Motorcycle Expedition to Vallecas

19 09 2010

Today Fausto has promised me a trip by motorcycle to Vallecas, a Madrid neighborhood fairly far to the south where he used to live.

In anticipation, I piece together a moto-ridin’ get-up, the highlight of which is definitely my bitchin’ black boots. Next time I bust them out, I’m definitely getting Em to snap a better-angled photo, but can you imagine a better spot for an outfit shot?? The lines, the colors!

Naturally, by the time we get around to heading out, the sun has warmed the air enough that I have to reconfigure. I switch to red plaid and glorified flip-flops instead, aiming for “sloppy rockabilly.” Emily can tell you if it works or not.

The garbage is nearly overflowing, so we grab it on the way. Unfortunately, the cans on our street don’t emerge until later in the afternoon, so it becomes the third passenger.

Fausto is an extremely calm motorist, commenting that maneuvering the bike gives him a sense of tranquility. I’ve only ever been on motorbike in Bangkok before, and in comparison Madrid traffic does seem extremely ordered. We meander southward, almost imperceptibly ascending in altitude as well.

Fausto calls this “El Parque de las Tetas,” and it’s immediately clear why – it takes the form of two giant mounds, clearly beckoning to be climbed.

It’s very much perspective-changing to view Madrid splayed out in a panorama like this. It can be altogether too easy to submerge oneself in the subway and allow the narrow streets to work as blinders, constantly funneling from destination to destination without any idea of a whole. Seeing the city stretch from one horizon to another gives me a sense of really being here all over again.

Fausto and I sit and absorb. We’re both oddballs of distinct varieties, and our rhythms match well.

Safety first.

Cortinas Metalicas

17 09 2010

The Spanish dawn is rather gray and drizzly this morning, which is actually quite a pleasant contrast to the furiously sunny spate we’ve had for the past several days. Fausto, Em, Marta, and I mill about the piso, slowly adjusting to the daytime hours. My breakfast of coffee and a cold boiled egg fits the atmosphere perfectly.

Here’s your first glimpse of Marta, third housemate and also an English teacher. She enjoys lentejas for lunch.

Emily and I have been talking about an herb garden for some time, and today’s the day to follow through. The vendor claims our new rosemary, basil, and mint plants will thrive if we love on them just a little bit.

Fausto receives a telephone call, which sends a spark of energy through him.

He explains –
Me han ofrecido cortinas metalicas del teatro; voy a por ellas.
(“I’ve been offered metal curtains from the theatre; I’m gonna go get them.”)

Our response? –
Ah, vale, hasta pronto.
(“Oh, ok, see you shortly.”)

… cortinas metalicas?

Fausto’s pretty direct.

He hangs them in “his room,” which has a pull-out bed and doubles as storage since he doesn’t usually sleep here. They actually suit. It’s just another day in the piso.


16 09 2010

Today is slated as lazy exploration of a few famous Madrileño sites within walking distance of our piso – it’s the final day before I begin work at José Luis Sampedro, and we wouldn’t want me to stress. As such, the first item on the agenda is a picnic lunch in Retiro, the enormous and very well-groomed park about ten minutes away.

Leah and Elena join us for leisurely chats and eats. The Sriracha on my cumin-paprika spiced chicken and semi-cured sheep’s milk cheese bocadillo is blissfully piquant. Everyone digs on the variety of crunchy Taiwanese sesame seed cookies I’ve snagged from the Asian market.

We wander, and it’s immediately obvious that one could quite easily get lost within acre after acre of manicured grounds. Unlike the symmetrical control of the French style, which I find off-putting in its harshness, this Spanish park conveys a sense of tranquility to be found in cooperation with nature. I mean, let’s be honest, it is designed to the nines, but the paths are wandering rather than strict and straight, and interruptions by man-made objects are spaced-out and surprising.

The Spanish sun is particular insistent this afternoon, and we can feel our skulls sizzling in their shells. It’s perversely pleasant – I will forever be a masochistic desert girl – but also quite draining, so we make our way over a few grassy knolls towards the sounds of traffic.

On the way back towards the Atocha metro, a gorgeous church-esque building is far too prominent on a street corner not to explore further. It turns out to be an extremely souped-up mausoleum for several select Spaniards, entombed beneath elaborate statues of gods and owls. Not that hanging around corpses is exactly my scene, but it’s absurdly cool that this kind of stuff is seamlessly intermeshed with the Mercadonas and doner kebabs in this city. In my city.

Elena and Leah are called away to their respective barrios, Emily and I to our Street of Delights. It is well past siesta time, but we make a futile attempt at an hour of rest. The day’s rigors have worn us thin.

Yet we persist in our dogged exploration of Madrid’s finest, particularly because “Prado” rhymes so well with “helado” and the plan just seems divinely proclaimed. Each night from 6-8 PM, the museum opens wide its doors, such that one may view scads upon scads of masterpieces for free. This offer entices plenty of other potential appreciators of the arts, but the line hustles right along.

I remember not being at all into the Prado when I visited it a couple years back with the Earlham Spain program; my memories are tinged with the resentment I felt at being forced to go see “great art” instead of exploring what the backstreets of Madrid had to offer. Today is wholly different. I visit of my own volition, and at leisure – the great art is ten minutes from my house, so Em and I plan to check out only a very small percentage of what’s here today, returning for future visits such that we may give the space its proper due consideration.

Once inside, we head straight for The Garden of Earthly Delights, as I recall loving its hyper-detailed, almost cartoon-like style, so distinct from the majestic portraiture found in many other parts of the museum. It’s still there; it still fascinates. After, we casually make our way towards Goya’s Pinturas Negras, passing a billion representations of Christ and plenty of stunning ancient statue work.

Spending too much time with Goya takes a lot out of a person, especially two that have been subjected to such a brutally stressful afternoon. We require icy cold sweets for dinner to recover.

llaollao, conveniently and mnemonically located just off metro stop Callao, is Fausto’s favorite yogureria in town. There’s only one flavor – natural and tangy-sweet – and plenty of topping options, from fresh fruit to fudge sauce. Fausto highly recommends a specialty concoction called “Sanum,” which Marta and I opt to split.

I know this photo came out blurry, but there’s no way I’m not including it.

I’m just gonna say it straight up – it is better than Pinkberry. This mountain of creamycold yogurt and fruit and granola and chocolate bits drizzled with honey was 3€, and more than enough to split (Fausto devoured his solo).

Yeah. You needed a closer look.

Best dinner in Spain so far.


14 09 2010

Fausto, landlord/stenographer/Certified Spanish Friend, invites us this evening to accompany him to a performance happening at the nearby Tabacalera, which he describes as a past-factory, present-“cultural center.” I’m not precisely sure what that might entail, but he’s also offered it as a possibility for where I might encounter my mural-making opportunity. Yes please let’s go!

Not the Tabacalera at all – this is La Casa Encendida, another arty spot near home. Madrid, will you marry me?

La Tabacalera is situated on la Ronda de Embajadores, a mere five minutes walk through another stunning Madrid evening from our piso. The air is cool and charged with the energy of possibility. I feel just a little as though I could fly, but settle for un pasito with two of my favorite Madrileños – yes Emily, you count! Our names are on the mailbox; we are official!

Upon entrance, one can’t help but notice the hundreds of cumbia enthusiasts grooving to live music. Thought we were going to a play, but how happenin’ is this? Fausto sashays his way through the crowd at leisure, and we follow suit.

Several anterooms filled with Spanish hippies, punks, hipsters, artsy freaks, normals, and uncategorizables later, we arrive at a drum circle/improvised capoeira performance. Pairs enter the ring when summoned by the lure of the bassy rhythmic pulse, tumbling through hot air and over each others’ sweaty skins. It’s trance-like and captivating, but Fausto urges us on.

The open air semi-circle around the Tabacalera building hums with creative-type Spaniards, many sitting on the ground (Chris, are you reading this??), smoking hand-rolled ciggies and shooting the shit. The walls display graffiti-esque musals of all sort, ranging from dead dinos…

… to wisps of smoke curling through oversize burlesque lettering (Em, do you remember what this says in full?). Also pictured is the herb/vegetable garden, just now beginning to hang heavy with green baby ‘maters. I ask Fausto just who is putting all of this together, and the way he explains it makes it seem as though it just happens somehow, that the government has decided to dedicate this space to public creation, and thus locals put in their efforts to make it what they want it to be. The micromanaging American within me thinks this to be patently impossible – a free art space for all that’s well-kept, organized, inclusive, and respectful? But it’s right here on Ronda de Embajadores, and I’m clearly not the only fan; there are hundreds of character studies milling about its grounds.

We round the corner and greet Fausto’s compañera de clase, Natalia (I think). While they enthuse about studies, I check out this badass space-age panel, plus the advertisement for the event we’ve actually come to see, apparently entitled What Are You Doing After The Orgy?: A Love Experiment. Well alright.

It begins without warning (akin to an orgy, perhaps?). A male figure in filthy tighty-whiteys, a wifebeater, and a furry black head covering scrambles out of the enormous double doors with arms full of naked Barbie dolls. The crowd pulls back in a semi-circle in order to better observe him furiously scrub at them with an opaque black substance. It is totally nutty, but you can’t look away, and I’m definitely intrigued by the flaunting of traditional audience/actor distinctions – there’s a definitive scent of apprehension in the air, because we clearly have a frantic crazy guy in our midst, and what if his next pass involves putting you on display?

A few minutes of heavy breathing pass, and then a mistress/guardian-type in white emerges regally from the doors, announcing the performance’s beginning and that photography is in no way permitted (oops). A crooning woman in black follows, then four silent female figures in white paper dresses with open backs. They position themselves around the manic guy in the mask, who proceeds to remove his fuzzy blinder, smear his face with the black substance, and deliver what we later decide is a very masturbatory monologue, celebrating shock value and faux-intellectualism. However, I’d add that there may be value even in its obviousness – it definitely set a communal mindset for the largely individualized experience to come.

Not actually part of the performance – the building is simply covered in stunning muralworks, and I particularly loved this mangy bathroom.

The figures, including our unfortunately-garbed protagonist, enter methodically into the darkness of the building, and we are to follow. They scatter across a series of deteriorating rooms, made even more disparate by the placement of sheets of butcher paper hanging from the ceiling. The crowd similarly disperses, concentrating in bunches around each of the figures, the majority of which are delivering monologues. The first has to do with love and anger and meeting someone in a bar, but the acoustics aren’t great and my language skills not quite up to par; the next several are in German and as such even less accessible. Captain Tar-and-Undies runs general amok, occasionally letting out a screech. At one point he silently takes Emily’s arm, which she is beyond calm about, and leads her to join hands with some guy listening to an eerie musical performance. Tragically (poetically?), the potential love connection doesn’t quite materialize.

We eventually wander outside and away from the innovative take on audience participation. Our grupito engages in a round-table discussion of the experience, accompanied by excellent sangría – yes, there are also multiple bars in this beautiful madhouse.

One of the side buildings houses a miniature skatepark, in which punkish-types are ollying all over the place (I used that word right, no? Any skaters reading con tomates?). An adjacent room explodes with a jam band laying down some serious beats.

A workshop next door is filled with scattered half-projects; Fausto explains what they might eventually be, but the details escape me – I am too busy marveling at the incredible energy and range of activity all taking place in this one location. It’s an open, accepting, community environment – any snobbishness would be thoroughly out of place here – yet it manages to convey a strong sense of pride in what it is and what it’s doing. What who is? What who, exactly, is doing? I’m still not sure precisely how this whole deal works, but I intend to find out; there’s got to be a crumbling wall in here waiting for my paintbrush.