Guest Blogger Jose Patino writes of important realisations on a trip to the north…
I’d come back to Spain to spend some time rediscovering the country I’d come to love as a nineteen year old. I wanted to find her as an old flame that had not changed, but became jilted as it was not the same country that I had left. I went north to visit a friend who was studying in Bilbao hoping to discover something new.
I walked along the Nervion River and took a ride up an outdoor elevator (only in Spain!) through the expansive Parque Extebarria with its amazing vistas of the city that sits in the valley of emerald hills. I walked into a lazy café outside of the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Begona, and this is what I wrote:
Here it lays, the Spain that I’ve been looking for since I left so long ago. It is a place equally exotic and comfortable. The Basque country was always some place alien and foreboding. The preconceptions of Basque separatism cast a cloud over this place, making it seem less inviting than Andalucia or Madrid; places that I’ve known and have embodied essential Spain. This place lies hidden like a glen in the middle of a forest.
It feels different than the Spain that I am familiar with. It is clear that this place remained hidden from the Moors and all of the other modern day invaders of Spain. The great catalyst of the changing face of Spain has again run against the mountains and washed back like waves against a bluff.
My friend Karina is in a rush to go back to America and begin the rat race again. She loves it here, and she knows that she can come back, but I didn’t have the heart to tell her… you can never come back. This thing that she’s found here is not a place that can be easily found again; to be reached by plane, train, or bus.
This is a moment. A moment in life that once left may never be had again. Unlike a place, moments can never be returned to.
I’ve spent the last eight years trying to reconnect with mine, and I thought that this was my opportunity. I rented a room in Madrid wishing and hoping for it again, but as I walked the streets, I began to feel something at the corner of recognizance. I didn’t realize it until I arrived here in Bilbao.
Spain has opened to the great immigration of our time. It is no longer the isolated peninsula whose modest economy and society kept the hordes at bay on its beaches. It is now a pluralistic society seemingly displeased with the fact that it has become so.
There is no magic or singularity in it which, I realize now, was what distinguished it in the first place. It was so different from my American society, but now with its new found European prosperity; its problems are now similar: poverty, immigration, housing, finance, obesity, decline of education, and loss of traditional values.
I used to think that the Basques were being stubborn and selfish by ardently refusing to centralize, but after only one day cut off from Madrid, I realize what they have been fighting for; what they are fighting against.
The fight is to remain free, yes, but more importantly it is the fight to remain singular, special and unique as they always have been. The fight to protect their identity and their culture may be in vain. They have built their country behind the mountains and from places like this, the reconquista began.
Hopefully their mountains are still strong enough to ward off the tsunami of globalization and help maintain their singularity. Moments like these are vital, and if missed, they can never be had again.