Be Careful What You Wish For

My son is living the life that I wish I had led. He lives in Madrid, Spain. He works for a Spanish company. He is a product designer. His apartment is a mile from the Prado, the Thyssen, the Reina Sophia and a number of smaller museums, including the remarkable Museo Sorolla, the artist's home turned museum in 1932, nine years after his death.

The street my son lives on
The street my son lives on is a side street that opens at one end onto a major paseo, Calle de Los Recoletos. It is named after a group of Catholic friars, mendicants who called themselves the Recollects. Recoletos is wider than most rivers.  It has a park going down the middle and elegant old buildings on either side.  It leads straight to the Prado and the Thyssen. The park is lined with benches.  There is even a café in the median strip.  You can take a train from the airport’s Terminal 4 to Recoletos. The ride takes twenty minutes.  It costs about $3.00.  The stop is less than a city block from my son’s apartment. I could spend days on the Recoletos and nights in my son’s apartment.  What a life that would be.

The side street where my son lives is only a few blocks long.  If you walk outside, turn left and walk a couple of hundred yards, the street dog legs to the left and changes its name. I like the inconstancy of that.

The streets in the neighborhood are laid out like a crazy quilt.  Nothing so simple as blocks where you turn left or right and never get lost.  I got lost two streets from the apartment.  It took several locals to set me straight. I like that, too. I mean that a resident in the area can be two streets away from the street my son’s apartment is on and declare that he has never heard of it.

It isn't a life that guarantees the proximity of museums that I regret not having lived.  It is the life one experiences being in a culture but not of it. That, I suppose, is the life of the ex-pat.  My son is not Spanish, of course. Yet he lives among them the way I once saw an addax that had been adopted by a herd of wildebeest. It isn't that he is tolerated so much as overlooked.

I think that is the essence of what I miss, the relief of a life among people who overlook you. Certainly for many being invisible is a curse.  Think of Ralph Ellison's angry The Invisible Man. But for me it would be such a relief not to have to comply with the rules of the game.  No expectations to be met.  No teams to root for.  No candidates to vote for.  No principles to stand up for. The most important question would be what café to lunch at, drink wine at, take espresso in.

Be careful, they say, what you wish for.  But that is precisely what I wish for: not to have to be careful.