‘The trip home always knocks me out of kilter’
Coming back to Co Meath rekindles the debate in my mind about the pros and cons of life in Spain, writes Alan Moran
I deserted the windy Irish shores for a land locked Madrid almost 12 years ago. Many Spanish summers have passed since then and now 36, I have slowly come to consider myself a product of both cultures. But La Navidad never really feels the same in my adopted country. I simply can’t seem to tune in. Perhaps it is because the Christmas carols don’t sound the same.
I no longer look at Spain with Irish eyes, nor do I expect to find Madrid on the streets of Dublin. I know only too well that the only place for me to be at this time of year is back home in Co Meath. It is only there that I can roast my feet at the fire while I get to grips again with milky tea, and newer flavours such as Niall Horan and Love-Hate.
No matter how happy and unrepentant I may be about my life as a Wild Goose, the trip home for the festive season always manages to knock me out of kilter. It is the easy flow of conversation, the neighbour’s back door, the courtesy on the streets and that intangible sense of belonging, nicely accompanied by marzipan, mince pies and Fanning’s Fab 50.
Acting as a well drilled team, these delights never fail to rekindle that debate in my mind about the pros and cons of my self-imposed exile. I suddenly become all too aware of what I am missing here or would possibly miss there. It is also when I return for my much-needed annual recalibration, where friends merrily take their amigo down a peg or two.
Experience has taught me that when you are at peace with yourself and your roots, life on foreign soil is always easier. In Spain, as in Ireland, locals will always gravitate towards the foreigner who is most comfortable with who they are and where they come from. In other words, the more at ease you are with kin and country, the better equipped you are to thrive abroad. There is no better time than Christmas for us wanderers to access and appreciate our Irish essence.
Sadly, for my siblings and I this has been our first Christmas without parents at the end of the table. That in itself changes the dynamic that someone living overseas has with their homeland. The festivities came to act as an unexpected tool for rebuilding my recently disoriented relationship with Irlanda. Spending Christmas in Ireland has functions and meanings like this for the Irish émigré that those based back home might fail to see.
I only ever begin to feel the festive spirit in Madrid airport on the Friday before Christmas. This ritual has become for me as much a part of Christmas as midnight mass once was. One year older, the same familiar faces turn up at the departure gate. While waiting to board, we all compete on who will be home for the longest and who managed to get their flight for the best price.
In this same queue there is always a rookie who in his first year tries to bring back the full leg of cured ham (not knowing that Irish humidity will soon give rise to mould). There is also the red haired five-year-old who makes us all feel inadequate by her ability to slip seamlessly between two languages. It is also the time when expatriates tend to bring newly found loves home for the very first time. It is quite an amusing sight as these love-struck foreigners wear expressions of lost children as they take in all around them.
Finally the EI flight number is called and the epic battle to squeeze and reshape solid presents into equally hard overhead lockers begins. This year, as in every other year, the aircraft successfully managed to defy both gravity and Christmas generosity. It was certainly a turbulent flight home due to bad weather all over the continent. The only difference was that the wind only chooses to speak to me in Ireland.
For more about emigrants’ Christmases at home in Ireland (including a great piece by Piaras Mac Einri about the empty rooms left behind by emigrant children, from a parent’s perspective), see yesterday’s newspaper piece, Flying visits: returning emigrants’ impressions of Christmas at home.