A few weeks ago in choir, Mr. Foley told us to envision our favorite place: inside the local coffee shop, under the biggest tree in Loose Park, inside the cocoon of our beds. Basically, where we felt at home. Once we had that place in our minds, we began singing “Esta Tierra.”
“Don’t look for me in the grandeur of the mountains or the vastness of the sea, for I will be right here in this land, by the field and the river, where the sound echoes in the distance.”
When I searched everyone’s faces in the room, they all seemed calm. Serene. But I was wondering how that could even be; how could everyone so easily imagine that place they felt was their home, when I couldn’t think of a single place?
That was almost two months ago, and around seven weeks before we left for the Choraliers’ trip to Spain. Even with all of that time to consider it, I still couldn’t think of that place before we actually left. I didn’t have the same connection some people did to the song.
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After we landed, our first few days in Spain were spent stumbling through the cobblestone streets of Toledo and trying not to fall asleep on the bus rides there and back to our hotel. I couldn’t, and still cannot, speak Spanish, so whenever I was forced to have contact with anyone not in a highlighter-blue jacket I was completely lost. Even with my best friend Bethany, who’s been learning Spanish for five years, translating for me, it was utterly confusing.
When we drove to our second hotel location, Cordoba, a few days later, I was starting to get the hang of things. I could throw around “gracias” and “lo siento” like nobody’s business, and I’d managed to make peace with the fact that I couldn’t stay a vegan while abroad.
Honestly, the food there is beyond amazing. What was immediately apparent is that there, the Spaniards care about what they eat. There’s no corn syrup in their soda, and even their McDonald’s were treated as though they were a restaurant rather than a fast-food joint. Not staying vegan was a difficult decision to make, but as a vegetarian, I was able to let go and enjoy both the abundance of good food around me, and myself.
It was in Cordoba that I really started taking notice of the beauty that surrounded us. White-washed and built on its ancient history, the city was gorgeous. At night, the city’s most famous landmark, its mesquita, glowed in its center like a lighthouse beckoning us to stay.
Except for a day spent discovering the city, we bused out of Cordoba to tour other cities and landmarks around Spain. In Granada, we toured the Alhambra, a 600-year-old Moorish palace and discovered one of the city’s best souvenirs (including patterned pants, which half the girls in choir bought). The day after, in Sevilla, we explored the Alcazar. Formerly a Moorish fort, it was surrounded by palm trees and lush foliage. The architecture and tiles were breathtakingly intricate, with images tying back to both Islam and the cities themselves painted and scattered around both the Alhambra and the Alcazar. In Alcazar we even met some guys our age from Florence, and became fast friends (even though they couldn’t speak English, Spanish or French), as well as some kids from Paris. Despite language barriers we made a connection, and it was amazing.
We left Cordoba after only three days. Every second we spent there was too short, and it only reminded us that we had three days left in Spain. It was on the bus to Madrid, while our guide Sev was telling us about the city, that it really hit how soon we were going to be leaving Spain for good. After three days in Madrid, we’d be gone. Just like that.
While Toledo and Cordoba are both rich in history and culture, Madrid is entirely different. Built out of brick and stone, and larger than Paris by more than a million people, Madrid is truly a city.
It was in Madrid that Bethany and I invented a sort of game, the Hola Game, to truly get to know the inhabitants of the city. Walking down the street we would say Hola! to different people, trying to form personal connections for several seconds before these people walked out of our lives forever. And with each nod or wink or reciprocated hola, I fell in love with Madrid and its people. And each time we went out shopping or for a tour, Sev would always tell us to be careful and that she loved us. And so I fell in love with her, too.
In each of our base cities, Toledo, Cordoba and Madrid, we performed a concert. Our last concert in Spain was at the Iglesia San Cateyeno in Madrid, on our final night.
Surrounded by “Romeo + Juliet”-esque flashes of neon, the church was like nothing I’d seen before. Tall statues of Jesus and Mary lined the walls, and every painting frame had a violent gold sheen. After singing at a Catholic mass at the church, we filed to the front to perform our final set. Surprisingly, most of the church’s members stayed for our performance. They all cared. After glancing at Bethany, Sev and all my friends, my eyes rested on Mr. Foley as he began to conduct.
I can’t really pinpoint when exactly I lost myself. But at some point, everything ceased to matter except the choir, the music and Spain. And in the middle of our choir’s signature song, “Everlasting Voices,” I broke down. Along with about half of the choir, I started sobbing. I can’t even describe what I felt; the beauty and the people and the love around me were too much. I felt so much for everyone and everything. And then suddenly, it was over. We finished our last song, and as tears stained my dark blue robe even darker, we were given a standing ovation.
It’s hard to write or say anything that can do Spain, and my experience there, justice. The astounding kindness of the people around me, from waiters to Florentine tourists to our tour guides, was overwhelmingly touching. The country is filled with beauty, in its nature and history as well as in its architecture and natives. The connection to music that I discovered there is hard to put into words. It was amazing. It was inspiring. It’s the kind of connection that makes me lie down and start crying. And it’s the kind of connection that makes me want to keep crying every day because I know I’ll never have anything like it again.
The other day Mr. Foley asked us to think of that place again. Our home. And when I tried again, back in America, I smiled at the irony. My home is in the grandeur of the mountains and the vastness of the sea. My home is in Spain, and my heart is there, too.