Last spring, as word was starting to get out around my school that I was retiring, one earnest Spanish 4 student came to ask me if it was true that I was leaving teaching in order to move to Spain. I laughed and told her that no, nice as that would be I wasn’t necessarily planning to move, it was just that after thirty passionate years in education it was time for me to try something else. But she was certainly onto something about me. For as long as I can remember, two very different parts of my personality have been at odds with each other. On the one hand, there’s the “ditch everything and travel the world” Lisa. On the other, there’s the “I love my home and family and friends and critters and book collection” Lisa. I’ve spent my whole adult life trying to navigate between the two, and my bookshelf as a result is full of tomes about people who have decided to start new lives in foreign countries. The book I just finished, Only in Spain, by Nellie Bennett (Sourcebooks, Inc, 2012), is just the latest in a series of titles stretching back to classics like Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun and Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence.
I picked up Bennett’s book because, well, it’s about Spain and if there’s one foreign country I’m most tempted to move to, it’s Spain! I was also fascinated by her premise, which is that after starting a flamenco dance class in her native Sydney, Australia, Bennett decides to further study the art form, first in a six-week program in Sevilla and then more seriously and permanently in Madrid. There is something about flamenco music and dance that really moves me, so I understand that compulsion – though fortunately for all involved I’ve never subjected any teacher or class to my ridiculous lack of coordination! I quite enjoyed Bennett’s writing style, it is funny and engaging. I did find, though, that there were aspects of her experience that annoyed me. When she moves to Madrid at the New Year, she is surprised to discover that she can’t immediately start her dance classes because Spain actually keeps celebrating the holidays through January 6 (Epiphany, or in Spanish, Día de los Reyes). I am continually amazed at how little effort people put into learning about new cultures and languages before going to other countries. With just a bit of reading or Internet research, for example, Bennett would have know that. She might have also discovered how very difficult it is to pursue a vegan diet in the country of ham “museums” on every corner, or that “running away with the gypsies” may be a stereotype fraught with opportunities to find oneself in dangerous situations. And I felt truly sorry for Iñaki, the Basque chef with whom she falls in love, but whose heart she ultimately breaks in her pursuit of “Why don’t you…?”.
Retirement has definitely presented me with ample time to contemplate my own “Why don’t you…?” scenarios. The temptation is always lurking in my subconscious to liquidate my assets and move to Barcelona, or possibly Malta (per an “International Living” list of best places to retire), or even Gettysburg, PA (my husband’s preference). But when I look around my house and think about packing up all my stuff, I get a bit overwhelmed. I mean, I probably couldn’t move all my books, and how would I decide which ones to keep? If I went overseas, what would be involved in bringing my kitties and my crazy pup, Reggie? What if my mom needed more assistance than she does now, could I stand to not be easily able to help her? I love Colorado, wouldn’t I miss my daily dose of mountain views on my walks, or camping in the summer, or skiing in the winter? Family is so important to me, would I be able to tolerate only seeing my kids, or my sister, or my mom, a few times a year?
Another favorite book on my shelf is Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are, and my retirement rest and reflection has led me to more easily embrace and understand this concept. While I’m not saying I won’t one day liquidate everything and move elsewhere, I ultimately end up realizing after reading books like Only in Spain that while the temptation is strong to play the “Who don’t you…?” game, for me the better option is to stay in the home and life I love and devote my energies to planning my next adventure(s): Iceland in March, the Hudson River Valley in September, Charleston in October…
In a previous post I mentioned this quote by one my favorite authors, Ann Tyler: “I read so I can live more than one life in more than one place.” Reading has always been the best way I’ve found to calm the conflict between the two sides of my personality. Unless I were to find millions of dollars hidden somewhere (highly unlikely for a retired school teacher!), I’ll never be able to travel as much as I imagine I would like. And truthfully, even if I could, there would still be trade-offs. In the end, reading has always been, and will always be, the best way for me to explore all the world has to offer!