Many years ago I was working for The Bike Company in Italy. It was Canadian Thanksgiving and I’d been gone from Canada for almost ten months and was homesick in a way I didn’t think was possible. After a Skype call with my family, order who were happily sharing their news and chattering away while I sobbed in a dark apartment in Tuscany, I walked over to the nearest Eurospar to buy my Thanksgiving meal (spoiler: cheese, bread and a bottle of wine). It was this dark evening where I found myself lingering in the peanut butter isle. Using the term “Peanut Butter isle” is a farce, I found myself standing staring at the two options for peanut butter at Eurospar. Both peanut butter options were sickeningly sweet, both painfully expensive and both very unlike any of the peanut butter I have come to know and love in Canada and the USA. In all my travels in Europe I only ever found decent peanut butter in two places: Ireland (and it was crazy expensive) and Denmark (pretty sweet, too sweet). Never did I know how much peanut butter I actually consumed until I began spending long stretches of time in Europe for work. Turns out, I consume an astonishing amount.
Backwards in time once more to the mournful peanut butter isle thanksgiving experience of days past. I checked out my groceries that night and walked back to the apartment, and this is where the memory ends. I don’t recall how I pulled myself out of the mental hole I had dug, I don’t recall how much longer I was in Italy, I don’t recall what year it was. My lasting thought as I walked away from Eurospar that night was that maybe somewhere there was a girl in Canada from Italy standing in the grocery store crying in front of the Olive Oil isle (or lack thereof).
This memory, long buried, came rushing back to me on day one in Port d’ Alcudia as I stood in the cookie isle at LIDL, laughing at my peanut butter options. There was only one peanut butter choice and I bought it. Expensive and sickeningly sweet, just like I recall from days past. I stood in line to pay for groceries and a floodgate opened in my mind, unlocking all sorts of memories from Italy I had long filed away. I remembered being reprimanded on my first grocery buy in Italy for not pre-weighing my vegetables; I remember how to ask for bags in Italian, I remembered buying pre-cooked beets in plastic packaging. I remember the wine isle and 1 Euro bottles of wine, I remember the cobbled streets near where we lived and the gelato shop we wandered over to frequently. So it would be for the next 18 days in Mallorca, Spain I would take an unexpected trip down memory lane, Italy unfolding in front of my consciousness and the language came flowing back despite my inability to use any of it at my current location.
Italian language aside, my mind mostly was occupied with a very simple day-to-day formula Jon and I fell into: what breakfast will I eat, when will I consume coffee, what ride should we do, what dinner will I eat, what wine will I consume. This is the sum total of my critical thought over my seven days off in Spain.
Not to say I didn’t have some time to reflect, because I did, not to say I didn’t consider some things about my current state, because I did, not to say I didn’t have time and space to connect with Jon, I did. It’s just that this consumed far less of my mind than I thought, and it turns out that was the best. I practiced replying in Italian for every phrase I understood, I worked hard riding through the mountains and rode endless miles, I slept like a baby in Mallorca. I ate bread. I drank wine. Life for a short period was simple.
Leaving Spain I find myself reminded of something I had forgotten. Living abroad increases your resiliency, forces you to mold – or at least bend! – into another way of life and provides you with an experience so different and exciting from the norm. Every part of living abroad is an adventure. Going to the grocery store. Meeting people. Buying stamps at the post office. Boarding the plane to fly home I felt sad to be leaving but grateful to return to my life at home, my dog, my community, my peanut butter.