Pisando Fuerte!

11 09 2010

Morning breaks, and it doesn’t appeal. Late last night, I realized that my tossings and turnings were directly linked to the same silly StressBeast that enjoys concocting ulcers in its spare time, and that it was feeding off fear of not finding a piso.

As such, I coffee, and fiercely. Propelled by determination, I load and reload Idealista. Today is the day. Today is Piso Day.

The best of Idealista’s been plumbed; on a lark I switch to the more Craigslist-esque Loquo – fewer photos, less ability to narrow a search, but plenty of cheap listings. I’m opening fourteen tabs at once.

I spy: “300 € – 2 ROOMS FREE FOR GIRLS – EXPENSIVES INCLUDED (CENTER)
Yesterday, I may have scoffed. But today – today is Piso Day. I peer around – almost all the Fulbrighters have cleared out, either having already moved in to their prize piso or out hitting the pavement themselves. Emily remains, seated on a nearby couch with her own laptop, listlessly clicking refresh. We’ve introduced ourselves earlier, but no further attempts to bridge the gap have been made – until I pipe up, “Soo… you wanna live together in an attic?”

A major score for both homeless souls – a searchmate! We giggle our way to the Lavapiés metro stop, attempting all the while to convince ourselves to be very open minded. It looks like you can paint on the walls from the photos – we will be artists-in-training! No toilet upstairs means community will congregate on the lower level!

We march up five flights of stairs plus one ladder, then right back down again. I am relentlessly optimistic (“Maybe I’ll get a cute lockable trunk for my stuff since there’s no door!“), but luckily Emily is more practical. We refocus at an internet cafe near Atocha equipped with wi-fi and Spanish coffee, and once again we peruse the dankest marshes of Loquo.

We call every number that looks vaguely possible – excluding one piso listed at least five times that looks like they hired a vampire decorator – and make a series of appointments for this afternoon. Suddenly, one listing glimmers in the blazing sunlight: “330 € – atocha 3 habitaciones INTERNET BALCÓN EXTERIOR salon amuebladas:):):)” The sweet scent of destiny hovers in the air. It could be the “balcón” – Emily mentioned earlier her fantasy of a Madrid balcony overlooking the cutest tree-lined street one could wish for – or it could be the smiley faces. Either way, we schedule a visit at 12:30, in a mere hour’s time.

We pass the wait roaming the barrio surrounding Calle de Las Delicias, which is bustling with vitality. It’s hard to believe that this cheerful, breezy neighborhood is just five minutes’ walk from the somewhat ghetto-esque Lavapiés. The main streets are brimming with light and the tangential smaller calles are, indeed, tree-lined. We spy a nearby pharmacy, park, optician (you never know), polideportivo, and approximately fifteen (super)markets. It’s also five minutes from the Atocha Renfe station, where both of us need to catch Cercanias to head to our respective schools. As if that weren’t enough, we spy an extremely sexy orange Vespa – how’s that for a divine signal? We are going seriously bananas.

We do our absolute best not to jump the gun; the number from the listing gets a ring at precisely 12:25. We climb two flights of stairs…

… and fall in love. Oh my god. This is beyond cute.

It’s Spanish-style compact for sure, and everything is covered with a millimeter of dust – the guy renting it out, Fausto, explains that no one’s lived in it over the summer months. He bustles around demonstrating each aspect of the place, from quality German washing machine…

… to Audrey Hepburn hanging in a purple bathroom…

… to orange shower stall…

… to a lime green salon/dining area, where we sit and enthuse. There are four bedrooms, two of which have already been rented out. The renters are present, in fact – two 25-year-old Spanish students of English philology, Hector and Marta – and we meet and greet. The empty bedrooms vary wildly – one is quite spacious and includes an exterior balcony, plus thoughtful arty touches including a painting of horses and cheetahs, while the other, although fully-furnished with desk, armoire, and bed, is closet-sized and a very pale blue.

Fausto seems doubtful that anyone would possibly want to live in the smaller room, but I adore it immediately. Not only is it supercheap (aw yeah!), it has this tranquil vibe to it that jives with me right away. Plus it’s lovingly tucked back in the corner of this amazing piso, where I am already picturing myself sizzling up chilaquiles and enjoying a glass of Spanish wine.

Fausto, a stenographer who dabbles in mixed media creativity on the side, doesn’t sleep in the piso but uses one of the rooms for his art projects. The place has this incredible feel to it – almost as though it were one of his sets, a 3D audience and ambiance awaiting its characters for this year to play itself out. We’re talking serious feng shui here; the busy creative pieces surrounded by enough calm space to give them just the right amount of emphasis.

It’s precisely the kind of spot I hoped I’d find in Madrid – arty yet functional, living with creative yet studious types, ideally including a Spaniard or two. Emily is similarly enthusiastic, and it takes all of 20 seconds’ consultation to decide that we want to accept the price immediately and move in as soon as possible.

Fausto gives us a probing look – are we certain? this isn’t just an impulse? – and there is a touch of spontaneity to it, but it’s more of an instinctual decision. Neither of us has felt so at home in any other piso we’ve visited, and this one is in the right location for the right price as well. The final sticking point is that Fausto is looking for renters for a minimum of one year, and our contract with Fulbright ends on June 30th. Both of us are absolutely up for remaining in Madrid for further time, but it occurs to me that there might be visa issues. During the time it takes me to call first Paula Ortega (line busy) and then Patricia Zahniser to inquire about theoretical legal issues, three further interested parties tour the place. I do not under any circumstances recommend looking for a place in this city at this time of year – your company is far too plentiful.

Patricia gives me the go-ahead; apparently once you have your NIE (Foreigners’ Identification Number), it is very easy to renew, and plus they generally have a valid term of a year anyway. We exclaim the good news to Fausto, and, just like that, we have a home.

Emily kindly puts down 50 € reserve for each of us (I have been cleared out of cash and must visit an ATM), then we scoot over to… 100 Monteditos, where else? The celebratory sammies are extra-crunchy, and the cold caña tastes of jubilation.

We hustle excitedly over to el Colegio Mendel Mayor for what we pray is the final time; perhaps half an hour later we are packed and in a taxi and headed… home! Unpacking takes up the better part of the late afternoon.

Light streams into Emily’s room from the balcony she’s been dreaming about.

Trees, street.

We now live on The Street of Delights.

The details I keep finding everywhere are enchanting. There are twin HombreArañas on the microwave as well.

Finally, my ChillCloset is readied. The green lightbulb casts a turquoise glow over the space, which feels absurdly calm in comparison to the turmoil it took getting to this point. Just as I thought, there is space for absolutely everything; I plan on picking up a bit more shelving so that I can further spread my clothes out, but now we’re entering the realm of luxury.

I couldn’t be more pleased. I wasn’t expecting to live with another Fulbrighter, but the company of Emily is wonderful; we are on a very similar wavelength as far as moving around Madrid goes. Fausto is an obvious marvel himself, and you may expect stories. Hector and Marta move in next week, so Emily and I have the piso more or less to ourselves at the moment, although Fausto should be by with fair frequency.

I do wish Fulbright had recommended arriving at least two days or so in advance of the orientation; it seems like the extra few days would have made this all much less of an opportunity for everyone to panic. However – I hear my dad in my head now – “Everything always works out.” Huh.

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Piso Hunting, Round One

9 09 2010

I am absolutely determined to make piso-hunting fun, not stressful. I’m thinking the worst part was yesterday, when I sat in a jazzy cafe in Lavapiés for hours calling folks I found through Idealista – it seems it doesn’t occur to many to take their ads down once the room has been occupied! However, I managed to slate five appointments spaced out over the course of today and another three for tomorrow, plus I saw one with Sam last night. Surely at least one among the nine is already waiting for me to waltz in and make myself at home.

In fact, I am currently in a small cafe-bar in Huertas, properly caffeinated and a mere twenty minutes from my first appointment of the day. All my potential places are in the south bits of central Madrid. This one is the most northern, there’s a couple right next to Atocha train station (where I need to leave for work in the mornings), a few smack-dab in the middle of Lavapiés, and a selection in La Latina to the West as well. It’s so obvious now that of course I want to live in Madrid proper – and it shouldn’t end up being altogether too much for a place, even this close to the center; the ones I’ve been looking at run no more than 400 euro/month including utilities/internet.

PISO ZERO – ATOCHA
Saw this unexpectedly last night with Sam; I had scheduled my appointment for today but then it turned out Sam was heading to the exact same place yesterday, so we went together. It didn’t jive with her, but I loved it – the kitchen was incredible, and it looked like light would stream in from all over the place during the day. See also: HUGE ARMOIRE. I’d be living with one other chica, from Serbia I believe but speaks perfect Spanish. They are supposedly going to call and let me know tonight what they’ve decided.

PISO ONE – HUERTAS
Just one woman here, Maria, perhaps 30 years old, an affable and very fast-talking Spaniard. The place is cute (and purple!) and the price is right, but the kitchen is approximately one square meter in area – not gonna work for a die-hard foodie. The neighborhood is adorable – I spotted a Cuban place, and the cafe that I waited in across the street was marvelously Spanish – but it’s not honestly that near to where I need to be. Scratching this one off my list.

PISO TWO – LA LATINA
Adore it. Also only one compañero de piso, a charming woman named Leticia in her late 20s. She’s painted the common spaces yellow and green, and loads of light flow in from big windows everywhere. The kitchen isn’t huge but it’s fully equipped, and I think I’ll be able to fully turn around in it. The location is great – five minutes walking from Embajadores, in which I can connect to Cercanias (and thus Tres Cantos). Leticia mentioned that she loved how close both Lavapies and La Latina proper were to the house, and that she loved taking advantage of many of the plentiful arty/cultural events to be found in Madrid. We definitely hit it off – but, of course, she’s also interviewing many potentials, so we’ll see what happens. I would absolutely love to live here.

PISO THREE – ATOCHA
The location of this one couldn’t be more convenient – it’s right next to Atocha, to which all the RenFe lines connect. It’s also quite close to Lavapiés, and a 100 Montaditos!!! However, I didn’t really dig the vibe of the place – very dorm-like, with three other girls, and I would have the smallest room. It doesn’t seem like there would be adequate space for my luggage, let alone my expanded wardrobe… so this one gets crossed off too.

PISO FOUR – ACACIAS
Uh. The guy showing me this one was suuuper nervous for some reason, plus much older than me. Also the place was ugly and the neighborhood dull. No thanks.