“Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life.
The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives
Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t…”
From Baz Luhrmann’s “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”
Ah, the taste of bittersweet is starting to make its presence known. This post is not originating from the safe comfort of Manoli’s house. I am now in Barcelona, celebrating the end of my term at the Pontificia (or “Ponti”). I wish I could say I was having a blast here this weekend, but that feeling of “denouement” is coloring everything a darker shade. If the awe-inspiring work of Gaudi can’t breakthrough, the sun blazing over the Barceloneta isn’t going have much of a shot, either. Sure I spent the better part of the day touring this beautiful city, reading “Pedro Parámo” while eating my paella and later turning a rather interesting shade of red thank to forgetting my hat. So, I better focus on happier topics to raise the animo of it all, beginning with:
Yes, I did earn my first ever diploma!
I have to say I was starting to take issue when people would say, “Hope you’re having fun in Salamanca.” Like this was a freaking vacation. No, it wasn’t. Sure, from the outside it looks like all I was doing was eating tapas, meeting hot men, strolling villages and stepping over rivers of piss in Madrid. Don’t get me wrong, all that shiz did happen almost every day. And I’m very glad it did.
But, in between all that, I was going over grammar rules. (¡Ahora entiendo, Professora Boyero. Sí se usa “cuyo” en la vida real!) Reading complex texts from the Hispano masters of literatura. Understanding the concepts of realismo mágico in literature, as well as el pluscuamperfecto, frases condicionales y el puto perífrasis. To be honest, I equated my grammar class with learning math again. I abhor structure, finding a greater control with the abstract offered by deconstructing texts. But, as I have learned, without structure there can be no foundation on which to build any kind of art.
I stand humbly corrected.
Suffice it to say, I did study hard and the results were rewarded with one of the highest grades in my group. After careful consideration from my professors, my initial marks were upgraded to the C1 level, one of the more advanced groupings, thus scoring a 9/9 out of 10/10 in both exams. Considered Sobresaliente, it equates to an “A.” Granted, issues were recorded with my grammar test, particularly in conjugating verbs. But the professors’ reasons were to encourage me to stay on this road, to strive higher and engage with more complex aspects of the language. Dr. Maria José Boyero had great words of encouragement for me and my writing. And you know, I’d like to make good on her faith.
Of course, as some of the pics posted elsewhere have attested, I did go out after finals with the “Kids.” Like most of the adults, I did judge them a bit too hard for turning this summer in Salamanca into a roving spring break party out of bounds. Some registered disappointment at their marks, but they knew couldn’t have it both ways.
As we went from bar to karaoke to the infamous Camelot, their enthusiasm was absolutely irresistible. They had respect for my wanting “to do my own thing” and my agenda to do more than just learn and refine my Spanish. They knew I came here to live out a change in life. What they don’t know is that they, too, played a part in why allowing for change is such an important part of being a human being.
Granted, I don’t want to return to those halcyon days of reckless youth. My mojo died around 3:30 am. More, that awkward mix of confidence and uncertainty in your 20s is like mixing beer and buttermilk to me now. I like being sure of myself and understanding the reality of consequence. But, they made me feel part of their group. If not quite Regina George, I was def Veronica Sawyer that night.
I will never forget the statuesque beauty and Queen Bee allure of Kolby, who knew EVERYBODY on the Salamanca circuit. (Seriously, the looks of envy that I received just by dancing with her at Camelot. That girl has power!) Or how about hearing Mariah’s incredibly soulful voice resonating with emotion and purity down the empty stone streets near the Plaza Mayor? The girl has pipes designed to move people to feel their most buried emotions like heartache to bursting with joy caused by new love in a single phrase.
How can I not smile at Audrey’s gamine innocence, which was wonderful to behold? It proved a counterbalance to Blair and Alejandra’s “I’m gonna get you before you get me” swagger. Those broads have no shame in their game and they shouldn’t. Being bold and beautiful comes naturally to them and I hope they never lose their desire to lead – and not follow.
And, I can’t forget the intense honesty and sweetness of Lena, who opened her heart to me about her complex childhood in Russia and her very American dream of being someone with a purpose in this world.
No, this was a night to remember because we all connected on our own terms. I kept seeing myself as being the “old guy,” which these ladies (and the charming bohemian Jimmy Cedillo) would promptly shut down. I wasn’t their chaperone that night. I was one more student celebrating the end of a summer to remember.
Some of them will continue their European adventure through August. Everyone else, like me, is going home as planned. I am curious to see what becomes of these “young ‘uns.” Maybe they will all live lives a little less ordinary as a result of being at the Ponti. I hope so.
As for Graduation Day? Waking up in a noxious haze of beer farts was not what I envisioned! (I’m sorry, Manoli!) I opened a window, in both the figurative and literal way. I did survive the night out in strong enough shape to witness the fruits of my labor just a few hours later. I wasn’t alone in carrying a liter of water on Friday AM. The ever-watchful Palmira was quick to point out my secret shame. But it also prompted one of the most personal conversations of the entire session. We talked, openly, about our place in a world that values the young. About how this generation of self-entitled adults have lost the ability to respect the maturity and “word” of an older generation.
We had only begun to let our weaves down when my classmates started to file in for the last conversation we would have as a group. As usual, it didn’t disappoint because Palmira shrewdly kept the topic alive. Going from “Young Turk” to “Establishment” was as easy as slipping on a banana peel. But you won’t know that until it happens to you. I wish I could say the insights culled were hits to the solar plexus.
If anything, it was a variation of a theme we all know at every age: Balance is everything. Extremes are bad for everyone. No one has all the answers. No one is “that” much prepared for the curve balls life will throw at you. The usual generation gap blah blah. However, I did walk away with one vital thing. Both factions could use a little patience when it comes to the other. Young lion or Mufasa before the stampede, we have plenty to learn from each other. This jungle needs a little balance restored and the answers could very well be found in just relinquishing a little piece of…well…pride. (It’s way beyond 1am in Barcelona. But if I wait any longer to tell this tale…)
It was time to return to the Aula Magna, the place at the Ponti where all of this began. I have at thing for full circle moments. I really do. I often marvel at the symmetry of life. Beginnings always lead to endings, we know. It is what happens in between that makes it all so damn tasty when the objectives are clear. Even still, it was a surprise that Profesora Culton’s greeted me with her revelation just before we went into the room of the school’s decision to reward me with a higher level of completion.
The irony is not lost on me, finding this need to find some sense of purpose in the one thing I couldn’t get far away enough from as a kid: speaking Spanish. Yes, going from George to Jorge raised a few eyebrows when it happened. Ahora no tengo el coño para ruidos on my refining my español to ease my mid-life crisis. Who cares how it happened, right?
Que se jodan. It worked, majo.
Now, I have to go buy some sunscreen. Barcelona awaits…
Sunday, July 26 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Barcelona, Spain.