Top 6.5 Reasons Why August is Madrid’s Best Month

In few words: it is the city I never knew I needed.

In more: This month is hands down Spain’s best kept secret and these are the reasons why:

  1. There are actually seats on the metro. That means that you can easily escape both unsavory body odors and screaming infants.
  2. Grocery shopping is no longer a fight against stressed-out parents, guiris, and self-righteous abuelos*. It is a luxurious experience, in which one can ponder lemons and compare pastas without being pushed.
    *I love my elders, but they cut in line all the time.
  3. Temperatures are way more comfortable than they were in July. Think: going from suffocating in Satan’s armpit, to dancing nude on the tippy-top of Jesus’ index finger.
  4. Lavapies and La Latina have street parties. That means that you may see any combination of the following: full-on suckling pigs roasting next to the post-office, men dressed like lady chulapas and dancing chotis, a gypsy selling melons from a wheelbarrow with the following invitation: “wow, I have huge melons here,” and more.
  5. The sunsets are sexy as fuck. Sunrises, though? No idea. Never seen one.
  6. People seem calmer and more open. As in city-wide blackouts or massive snowstorms, there is a sense of implicit community between those who have stayed behind.  –> 6.5. On the flipside, though, some people have just gone completely mad. Yesterday the supermarket security guy was frisking a man and, upon pulling a bottle of rosé out of his pants, began a very intense interrogation which consisted of just one question: “you’re hungry for wine, are you? hungry for WINE?” I dont’ know if this is a positive thing, but you won’t want for people-watching at any time in Madrid.
mercado de las cebada
An empty Mercado de la Cebada, August 2019.
Advertisements

I Just Wanna Walk Around

I was sent to the outskirts on an errand on Friday, where I was gawked at by a large man in a straw hat (twice), witnessed one fight, observed three oldies gossiping in front of neighborhood graffiti, and then reluctantly returned to posh-ville.

Suspicion re-affirmed: I’m not made for the office life, and you probably aren’t either.

bpilar
Headless hunchback in bell-bottoms, Barrio del Pilar

It’s Complicated.

I’m sorry.

I started taking things for granted, spending more time away, forgetting to open my eyes.

I should have written you nine months ago.

Out West, I worked with an Uruguayan. He was mostly silent during work hours, though sometimes he would recommend a film or crack a joke. When he’d had enough, he would remove his gloves, stash his scissors, put on a jacket, and walk out to the deck to watch the fog roll in. Usually, we followed. When he did speak, it was captivating. His rants against the Parisians (there is such a thing as “too polite”) and speeches on the benefits of ginger (it’s an aphrodisiac) could have filled novelas. When we spent a night at his one-bedroom city sanctuary, he gestured towards a loft bed: “That’s where Di and I used to sleep- in the beginning, of course, when love meant we didn’t need space.”

This year, the bed no longer fit the both of us.

inpieces_fayolle4
by Marion Fayolle

I needed silence and to catch my breath. Your energy, the one I had dreamt about, began to exhaust me and I started to worry that you and I were terribly mismatched. You shouted and murmured all day long; I sought balance but conformed, always with one foot in and one foot out the door. My tall chiquiño suffered the same way: he couldn’t recall which potted plant it was that had almost killed the doorman, nor when. He was chatting away about it, but I was late.

For the past nineteen-some months, I have run through and away from you. I can hardly recall the fall or the winter. It seems just yesterday that we were beginning again, the living-room empty, two bright orange folding chairs holding a place for the even uglier second-hand sofa I was about to buy. Now, we know each other well and not at all. Familiarity breeds discontent, if one is not careful. I stopped going underground until last week. Unsurprisingly, you were full of the same characters–they were just sweatier. The crazy woman who looks posh was still crazy, still looking posh, and still making animated faces at her Instagram feed from La Latina to who-knows-where. The modern-day-Goya-portrait-in-a-suit was still rotating his dress-pants  from blue, to black, to purple, and back again. All of us, every morning, were still stupidly racing to be the first on the escalator, eager to ease back into our office chairs, or at least avoid a dressing-down.

My claim is that I no longer have the time to love or enjoy you. As I dig moats into the sand on a Northwestern Nudist Beach, however, the thought of returning to you still feels in many ways like going home. We’ll change some stuff. I’ll work less, or not at all. You’ll be as open as ever. The train will feel like it’s going somewhere again.

I know we can work on this, Madrid. Happy belated anniversary ♥

City Pissues: Brushed by a Wing

I ducked, narrowly dodging one Captain Sparrow and two medieval wenches. Gray-bluish-white flashed before my eyes, I uttered a single “dammit,” and pedalled on.

Retiro  Trees 2.jpg
Their home.

Thirty minutes later, I parked the bike and began making my way up the street. Madrid was uncharacteristically breezy this evening, Plaza de los Carros was full of mid-week drinkers, and seeing San Isidro Church pressed up against the sky got me thinking about a cheesy quote I saw recently: “remember when you wanted what you currently have.”

And it was happening again! This time there were three of them, all in a row: a flourish of fat, monochrome bodies rising off the ground, and the distinct brush of dirty feathers against my bare shoulder.

If hating pigeons is generic, I am basic bitch #1. There isn’t room enough for the both of us in this city.

Anyway, I suppose that this is, along with impatient metro-patrons and post-Saturday piss-whiffs on public streets, part of what I signed up for when moving to the capital. I wanted this, really, as much as anything else.

“I Have Been A Long Time in a Strange Country”

This un-posted post was written (by me) in 2015, but in many ways still feels relevant. This week, Olive mentioned living in shoulds–it’s amazing(ly depressing) how little my own shoulds have changed over the past four years, though I have very much come to terms with the fact that Spain is my first and nº1 love.


IMG_20150920_182520688

September is here, fall in full-swing.

This week, Pope Francis will make his first visit to The United States. He will spend the weekend in Philadelphia, birthplace of America and home of the most beautiful city hall in the entire world. Major roads and rail stations will be closed. Businesses will shut their doors early on Friday. Some employees will escape, others will stick around. SEPTA has sold its “Pope Passes” and The Local News stations have spent weeks Prepping Us For The Pontiff.

Me? Pope willing, I’ll board an airplane on Sunday and fly to Madrid. It may just be the most bitter-sweet September yet.

September, for the past three years, has been a game of Should I Stay or Should I Go? Spoiler alert: I go. I always go. This year I’ll go with a sense of urgency that hasn’t accompanied me much during the past three years, or at least not in a way that was so difficult to quiet. You should earn more, you should do more, you can’t live this way forever, it says.

I’ve become a friend to uncertainty. In Spain, in the fall, I miss the smell of Philadelphia, of dying things, of leaves and the dreams of a summer passed. By Christmas, the only thing that might possibly satisfy my homesickness would be an opportunity to curse at the psychotic driving skills of a soccer mom in a mall parking lot. Any mall would do. Wishing the Dunkin Donuts barista a Happy Holiday! might also suffice. Then there are the bagels. The bagels, I never stop missing.

By Spring, I come to terms with the fact that the things I actually miss the most cannot be touched, screamed at, or eaten. I miss the simple comfort of people understanding me. I mean the quiet, pure understanding that happens when you grab coffee with someone who knew you when you had a uni-brow. I mean the half-cultural, half-sentimental way you just seem to get along with strangers who experienced Snowpocalypse ’11 and know who The Mummers are. In Spain, there are no Mummers. My brows are almost always well-groomed.

I believed that things would “make more sense” when I came home this summer.  That’s what they usually do. I tend to fall in love with Pennsylvania all over again, while she’s green and people aren’t afraid to go outside. By August, I begin to imagine a life in which I live in an apartment with hardwood floors and have a job I love that pays well. I go shopping at the market on Market, where there is never any shortage of artisan cream-cheese. I buy shoes without worrying about the weight of them. It’s a dream like any other: romantic, unrealistic even in its simplicity, and probably misguided.

Because, despite all the doubt, there is Spain. What happens when I think about leaving Spain “for good?” The most heart-wrenching, ear-grating flamenco cantes begin to play. I stifle back tears and declare that I was insane to entertain the idea. The things I miss while I’m away turn into terrifying potential futures. Like, the check comes after dinner without my asking, and no one thinks its weird. The stores are open on Sundays and there are more brands of bread than I know what to do with, each of them more wildly unnecessary than the last. I remember all the times I’ve sung the praises of choice while I’m away and start to feel ill. The “work ethic” I so missed turns into the disturbing phrase “two weeks vacation, if I’m lucky.” People often say it proudly.

In “After Some Years,” W.S. Merwin writes:

I have been a long time in a strange country.
The natives have been kind, in their weird climate,
Receiving me among them as one of themselves.
Their virtues are different from ours, and in some ways
Superior. I have lost the sense
Of absurdity regarding many of their odd customs.
I get their wry lingo tangled up with my own.
Maybe you have to go far away
To learn where it is that names you. The fruits here
Are excellent; better than at home.
I can no longer taste them. I would be glad
To be standing in a drab city of my recollection
Where no one but newsboys would name this place
And they mispronouncing. I hope I may
Before too long. Before the speech here has become
Natural to me, even more so
Than the tongue I was born to, before these
Sights cease to be more foreign and are more familiar
Than any I can recall. And while I
Can still clearly remember that at home too the world
Is made of strangers. For I do not wish
To head back into an expectation
Of anything better than is there, and struggling
With some illusion, find my own place
Is as far away as ever. But it should be
Soon. Already I defend hotly
Certain of our indefensible faults,
Resent being reminded; already in my mind
Our language becomes freighted with a richness
No common tongue could offer, while the mountains
Are like nowhere on earth, and the wide rivers.

Replace mountains with mummers, and it might have been me who wrote the poem. Perhaps my time will come, sooner rather than later, to return to my land, but one thing has certainly become clear this summer: the world is made of strangers. In my daydreams, I had forgotten that. As foreign as Spanish words feel in my mouth, I cannot imagine them being anywhere else. One day, it might hurt to speak this language—but I cannot imagine a day without madre mias or spirited political diatribes—for as much as I hate them, they, too, have their place. I cannot imagine a life without the overflowing enthusiasm Spaniards seem to have for both the inane and the profound.

Rosa María was my host mother in Granada and, one night while she wondered at my insistence upon romantically pursuing a tall, dumb elf, I informed her that el amor es una mentiraLove is a lie. That’s the sort of joke that only a twenty year old will tell to a sixty-something widow. She corrected me. El amor es peligroso. Love is dangerous.

How right you were, Rosa.