Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals in the story.
Carmen was a Spanish girl from a family of considerable import – most Sevillanos would probably recognize her father’s name. I could argue that her asymmetrical nose was characteristic of her Spanish heritage, but her only hallmark Spanish feature was beady brown eyes that curved downward slightly at the corners, giving her a melancholic expression. Overall, she wasn’t beautiful, but she was pretty.
We met through a friend of a friend named Martina, a narrow-faced Sevillana I had met elsewhere in Europe. It was my first time in Seville and I was excited to get a native-led experience of the city, much preferred to the staged and sterile visit of a tourist. Unbeknownst to me, I would be called to do battle against the Zeitgeist.
I awaited Martina and her Italian boyfriend at the river and, in the process, made my first cultural mistake by being punctual – they arrived twenty Mediterranean minutes late with the unfamiliar Carmen in tow. I extended my hand to her for a shake rather than the double-cheek kiss, and she shot an awkward glance at Martina but eventually obliged me. That was two cultural miscalculations now. I need to read more Taleb.
The Italian, Marco, insisted we go to a sushi place that he liked, which ironically turned out to be total garbage. The conversation was a bit sloppy – I don’t think anyone was exactly sure what to say. Then, the fate of my day was sealed when I asked if Chinese tourists annoyed Sevillanos. That’s when Carmen became especially vocal for the first time.
“Well, to answer your question, no, I am not annoyed by Chinese tourists because they are people just like us, and so they have just as much a right to be here as we do.”
Now I knew she was one of those types. The topic was dropped after her assertion of wokeness, but the political seal had been broken. It wasn’t long before she asked what all Europeans ask every American they meet.
“What do you think about Donald Trump?”
A tangent before continuing – the media in America has a very difficult job. No, it’s not because they must be more courageous than soldiers. As the propaganda apparatus of the largest empire in the world, they must dress up particularly ridiculous and irrational policies very delicately. From wars to borders, Big Capital and shadow government elites make heavy demands on the lies that must be sold to the American public. It was only a matter of time before they overplayed their hand and John Everyman became privy to their tricks.
In Europe, the game is not so obviously subversive. Their media is as malicious as ours, yet subtler and more outwardly trustworthy. The relationship hasn’t been tested by endless Middle Eastern involvement, incitement of racial tensions, or an election like 2016. As a result, the degradation of Trump’s reputation abroad is mostly accepted, and to make matters worse, Europeans assume they know more about political happenings in our country than we do because of the proverbial “stupid American” stereotype. This pomposity would be distasteful if it weren’t virtually universal.
I was, therefore, skeptical of entering a political discussion with Carmen for all the reasons listed above, and I hadn’t come to Seville to debate woke Spaniards on the misogyny and racism of Drumpf anyhow. Her inquiries were encouraged by a growingly curious Martina, though, and so I budged.
“I only support him because he wants to stop immigration and build a wall.”
This sentence stoked a flame of conversation that would burn for the rest of the day. We left the sushi restaurant and Carmen wanted to know how sexist I was. We went to a rooftop mall terrace and she asked why I was against sexual liberation. We discussed racial issues over croquettes.
“Sometimes I just want to slap you,” she said with a big smile.
“See, Carmen, this is why you can’t debate women on these things. You get too emotional.”
The day was an endless troll. It was also the sad story of girl who had been deceived by her society, neglected by her friends, and betrayed by her family. As day turned to night, Carmen divulged some of her deepest strife and struggles to me.
Spain is an oppressively Catholic country – in a good way. It’s hard to walk a few blocks without coming across a saintly statue or ancient Church. So when Carmen earnestly told me, “When I was young, all I wanted to be was a nun,” I believed her. She had since fallen very far from that dream. She was exploring bi-sexuality, but it seemed entirely forced and an attempt to fit in. She jokingly described herself as a feminazi. She raved about video games with immersive story lines, presumably to escape the horror of her confused life.
She told me she was the way she was because her father treated her mother like trash and she never wanted to end up like that. She wanted something different than her devoutly Catholic mother, and so she strove toward the opposite. I discovered Carmen at a stage in her life when she was lost – her culture promised her a great sense of fulfillment and happiness by achieving the heights of individuality. Like so many people in the West are discovering, though, it had nothing to offer her but disappointment and depression. She was at a crossroads, wherein her investment into this new identity was so steep she didn’t want to turn back despite its poor delivery on its promises.
Martina and I had a conversation about Carmen outside a bar towards the conclusion of the night. She talked about how her friends tried to help her, but she could not escape a pattern of self-destructive behavior, and they were at a loss on what to do. Little did either of us know, Carmen was standing but a few feet away and overheard the entire conversation.
“That wasn’t very nice, what Martina said about me,” She said as we began our trek to our respective homes.
“You heard that?”
“Yes. It was mean, but it was also true.”
She said all of this without a modicum of anger or despondency. It was all said in a matter-of-fact kind of way. That was the most remarkable thing about Carmen; for all of her liberal delusions, she was strikingly self-aware.
We arrived to where I was staying, and it was time to bid her farewell. She made no effort at a last minute romance. She knew I had a serious girlfriend and had enough integrity not to attempt to soil that. I met Carmen as a radical feminist, and she took leave of me considering going back to Church.
I did not tell her anything remarkable. I mainly provoked her with incendiary comments and laughed when she got angry. She wasn’t angry at what I was saying, though. She was angry that, while I said things that she should have hated, I was not the caricature of evil that the left made me out to be. I was just a decent guy with different opinions.
She never went to Church. My 15-hour counter-programming blitzkrieg was apparently all for naught. Last I heard from Martina, Carmen was studying in London and had achieved some sort of peace within herself. What that means, she did not know. That’s just another cruel joke of our hyper-individualistic society – as opposed to being instilled with concrete values from the cradle, we are left to vacillate from one idea to the next in a messy quest of self-actualization. I hope Carmen has found closure and a lasting peace within herself, because she deserves it.
One hundred years ago, Carmen very well could have been a nun, just as she had dreamed as a little girl, but this is the current year. In the 21st century, she is just another victim of the Spirit of our Times.