Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Strolling to Remember

Monday (the 8th) was my first day at the new job and I could hardly wait for my alarm to ring to announce the commencement of a new work week. It was the first time I'd felt excited to get to work since I graduated college (and it wasn't just because I could wear blue jeans to the office). With exuberant energy, I found myself ready for work about an hour ahead of schedule. Too antsy to watch CNN for the remaining time, I grabbed my jacket and headed on foot to work.

Though voted one of, if not the most, walkable of US cities, getting anywhere on foot in this city requires some strategic planning. The modern "grid style" urban planning is corrupted by sudden escalations and curvaceous bay shores causing sudden stops, turns and abrupt transitions to one-way streets. When walking, a reasonably flat path suddenly arches up, transforming a morning stroll into unexpected cardio exercise.

Monday I mentally mapped the lightest walking route, though it upped my walk time from 30 minutes to about 45. The long stroll with the morning sun gleaming off the freshly swept sidewalks and the bustle of school children rushing off to meet the bell reminded me a lot of my morning walks to the university in Spain.

Although Seville is not a booming metropolis like Barcelona or Madrid, Seville proper is an expansive city sprawl. (As any good European Catholic city, all building is outward rather than upward to prevent any roof from towering above the steeple of the Catholic church.) In January, when I first arrived, I'd awake freezing cold each morning. The chill of the night lingering on the tile floors and walls with no central heat to chase it away. I'd lean over my night stand to click on the space heater and wait for a few moments until I sensed the warm air begin to fill the room. I'd change into my robe, tip-toe into the kitchen where I'd ignite the hot water.

Showers in Spain are not the luxury we have here: hot water is expensive, and while lathering up my hair or shaving, I was always instructed to shut off the water to properly ration the month's hot water supply. With the constant oscillation between shivers in the cool air and the comfort of warm water pelting against my body, my shower time rarely surpassed four or five minutes.

After showering, I'd return to my room to change where my space heater had adequately warmed my room enough that I wouldn't catch a cold while I dressed. In record speed, I'd be ready and out the door to enjoy my 40 minute walk to the university.

Mornings were a beautiful collection of the modern Spanish population: armies of young children parading their way to school. Old couples sauntering down the sidewalks in unison, linked together at the elbow. Gypsies adorned the high-trafficked corners with hand made jewels and pipes. Shop owners scrubbed the sidewalks to remove the grime and residue of the night and shouted, "¡Tío, hasta luego!" as a familiar face passed them by. The sidewalks were as alive and bustling as the streets, crammed with buses, cars and motocicletas.

Though I generally scuffled off to the university in a huff, the typical American always in a hurry, there were the mornings where I'd deliberately leave early to force myself to pause to admire the tranquility and simplicity of the morning commute- on foot.

Thinking back now to my days in Spain, my memories are only faint . Small memories lost amid a blizzard of experiences. My six month stint in Seville isn't clouded by many regrets except for one: I never wrote it about it. Little moments and cultural revelations that didn't overpower that radar, yet nonetheless were crucial to my growth and experience abroad have been lost in transition.

And now, though insignificant as it might seem, my walk through San Francisco on a busy Monday morning is worth writing about. Perhaps not the most exciting, but at least so that in 15 years I can more vividly remember.

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