Dedicated readers, all four of you, please accept my apology, although I never promised you consistency.
How OK I am with being inside worries me, albeit only slightly. In these forty-nine (?) days, I’ve read Marx and Tolstoy and Camus and Hesse and Flaubert. All great guys, really stand-up writers. But I started reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie two days ago, and now the thought of returning to Anna Karenina produces a sensation in me not unlike the one I feel when I think about cleaning out the shower drain.
Read the book, basically. It’s real good.
Other things I’ve been into:
This Jeff Buckley cover of “I Know It’s Over.”
Wondering what my life would have been like had I stayed in America.
Wondering whether I could live in New York City without having a meltdown.
Thinking about the past.
Inexplicably, missing Greyhound buses.
Thinking that education is really, really important.
Feeling pessimistic and optimistic in the same breath.
Before Christmas, I took a flight to Prague to meet Keith, my virtual husband and best college boyfriend. When his sister, who lives in the Czech countryside, gave birth to two precious twins, I knew that it was high time to confront my fear of newborns. What type of woman is afraid of babies, you ask? Well, it’s really their necks that scare me–the fact that they can’t support their own skulls yet. Also, their whole I don’t know how tospeak thing is a bit of a snag for me. I’m a hardcore verbal learner, you know? All jokes aside though, holding a tiny, delicate human just seems like a whole lot of responsibility for someone who rarely gets through a day without running into an inanimate object.
I learned quite a bit about babies during my trip, however, and even overcame my fear. Generally speaking, infants want just a few things: food, sleep, or a good puke. Do you know what it feels like to have hot, regurgitated breast milk run down your cleavage? No? Well, I do. That’s just another part of the logistics of newborn-rearing, I hear. Other than that, everything else they say is true. Babies are sweet, they smell good, and they bring the circle of life just that much closer.
After I’d spent a few days perfecting my burping skills, I left the gray Czech hills and headed for the big city again. A wonderful little detail: the regional bus between the pueblo and Prague not only employed attendants, but those same hot-pink-uniformed attendants also served complimentary coffee and provided newspapers to those who wanted them. The coffee was a bit shite, of course, but the gesture did not go unappreciated.
I’ve always felt that Spain is much too ebullient during the holiday season. Fully grown human beings parade around town in towering Christmas-tree hats made of tinsel. They glisten. They glitter. The Navi-Bus rides by twice an hour blasting los peces en el rio. I don’t know what fish in a river have to do with Christmas, probably because I never went to church. Wigs are also a big thing and the bars are fuller than usual, with company dinners spilling out of doorways, and various HR Josés gearing up to hook up with various Juanas from accounting. There’s a lot of shouting, like always.
Prague at Christmastime was different, though, something I could identify with: a little dark, sweet, sour, weird, and vaguely dangerous. It was all mead and mulled wine. I carried around a cup (or three) for hours, stopping only to marvel at the beautiful architecture, the rain falling in Old Town Square. I kid you not, I nearly cried watching those drops fall. Unfortunately, you can’t really see them on my phone camera.
Another fantastic thing about Prague were these TRDELNÍKS! I don’t have much of a sweet tooth but I would have eaten a dozen of them. They’re simple: dough wrapped around a thick, wooden stick and slowly rotated and roasted until it is ready to be coated in sugar and almond. Reluctantly, I walked myself back to my hotel after eating this one.
I flew back to Spain on the morning of Christmas Eve and jumped into M’s car immediately upon landing in order to spend the evening with JC’s family and friends. M dropped me directly at the bar, where it is customary to have aperitivo (see: 2 wines and 1 tapa), with friends. Aperitivo turned into lunch, where we met a group of boys who were enjoying one of their new Christmas gifts: a small plastic toilet that, when “flushed,” would eject a cartoon turd. Whoever caught it first was the winner. Lunch turned into cocktails in the middle of the damn day in a bar with no windows and lots of men wearing ties. By 9 o’clock I was hiding in JC’s childhood bedroom, realizing that Spain’s jubilance had played me yet again: noche buena dinner still needed to be eaten, extended family kissed, and gifts opened. And there I was, disheveled as hell, sending frantic messages to Tuna to tell her I don’t think I can doooo thissss.
Mornings now are like the autumn of my arrival: cool, suggestive, empty and full.
This park has become a sacred place for me, a pilgrimage.
Year 1: I sat here and wrote lists. Reasons to wake up. Things to do before dying.
Year 2: I wrote a poem in Spanish, using words I’d learned in bed.
Year 3: I zoomed my way North on a city bike, promising JC that our destination was fairy-tale-esque. Everything had changed, though. We could hardly move for selfie-taking couples and fresh-faced parents balancing new babies on tree-limbs. A field of Instagrammable branches, an intro to social media for infants. The smell of roast chicken wafting about Quintana made me happy to be alive, anyway, and we didn’t take any photos.
Year 4: I broke a month-long alcohol fast with a tiny bottle of beer and a few gulps of wine. We played word-games, which bring out the best and the worst in me. The sun hid itself away and reappeared when it wanted to. Things were better without the blossoms.
Las salinas: where the flamingos live. It smells sulphuric and, in some parts, looks like snow. I felt at peace here. I also wished for an ancient man to saunter out of the abandoned saltworks — to no avail.
El Mar Menor: “Large pond.” “Small sea.” “Lagoon.” At its deepest, it doesn’t surpass seven meters. It’s warm, concerningly so, like bath water, and determined to remain beautiful despite the buckets of sunscreen floating through her.
Playa Paraíso: Equal parts Spaniard & Brit and so humid that you will be wet whether you are in or outside of the water.
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:
There are actually seats on the metro. That means that you can easily escape both unsavory body odors and screaming infants.
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.
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.
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.
The sunsets are sexy as fuck. Sunrises, though? No idea. Never seen one.
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.