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.

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.

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Headless hunchback in bell-bottoms, Barrio del Pilar

Pachamama in Flames

Last week I woke up to old news that the arctic is ON FIRE. Since my most recent birthday, I’ve fallen deep into existential anxiety, so that tidbit really got me worried: about myself, my family, my friends, my friends’ children, and the children that my friends or family might someday have.

To avoid exploring that (for now), here’s a brief weather report from Madrid:

In July, the words most commonly used to describe the city were “hellish”, “insufferable”, “miserable”, “disgusting”, “dangerous”, and “unbearable.” Common folklore says that hell is located below our feet; one must descend into its depths. Hell for many, however, is higher up: a fifth floor apartment atop a hill in a mid-July heatwave, summer-camp classrooms and convenience stores that “smell like humanity.” Siberia turning to ash.

August is just a day away, and things are finally cooling down here-but who knows for how long? I am looking forward to the month, hoping the mass vacation exodus isn’t just a myth, and that I’ll get to enjoy empty buses and quiet terrazas.

Reina Sofia Madrid
Saturday night in front of Reina Sofia, Madrid.

I’m also dedicating this month to treating my body with some R-E-S-P-E-C-T. I want to be physically prepared for the September uncertainty that awaits me (more on that l8r), and also a middle-aged  muscle-man recently told me that it’s now or never.  I also want to think about things other than myself, such as the earth.

This is what I’ve come up with so far:

Stop using plastic straws. Quit your Starbucks habit.

Set up an organized & sustainable recyling system at home. Truly make a space for it in both your home and your heart.

Buy local (I am failing so hard at this one).

Share bath-water… and your own tips, if you have any!

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.

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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.


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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.