angels and demons

In the holiest city in western Europe, I sometimes feel like a sinner.

At 6:00am on Sunday morning in Santiago de Compostela, the cobblestone streets glisten in the lamplight. The street-washing machine hums by, spraying a layer of water and steam into the air, while drunken revelers barely dodge out of the way. A lone man in an orange vest pulls a garbage can and a broom along the sidewalk, sweeping up cigarette butts and broken glass, bottle caps and chewed gum. Metal gates are pulled down over darkened shop windows, and the sound of solitary footsteps is crisp in the silence.

It is at once lonely and comforting. The city is quiet, but very much alive. Even though most of the bars have closed, there are still people everywhere. Faces bowed against the cold night wind, they all head home, occasionally stopping to pull an intoxicated friend out of the middle of the street. There is shouting as friends pass by, and a general feeling of merriment in the air, even though the night is almost over.

Yet the cathedral stands silently over an empty plaza, forgotten for the evening. The cornerstone of this settlement, the holy house of worship, the memory of a saint’s life, this religious sanctuary hidden in the mountains, all fade into the background behind neon lights and the bass beat of the discotheques. In a haze of liquor and smoke, the partiers will stumble home, through alleys where pilgrims once passed after long journeys…but they will not get up for church in the morning.

But the street-washing machine will clear away the vomit and piss that reeks in the streets at these dawn hours, and the man in the orange vest will pick up each remnant of these unholy nights, and tomorrow, on the holiest day of them all, Santiago will gleam in the morning sun, and the city will be blessed once again.

addendum

There has been much confusion over exactly where I am, so for those of you not familiar with the homeland, here´s a brief lesson in Spanish geography:

Spain is composed of 17 comunidades autónomas, or autonomous communities. This is something like an American state, having its own government, board of jurisdiction, and turism/social departments. The community in which Barcelona is located is Cataluña. La Coruña, where I am now, is in the community of Galicia, on the far northwest side of Spain (it´s the part that sticks out over Portugal). Next to Galicia is Asturias, another community which is only one province. Provinces are smaller breakups of each community, something like “the northwest suburbs” in Illinois, only more official. Galicia has four provinces, and I am in the one that is called La Coruña (same name as the city). Santiago de Compostela, the other city I am interested in, is in the same province.

Madrid is unique in that it is, first, the capital, but also its own community, province, and city all rolled into one.

Interesting, huh?

The sun was just rising above the horizon when the train left the station, hurtling fast through darkness towards the breaking dawn. It had been 11 hours since I was last at home, and 21 hours since I had last seen a bed. It had been 20 hours since my last shower, but it would be at least 15 more before I would have that luxury once more. The night before was a blur of photograph flashes and the taste of sangria. There were brief remembrances of the taste of chocolate and churros at 4am, snippets of unforgettable conversations, and the sad pout I wore all evening, knowing it was all coming to an end.

As usual.

Another adventure. Alone. I watched the outskirts of Barcelona roll by, but I did not see them, my eyes passing hazily over the unimpressive, indistinguishable landscape. Good riddance.

At 11:00, a group of Italian backpackers took their seats nearby and smiled at me. Shortly afterwards, a man passed through the car dressed in a furry pink bunny suit.

At 12:00, we rolled through the País Vasco (Basque Country) and rainclouds began to appear on the horizon. This made me happy. I started to feel at home, and realized that my heart, all my knowledge of Spain, comes from the north, from Euskadi, from something very different from the rest of the country.

At 1:43, we stopped in Miranda de Ebro. It was strange that I hadn´t thought of the possibility that the train would stop there, but seeing a landscape that looked strangely familiar, I began to get a nervous feeling in my stomach. There was still an empty seat next to mine, and I thought how cruelly ironic it would be if Olaia or Lierni were to board the train and take her seat next to mine. The train station was just as I remembered it. Ít´s strange how many of my memories of Miranda revolve around that train station. It was a sad little town, gray and dismal, without life, without personality. No one was waiting there. I could see why.

At 5:00, we finally hit the mountains. I woke up to a wall of green outside my windows, and watched as they revealed sloping curves and deep valleys though which glistening waters ran in the afternoon light. I smiled.

When we finally hit Coruña, it was too dark to see anything but a spread of glowing lights surrounding the station. I made my way with two extremely heavy suitcases to the hostel, which was situated down a cozy and bright alley, whose bars and taverns were still buzzing with life. I love it here already.

full of grace

The past two days have been steadily dark and rainy. The storms seem to come only at night, but with a noise and a wind so strong that I am awoken every time. The air is cool and crisp and clear, like a sigh of relief from the oppressive Mediterranean humidity. I always love the way a rainy day makes things smaller, more intimate, more comfortable, less threatening. The coffeeshops look more inviting, the bookshops more alluring, the people more excited. There is an anticipation in the rain that reminds me of fall. I feel much better when it rains.

Perhaps it was the rain, then, that made me finally decide to go to Galicia. I´ve been watching the other students depart for Madrid, finding jobs, finding apartments, finding their lives. Three people had called me for an interview, yet I wasn´t excited about any of them. I realized that as much as I wanted to want to stay in Barcelona, my heart was in a new adventure. I needed to go to Galicia. The minute I made the decision, a huge weight was lifted. Since then I´ve found a train leaving Sunday morning, booked a hostel for Sunday night, and called people about apartments in Santiago de Compostela. I´m going to Galicia!

There were night trains available but in the end I think I will take the one that leaves Barcelona at 7:03am and arrives in La Coruña at 10:30pm. I will get to see almost all of northern Spain! I am extremely excited and I really feel that this is the right decision. Santiago will be the perfect combination of beautiful scenery, old village architecture, history, nightlife (there´s even a salsa club!), student life (a prominent university), job opportunities, and economic benefits (it´s WAY cheaper than Barcelona).

I almost want to leave as soon as possible, but I need this time to say goodbye to Barcelona. I will not miss the city, but I will definitely miss the friends I´ve made so far. I will spend the weekend among them, and then will take my leave early Sunday morning with my new copy of Anna Karenina and a light heart. What adventures await!