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Day drinking and endless croissants
Spain is starting to influence me in small ways and big. But I still need to craft the way of life I truly want.
Matt Yao over atwrote last week that “Where you live shapes what you do and who you’re with which by extension permeates into who you become.”
It’s not a new idea, but it’s succinctly and well captured.
You are the sum of the people you spend the most time with. Your environment shapes who you become.
You are what you eat: and if what you eat is Spanish pastries, paella, and jamón Iberico, well then you still might live longer than your average American (Spain has one of the highest life expectancies in the world, despite the ubiquitous day drinking, frequent smoking, and all-night nightlife… figure that one out).
Am I changing having moved to Spain? I would hope so. Why would one move somewhere simply to maintain all the same habits, routines, and ways of living that you had in your old life? I had my eye on Southern Europe for years because of its way of life—not so that I could import all my American habits and continue about my business.
One example: in the U.S. I used to eat these super healthy veggie potato scrambles every morning, but here in Barcelona I’m eating a lot of chocolate croissants, plucked from the infinite bakeries wafting their fresh-baked goods out into the city streets. And so what? If I weren’t, I’d be missing out on one of the best parts of Barcelona. Who among you could walk by all those cafes with pastries and never buy one?
When in Rome…
In case you’re wondering, no I have not gained weight. Either the pastries are magic pastries or I’m just walking them all off moving around the city.
Next, I am tempted to start day drinking. I haven’t quite gotten on board, as night drinking gives me everything I need. But still…
The question is, if you don’t do things the locals do—day drinking and eating chocolate croissants are simply the most tempting—aren’t you then missing out on the best parts of living there?
I once heard it said that you can’t live to 100 unless you have something to live for (then and there I resolved to never give up french toast).
Why move to Spain and then insist on continuing your strict vegetarianism? There is paella and the jamón, and besides they probably treat their animals better here anyway. Why move to Catalunya and never go to the mountains? The spires of Montserrat are so unique and striking that it’s been a holy site for centuries, not to mention a lifetime of climbing. Why move to Barcelona and never go to people-watch on the beach? There are beautiful people and pick-up volleyball games, and men who walk the beach selling cold beers who pass by whenever it seems you’re ready for another one.
Another particularity of my new home: I am jealous of the Spanish ability to talk for hours on end with friends. I haven’t had these kinds of hours-long conversations for years. I am out of practice. The skill feels beyond me at the moment, and yet it seems quite effortless for people here.
At night, I pass table after table of Castellanos or Catalunyans engaged in some kind of spirited dialogue about this or that, and inside I am jealous. I want that group of friends. I want to sit at a table outside at night in perfect Mediterranean weather, talking for hours.
I got a small taste of this last weekend after climbing Montserrat. We all went for beers after: me, a Frenchman, a Hungarian, a Lebanese man, and a girl from Kyrgyzstan. But it was the Cataluynan at the table who effortlessly drove conversation. I noticed this as he was deep into a discourse on the important differences in pastries found throughout Spain, no doubt in the back of his mind wondering why these foreigners couldn’t or wouldn’t engage with him to keep the conversation (and beer) flowing.
But I do hope some of this skill wears off on me. In the U.S., I would call him a good conversationalist, but here it’s just the way of life.
My friend Brian Weisner over atalso wrote about this in his post from a few days ago, resurfacing some notable quotes in the process:
The fact is, a person is so far formed by his surroundings, that his state of harmony depends entirely on his harmony with his surroundings. —Christopher Alexander
Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior. —James Clear
In fact, I don’t think it’s so invisible. The chocolate croissants are ALL RIGHT THERE. Staring out at me from behind every cafe window. As are the cheap beers, the groups of friends at night, the beach, and the mountains. If only I could manage to stay awake late enough for the nightlife, I would see that too.
I remember coming to Barcelona when I was in College as part of a booze-fueled European tour of party cities: I drank and stayed up late, and made out with Spanish girls on the dance floors of clubs.
But at 41, I have enough self-knowledge to understand that the only problem with all this adaptation, all this changing that I’m doing in response to my environment, is that I still fancy myself a country person.
Of course, one can do as the locals do—sample all of the wonderful particular pleasures of that unique time and place in the world—but at the same time, guard the way of life you would choose based on first principles.
Bring me clean, open air, quiet nights with crickets, and bright stars in the night sky. Early bedtimes and quiet mornings. Give me one good pizza place, not a dozen—one neighborhood bar, one wafting bakery. And the hours-long conversations? Let them be on my back porch, a campfire crackling nearby.
My default mode is essentially in low-level background conflict with big city life, and I can sense this from time to time as I go about my weeks here. Still: the wonders of Barcelona are still unfolding. There is importing all your old habits and routines; there is doing what the locals do; and then there is that space between that you carve out in the middle—your life.
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