upheavals and (re)alignments

5 12 2011

Day-to-day currents keep shifting, and the urge to chronicle ebbs and flows, wordy moon waxing and waning in an altogether too rapidly spinning sky. I’m still here, I’m still writing. I continue to taste the new, both bitter and saccharine.

Endless nights take on fresh meaning sticky with sweat and sweetener. They’re necessarily temporal; I aim to let each remain in well-earned rest, undisturbed by introspection’s probing claws. A selection of frames: skullface and skulldress, electric Mexican advice, purple line wrong-way mornings, teenage punk-style busted lip, access denied, Robyn, huevos al plato, discarded slides/snaps, mad dancing ladytribes, cilantro judiciousness, saving face with crudités, spontaneous manifestation of lemon-yogurt cake, halfway-homelessness, somebody that I used to know, spotty mondays, disasterous cheesesteak luncheons, not seeing the Serbian, icy cobalt nails just in time for Madrid’s cold snap.

Re: “halfway-homelessness” – it’s true, I am currently nest-less. I’ve moved from Luchana. There is much appeal to community living, and there have been moments in the 10-person piso during which I’ve absolutely soared. Several of its members are now dear to me. It was an ideal, easy escape from the Palos electrical nightmare. Also, expensive – for a place clearly fraying around the edges, the rent was simply much too high to continue calling it “grunge-chic.” Selected incidents of severe fiesta also resulted in disaster, culminating in the form of pilfered dresses from the neighbor’s line. Your truly was up to no good far from the piso at the time of the Great Dress Heist, but in such an oversize batch of inquilinos, we are all somewhat to blame for the failure to cultivate more general, common-sense respect in the house.

The atmosphere of Luchana became rather tumultuous for a time, which I not too happily rode out. Whispers of a constituency amongst us moving out together buzzed in the hallways, but blah-blah ultimately undermined any joint coordination. It was when my long time NYC amiga Alex came to visit, and when the front toilet – the one I never use – began to spew water during her first shower in my place, that I began to be rather seriously miffed. The second time it happened, I declared my intentions to leave, alone if need be. And so I have.

Piso prowling in Madrid is always harrowing, full of dashed dreams and unrealized appointments. After several days of slapdash idealista journeys both north and south, I went with my gut reaction to a 5-person place near metro Antón Martín. It’s decorated by the owner/landlord with her own oversize abstract art, which surely deserves its own post somewhere down the line. There are plants in the kitchen, vines and green leaves!

Deposit paid, the only sticking point is that the room’s current resident remains until the 10th of the month. I had made Grande Plans to hit up the Lyon Festival of Lights over this week’s puente vacation days, but the French foray was cancelled on account of Parisian Love (not mine). As such, I am presently Wanderer, Forager, Squirrel. A pair of sleeping bag nights on the new couch, one snugged amidst a mountain of soft neon paraphernalia, and another in Miguel’s bed in Luchana, since he’s already gone skiing down south.

It’s okay. The instability, feeling displaced, reminds me strongly of Bangkok. I never make mention here of Thailand except in the most cursory way (som tam! Pai! sawatdee kaaaaa!); in fact, until very recently I hadn’t done any sort of writing whatsoever about my experience there.

That’s where my words have gone as of late: I here announce my latest project, a stab at painting a Bangkok picture. It’s the best story that I carry within me, I know, and I haven’t even managed to tell it to myself yet – how heavy it hangs. Give me much time. It will out itself, at times flowing silky pashmina glitterwraps, others torrential swim-walking through flooded streets, still others achingly gut-wrenching, violent, too much, overwhelming, overdone. All part of the picture. The best stories have layers.

In further BKK overlap, Madrid’s been in the throes of protest. Biweekly teachers’ strikes have led to a strangely dynamic schedule this year. The global OWS protest made its way here on October 15th; armed with cameras, Luchana ran gleefully out to join the passing throng.

Despite the written rage displayed on several signs, the joy of the crowd was palpable. So much of Madrid came out – tens of thousands – the streets clogged with signage and green shirts and snap-happy twitterfiends,  overwrought anti-slogans given new breath lifted into the air by the multitudes.

My participation in OWS began and ended on this afternoon, but I left it with yet another view of my city, a shiny new facet. A Gran Vía of Dreams.

((vamos lo mas de prisa posible))

7 06 2011


And yet, where, precisely? and for how long? Are these the most relevant questions, situated smack-dab in the middle of madrileña spring, two weeks left of classes, summer’s curly golden locks splayed free and beckoning at the window?

We’ll begin with the direct: what’s happened?

What hasn’t? In the previous month and a half – that’s mid-April through the beginning stirrings of June – I’ve been back and forth across the Atlantic in the name of Global Classrooms, which probably accounts for the most notable “event” as such. My work with the model United Nations program through Fulbright in Madrid afforded me a shot at one of the two available spots as designated representatives to the international conference in downtown Manhattan, and Lady Luck took a liking to the shine of my boots. As such, I accompanied the ten student delegates from each of the ten long-standing bilingual high schools in Madrid to New York City for a week-long stay, which included participation in the Global Classrooms conference along with a few days of US Embassy-sponsored sightseeing.

My own role was that of seemingly lowly Logistics staff, which meant my crew and I picked up slack wherever it was to be found – think setting up seriously bitchy A/V equipment, sprinting freshly copied resolutions across the hotel to the designated plenary, playing UN security guards, etcetera. It was actually a marvelous role for someone with zip experience with the model UN program; it meant I got a thorough behind-the-scenes examination of how such an enormous event is put together. In the process, I managed to meet a couple fun folks from all over the states, all a fascinating combination of UN geekery and serious party-beasts.

It was both an honor and a pleasure to have been able to kick it with the exceptional Spanish students in the States; I know it was completely perspective shifting for the lot. Working with colleagues David Hinojar, Hernán Jaén, and Rebecca Chadd was a total dream – our varying strengths played off each other to provide a solid experience for all involved. Perhaps the standout highlight of the trip was the 86-floor climb up the Empire State Building at midnight on our final full day in the US. After the requisite period of awed silence, floating high amongst the mystic hazy clouds emitted by the building’s own climatization system, David turned to me and said – “This is a gift.” I couldn’t agree more.

In the meanwhile – I’ve changed homes! After tumultuous times in the Palos piso, various turns of events led to me moving near metro Bilbao, in the cutest lil’ blue triangle-shaped room you ever did see. The place is sprawling, home to nine inhabitants total. I’m the youngest at 24; we range up to 36, meaning we’re workers on the whole rather than students. The place is lively without being party-hardy, and everyone asks me ¿qué tal? I’m enamored.

Other bits: recent bouillabaise house dinner involving entire hake a serious success, intimate friendships fostered/maintained with Fulbrights/ex-Fulbrights, Spanish success steadily steaming along, love of literature rediscovered through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, job at José Luis Sampedro up and down and up up up again, painting pursuits reinitiated on canvas rescued from Chueca dumpster, certain long-standing chapters finally, fondly, firmly closed, such that new adventures may have their proper due along the space-time continuum.

I have had the enormous luck to have seen so many friends, old and new – Andrew, Catherine, Alicia, Alex, and more – with visits to and from further just beyond the horizon – Isana, Aldo, Clara! Dearest readers, the Spanish summer promises to be bang-up. Stay tuned.

O Valencia

24 11 2010

Three months in, and it becomes nigh time to escape the clawing clutches of Madrid’s cluttered calles.

A bumpy bus ride would save me 20€, but I opt for the comfort offered by a sleek Renfe Alaris train, connecting Madrid’s Atocha hub station with Valencia’s Estación del Nord. Hector’s invited me to a talk on Lorca he’s giving in his poetry class tonight, so afterwards I chug eastward under a thick cloak of darkness, delightfully entertained by a dubbed Meryl Streep.

Memories prickle the edges of my vision at the squeal of the brakes. I’ve returned.

Alex has managed to convince me that this will not be a regression, this will not be a replay. A place, a combination of X-Y-Z coordinates in space, only holds whatever meaning you assign. Today’s Valencia is not yesterday’s Valencia is not tomorrow’s Valencia. The inhuman neon glare of the bright lights, the push and shove of departing passengers avoiding contact, my shoulders are blasted through with poor-posture’s knots, and what’s happening in Madrid without me tonight? – boding pessimism beckons.

I spy my suddenly long-time friend break out into a huge grin at my arrival, and the wicked spell breaks. It’s 1 AM, and we’re going for cañas.

Valencia is eerily tranquil on a Friday night, particularly against a backdrop of Madrileño Malasaña. But we three – Alex has brought along a friendly beanpole known as Feno – are undeterred, and march determinedly northward. Destination: “El Irlandés,” which turns out to be a wonky sort of Spanish bar that has nothing remotely Irish about it, save a few strings of green Christmas lights. Other than two girls roosting in a corner, we are the only patrons – but the barman appears to be well-acquainted with my entourage. We are served icy Carlsbergs, which go down marvelously after our trek across the entire city, along with all variety of bar snack.

The elongated marshmallows – “nubes” – are the best. You are meant to roast them little by little with your lighter. Although the photo appears to suggest otherwise, I do not recommend consuming them with tobacco paraphernalia.

The night is seriously Spanish. At some absurd hour, we join forces with the roosting girls and enthuse about Galicia, and shrimp. Also engaged in the rapid-fire conversational swings, the barman nevertheless notes the clock with slightly more practicality than his patrons. Perhaps around 4 AM, he switches the lights to a “time to scoot a boot” deep red. Ambientación, anyone?

In this park, we hold a discussion regarding the lesser-read works of Foucault, and the growing relevance of the modern sense-datum prison.

Wakefulness arrives, beautiful and sluggish. Coffee and mini-croissants coax it along.

The months I spent in Valencia several years back leave me with little residual desire to seek out tourist destinations. Instead, and refreshingly, we simply have a weekend together. We hit up Mercadona for pasas and caldo, which I combine along with various other items rummaged from Alex’s kitchen to concoct a highly satisfying lunch.

A few unearthed items are best avoided. One plastic bag holds a mottled green sausage, which upon closer inspection appears to have at one time been bread. This, also:

Oh, Spain, honey. No.

The afternoon slips into night during a viewing of (dubbed) Malibu’s Most Wanted, highly recommended if you get your kicks from mass slaughter of your own brain cells. We meet up with a pair of Alex’s friends at a Wok that’s just opened in the neighborhood – think Mongolian BBQ but minus any trace of Scoville points – and then are joined by two more for a cortado digestif. It’s a sleepy night all around, and just the two of us end up back at El Irlandés for a tranquil beer before bedtime.

This Sunday is Loi Krathong. One year ago, I found myself lighting a banana leaf raft in the company of Alisa, Carlos, and several whiskey-swilling Thai men down a construction-laden alleyway on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok. After paying due respects to the water goddess, we clambered up to a particularly attractive hotel rooftop thirty-some-odd stories high. Gobs of fireworks bloomed over the water, and Northern-style floating paper lanterns melded with the stars.

Yesterday’s Bangkok is not today’s Valencia. However, the idea that occurs to me of being the only one in this Spanish city celebrating the Thai festival is too intriguing to let slide. Alex and I hunt the chinos until deciding on a balloon raft as our best bet; I nix poinsettia leaves in favor of burgling a few specimens from Valencia’s finest foliage. Flowers are in short supply, so “yin-yang” candles will have to make do for beautification. The water goddess knows our hearts are in the right place.

My original plan is to release my krathong into the Mediterranean – I’ve been really feeling the pull of the sea as of late – but it’s way too obvious that our fragile vessel won’t fare well given any sort of aquatic turbulence. We visit a park near Alex’s place instead, where we follow our instincts – and ears – to the calmest of fountains.

Alex, professional mechero man, lights the candles, then places our makeshift krathong on the water’s glassy surface. She only lasts a minute before being capsized by a stray gust, but it’s time enough to reflect, to give thanks, to consider what it means to be open to that which is gifted. I give voice to my gratitude:

Gracias, o diosa del agua.
Gracias por el flujo en que andamos todos.
Gracias por el cambio, por las diferencias, por insistir en movimiento.
Gracias por lo complicado que ha sido ayer,
y gracias por la infinidad de posibilidades que nos presentas para mañana.

It feels unabashedly good to give thanks for these regalos de la vida. More soon to come – after last year’s passivity, I’m ready to dive into some serious seasonal cheese.

Massive gracias must also go to my host and very good friend Alex, who entertains my whims even when clearly fueled by a lack of logic.

O Valencia. Hold tight. I’ll be back in December, and with family.


4 11 2010

The darkest day of the American calendar must be shared with the hundreds of sugar-starved kiddos of José Luis Sampedro. No, not the day after Election Day – I’m talking about Halloween (c’mon, people, catch up).

The auxiliares – that is, Laura, James, Heather, and I – have spent several commutes ruminating on costumes. A theme eventually emerges: American Superheroes. Heather snags Catwoman, which Laura combines with Poison Ivy to make villainous feminine duo. James calls Batman, and as such I am assigned the lowly sidekick role of Robin.

Oh please. Robin is just about the least amount of super you can get. I sneakily plan an alternative get-up.

A couple chinos later, and Captain America is ready for battle.

Laura and I construct cardboard onomatopoeia, then emerge from our dark tower to the center of the recreational area during the afternoon break. We are immediately swarmed – we have informed the students that we will offer candy to anyone else who remembers to dress up. No one has, but hundreds of little ears are buzzing with the promise of sweet, sweet sugar, and we draw an unbelievably enormous crowd within seconds.

Whamm-o! Bam! Pow! Zing! The good guy triumphs in the end (of course) and the bad guy (as punishment?) holds aloft a bag ripe with Sugus. She is MOBBED, a thousand nasty smelly little fingers clutching at her wig and brambles, scrambling for a chance at the prize.

Batman and Catwoman make a late entrance, and we snap a few shots (which Heather still needs to put online, dammit) and offer one more lucha before the bell.

My own Halloween fiesta was low-key-esque. Two highlights include:

Alex as beaker-toting mad scientist, and –

Sam‘s impeccable attention to detail, from her winged cheeks to her ghostly pumpkin-spiced cake.