Thu 10 Nov 2005
As new songs in a foreign tongue float through my head, I realize that music may be one of the most enduring parts of my abroad experience. Songs are powerful memory capsules; for me, a particular song can grant a flashback that returns me to familiar surroundings, close friends, and strong emotions of the past. Each new (and necessarily catchy) song I hear makes me increasingly aware of my submersion in a new (pop) culture. As the Italian music scene is heavily reliant on the American music scene for material, I often find myself in a moment of strange connection, when, while experiencing something completely new and foreign, I hear a familiar song from my previous, non-abroad life.
For instance, I heard the familiar synthesizer solo of ‘Forever Young’ by Alphaville as I rode into Bologna on l’autobus with my friend Hannah. We are co-workers at a summer program with a peculiar tradition of a musical canon – a list of songs from the 1980s that must be played at every dance. One of these is ‘Forever Young’…
Forever young, I want to be forever young
Do you really want to live forever
Forever, and ever
Not a top hit, but it has significance for the two of us because we’ve danced to it nearly a hundred times, outside, in a summer evening, on a dry patch of grass on a small campus in Lancaster, PA, with hundreds of awkward adolescents swinging back and forth, arms slung over shoulders, singing the memorized lines aloud. And now, Hannah and I were on a cold bus, together again, zooming down an Italian highway and loudly discussing our months of travels – hers around Britain and mine around Italy.
Another instance of this happened because I haven’t been able to stop listening to ‘La Camisa Negra’ by Juanes, which has played each time I’ve gone to the Mexican restaurant Café Caracol. As people finish their dinners at Caracol on Saturday nights, they step up onto the tables and the music is turned up. By the time I arrive with my friends, the restaurant has become a platform of rough wooden tables. There are only narrow aisles below the dancers for wait staff and a thin group of spectators. The Juanes song is fun and loud. Tonight, my roommate Derya found a second song by Juanes and it followed ‘La Camisa Negra’ on her iTunes playlist. Suddenly, I remembered a long, Sunday night drive back to Dickinson after a weekend trip Montreal last winter. Two of my friends had studied in Mexico the previous year and were relating memories from their experiences as we listened to some of the music from their time away. When the Juanes song ‘Fotografia’ came on, they started to sing loudly in Spanish and argue about the real meaning of the song:
Cada vez que te busco te vas
Y cada vez que te llamo no estás
Es por eso que debo decir que tú sólo en mis fotos estás
And now, I hear this song again, and I remember them. And I also feel a tiny bit excited that next year, I can seem so bilingual when I sing a full song in a foreign language and can argue over its meaning.
More than any other facet of “abroad-ness” – like local news stories or regional lore, or slang, or images in art and publicity – music surrounds me through so many of my experiences here. I put it onto my MP3 player and mouth the words of it during train rides. I sing it with my roommates in the kitchen while making dinner. It plays at clubs and bars on all my nights out. And next year, or maybe farther in the future, I’ll find my little collection of songs from my year and have these memories agin.