Learning to Be AstonishedNovember 24, 2011
The World in Your HandsDecember 13, 2011
I had a terrific time on my recent trip to Galicia, Spain, and I could give you many different reasons why. Among them: eating my way through the delicacies of the region (oh, the chorizo and empanada); taking a break from daily life (and its daily chores); being surrounded by a beautiful, inspiring city filled with history…and so on and so on. But if I had to highlight the best thing about my stay, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second: spending time with my dear cousin Finita.
Though we’re first cousins, I consider her the sister I never had. We’re both only children, with an age difference of just eight months, and our bond is even closer than that. We’ve shared many childhood summers, spent running around having a grand ‘ol time, getting into mischief, and generally growing up together. It was her parents’ apartment that was home base whenever Mom and I visited. (Though Dad spent time there as well, he often had to stay behind in New York or come back early because of work.) Finita’s mother and father, my dear departed Tío Celso (Mom’s brother) and Tía Mercedes (his wife), were like second parents to me.
In many ways, my cousin and I couldn’t be more different. She’s a sun worshipper, and I’m decidedly pro “chill in the air.” She’s always rushing to avoid being late (and usually failing), and I’m always ridiculously early, forced to walk laps around entire city blocks to kill time. She agonizes over every shopping decision as if it were the key to world peace, and I just about close my eyes and point—a method that, I’d be the first to acknowledge, has not always served me well. (Then again, I do get out of the store before the seasons change, so there is that…) But despite these differences, underneath all of the superficial stuff, deep down where it really counts, we’ve always understood and loved each other unconditionally.
Which is why the very thing that made this trip so perfect is also the thing that made it so damn hard. It’s the same problem I wrestled with as a kid during those summer visits. As happy as I was to be there, I always missed my home in New York—my friends and the rest of my family, and especially, Dad, when he couldn’t make the trip. But as soon as the summer drew to a close, and my Tío Celso drove us all to the airport to say our goodbyes, it felt like an important part of me was being excised, physically yanked out of my skin and bones, without the benefit of anesthetia.
It’s the classic quandary of the first-generation American: You are never entirely whole, no matter where you are. When you visit the country from which your family came, you’re the foreigner—ever the girl with the odd accent that no one can quite identify—missing your life in the US. But when you’re here, “at home”, you ache for the people and places in that other home across the ocean.
Seeing Finita is the best thing about visiting Galicia, and saying goodbye to her is, without a doubt, the worst. I guess I just have to keep reminding myself that, for as long as I call New York home, I can’t enjoy the first without enduring the second.