a wandering woman writes

Monday, July 11, 2005


I carry my El Pais to my usual sidewalk cafe facing San Esteban. My regular waiter must be on vacation; a young waitress I haven't seen before answers when I pop my head inside the bar to order. A few minutes later she emerges with my tostada and olive oil, TWO coffees and TWO glasses of orange juice. She seems thoroughly shocked to find me alone. As she carries the extra coffee and juice back into the bar, she apologizes.... up.... and down... so quickly and with so many words I'm not sure I catch them all.

As if the only thing worst than being alone for breakfast is pointing out that someone else is alone for breakfast. Sorry, she says in at least fifty words, for some reason I assumed.....

I take a quick look around and notice that, as usual, I am the only table for one.


-Tienes pareja en Estados Unidos, claro.
-You have a relationship in the States, of course.

-No? Ah, then your partner lives in Spain, too, that's great.
-No tienes pareja? You're alone?

Incredulous party guests:
-She's alone here.

Yes, the friend who has introduced me explains. She's alone.

She's alone here.

The thing is, if I wasn't here alone, I'd likely just be somewhere else alone. Is it so different to be "alone" in another Western country than to be a native New Englander who's just moved to Southern California or a first-day city born freshman 1000 miles from home, deep in the heart of Midwestern farm country?

I've always been very comfortable in my own company. I am good at alone.

And what is alone, anyway? I've spent many a Los Angeles night alone in a room full of people. One of the things I love about my life here and the open, approachable character of the Spanish (even in famously reserved Castilla Leon) is that I almost never feel alone.


Spanish acquaintances have been telling me since my first visit in 2001 that I am not a typical American. I'm here, that's their evidence. If I were a typical American, I wouldn't be here.

Which gets me to thinking about the open mouthed "Oh I could never do that!! Move alone to another country?! ¡Imagínate!" stares.

I'm betting there's more than one wandering española in Chicago listening to incredulous lifelong Midwesterners ask her if she really is alone in the States.

Because they could never do that.

Sorry, but at the end of the day, who isn't here alone?

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