Since I arrived in Spain going on three months ago, how the time has flown, I’ve felt like I’ve been living in the filming of an ongoing movie. The film, its title, cast, and costume change by the day. The genre is usually adventure, or romantic comedy or just plain comedy. Sometimes even tragedy on the days I’m feeling really dramatic and the smallest problem brings on tears – but I’ve decided that’s just what happens when you’re in a foreign country and your mom is so far away… Each day is surreal. I imagine that the accordionist I pass by everyday on the street corner, or the buskers in the subway are all playing the soundtrack to my very romantic life in the city of Madrid. And though this all must sound very theatrical and perhaps even a bit egocentric, it’s the only way I can describe this amazing experience that is my year in Spain. It’s exciting and bizarre and often dreamlike. I feel so lucky to be here that its almost as if it can’t possibly be my life, but some movie.
The most recent chapter of this film occurred around 3 in the morning last Thursday on my walk home from a night of juerga. My boots of Spanish leather, recently acquired in Sevilla, and I clicked down the empty sidewalks of Madrid, exhausted but in the highest of spirits. As I turned the corner onto calle Ruiz Perelló, the street that as of late I call home, I came across a familiar silhouette. The tiny viejecito was halfway turned around to see me, having heard the clicking of my heels before I had even known he was there. I had seen this little old man almost every night on my way home from an evening out, and we always exchanged at the very least a nod. He met me with a smile and a warm, buenas noches. After acknowledging that we’d gone too long without introducing ourselves to one another, he told me his name was Manuelo, we linked arms and continued down the street in the direction of my doorstep as if we had known each other for ages.
The walk that usually would have taken me no more than 2 minutes, turned into 20, if not more. We talked about everything from the assassination of Kennedy to King Carlos III in this wonderful, moonlit chat. His feeble legs couldn’t carry him very quickly, and he would pause at important parts in our conversation both to rest and for emphasis. He would stop and turn towards me. The brim of his worn hat reached almost to my chin, as he looked me in the eyes to make sure I had really understood. It was in one of these pauses that I asked if he was a portero, or doorman, for one of the apartment building on the street. He quickly shot back ‘no,’ and pulled me in a little closer to let me in on his secret. He whispered slowly and happily, “I am the last sereno of Madrid.” I got goose bumps; it was as if I had just met a unicorn. He took a small step back to really look me in the eyes and see if what he had said has sunk in, or if I, as a foreigner and non-native Spanish speaker even understood the word.
I had heard of serenos in my language class, but was told that they no longer existed. It used to be that every street of Madrid had a sereno, a man who held the keys to all the doors on the street. The sereno would keep watch over the street at night, let in those who had forgotten their keys or children who were still too young to have their own set of keys. My advisor, Marina, told me of her childhood memories of standing on her doorstep, cupping her mouth with her hands and hollering, ‘Serrrrennnnnoooooo!’, when she needed to be let in. And I imagined Manuelo, hobbling down the street to open the door for her. He, and the other serenos were an important part of life in Madrid. But as the city modernized, the sereno slowly disappeared – until that Thursday night. It was one of those reaffirming moments; this is why I came to Spain. I came to Spain to meet the last sereno, among other things. Manuelo walked me right up to my door, and as if instinctually, he pulled out his set of keys to open the door for me. I had already had my key in hand, and he realized it and said, ‘Oh of course, of course…’. I have since wished I had let him open it for me, just for old times sake. But maybe someday I’ll forget my keys and stand on the doorstep hollering for Manuelo. We said goodnight and he invited me to have a Coca-cola sometime. I accepted gratefully, and headed up to bed.
Until the next chapter of this crazy-beautiful film…..