You think you know it all until you step in a pile of dog crap.
I came to Madrid wide-eyed and arrogant. Having been to Europe before, I believed myself an expert on the matter and impervious to the idea of being ignorant.
As I walked down the cobblestone side street reminiscent of Via della Scala I was reminded of Rome: the palpable anticipation that manifested itself as smiles and laughter as we walked to the bar; the lightly colored buildings that arched slightly above our heads; and the warm air that lulled us into a false sense of security, not aware of the impending heat of summer. My Rome-colored glasses were shattered when suddenly I lost traction and my right foot, cushioned by something that should have been picked up by the owner, slid a half step and I realized what had happened: the smell was instant, and so was the annoyance as I trailed behind my friends, dragging my foot on the road and cursing: “MIERDA!”
When we returned to the hotel, hoping that no one had smelled the mess at the bar or had noticed me walking on the balls of my feet to avoid tracking it through the hotel room, I couldn’t help but laugh a little. Granted, I was mad that my white and black Adidas Superstars had been stained brown, but also conflicted, because this was the wake up call I needed. Using the hotel bidet to clean my shoe, inadvertently flooding the bathroom floor in the process, I realized that I was allowing my past experiences to shape my view of the city, robbing it of its idiosyncrasy and unique beauty, while at the same time hindering my own personal growth. After cleaning my shoe, I went to bed still excited for what the next 10 weeks would hold, but before sleeping, I did a quick google search: in an effort to promote cleaner streets, Madrid had heavy penalties in place, from paying up to a 750 euro fine to having to work as a street cleaner for infractions, however enforcing the law is difficult, hence the droppings that fill the streets. My experience was one of the many driving the war against dog owners, and while not unique, I had for the first time experienced the city, I had experienced Madrid.
My experience in Rome has helped me to adjust to a new environment, and is valuable in that sense; yet, at the same time, it has the potential to create a false sense of familiarity: the trick is to find a balance. I realized that day that I would be stepping into a lot of crap while I am in Madrid: although I hope not literally, figuratively, I am looking forward to the new experiences, that while initially may be annoying, bring me into authentic encounters with the city that allow me to know the real Madrid, and provide me with unique experiences that are coupled with personal growth.