One of the reasons that I’m in Madrid now is because this is where my beau (known on these pages as Mr. Pants, or Don Pantalones) lives, and I’ve got the sort of career that gives me the flexibility, at least during the summer, to be where I want to be, rather than where I have to be.

I’m also here because I am “testing the waters” — not that the Río Manzanares actually has a lot of water this time of year. My intention is to establish my coaching business, to set up housekeeping, to build a community…

My Spanish circle, as a rule with a few notable exceptions, thinks I’m nuts. Here we are, in the midst of a crísis that has even my most sensible friends worried witless. Jobs are disappearing, the Socialist government is instituting salary cuts and contemplating changes to social welfare programs, and the cost of living keeps going up. Why in the world, they ask, would I leave the Land of Opportunity for Crísislandia? It’s a fair question.

The first answer is that I believe that any country can be a land of opportunity. It depends on what you want, how you define opportunity. If you want a six-figure income, a big house on a bigger lawn, and a land-crushing vehicle, though, Spain probably isn’t the place for you. The opportunities for those things aren’t great.

Those, however, aren’t the things I want. I’ve flirted with a six-figure income, and it nearly killed me. Big houses need big maintenance. Big lawns generate big water bills, and eat big chunks of leisure time. Driving a gigantor-mobile might be fun on the highway (as long as you’re not paying for the gas), but forget parallel parking on a city street so you can go to your favorite art gallery. I’ve opted out of wanting those things.

What I want, in fact, aren’t tangible things at all. I want experiences. Specifically, I want the experiences I have in Spain. I want to go to the greengrocer’s every morning, say hello and chat about the weather before I buy the veggies and fruit for lunch. To meet my sweetie at the end of the day in our favorite taverna, where the owner is a friend and always gives us a little extra treat with our glass of wine. To go away for the weekend to a nearby village where we can wander the streets, eat a big lunch, and then go back to our hotel and sleep it off. (This is a pretty long list, so in the interest of keeping my readers with me, I’ll stop — but you get the idea, I’m sure.)

The second, shorter, truer answer is that Spain is where I’m the most me.

It’s been that way since I first came in 1985, at 23, straight out of grad school. I had two suitcases, $500 in traveler’s checks (remember those?), and a one-way ticket. No job. I didn’t speak Spanish at all, though I’d studied French and was fairly fluent. I had exactly one friend, an American who’d done her master’s with me and who was in Madrid because her husband was working here.

I won’t say that I felt like this was where I was meant to be from the beginning — I had a good summer-long bout of culture-shock, and a lot of false starts when it came to making friends. But by the end of the first six months (which was as long as I’d planned to stay in total), I was figuring things out and putting down roots. And becoming Rubi. For six years, I built a career, and lived in a series of interesting neighborhoods,  and grew a circle of friends, many of whom are still in my life.

Then, lured by the illusory promise of big money, houses, cars, wardrobes, etc., I went back to the States. And from a professional standpoint, things went pretty well. (Uh-oh, there are those “things” again.) It took me nearly fifteen years to figure out that a career is not a life. And when I’d had just about enough of all that, I met Mr. Pants. Who is Spanish, who lives in Madrid. Who is interested in the same things I am. And the possibility of coming home to myself and who I really am swung open like a gate… and here I am.

So, dear ones, where is home for you, and why? Do tell!

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