No matter how many times I make the eight hour and thirty minute air trek between Atlanta and Madrid, the experience always evokes a familiar reflection: A jet bustling with excited and eager travelers takes off in the late evening. A few hours in the air, night begins to descend, seemingly more rapidly as we continue eastward, smoothly and steadily. Outside of the window is a pitch black expanse. A dark nothingness commences to blanket the plane. Below is the vast ocean, unperturbed by our excitement, for throughout history it has witnessed voyages of countless other vessels whether occupied by El Dorado-thirsty conquistadores, or adventure-seeking Vikings, or African slaves in less command of their destination and of their future.
It is difficult not to reflect on the historical movements that have taken place on the waters down below, beneath my feet -- movements that explain not simply my affinity for Hispanic culture, but in part, why I am here and what motivates me at this point in time.
Neither the excited chatter that surrounds me, nor the tasty meals and in-flight movies are hardly enough to pull me completely out from my reflective state-of-mind. Nonetheless, before sleep ever gets the opportunity to overtake my wakeful pensiveness, I see a premature dawn smile at me from the window. I am reminded of the power of transatlantic jet lag when the plane touches down in Barajas International Airport in the midst of Madrid's morning light, and I arrive at the perfect moment to witness the birth of a new day in one of the world's great cities. I haven't changed my watch yet. It still reads 1:15 am. Birmingham, Alabama, continues in its slumber.
Spain is beautiful, mystical, majestic. I have been here a number of times since my first visit as an undergraduate study abroad student in 1991. In that year I arrived on January 1st to a cold, grey Madrid. I was scared. I did not know exactly what to expect from a country that had been a significant part of my imagination since the smooth sounds and lovely lyrics of Al Jarreau's song "Spain (I can recall)," greeted me at home after school. Jarreau’s jazz tunes spoke to a nostalgic place within me.
The music encouraged in my head visions of a distant land that seemed in my mind's eye so ancient, so regal, yet so familiar -- a place that I vowed then to visit just once before I died of old age. I did not know then as a pre-adolescent boy that one day I would be teaching Spanish and investigating Spain's historical treasures, nor that doing so would take me to the land of my dreams more times than I would be capable of recalling before my 29th birthday.