Meet La Morena: Long Term Expat Nicole Angela
From Alaska to the heart of Spain, Nicole is an expat who really knows how to go after what she wants. With over 10 years living in the country, she has dedicated her time here to advancing professionally and growing as an individual. From flamenco, English teaching and acting, she has been able to go after what she truly wants while living in the country. Recently starting her own business in the wine industry, Nicole is breaking boundaries once again. We got to speak with her to hear her story of how she ended up in Spain, why she's decided to stay long term and the importance of being open minded when moving abroad.
Name: Nicole Angela Pearson
Hometown: Anchorage, Alaska
Current Location: Madrid, Spain
Favorite Spanish Dish: Pulpo gallego
You’ve been living in Spain for quite some time. Tell us your story about how you ended up moving here and why you’re in it for the long run.
When I was 13, my local PBS station in Anchorage, Alaska played Carlos Saura's movie Carmen. I was immediately hooked, I sat transfixed, I couldn't move, I couldn't speak, I couldn't breathe... for the rest of the day I was in another dimension. My life had changed forever in that moment and I knew it. My heart had given itself over to some great mystery.
I spent several years obsessing about flamenco, extensively researching the history of the music and dance before taking my first class in 2004. Ten minutes into that class, I knew I had to move to Spain. In 2005, I packed my bags and headed to Madrid and have been here ever since.
Here in Madrid, I spent four years completely immersed in the flamenco community. I danced 6-7 days a week for two to three hours a day with the dream of turning myself into a bailaora. In the meanwhile, I was falling in love with Madrid, with Spain — the people, the food, the whole way of life. By the end of my second year, I knew I would make Spain my home.
One lucky break gave me the chance to get to know the country as a whole.
I was invited to audition for an English language theatre company. I went less for the prospect of getting a job and more for the chance to flex my dormant acting muscles. In the end, I spent two years touring with them all over Spain. I've driven every major highway and most country backroads, from north to south and east to west. I was introduced to the wonder of Spanish wine in Haro, a picturesque village in La Rioja, seen fields of flowering almond trees in Extremadura, danced sevillanas into the wee hours of the morning at the ferias in Cordoba and Seville, and followed new minted peregrinos into the cathedral Santiago de Compostela.
That job gave me a chance to discover the tremendous depth and breadth of Spanish culture.
What’s something that you love about Spanish culture? What do you still struggle with?
I love cursing. I come from a family of champion cursers but nothing prepared me for the sheer number of curse words or creative ways to curse that are found in Spanish. Anything with me cago en la leche (I shit in the milk of ________) can go from the obvious your whore of a mother all the way to God himself!!! Wow!
What I still and will always struggle with is the initial resistance one can face when proposing anything new or different. Unlike US Americans, unfettered optimism here you always get a flat out, “No, impossible” before you even finish sharing your idea, making your request or proposal. I understand that this pessimism is born out of a tough history of repression but I still struggle to see when confronted with a different perspective why there is still such insistence on continuing to shut out other possibilities. It drives me mad! But I have learned if you keep talking it can be shifted, this takes practice and patience and doesn't always work but is always worth a try, if for no other reason to prove to yourself you won´t ever give up so easily.
You’ve started your own company, Nicole Angela Travel & Taste. Tell us all about the inspiration behind it and what you’re aiming to accomplish?
I started Nicole Angela Travel & Taste because I was blown away by the quality, diversity and quantity of Spanish wine and was and continued to be shocked that the world still hasn't any real grasp of the depth and variety that exists here. Also, I am in love with the completely natural and unpretentious relationship people here have with wine. In Spain, wine is something that you enjoy with food and vital a way to connect with friends and family. I decided to dedicate myself to sharing this attitude and definition of what it means to live a good life with the rest of the world. Wine as we experience it in the States still carries a lot of baggage and pretension. In sharing Spanish wines and the Spanish way of enjoying them I hope to help people connect not only to wine, but to themselves, family, friends and food! I definitely feel like in the States we've lost this connection which I think it is vital to living a good, healthy life.
The tastings are an opportunity to learn about wine, but not in the usual way. I give you some information that allows you to develop your own sense of the wine. The idea to develop confidence in your own tastes but be able to discern what the wines express and talk about it. If want to know more check out my video here.
In starting the business, I have come into contact with a lot of small, family vineyards whose wines — the way they are cultivated and produced preserves a story about the land itself. These are the wines I share with my clients and public. I am starting a wine club to be able to distribute these wines to a wider public. While, I have started in Spain, I will eventually seek out smaller vineyards from around the world whose wines preserve a tradition and share a story.
The travel part of Nicole Angela Travel & Taste is really to offer a full grape to glass wine experience. I want to give people a chance to enjoy the wine and then visit and connect with the people and the place where it is from.
What advice would you give to individuals who are looking to settle down in Spain long term?
Be patient and be open to whatever comes your way, even if they are challenges, it important to welcome them as opportunities. Realize you will have to relinquish some cherished cultural ways and ideas. You will constantly be reminded there are other ways to see and do things but you will gain a whole other perspective and way of being.
You’ve got quite a bit of knowledge when it comes to Spanish wine. What are your three favorites?
My current favorites are: Red, Pago de Carrovejas, Ribera del Duero; Rosado or rose, Vera de Estenas, Rosado; White, Bodegas Marañones, Picarana; Cava, Vega Medien Brut Organic and lastly Vermut, Casa Mariol. Sorry couldn´t stop at just three!
Madrid is your home base. What are some of the hidden gems in the city that you love?
Creme de la Creme, Alonso Martinez; De Vinos, Malasaña; El Museo de Romanticismo, El Mueso de Traje, the museum and their amazing cafe Cafe Oriente.
What are three words that define your experience in Spain so far?
Food, Wine and Culture
Living in Spain for over 10 years means that you’ve established a sense of community in the country. What advice would you give to those who would like to truly be integrated in the Spanish scene?
It can be quite difficult to get to know Spaniards beyond a casual hanging out. While they are very open and warm, they are very connected to family and lifetime friends so it can seem daunting to find your way into an already busy social circle. However, once you do you are in for life.
I was very lucky to have two experiences that cemented my ties to Spanish community, the first was my decision to have a Spanish roommate. Having a Spanish roommate isn't only important for your language development but cultural and personal as well. I think this is essential. Also be open to developing relationships with your students outside of class when appropriate, especially females students, there is so much to connect on and share. They are likely to feel a bit like an outsider in their themselves and were drawn to you for a particular reason. Why not capitalize on that connection?
What does a normal day in the life look like?
There is no such thing, as a normal day, for me, I work for myself, so each day is different! The beginning, however, is always the same: I wake up or rather roll out of bed and do yoga. On any given day, I can be found teaching English either at a university, in an office or at my house, meeting with a potential new collaborators or clients, creating content/researching wine and other related matters. The truth is, it is all quite exciting and lots of fun. I am lucky that I do what I enjoy and get paid for it.
Where do you look for inspiration when times get hard?
On my yoga mat. When things are hard more often than not it is because I am stuck. Being stuck, blocked, scared, frustrated or whatever also manifests itself physically so I find it very helpful to work physically to release that blockage, frustration or whatever.
What’s on your bucket list for 2016? Where would you like to visit?
I don't have anything particular on my bucket list. I am always open to a new adventure and opportunity.
In terms of places to visit, I have never been to any of the islands. I am looking forward to heading to the Baleares (Mallorca/Menorca) this Spring to check out their wine scene.
What has been one of your most memorable moments since living in Spain?
Late one night, while on tour in Granada, I found myself in a small flamenco bar. My tour mates and I had been dancing and enjoying the music. At the end of the night the barman invited us to a drink. The shutters went down and an older woman started singing. Another man began doing palmas (clapping a rhythm) and I hadn't even noticed a youngish man on guitar. To my surprise they invited me to dance with them. At first I hesitated, I was flabbergasted and nervous but they were so warm and encouraging, “Venga guapa!” I ended up dancing with this small group of gitanos until 8 am that morning. I don't think I've ever danced as much.
I was doing moves I didn't even know I could do and I finally got the essence of flamenco — the camaraderie and joy of pure expression through song and dance. It was absolutely magical, an amazing way to be welcomed into a very closed community. Centuries of racism and oppression have shrouded gitanos in mystery and embalmed them in stereotypes. They are closed and protective of their traditions, so I felt doubly honored to be welcomed and invited to participate their private communion. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.
Do you have any wise words for those who are looking to move abroad but might be afraid to do so?
Fear is a good sign, it pushes you beyond what is comfortable and that is essential for growth. Take your time, do research and be curious. Foster and nurture that hidden voice/desire until you feel compelled to follow it through. Courage is doing something even though you are afraid.
This interview was conducted by Sienna Brown. Sienna Brown is the founder of Las Morenas de España. From New York to Murcia, Spain, she is constantly on a journey to inspire and be inspired while engaging in different methods of creation. Her passion for learning about others leads her towards constant exploration and practicing the art of listening as much as she can. See more of her work here and follow her adventures on instagram.