my reasoning and I think that as I have time to myself and time to breathe, I’ll figure out more reasons why along the way. And as I discover new things about myself while journeying to places I’ve never been, I will be sharing my thoughts and insights here on the blog, as well as my new (and soon-to-be-launched) travel blog: writerwithapassport.com.

The new website isn’t quite ready yet, but I’ll be sure to announce its “grand opening” sometime next week. My first stop and summer home will be in Alicante, Spain, and then we’ll see where I go from there!

Anyways, I thought I’d write more, but that’s all I care to share on the subject for now. I leave in exactly a week and am definitely ready for a change of scenery and pace. Stay tuned for more!

Ciao,

Tamar

Beautiful view of the Alicante coast from the Castillo de Santa Barbara.

Beautiful view of the Alicante coast from the Castillo de Santa Barbara.