Why I Moved to Córdoba
Ever since I decided to put down roots in Córdoba, a landlocked city of 330,000 in the Spanish region of Andalucía, people have been asking me why. Not why Spain—both Spaniards and tourists alike understand the appeal of the Spanish culture, landscape, and lifestyle—but why Córdoba. Though the city was the cultural, political and intellectual capital of Europe in the tenth century and retains its historical beauty, many travelers breeze through for just a day or two in favor of spending more time in the tourism heavyweights of Sevilla and Granada. I was guilty of overlooking Córdoba, too, when I planned my first trip to Andalucía during my college semester studying in Madrid. I didn't so much as glance at it on the map. People are perplexed when I tell them that I chose Córdoba for neither study nor work but rather just because I wanted to live here. But why? the locals press.
The truth is that I don't have a good answer, or at least not one that fits easily into casual conversation.
I didn't do much better by Córdoba this time around than I did on my initial visit to Andalucía. When I planned my whirlwind week through the south of Spain in January, I gave myself just two nights in Córdoba and booked my next hostels in Sevilla and Granada in advance (rookie mistake). I ended up staying in Andalucía an extra week and returning to Córdoba because I loved it so much. And then, embarrassingly, I ended up staying an extra night because I missed my flight to Amsterdam. I joked at the time that it was a sign that I was meant to stay in Spain, though at the time I was planning on moving to Madrid after visiting friends in Holland and Italy (I also never made it to my friends' place in Umbria, which is another story.) The more times I kidded, the more I realized that I was serious. And not just about staying in Spain, but perhaps also staying in Andalucía.
Having stolen an extra day in Córdoba, I set approximately thirteen alarms for the next morning and went out that night to a taberna. Sepia-toned photos of bullfighters and faded newspaper clippings in gilded frames covered every inch of the walls, and the bar was so close to the door that only one person could enter at a time. Glass-covered tapas confronted patrons upon entering and made me immediately glad that I hadn't counted on a vegan option. This was, trite as it may sound, a "real" taberna. I wedged myself into a rickety chair tucked between a small table and a precariously tall set of shelves displaying dusty but carefully arranged bullfighting costumes. After an awkward moment in which the surrounding people seemed to wonder how I could possibly be there on purpose, someone decided I was and poured me a glass of the local dry white wine through the slender neck of an unmarked bottle. The bottle was the color of ultramarine, reminding me of the brilliant blue glass my grandmother always kept around her now-extinct beach house. I wondered in that moment how in the hell I could fall in love with a city so far from the ocean. Then again, that happened with Madrid, too.
Guitarists began to play, a singer began to wail, and everyone started to clap compás, the various rhythms without which flamenco could not exist. Everyone, that is, except me, because I didn't know how. Instead, I got to talking with the man seated across the table from me. He was what I would late come to recognize un cordobés puro, a true local. He looked to be about sixty. I told him that I'm a writer, even though just writing that, let alone saying it out loud, makes me cringe. (I firmly believe that all you have to do to be a writer is write, but impostor syndrome dies hard.) I explained that I was traveling for a couple months before moving to Madrid and trying to scrape together enough money as a freelance writer to feed myself and pay my bills. Turns out he was a writer too and works as a gardener by day, no small feat in a city famous for its flower-filled patios. He asked me if I was sure I wanted to move to Madrid.
"Córdoba is beautiful, especially in the springtime," he intoned quietly, and then: "Let me give you something that might change your mind." He reached into his bag and pulled out a slim paperback that he slid across the table. It was a copy of the children's book he wrote, a fairy tale that tells the rich history of Córdoba through - what else - its patios and gardens. I was instantly touched. I thumbed through the pages and then slipped it carefully into my purse, promising to read it thoroughly later when I wasn't pleasantly distracted by thrumming guitars.
I cried when I left Córdoba the next morning, just as I had teared up the previous morning before I realized I'd be staying an extra day. The Netherlands felt cold and strange upon arrival, though I quickly warmed up to it thanks to the extraordinary family hosting me there. It was still cold as fuck, though. I daydreamed about orange trees. I hadn't realized it yet, but the seed had been planted weeks before the man gave me that book. By the time I came back to Spain, I planned to spend a few days looking for housing in Córdoba and told myself that if I was meant to stay here, I'd find something. I did. I'm not living there anymore, but that's not what matters. What matters is that I decided to call the city home for a little while.
Home with a capital H it is not, as evidenced by my intense longing for the cherry blossoms ringing the Tidal Basin and my friends' open arms in DC. But it could be someday. And I guess that's why I decided to live in Córdoba. Because it felt a little bit like home, even though it's not.