Memories of Spain

I follow this photographer on Instagram, Jamie Beck, and she recently came out with a book titled An American in Provence. Her writing is bringing back a flood of memories from my time in Spain and she’s put to words how my living abroad shaped a lot of my creative process. Her trajectory is different from mine in that she had already found her creative calling and then went to France. I was totally lost with what to do with my life after graduating from college and not really feeling architecture. And even after spending three years in Spain hoping I’d figure it out, I didn’t. It took another year for me to find metalsmithing.

I moved to Spain at a rough time. It was 2012 and there was still a big economic slump from The Recession here in the US and it was no different (and much worse) in Spain. The Spanish government had set up this program to invite native English speakers to come teach in their public schools. It was competitive, it was first-come-first-serve, and they only allowed 1500 people into this program. This was open internationally, to the US, Canada, Ireland, Great Britain, Australia, like anywhere where English was spoken.

The problem with this job was that—at the time—40% of Spaniards aged 18 to 36 were unemployed. FORTY PERCENT. That number is one I still can’t wrap my mind around and something we’ve never experienced in our lifetimes as Americans. And yet, here was the Spanish government giving jobs to Americans/English speakers instead of to their own people.

While it was an overall positive experience and no one really said anything to us, I couldn’t help but think about that giant problem. And because I was so aware of this issue, I put in my all. I made sure that even though I was just a teacher’s assistant, that I went beyond and above what I was getting paid.

And that’s another thing, the pay. I was paid 700 euros a month which by our standards isn’t much (equates to roughly $800/month). Over there, that was a very good job because any job that paid you was a very good job. These 700 euros covered my apartment, my bills, my food, and my travels. I made those 700 euros stretch and still had a blast.

I was getting paid just enough and learning to live within my means and be frugal. I never took anything for granted while I was there because I was given an immense opportunity. And that is something that I carried back with me and almost can’t unsee. I can’t unsee my coworker’s husband becoming unemployed at 50 and having no doors open to him ever again. I can’t un-hear how one of my friend’s was excited for getting a job with twice the hours I put in and getting paid half.

But there was this other side that confused me just as much in a really good way. The same people who were struggling to make ends meet, would invite me to have a big lunch at their house every weekend. These people brought me into their homes, treated me like family, hugged me, accepted me, joked with me, drank with me, their kids became my friends.

It was a totally surreal experience if I’m honest, somehow shaping how I navigate through my life here in New Mexico and my creative process. I saw the hardships of others, lived in it with them, and it taught me how to go with the waves of ups and downs, even within jewelry. Jewelry is obviously not a stable job and I'm not one of those jewelers who can just make and make and make and have a solid income. I have moments when it comes and goes, but because of my experience in Spain I know how to live with it.

That’s all for today. I will be writing more about Spain, my time living there and how it shaped my jewelry and business. Thanks for reading.