Guest Author Kim Brounstein is a lover of food and music, a former UCLA Bruin, and a Los Angeles native. She has come back to the United States after spending two glorious years teaching English (and a bit of yoga) in Spain.
Two months ago I returned to the home of the brave and the land of the free, after two years of eating and stumbling, I mean teaching English, throughout Spain. It hasn’t been difficult, but it hasn’t proved easy either. I’m often asked, “So…how are you adjusting? You miss the siesta, huh. So, now what?” These questions turn me on, not in a sexual way, at least I don’t think, but something inside me is triggered. It feels a lot like spring diving into an infinity pool of mixed feelings and memories. Coming back to Los Angeles (Manhattan Beach specifically) is exactly like that moment when you swim from the shallow end of a pool to the really deep end; it’s a little isolating but exhilarating, and it forces you to open your eyes a little wider. It changes perspectives, affirms relationships and hombre (man), it literally changes everything. Here’s a rather abstract look at my swim from Madrid easy living back to the Los Angeles hustle.
I hope my perspectives don’t come off as me sounding ungrateful regarding the place I’ve returned to. It’s just that coming home to a place where everyone is so well preserved is strange, most have joined the bandwagon blacklisting bread, and soccer is never on the front-page spread. What I find worst of all, there is a “trail attendant” meaning cleaning lady, collecting peoples colonics bags, Whole Foods coffee cups, and former IPhone’s from Hollywood’s hiking spot, Runyon Canyon. Three years ago, prior to my time in Spain, I don’t think I would have been nearly as offended with any of this as I am now. Glorious they are, the abdominals and asses that can be scoped out at Runyon Canyon, and yes they are a wonderful consolation prize to those seeking virgin nature in LA. Be it my increasing age or that fact that last year I lived in a part of town where vagrants defecated in the elevator of my apartment building and a clan of junkies took up residency in my neighbor’s “unoccupied” flat, I find recently that I want to be more checking out, rather than checking in on some social media platform. I’m literally appalled that in my lifelong home, LA residents have taken the need of hired tidiness outside of their duplexes and into good ol’ fashion Mother Nature, because it seems no one has the time to clean up after themselves. As you maybe can tell, I become noticeably more concerned about the future of this planet when I return to LA.
Sometimes when I get really lost in thought, fine call it stoned if you will, I sit puzzling my life out, like an ITunes library holding thousands of songs and set on the random function. A few songs play, but then you push the “next” button, and maybe even twice more. The songs each resemble one of life’s many decisions and coincidences that build structure and direction for the future. What could’ve played next had I only been more aware or less fearful or open minded? Have I changed the course of something much larger than myself? I ponder. Do I call that Fate, a wise choice, a product of my mother, too much Korean BBQ? When I come home to LA, I always seem to reevaluate my choices in life and become far more reflective. I question my choices of living two years away from my family and friends, working in a field that doesn’t feel satisfying (education), and abusing my liver more than I’d like to admit. Being blissfully stoned, upon arrival in Los Angeles, is an effective way of dealing with the challenges of the Home/Spain shuffle.
I loved living in Spain. I loved the simplicity in everything, like the coffee, the rational behind why things didn’t work like they should, and the love of company and family. I adored eating dinner at 9:30pm, going out for drinks at 1:00am, and waking up the following day at noon. I liked that you didn’t need a car to get from A to B and the people are some of the most hospitable I have ever met. However, I’ve been experiencing a shift in emotions since returning home. Whether it’s this same simplicity, a residual hangover of the habitual cocktail I used to enjoy of jamon (ham), sulfides, and second-hand smoke that have caused my change in feeling, I don’t know. What I do know is that for as much shit I talk on the United States and Los Angeles in particular, it feels great to be back.
It’s a really hot day in late June, with temperatures reaching over 100 degrees by 10am in Madrid’s landlocked metropolis, and you already feel heavy and worn out from the heat. After having a café cortado at the bar downstairs, you attempt to stand, peeling that part where your butt meets your upper thigh off the chair, like stripping a sticky fruit roll-up from its transparent plastic wrapper. You start walking towards home. As you are walking, scanning desperately for a sliver of shade, the density of people trotting the streets becomes noticeably less. Forget about heading to the bank, the carniceria (butcher shop), or any government office. Opaque plastic window shades are loudly lowered almost simultaneously around the city. Smells are of braised meats, things being cooked with a lot of oil and tomato, and are sometimes spicy or smoky in the ethnic neighborhoods.
“What to do?” one may ask. The answer most likely will be to retreat for the afternoon, find a haven to hang in for a while, and just accept the fact that nothing arguably productive will be accomplished for the next few hours. In a way, it’s a lot like meditation, although there’s Spanish guitar being plucked by a gypsy instead of a gong, and the only deep breathing happening is the brash inhalation of a freshly rolled cigarette. I introduce to you, the siesta, and love it or hate it, it happens more or less throughout an entire country 365 days a year. Never having been privy to the midday nap, the siesta for me has a very negative effect. When I wake up from a 4pm snooze, I feel like things just aren’t right in the world, nothing makes the least bit of sense, and I’m starving, which is of no real surprise to those who know me. Although, ask most extranjero (foreign) English teachers, and the majority of us are not able to enjoy the bittersweet joys of the siesta, because usually you are commuting between schools, private residences, au-pair responsibilities, or the like to speak your native tongue and get paid rather handsomely in return.
Although I lived on a salary that puts me far below the US poverty line, there is a designated nation-wide nap time, and some days my job consisted of repetitiously wiping the snot and fluids a second grader produces in winter-time off everything in sight (including myself), I felt like an adult for the first time ever. And that leads me to this introspection. Is there a way to achieve every thing I admire about my stateside friends who are working up the career hierarchy, but without the day-to-day conversations fumbling with pension plans, vacation days, and the sad absence of free time? On the contrary, isn’t it these adult-esque things that often produce the substance to all my shit talking regarding the place I call home? I have doubts of going back to living a foreigner’s life in Spain because of the lack of financial freedom I had and this internal need to move in the direction of a career instead of being paid just to speak English. I say this now, and soon I’m sure I will regret it, but I crave the entry-level limbo and deeply want to begin creating something that is satisfying and challenging.
Lucky. That’s my answer to the “how do you feel now that you are back” question. Coming full circle to where this article embarked from, this five-letter word best describes how I feel about coming home. God damn am I lucky! Lucky to have traveled an amazing country, lucky to have learned a new language by lassoing a new culture by the neck and holding on tight, and lucky to have met some incredible people. In this process of acclimating to LA life, it will be my biggest challenge to stay 100% dedicated to pursuing the simplicity I found in Madrid, while using my newfound Adult to pursue whatever is next on this journey. I do recommend that no matter how cozy, distressed, or successful life seems, you must go and experience something very different, and I’m not talking about Burning Man or a Caribbean getaway. I spent a majority of my youth ascending alone in the elevators of psychiatrist’s offices, and thus I can safely say this. Spend your money on challenging your comfort zone, be patient, and do something that seems absolutely crazy. I speculate that if we all had this experience, the many differences travelers face between where you are from and where you have been wouldn’t be as shocking in the end. But hey, without this stark contrast between here and there, I wouldn’t have access to the words you just read.