Archive for September 2006

El individuo como el foco de la sociedad

September 28, 2006

Los pensadores griegos que hemos estudiado en clase, desde Péricles hasta Aristóteles, comparten la opinión que el estado es más importante que el individuo.  Aristóteles (y más tarde, Hobbes) la expresa en la manera más clara cuando dice que el estado es como un hombre y los ciudadanos los partes de su cuerpo.  Mientras el hombre retiene su identidad si pierde algunos partes, los partes pierden su sentido e identidad sin el resto del hombre.  En otras palabras, la totalidad de una sociedad es mejor que la suma de sus ciudadanos.  Estos son servidores del estado, y deben darle sus vidas con alegría.

Yo creo lo contrario, y no porque me falta el espíritu cívico.  Me gusta participar en las fiestas y las elecciones de mi estado, por ejemplo.  Lo tengo porque he visto el daño y la corrupción que resultan de un gobierno poderoso.  Para <lo bueno de todo>, los estados comunistas han matado docenas de millones de sus ciudadanos por las explotaciones colectivistas, los lugares de reeducación, las hambrunas planeadas, y las purgas ideológicas.  Con discursos similares a los de Péricles, Hitler convenció a los alemanes que fueron mejores que todos sus vecinos y los inspiró a atacarlos y invadirlos.  ¿Cuántas personas murieron por las ambiciones territoriales de los reyes europeos?

Y no es solamente los estados nacionales que abusan su poder.  Cada semana en mi estado de Indiana, leo historias en el periódico de diferentes oficiales corruptas que usan su poder o el dinero de los impuestos para sí mismo.  En mi propia ciudad, el gobierno quitó dos árboles del taller de mi abuela, sin explanación, derecho, o devolución, para sirvió su propia visión de cómo debe aparecer su calle.  Por todo esto, cuestiono la legitimidad del estado, desde el nivel nacional hasta el nivel municipal.  Si sus líderes son personas tan regulares y egoístas como yo, ¿por qué tendrían el derecho para hacer lo que quieren conmigo?

Claramente, el poder del estado no procede de la sabiduría excepcional de sus líderes.  Historia ha mostrado que son egoístas que actúan en su mejor interés, que es usualmente guardar o aumentar su poder.  Además, según el economista austriaca Friedrich Hayek, es imposible para un líder saber lo que es mejor para cada persona en el estado (Hayek).  Hay demasiadas variables y detalles diarios, en los negocios y en la vida en general, que el gobierno no puede saber.  Para una persona actuar en la mejor manera para sí mismo y para el estado, necesita la libertad para hacer sus propias decisiones.

Ni tiene el estado su poder de Dios tampoco.  La Biblia es nebulosa en el sujeto de gobierno.  Dios establece todas las leyes para los hebreos directamente en la Tora.  Cuida de los hebreos de los peligros de un rey: “…”  Nada de los diez mandamientos exigen lealtad al estado; Dios sólo quiere lealtad a sí mismo.  Jesús simplemente dice, “da a Cesar…”  Se somete a las autoridades durante la Pasión, pero en una manera oscura porque los pecados del estado solamente sirven sus goles.  Dice a Pilatos, “no tienes ningún poder pero…”  En mi opinión, la historia de Pilatos ilustra que es mejor para un líder poner en peligro su poder para proteger a un buen hombre que para tomar la vía más pragmática y vivir en infamia.

Pues, creo que la sociedad debe ser subsidiaria al individuo.  Cada ciudadano debe tener el derecho hacer lo que quiere, y su única obligación es obedecer la ley, si la ley es justa.  Como Hayek dijo, el individuo tiene la mejor idea de sus gustos y qué quiere.  Como Dios diría, el individuo tiene la mejor sabiduría de su vocación y qué debe hacer.  Pues, si cada individuo actúa en su mejor interés, y no hace daño a otras personas en el proceso (es por eso que estipulo que es necesario obedecer la ley, que debe protegernos de esto), cada persona alcanzará la mejor para sí mismo, y la sociedad, que es nada más que en grupo de personas, será lo mejor posible.  Si una persona decide empezar una familia, tiene la responsabilidad cuidar para sus hijos porque son personas dependientes y no pueden sobrevivir sólo.  El ciudadano deber tener la misma filosofía con sus padres viejos.

Debo explicar qué significa la frase “ley justa” porque claramente tengo una visión diferente de la de la Comunidad de Madrid.  Una ley justa previene la violación de uno de los derechos fundamentales de un ciudadano, para que uso el modelo de Locke: la vida, la libertad (habla, prensa, religión, reunión, petición), y la propiedad.  Estoy sospechoso de todas las regulaciones porque castiga a una persona antes de que un delito haya ocurrido, como la ley madrileña que prohíbe modelas quienes son demasiadas delgadas.  Apoyo el derecho a la policía para parar y encarcelar criminales porque a veces es necesario limitar los derechos de otros para liberar los demás, y un criminal, por violando otros, ha violado su contrato son la sociedad y pierde los derechos a la libertad que tiene sus paisanos.

Esto me toma naturalmente a la cuestión de cuándo una persona debe dar su vida para su país.  Soy un partidario de la teoría de guerra justa de San Tomás de Aquino, pues creo que un ciudadano sólo debe luchar y darse la vida para una causa moral: la defensa de la vida o de la libertad de sus paisanos o de otros.  Si su país entra tal lucha, el ciudadano puede apoyarlo, por el ejército o sólo en espíritu.  Estoy opuesto a la llamada a filas porque creo que siempre tendremos bastantes voluntarios para una lucha defensiva.  Personas tienen deseos fuertes para proteger a sus familias.  Cada ciudadano debe usar su propia conciencia para hacer estas decisiones, pues apoyo el derecho del objetor de conciencia si uno cree que la lucha es injusta.

Finalmente, me voy a criticar los pensadores griegos desde el punto de vista de mi filosofía.  El lógico de Péricles es sospechosísimo.  La calidad de la vida en Atenas y su superioridad a Esparta no es una causa moral para la guerra, especialmente porque esta lucha fue una invasión ofensiva por Atenas.  No defiende ningunos de los derechos principales.  Pues los soldados no murieron para proteger sus familias y sus vidas; por contrario, murieron para la ambición de sus líderes.  Esto no es un sacrificio justo de los individuales y diminuye la gloria de Atenas en mi opinión.

Sócrates murió para el estado en otra manera: se quedó en su cárcel aunque supiera que Atenas fuera a matarlo porque creía que es mal violar las leyes su estado.  Tengo comentas sobre unas de las premisas de la situación.  Creo que el estado sólo debe matar a otra persona si es necesario para proteger las vidas y las libertades de sus otros ciudadanos.  Porque Sócrates no fue una amenaza a la vida de nadie, me parece injusta su sentencia.  Además, el contrato social entre Sócrates y Atenas que él menciona en el Crito me parece similar al contrato entre dos hombres juiciosos, uno de que se pone loco después.  Según Platón, este evento se anula el contrato (República 331c-d).  Me parece que Atenas fue loca en esa época, y conjunto con la injusticia de su sentencia, Sócrates podría salirse de la cárcel sin culpa.  Pero defiero a su conciencia, que siguió al máximo.

Estoy de acuerdo con Platón que el estado ideal es imposible y las leyes, no los elites, deben gobernar un país, pero tengo problemas con algunas de sus proposiciones en la República.  Su propuesto para censurar el arte me parece una violación de la libertad.  Peor es su apoyo para tener todos los maridos y los niños en común, que es contrario al deseo natural, que podemos ver en casi todas las culturas, de los hombres para crear familias.  ¿Si dos personas quieren hacer esto, porque a los pararía Platón?  Y lo que me da lo más asco es su apoyo para matar a los niños desfigurados.  Este tipo de ingeniero social es un delito grave contra el derecho de los niños para vivir.

Como he dicho antes, Aristóteles es un partidario de la supremacía del estado sobre el individuo, y la clave filosófica entre nosotros se manifiesta en más que las metáforas.  Su argumento que algunas personas son nacidas para ser esclavos es una violación fundamental de mis principales de libertad individual.  Es muy problemático que él clasifica las mujeres con la propiedad, también.  Ya ha negado los derechos de más de un mitad de la sociedad.  Finalmente, porque valúo la conciencia, tengo que negar su declaración que es mejor para ser buen ciudadano que para ser buen hombre.

En nuestra edad, con los medios de comunicación como la televisión más cerca de nuestros hogares y más ruidosas que jamás ha sido en el pasado, es fácil considerar la sociedad como un organismo todopoderoso, pero es una equivocación.  Lo que nos forma lo más no es el estado; es nuestra familia y nuestros amigos.  Nunca encontramos la mítica <sociedad>, sólo otros individuos.  Pues nuestras instituciones deben servir y deferir a nosotros.  Demasiadas veces lo que hacemos para <lo bueno de todo> resulta en lo malo de todo.  El individuo no es una pieza del engranaje de la sociedad; por contrario, es su foco.

Bibliografía

  1. Hayek, Friedrich.  “The Use of Knowledge in Society.”  <http://www.econlib.org/library/Essays/hykKnw1.html&gt;.
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The Spanish Inquisition: Life As An Adventurer

September 20, 2006

The morning I posted my last column, classes started, and I soon realized that in terms of its interest in the bottle and its disinterest in assimilating into Spain, the lion’s share of this group is no different than the last one. Despite all the words I wrote in July about how much I loved the summer trip, then, as now, I was often restless among the crowd and yearning to strike out on my own. This time I know the ropes, so that’s exactly what I’ve done. My fellow Dukies aren’t bad people; we’ll likely still all be friends when this is over. We just have different philosophies about study abroad. Our program is titled “Duke in Madrid,” and that’s what they’re trying to achieve: the Duke life with a dash of salsa. From traveling in packs to recounting their adventures with Facebook albums, complete with internal monologue, this is Duke through and through. I have to laugh when I remember the night in Seville when all 49 of us entered the same bar and talked only amongst each other. Even the bilingual students are speaking English, and why not? To speak Spanish so well when everyone else does it so poorly is a little embarrassing. The nail that sticks up is the nail that gets hammered down.

For me, though, Duke in Madrid is an invitation to disappear into the country while still earning university credit. Every weekend, I’m taking a solo visit to a certain Spanish city or region. I speak more Spanish, meet more people, and have more freedom that way. I’d never planned or even taken a road trip before this semester, so I’ve learned some things the hard way, but on the whole, my experiences have been immensely rewarding. Here are the highlights of the last couple weeks.

Granada

Technically, I made this trip with the program, but I was already mentally separating myself from the others here. Here, I could relax and appreciate the details. I remember a common street which became beautiful in the night when it was submerged in golden light and a closed pawn shop whose wares were bathed in blue. I remember standing downwind from the Street of Spices so I could covertly bask in its beautiful saffron smell. I remember eating lunch next to the city fountain so I could feel the caress of its mist. I remember seeing and eating grenadines for the first time when I found shade beneath one of their trees in the middle of the afternoon. I remember the clouds that gathered ominously overhead for hours so they could release two fitful minutes of rain.

But what I remember most is the tranquility and the sadness of the Alhambra, the royal palace the Muslim kings built in the 13th century so they could insulate themselves from a world which by then brought only intrigue and bad tidings. In each room, there were new flowers, new designs on the walls, and new sets of shadows. In each garden, I could hear the soothing sound of running water. The apogee of the visit was our climb to the top of the military building’s watchtower. As I paced the battlements, I imagined myself in the place of the last king of the Moors in 1492, looking into the horizon of my beloved country and seeing Spanish soldiers surrounding him on every side. Since 711, his people had ruled some part of the country, and on his watch, they were losing it. How empty must he have felt, standing there with 781 years of history weighing on him and saying, “It’s over”? As a Christian, I’m glad it happened. As a human being, I felt a terrible sadness every minute I spent in the Alhambra after that, for the ghosts were speaking to me.

Afterwards, our bus traversed the well-worn route to Seville, through the heart of Andalucía, the southern region of Spain famous for its unique clothing, lusty gypsy women, and flamenco. Its vast dehydrated expanses are mind-boggling. I saw fields upon fields of olive trees that grew from the soil from which grass could not. I saw ranchers driving bulls and cows down dusty trails but not a single farmer in the fields. An especially impressive part of the Andalucía drive is the treacherous route from Madrid to Córdoba: sometimes, it is merely a pair of two-lane roads which wind around parallel mountain ranges with only a meager guardrail between one’s rightmost tires and the abyss. Other times, twenty feet of naked stone flank many of the roads on both sides, betraying that these passes were work of dynamite. Yet the drive is peaceful in a way American road trips cannot be: the only roadside billboards in this country are the 100×200 foot black wooden silhouettes of bulls which one passes every hundred miles or so. These advertisements for Spanish culture are subtler and nobler than any of the car dealers and television news teams that shout through our windshields every day.

Seville

I had already visited this town in the summer, but it did not bore me on the second trip. Rather, I felt comfortable from the moment I arrived. I was happy to see old friends such as the Alcázar (another Muslim palace), the glorious Cathedral, and the countless small, winding streets. (To traverse Seville, you don’t pick a street: you pick a general direction.) Alas, the orange trees were not blooming this time, so my Duke friends could not see the streets as they are meant to be: laden with citrus.

Yet the best leg of this visit was not any of the famous sites: rather, it was a visit that I paid with a few ladies to a flamenco bar on the other side of the water. From the moment we walked in, I could tell we weren’t welcome. The place was packed with middle-aged Spaniards who had some to enjoy some homemade flamenco performed by their friends: a guitarist, a rhythmist (clapping and foot-stomping and shouted encouragements such as “Vale, vale” to the performers), and an older couple, who, judging from the photographs on the wall, had been running the establishment for decades. When we four Americans entered, we received suspicious stares. As all Spaniards know, and as a young Sevillan had told us earlier in the night, groups Americans are loud drunkards who immediately change the atmosphere anywhere they go. So we stayed quiet and ordered drinks, and eventually, we were forgotten.

We enjoyed at least two dozen local tunes, almost all of which were about tortured love. Though the performers couldn’t move or sing like they once did, their passion for the music and for each other was still palpable. The biggest surprise of all came at the end, when all the lights were extinguished save a solitary candle below a statuette of the Virgin Mary on the back mantle. The three male performers turned and gave three songs to Our Lady. Then the bar closed for the night, but not before I met three nice Midwestern girls who had happened into the same bar. I left my Duke friends behind and talked to them, and one in particular, until la madrugada (the gloaming), after which I skipped and danced down the streets and across the river to my hotel, at which I conversed with the hotelier about his life, in his language, for half an hour.

Cádiz

After Seville, we had free reign to go wherever we wanted. Most of the group chose Marbella, a cosmopolitan beach town similar to, say, Cancun. Others, myself included, struck out for Cádiz, an island city which the Phoenicians founded three thousand years ago. I only saw the other Dukies in passing because I took this trip alone.

Cádiz is the hometown of Ignacio, the director of our last trip. He is a good spiritual adviser and a great friend, so I was determined to see the place he loved so much. I especially wanted to stand on the city ramparts and watch the moonlight over the water, for this was a subject of one of Ignacio’s favorite songs. So resolute was I that I bought my train tickets the day we left for Andalucía, though I didn’t find a hostel until the day before I arrived after calling two dozen.

It seemed like all the nations of the world were in town that weekend. There was Raúl, an 18-year old native whose family owned my hostel. When I remarked that he had the same name as Spain’s most famous soccer player, he got upset. (His athletic namesake is getting older, and he’s suffered many disappointments in the last few years, so his fickle fans are turning on him.) When he wasn’t changing the sheets, Raúl spent his time cooing over and touching his German girlfriend, who had moved to Spain to study flamenco guitar and seemed surprised but flattered by the attention. Campbell, a middle-aged Australian man, was spending en route from Lisbon to Switzerland along the Spanish coastline. He was especially excited about visiting Gibraltar, still a British territory, where he could speak his native language. Basil was a Romanian street accordion player who lived in the hostel when he wasn’t making road trips to play in other cities. He made 35 euro a day, spent 10 euro on his room and some of the rest on food, and shipped the remainder across Europe to his family. Poor as he was, he still offered to share his handle of beer with me, which I accepted.

That night, I enjoyed the town’s 25th annual flamenco singing contest. There I befriended Bast, a Swiss student who was trying to learn Spanish, himself. He told me that in Switzerland, getting a woman to hook up with you is much more complicated than it is in America. The final friend I made in Cádiz was a Spanish history student, about 30 years old by my reckoning, named Alfredo. We shared dinner and ice cream. Because he was bald and had a very intense look on his face, and because he randomly introduced himself to me while I was alone on the beach at night, I was afraid for the first 30 or 45 minutes of our conversation that he was going to kidnap me, rob me, or rape me, but I decided I could win a fight with him, and now, we’re pals. I can’t say that about the three teens who accosted me one night and continuously offered me drugs and joshed with me in their incomprehensible southern accent. So far, I love my South American peers, but I can’t say the same about young Spaniards.

In Cádiz, as in Granada, I saw many beautiful things. My camera malfunctioned on this trip, though, so I can only show them to you with my song. I did sit on the ramparts and watch the moon over the water, but what struck me more about nighttime there was the beautiful relationship between electric light and water. I must have watched the ocean dance under the street lamps for hours, and night on the beach was even more magical. It was low tide, and the pools of water reflected and distorted the traffic lights above them such that I saw green, yellow, red, and white streaks a hundred feet long on the sands. As people walked across the water, I saw their perfect mirror images moving in the water below. I could see hundreds of rivulets of water running back into the ocean at one glance, a sight more exciting than any of the explosions I’ve witnessed on the movie screens. I could see three of my shadows at once, and when I extended my arms, it was like seeing the three men hanging on the cross at Calvary. There was the constant spinning motion of the lighthouse, searching for ships, and finally I noticed the sound of the waves, which never stops and never will. That night was a spiritual experience with every moment bringing a new miracle.

Extremadura

Alfredo suggested that I take a weekend to visit Extremadura, the poor western region of Spain, and after Nuria, our current program director, told me that was her home region and drew me maps of places to go, I had to do so. (The other students who traveled that weekend went to a little town in the Netherlands which is popular among American youth for some reason.) My voyage to Extremadura was fraught with complications, but each one simply led to new adventures.

After spending hours grappling with complicated bus schedules, rigid train rules, and unfortunate subway breakdowns, I finally left Madrid last Friday, on my 3rd ticket out, at the 3rd station I visited, having inverted my travel plans three or four times. At this point, still numb from all the misfortune which had befallen me, my luck turned for the better: a group of Dukies participating in NYU’s Madrid program was also in that station, as was my Boston University, so we chatted for a while. On my bus, I sat next to a cute Spanish engineering student named Lourdes. We talked for an hour or so, though I get the feeling I was more excited about speaking her language than she was because she kept nodding off to sleep.

I made my exit at a hamlet named Trujillo. I ate lunch at a restaurant called the Mesón La Troya, which styled itself as the last old-school traveler’s restaurant in the country. The food was plentiful and the price amazing. For 15 euro, I received: a bottle of water, a bottle of Sprite, a bottle of red wine, a loaf of bread, a large bowl of salad, a Spanish tortilla, six slices of Iberian sausage, gazpacho (cold tomato soup, first course, choice of 7), beef (main course, choice of 7), and a tart (choice of 5 desserts). That’s hospitality! I didn’t have to eat again for 24 hours.

Next, I toured the steadfastly medieval historical section. Never have I visited a city that was so peaceful. I had a plateau overlooking the countryside all to myself for twenty minutes. All I could hear were the wind, the calm rush of passing cars (which sounds a lot like wind itself), and a pack of dogs which set to barking now and again. The rock walls used by feudal farmers to mark their territory so long ago coursed across the landscape like veins. Ancient, abandoned houses dotted the landscape just as they do all over Extremadura. When I looked at the castle turrets all around me, or when I ducked through abandoned doorways into rocks and trees in full autumnal splendor, I felt like I was inside one of the Final Fantasy games I played in my youth. Here I was in medieval Spain, among castles, rocks, ponds, and plains traversed from time immemorial, living the dream.

Alas, misadventure raised its ugly head again. I took a misstep descending the stairs in an ancient cathedral bell tower and sprained my ankle so badly I’m still feeling it today. (I blame my host mother for putting too much food in my backpack and myself for bringing too many books.) I dragged myself a half-mile back to the bus station, bought a ticket to Cáceres, the regional capital, from which I was due to return home by train the next day, canceled my plans to go hiking in the valley.

A sprained ankle is a low-pain, high-pity kind of injury. A limping man looks more pathetic than a man in a wheelchair because the cause of the first man’s condition is so painfully obvious. So, I was feeling especially vulnerable on this evening, and as a result I could open up and make lots of friends. On my bus to the capital, I sat next to a pretty young lawyer who laughed a lot. I love talking to people with cheerful laughter (not to mention pretty women), so we made the hour pass quickly. I met two ladies from Chile who were taking a vacation from their husbands and grown children in the old country. They gave me their addresses and offered to shelter me if I ever visit Santiago. A Spanish lady who talked too fast even for the Chileans took me to the hospital. She kept asking me what I would have done without her so I could respond “I don’t know; thank you so much.” At the hospital, I met many spinsters who were hanging out there with various complaints. “How unfortunate to get injured on a vacation,” they told me. “Well, it’s just another adventure,” said I, which made them laugh and repeat the line to each other for the next twenty seconds. After my ankle was wrapped, I even came back to the emergency room (which runs just as slowly as the US version, if not worse) and said goodbye to them. I’ve learned that “I’m an American student” is a sufficient conversation starter for anyone who’s older than I am.

Cáceres is renowned in Spain for the way it lights its historical district at night, so I simply had to stumble out to see it. It was worth the effort, for it was an entire district which looked like the golden street in Granada. The place which looked decrepit by day was timeless by night. This time, it was a set of trees which shone ethereal green under electric lights, a color not even the sun could have given them.

“It’s like stepping back into another century,” said José, the night worker of my hostel, of Cáceres. Indeed it is like that, as is all of Spain, but thanks to our inventions, we can see the beauty more easily than our ancestors ever could…if we would take the time to do it. With the conveniences, though, come noise and distraction. I know that I pump so much media into my head and rush from place to place so much that I can’t stop and see the what’s happening right next to me. On my trips, though, when I cut off from the world, I could see it more clearly. When I was alone, I was meeting people. Because I’ve always done the things that “good kids” did, like do my homework and go to church, I wondered if I was either independent or an adventurer. Here, I am both.

The Spanish Inquisition: Small Victories

September 4, 2006

The biggest surprise of my second tour is how comfortable I already feel here. My Spanish is much better than it was when I left; it’s as if my mind has been working on it behind my back for the last couple months. In May, I determined that when I could understand Mass, in which the words come rushed and slurred from decades of repetition, and music, in which they are stretched to fit the rhythm and stashed behind instruments, I’d be fluent. Already, when I concentrate, I can understand the majority of each. I’m no longer translating words into English to comprehend them. Rather, the Spanish goes directly from my ear to the inner, wordless workings of my mind. This language even feels like English sometimes. Writing and speaking it doesn’t take so much effort anymore. At times during this article, I’ve had to hit the backspace because I’ve started typing Spanish in the middle of a sentence. I’m even slowly cleaning up my lazy American accent.

Vocabulary is a constant challenge. I didn’t realize the sheer volume of words in the English language until I was speaking Spanish with my host family. Every few sentences, I’d hit a rhetorical roadblock and have to take the long way around it, such as saying “that which you put on a letter to pay the government to send it” in place of “stamp.” I used to consult my Spanish-English dictionary for every word I didn’t understand in the books I read, but when there are several dozen unknowns in a single chapter, I have to give up and plow through it. I have to use inference, like I did when I was reading the Indianapolis Star at age 10 and Bill Benner tossed out words like “sclerotic” to describe the mobility of Rick Smits. (Well, he didn’t actually use that one, but it suits the “Flying” Dutchman.) Yesterday, I went to the supermarket and simply read food labels for an hour and a half so I could learn words like napkin, anchovy, plum, and brains. (I can’t get that last image out of my head. Another surprise was seeing that none of the milk is refrigerated. No wonder it all tastes like it’s three weeks old.) Loitering in the market wasn’t my most exciting cultural experience, but I felt it was necessary if I wanted to be a viable Spaniard. This isn’t a struggle in which one, Gettysburg-like moment changes everything that comes after it; studying Spanish is a series of minor skirmishes with which I’ve struggled for seven years. Every day I take a little more ground.

The only time I feel like I’m out of my element now is night. Though the Madrid nightlife is world-famous, I didn’t go out very much on my first tour. I figured I’d merely speak English with the other Dukies or stumble through conversations with some Spaniards and look like a sot. Furthermore, I was so exhausted from my last semester at Duke that I wanted to take some time to reorganize my life. Now, I have my act together (at least until classes start), and I can take some risks. So, I went out Saturday night, met a couple other Dukies on the way (who, fortunately, want to speak Spanish with me), and danced and drank at some clubs with them until 2:45. After that, I spent an hour and fifteen minutes improvising my way home because I was alone; the metro was closed; I was miles from home, and I didn’t know the bus routes. (I felt like a badass when I got to my room unscathed, but those buses will never catch me unawares again.)

Though I felt uncomfortable in this strange new environment, I had a good time. Since I’m of legal age here in Spain, I started drinking in May, but I’ve never jumped off the deep end and never shall. My host father puts wine on the table for lunch, dinner, and even breakfast, so I’m always building up my tolerance in a tasteful manner. Last night, I discovered that I would have to pay a lot of money to get drunk in this city. (Perhaps price works as a natural social control here.) As for dancing, I’ve always tried to avoid it, telling myself I should take a Duke class first, but I’ve got rhythm, so I might as well develop the style to go with it so I can bust some moves. (Then all I’ll need is love; who could ask for anything more?) I acquitted myself well out there and had fun, too.

My first impression of the Madrid scene is that it’s much more mature than Duke. At a typical frat party, I sometimes feel like I’m wading through the bodies of the fallen. Last night, however, I saw hundreds upon hundreds of people in clubs and on the streets, but only one of them was visibly drunk, and none were hooligans. Though youths dominated the streets, people of every age were enjoying the night. Parents were walking home with their children at 12:30. Old couples were still out at 2:00. People were enjoying themselves, but they were also relaxed. One of the night’s indelible images was a plaza into which I wandered at 3:30 which buzzing with hundreds of youth, including a few street performers. Nobody was intoxicated; nobody was belligerent; they were just talking and smoking, whiling away the morning in peace. It’s a shame that our own drinking culture has to be so destructive.

The best discovery of the night, though, was Spanish pop music. Sure, the Spaniards in the club would dance to American songs, but when one of their own would play, they’d cute loose and dance from the jukebox and jump up and down. Sure, their pop sounds almost exactly like ours, but it feels so fresh! Perhaps our songs spend too much time in production to sound natural. Perhaps the subtle Latin overtones (salsa beats, harmonic scales) spice everything up. Perhaps our music moguls aren’t finding the most talented artists, so our songs are more banal. Most likely, the language difference is simply fooling me into thinking I hear something new. That’s fine with me. I’d rather enjoy music than hate it. I bought a radio so I can attune myself to the Spanish sound. (By the way, Spanish rap videos look like American rap videos…from the ‘80s. It’s a riot to see their white boys acting tough.)

I feel the same way about the music that I do about the whole city. Here, everything that was old is new again. I’m again a child looking at the world with wide-eyed wonder. That’s the magic of study abroad. This trip will likely be even better than the first.