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Intersections – The View from Spain

D'ish Decatur

Intersections – The View from Spain

Nicki Salcedo
Nicki Salcedo

Nicki Salcedo

This story has been updated. 

By Nicki Salcedo

One day in May, I found myself in Madrid. It was my first trip to Spain, and I was terribly excited. Every once in a while, in my very ordinary life, extraordinary things happen. Extraordinary things like a trip to Spain to celebrate my best friend’s 40th birthday.

She is obsessed with soccer, football or fútbol. Her favorite team is in Real Madrid. While we were in college, I was the one who tortured her with football and baseball and soccer games. I was the one who knew the rules and enjoyed entire Saturdays in a stadium. Now she is the person I used to be. She briefed me on the players and their injuries and personal dramas.

Two friends. 40 years. Four days in Madrid. And fútbol.

We spent all weekend talking like we are teenagers again. Twenty years of friendship.  So many years that feel like yesterday.

I knew that as a traveler, I should be quiet and respectful and reverent and adventurous. But the people in Spain could tell immediately that I was from America. My husband says it’s because I smile too much. Smiling is a cultural thing. Have you ever seen a caricature of Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton? Southerners are smiling people. I can’t help it. I don’t like to hug, but I will knock your socks off with my smile.

In the taxi from the airport, the driver asked where I was from.

“Atlanta,” I said.

“Oh. Atlanta, Georgia,” he said.

The way he said Georgia was amazing. We say “Geor-Ja,” but he said “Gee-Or- Gia.”

Yes,” I said. We both started smiling.

Much to my disappointment, Spain did not feel foreign or exotic. It felt like home. It was busy like New York, vibrant like San Francisco. The people were friendly identical to my life in Atlanta. Atlanta, Georgia.

We enjoyed octopus, pulpo. We walked all day and night. We got lost in artwork, abstract and real. My truly American moment happened when I fell in love with a picture of a small dog. I stepped closer to see the title, “The Drowning Dog.” I decided the dog was just swimming.  The artist Francisco de Goya likes things both beautiful and shadowy. That’s the way I see the world.

I felt myself falling in love with Spain.

On game day, the security guards checked the other fans, but not us. Not the Americans. No chance of us hurling broken bottles onto the field. Or maybe it was our smiles. We smiled when we approached the stadium. We smiled when we took our seats. I waited for a moment when things felt foreign. I waited to find a sight or flavor or aroma that was new to me. But that moment never came. Spain was different, but not unfamiliar.

People continued to ask me where I was from. Everyone said, “Atlanta, Georgia!” in response and smiled. We were the same.

The cheers of the football match erupted around me. What’s not to love about a little fútbol? The world feels small and good when you are cheering with strangers and friends. We watched and jumped up in excitement. Then suddenly a little disappointment. Followed by an unexpected goal and joy again.

I could see the whole world from Spain. I could see my house across the globe. I thought of it as shadowy and beautiful. I knew I could make a home anywhere I found smiling faces. I was at home as we enjoyed the game. I felt a just bit Spanish. It felt like another day in my ordinary life.

Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the source of pulpo. Pulpo is octopus.