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 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!