What is ‘youth culture’? Well it is how the map described Zurriola Beach in San Sebastián. The place of surfers, not only young, but all ages, maybe that particular beach induces the youth spirit. Spain usually feels to me like a youthful country, even ‘los viejos’ are out late enjoying the pinchos and tragos (tapas and drinks). The young teens are definitely out in groups along the boardwalks, or other meet up spots. Some even pool together money in order to rent rooms where they can hang out away from home with their friends. I have been reflecting on what ‘youth culture’ might mean and how it very much represented my time in Spain.
I showed up in the dead of morning at a bus station in Salamanca. I felt the waking up of the bus station restaurant. The man who runs it keeps it meticulously clean and makes a strong cup of coffee, of which I had two. I mean I needed it, I was dropped off at 5am. The churros were delivered and set on display. Various men would wander in and out partaking in their own cup of coffee with a churro on the side. I was only passing through Salamanca on the road to Bilbao. But I decided to make the stop a longer one, in order to meet up with an old friend for lunch. Amanda and I went to University of Oregon together, back in our youth. She ended up shifting course and leaving U of O, but we have stayed distant admirers of each other and our pursuits. Amanda has a doctorate in Linguistics and teaches at the University in Salamanca. She has a toddler son and twins on the way. She is every bit of a professional mom rockstar. I have much respect for her little family living abroad and embracing a beautiful life in Spain. Not only is she bringing up the youth of tomorrow, Amanda carries a youthful energetic spirit to life, even while moving slightly slower due to carrying two little humans. She gave me a mini tour of her Salamanca, which was better than any other tour I could have signed up for I’m sure. And I am still stuffed thinking about that lunch. Old new friends are really the best kind.
Onward, I made it into Bilbao in the dead of night. Grabbing a taxi, not even trying to walk around with my endless stuff, I arrived at my friend Alexia’s apartment. I met Alexia at a school board meeting years ago. She was the student rep and looking back I didn’t realized than, like I do now, the impact Alexia has made on my life. At one point while we were hanging out in Spain she said, “We could probably pass for sisters.” She is the taller, skinner, younger sister. “Yes we could,” I reply. Alexia has felt like a younger sister to me over the years. I have no sisters, only three brothers, so I adopt strong women of various ages as my sisters along the way in this life. Alexia is very much one of them. Alexia recently graduated from Vassar College and headed to Bilbao, Spain to teach English. She lives with a youthful bunch, all seeming to be in Bilbao before their next step to something or somewhere else. One night I had dinner with this crew and their invited teacher guests, all ready for nightlife and travel, all enjoying their time and place in life. Young twenties, I remember you.
I write about Amanda and Alexia because I shared my time in Spain with them and because they embody that ‘youth culture,’ which to me is an optimism and enthusiasm for the future. I mean don’t get me wrong, these are two intelligent woman and they get what we are up against and the realism of this world. Both in their own way attempting to address the injustices they know to be present.
While in Bilbao, Alexia and I visited the Guggenheim, the modern youthful building attracting the attention of international tourists such as ourselves. The exhibits themselves carrying an Instagram feel, though you are often FORBIDDEN from taking photos (I may have some forbidden photos in my collection) and their security more alert to this issue than any museum I have ever visited. It has been thought the Guggenheim in Bilbao is the shift of a changing more metropolitan city attempting to attract international attention. This very much may be true. The following day our plans for a hike shifted, instead Alexia indulged my desire to find some street art. This led us to the Zorrotza Peninsula. It is a little out of the way crossing a bridge to get to and feeling like a wreckage yard and yet still a presence of a neighborhood. Very little street art was accessible due to the construction sites blocking any visible art off. We were shooed out of some places by hard hats and big machines. Signs saying this wasn’t Manhattan made us wonder what was going on. “Somebody has bought this place and they are rebuilding it,” I thought out loud. That is very much what is happening. And as we walked and walked, I felt a weariness. Damn, we didn’t get to see much street art. Damn, what destroying to create new looks like in real life is a war zone.
Yet, there is a resistance present, even if we couldn’t fully grasp it, we saw glimpses. The signs around Zorrotza offering community support, to counter the ones warning of water being shut off. There were signs around Bilbao protesting MTV coming for some big international event. Signs about prisoner hunger strikes and Basque supporters of all ages calling for prisoners, Basque activists, to be released. In San Sebastián we somehow missed, but very much felt the presence of a huge demonstration in support of those prisoners and the Basque community. Do I begin to understand all the workings of all of these things? Not to a level I would like, but what I do know is if the ‘youth culture’ is optimistic and enthusiastic, they are also demanding a different world. I see more activism and awareness from their generation than mine had at that point in our lives. That optimism and enthusiasm imagines a different future, a future I truly hope is realized, though it won’t be an easy road to get there.
It was lovely to be in Spain where I could use my Spanish. Enjoy delicious eats, I mean I even had an Argentinean Alfajore and a Chilean style Pisco Sour. Alexia and I went on a baguette hunt, finding baguettes everywhere we looked. Under arms, off to parties, being delivered, scattered on the ground, and in the mouths of children after school. Baguettes rule the Spanish culture. Check out Alexia’s @baquettestagram if you want the proof. We walked all over Bilbao and San Sebastián. By the time I left Spain I walked off any of the baguettes or chocolate croissants in which I had sinfully enjoyed. Alexia introduced me to Camino Fit, the Camino de Santiago stairs that lead to her apartment from the center and lead pilgrims along their trek. We walked the stretch of San Sebastián, up to Jesus on a hill and over to the metal structures attached to rocks.
We were even reprimanded and shamed in front of other hotel guests by the owner of the hotel we stayed at in San Sebastián as though we were children. My deescalation skills didn’t even seem to work to get her to stop yelling at us, nor my endless apologies. Not sure how else to embody the ‘youth culture’ more than receiving a reprimand, whether warranted or not, in this case it was not.
As I left Spain, I was reminded that one ‘youth culture’ and experience is very different from another. On my bus to France, when crossing the French border, a group of Black youth were escorted off the bus by the French border patrol. I don’t know what their personal stories are, if they are refugees, if they are illegal immigrants, if they are indeed citizens of Spain or France or if they are on vacation. What I do know is that their youth culture lacks the privilege of the one I have belonged and one I described here. Yet, they have every right to have the same ‘youth culture,’ and someday soon I hope do. May we demand it. May we listen to each other’s experience. And may we Love enough to make it so.