OPINION
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Abroad

I never knew the classic ages of living outside of Spain, when messages took months to arrive, and the word "disconnect" had real meaning

Abroad isn't what it used to be. When someone dismisses your opinion out of hand because you live outside Spain, he is working with an obsolete idea of what it means to live abroad. I never knew the classic ages of abroad, when messages took months to arrive, and the word "disconnect" (though yet to be invented) had real meaning.

I knew the days when Iberia flights in tourist class were still comfortable, though you had to put up with smokers; when you went to the international newsstand that sold papers from home, a couple of days old. Telephone conversations with your parents were mostly brief, and turned on subjects such as the time difference and the weather, unless someone had been inconsiderate enough to die in your absence.

Many Spaniards who now live abroad (the crisis has produced a diaspora) can now read the newspapers before they reach the stands in Valencia. Before leaving, the younger emigrant gives his digitally illiterate parents a lesson on how to use Skype. Thanks to the screen, they can keep up with every change in your weight, hair style or sexual orientation (which sometimes happens when you wander afar). Before heading for their laboratory jobs, a high percentage of the 400 Spanish scientists who live in New York speak to their parents. There are even mothers (especially mothers) who get on Facebook, and cherish the hope that their kids will join the community. The son or daughter is likely to be reluctant, and with reason, because on the Skype screen you can keep up the image of niceness you show to your parents, but on Facebook your mother can see how you cure your nostalgia in the way nostalgia has always been cured since "abroad" has existed: by drowning it in alcohol with others in your situation. And mothers are not, in general, amused.

Abroad is still that place where you often feel as lonely as can be

In my humble investigation into the habits of the younger Spanish emigrant, I find that the image of perpetual revelry conveyed by Facebook is almost as deceptive as the Boy Scout image favored by Skype, because abroad (though not the way it used to be) is still that place where you often feel as lonely as can be. And we know that loneliness breeds solitary fantasies, for which the internet is the perfect habitat.

I have just read in the Times the incredible story of Paul Frampton, an American physicist who, sick of the solitude of the campus (an American campus is abroad for any human being) found a girlfriend on the internet. They never saw each other or talked, only chatted and sent photos. She was Czech, a stunning girl who modeled bikinis; he was over sixty and looking it, but apparently narcissistic enough to believe that she really loved him. To make a long story short, they agreed to meet in Bolivia.

She did not show up, but a friend of hers did, who left the professor in charge of a suitcase. The story, complicated and fascinating, landed him in Devoto, a prison in Buenos Aires, where he is now doing time for the drugs contained in the suitcase. Frampton is so mentally oblique that it is hard to discern whether his naivety lay in not suspecting that the suitcase contained cocaine, or in accepting it because he imagined a future of love and high life with a Czech beauty who was probably virtual.

While such credulity is rare, I have known cases of solitary beings who think they have fallen in love by way of a screen, brilliant people who ought to know that attraction involves factors that the screen does not capture - touch, smell, the real dimensions. And they have found that the spell is broken when the chance of touching is real. Today, abroad is that place where, in spite of being in constant communication with home, you cannot embrace the ones you love. On the other hand, you don't have to see the ones you loathe.