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.
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An empty Mercado de la Cebada, August 2019.

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.

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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 ♥

“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.


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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.

“Nowadays, all these girls are singing about their encounters and their dresses.”

When my mother says “encounters” she is referring, of course, to sex. When she says “dresses” she is likely thinking about that Selena Gomez song that wouldn’t stop playing some two or three summers ago.

“People have always sung about that, though…”

“Yeah but today it’s stupid: ‘he’s so tall and handsome as hell,’” she gestures at the radio, “what the hell is that shit?”

She’s complaining about Taylor Swift now, whose song “Wildest Dreams” is playing in the car.

Whether I think Taylor’s art is revolutionary or enriching is irrelevant because creating music that underwhelms me—creating anything, really—is still way more than most people do. I’m not proud to admit it but I once sobbed in a Bed Bath & Beyond parking lot when the song “You Belong with Me” came on the radio. Then, dry heaves and all, I leaned on my steering wheel and started laughing (because first “heartbreaks” are fucking hilarious). It was a time when listening to anything other than pop trash probably would have made me roll off my roof.

Even so, you won’t find me arguing for the lyrical ingenuity or emotional depth of lines like “I can feel my heart, it’s beating in my chest.”

I skip the explanation and agree with my mother: “RIGHT? Like, what happened to Etta James? Let’s talk about ‘Damn Your Eyes.’ I mean, DAAAAAMMMMMNN!”

Now there’s an angry, lusty love that I can understand.

Be careful with ya eyes,

Seo

Let’s Bring Letters Back

oopz

The problem with me and amor is that I’m actually really romantic but when I talk about love I sound like a 62-year-old woman who’s been through six divorces (five of them from lyin’, cheatin’ good-for-nothin’ bastards and one from a gay man [things were different back then]. We still have brunch every now and then—him, eggs benedict, me, scones and organic deli meats).

Springtime in the city is a long series of micro-romances, smiley strangers, endless lunches and accidental sunburns.

I just fell in love with the man at the Aluche convenience store. I bought a juice; he offered me a plate of cookies.  I chose one with red jelly. It was violently mediocre.

I just fell in love with a Tarque look-alike at Café Amargo. We chose the same dishes from the menu del día. We were mostly alone. Me with a book. Him with a laptop. I retired all eye contact upon deciding that he was old enough to have three children and an ex-wife.

I just fell in love with a barista (per usual). I ordered an empanadilla and a coffee to-go. He said “enjoy your Sunday!”

I just fell in love with the Lidl cashier for the third time. He looks like he’s into wood-working. He knows I eat one kilo of mandarin oranges a week.

I just fell in love with four women who were all equally passionate about everything under the literary sun.

I just fell in love with a mischievous young professional on line 5. We both stifled laughter when an andaluza told an elderly man that she would kick his ass if he got any closer.

Lately, older women have been mentioning their collections of letters from lovers and husbands to me.  All casual like “we met while I was traveling but we kept writing each other and eventually we reunitedthey say.

“Y ahora que?” is what I say “All those beloveds who never quite came to be are sweaty and drunk and swiping through Tinder.”

“Vaya coñazo” is what I say soon after.

My great-grandmother of long-lost Latvian origins had a boyfriend after her husband passed away. A widow and a widower who met often at the firehouse dinners. She made steaks and he fixed things. His name, if I remember correctly, was Walter.

“Thank you for helping me overcome this wall of loneliness, Vera” is what he wrote.

All these thoughts of letters and when I got off the metro this afternoon I found a hand-written note on the ground. This is going to be so cute! I thought.

The note was, I assume, an exchange between two teenage boys.

“Should I go out with ———-?”
“Go out with her and if it’s good, good, and if it’s not, no.”
“Thanks man, this is what friends are for!”
“You haven’t fucked in ages.”
“I have, but I don’t want to say it in front of everyone.”
“When she comes to class, you should say it in front of her.”
“Hey, when are we gonna smoke?”
“During Holy Week, bro!”
“Listen, I gotta finish this exercise, don’t fuck up my pen. I use it all the time.”

Well. There’s always the next note, right?

Luv and letters,

Seo