Dreaming of Community and Camaraderie Outside of the City
There is one missing ingredient of this journey from the city to the country so far: community.
In this post I explore some of the contrasts that I have experienced as it relates to friendships and communal living over the last few years, and what this has shown my about my true desires about moving to the countryside.
As we approach the end of the year I am enjoying the feeling hunkering down into good, home cooked food, warm pyjamas and snuggly slippers. I am preparing for winter hibernation, turning inwards as the weather in Madrid gets cold and crisp. Taking inspiration from my experience with my Argentinian in-laws, I have begun to take more time over cooking a comforting meal to heat me up from the inside.
To tell you the truth, as much as sometimes it drove insane having the house full of so many people, now the house now feels quite empty. I liked the feeling of having people around me, sharing the space together. I enjoyed the intimacy of sharing my daily life with the people.
These things perhaps you take for granted with you live close by your family and close friends. I know I did, when I lived closer to mine. Having been away for eight years and counting, I miss having the kind of relationship with people that they can just pop round for a cup of tea or call in for a quick chat.
Living in such a big city, this isn’t something that I have experienced very often. In Spain, the home is typically very private. Friends meet up on the terraces and in the bars, but very rarely do you get an invitation to someone’s home.
Personally, I think is something a lot more special about going to someone’s house to spend time with them rather than a bar, cafe or restaurant. You can learn a lot about someone from their home and get to know them on a deeper level. It’s fun to see what photos that have chosen to put up and how they have decorated their living space.
After so many years of these kinds of city-living friendships, the desire for a different kind of friendship has begun to take root in my heart. It started early 2021 when I went to an online eco-village conference hosted by GEN Europe.
I remember being sat crossed legged on the floor, listening to an interesting presentation from different eco-villages in various different European countries. The screen was full of friendly faces connecting from different places across the globe.
Amongst these faces there were various group of friends all huddled around the same screen with a cup of to tea in hand. As I watched them on the screen I noticed how cosy and comfortable they looked together as they shared the space and this common interest. They looked happy and content are they shared a camaraderie that was lovely to witness.
My room began to get dark and night fell. Watching them on the screen stirred something within me. It was a memory, a familiar feeling of times when I had felt that kind of camaraderie and communal atmosphere. It was then then it struck me how long it had been since I had sat with a group of good friends in that intimate, cosy way.
In the time I had been in Madrid up until then, I had spent more time with friends in bars and cafés than in their homes. That had suited me at the time, since the city is full of interesting places to explore and people to meet.
But there’s only a certain about of café con leches and carrot cakes that you can eat before it all becomes very mundane. Once you have seen one café with a bike hung on the wall and you have seen them all! And Madrid city centre is not exempt from this kind of gentrification.
Not only that but there is a limit as to how much you can develop a friendship in this way. It is great to have a catch up about latest news etc, but when you really need to share your heart with a friend, a café is not the place. When it comes to true matters of the heart, there is only place that is appropriate and that is within the confines of the home with someone who doesn’t mind a snotty tissue or two.
Around that time I’d had some experiences that had made me realise how shallow some of my friendships were. This came as a shock to me because I had been under the impression that I had a least one good friend with whom I could share a snotty tissue in the city. But at alas, this wasn’t the case.
Whilst I sat there listening to the conference speakers, I felt the painful sting of loneliness. I realised how much I missed those intimate friendships of my youth; those days of having a group of friends with whom you can sit in your pyjamas and share pizza and put the world to rights.
Whilst it is true that life moves on and friendships too, the realisation that I no longer had that kind of friendship in my life here came as a shock. I hadn’t realised how far away I had gone from those days until I had the contrast of it right there in front of my eyes on the screen.
Realities of Modern Life
This can be the problem with cities. You can go out and socialise with so many people but how many of those people are real friends? The majority are just there for a good time. When the day comes that you need a real friend, those people who you have relied on to enjoy a coffee in a cool coffee shop or a glass of wine in a trendy bar suddenly don’t have the time to spare.
Or perhaps this is just the reality of adult life?
In 2018, when I was first feeling the stirrings of the desire to move to countryside, I remember speaking with friend about life in the country. He is a carpenter and had rented a house around 40 minutes from Madrid. He had invited us to a barbecue with some other carpenter friends.
I told him that I was uncertain about leaving the city because I was scared of leaving my friends behind.
“But I have all my friends in the city. Won’t I be lonely?”, I asked.
His response was quick: “But you’re friends in the city are all too busy to see you anyway. So you may as well move! Then you make new friends. And you can do things together like organise a weekend’s work exchange and create stuff together. And that’s way more fun than the things you can do in the city”.
I had to admit, he he was right. Everyone always had their weekend planned in the diary weeks or months in advance. It’s not like I had a close community of friends that I saw every other day. Not even every other week in most cases; perhaps not even every other month.
And even then, it was more about ‘catching up’ than sharing daily life. It was a far cry from the close intimacy of the friendships of my younger years.
As much as a didn’t want to admit it to myself at the time, I knew deep down that what he said rang true.
That conversation was around four or five years ago now and my life has changed a lot in that time. Those friends that I was concerned about leaving behind are no longer in my life. Nor do I have my old job here to keep me stuck. Life flows on and just like being on a train, we keep moving down through the different carriages.
Different faces, different names, different languages, different cultures.
People come and go, each on their own journey. Some pass through your carriage for a short time, others stick around for the long haul. Sometimes it is you that changes carriage; other times your travel companion. Others times, you find yourselves in different carriages but you come back together for short periods to talk about who you met, the food you ate and how strange they do things in the next carriage along.
Such is the journey of life. Sometimes you are surrounded by friends, others times you find yourself alone. I have experienced a lot of contraction in my social circle over the last few years. At times it has seemed like I have been sat in my carriage alone, with none of my familiar travelling companions close by.
Now that my Argentinian family has gone and I am able to adjust to life properly without my previous job in a more grounded way, I find myself spending a lot of time alone. Perhaps more than I would like.
I have the feeling that this is a blessing in disguise: I have the time and space to focus finally on how to move forward with my work and with this journey. I have gone through the death of the old and now I am beginning to really construct the new.
Yet, I am hungry to experience once more those intimate friendships of my youth. I am yearning for a deeper sense of community around me; people I can depend on, and be nourished and supported by with mutual companionship.
From the City to the Country
As I go about nesting down for the winter, I am thinking about this journey that I am on and reflecting on the the things I have been dreaming about over the last few years.
Many people have asked me “why don’t you just move already?”. The response to which I wrote about in the post ‘Moving from the City to The Country: Why Is It Taking So Long?’.
However, there is another reason that I have yet to share.
And that is that we (myself and my partner Sergio) don’t want to do this alone.
One thing that this last six months has shown me is that I like being around people. I am a people person and when I don’t have that feeling of connection with others, it makes me feel that I am missing some part of myself.
As much as I love spending time with Sergio, I need more people in my day to day life than just him! For this reason, I don’t envision us moving to some distant part of Spain just the two of us.
I know from my experiences visiting Max and Nic on Freedom Farm and Paul and Hermine on the off-grid project that were working on, that there are plenty of people living an alternative life the countryside in Spain.
I remember that Max and Nic even said that they had made more friends since living in their isolated valley in Aragón, than when they were living the city life in the UK!
However, this doesn’t feel like it is our path.
What we envision is undertaking this journey with other people.
Who, I’m not quite sure.
Where, I’m not quite sure either.
How, tampoco (neither).
This dream is beyond us.
It is bigger than us.
It involves other people. About that, I am sure.
This does make things a bit more tricky, since this then means that my dream depends on more than just my own will power. The dots need to line up for other people too if it is to come about naturally and gracefully.
For this reason, we have to open ourselves us to life and announce our desire. And then let go of the need to control the who’s, why’s and how’s. I believe in allowing things to unfold organically, without force.
As I wrote about in a recent post, I trust in synchronicity to connect us with the right people at the right time.
Who knows, maybe these people are already in our orbit…
Feet on the ground
Let’s see where all this take us, shall we?
In the meantime, I am going to use this moment of solitude over the festive season to set my compass for the coming year.
My first priority: address my work situation.
How I am going to make a decent living now that I quit my job? Is online teaching really a viable option for the future? Or just a gap fill?
As much as it’s important to dream, we still have to keep our feet on the ground and attend to the here and now 😉
With one foot in front of the other, let’s keep going.
Thank you for joining me on this journey. Your company matters to me more than you know.
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Together, let’s co-create a more beautiful world!
If you enjoyed this post maybe you will also like ‘In Search of Home’ or ‘Taking the Greatest Leap of My Life’. Or ‘Homo Sapiens: The Worlds’s Most Domesticated Species’
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