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The salty spray with Diamant Rae The salty spray with Diamant Rae. Suenos Son.

Diamant Shaw

"After all, part of growing is the breakdown process. Breaking down old habits, leaving behind loved ones, giving up passions for new dreams. And as terrible or wonderful as that dream may become, Alice is still going to wake up one day and be back in Sunny southern California, wondering whatever happened to that far off Basque country."

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Suenos Son JettyGirl Surf Travel Feature

By Diamant Shaw

Y suenos, los suenos son…

Not far from the mouth of Cervantes, I have landed in my last few months here in Spain. And nothing has been as expected. I was quickly stripped of all my expectations for this year when the cold European rain started hitting San Sebastian. My dreams, my forethought images of Spain, my romantic ideals all got sloshed into a big puddle and swiped down a drain somewhere. Because all my forethoughts were simply dreams, and that's all they will ever really be in contrast to the reality I have experienced.

In Spain, this coming to terms with "life isn’t what you expected" is known as el disengano. The word encompasses the Spaniard on a historical, literary, and everyday level because let's face it, life is deceiving! We all set forth goals that often times are never accomplished. We expect things from people and look forward to events and the disappointment leaves us empty handed. People bring us down, things don't go as planned, and in Spain's case, the consequences of economical shifts, religious crusades and political repression have through the centuries worn on its people a sense of apathy.

And it's starting to rub off.

I don't just mean that I am simply beginning to care less or have settled to being ultimately depressed. I am far from that, though I should say I have felt rather sacrificial while here in the Basque country. It is really a strange feeling that I myself haven't quite discovered how it's come over me, but to say the least I think I understand this disengano that envelopes Spain.

First off I think my approach to looking at my life here has been altered by the very limit of my time. As an abroad student you go about your travels within a mix of the excited vacationer and the resident immigrant. You have a normal life, you can take things in at a slower pace, but at the same time there is always a tiny watch in your head, daunting you, urging you on to make the most of your time. The frugal, yet inexperienced traveler who wants to have that inside look at culture and family and acquaintances, and yet still combine a sight-seeing aspect that gives a complete and rounded picture of your destination. You have no real "in" and you have to learn step by step how the society functions without anyone's guidance or explanation. It starts like a vacation, begins to feel like forever, and then in the last few months you suddenly start changing your mindset, because you know you finally get to go home. Time is running out, so you start becoming really critical of your experiences and the society you are in because you are just a decoy. Like an undercover journalist, you pretend to fit in, to be one of the others, but you never really were.

Aside from the limits of time I have had to yield to many other inconveniences, frustrations and cultural blocks along the way. You won't find here what is known to us Americans as "customer service". Two months waiting to be hooked up for internet service for one small apartment taught me that. You won't be invited to concerts or family get-togethers in a gastronomical society….at least not until you show great interest and insist on coming. You won't get smiled at in the city buses, nor in the supermarket, nor walking down the street. Instead everyone just stares at everyone else, trying to look disinterested and haughty while they inspect your jacket and the way your mouth twitches uneasily. Even going to church, in such a religiously pious country as Spain has always been, denotes a community of past Christian autocracies and a bleak future of empty pews. As for outdoor sports you can wish those to high heaven before the rain will let up to allow you to go outside. And of surfing, or rather my lack thereof, I have had to practically give up in face of stormy weather and ice cold waters.

I've come to that point where I've soaked about just as much as I can from Spain, a sort of saturation point that just kinda wears on you. For the last few months I have been torn between my new budding vocabulary and ability to finally utilize castellano in a very fulfilling way, and yet at the same time distilling my own bitterness towards this country which has deprived me of everything I hold dear. Any surfer knows the torture of going months on end without ever touching your scalp to salt water! Let alone not having family of friends nearby to console oneself! After a year long of crazy mis-adventure trips, missing friends and making new ones, culture shock and living adjustments, all on top of school work and time differences, I for one could use a vacation!

I know I also encountered this kind of disillusionment when after months of tutoring a man in English, I had to beg him to invite me to dinner with him and his family. I have been spending a few hours every week with his daughter and him to speak and practice their English, but in the meantime I have really learned a lot and appreciated getting to know a real Basque family here in town. When I asked him about his gastronomical society (which is a tradition unique to the Basque country and requires an invitation) and expressed my interest he was shocked! That a young student who by the way, loves to cook and eat mind you (!), would want to come to have dinner and socialize outside of the job environment was by the look on his face, practically inconceivable! To me it was American BBQ-style logical, to him it was purely insane. Point be made, we had a wonderful dinner together. But are we really friends, or are we just acquaintances? Am I a close family contact or just another English teacher for the kids? I think in this way the culture gap has left me hanging, because as sincere as I can think people up to be, I can only dream them to be my true friends, knowing that in a month or two I will never really know.

For these and other reasons I have encountered this desengano. I am entirely not what I expected to be at the almost-end of my year here. And I don't expect I'll be answering most people's questions in the way they expect when I return. Because as many thousand words as a picture (or a whole scrapbook of which I have prepared) may give, it cannot prove to demonstrate but one of the true emotions I have felt here on this side of the planet.

There are some good sides to being completely apathetic. After weeks of ignoring the fact that my foot has been bothering me, I finally started inspecting my three dry little toes. I did one of those, "let's compare what it looks like to a picture on the internet" analyses, and sure enough, I apparently have athlete's foot. On my three toes. Which grew up on flip-flops and have probably never experienced so much "shoe time" in their existence! When I went to the pharmacy I cracked up. In Spain they call things on your toes "hongos" which literally means "mushrooms". So I'm still laughing and walking about in one sock trying to diminish my mushrooms!

So whether I'm finally loosening up at the prospect of going home or the springtime is finally bringing it out of me, I have been caring less and smiling more often. I'm not concerned as much in fitting in as I am in taking it all in. And the spring has offered more than enough. The greenery of the mountains surrounding San Sebastian and all of the North of Spain reminds one of the shire in Lord of the Rings. I have gone hiking and experienced first hand the stunning beauty of a country stemmed with such rich history in sheep farming and life dependant on the forest. Aside from my feat in being invited to dinner at a gastronomical society, I've been delecting in other good eats such as cidrerias, house dinners with friends, and sampling every invented pintxo (basque tapas) here in town. The Basque country is a true culinary king, although you won't find paella, your palette will not go deprived! And finally, having the chance to study here has really opened my eyes into cultural aspects that would have taken me years to glean out of one of my Basque friends. It's like having a trusted guidebook to tell you ins and outs about the society, so you can go out and really see them for yourself. Not only that, but speaking a new language, has filled me with a new confidence, and made life that much more relaxing to be able to communicate with ease.

So maybe Spain hasn't been all that bad. After all, part of growing is the breakdown process. Breaking down old habits, leaving behind loved ones, giving up passions for new dreams. And as terrible or wonderful as that dream may become, Alice is still going to wake up one day and be back in Sunny southern California, wondering whatever happened to that far off Basque country.

Until then, I'll be up to the unexpected, and trying to take in the last of my Spanish sueno.

Diamant Shaw

Previous Editions of The Salty Spray with Diamant Rae

"Language Lesson"

"The Sole of the Matter ...setting foot into cultural oddities"

"Wandering Around the World Word"


diamant shaw  teaching english

diamant shaw cooking


portugal tide pool

diamant shaw in front of old church


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