THE SKEWED VIEWED: Madrid is in the hearts of all who have been there
I woke up Thursday morning, March 11 to an instant message from my friend who told me of the terrorist attacks which transpired on four commuter trains at the Atocha Metro Station in Madrid, killing approximately 200 people and injuring another 1,500. I burst into tears because throughout last spring when I studied abroad there, I established several relationships with natives of the country, one of which was a little more intimate. I was worried that these people were part of the approximately 200 individuals who fell victim to the explosions. Events such as these evoke feelings of fear and sadness in many of us, but it was my personal connection to the city and its people that engendered a feeling of genuine horror. After living in the Spanish capital for five months, Madrid became my home. I frequently used the Atocha Metro stop when I had class at the Museo de Prado, which houses paintings by Goya and Velazquez. I recall getting a cup of caf con leche at this train station when my best friend from home came to visit me. We sat in Atocha sipping our coffee right before we walked to the Centro de Arte Reina Sof?a National Museum, which showcases Spanish modern art, including many of Salvador Dali's surrealist works and Pablo Picasso's "Guernica." I also remember when a bunch of my friends and I exited Atocha and walked a couple of blocks to Kapital, one of Madrid's most popular nightclubs.
March 11, 2004. This was Spain's 9/11. But after encountering several people both inside and outside the Brandeis community, they did not seem to be affected by it unless they knew people there or lived there for an extended period of time. This is unfortunate, because throughout my semester in Spain, several Spaniards were rather interested in 9/11: how and why it happened, how Americans dealt with it and how I was personally affected. I even went as far as having several lengthy discussions with members of my host family about it. They told me that the day that changed America happened during their comida, or main meal. They stopped eating to watch the news coverage, just like Americans did for several days following 9/11.
But more broadly, Spaniards seem to be in tune with aspects of American culture and life in general. The majority of the citizens were against the United States going to war with Iraq, and during my time in Madrid, they were rather active in expressing this. In addition to smaller protests at universities, there was one huge demonstration in Puerta del Sol, the center of Madrid. People wore shirts and held signs that read "No a la Guerra," which means "no to the War."
In my experience, however, I found that Spaniards were attuned to a particular version of American politics and culture; I had to correct a lot of misconceptions and generalizations they held about Americans. The Spaniard with whom I established an especially intimate relationship at first automatically thought I liked President Bush and was pro-war just because I was American. But I told him that not all Americans support our president, nor advocate sending U.S. troops to Iraq. He also did not understand that Americans don't stay out until 6 in the morning, like the Spaniards do. Despite his preconceived notions, I was able to answer many questions he had about American culture and lifestyles.
I do not expect all Americans to grieve for long periods of time, or even to pay tribute to the city of Madrid because I am aware that cultural gaps do exist between Europeans and Americans. Europeans are generally more interested in American affairs than U.S. citizens are in the politics of other countries. But, since I have a personal attachment to Spain, particularly Madrid, I know that Madrid will never be the same and hope that all the wounds in the lively city will soon heal. When I found out that everyone I knew in Spain was OK, it gave me great relief. And when I heard that the one Spaniard with whom I established an especially close relationship was unharmed, he said "Viva libertad, Viva paz y Viva EspaSa." Just knowing that Spaniards are showing pride for their country will be the first step in healing this vibrant place.
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